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the First and Second Books of Maccabees

   The First and Second Books of Maccabees relate the historic  accounts of the Jewish revolt against the Syrian Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes. The account concludes with the defeat of the Syrian General Nicanor. This Jewish insurrection was started by an elderly priest named Mattathias in 161 BCE, but Mattathias died shortly thereafter. The leadership of the rebellion was then  taken up by his son Judas Maccabeus (the Hammer) and his brothers.

   First Maccabees was written in Hebrew as an historical record, after the restoration of the independent Jewish kingdom. The original Hebrew version has been lost but survived through a version that was recorded in early Greek translations of the Hebrew scriptures.

   The Second Book of Maccabees was written later in Greek by an unidentified Greek author. There is no earlier Hebrew version. The author of 2nd Maccabees created a condensed version of a five volume account written by Jason of Cyrene, whose works have also been otherwise lost to history.

   The re-dedication of the Temple took place following the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164 BCE, and the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah was created, modeled after the eight-day holiday of Sukkot. The story of the miraculous oil lasting eight days is mythical, only first appearing hundreds of years later in the rabbinical Talmud. Details concerning origins of the Hanukkah festival are omitted in both Maccabees. It should be noted though, that Messiah was later in attendance at the Temple during the Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah (John 10: 22, 23) giving His keen recognition to the events described in Maccabees.

   First and Second Maccabees were never included in the Jewish canon, though they are included in the biblical canon used by the Roman Catholic church as well as the Eastern Orthodox. They are excluded from the canon used by Protestant denominations who, like the Jews, reject some of the doctrinal issues brought out in 2 Maccabees. Rather, the Protestants keep these books segregated among the Apocrypha. In modern Judaism, the books are considered to be of great historical value and interest, but have never been elevated to any official religious status as, "inspired."  

   The fascinating history of the Jewish insurrection aside, it's the doctrinal issues, brought out in Second Maccabees which are of great concern to the Christian community. These include the concept of 'intercession of the saints' - Jeremiah's prayer in heaven - 2 Maccabees 15: 12-16. The concept is found nowhere else in either the Jewish Bible or the Christian. It is from this single passage in this single book, that the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox justify their practices of praying to the departed saints to intercede on behalf of the living. The idea being that the saints are in the presence of God, and God will give their requests special consideration. Among all the saints, of course, Mary enjoys a special elevated status as the earthly mother of Jesus. She is often referred to by the Catholics as the ' Queen of Heaven.' They teach that He could never refuse a request of His mother.

    Prayers for the dead and departed are part of traditional Jewish and Christian services, including special prayers for mourning and remembrance for the departed. Such prayers are simply human. They help to relieve the sense of loss. However, the distinction that should be understood, is that the saints are not prayed for - but rather they are prayed to as intercessors. The intercessors will then bring your prayers directly to the attention of God. 

   On the other hand, if you have difficulty embracing this idea, you may continue to pray in the name of  Yeshua, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, understanding that He is the only intercessor and there is no other. Another, similar doctrinal concern that arises from 2 Maccabees is drawn from the following passage:

   The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox both hold the books of Maccabees as sacred, inspired scripture. However, it is only the Catholics that developed the concept of Purgatory. This concept stems partly from ancient Greco-Roman mythology whereby there is the long held view that Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are places within the physical realm of the universe. That is to say, Heaven, or Paradise was above, Hell or Hades was somewhere below in the bowels of the earth, while Purgatory was also thought to be a "place" occupying some physical location in between. Purgatory is the place where they say souls are sent to be purified after death. The concept satisfies the concern that - as all had sinned, one could never be sure if a deceased loved one had gone up or down, but more likely somewhere in between. 

   The Roman Catholic church uses the above quoted passage from 2 Maccabees to validate this belief. In this it is held that the amount of time a soul must spend in purgatory would depend on how sinful a life they had lived. It is taught that if the living offer prayers and sacrifices, or do penance on behalf of the dead, it can shorten the time the departed loved one will have to remain in purgatory before being allowed to rise up to Paradise.

   From this came the issue of indulgences which were often reduced to simple cash donations to the church (sacrifice). These indulgences could be made on behalf of the living or the dead. These developed into the egregious practices that triggered Martin Luther's revolt and have since been officially reformed. Unofficially, however, the beliefs are deeply ingrained in Roman Catholic theology. The concept of purgatory was defined and affirmed at the First Council of Lyon (1245), the Second Council of Lyon (1274), the Council of Florence (1438- 1445) and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). see - Councils and Synods

   The books of Maccabees, written roughly 150 years before the Messiah, (scholars dispute the exact dating) help to fill in events of the so called "inter-testament" period of Jewish history. They are of great historical interest and carry the weight of historical significance in that they describe the events that led to the establishment of the Hanukkah festival - the rededication of the Temple after it had been defiled by the Syrians. Still, the Jewish people as well as a large percentage of Christians do not hold these books as sacred inspired scripture, but rather as historical record.

    But under the tunic of each of the dead they found amulets sacred to the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. So it was clear to all that this was why these men had been slain. They all therefore praised the ways of the Lord, the just judge who brings to light the things that are hidden. Turning to supplication, they prayed that the sinful deed might be fully blotted out. The noble Judas warned the soldiers to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He then took up a collection among all his soldiers, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, which he sent to Jerusalem to provide for an expiatory sacrifice. In doing this he acted in a very excellent and noble way, inasmuch as he had the resurrection of the dead in view; for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death. But if he did this with a view to the splendid reward that awaits those who had gone to rest in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin. - 2 Maccabees 12:40-46

see also - Hanukkah


2nd Maccabees raises a number of doctrinal issues for the Christian community

a brief study on the origins of doctrinal error, i.e. "intercession of the saints" and "purgatory"

The story of the Maccabean revolt didn't end with the death of Antiochus, however, because while this was a story of war against the external military forces of the Syrians, it was also the story of struggle with the domestic civil enemies within. That is to say, the Hellenized Jews that stood with, and supported the Syrians.

   The domestic internal battle-lines had been drawn over the issue of who would govern as the High Priest. For many centuries, Judea had been dominated by external empires, and allowed to stand as a semi-autonomous theocracy run by the High priest and the powerful priestly families in Jerusalem. These were the sophisticated urbanites that favored Hellenization, and who stood in opposition to the majority of country folk who were simple farmers. They were not wealthy, they were not cozy with the Syrian Greeks, and they had a growing contempt for the domineering Jerusalemites. Thus, a clear socio-economic

The warrior Judas Maccabeus, or Judah of Maccabee, 

drawn by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872).

   Judea was thus restored to it's former semi-autonomous state, and Menelaus was put back in place as High Priest by Alcimus, a moderate. But as soon as Lysias left, fighting broke out again between Judas’ rebels and the moderates who supported Alcimus. An army led by the Seleucid general Nicanor was dispatched to aid the moderates. In 161 BCE, Judas beat Nicanor’s army in the Battle of Adasa and Nicanor was killed.  

   A little later a new Selucide ruler would emerge, after killing Lysias and young Antiochus V. He was the determined Demetrius I Soter, and he dispatched another army, led by the general Bacchides. This army faced off with Judas in the Battle of Elasa in 160 BCE., but the Maccabean band was no match for the powerful 20,000 man army of the Syrians. The Jews were crushed and Judas was killed. 

   Thus, the Maccabean revolt ended in tragedy. But some years later, as the ever dynamic geopolitical landscape kept moving, Judas’ youngest brother Jonathan Apphus (Apphus meaning Diplomat) ascended to the high priesthood, and to the rulership Judea. However, Jonathan would be assassinated by the Syrians, and the last of the Maccabee brothers, Simon, would be elected by the people of Jerusalem as their chosen leader in 142 BCE. Although Simon was by now, already advanced in age, he became the ruling high priest.

   While some recognized only the family of Onias, the priest who was first deposed by Antiochus IV at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt, as the legitimate heirs to the Aaronic priesthood. But the family of Onias had fled to Egypt during the Maccabean conflict, a fact that was interpreted as a renunciation of claims to the priesthood. In recognition of his wise rule, a convocation of leaders in Israel named Simon, “leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet” should arise, (1 Maccabees 14:25-49). 

   Simon would establish the Hasmonean Dynasty (an ancestral family name) that would govern a semi-autonomous theocracy. He would go on to negotiate Judea's release from Syrian taxes, and thus the dynasty became recognized as fully independent. It even expanded into the neighboring regions of Samaria, Galilee and beyond. The Hasmonean Dynasty would continue to govern an independent Judea even after the disintegration of the Selucide Syrian empire, up until the Romans arrived in 63 BCE, reestablishing Israel as a client state, and then yielded completely to the Herodian Dynasty in 37 BCE. 

division had developed, which would become an important aspect as the  revolt unfolded.

   Following Antiochus' death in Parthia, the Seleucid Empire of Syria was ruled by Lysias, regent for the child King Antiochus V Eupator. Lysias set out to destroy Jerusalem and crush the Maccabean insurrection once and for all. He laid siege to Jerusalem, but in a fortuitous turn of events for the Jews, Lysias was compelled to lift the siege, and come to terms with the Jerusalemites. He was forced to make a hasty return to Antioch, in order to put down an uprising by one of his generals.

know your faith - grow your faith

   The two books follow the same general chronology of events, but in the second book, the author is apparently more interested in applying theological interpretations to events. That is to say, the author points out divine intervention as guiding the course of events, defeating evil and restoring the Temple to God's people. Evil in this case, was well represented by Antiochus IV, the emperor who seeks to homogenize his empire’s many ethnic and religious groups into one loyal Hellenistic kingdom. “The king ordered all his kingdom to become one people.” 1 Maccabees 1:44

   Antiochus died in 164 BCE, though accounts of his death are conflicting. His armies were fighting on two fronts, and he apparently died in fighting against the Parthians. One account describes a terrible stomach affliction that had tormented him for some time. Then, while suffering from the illness, he fell from his chariot as it was driving along, and he died from the fall. Another account says that upon hearing his army had been defeated in Judea he fled to the coastal cities. But everywhere he went the people mocked him as "the fugitive" so that, in despair, he drowned himself in the sea.

   In the context of the Syrian persecution, it should be understood that the Jewish people have long been hated by the world because of how they refuse to compromise with pagan practices. It has always been so. Although people of the world may refuse to understand it, the Jews are a set apart people. Jewish people are the chosen ones to whom Yahweh was revealed first. Yahweh also gave the Jews many precise rules and commands to which they should remain obedient. Assimilation is viewed as potentially dangerous by many Jewish people, because it represents disobedience to God, rather than keeping themselves separate and apart from the world.

   Not so among the Christian brotherhood, where compromise with pagan practices and foreign philosophies is practically foundational. 

   Over the centuries and generations, Israel has been confronted with many invaders. There have been violent attempts either to convert Jews by force or to plainly and simply annihilate them. The Shoah (holocaust) has, of course, been the most horrible example of murdering Jewish people, but pogroms have existed long before and attacks continue to this day. Israel has overcome many battles that were merely about the survival of the whole community. Remaining separate has never been easy.

   Although these books are absent from the Tanakh and most official Bibles (with an exception for the Catholic Bible) because they are considered to be exaggerations, Still, the Books of the Maccabees are an interesting source of information about the historical background concerning the conflict between the Maccabees and the Seleucides during the 2nd century BCE. These books of Maccabees will also allow you to understand how the Temple was being profaned and the tremendous persecution of Jewish, Torah-observant people. There were some Jews that were happy to comply and adopted the practices of Hellenization. The ones who resisted faced tremendous persecution. Refusing to worship Greek gods or burn incense on the pagan alters. Mattathias was an elderly Levitical priest stood up and resisted, igniting a war.

   The miracle of the oil for the Temple lamps came directly from this conflict. When they desecrated the Temple, the Syrians had also broken the seals and contaminated the purified oil used for the lamps. But they missed one, leaving only enough oil for one day, while it would take eight days to purify enough oil for the lamps. Jewish tradition holds that it was a miracle of God that the small amount of oil lasted for eight days, and the lamps gave forth their light, giving Hanukkah the name 'Festival of Lights'. 

   Yeshua observed this festival, also known as the Feast of Dedication: 

 Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon's porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, "How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father's name, they bear witness of Me. - John 10:22-25