Ministry of the Word
  Maccabees I
  1. 1 and 2 Macc tells of the glorious history of the Jewish resistance against Syrian Hellenisation under the leadership of the Maccabeans.
  2. After the Babylonian exile, there was a period of time when the Jews ruled themselves. They were under bondage for quite some time.
  3. Mattathias and his five brothers were key players in the Jewish resistance. They reacted against the Hellenistic onslaught, being faithful to the Jewish religion.
  4. The four books were known by the title ‘Maccabees’. All four books owe their name to Judas Maccabeus, the 3rd son of Mattathias, a priest.
  5. Maccabees comes from ‘Makkabaios’ which means:
    • Designated by God: This is the most apt meaning.
    • Hammer-referring to the enormous strength of Judas/ the army, or could mean to strike very fast
    • Physical defect-There was speculation that Maccabeus was obese and a giant. (1 Macc 2: 66, 5: 63-64)
  6. Maccabeus started the Jewish revolt. In 167 BC, Judas Maccabeus led a revolt. He was among the five sons and the most courageous, capable, God-fearing and a warrior. Under his leadership, the revolt on religious grounds grew into a full-scale struggle for independence. This was known as the Maccabean war. These military stories have been captured in 1 & 2 Macc.
  7. Original Jewish literature used the title for 1 Macc as ‘Hasmonean’, or descendants of Hasmon, a Jewish family which included the Maccabees, the high priests and rulers who ruled Judah between 142-63 BC. Now was the time that the Jews ruled themselves, providing religious, military and political leadership for the Jews.
Alexander’s vision was shared by the Generals, that of having a united kingdom, language etc. There were two prominent Generals between whom, Alexander’s territory was divided, i.e. Ptolemy (Egypt) and Seleucus (Syria).

There are 7 Deutero-canonical books/Apocryphal books which are not accepted by Protestants: 1 & 2 Macc, Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, Wisdom
Author and Date
1 Macc
2 Macc
Judas and his brothers could not have been the authors of this book, since they were warriors.
Jason of Cyrene seems to be the author of this book, based on 2 Macc 2: 19-32. Jason was its first author and primary source. He was a man seeped in orthodox Judaism and skilled in the Hellenistic art of rhetoric. Hence there are poems etc in 2 Macc which are not found in 1 Macc.
The author was an ardent nationalistic Jew and an enthusiastic supporter of the Hasmoneans (1 Macc 5: 62-64)
This was originally written in Greek and is said to be a summary of a five-volume work written by Jason of Cyrene (2 Macc 2:23).
Unlike 1 Macc, this is not pro-Maccabeen/Hasmodean.
The books neatly blend with one another
The book was originally written in Hebrew, near the beginning of the 1cBC. This is now lost.
Scholars tell us 2 Macc was written in Greek before 1 Macc, written in Egypt after 124 BC.
1 Macc
2 Macc
1 Macc depicts God’s salviifc action in the Maccabean struggle against paganism. Fidelity to the law and faith in God achieved more than the size of one’s army or the strength of one’s arm. 1 Macc 2:61-64
  1. This book tends to propagate the doctrine dear to the heart, of the Pharisees, e.g.
  2. The resurrection of the just 2 Macc 7:9, 14:46
  3. The importance of the Temple
  4. It seeks to strengthen the faith of the Jews everywhere, by the tales of the heroic examples of Judas, his brothers and other Jews.
The Maccabeans won the battle even though they were outnumbered believing that victory belongs to the Lord. Judas and men believed and prayed.
The basis of their victory is being faithful to the law and believing in God who can work wonders. The efforts of Judas and brothers won independence and prepared the way for God’s future intervention. They are worthy heroes to be followed, men who never gave up. The purpose of the book is to emulate these leaders who were strong in faith and courage.
Literary genre
1 Macc
2 Macc
1 Macc describes the rescue of Judaism from the clutches of Hellenism and the rise of the Hasmonean dynasty. It is a work of history. There are vivid descriptions 6:39, passages that reflect enthusiasm 5:63, and at times even poetry 1:26-28. Mostly it is in narrative form.
2 Macc has dialogues, miracles, exaggerations (e.g. of numbers), not only does the author give truths, but also stirs the readers emotions. There is a spirit of piety in the stories written.
Relationship between 1 & 2 Macc
Unlike 1 & 2 Chronicles, 1 & 2 Kings, 1 & 2 Samuel, which are a continuation of one story, 2 Macc does not follow 1 Macc, but tells the same story in its own way.
1 Macc covers a longer period of Jewish history from 175-134 BC. 2 Macc features mostly the exploits of Judas Maccabeus only and concludes just before his death. 180-161 BC.
Theology of 1 & 2 Macc
1 Macc
2 Macc
Theology is covenantal. The people are expected to observe the Torah. When they fail to do this, God punishes them.
All the victories and successes are due to the help and power of God
Absolute monotheism stands out in 1 Macc. In comparison, the Greeks had many Gods (rulers, nature etc). 1 Macc says there is only 1 God, everything is created. Although distant, God can be found in prayer (3:50-53) and in the Torah/law (3:48), where His voice is clearly heard. The observance of the Law brings honour (2:49-50,64), infidelity, the law results in punishment and death (3:49-sometimes the text is not clear, but gives a hint.
  1. The majesty of God is highlighted and His divine attributes given 2 Macc 1:24-25
  2. God does not leave His just ones without aid. He is their defender and even sends heavenly hosts to do battle on their behalf (Chapters 3 & 10).
  3. Intercessory prayer is encouraged 12:44-45
  4. Observance of the law brings God’s mercy.
The books’ primary concern is the Temple in Jerusalem. It speaks of the profanation and the restoration of the Temple. The temple is a symbol of what happened to the nation as a whole; the people suffered persecution followed by liberation and restoration. The temple is a symbol of what happened to the whole country, it became one Jewish nation under God.
Sin leads to punishment and repentance leads to salvation. Sin is the failure to observe the law and introduced by individuals, including the High Priests, who introduced Hellenistic ways into Judea, Jerusalem and the Temple. These were practices that were incompatible with the authentic exercise of Jewish religion. Earlier the High Priesthood passed through line of descent. Now, the Hellenistic way meant that this was bought by money.

The sins of these few brought God’s punishment on the community. The Temple itself was profaned. Remaining faithful during persecution, even to the point of death had important effects on the course of events and hastened the people’s restoration.
In 2 Macc, the Gentiles became instruments of God’s punishment, but they also became arrogant frequently and stepped beyond their role as God’s instruments to challenge divine authority and power. The result was their destruction.
Leaders of the Jewish community are seen as mere agents of God’s salvation. Victory is always attributed to God. Judas prays to God before every battle.
Historical background
1. The Greek domination of Palestine
  • 1 Macc 1:1-14 mentions Alexander the Great (336-323 BC). He had a world vision of a world united by Hellenism, one culture , therefore he conquered countries. At 32, he fell ill and died in Babylon.
  • The empire was divided between his army generals 1 Macc 1: 5-9. Ptolemy took Egypt and Selecus, Syria. They both formed dynasties. Both Generals fought for control over Palestine. Whoever controlled Palestine, controlled the trade routes and the economy.
  • By the beginning of the 3cBC, Palestine was securely in the hands of the Ptolemies who controlled it for about 100 years.
2. Spread of Hellenism
The Jews living in Palestine and the Jews of the diaspora were affected by the spread of Hellenism. This led to an emergency, which was not so bad under the Ptolemies, who spread but did not enforce Hellenism. They believed in persuasion sans enforcement. They did not interfere with the Sanhedrin and the internal affairs of the Jews so long as taxes were paid and law an order was in place. Selecus fought with Ptolemy, conquered Palestine. Now things changed after Palestine was annexed.
3. Palestine was annexed by Antiochus III
This happened in 198 BC, when Antiochus III crushed armies and annexed Palestine. He was considerate to the Jews
4. Palestine under Selecus IV: 2 Macc 3:1- 4:6 Selecus IV confirmed the privileges granted to the Jews by his father. He was assassinated by Heliodorus, who was killed and succeeded by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
5. Antiochus IV Epiphanes
  • There’s was repression under his rule 1 Macc 1:10, 2 Macc 4:7.
  • There were internal problems that he faced, such as:
    Mixed population: The population was heterogeneous comprising different religions, different cultures
  • External problems: Threats from other countries-Egypt, Rome, Parthians.
He had two desperate needs
  • To unify his people for defence of the kingdom
  • To increase the revenue (which he achieved by sacking the Temple, looting gold etc)
The Jews had their own share of problems:
  • There were rivalries within Judaism. The main rivalry was the post of the High Priesthood 2 Macc 4:7-50. The legitimate High Priest was Onias III. Jason bought the post by corruption. As did Menelaus.
  • Attraction to Hellenism: 1 Macc 1:11-15. The Jews were tempted to follow the Greek way of life.
6. Plundering of Jerusalem
  • Antiochus Epiphanes IV looted the Temple in 169-167 BC. 1 Macc 1: 16-40, 2 Macc 5: 1-26. AE IV became an enemy by the above action.
  • He built the Accra, a citadel within the city, which remained a hateful symbol of foreign domination for about 25 years. 1 Macc 1: 33-40
  • Accra was a Citadel, a Greek city within the larger city of Jerusalem. The people living in it were military personnel, hellenised Gentiles (1 Macc 3:45, 14:36), renegade Jews who had defected to Hellenism 1 Macc 6:21-24. The citadel was erected by Appolonius.
  • Appolonius also looted the city and partially destroyed it. 1 Macc 1:30-32
7.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes issued an edict in 167 BC.
This was the start of the religious persecution of the Jews. 1 Macc 1:41-61, 2 Macc 6:1-11. the Jews were compelled to:
  • Violate the law of Moses (1 Macc 1: 45ff). The Jews were forbidden from offering burnt offerings and sacrifices.
    -forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane Sabbaths and feasts, to defile the sanctuary and the priests, to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances…”
  • They were forced to worship in the Greek way, to erect pagan altars, shrines, temples which were built throughout the land. All these were against the Torah. The people were forced to sacrifice to idols, eat unclean animals (flesh of the swine), and participate in pagan feats, e.g. the feast of Dionysius. An altar to Zeus was erected in the Temple, swine’s’ flesh was offered on this altar. This was known as the ‘Abomination of desolation’ Daniel 9:27, 11:31, 12:11. This triggered off a revolution
  • 1 Macc 1:54-64 speaks of the consequences of not following the edict (women killed who had have their babies circumcised, death to anyone found in possession of the Torah etc) 1 Macc 2:43
Start of the revolution. Maccabeus and sons, followers flee to the hills. In 167 armed revolt began.
General info
There’s a distinction between emotional and righteous anger (for a cause you really believe in). Marks of circumcision removed, i.e. successive children were uncircumcised.
In Hebrew, the name meant the person.
  • Mattathias ‘a gift of God’, he was a priest, from the tribe of Joarib. He had five sons.
  • John-nicknamed ‘Gaddi’ or ‘the happy one’, also called Joseph 2 Macc 8:22, 10:19
  • Simon/Thassi which means the ‘zealot’ or ‘burning one’. He was the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty.
  • Judas ‘Maccabeus’ whose name is agreed to mean ‘designated from God’
  • Eleazar/’Avaran’ which means the piercer (1 Macc 6:43-46).
  • Jonathan or ‘Aphus’ the clever one/’the favourite’.
Mattathias died within a year, handed over reign to his son 1 Macc 2:65, 3:1
The war began with guerilla warfare. Under Judas Maccabeus, there were 3 periods of expoits166-160 BC: 166-164 (battles against Antiochus Ephiphanes IV), 164-162 (against Antiochus V), 162-160 (against Demetrius I ‘Soter’), 1 Macc 3:10-4:35, 2 Macc 8:8-29, 11: 1-15. the exploits continued till they were able to capture the temple and rededicate it.
In 164 BC, Judas marched into Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple. 1 Macc 4: 36-59. It had been desecrated, hence had to be dismantled and then rededicated (2 Macc 10:1-9).
The tearing of clothes was a sign of mourning, horror.
Judas’ priorities were the Temple and destroying the Accra.
Religious persecution ended in 164 BC when Antiochus IV Epiphanes died. There are conflicting stories about his death. 1 Macc 6:1-17 says he died due to guilt feelings and dejection. 2 Macc 9:1-29 gives another account.
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