Books of Maccabees

MACCABEES, BOOKS OF (Μακκαβαίων; Lat. Machabaeorum). A series of books relating events centering around Judas Maccabeus and other heroes in the Jewish struggle for religious and political freedom. During the 3rd and 2nd centuries b.c. persecution was unleashed against the Jews by Egyptian and Syrian kings, particularly the infamous Antiochus IV Epiphanes. All but 3 Maccabees concentrate on Antiochus.

1 and 2 Maccabees are included in the Apocrypha, whereas 3 and 4 Maccabees are ranked among the pseudep. The books vary greatly in historical reliability, content and style.

The Maccabees in Perspective

1 Maccabees


By the late 2nd cent. a.d. the title τὰ Μακκαβαϊκα (“The Things Maccabean”) was used to refer apparently to 1 and 2 Maccabees. Possibly only 2 Maccabees was intended, since the surname “Maccabeus” applies in its strictest sense only to Judas, who dominates all of 2 Maccabees, but shares the spotlight with his brothers in the longer history of 1 Maccabees. If related to מַּקֶּ֣בֶת, meaning “hammer” in Judges 4:21, etc., “Maccabee” may mean “hammerer.” Others have suggested “extinguisher” or “mallet-headed” also.

Josephus asserts that Mattathias, father of Judas and his four brothers, was descended from Hashmoneus (Jos. Antiq. xii. vi. 1). Since the Talmud refers to this famous family as “Hasmonean,” and “Maccabee” does not occur in Sem. lit. before the Common Era (a.d.), it is likely that the “Book of the House of the Hasmoneans” was the original title of 1 Maccabees. This designation occurs in the Heb. Josippon (a tr. of Josephus’ Jewish War) to indicate a source for the wars of Judas.

Origen called the book σαρβηθ σαβαναιελ (Euseb. Hist. VI. 25. 2), an obvious Sem. term of uncertain meaning. שׁר בית שׁבנה אל, “the prince of the house which God built” is one possible rendering. If it is a badly corrupted title, it might be equivalent to the Aram. “the book of the house of the princes of God.”

Clement of Alexandria (c. a.d. 195) refers to 1 Maccabees as τὸ τω̂ν Μακκαβαϊκω̂ν, and Eusebius specifically mentions ἡ πρώτη καλουμένη τω̂ν Μακκαβάιων βίβλος. Gr. MSS commonly designate 1 and 2 Maccabees as Μακκαβαίων A and Μακκαβαίων B.


In spite of the steady chronological order and sustained style of the book, scholars have occasionally questioned the authenticity of chs. 13:43 to 16:24. The material in these chs. was used sparingly if at all by Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities, so some have concluded that his copy ended prior to this point and that the final chs. were a later addition. A few small contradictions in ch. 14 do lend themselves to this view, but there are discrepancies earlier in the book also. Josephus apparently stopped using 1 Maccabees as a source for the period following Simon’s induction as high priest owing to his earlier Jewish War, in which he had utilized the material of Nicholas of Damascus. Josephus felt free to modify and amplify his sources, so his switch back to a previous work does not prove that the chs. in question are spurious.


From several standpoints it is clear that written sources were used by the author of 1 Maccabees. Of particular importance are several letters, perhaps accessible to the author from the high priest’s archives in the Temple (cf. 14:23 and 16:23f.). Chapter 8 contains a letter from Rome confirming an alliance with the Jews, and in spite of earlier skepticism, scholars today accept its genuineness. Another letter from the Rom. consul Lucius to Ptolemy Euergetes (15:16ff.) explaining the Jewish alliance appears largely authentic.

Several letters from Syrian rulers to the Maccabees are likewise included. Most are directed to Jonathan (10:18ff.; 11:30ff.; 11:57) and Simon (13:36ff.; 15:2ff.) and exhibit authenticity except in various details.

Correspondence between the Spartans and Jews (ch. 12) is open to question, particularly the letter from the Spartans to Onias (12:20f.). A Spartan message to Simon (14:20ff.) does at least reflect an official document.

The existence of a “biography” of Judas Maccabeus is postulated on the large proportion of material relating to him. Half of the book covers only seven years (166-160/59 b.c.) in contrast to the twenty-five year span for the other chapters. In 9:22 one discovers that the rest of the acts of Judas are not written since they were so numerous. This contrasts with the usual summary of a king’s reign found in Scripture (2 Kings 8:23; 10:34, etc.). It may indicate that the author concentrated only on those events concerning Judas which were recorded.

Judas’s biography may not have differed much from the annals which Jonathan and Simon would have kept as high priests. The book ends with a reference to the rest of John Hyrcanus’s activities which were recorded in the chronicles of his high priesthood (16:24). Since John’s accession is noted in 1 Maccabees, but little else, the author wishes to indicate an additional source for information regarding him. Chronicles about the rule of Jonathan and Simon were undoubtedly available in the archives also and were utilized in this historical sketch.


In a period when party divisions were not clearly defined in Judaism, it is difficult to label the author either a Pharisee or Sadducee. He was a Palestinian who knew the terrain well judging from his precise descriptions of battle locations. Regions outside Pal. are little known to the author. He obviously revered the law and the Temple and vigorously opposed paganism. He is careful to avoid the name of God, referring to deity as “heaven” primarily. Such caution reflects the Pharisee’s practice of substituting for “Yahweh” lest they profane His name.

Perhaps the token summary of John Hyrcanus’s reign indicates that the author disapproved of certain tendencies of the Hasmonean rulers. Toward the end of John’s rule, he openly rebuffed the Pharisees and espoused the Sadducean cause. Dissatisfaction with this policy or the growing worldliness of the king, may be reflected in the failure to discuss John’s rule. The final vv. imply that he had been ruler for some years.

Other factors, however, seem to point toward the Sadducees as the party of the author. He does not refer to the resurrection of the dead, not even when great leaders have fallen (9:9f.). There is likewise no mention of angels or spirits, and strict Pharisaic Sabbath rules appear to be disregarded at times (2:40f.). Certainly there is no attempt to antagonize the Sadducees.

It would be possible to identify the writer with the Hasidim, the “pious ones,” embracing both Pharisees and Essenes. Yet, even the Hasidim are seen in a bad light for accepting Alcimus as chief priest in spite of Judas’s objections.

Contrary to the suggestion of some, the author prob. was not directly related to the Hasmonean family, owing to his criticism of their policies. It is more likely that he respected them highly while not actually belonging to their clan.


Since the author does not side decisively with either the Pharisees or Sadducees, some scholars point to a date of about 110 b.c. for the book, before John Hyrcanus’s split with the Pharisees. The reference to the rest of John’s acts in the chronicles of the high priesthood (16:24) suggests that the author was living toward the end of his reign (134-104 b.c.) or shortly after his death. Those who do not accept the trustworthiness of the last few vv. tend to place the book in the early part of John’s rule.

Purpose and style.

The author aimed at providing a chronological history of the key events surrounding the lives and accomplishments of the Maccabees. He extolled these valiant warriors and the little nation which they led to independence under God. This work may have been an unofficial history geared to rebuke the growing secularization of the Hasmoneans who succeeded the Maccabees.

The structure and purpose of the book parallel Ezra and Nehemiah in certain respects. Just as those canonical books record God’s providence over Israel under Pers. rule, so 1 Maccabees describes God’s care during the Gr. period. Some assert that this book was written as a sequel to Ezra and Nehemiah. The inclusion of decrees and letters does resemble the many items of official correspondence cited in 1 Maccabees.

Occasionally the flow of the narrative is interrupted by one of the many official letters cited (cf. 15:16ff.). These documents, however, are usually well integrated with the writer’s own knowledge and other eyewitness accounts, so that the result is a credible history.


First Maccabees describes the Jewish struggle for independence from the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes in 175 b.c. through the reign of Simon Maccabeus in 134 b.c. After a nine v. introduction referring to the exploits of Alexander the Great, the division of his empire, and the rise of the Seleucids, the author outlines Antiochus’s outrages against the Jews, culminating in the “abomination of desolation” (1:10-64). Chapter 2 describes the fervent zeal of Mattathias, a priest who, along with his five sons, launched a bitter revolt in Modein against Antiochus’s soldiers and any Jews who collaborated with the Syrians out of expediency.

The major section of the book records the heroics of Judas Maccabeus, the most illustrious of the five sons. Several victories won after the death of Mattathias enabled Judas to recapture Jerusalem and rededicate the Temple (4:36-61). The Jews purified the Temple on the twenty-fifth of Chislev 164 b.c., a date commemorated in the Jewish feast of Hanukkah.

Judas and his brothers next won victories in Gilead and Galilee (5:17-68). After the death of Antiochus (6:1-17), Judas battled various generals and kings, including Antiochus Eupator, Lysias, and Nicanor. A treaty with Lysias (6:55-63) afforded a brief respite during this time. To pressure the Syrians, Judas concluded a treaty with Rome just prior to his death at Elasa against Bacchides (8:1-9:22).

His brother and successor Jonathan achieved further victories against the Seleucids, who were plagued internally with political intrigue. Using this turmoil to advantage, Jonathan received from them the title of high priest. He also maintained peaceful relations with Rome and the Spartans, only to be murdered by his supposed ally, Trypho (9:23-12:53).

Simon, the surviving brother, ruled from 142-134 b.c. and gained full political independence by capturing the citadel, the hated center of Hellenism in Jerusalem which was manned by a garrison. A special decree set up in the Temple guaranteed to Simon and his successors the offices of ruler and high priest until a faithful prophet would arise in Judea (14:41-44).

Antiochus VII even permitted Simon to coin his own money (15:1-9), although he later denied him this valuable concession (15:10-31). Simon and his sons were victorious over Antiochus, but an army officer named Ptolemy assassinated Simon along with Mattathias and Judas, two of his sons (16:3-16). John Hyrcanus, a third son, escaped and assumed control of the government (16:17-24). With the accession of this king, the book ends rather abruptly.


The providence of God over Israel is paramount in the book, for the Jewish nation was a righteous center in the midst of an ungodly world. Israel was vitally important for other nations (10:4ff.; 11:3ff.; 14:10ff.), but their attempts to overwhelm her were repulsed by a God who controls history at every turn. Antiochus Epiphanes died because of his wicked acts against Jerusalem (6:1-17).

Numerical superiority means little in battle if the faithful seek God in prayer. Repeatedly, Judas prayed before conflict and encouraged his men to cry to heaven like the faithful of old (4:10, 30; 7:1-20, 36-38, 41f.). Such trust in God should, however, be coupled with sound military strategy.

The Maccabees were instruments of God for the preservation of the faith, and they frequently are compared with OT heroes. Mattathias’s death-dealing zeal for the law paralleled Phinehas’s slaughter of Zimri in Numbers 25:10-15 (2:26). Judas was a savior of Israel (9:21) like former judges and kings, and his death is lamented in terms used for Saul and Jonathan, “How is the mighty fallen!” (9:21; cf. 2 Sam 1:19, 25, 27).

Victory was due ultimately to God (5:62), and the Maccabees are not exalted unduly. The success of the ruling family was secondary to the destiny of the nation as a whole (4:59; 5:16; 7:48f.), and disillusionment with their later policies is implied.

The Messianic hope appears in connection with a faithful prophet who would come to deal with the profaned altar (4:42, 47), and to replace the dynasty of Simon as ruler and high priest (14:41). This “prophet” relates undoubtedly to the prophet like Moses mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18, vv. prominent at Qumran also.

Some features of the Messianic age are anticipated during Maccabean rule. Simon is praised for bringing peace, so that every man sat under his vine and fig tree (14:12), a probable allusion to the prophecy of Micah 4:4. A newly independent Israel must have rekindled hopes for Messiah’s coming.

Strict observance of the law was mandatory for the righteous man. Those who apostatized and connived to ruin the faithful were harshly condemned (3:15; 6:21f.; 7:10). God is a holy God who demands obedience to the principles of the Torah.

Original language.

Although it is extant only in tr., there is little doubt that the book was first composed in Heb. Origen’s Sem. designation already has been discussed (see A. 1), and Jerome in his Prologus Galeatus states quite clearly that Heb. was the original language of 1 Maccabees. This Heb. text apparently lasted in some form until the period of Origen and Jerome, but Josephus utilized only the Gr. VS in the 1st cent. a.d.

It is possible that Jerome intended “Hebrew” to be understood as Palestinian Aram., but the nature of the Gr. tr. indicates otherwise. Frequently, this literalistic VS betrays obvious OT idioms, and on occasion, tr. errors are evident due to a faulty understanding of the original. Since the tr. shows an awareness of the LXX, he may have been an Alexandrian Jew, preparing his rendition near the start of the 1st Christian cent. Two trs. based on the Gr. VS were made into Lat. and two into Syr.

It seems strange that the rabbis failed to preserve the Heb. original to such a valuable Jewish work. This may reflect the disapproving attitude of influential Pharisees toward the worldliness so evident in the reign of the Hasmonean successors to the Maccabees.


The dates in 1 Maccabees are crucial for the history of this period, for they are given with a precision which indicates the author had access to an official Seleucid chronicle. According to Josephus, the chronology is calculated from the year that Seleucus Nicator controlled Syria, a period beginning with the Battle of Gaza in the summer of 312 b.c. (Jos. Antiq. XIII. vi. 7). In 1:10 Antiochus Epiphanes becomes king in the 137th year of the Gr. kingdom, or 175 b.c.

The chronology is complicated, however, by different calendars employed by the Seleucids and the Jews. New Year’s Day occurred in the autumn in the Seleucid calendar, which paralleled the pre-exilic Judean custom for computing kings’ reigns from the first day of the seventh month, the present “Rosh Hashana.”

The postexilic Jews observed a spring New Year, following the Babylonian pattern and the ancient Heb. religious calendar. Dates in 2nd Maccabees often are one less than the corresponding date in 1 Maccabees. Antiochus Epiphanes died in 163 b.c. according to 1 Maccabees 6:16, but 2 Maccabees 9:1 and 11:23 place the same event in 148 b.c. Scholars do not agree concerning how this problem can be unravelled. Apparently 1 Maccabees began the second year of the Seleucid era in the autumn of 312 b.c., counting the remaining weeks of the summer after the Battle of Gaza as the first year. In 2 Maccabees, the Seleucid era may be calculated from the autumn of 311 b.c.

Relation to the NT.

The Jewish expectation of a Messianic age and a prophet who should come (1 Macc 4:46; 14:41) parallels the attitudes found in the NT. When John the Baptist proclaimed Messiah’s coming, Jewish leaders asked him if he was “that prophet” (John 1:21, 25 KJV). Probably both groups had in mind Moses’ prediction of a great prophet (Deut 18:15, 18).

Instead of using a name of God, the author consistently refers to deity as “Heaven.” The people prayed to “Heaven” with the hope that He would hear (4:10). This substitution of the place for the name is compared by some scholars with the term “kingdom of heaven” (Matt 3:2). This may be virtually equivalent to the closely related “kingdom of God” concept.

While concluding his description of Judas’s life, the author declares that the remaining deeds of this hero were not written because they were so numerous. In similar fashion, John summarizes Jesus’ life by referring to “many other signs....which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). If these “many other signs” were to be recorded, even “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). (See I. C. 3 also.)

2 Maccabees


As mentioned above (I.A.), the 2nd cent. a.d. title τὰ Μακκαβαϊκα may have referred exclusively to 2 Maccabees inasmuch as Judas, the focal point of this work, was properly “the Maccabee.” The book presents a summary or epitome of a five-volume history by one Jason of Cyrene (2 Macc 2:23ff.). Clement of Alexandria correctly refers to this book as ἡ τω̂ν Μακκαβαϊκων ἐπιτοψή “The epitome of the things Maccabean.” A more accurate title is given at the end of MS V: “An epitome of the Deeds of Judas Maccabeus.”


Since 2 Maccabees is based on the fivefold history of Jason, it is difficult to decide which material was original with the author himself. Within 3-15:36, which constitute the “epitome” proper, scholars have questioned the inclusion of official documents in ch. 11. Some doubt that either Jason’s history or the original 2 Maccabees contained them, but other authorities attribute the documents to Jason. Inasmuch as the work of Jason is no longer extant, most of the arguments of this nature are subjective and anything but conclusive.

Several contradictions and historical problems have cast doubt on the integrity of 2 Maccabees. Chronological errors abound, such as the placing of Antiochus Epiphanes’ death prior to the cleansing of the Temple by Judas (2 Macc 1:11-18; 9:1-10:9) or the description of episodes concerning Lysias following that same monarch’s decease (11:1-15). In the latter case, the two defeats of Lysias are merged into one badly confused account. Similarly, 8:30-33 relates battles with Timothy and Bacchides which interrupt the account of the victory over Nicanor (8:23-29, 34-36).

With regard to the death of the despicable Antiochus IV, variant accounts are given in chs. 1 and 9. The author must have noticed the discrepancy but preferred to follow his sources; any tradition of that tyrant’s death was worth preserving! Apparently he was bothered little by historical difficulties, avoiding the painstaking care of a thorough historian (2:28). Attempts at rearranging the book to eliminate errors break up whatever continuity remains, for most of the mistakes form an integral part of their present context.

Prefaced to the main body of the text are two introductory letters addressed to the Jews in Egypt (1:1-2:18). While there is some doubt as to their authenticity, these letters may well have been incorporated by the epitomist himself. The prologue (2:19-32) and epilogue (15:37-39) obviously were written by the author.


Jason’s history.

The bulk of 2 Maccabees comprises an abridgement of a comprehensive history by Jason of Cyrene. This five-volume work has not survived, but many authorities outline the book on the basis of five divisions, which are each concluded with a summary statement (3:40; 7:42; 10:9; 13:26; 15:37). These sections may correspond to the volumes of Jason’s original production. Other scholars contend that the epitomist did not abridge Jason’s entire work, since Jason is said to have written about Judas Maccabeus and his brothers (2:19). Simon, the last of the brothers, died in 134 b.c., whereas the events described in 2 Maccabees stop at about 160 b.c. A five-volume history might be expected to cover more than the fifteen-year period dealt with in the epitome.

Parts of 2 Maccabees clearly reflect the process of condensation owing to their marked brevity (e.g. 13:22-26). Chapter 14 strangely omits any reference to Bacchides’ efforts to appoint Alcimus the high priest, an event which nevertheless seems presupposed (14:3, 4). Yet, other passages, such as those describing the martyrdoms (6:18-7:42), contain abundant detail and may have been amplifications of Jason’s narrative.

It is not likely that the epitomist or Jason made use of 1 Maccabees, even though there are many similarities of detail between the two. Some of the sources utilized by Jason and the author of 1 Maccabees may have been identical, however. The biography of Judas (cf. I. C.) could have been at Jason’s disposal, expanded at points by oral tradition about the Maccabean hero.

Since several of the dates involving Syrian rulers match those in 1 Maccabees, the epitomist prob. had access to a Seleucid chronicle. Numerical notations, such as the number of soldiers involved in battles, do not agree in 1 and 2 Maccabees, so different chronicles may have been followed.

The Temple archives prob. comprised another common source for the two historians. In at least two places (9:19-27; 11:16-38) documents are quoted which demanded access to those key Jerusalem records if they are indeed reliable quotations. Facts about Onias, Jason, and Menelaus may have been derived from priestly annals chronicling events prior to Judas’s triumphs. On the other hand, oral tradition could have been responsible for the circulation of much of this information.



The identification of either Jason or the epitomist who summarized the larger history is difficult. There was a nephew of Judas Maccabeus named Jason (1 Macc 8:17) and another Jason served as an envoy to Rome, but neither of these men can be connected positively with Jason of Cyrene. The epitomist himself was evidently an Alexandrian Jew, since the letters opening the book were written to the Jews in Egypt, and the rhetorical Gr. suits the style of Alexandria. Perhaps the emphasis upon the Jerusalem Temple was a pointed rebuke against the Jewish temple at Heliopolis. Others suggest that 2 Maccabees was composed in Antioch, for several of the martyrdoms might have happened there (7:3; cf. 6:8).

The author has been variously designated as a Pharisee or one of the Hasidim. Contrasted with the writer of 1 Maccabees the epitomist stresses such characteristic Pharisaic teachings as predestination, the active intervention of angels on behalf of God’s people, and the resurrection of the body. If the epitomist is identified less specifically with the Hasidim, as is the author of 1 Maccabees, it is hard to account for the vast differences between the two books. The Hasidim disapproved of Simon’s rule (10:18-22; 14:17-19), but the Pharisees doubtless shared this sentiment. Unlike 1 Maccabees 7:12-16, there is no reference in the epitome to the dispute between the Hasidim and Judas.

A case could also be made for an Essene background, for some have noticed several parallels between 2 Maccabees and the Qumran “War of the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness.” Both works frown on fighting during the sabbatical year, and slogans written on the banners of the “sons of Light” resemble those used by Judas (8:23; 12:11; 13:13, 15, 17; 15:7f.). Angels play a large role in the battles, although the War Scroll emphasizes evil angels also. The importance of restoring true Temple worship is another similarity within the two works. On the whole, however, these parallels seem more apparent than real; the Pharisaic identification remains the strongest view.


Before examining the date of the extant book, one must investigate Jason’s earlier work. The date of that production depends partially on the identification of Jason and the scope of the epitome. If only a portion of Jason’s five volumes was abridged, a date far later than Judas must be sought (cf. II. C. 1). Even the traditions regarding Judas could have taken a number of years to develop, however, so the date for his history is placed tentatively during John Hyrcanus’s reign (134-104 b.c.), prob. after 130 b.c. Most authorities assume that Jason wrote before 1 Maccabees was composed.

The date of the epitome itself must be later than 124 b.c., since the first letter cited was written then (1:9). In the epilogue (15:37), Jerusalem is said to be controlled by the Jews, a power they relinquished to the Romans in 63 b.c. This date may provide a terminus ad quem for the writing of 2 Maccabees, although Zeitlin argued for a date during the time of Agrippa I (a.d. 41-44). By a.d. 50 one may safely assert that the book was in circulation.

Purpose and style.

In his zeal to magnify the Temple in Jerusalem, the author aimed his book at those Egyp. Jews who may have been supporting the Jewish temple at Heliopolis. These brothers were exhorted by the introductory letters to observe the Feast of Dedication and thus maintain close unity with the Palestinian Jews. As he carefully depicted the events surrounding the desecration and purification of the Temple, the epitomist sought to foster proper devotion to the Jerusalem sanctuary. He was also intent on proving God’s providential care for His people.

A theological treatise such as 2 Maccabees differed widely from the unadorned, factual approach found in 1 Maccabees. Indeed, so distinct are these two works that one must not label the epitome “the second book of Maccabees,” as if it were a continuation of 1 Maccabees. Rather, it is another book about the Maccabean era. In contrast to the straightforward account of 1 Maccabees, the author of 2 Maccabees embellishes and amplifies his material, mixing historical details with a colorful style in order to delight the taste of the reader (2 Macc 15:39). Thorough historical research was snubbed, while incidents of great interest and emotional appeal were stressed and exaggerated (2:23-32). In general, Jason’s history was abridged, but where facts needed to be dressed up the epitomist waxed eloquent. Second Maccabees was unabashedly written for popular consumption in the florid and fluent Gr. common in Alexandria during this period. The author displays a large vocabulary in his descriptive zeal.

Because of the writer’s religious objective he emphasizes the supernatural, particularly the effective work of angelic horsemen. Frequently he attaches moral teaching to the outcome of battles. Individual heroism also is highly commended, notably that of Judas himself or of the martyrs.


The book covers a fifteen-year period extending from a time just preceding the accession of Antiochus IV in 175 b.c. down to 160 b.c. Although it has 15 chs. compared with 16 for 1 Maccabees, it is considerably shorter. Two letters (1:1-9; 1:10-2:18) from Jews in Pal. to the Egyp. diaspora are prefaced to the work (see II. C. 2). They contain information about the purification of the Temple and the Feast of Dedication, which they are urging their brothers to keep. Then follows the prologue (2:19-32) acknowledging the author’s dependence on the history of Jason, which he hopes to abridge with sweat and long hours.

In the first ch. of the epitome proper, the author relates the abortive attempt of Heliodorus, an officer of Seleucus IV, to plunder the Temple. A horse with an awesome angelic rider struck Heliodorus dumb and preserved the sanctity of “the place.”

Chapter 4 outlines the struggles of the Tobiads to gain the high priesthood. Jason and then Menelaus, aided by the Tobiad temple officer Simon, wrested this position from Onias III, mainly through bribes given to Antiochus Epiphanes. As a result, Jerusalem was turned into a Gr. city. After miraculous signs in the sky, Jason attacked Jerusalem hoping to regain the high priesthood lost to Menelaus (5:1-10). Assuming that a major revolt was in progress, Antiochus unleashed a murderous attack on Jerusalem, desecrating and plundering the Temple, and forcing Judas to flee to the mountains (5:11-27).

Antiochus dedicated the Temple to Zeus and forced the Jews to honor the god Dionysus (6:1-9). Two women were killed because they circumcised their children, and other Jews were burned to death while keeping the Sabbath (6:10, 11). Included among the many martyrs was one Eleazar, a venerable scribe who refused to eat swine’s flesh to save his life (6:18-31). More famous are the seven brothers who were tortured to death one by one rather than give up their faith. After exhorting her sons not to recant and then observing the merciless atrocities inflicted on them, the godly mother also died a martyr’s death.

The events in chs. 8-15 parallel 1 Maccabees 3-7 in large measure, depicting the accomplishments of Judas. First, victories over Nicanor, Timothy and Bacchides are recounted. Chapter 9 presents an account of the death of Antiochus which differs radically from that of 1 Maccabees 6:1-16. Horrible pains plagued the tyrant, and his chariot somehow ran over him (9:5-8). Then as worms were eating away his rotting body, Antiochus changed his attitude toward the Jews, sending them a friendly letter and resolving to become a Jew himself (9:11-27).

The cleansing of the Temple and the institution of the Feast of Dedication are related in 10:1-9. This is followed by another invasion of Timothy, whose large army was smashed near Jerusalem by Judas, who was aided by five angelic horsemen visible to the enemy (10:24-38). Another horseman dressed in white led the Jewish forces on to victory against Lysias (ch. 11).

A brief peace evaporated as conflicts erupted at Joppa and other cities, and Lysias was again defeated in 163 b.c. (chs. 12; 13). This time three years of peace ensued until Demetrius I sent Nicanor to be the Syrian governor of Judea. Intermittent fighting between the rival armies was climaxed by a final battle in which 35,000 Syrians were killed, including Nicanor. A vision, in which the priest Onias and Jeremiah appeared to Judas, provided important motivation for the army (14-15:36). This triumph was thereafter commemorated a day before the Feast of Purim.

In a short epilogue, the author states that he did his best to combine historical details with a style which was hopefully interesting enough to please his readers (15:37-39).


The Temple in Jerusalem is regarded as the best and holiest in the world (2:19, 22; 5:15; 14:31) and events concerning the Temple are extremely important. Heliodorus’s unsuccessful attempt to enter and plunder the Temple is related, as well as the high priest’s fear that “the place” would be dishonored (3:18ff.). Antiochus’s desecration of the Temple is viewed by the author as a heinous deed (5:11-6:9), while Judas gains heroic stature for purifying the sanctuary. At the end of the book, Nicanor’s death is attributed to his threat against the Temple.

God’s providential justice is strongly emphasized, particularly by the exact retribution He meted out to the wicked. Hence, Andronicus was killed at the very place where he had put Onias to death (4:38), and the agonies endured by Antiochus IV are compared with the tortures he had devised for others (9:5, 6). Each punishment corresponded precisely to the crime (13:4-8; 15:32-35).

Even the persecution of the Jews was deserved, for the nation had sinned in supporting pagan practices. Their punishment was a loving discipline for God’s people (1:26; 6:12; 14:15) which would bring the ungodly among them to repentance. On the other hand, the sin of heathen nations was allowed to increase to the point where God had to destroy them (6:12-17). When Israel did keep the law, victory over the enemy was forthcoming (8:34-36).

In almost every battle angelic horsemen appear to terrify the enemy and bring victory to the Maccabean forces. These dazzling warriors physically repelled Heliodorus (3:25) or protected Judas (10:29), and with a heavenly rider to lead them the Jews demolished Lysias (11:6-14). Occasionally angels render assistance without their steeds (3:26, 33). Horsemen were seen fighting high over Jerusalem for almost forty days. This served as a warning of the impending persecution (5:1-4).

Judas Maccabeus stands out as a champion (8:36) who, like David, restored the military fortunes of Israel and revitalized the nation’s worship (cf. 2 Sam 6). His purification of the sanctuary is the focal point of the book, but he also receives praise for his fervent prayers (8:1-5) and his concern for widows and orphans (8:28, 30). To the author, Judas was a blameless man raised up by God at a crucial time.

In a vision seen by Judas before a key battle, the martyred Onias and Jeremiah appeared to encourage the people. Onias prayed for the nation and Jeremiah gave Judas a golden sword to slay the foe (15:11-14). The concern and intercession of the dead for the living has been developed into a doctrine by the Church of Rome. Conversely, Rome has adopted the practice of praying and offering sacrifices for the dead found in 12:43-46. Neither teaching is found in the OT.

The well-known martyr section (6:10-7:42) extols the dedicated faithfulness of the victims and makes their actions worthy of emulation. Patristic writers compared the early martyrs favorably with Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. Their suffering was even regarded as having an atoning value (7:37; 8:3). The aforementioned sacrifice for the dead was also a sin offering to make atonement for some whose pagan involvements had placed their resurrection and eternal destiny in jeopardy.

In several places this bodily resurrection of the righteous is strongly emphasized. God will raise up the faithful to everlasting life (7:11, 36; 14:26) and a reunion with one’s loved ones (7:6, 14, 19, 29). For the wicked, the future held nothing but punishment and suffering.

Original language.

There is little doubt that the smooth Gr. of the book, though strained at times, does not represent a tr. from Heb. or Aram. Unlike 1 Maccabees, there are few Hebraisms pointing to such an original, and an Alexandrian provenience is well-established. Only with regard to the introductory letters have serious attempts been made to posit a Sem. original. Since they stem from Pal. and have some evidences of a Hebraic style, it is possible that they are trs. in their present form.


(see I. J.). Second Maccabees is consistent in following the Seleucid calendar, with the New Year falling in autumn. Where 1 Maccabees 7:1 mentions a Syrian date, 2 Maccabees 14:4 has the same year. When an event concerns the Jews directly, 1 Maccabees employs the Jewish calendar with its spring New Year, but 2 Maccabees retains the Seleucid system (cf. 1 Macc 6:20 and 2 Macc 13:1). Hence, a one-year discrepancy occurs in these instances.

Relation to the NT.

The impact of the martyr section (6:10-7:42) upon the Early Church was evident during the Rom. persecutions and may be alluded to in Hebrews 11:35-38. Some of the faithful heroes were tortured and killed, or were “wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Heb 11:38). The terminology closely parallels 2 Maccabees 5:27; 6:11; and 10:6 and may reflect upon the afflictions of the Maccabean era. Since Hebrews 11:4-12:2 is often related to the “honor roll” found in Ecclesiasticus 44-49, it could be argued that the author of Hebrews had another intertestamental book in mind also.

The sequence and meaning of the words δειλανόρου̂ντες and ἀπιστευ̂ντες (2 Macc 8:13) resemble δειλου̂ς and ἀπίστοις (Rev 21:8). The joining of the epithets “cowardly” and “unbelieving” in these two passages could be more than coincidence, and the context in 2 Maccabees would indicate that ἀπίστοις does not mean only “faithless” (RSV) or “untrustworthy.”

Reference is made to the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22). This festival commemorates the cleansing and rededication of the Temple by Judas Maccabeus (2 Macc 10:8; cf. 1 Macc 4:59).

3 Maccabees


The earliest MSS and VSS attribute this title to the book although it is, strictly speaking, inaccurate. Events precede the Maccabean era by about fifty years, and none of the Maccabees figures in any of the narratives. In the LXX uncials A and V, 3 Maccabees appears next to 1 and 2 Maccabees and may have received its name from this arrangement.

Some scholars consider the book to be a kind of introduction to the books of Maccabees, and Cotton for one has located it first in his Five Books of Maccabees. Since 3 Maccabees also deals with a foreign power’s attempt to Hellenize the Jews, there is some merit to this suggestion. It is true that “Maccabee” was applied to all of Judas’s brothers (see I. A.) and may have been extended to include other heroes of the faith as well.


In spite of the legendary character of much of the book, there is evidence that the author did have certain historical facts at his command. Several accounts resemble the 2nd cent. b.c. history of Polybius, particularly the description of the Battle of Raphia (Histories V, 80-86). The material in ch. 1 regarding Ptolemy IV apparently represents the facts to a large degree. If it were not for certain discrepancies with the Histories of Polybius, one would label this as a source for 3 Maccabees, though the author may have depended on his faulty memory for information from that work.

A source which may have been used by both Polybius and the author of 3 Maccabees was the biography of Ptolemy IV written by one Ptolemy of Megalopolis, governor of Cyprus during Philopator’s reign. This rather derogatory biography may have furnished the raw material for the embellishments of 3 Maccabees, and it is also known that Polybius lived in Megalopolis. Only a few fragments of this biography are extant, however.

Jewish traditions.

The fusing of divergent traditions among Egyp. Jewry is particularly evident in the elephant episode (chs. 4-6). Josephus describes a similar event during the reign of Ptolemy VII Physcon (146-117 b.c.) in Contra Apionem II, v. When the Jews supported the cause of Queen Cleopatra against his own, Physcon planned to release a herd of elephants upon them. As in 3 Maccabees, the drunk beasts attacked and killed many of the king’s men. This story must go back to a historical kernel which became associated with more than one Ptolemy in the course of transmission.

Similarly, the dichotomy between the Jews of Alexandria and those from the Egyp. interior indicates two traditions. The existence of a festival at Alexandria as well as one at Ptolemais strengthens this hypothesis (6:36; 7:19).


Several motifs seem to be borrowed from the canonical Book of Esther, which relates the oppression of the Jews by an earlier power. The plot against the king and subsequent rescue through Dositheus (1:2, 3) reminds one of Mordecai’s life-saving contribution in Esther 2:21-23. Like the Jews in Persia, those in Egypt were accused of disloyalty (Esther 3:8; 3 Macc 3:19). In both works the attempt to wipe out the Jews back-fired, as the persecuted gained revenge against the Gentiles (Esther 9) or their apostate brethren (3 Macc 7:10-15). To celebrate the deliverances, both books record the establishment of festivals.

2 Maccabees.

Even more striking are the parallels between 2 and 3 Maccabees. Both books revolve around the forced Hellenization of the Jews at the expense of their religious beliefs (2 Macc 4:9; 6:1-9; 3 Macc 2:27-30). The attempt of Philopator to enter the Jerusalem Temple (3 Macc 1:9-2:24) closely resembles the thwarted efforts of Heliodorus (2 Macc 3:7). And the angelic horseman who blocked the path of that Syrian official (3:25) reminds one of the two angels who panicked the elephants and the Egyptians in 3 Maccabees 6:18-21. To preserve the sanctity of the Temple, the Jews prayed fervently in both books (2 Macc 3:15-23; 14:34-36; 3 Macc 2:1-20). In addition, each work solemnizes God’s deliverance with a festival.


The nature of the Gr. used, the emphasis upon Alexandrian Judaism, and the author’s knowledge of Egyp. affairs lead all scholars to conclude that the author was a Jew living in Alexandria; for his zeal to adhere to the Jewish faith until death links him with the Hasidim. Judging from the parallels of the book with 2 Maccabees, one could identify the author with the Pharisees also. His belief in angels (3 Macc 6:18) points in this direction, but there is no mention of the resurrection of the body or a future life. Perhaps this omission parallels the arrangement in Daniel, where God’s saving providence is emphasized in Dan. 1-6, but the resurrection is outlined only at the end of that book (Dan 12:2).

The failure to refer to Esther might possibly indicate that the author was closer to the Essenes, since that significant little book is not found at Qumran either.


Although the occasion for the book need not have been deep distress (see III. E.), several scholars have favored Caligula’s persecution of the Jews in a.d. 38-39 as the historical backdrop. That Rom. monarch, an advocate of emperor worship, tried to defile the Temple and also set up images in synagogues. If this were the actual situation behind the book, one would expect that these heathen practices would have been vigorously condemned and ascribed to Ptolemy.

Several lines of evidence support a 1st cent. b.c. origin. The author was influenced by 2 Maccabees and was aware of the Gr. “Additions to the Book of Daniel,” particularly the language of the “Song of the Three Children” (Song of the Three 26, 27; cf. 3 Macc 6:6). Linguistic affinities with the Epistle of Aristeas strengthens a dating in the last pre-Christian cent. also. Moreover, the use of a personal name like “Philopator” in formal correspondence (3 Macc 3:12; 7:1) did not become the practice of the Ptolemies until about 100 b.c.

While a 1st cent. b.c. date is more probable, others argue that the composition took place in the Christian era. If so, a time prior to the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70 is demanded, since the Temple services are viewed as continuing (1:8).

Purpose and style.

The author’s aim is to comfort and strengthen Jews who were undergoing persecution by providing examples of those who remained true to the faith and were delivered. By providing background stories of this kind, he also made available instructional and religious material for use in the special festivals of the Egyp. Jews. These stories would be of value even in times of relative peace and security. The slaughter of the several hundred apostate Jews would also serve as a warning to any about to abandon the religion of their fathers. An equally potent warning is directed against those individuals or nations that may have been embarking on policies of persecution toward the Jews.

With this apologetic approach, the author uses the style of a historical novel or romance. Various traditions and motifs are combined and embellished to achieve the desired effects. Many of the details are fantastic and incredible, reminiscent of the method of the epitomist. Occasionally scriptural allusions are made to God’s intervention in regard to the Flood, Pharaoh and the Exodus, Sennacherib’s army, Daniel and his three friends, and Jonah (2:1-10; 6:3-8).

The book was composed in good idiomatic Gr., so there is no likelihood of a Sem. original. At times the style becomes bombastic and similar to parts of the LXX.


The book is a historical romance setting forth the growing conflict between Ptolemy IV Philopator and the Jews. In the first story (1:1-2:24) Ptolemy’s great victory over Antiochus III at the Battle of Raphia (217 b.c.) is followed by the Egyptian’s visit to the Jerusalem Temple. His threat to enter the holy place produced bitter grief among the people, who preferred death to the desecration of the Temple (1:29). When the high priest Simon prayed eloquently, God answered by paralyzing Ptolemy.

Returning to Alexandria with his desire unfulfilled, the king retaliated by compelling the Jews of that city to sacrifice to Bacchus (Dionysus) at the royal temples (2:25-33). Those who refused would forfeit their rights as citizens and would be branded with the ivy leaf, the symbol of Bacchus. Most of the Jews resisted this order and used bribery to avoid being enrolled as serfs.

Ptolemy then issued an edict to execute all the Jews of Egypt, who were brought in chains to the hippodrome near Alexandria (4:21). Before this slaughter a census of all the Jews was to be taken, but a shortage of pens and papyrus precluded the forty-day effort to complete this registration.

Angered, Ptolemy decreed that 500 intoxicated elephants were to be turned loose against the Jews, but the king overslept one day and completely forgot about the decree the next day. Finally, the elephants were readied and the Jews, led by an old priest named Eleazar, prayed earnestly for deliverance. Two angels appeared to terrify the elephants and soldiers, and the beasts turned to trample many of Philopator’s own men (4:22-6:21).

This remarkable event brought the king to repentance; he released the Jews and reinstated them as loyal citizens. After a week’s feast, he also gave them permission to attack those of their own number who had apostatized. They later killed 300 fellow Jews. While journeying homeward, they also celebrated for another week at Ptolemais and decided to commemorate their deliverance with an annual festival (6:22-7:23).


As in the first two books of Maccabees, the importance and value of prayer is stressed. During great crises, miracles follow directly upon the prayers of Simon and Eleazar, which are recorded in detail. A corollary to prayer is the saving work of God on behalf of those who trust in Him.

The “unconquerable providence” of God who was “aiding the Jews from heaven” (4:21) is another concept. The Lord does not turn His face away from His people (6:15), for He is the “holy Savior” of Israel (7:16). Even if they sin, God will forgive and deliver them (2:13).

The uniqueness of the Jews and their religion is strongly emphasized. They retain their faith in spite of fierce persecution, and any who would desecrate their Temple will face dire consequences (1:8-2:24). Contrary to the charges of their enemies, they are loyal citizens who have always been an asset to Egypt from the time they first defended her borders (3:21; 6:25; 7:7).

Relation to the NT.

As in 2 Maccabees (see II. K.), the noun ἐπιφάνεια, G2211, and related words occur several times (2:9; 5:8, 51). In 6:18 God manifests His face by sending two glorious angels to strike terror into the hearts of the Jews’ enemies. The relating of “epiphany” to the appearance or manifestation of angels was characteristic of 2 Maccabees. God manifests His mercy (2:19) and is called the “manifest God” (5:35). Each of these examples helps the interpreter to evaluate the meaning of this term in the NT.

4 Maccabees


The oldest title of this book, 4 Maccabees (Μακκαβαίων Δ), is found in several texts of the LXX א,) A, and V) and in later lists. There is some justification for the title since illustrations are largely drawn from 2 Maccabees 6 and 7. A number of Church Fathers erroneously attributed the work to Josephus and called it “On the Supremacy of Reason” (περὶ αὐτοκράτορος λογισμου̂; cf. Euseb. Hist. III. X. 6. and Jerome On Illustrious Men, 13). Some Gr. editions of Josephus’s works make “On the Supremacy of Reason” the last chapter. The title is superior to “4 Maccabees” but the latter remains the more common designation.


A few sections are viewed by some as additions to the book, primarily 17:23, 24 and 18:6-19. Their content seems to be at odds with the language and teaching of the rest of the book and with the immediate context. In 18:6-19 the mother of the martyrs makes a speech reviewing the splendid teaching of her deceased husband, instruction which contributed greatly to the valor of their sons. Included in this speech are passages from Deuteronomy 32:39 and Ezekiel 37:3 which allude to a physical resurrection, a doctrine largely neglected by the author. It should be noted, however, that these scriptural verses themselves do not refer specifically to a physical resurrection. While this passage may be a digression, its content is consonant with the rest of the book.


There is little question that the author utilized 2 Maccabees as a source for his book. The historical setting given in 3:19-4:26 is dependent on 2 Maccabees 2-6:11, although the Seleucid persecution therein described does contain some variations. For example, in 2 Maccabees 3, Heliodorus was the official who tried to enter the Temple, while 4 Maccabees 4 attributes this deed to Apollonius, governor of Syria. The martyrdom accounts in chapters 5-18 expand the much briefer description found in 2 Maccabees 6 and 7, and the version of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes given in gruesome detail in 2 Maccabees 9 is reflected in 4 Maccabees 18:5.

Discrepancies between the two works and the elaborations of 4 Maccabees have cast some doubt on the identification of the source. It is possible that the writer depended on the history of Jason of Cyrene, which stands behind 2 Maccabees, rather than on the epitome itself. Conceivably, both might have been consulted. Yet, the characteristically loose handling of the author’s source material need not lead away from 2 Maccabees. His penchant for deviations is evident even in his Biblical references, particularly in his discussion of David’s thirst (3:6-16; cf. 2 Sam 23:13-17).


Some of the Early Church Fathers named Josephus as the author of 4 Maccabees (see IV. A.). Internal evidence strongly militates against this view since the style and content differ radically from the known writings of Josephus. Like Josephus, however, the author was a Jew sympathetic with Pharisaic views. His fervent devotion to the law and belief in angels (4:10; 7:11) support this identification. By eulogizing the Maccabean martyrs and neglecting the more important military leaders, the author also manifests a pacifistic attitude. Not war but the martyrs who restored the observance of the law are credited with expelling the enemy from the land (18:4).

The author’s Hel. background stands out in bold relief. Stoic thought forms are used frequently, and a philosophical tone permeates the book. He assumes that his readers are capable of deep thinking and have a philosophical framework themselves. It is evident that the author wishes to retain Gr. ideas wherever they do not contradict his Jewish beliefs.

Most scholars hold that the author wrote from Alexandria, since the integration of Gr. philosophy with Judaism was felt most keenly there. The Gr. style and overall content compare favorably with other Alexandrian lit. of this period. Moreover, the important influence of 2 Maccabees upon the book supports this location, for in all probability 2 Maccabees was composed in Alexandria also.

Generally, proof that he was not a Palestinian Jew is based on the reference to a gymnasium “upon” the citadel of Jerusalem rather than “under” it (4:20). This “error” is mitigated by the less precise meaning of ἐπ(ί) as “at” or “by” instead of “upon.” Usually, however, those who doubt the Alexandrian provenience prefer to locate the author in Antioch of Syria. This argument is posited upon the allegation that the Gr. of 4 Maccabees is more Asiatic than Egyptian.


The book must have been written after 2 Maccabees and before the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70. Although the date of 2 Maccabees is uncertain, most likely a work dependent on it could not have been composed before 50 b.c. The terminus ad quem is fixed by the assumption that the Temple worship had been resumed after Antiochus demolished the cultic functions (4:20).

A more accurate dating can perhaps be derived from the historical notation that Apollonius was governor of Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia (4:4). The same Apollonius governed Coele-Syria and Phoenicia (2 Macc 4:4). Only from a.d. 18-55 was Cilicia joined with Syria and Phoenicia, and this may explain the changed reference. This span is further narrowed by the failure to allude to Caligula’s persecution of 38, 39, for the readers can hardly comprehend the atrocities of Antiochus (14:9). If 4 Maccabees had been written after 38, such behavior would have been more easily understood.

Purpose and style.

The book was written to show the viability of Judaism within a Hellenic world. As he exalted the law and eulogized the Maccabean martyrs, who were loyal to its principles, the author wished also to commemorate those godly heroes who far surpassed Gr. stalwarts. By their inspiring example, he exhorted and encouraged others to emulate their faithfulness and live under the control of religious reason.

Apparently the book was presented orally at a special “time” or “season” when the deaths of the martyrs were remembered (1:10; 3:19). Several suggestions have been made concerning the identity of this occasion. One theory relates the recitation to the custom of Gr. and Syr. Christians commemorating the martyrdoms on August 1, a custom partially based on the belief that the martyrs were buried in Antioch. Such a theory demands an Antiochene origin for 4 Maccabees, a supposition with scant support.

Because of the frequent mention of the atonement accomplished by the martyrs, some have associated the book with the Day of Atonement. Evidence for this is meager, but according to a rabbinic legend, synagogue worship for that occasion did include reference to another martyrdom of ten godly men slain by Hadrian.

Another possibility is the Feast of Dedication, for the book stresses the purified land and the renewal of keeping the law accomplished by the martyrs (1:11; 17:21; 18:4). The themes of purification and renewal are closely related to the Feast of Dedication, though with reference to the Temple. Since there is no mention of this festival or of any of the Maccabean leaders in the book, even this identification is not convincing.

The form of the book is difficult to evaluate. Evidently it was intended for oral presentation, and some have called it a sermon. Frequently, the author appeals to his audience in sermonic fashion (18:1, 4), and a religious quality is apparent in the splendid rhetoric. Yet the philosophic framework implies that the form is a literary device rather than an actual Jewish sermon. Scriptural references are confined mostly to the first three chapters.

This work also has been rightly designated a panegyric, for the eulogy of the Maccabean martyrs is central to the book. At times the style is impressive and eloquent; vivid description and figures of speech occur often, and occasionally scriptural terminology is used effectively (6:2). The martyrdom chapters spare no gory detail as they evoke revulsion and respect.

The philosophic vocabulary sometimes demands close reasoning from a well-educated audience. A semiclassical style of Gr. is used replete with numerous optative forms.


The book is a philosophical discourse on the superiority of pious or religious reason in the life of a godly man. It is radically different from the other books of Maccabees, and in spite of a greater number of chapters, it is slightly shorter than 2 Maccabees and only half as long as 1 Maccabees in actual text.

According to his opening statement, the author seeks to demonstrate that religious reason can be the master of one’s passions. Stating his theme and method of approach (1:1-12), he proceeds to define clearly the philosophical terms used (1:13-30a). Then in 1:30b-3:17 OT figures such as Joseph and David are cited to illustrate the triumph of reason. Chapter 4 provides the historical background to the rest of the book by describing the Seleucid persecution against the Jews.

The main proof of his thesis is found in the lives of the Maccabean martyrs, to whom most of the book is dedicated. In 5:1-6:30 the trial and torture of the faithful priest Eleazar are narrated, followed by a commentary upon that death (6:30-7:23). Then the martyrdom of the seven brothers is presented in great detail, as each one, beginning with the eldest, endures horrible atrocities (8:1-12:20). After some observations upon their bravery (13:1-14:10) the author shifts his attention to the fortitude of the mother in her death (14:11-18:24).


Fourth Maccabees attempts to synthesize Jewish and Gr. thought by showing that the Mosaic law provides the best means of gaining wisdom (1:16, 17). Reason operates most efficiently when the life of wisdom selected by the intellect is in accord with the Jewish law. The oft-repeated “religious” or “pious reason” is derived from the term ὁ εὐσεβὴς λογισμός (4, 1:1; 7:16; 13:1; 15:23; 16:1; 18:2) or ὁ λογισμος τη̂ς ἐυσεβειας (4, 7:4, 23; 16:40), “reason consisting of piety” or of “religion” or “reverence.” While such reason can be the master of the passions, it cannot control defects like forgetfulness or ignorance which are inherent in the mind itself (1:5, 6). In the heroic deaths of the martyrs, reason was victorious over passion.

The author divides the passions into pleasure (ἡδονή, G2454) and pain (πόνος, G4506) in Aristotelian fashion, and Stoic influence can be seen in his discussion of desire, joy, fear, and grief (1:20-23). These emotions are affected by ἡ κακοήθης διάθεσις, “the tendency toward evil” which is similar to the rabbinic concept of יֵצֶר הַטּוֹב and יֵצֶר הָרָע, “the good tendency” and “evil tendency” struggling within man (cf. Gen 6:5). Unlike the Stoics, the writer denies that reason can eradicate the passions; reason’s function is to control the passions, thus avoiding enslavement to them (3:1-3).

In his delineation of the four cardinal virtues—intelligence (φρόνησις, G5860), justice (δικαιοσύνη, G1466), courage (ἀνδρεία) and self-control (σωφροσύνη, G5408)—the author clearly uses Stoic terminology (1:6, 18; 3:1). The Heb. martyrs more than others demonstrated these virtues by enduring a cruel death (9:18). By their heroism, Eleazar and the seven brothers show themselves to be philosophers of distinction, despising the self-gratifying hedonism of their tormentor Antiochus (5:4-12; 8:1-10). Thus, the Jews deserve recognition as philosophers who are actually superior to the Greeks.

Emphasis is placed also upon the doctrine of immortality, which would bring eternal life for the godly (9:8; 14:5, 6; 17:12) and eternal torment for the wicked (9:9, 31; 12:12, 18; 13:15). In contrast to 2 Maccabees, no clear reference to a bodily resurrection occurs in the book, an omission which reflects the Gr. viewpoint of the writer.

Further evidence of Stoic background can be seen in the names used for God, particularly πρόνοια, G4630, “providence” (9:24; 13:19; 17:22), a term meaning “the world soul” in Stoic thought. “Justice” (δίκη, G1472, 4:21; 8:14, 22) and “power” (δύναμις, G1539, 5:13) are other titles which appear sporadically.

Probably the most remarkable passages on vicarious atonement outside of the NT occur in 4 Maccabees, where the blood of the martyrs atones for the sin of the people. The most explicit statement, found in 17:22, describes their blood as a propitiatory death through which divine Providence saved Israel. By their endurance these martyrs conquered tyranny and cleansed the fatherland (1:11; 18:4). Quite clearly this atonement is expressed as a substitution for the people (6:28, 29). An analogous teaching is found in the Qumran “Manual of Discipline,” which asserts that certain righteous ones within the community atone for iniquity through righteous living and suffering (VIII:3, 4). This same group also makes atonement for the land in VIII:6, 7, a concept similar to “cleansing the fatherland” (4 Macc 1:11; 18:4).

Relation to the NT.

There are several points of correspondence between 4 Maccabees and the writings of Paul, leading some scholars to suggest that Paul could have been the author if he had not been saved. Both men had Pharisaic backgrounds and were familiar with the philosophies of the day, particularly Stoicism. The recognition that reason—or the law—cannot fully control the mind (1:5, 6) is similar to Paul’s admission in Romans 7 that sin led him against his will.

When Paul declared in 1 Corinthians 13:3 that he would gain nothing if he gave his body to be burned without love, he may have been counteracting the glorification of martyrdom so characteristic of 4 Maccabees. That same chapter on love ends with the mention of faith, hope, and love—the greatest of which is love (v. 13). These three may have been intentionally contrasted with the four Stoic virtues of intelligence, justice, courage, and self-control—the greatest of which was intelligence (4 Macc 1:18, 19).

Paul’s teaching about the vicarious suffering of Christ parallels to some extent the substitution of the martyrs for the people (6:28, 29). The propitiatory blood of Christ stressed in Romans 3:25 resembles the propitiatory death of the martyrs through which Israel was saved (17:22). Similarly, the Book of Hebrews refers to the sanctifying effect of the blood of Christ (Heb. 1:3; 2:11; 10:10, 14, 29; 13:2), while 4 Maccabees 1:11, 6:29 and 17:21, 22 describe the purifying of the Jews and Israel through the martyrs’ blood. Christ’s death, however, has a world-wide application.

Hebrews 11:34, 35 already has been discussed with regard to 2 Maccabees, but a possible relationship with 4 Maccabees also exists. The faith which motivated the great heroes of Hebrews 11 is likewise stressed in the suffering of the Maccabean martyrs (4 Macc 16:22; 17:2).

The opening verses of Hebrews 12 can be instructively compared with 4 Maccabees 17:11-16. In the latter passage, the world and “the life of men” are the ones observing the martyrs enduring torture. In verse 10 they are described as ἐις θεὸν ἀφορω̂ντες “looking to God”; in Hebrews 12:2 persevering believers surrounded by a cloud of witnesses are ἀφορω̂ντες εις, “looking to (Jesus).” This is a rare NT term, and the contextual similarities to 4 Maccabees as well as the connection with Hebrews 11 may indicate a relationship between the two books.


First and Second Maccabees were declared to be canonical by the Council of Trent in 1546, although leading Roman Catholic scholars contemporary with Luther denied their right to this status. Protestants have relegated these two books to the Apocrypha, while acknowledging the high quality of 1 Maccabees. Early Church Fathers made frequent use of both books, but Origen, and particularly Jerome, who had broad acquaintance with Heb. and the views of the Jews, excluded them from their lists of canonical writings. The latter scholar omitted them from his famous Vulgate. Only Augustine gave 2 Maccabees canonical ranking and he equivocated at that.

Third Maccabees was regarded as canonical only by the Eastern churches (Greek, Syriac, and Armenian), which also received 1 and 2 Maccabees. Although it does appear in the Codex A of the LXX and the Syriac Peshitta, 3 Maccabees was not even included among the Apocrypha proper by Protestants.

In spite of the influence of 4 Maccabees among martyrologies and its presence in key MSS of the LXX (including A and א), it was rarely considered canonical. A few Church Fathers may have ascribed authority to it owing to its wide circulation and gripping message.


I. Abrahams, “The Third Book of Maccabees,” JQR, IX (1896-1897), 39-58; R. H. Charles, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (1913); W. O. E. Oesterley, “The First Book of Maccabees,” I, 59-124; J. Moffatt, “The Second Book of Maccabees,” I, 125-154; C. W. Emmet, “The Third Book of Maccabees,” I, 155-173; R. B. Townshend, “The Fourth Book of Maccabees,” II, 653-685; B. W. Bacon, “The Festival of Lives Given for the Nation in Jewish and Christian Faith,” The Hibbert Journal, XV (1916-1917), 256-278; E. Bickermann, “Makkabäerbücher” in Paulys Real-Encyklopädie, XIV, no. 1 (1928), cols. 779-800; I. Heinemann, “IV Maccabees,” in Paulys Real-Encyklopädie, XIV, no. 1, cols. 800-805; J. Obermann, “The Sepulchre of the Maccabean Martyrs,” JBL, LI (1931), 250-265; W. O. E. Oesterley, An Introduction to the Books of the Apocrypha (1935), 300-327; R. H. Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times, with an Introduction to the Apocrypha (1949), 461-522; S. Tedesche and S. Zeitlin, The First Book of Maccabees (1950); The Second Book of Maccabees (1954); M. Hadas, The Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees (1953); M. G. Dagut, “II Maccabees and the Death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes,” JBL, LXXII (1953), 149-157; K. D. Schunck, Die Quellen des I und II Makkabäerbuches (1954); J. C. Dancy, A Commentary on I Maccabees (1954); B. M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (1957), 129-150; H. T. Andrews, An Introduction to the Apocryphal Books of the Old and New Testament, rev. by C. F. Pfeiffer (1964), 17-23, 75-81; R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (1969), 1259-1276.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Name

2. Canonicity

3. Contents

4. Historicity

5. Author’s Standpoint and Aim

6. Date

7. Sources

8. Original Language

9. Text and Versions



1. Name

2. Canonicity

3. Contents

4. Sources

5. Historicity

6. Teaching of the Book

7. Author

8. Date

9. Original Language

10. Text and Versions



1. Name

2. Canonicity

3. Contents

4. Historicity

5. Aim and Teaching

6. Authorship and Date

7. Original Language

8. Text and Versions



1. Name

2. Canonicity

3. Contents

4. Teaching

5. Authorship and Date

6. Original Language

7. Text and Versions



1. Name

2. Canonicity 3. Contents

4. Historicity

5. Original Language

6. Aim and Teaching

7. Authorship and Date

8. Text and Versions


I. 1 Maccabees.

1. Name:

The Hebrew title has perished with the original Hebrew text. Rabbinical writers call the Books of Maccabees ciphere ha-chashmonim, "The Book of the Hasmoneans" (see Asmoneans). Origen gives to Book I (the only one he seemed to know of) the name Sarbeth Sabanaiel, evidently a Hebrew or Aramaic name of very uncertain meaning, but which Dalman (Aramaic Grammar, section 6) explains as a corruption of Aramaic words= "The Book of the House of the Hasmoneans" (compare the rabbinical name given above). In the Greek manuscripts N, V (Codex Venetus), the 4 books go under the designation Makkabaion, [Codices Alexandrinus, Vaticanus, Gamma Delta, biblos, being understood. In the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) the 1st and 2nd books are alone found, and appear under the name Machabaeorum liber primus, secundus. The spelling Machabaeorum reproduces probably the pronunciation current in Jerome’s day.

The name "Maccabee" belongs strictly only to Judas, who in 2 Maccabees is usually called "the Maccabee" (ho Makkabaios). But the epithet came to be applied to the whole family and their descendants. The word means probably "extinguisher" (of persecution) (makhbi, from kabhah, "to be extinguished"; so Niese; Josephus, Ant, XII, vi, 1 f; S.J. Curtis, The Name Maccabee). The more usual explanation, "hammerer" (maqqabhay), is untenable, as the noun from which it is derived (maqqebheth) (Jud 4:21) denotes a smith’s hammer.

2. Canonicity:

Since the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) includes only the first 2 books of Maccabees, these are the only books pronounced canonical by the Council of Trent and included in recognized Protestant versions of the Apocrypha (see Apocrypha). That 1 Maccabees was used largely in the early Christian church is proved by the numerous references made to it and quotations from it in the writings of Tertullian (died 220), Clement of Alexandria (died 220), Hippolytus (died 235), Origen (died 254), etc. The last named states that 1 Maccabees is uncanonical, and it is excluded from the lists of canonical writings given by Athanasius (died 373), Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386), and Gregory of Nazianzus (died 390). Indeed, none of the books of the Maccabees was recognized as canonical until the Council of Trent (1553) gave this rank to the first 2 books, and Protestants continue in their confessions to exclude the whole of the Apocrypha from the Bible proper, though Luther maintained that 1 Maccabees was more worthy of a place in the Canon than many books now included in it.

3. Contents:

1 Maccabees gives first of all a brief view of the reign of Alexander the Great and the partition of his kingdom among his successors. Having thus explained the origin of the Seleucid Dynasty, the author proceeds to give a history of the Jews from the accession of Antiochus IV, king of Syria (175 BC), to the death of Simon (135 BC). The events of these 40 years are simply but graphically related and almost entirely in the order of their occurrence. The contents of 1 Maccabees and 2 Macc 4-15 are in the main parallel, dealing with the same incidents; but the simple narrative character of 1 Maccabees, in contrast to the didactic and highly religious as well as supernatural coloring of 2 Maccabees, can easily be seen in these corresponding parts. The victories due to heroism in 1 Maccabees are commonly ascribed to miraculous intervention on the part of God in 2 Maccabees (see 1 Macc 4:1 f; compare 2 Macc 8:23 f). 2 Maccabees is more given to exaggerations. The army of Judas at Bethsura consists of 10,000 according to 1 Macc 4:29, but of 80,000 according to 2 Macc 11:2. The following is a brief analysis of 1 Maccabees:

(1) 1 Maccabees 1:1-10:

An account of the rise of the Seleucid Dynasty.

(2) 1 Maccabees 1:11-16:24:

History of the Jews from 175 to 135 BC.

(a) 1 Maccabees 1:11-64: Introductory. Some Jews inclined to adopt Greek customs (religious, etc.); Antiochus’ aim to conquer Egypt and to suppress the Jewish religion as a source of Jewish disloyalty. Desecration of the Jewish temple: martyrdom of many faithful Jews.

(b) 1 Maccabees 2:1-70: The revolt of Mattathias

(c) 1 Maccabees 3:1-9:22: Leadership of Judas Maccabeus after his father’s death. Brilliant victories over the Syrians. Purification of the temple. Death of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) and accession of Antiochus V (Eupator) (164 BC). Demetrius I became king of Syria, and Alcimus Jewish high priest (162 BC). Treaty between Jews and Romans. Defeat of Jews at Eleasa and death of Judas Maccabeus (161 BC).

(d) 1 Maccabees 9:23-12:53: Leadership of Jonathan, 5th son of Mattathias, elected to succeed his brother Judas. He becomes high priest. Political independence of Judea secured.

(e) 1 Maccabees 13:31-16:24: Peaceful and prosperous rule of Simon, brother of Jonathan; accession of his son John Hyrcanus (135 BC).

4. Historicity:

That the author of 1 Maccabees aims at giving a correct narrative, and that on the whole his account is correct, is the opinion of practically all scholars. The simple, straight-forward way in which he writes inspires confidence, and there can be no doubt that we have here a first-class authority for the period covered (175-135 BC). It is the earliest Jewish history which dates events in reference to a definite era, this era being that of the Seleucids, 312 BC, the year of the founding of that dynasty. The aid received from God is frequently recognized in the book (2:51 ff; 3:18; 4:10 f; 9:46; 16:3), yet it is mainly through personal valor that the Jews conquer, not, as in 2 Maccabees (see III, 3 below), through miraculous Divine interpositions. Ordinary, secondary causes are almost the only ones taken into account, so that the record may be relied upon as on the whole trustworthy. Yet the writer shows the defects which belong to his age and environment, or what from the standpoint of literal history must be counted defects, though, as in the case of 2 Maccabees (compare Chronicles), a writer may have other aims than to record bare objective facts. In 1:1-9 the author errs through ignorance of the real facts as regards Alexander’s partition of his kingdom; and other misstatements of fact due to the same cause occur in 10:1 ff (Alexander (Balas), son of Antiochus Epiphanes) and in 13:31 ff (time of assassination of Antiochus VI by Tryphon). In 6:37 it is said there were 32 men upon each elephant, perhaps a misreading of the original "2 or 3," although the Indian elephant corps at the turn of this century carried more.

We know nothing of a Persian village Elymais (1 Macc 6:1). The number of Jewish warriors that fought and the number slain are understated, while there are evident exaggerations of the number of soldiers who fought against them and of those of them who were left dead on the field (see 1 Macc 4:15; 7:46; 11:45-51, etc.).

But in this book, prayers, speeches and official records abound as they do in Ezra, Nehemiah (see Century Bible, "Ezra," "Nehemiah," "Esther," 12 ff), and many modern Protestant writers doubt or deny the authenticity of a part of those, though that is not necessarily to question their genuineness as part of the original narrative.

As regards the prayers (1 Macc 3:50-54; 4:30-33) and speeches (1 Macc 2:7-13; 2:50-68; 4:6-11, etc.), there is no valid reason for doubting that they give at least the substance of what was originally said or written, though ancient historians like Thucydides and Livy think it quite right to edit the speeches of their characters, abbreviating, expanding or altering. Besides, it is to be remembered that the art of stenography is a modern one; even Dr. Johnson, in default of verbatim reports, had to a large extent to make the speeches which he ostensibly reported.

There is, however, in the book a large number of official documents, and it is in regard to the authenticity of these that modern criticism has expressed greatest doubt. They are the following:

(1) Letter of the Jews in Gilead to Judas (1 Macc 5:10-13).

(2) Treaty of alliance between the Romans and Jews; copy written on brass tablets sent to Judas (1 Macc 8:22-32).

(3) Letter from King Alexander Balas to Jonathan (1 Macc 10:18-20).

(4) Letter from King Demetrius I to Jonathan (1 Macc 10:25-45).

(5) Letter from King Demetrius II to Jonathan (1 Macc 11:30-37), together with letter to Lasthenes (1 Macc 11:31-37).

(6) Letter from the young prince Antiochus to Jonathan, making the latter high priest (1 Macc 11:57).

(7) Letter from Jonathan to the Spartans, asking for an alliance (1 Macc 12:5-18).

(8) Earlier letter of the Spartan king Arius to the high priest Onias (1 Macc 12:20-23).

(9) Letter from King Demetrius II to Simon (1 Macc 13:36-40).

(10) Letter from the Spartans to Simon (1 Macc 14:20-24).

(11) A decree of the Jews recognizing the services of Simon and his brothers (1 Macc 14:27-45).

(12) Letters from Antiochus VII (Sidetes) to Simon (1 Macc 15:2-9).

(13) Message from the Roman consul Lucius to Ptolemy, king of Egypt, asking protection for the Jews (1 Macc 15:16-21). A copy was sent to Simon (1 Macc 15:24).

Formerly the authenticity of these state documents was accepted without doubt, as they still are by Romanist commentators (Welte, Scholz, etc.). At most, they are but translations of translations, for the originals would be written in Greek and Latin, from which the author would translate into Hebrew. The Greek of our book is a translation from the Hebrew (see II, 8 below).

Rawlinson (Speaker’s Apocrypha, II, 329) says these documents "have a general air of authenticity." Most modern scholars reject the letters purporting to emanate from the Romans (numbers 2 and 13 above) and from the Spartans (numbers 8, 10 above), together with Jonathan’s message to the latter (number 7, above), on the ground that they contain some historical inaccuracies and imply others. How could one consul issue official mandates in the name of the Roman republic (see number 13, above)? In number 8 above, it is the king of the Spartans who writes on behalf of his people to Onias the high priest; but it is the ephoroi or rulers who write for the Spartans to Simon. Why the difference? Moreover, in 1 Macc 12:21 the Spartans and Jews are said to be kinsmen (literally, brothers), both alike being descendants of Abraham; so also 14:20. This is admittedly contrary to fact. For a careful examination of these official documents and their objective value, see Kautzsch, Die Apokryphen des Altes Testament, 27-30. Though, however, these documents and some others can be proved incorrect as they stand, they do seem to imply actual negotiations of the kind described; i.e. the Jews must have had communications with the Romans and Spartans, the Jews of Gilead must have sent a missive to Judas (number 1), Alexander Balas did no doubt write to Jonathan, etc., though the author of 1 Maccabees puts the matter in his own way, coloring it by his own patriotic and religious prejudices.

5. Author’s Standpoint and Aim:

Though the name of the author is unknown, the book itself supplies conclusive evidence that he belonged to the Sadducee party, the party favored by the Hasmoneans. The aim of the writer is evidently historical and patriotic, yet his attitude toward religious questions is clearly indicated, both directly and indirectly.

(1) Nowhere in the book is the Divine Being mentioned under any name except Heaven (1 Macc 3:18 f,50,60; 4:10,55; 12:15, etc.), a designation common in rabbinical Hebrew (Talmud, etc.). As early as 300 BC the sacred name "Yahweh" was discarded in favor of "Adonai" (Lord) for superstitious reasons. But in 1 Maccabees no strictly Divine name meets us at all. This would seem to suggest the idea of a certain aloofness of God, such as characterized theology of the Sadducee party. Contrast with this the mystic closeness of God realized and expressed by the psalmists and prophets of the Old Testament.

(2) The author is a religious patriot, believing that his people have been Divinely chosen and that the cause of Israel is the cause of God.

(3) He is also a strict legalist, believing it the duty of every Jew to keep the Law and to preserve its institutions (1 Macc 1:11,15,43,49,54,60,62 f; 2:20 ff,27,42,48,50; 3:21, etc.), and deprecating attempts to compel Jews to desecrate the Sabbath and feast days (1 Macc 1:45), to eat unclean food (1 Macc 1:63) and to sacrifice to idols (1 Macc 1:43). Yet the comparatively lax attitude toward the Sabbath implied in 1 Macc 2:41 ff, involving the principle of Christ’s words, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mr 2:27), agrees with the Sadducee position against that of the Pharisees.

(4) The book teaches that the age of inspiration is past, and that the sacred books already written are the only source of comfort in sorrow and of encouragement under difficulties (1 Macc 12:9).

(5) The legitimacy of the high-priesthood of Simon is not once questioned, though it is condemned by both the Deuteronomic law (D), which restricts the priesthood to the tribe of Levi, and by the priestly law (P), which requires in addition that a priest must be of the family of Aaron. This laxity agrees well with the general tenets of the Sadducees.

(6) The book contains no trace of the Messianic hope, though it was entertained at the time in other circles (the Pharisees; see MESSIAH, II, 2; PROPHECY); 1 Macc 2:57 is no exception, for it implies no more than a belief that there would be a restoration of the Davidic Dynasty. Perhaps it is implied that that expectation was realized in the Hasmoneans.

(7) There is no reference in the book to the doctrine of a resurrection from the dead or to that of the immortality of the soul, though we know that both these beliefs were commonly held by Jews of the time (see Da 12:3; Enoch 19; 22:11-14; 9:1,5 ff; 2 Macc 7:9,11,14,29). We know that the Pharisee party believed in a resurrection (see Ac 23:6). The Maccabean heroes fought their battles and faced death without fear, not because, like Moslems, they looked to the rewards of another life, but because they believed in the rightness of their cause and coveted the good name won by their fathers by acts of similar courage and devotion.

This outline of the doctrines taught or implied in the book makes it extremely likely that the author was a member of the Sadducee party.

6. Date:

1 Maccabees must have been written before the Roman conquest under Pompey, since the writer speaks of the Romans as allies and even friends (8:1,12; 12:1; 14:40); i.e. the composition of the book must have been completed (unless we except chapters 14-16; see below) before 63 BC, when Pompey conquered Jerusalem, and Judea became a Roman province. We thus get 63 BC as a terminus ad quem. Moreover, the historical narrative is brought down to the death of Simon (16:16), i.e. to 135 BC. We have thus an undoubted terminus a quo in 135 BC. The book belongs for certain to the period between 135 and 63 BC. But 1 Macc 16:18-24 implies that John Hyrcanus (died 105 BC) had for some time acted as successor to Simon, and Reuss, Ewald, Fritzsche, Grimm, Schurer, Kautzsch, etc., are probably right in concluding from 16:23 f that John was dead when the book was completed, for we have in this verse the usual formula recording the close of a royal career (see 1Ki 11:41; 2Ki 10:34, etc.), and the writer makes it sufficiently understood that all his acts were already "entered in the public annals of the kingdom" (Ewald, History of Israel, V, 463, note), so that repetition was unnecessary. But Bertheau, Keil, Wellhausen and Torrey draw the contrary conclusion, arguing that John had but begun his rule, so that at the time of writing there was practically nothing to record of the doings subsequent to 135, when John succeeded Simon (see EB, III, 2860 (Toy)). In 1 Macc 13:30 we read that the monument erected in 143 BC by Simon in memory of his father and brothers was standing at the time when this book was written, words implying the lapse of say 30 years at least. This gives a terminus a quo of 113 BC. Moreover, the panegyric on Simon (died 135 BC) and his peaceful rule in 14:4-15 leaves the impression that he had been long in his grave. We cannot be far wrong in assigning a date for the book in the early part of the last century BC, say 80 BC.

Destinon (Die Quellen des Flavius Josephus, I, 1882, 80 ff), followed by Wellhausen (IJG, 1894, 222 f), maintained that Josephus (died circa 95), who followed 1 Maccabees up to the end of chapter 13, could not have seen chapters 14-16 (or from 14:16?), or he would not have given so meager an account of the high-priesthood of Simon (see Ant, XIII, vi, 7), which the author of 1 Maccabees describes so fully in those chapters. But Josephus must have used these chapters or he could not have written of Simon even as fully as he does.

7. Sources:

If, as Torrey (EB, III, 2862) holds, we have in 1 Maccabees "the account of one who had witnessed the whole Maccabean struggle from its beginning," the book having been completed soon after the middle of the 2nd century BC, it may then be assumed that the writer depended upon no other sources than his own. But even in this case one is compelled, contrary to Torrey (loc. cit.), to assume that written sources of his own were used, or the descriptions would not have been so full and the dating so exact. If, however, we follow the evidence and bring down the date of the book to about 80 BC (see I, 6), it must be supposed that the author had access to written sources. It may legitimately be inferred from 1 Macc 9:22 and 16:23 and from the habit of earlier times (see Century Bible, "Ezra," etc., 11 ff) that official records were kept in the archives of the temple, or elsewhere. These might have contained the state documents referred to in I, 4, some or all, and reports of speeches and prayers, etc. It must be admitted that, unlike the compilers of the historical books of the Old Testament (Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, etc.), the author of 1 Maccabees does not definitely name his written sources. The writer might well be supposed to have kept a kind of diary of his own in which the events of his own early life were recorded. Oral tradition, much more retentive of songs, speeches and the like in ancient than in modern times, must have been a very important source.

8. Original Language:

We have the testimony of Origen (see I, 1) and Jerome (Prolog. Galeatus) that the book existed in Hebrew in their day. But it is doubtful whether the words of Origen imply a Hebrew or an Aramaic original, and though Jerome does speak of the book as Hebrew (hebraicus), it has to be remembered that in later times the Greek adjective denoting Hebrew (hebraisti) and perhaps the corresponding Latin one (hebraicus) often denoted Palestinian Aramaic (see Jud 5:2; 19:13,17; and Kautzsch, Grammatik des bib. Aramaic, 19).

9. Text and Versions:

The original Hebrew text of 1 Maccabees (see I, 8) must have been lost at a very early time, since we have no evidence of its use by any early writer. J.D. Michaells held that Josephus used it, but this idea has been abandoned in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The Hebrew text of the first half of 1 Macc, edited by A. Schweitzer and taken by him to be a part of the original text, is in reality a translation from the Latin made in the 11th century of our era (so Noldeke, etc.).

(1) Greek.

The Greek text from which the other versions are nearly all made is given in all editions of the Septuagint. It occurs in the uncials Codex Sinaiticus (Fritzsche, X) , Codex Alexandrinus (Fritzsche, III), and Codex Venetus (8th or 9th century), not in Codex Vaticanus; and in a large number of cursives. Swete (Old Testament in Greek) gives the text of Codex Alexandrinus with the variations of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Venetus. Though the Greek text has so many Hebraisms, it is an exceedingly good rendering, full of spirit and on the whole more idiomatic than the rest of the Septuagint.

(2) Latin.

There are two Latin recensions of the book: (a) that found in the Vulgate, which agrees almost entirely with the Old Latin version. It is in the main a literal rendering of the Greek (b) Sabatier (Bibliorum sacrorum Latinae versiones antiquae, II) published in 1743 a Latin version of 1 Macc 1-13 found in but one manuscript (Sangermanensis). Though it is evidently made from the Greek it differs at many points from the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) It is probably older than the Old Latin and therefore than the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.)

(3) Syriac.

There are also two varying texts in this language.

(a) The best known is that printed in the Paris Polyglot (Vol. IX), copied with some changes into the London Polyglot (Vol. IV; for readings see volume V). Lagarde (Lib. Vet. Test. Apocrypha. Syriac., 1861) has edited this version, correcting and appending readings.

(b) A text differing in many respects from (a) is given by Ceriani in his Codex Ambros. of the Peshitta (1876-83), though this also is made from the Greek For a careful collection of both the above Syriac texts by G. Schmidt, see Z A T W, 1897, 1-47, 233-62.


See literature cited in the foregoing material. For texts and commentaries on the Apocrypha, see Apocrypha. The following commentaries deserve special mention: Grimm, Kurz. exeg. Handbuch, etc., to which the commentaries by Keil (1 and 2 Maccabees) and Bissel (Lange) owe very much; Kautzsch, Die Apocrypha des AT; W. Fair-weather and J.S. Black, Cambridge Bible, "1 Maccabees," and Oesterley in the Oxford Apocrypha edited by R. H. Charles (1913). Of the dict. articles those in E B (Torrey) and H D B (Fairweather) are excellent. See also E. Montet, Essai sur les origines des saduceens et des pharisiens, 1885; Wibrich, Juden und Griechen vor der mak. Erhebung, 1875, 69-76; B. Niese, Kritik der beiden Makkabderbucher, 1900. For a very full bibliography see Schurer, GJ V4, III, 198 ff, and his article "Apocrypha" in R E3, and in Sch-Herz.

II. 2 Maccabees.

1. Name:

See I, above. The earliest extant mention of the book as 2 Maccabees is in Euseb., Praep. Evang., VIII, 9. Jerome also (Prol. Galeatus) calls it by this name.

2. Canonicity:

In the early church 2 Maccabees was much less valued and therefore less read than 1 Maccabees. Augustine was the only church Father to claim for it canonical rank and even he in a controversy with the Donatists who quoted 2 Maccabees, replied that this book had never been received into the Canon. Since they formed an integral part of the Vulgate, 1 and 2 Maccabees were both recognized by the Council of Trent as belonging to the Romanist Canon.

3. Contents:

(1) 2 Maccabees 1-9:18:

Two letters from the Jews of Jerusalem to their brethren in Egypt, urging them to keep the Feast of Dedication and in a general way to observe the Law given them by God through Moses. Both letters appear designed to win for the Jerusalem temple the love and devotion which the Jews of Egypt were in danger of lavishing upon the Leontopolis temple in Egypt. These letters have no connection with the rest of the book or with each other, and both are undoubted forgeries. There can be no doubt that 2 Maccabees was first of all composed, and that subsequently either the author or a later hand prefixed these letters on account of their affinity in thought to the book as it first existed. See further on these letters II, 4 and 9.

(2) 2 Maccabees 2:19-32:

Introduction to what follows. The author or epitomizer claims that his history (chapter 3 to end of the book) is an epitome in one book of a larger work in 5 books by Jason of Cyrene. But see II, 4, below.

(3) 2 Maccabees 3:1-15:39 (End of Book):

History of the rise and progress of the Maccabean wars from 176 BC, to the closing year of the reign of Seleucus IV Philopator, to the defeat and death of Nicanor in 161 BC, a period of 15 years. The record in 2 Maccabees begins one year earlier than that of 1 Maccabees, but as the latter reaches down to 135 BC (and probably below 105 BC; see I, 5), 1 Maccabees covers a period of at least 40 years, while 2 Maccabees gives the history of but 15 years (176-161 BC). The history of this period is thus treated:

(a) 2 Macc 3:1-4:6: Traitorous conduct of the Benjamite Simon in regard to the temple treasures and the high priest; futile attempt of Heliodorus, prime minister of Seleucus IV, to rob the temple (see I, 3, (11) above);

(b) 2 Macc 4:7-7:42 parallel 1 Macc 1:10-64 with significant variations and additions. Accession of Antiocus Epiphanes (175 BC); the Hellenizing of some Jews; persecution of the faithful; martyrdom of Eleazar and the 7 brethren and their mother (this last not in 1 Maccabees);

(c) 2 Macc 8-15 (end) parallel 1 Macc 3-7, with significant divergences in details.

Rise and development of the Maccabean revolt (see I, 3, above). In the closing verses (2 Macc 15:38 ff) the writer begs that this composition may be received with consideration.

The record of events in 2 Maccabees ends with the brilliant victory of Judas over Nicanor, followed by the death of the latter; but it is strange that the history of the main hero of the book should be dropped in the middle. Perhaps this abrupt ending is due to the writer’s aim to commend to the Jews of Egypt the two new festivals, both connected with the Jerusalem temple:

(a) Chanukkah (Festival of Dedication) (1:9,18; 2:16; 10:8);

(b) Nicanor Day (15:36), to commemorate the defeat and death of Nicanor.

To end the book with the account of the institution of the latter gives it greater prominence.

4. Sources:

In its present form 2 Maccabees is based ostensibly on two kinds of written sources.

(1) In 2 Macc 2:19-32 the writer of 3:1 to the end, which constitutes the book proper, says that his own work is but an epitome, clearly, artistically and attractively set out, of a larger history by one Jason of Cyrene. Most commentators understand this statement literally, and endeavor to distinguish between the parts due to Jason and those due to the epitomizer. Some think they see endings of the 5 books reflected in the summaries at 3:40; 7:42; 10:9; 13:26; 15:37. But W.H. Kosters gives cogent reasons for concluding that the reference to Jason is but a literary device to secure for his own composition the respect accorded in ancient, as in a lesser degree in modern, times to tradition. The so-called "epitomizer’’ is in that case alone responsible for the history he gives. The present writer has no hesitation in accepting these conclusions. We read such nowhere a large else of a historian called "Jason," or of such a large history at his must have been if it extended to 5 books dealing with the events of 15 years, though such a man and so great a work could hardly have escaped notice. Hitzig (Gesch. des Volkes Israels, II, 415) held that Jason or his supposed epitomizer made use of 1 Maccabees, altering, adding and subtracting to suit his purpose. But the different order of the events and the contradictions in statements of facts in the 2 books, as well as the omission from 2 Maccabees of important items found in 1 Maccabees, make Hitzig’s supposition quite untenable. A careful examination of 2 Maccabees has led Grimm, Schurer, Zockler, Wibrich, Cornill, Torrey and others to the conclusion that the author depended wholly upon oral tradition. This gives the best clue to the anachronisms, inconsistencies and loose phrasing which characterize the book. According to 1 Macc 4:26-33, the first campaign of Lysias into Judea took place in 165 BC, the year before the death of Antiochus IV; but 2 Macc 11 tells us that it occurred in 163 BC, i.e. subsequent to the death of Antiochus IV. Moreover, in the latter passage this 1st expedition of Lysias is connected with the grant of freedom to the Jews, which is really an incident of the 2nd expedition, and in 2 Macc 13:1-24 is rightly mentioned in the account of the 2nd expedition. The writer of 2 Maccabees, relying upon memory, evidently mixes up the stories of two different expeditions. Similarly the invasions of neighboring tribes under Judas, which are represented in 1 Macc 5:1-68 as taking place in quick succession, belong, according to 2 Macc 8:30; 10:15-38; 12:2-45, to separate dates and different sets of circumstances. The statements in 2 Maccabees are obscure and confused, those in 1 Macc 5 clear and straightforward. Though in 2 Macc 10:37 we read of the death of Timotheus, yet in 12:2 ff he appears as a leader in other campaigns. There again the writer’s memory plays him false as he recalls various accounts of the same events. It was Mattathias who gathered together the Jews and organized them for resistance against Syria, if we follow 1 Macc 2:1-70; but 2 Macc 8:1-7 ascribes this role to his son Judas. The purification of the temple took place 3 years subsequent to its profanation, according to 1 Macc 1:54; 4:52, but only 2 years, according to 2 Macc 10:3.

(2) The two letters sent from Palestinian to Egyptian Jews (2 Macc 1:1-2:18) form no integral part of the original 2 Maccabees. They are clearly forgeries, and abound in inaccuracies and inconsistencies. The second letter, much the longer, gives an account of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, which is irreconcilable with that in 9:1-28 and also with that in 1 Macc 6:1-16. Nehemiah is said in 1:18 to have rebuilt the temple and altar, a work accomplished by Zerubbabel nearly a century earlier (Ezr 3:3; 6:15). Nehemiah’s work was to repair the gates and walls (Ne 3:1-32; 6:1; 7:1; Sirach 49:13). The writer of this letter says (2 Macc 2:3-5) that at the time of the exile, Jeremiah concealed in a cave on Mt. Pisgah the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant and the altar of incense, a statement which no one accepts as correct or even plausible. That the author of the rest of the book is not the composer of the letters is proved by the difference of style and the contradictions in subject-matter. But that he himself prefixed them is made probable by the connecting particle in the Greek (de), though some (Bertholdt, Grimm, Paulus, Kosters) think rather plausibly that the letters were added by a later hand, the connection in the Greek being also introduced by him and not by the author of the rest of the book. It has been maintained that we have but one letter in 2 Macc 1:1-2:18, and on the other hand that there are three. But the division into two is quite natural and is almost universally accepted.

5. Historicity: 2 Maccabees belongs to the class of literature called by the Germans Tendenz-Schriften, i.e. writings originating in the desire to teach some doctrine or to correct some supposed error. 1 Maccabees gives us a history of the Maccabean wars as such, taking so little notice of the part played by God that the Divine Being is not so much as mentioned, except under the impersonal form Heaven (compare "Heaven helps those who help themselves"). Nor has 1 Maccabees a word to say about a life beyond the grave. In short, 1 Maccabees is written from the standpoint of the Sadducees, to which party the reigning dynasty (the Hasmonean) belonged. The writer of 2 Maccabees is evidently a Pharisee and his aim is not historical but doctrinal; i.e. the book is a historical romance with a purpose, that purpose being to make prominent the outstanding tenets of the Pharisees (see II, 6). Two extreme opinions have been defended as to the historical value of 2 Maccabees:

(1) That 2 Maccabees is a strictly historical work, is more trustworthy than 1 Maccabees and is to be followed when the two books differ; so the bulk of Roman Catholics and also Niese and Schlatter. The supernaturalism of the book is to Romanists a recommendation.

(2) That 2 Maccabees has virtually no historical value, since it was written for other than historical ends; so Wibrich, Kosters and Kamphausen.

But the bulk of Protestant critics of recent times occupy a portion midway between these two opposite opinions, namely, that 1 Maccabees is much more accurate than 2 Maccabees and is to be preferred when the 2 books of Maccabees differ or contradict each other; so Grimm, Reuss, Schurer, Kamphausen. On the other hand, when 2 Maccabees contains historical matter absent from 1 Maccabees it is to be accepted as correct unless opposed by intrinsic improbability or direct contrary evidence. In 2 Macc 3-5 we have details concerning the Maccabean revolt not found in 1 Maccabees, and in treatment of episodes or incidents with which 1 Maccabees deals it is often fuller and more specific, as in 2 Macc 10:14-23; 12:7-9 (compare 1 Macc 5:1-5; 12:17-25); 2 Macc 10:24-38 (compare 1 Macc 5:29-44); 2 Macc 12:32-45 (compare 1 Macc 5:65,68,63 f). On the other hand, the account of the celestial appearances in 2 Macc 3:24 ff; 11:8, etc., and the description in 6:18 ff of the martyrdom of Eleazar the scribe and of the 7 brethren and their mother, carry on their face the marks of their legendary and unhistorical character. The edifying remarks scattered throughout the book, many of them pragmatic and reminding one of the Book of Daniel, confirm the impression otherwise suggested, that the author’s aim was didactic and not historical. The book as it stands is a real authority for the ideas prevalent in the writer’s circle at the time of its composition.

6. Teaching of the Book:

In general it may be said that the doctrines taught in 2 Maccabees are those of the Pharisees of the day. Several scholars consider 2 Maccabees the answer of Pharisaism to the Sadduceeism of 1 Maccabees (see Wellhausen, Die Pharisaer und die Saducaer; compare Geiger, Urschrift und Ubersetzungen der Bibel, 219 ff). But there is evidence enough (see II, 4) that the author of 2 Maccabees had not seen 1 Maccabees. Yet it is equally clear that 2 Maccabees does give prominence to the distinctive tenets of Pharisaism, and it was probably written on that account.

(1) The strictest observance of the law is enforced. The violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath countenanced under special circumstances in 1 Macc (2:39-48) is absolutely forbidden in 2 Macc (6:6,11; 8:26 f; 12:38); compare the words of the Pharisees to Petronius when the latter proposed to have a statue of the emperor Caius erected in the temple: "We will die rather than transgress the law" (Josephus, Ant, XVIII, viii, 3).

(2) The Pharisaic party took but little interest in political affairs, and supported the Hasmoneans only because and in so far as they fought for the right to observe their religious rites. When, however, they compromised with Hellenism, the Pharisees turned against them and their allies the Sadducees. In this book we miss the unstinted praise accorded the Hasmonean leaders in 1 Maccabees, and it is silent as to the genealogy of the Hasmoneans, the death of Judas Maccabeus and the family grave at Modin.

(3) The book reveals thus early the antagonism between the Pharisees and the priestly party, which is so evident in the Gospels. The high-priesthood had through political circumstances become the property of the Maccabees, though they were not of the Aaronic family, or even of the tribe of Levi. The priestly circle became the aristocratic, broad-church party, willing to come to terms with Greek thought and life. Hence, in 2 Maccabees, Jason and Menelaus are fit representatives of the priesthood. In the list of martyrs (chapters 6 f) no priest appears, but on the other hand, Eleazar, one of the principal scribes--scribes and Pharisees were then as in New Testament times virtually one party--suffered for his loyalty to the national religion, "leaving his death for an example" (6:18-31).

(4) The temple occupies a high and honorable place in 2 Maccabees, as in the mind of the orthodox party (see 2:19; 3:2; 5:15; 9:16; 13:23; 14:31). Great stress is laid on the importance of the feasts (6:6; 10:8, etc.), of sacrifice (10:3), of circumcision (6:10), of the laws of diet (6:18; 11:31). The author seems in particular anxious to recommend to his readers (Egyptian Jews) the observance of the two new festivals instituted to commemorate the purification of the temple after its pollution by the Syrians and also the victory over Nicanor. According to this book the Chanukkah feast was established immediately after the death of Antiochus Epiphanes (10:6 ff), not before this event (1 Macc 4:56), probably to give it additional importance. The book closes with the defeat and death of Nicanor and the founding of the Nicanor Day festival, without mentioning the death of Judas, as though the writer’s aim was to give prominence to the two new festivals.

(5) 2 Maccabees shows a Jewish particularism which agrees well with Pharisaism and Scribism, but is opposed to the broader sentiments of the ruling party: Israel is God’s people (1:26); His portion (14:15); He often intervenes miraculously on behalf of Israel and the religion of Israel (3:24-30; 10:29 f; 11:6-8); even the calamities of the nation are proofs of Divine love because designed for the nation’s good (5:18); but the sufferings brought upon the heathen are penal and show the Divine displeasure (4:38; 5:9; 13:8; 15:32 f). The writer is deadly opposed to the introduction of Greek customs and in particular to the establishment of a gymnasium in Jerusalem (4:7 f; 11:24). The Book of Jubilees, also written by a zealous Pharisee, takes up the same hostile attitude toward foreign customs (see 3:31; 7:20, and the note by R. H. Charles (Book of Jubilees) on the former).

(6) This book gives prominence to the doctrine of a resurrection and of a future life about which 1 Maccabees, a document of the Sadducee party, is silent, (compare I, 5 above; see 2 Macc 7:9,11,14,36; 12:43-45; 14:46 (compare IV, 4, below)). The Sadducees, to which the Hasmoneans belonged, denied a resurrection, limiting their conception of religion to the present life, in this agreeing with the teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures down to the time of the exile (536 BC). But the Pharisees and scribes, though professing to rest their beliefs on the "Law of Moses," departed from that law in this matter (see Warburton, The Divine Legation of Moses). The resurrection is to be a bodily one (2 Macc 7:11,22 f; 14:46) and to a life that is unending (2 Macc 7:9,36). The following related beliefs supported in this book and forming part of the creed of orthodox Pharisaism are adduced by Romanists on behalf of their own teaching: (a) the efficacy of prayers for the dead (2 Macc 12:44); (b) the power exercised by the intercession of saints (2 Macc 15:12-14); Philo (De execrat., 9) and Josephus (Ant., I, xi, 3) held the same doctrine; (c) the atoning character of the martyrdom of the righteous (2 Macc 7:36,38; compare 4 Macc 17:22; see IV, 4, (3), below).

(7) The angelology of 2 Maccabees forms a prominent feature of the book (see 3:24-30; 10:29 f; 11:6-8). The Sadducees accepted the authority of the Pentateuch, though they rejected tradition. They were therefore inconsistent in allowing no place for angelic beings in their creed, though consistent in rejecting the doctrine of a future life.

(8) The comparative silence of this book on the question of the Messianic hope is strikingly in contrast with the prominence of the subject in Psalter of Solomon (17:23 ff, etc.; see Ryle and James, Psalms of Solomon, lii ff) and other contemporary writings emanating from the Pharisees. But why should the author of 2 Maccabees be expected to give equal prominence to all his opinions in one tract? Some such hope as that connected with the Messiah does, however, seem to be implied in 1:27; 2:18; 7:33; 14:15.

The present writer holds that one man is responsible for 2 Maccabees in its present form and that the only written source was the 2 letters with which the book opens (1:1-2:18) (see II, 4, above).

7. Author:

Even if we have to assume an original in 5 books of which 2 Maccabees, as we have it, is but an epitome, it is not possible to distinguish between the sentiments of "Jason" and his epitomizer. The author--assuming but one--was evidently an Egyptian probably an Alexandrian Jew, who nevertheless retained his loyalty to the Jerusalem temple and its constitutions and desired to prevent the alienation of his fellow-countrymen in the same country from the home sanctuary and its feasts, especially the two new feasts, Chanukkah (Dedication) and Nicanor Day. The Jews of Egypt had a temple of their own, in opposition to the teaching of the Jewish law (D and P; compare De 12:2-18 and Le 17:1-9; 19:30), and it was perhaps the growing influence of this temple that prompted the author to compose this book which sets so much honor upon the Jerusalem temple and its observances. The character of the Greek (see II, 9, below), the ignorance of Palestine and also the deep interest in Egypt which this book reveals--these and other considerations point to the conclusion that the author lived and wrote in Egypt. There is no evidence that Judas Maccabeus (Leon Allatius), or the author of Sirach (Hasse) or Philo the Jew (Honorius d’Autun) or Josephus wrote the book, though it has been ascribed by different scholars to each of the persons named.

8. Date:

The book must have been written sufficiently long after 161 BC, the year with which the record closes, to allow mythical tales of the martyrdoms in 2 Macc 6 f and the history of the supernatural appearances in 3:24-30, etc., to arise. If we allow 30 years, or the lifetime of a generation, we come down to say 130 BC as a terminus a quo. There is probably in 15:36 a reference to the Book of Es (so Cornill, Kautzsch and Wellhausen, IJG4, 302 f) which would bring the terminus a quo down to about 100 BC. That 2 Maccabees was written subsequently to 1 Maccabees (i.e. after 80 BC) is made certain by the fact that the Jews now pay tribute to Rome (2 Macc 8:10,36). Since Philo, who died about 40 AD, refers to 2 Macc 4:8-7:42 (Quod omnis probus liber, Works, edition Mangey, II, 459), the book must have been composed before 40 AD. This is confirmed by the certainty that it was written before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple (70 AD), for the city still exists and the temple services are in full operation (3:6 ff, etc.). Heb 11:35 f is no doubt an echo of 2 Macc 6:18-7:42 and shows that the unknown author of Hebrews had 2 Maccabees before him. The teaching of the book represents the views of the Pharisees about the middle of the last century BC. A date about 40 BC would agree with all the evidence.

9. Original Language:

That the original language was Greek is made exceedingly likely by the easy flow of the style and the almost entire absence of Hebraisms (yet see 2 Macc 8:15; 9:5; 14:24). No scholar of any standing has pleaded for a Hebrew original of the present book. Bertholdt, however, argued that the two letters (2 Macc 1:1-2:18) were composed in Hebrew (or Aramaic) Ewald held that the 2nd letter (2 Macc 1:11-2:18) is from the Hebrew, and Schlunkes that this applies to the 1st only. But the evidence given by these scholars is unconvincing, though the 1st letter is certainly more Hebraic in style than the 2nd letter, the contrary of what Ewald said.

10. Text and Versions:

As to the texts and versions, see I, 9, above, where the statements apply here with but slight qualifications. But the book is lacking in Codex Sinaiticus as well as in Codex Alexandrinus. In addition to the Old Latin text and adopted for the Vulgate, we have another Latin text in Codex Ambrosianus, published in 1824 by Peyron; but this book is unrepresented in Sabatier’s collection of Old Latin texts.


In addition to the literature mentioned under APOCRYPHA and I above, and in the course of the present article, note the following items: Commentary of Moffatt (Oxford Apocrypha); C. Bertheau, De section lib. Macc., 1829 (largely quoted by Grimm); W.H. Kosters, "De Polemiek van het tweede boek de Mak," TT, XII, 491-558; Schlatter, "Jason von Cyrene," TLZ, 1893, 322; A. Buchler, Die Tobliden u. die Oniaden im II Mak, 1889; Wibrich, Juden und Griechen, etc., 1895, 64; Kamphausen (Kautzsch, Die Apocrypha des AT). The following discussing the two letters (1:1-2:18) deserve mention: Valckenaer, De Aristobulo, 38-44; Schlunkes, Epistolae quae secundo Macc libro I, etc., 1844, 1-9; also Difficiliorum locorum epistolae, etc., 1847; Graetz, "Das Sendschreiben der Palaestinenser an die aegyptischen Gemeinden," etc., Monatss. fur Gesch. u. Wissen. des Judenthums, 1877, 1-16, 49-60; A. Buchler, "Das Sendschreiben der Jerusalemer," etc., Monatss. fur Gesch. u. Wissen. des Judenthums; see last notice, 1897, 481-500, 529-54); Bruston, "Trois lettres des Juifs de Palestine," ZATW, X, 110-17; W. H. Kosters, "Strekking der brieven in 2 Macc," TT, 1898, 68-76; Torrey, "Die Briefe 2 Mak," ZATW, 1900, 225-42.

III. 3 Maccabees.

1. Name:

The name 3 Maccabees, though occurring in the oldest manuscripts and VSS, is quite unsuitable, because the book refers to events which antedate the Maccabean age by about half a century, and also to events in which the Maccabees took no part. But this book tells of sufferings and triumphs on the part of loyal Jews comparable to those of the Maccabean period. Perhaps the term Maccabees was generalized so as to denote all who suffered for their faith. Some hold that the book was written originally as a kind of introduction to the Books of Maccabees, which it precedes as Book I in Cotton’s Five Books of Maccabees. But the contents of the book do not agree with this view. Perhaps the title is due to a mistake on the part of a copyist.

2. Canonicity:

The book has never been reckoned as canonical by the Western church, as is shown by the fact that it exists in no edition of the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and was not included in the Canon by the Council of Trent. It is for the latter reason absent from the Protestant versions of the Apocrypha which contain but the Books of Maccabees (1 and 2). But 3 Maccabees has a place in two uncials of the Septuagint (A and V) and also in the ancient (Peshitta) Syriac version of the Scriptures, and it is given canonical rank in the Apostolical Constitutions (canon 85). The book must therefore have been held in high esteem in the early church.

3. Contents:

3 Maccabees is a historical novel in which there is much more romance than history, and more silly and superficial writing than either. It professes to narrate occurrences in the history of the Jews which took place at Jerusalem and at Alexandria in which the Jews were persecuted but in various ways delivered.

(1) 3 Maccabees 1:1-2:24:

After conquering at Raphia Antiochus III, the great king of Syria (224-187 BC), Ptolemy IV Philopator, king of Egypt (221-204 BC), resolved to visit Jerusalem and to enter the sanctum ("holy of holies," naos) of the temple to which by the Jewish law access was allowed only to the high priest, and even to him but once a year (Day of Atonement (1:11)). The Jews, priests and people, were in a paroxysm of grief and earnestly entreated him to desist, but he persisted in his plan. They then through Simon, the high priest, 219-199 BC, prayed that God might intervene and avert this desecration. The prayer is answered, the king being paralyzed before realizing his purpose.

(2) 3 Maccabees 2:25-30:

Returned to Alexandria, Ptolemy is exasperated at the failure of his long-cherished project and resolves to wreak his vengeance upon the Jews of Egypt. He issues a decree that all Jews in Alexandria who refused to bend the knee to Bacchus should be deprived of all their rights as citizens.

(3) 3 Maccabees 2:31-4:21:

A goodly number of Alexandrian Jews refuse to obey the royal mandate, whereupon Ptolemy issues an edict that all the Jews of Egypt, men, women and children, shall be brought in chains to Alexandria and confined in the race-course (hippodrome), with a view to their wholesale massacre. Prior to the massacre there is to be a complete register taken of the names of the assembled Jews. Before the list is complete the writing materials give way and the huge slaughter is averted.

(4) 3 Maccabees 4:22-6:21:

The king, still thirsting for the blood of this people, hits upon a different method of compassing their ruin. Five hundred elephants are intoxicated with wine and incense and let loose upon the Jews in the race-course. Here we have the principal plot of the book, and we reach the climax in the various providential expedients, childish in their character, of preventing the execution of the king’s purpose. The lesson of it all seems to be that God will deliver those who put their trust in Him.

(5) 3 Maccabees 6:22-7:23:

At length the king undergoes a change of heart. He releases the Jews and restores them to all their lost rights and honors. In response to their request, he gives them permission to slay their brother-Jews who, in the hour of trial, had given up their faith. They put to death 300, "esteeming this destruction of the wicked a season of joy" (7:15).

3 Maccabees is made up of a number of incredible tales, the details of which are absurd and contradictory. The beginning of the book has evidently been lost, as appears from the opening words, "Now when Philopator" (ho de Philopator), and also from the references to an earlier part of the narrative now lost, e.g.: 1:1 ("from those who came back"); 1:2 ("the plot afore mentioned"); 2:25 ("the aforenamed boon companions"), etc.

4. Historicity:

The book contains very little that is true history, notwithstanding what Israel Abrahams (see "Literature" to this section), depending largely on Mahaffy (The Empire of the Ptolemies), says to the contrary. It is much more manifest than even in the case of 2 Maccabees that the writer’s aim was to convey certain impressions and not to write history (see III, 5).

The improbabilities of the book are innumerable (see Bissell, The Apocrypha of the Old Testament, 616 f), and it is evident that we have to do here with a combination of legends and fables worked up in feeble fashion with a view to making prominent certain ideas which the author wishes his readers to keep in mind. Yet behind the fiction of the book there are certain facts which prompted much of what the writer says.

(1) That Ptolemy IV bore the character of cruelty and capriciousness and effeminacy is borne out by Polybius (204-121 BC) in his History and by Plutarch in his Life of Cleomenes.

(2) The brief outline of the war between Ptolemy IV and Antiochus III, the latter being conquered at Raphia (chapters 1 f), agrees in a general way with what has been written by Polybius, Livy and Justin.

(3)In this book, by the command of Ptolemy, 500 intoxicated elephants are let loose upon the Jews brought bound to the race-course of Alexandria. Josephus (Apion, II, v) tells us that Ptolemy VII Physcon, king of Egypt, 145-117 BC, had the Jews of Alexandria, men, women and children, brought bound and naked to an enclosed space and that he had let loose on them a herd of elephants, which, however, turned instead upon his own men, killing a large number of them. The cause of the king’s action was that the Jewish residents of Alexandria sided with his foes. In 3 Maccabees the cause of the action of Ptolemy IV was the failure of his project to enter the sanctum of the Jerusalem temple; this last perhaps a reflection of 2 Macc 3:9 ff, where it is related that Heliodorus was hindered from entering the temple by a ghostly apparition. Now these two incidents, in both of which Jews are attacked by intoxicated elephants, must rest upon a common tradition and have probably a nucleus of fact. Perhaps, as Israel Abrahams holds, the tradition arose from the action of the elephants of Ptolemy in the Battle of Raphia. Most writers think that the reference is to something that occurred in the reign of Ptolemy VII.

(4) The shutting-up of the Jews in the racecourse at Alexandria was not improbably suggested by a similar incident in which Herod the Great was the principal agent.

(5) In the opinion of Grimm (Comm., 216) we have in the two festivals (3 Macc 6:36; 7:19) and in the existence of the synagogue at Ptolemais an implied reference to some great deliverance vouchsafed to the Jews.

5. Aim and Teaching:

3 Maccabees was probably written by an Alexandrian Jew at a time when the Jews in and around Alexandria were sorely persecuted on account of their religion. The purpose of the author seems to have been to comfort those suffering for the faith by giving examples showing how God stands by His people, helping in all their trials and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies. Note further the following points:

(1) The book, unlike 2 Maccabees, is silent as to a bodily resurrection and a future life, though this may be due to pure accident. Hades (Haides) in 3 Macc 4:8; 5:42; 6:31, etc., appears to stand only for death, regarded as the end of all human life.

(2) Yet the belief in angelic beings is clearly implied (see 6:18 ff).

(3) The author has much confidence in the power of prayer (see 2:10; 2:21-24; 5:6-10,13,50 f; 6:1-15, etc.).

(4) The book lays stress upon the doctrine that God is on the side of His people (4:21, etc.), and even though they transgress His commandments He will forgive and save them (2:13; 4:13, etc.).

6. Authorship and Date:

From the character of the Greek, the interest shown in Alexandrian Judaism, and the acquaintance displayed with Egyptian affairs (see I. Abrahams, op. cit., 39 ff), it may be inferred with confidence that the author was a Jew residing in Alexandria. The superior limit (terminus a quo) for the date is some time in the last century BC. Since the existence of the additions to Da is implied (see Da 6:6), the inferior limit (terminus ad quem) is some time before 70 AD. If the temple had been destroyed, the continuance of the temple services could not have been implied (see 3 Macc 1:8 ff). As the book seems written to comfort and encourage Alexandrian Jews at a time when they were persecuted, Ewald, Hausrath, Reuss and others thought it was written during the reign of the emperor Caligula (37-41 AD), when such a persecution took place. But if Ptolemy is intended to represent Caligula, it is strange, as Schurer (GJV4, III, 491) remarks, that the writer does not make Ptolemy claim Divine honors, a claim actually made by Caligula.

Though Josephus (died 95 AD) could not have known the book, since his version of the same incidents differs so much, yet it must have been written some 30 years before his death, i.e. before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 71 AD.

7. Original Language:

That 3 Maccabees was composed in Greek is the opinion of all scholars and is proved by the free, idiomatic and rather bombastic character of the language in the Septuagint.

8. Text and Versions:

(1) Greek.

This book occurs in the two unicals Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Venetus (not in Codex Vaticanus or Codex Sinaiticus), in most cursives and also in nearly all editions of the Septuagint.

(2) Syriac.

The Syriac version (Peshitta) reproduced in the Paris and London Polyglot and by Lagarde, Lib. Apocrypha. Vet. Test. It is not a good translation.

(3) Latin.

The earliest Latin translation is that made for the Complutensian Polyglot.

(4) English.

The earliest in English is that of Walter Lynne (1650).


Besides the commentaries by Grimm (the best), Bissell (Lange), Kautzsch and Emmet (Oxford Apocrypha), and the articles in HDB (Fairweather, excellent), Encyclopedia Biblica (Torrey, good), GJV4 (Schurer), III, 489-92; HJP, II, iii, 216-19, let the following be noted: A. Hausrath, A History of New Testament Times, 1895, II, 70 ff; Wibrich, Juden u. Griechen; Abrahams, "The Third Book of the Mace," JQR, IX, 1897, 39-58; A. Buchler, Die Tobiaden u. die Oniaden, 1899, 172-212. Both Abrahams and Buchler defend the historicity of some parts of 3 Maccabees; Wibrich, "Der historische Kern des III Makk," Hermes, Bd. 39, 1904, 244-58. For English translation see (1) Henry Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees (Cotton calls it First Book of Maccabees); (2) W.R. Churton, The Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scriptures, and (3) Baxter, The Apocrypha, Greek and English

IV. 4 Maccabees.

1. Name:

4 Maccabees is a philosophical treatise or discourse on the supremacy of pious reason ( = religious principle) in the virtuous man. The oldest title of the book, 4 Maccabees (Makkabaion d, (4)), occurs in the earliest extant manuscripts of the Septuagint (Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, etc.), in the list of the Codex Claromontanus (3rd century?), the Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books (5th century?) and the Synopsis of Athanasius (9th century). It obtained this name from the fact that it illustrates and enforces its thesis by examples from the history of the Maccabees. Some early Christian writers, believing 4 Maccabees to be the work of Josephus (see IV, 5), gave it a corresponding title. Eusebius and Jerome, who ascribe the book to Josephus, speak of it under the name of: A Discourse concerning the Supreme Power of Reason.

2. Canonicity:

Though absent from the Vulgate, and therefore from the Romanist Canon and from Protestant versions of its Apocrypha, 4 Maccabees occurs in the principal manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, etc.) and editions (Fritzsche, Swete, not Tischendorf) of the Septuagint, showing it was highly esteemed and perhaps considered canonical by at least some early Christian Fathers.

3. Contents:

This book is a philosophical disquisition in the form of a sermon on the question "Whether pious reason is absolute master of the passions" (4 Macc 1:1).

(1) 4 Maccabees 1:1-12:

First of all, the writer states his theme and the method in which he intends to treat it.

(2) 4 Maccabees 1:13-3:18:

He defines his terms and endeavors from general principles to show that pious reason does of right rule the passions.

(3) 4 Maccabees 3:19 to End of Book:

He tries to prove the same proposition from the lives of the Maccabean martyrs. These historical illustrations are based on 2 Macc 6:18-7:42 (compare 3 Macc 6).

Because the book is written as a discourse or sermon and is largely addressed to an apparent audience (4 Macc 1:17; 2:14; 13:10; 18:4), Freudenthal and others think we have here an example of a Jewish sermon delivered as here written. But Jewish preachers based their discourses on Scripture texts and their sermons were more concise and arresting than this book.

4. Teaching:

The author’s philosophical standpoint is that of Stoicism, namely, that in the virtuous man reason dominates passion. His doctrine of four cardinal virtues (phronesis, dikaiosune, andreia, sophrosune, "Providence," "Justice" "Fortitude," "Temperance" (4 Macc 1:18)), is also derived from Stoicism. Though, however, he sets out as if he were a true Stoic, he proceeds to work out his discourses in orthodox Jewish fashion. His all-dominating reason is that which is guided by the Divinely revealed law, that law for the faithful observing of which the martyrs died. The four cardinal virtues are but forms of that true wisdom which is to be obtained only through the Mosaic law (4 Macc 7:15-18). Moreover, the passions are not, as Stoicism taught, to be annihilated, but regulated (4 Macc 1:61; 3:5), since God has planted them (4 Macc 2:21).

The author’s views approach those of Pharisaism.

(1) He extols the self-sacrificing devotion to the law exhibited by the Maccabean martyrs mentioned in 4 Macc 3:9 to the end of the book.

(2) He believes in a resurrection from the dead. The souls of the righteous will enjoy hereafter ceaseless fellowship with God (9:8; 15:2; 18:5), but the wicked will endure the torment of fire forever and ever (10:11,15; 12:12; 13:14). Nothing, however, is said of the Pharisees’ doctrine of a bodily resurrection which 2 Maccabees, a Pharisaic document (see II, 6, (6) above), clearly teaches.

(3) The martyrdom of the faithful atones for the sins of the people (4 Macc 6:24; 17:19-21; compare Ro 3:25).

5. Authorship and Date:

According to Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 6), Jerome (De Viris Illust., xiii; C Peleg, ii.6), Suidas (Lex Iosepos) and other early writers, Josephus is the author of this book, and in Greek editions of his works it constitutes the last chapter with the heading: Phlab. Iosepou eis Makkabaions logos, e peri autokratoros logismou, "The Discourse of Flavius Josephus: or concerning the Supreme Power of Reason" (so Niese, Bekker, Dindorf, etc.). But this tradition is negated by the style and thought, which differ completely from those found in the genuine writings of that Jewish historian. Besides this, the author of the book makes large use of 2 Maccabees, of which Josephus was ignorant. Moreover, there are traditions equally ancient of a contrary kind.

The author must have been a Jew and he probably belonged to the Pharisee party (see IV, 7). He was also a Hellenist, for he reveals the influence of Greek thought more than any other apocryphal writer. He was also, it would appear, a resident of Alexandria, for the earliest notices of it occur in literature having an Alexandrian origin, and the author makes considerable use of 2 Maccabees, which emanated from Alexandria.

It is impossible definitely to fix the date of the book. But it was certainly written before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and after the composition of 2 Maccabees, on which it largely depends. A date in the first half of the 1st century of our era would suit all the requirements of the case.

6. Original Language:

The book was certainly written in Greek, as all scholars agree. It employs many of the terms of Greek philosophy and it bears the general characteristics of the Greek spoken and written at Alexandria at the commencement of the Christian era.

7. Text and Versions:

(1) Greek.

This book occurs in the principal manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, etc.) and printed editions (Grabe, Breitinger, Apel, Fritzsche, Swete (Codex Alexandrinus with variants of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Venetus) and Baxter, The Apocrypha, Greek and English), also in various Josephus manuscripts and most editions of Josephus, including Naber, but not Niese.

(2) Latin.

No Old Latin version has come down to us.

(3) Syriac.

The Peshitta text is printed in Codex Ambros. (Ceriani) and by Bensley from a manuscript in The Fourth Book of Maccabees and Kindred Documents in Syriac (agrees mostly with Codex Alexandrinus). Sixtus Senensis (Bibliotheca Sancta, 1566, I, 39) speaks of having seen another 4 Maccabees. But this was probably "simply a reproduction of Josephus" (Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, II, iii, 14).


Besides the literature mentioned under the other books of Maccabees, under APOCRYPHA, and in the course of the present article, note the following: The commentaries of Grimm (excellent; the only one on the complete book) and Deissmann (in Kautzsch, A pok des Altes Testament, brief but up to date and good); the valuable monograph by Freudenthal: Die Flavius Josephus beigelegte Schrift uber die Herrschafft der Vernunft (IV. Makkabaerbuch) Untersucht, 1869. See, besides the articles in HDB (Fairweather); Encyclopedia Biblica (Torrey); Gfrorer, Philo, etc., II, 1831, 173-200; Dahne, Gesch. Darstellung der jud.-alex. Religions Philosophie, II, 1834, 190-99; and the History of Ewald, IV, 632 ff. There are English translations in Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees, Oxford, 1832; W.R. Churton, The Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scripture; Baxter, The Apocrypha, Greek and English.

V. 5 Maccabees.

1. Name:

The designation 5 Maccabees was first given to the book (now commonly so called) by Cotton (The Five Books of Maccabees English, 1832), and it has been perpetuated by Dr. Samuel Davidson (Introduction to the Old Testament, III, 465); Ginsburg (Kitto’s Cycyclopedia of Biblical Literature); Bissell (Apocrypha of the Old Testament) and others. It has been called the Arabic 2 Maccabees (so in the Paris and London Polyglot), and the Arabic Maccabees. The 5 Maccabees in the Translatio Syra Peshitto, edited by Ceriani, is really nothing more than a Syriac version of the 6th book of Josephus, The Wars of the Jews.

2. Canonicity:

This book has never been recognized as canonical by either Jews or Christians.

3. Contents:

The book is ostensibly a history of the Jews from the attempt of Heliodorus to plunder the temple (186 BC) to about 6 BC. It is really nothing more than a clumsy compilation from 1 and 2 Maccabees and Josephus (except 5 Macc 12, which is the only original part, and this teems with errors of various kinds); a note at the end of 5 Macc 16 says 1:1-16:26 is called The Second Book of Maccabees according to the Translation of the Hebrews. 5 Macc 19 closes with the events narrated at the end of 1 Maccabees. The rest of the book (5 Macc 20-59) follows Josephus (BJ, I f) closely. Perhaps the original work ended with 5 Macc 19. Ginsburg (op. cit., III., 17), Bissell (Apocrypha, 639) and Wellhausen (Der arab. Josippus) give useful tables showing the dependence of the various parts of 5 Maccabees on the sources used.

4. Historicity:

In so far as this book repeats the contents of 1 and 2 Maccabees and Josephus, it has the historical value of the sources used. But in itself the book has no historical worth. The author calls Roman and Egyptian soldiers "Macedonians," Mt. Gerizim, "Jezebel," Samaria "Sebaste," Shechem "Neapolis" or "Naploris." Herod and Pilate exchange names. Some of the mistakes may of course be traceable to the translation.

5. Original Language:

The original work was almost certainly composed in Hebrew, though we have no trace of a Hebrew text (so Ginsburg, op. cit., and Bissell). This conclusion is supported by the numerous Hebraisms which show themselves even in a double translation. The Pentateuch is called the "Torah," the Hebrew Scriptures are spoken of as "the twenty-four books," the temple is "the house of God" or "the holy house," Judea is "the land of the holy house" and Jerusalem is "the city of the holy house." These and like examples make it probable that the writer was a Jew and that the language he used was Hebrew. Zunz (Die gottesdienstlichen Vortrage, 1832, 146 ff), Graetz (Geschichte, V, 281) and Dr. S. Davidson (op. cit., 465) say the book was written in Arabic from Hebrew memoirs. According to Zunz (loc. cit.) and Graetz (loc. cit.) the Jewish history of Joseph ben Gorion (Josippon), the "pseudo-Josephus" (10th century), is but a Hebrew recension of 5 Maccabees (the Arabic 2 Maccabees). On the contrary, Wellhausen (op. cit.) and Schurer (GJV4, I, 159 f) maintain that the shorter narrative in 5 Maccabees represents the extent of the original composition far more correctly than the Hebrew history of Josippon (which ranges from Adam to 70 AD), and than other recensions of the same history.

6. Aim and Teaching:

The book was compiled for the purpose of consoling the Jews in their sufferings and encouraging them to be stedfast in their devotion to the Mosaic law. The same end was contemplated in 2, 3 and 4 Maccabees and in a lesser degree in 1 Maccabees, but the author or compiler of the present treatise wished to produce a work which would appeal in the first instance and chiefly to Hebrew (or Arabic?) readers. The author believes in a resurrection of the body, in a future life and a final judgment (5 Macc 5:13,43 f). The righteous will dwell in future glory, the wicked will be hereafter punished (5 Macc 5:49,50 f; 59:14).

7. Authorship and Date:

We have no means of ascertaining who the author was, but he must have been a Jew and he lived some time after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (see 5 Macc 9:5; 21:30; 22:9; 53:8, though Ginsburg regards these passages as late additions and fixes the date of the original work at about 6 BC, when the history ends). The author makes large use of Josephus (died 95 AD), which also favors the lower date.

8. Text and Versions:

The Arabic text of the book and a Latin translation by Gabriel Sionita is printed in the Paris and London Polyglots. No other ancient text has come down to us. cotton (op. cit., xxx) errs in saying that there is a Syriac version of the book.


The most important literature has been mentioned in the course of the article. The English and earlier German editions of Schurer, GJ V, do not help. The only English translation is that by Cotton made directly from the Latin of Gabriel Sionita. Bissell says that a French version appears as an appendix in the Bible of de Sacy; not, however, in the Nouvelle Edition (1837) in the possession of the present writer.

T. Witton Davies