The Books of Maccabees By (Toy/Barton/Jacobs/Abrahams)


     Maccabees By (Toy/Barton/Jacobs/Abrahams)

Section 1.0






Original Language



Sources & Integrity





Historical & Religious Character


The Letters

Authorship & Character





Integrity & Character

Author & Date


Jewish standpoint

There are four books which pass under this name—I, II, III, and IV Maccabees. The first of these is the only one of the four which can be regarded as a reliable historical source.


The First Book of the Maccabees covers the period of forty years from the accession of Antiochus (175 B.C.) to the death of Simon the Maccabee (135 B.C.). Its contents are as follows: Ch. i. 1-9 is a brief historical introduction; i. 10-ii. 70 treats of the rise of the Maccabean revolt; iii. 1-ix. 22 is devoted to the Maccabean struggle under Judas; ix. 23-xii. 53, to the fortunes of Israel under Jonathan; xiii. 1-xvi. 24, to the administration of Simon. The events are followed with intense interest and sympathy. At times the enthusiasm of the writer rises to a high pitch and breaks out into poetry of a genuine Semitic character (comp. iii. 3-9). The style is simple, terse, restrained, and objective, modeled throughout on that of the historical books of the Old Testament. The fact that just proportions are observed in treating the different parts of the narrative proves the author to have been a writer of considerable skill. He dates all events in terms of the Seleucid era.

1.01 Original Language. 

It is clear from the Semitic idioms which occur throughout the work that it was composed in a Semitic language (see, for example, ii. 40, iv. 2), and certain passages indicate with great clearness that the original language was Hebrew (see ii. 39, iii. 19). To this fact Origen and Jerome also bear testimony, though it is possible that the version or paraphrase known to them was Aramaic.

The Hebrew original seems not to have borne the name “Maccabees,” though it is not known what was its real designation. Eusebius (“Hist. Eccl.” vi. 25) quotes Origen as authority for the name Σαρβηθ Σαβαναι, a name which has been explained in many different ways. For some of these see Grimm (“Das Erste Buch der Makkabäer,” p. xvii.). Dalman (“Grammar,” p. 6), whom Torrey (Cheyne and Black, “Encyc. Bibl.”) follows, takes the name as a corruption of  (= “Book of the Hasmoneans”). If this be the correct interpretation, an Aramaic translation of the book must have been made at an early time, and it was this translation which was known to Origen and Jerome—a view which does not seem improbable. Be this as it may, the Hebrew was translated very early into Greek, and the Greek only has survived. The Greek version seems to be a literal one, often preserving the Semitic, and sometimes even the Hebrew, idiom; but it is clear, and probably it is, on the whole, a satisfactory translation. It is transmitted in three uncial manuscripts of the Septuagint—the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus, and the Codex Venetus—as well as in several cursives.

1.02 Author. 

Concerning the author no information is obtainable beyond that which may be inferred from the book itself. He was a devout and patriotic Jew who lived and wrote in Palestine. This latter fact is proved by his intimate and exact geographical knowledge of the Holy Land (comp. iii. 24; vii. 19; ix. 2-4, 33, 34, 43; xii. 36-40; xiii. 22, 23; xvi. 5, 6) and by his lack of accurate knowledge of any of the foreign countries which he mentions. The author was also a loyal admirer of the Hasmonean family; he believed that to it Israel owed her deliverance and existence. He admired not only the military deeds of Judas (comp. v. 63), but also those of Jonathan (comp. x. 15-21) and Simon (comp. xiv. 4-15). The narrative is told not as though deliverance came by miracle, but as though it was due to the military genius of these men, exercised under the favoring guidance of God (i. 64, iii. 8). Curiously enough the word “God” does not appear in the work, nor does the word “Lord.” The idea is not lacking, however, as in the Book of Esther, but is represented by “Heaven,” or by the pronoun “He.” The author was a deeply religious man in spite of this mannerism. He was very zealous for the Law and for the national religious institutions (see i. 11, 15, 43; ii. 20-22; iii. 21), for the Scriptures (i. 56, iii. 48), and for the Temple (i. 21, 39; iii. 43).

1.03 Date. 

It should be noted, also, that throughout the work the priesthood is represented in a favorable light. The renegade priests Jason and Menelaus are not mentioned—a fact in striking contrast with the treatment which the Second Book of the Maccabeesaccords them. From these facts Geiger conjectured that the author was a Sadducee, and most recent writers follow him in this opinion, although they consider him wrong in calling the First Book of the Maccabees a partizan document; its temperate and just tone certainly redeems it from such a stricture. The terminus a quo of the work is found in the fact that John Hyreanus I., who began to reign in 135 B.C., is mentioned at the close of the book (xvi. 21-24).

As the Romans are throughout spoken of in terms of respect and friendliness, it is clear that the terminus ad quem must be sought at some time before the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 B.C. As to whether the date can be more nearly determined scholars are not agreed. The determining fact is held by most to be the statement in xvi. 23, 24, that the “rest of the acts of John . . . are written in the chronicles of his high-priesthood.”

It is thought by many that this implies that John had died and that a sufficient time had elapsed since his death to permit the circulation of the chronicles. Bissell (Lange’s “Commentary,” p. 479) thinks that not more than a score or two of years had passed, while Schürer (“Hist. of the Jewish People,” div. ii., vol. iii., p. 8) and Fairweather (in “Cambridge Bible” and Hastings, “Dict. Bible”) think that not more than a decade or two had elapsed, and date the work in the first or second decade of the first century B.C. Torrey, on the other hand, thinks (“Encyc. Bibl.”) that this reference to the chronicle of the priesthood is an imitation of well-known passages in the Books of Kings, that it was intended solely as a compliment to John, and that the work was composed early in his reign (i.e., soon after 135 B.C.) by one who had been an interested spectator of the whole Maccabean movement. The vivid character of the narrative and the fact that it closes so abruptly after the death of Simon make this a very plausible view.

1.04 Sources and Integrity. 

Those who maintain the later date of the work are obliged to account for the vivid details which it contains by supposing that the writer employed older sources, such as letters and memoranda. In Torrey’s view no such sources are needed, as the author, where he did not have personal knowledge, could have talked with participants or eye-witnesses of the events. In either case the First Book of the Maccabees is one of the best sources known for the history of the Jews.

J. D. Michaelis held that Josephus used the Hebrew original of the book, which differed in some important particulars from the present text. Destinon (“Die Quellen des Josephus,” 1882) revived this theory and endeavored to prove (pp. 80 et seq.) that ch. xiv.-xvi. were not contained in the edition used by Josephus. Destinon bases his argument on the fact that Josephus treats this portion very scantily in comparison with his treatment of the other material of the book, although these chapters contain quite as much and as interesting material. He has been followed by Wellhausen (“I. J. G.” pp. 222 et seq.). But Torrey (in “Encyc. Bibl.”), by utilizing the investigations of Mommsen, has shown that Josephus actually knew some of this material and introduced it at a later point in his work (“Ant.” xiv. 8, § 5), in describing the history of Hyrcanus II. In all probability, therefore, the First Book of the Maccabees has retained its original form.

Bibliography: Grimm, Das Erste Buch der Makkabäer, in Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen, 1853; Wace, Apocrypha; Bissell, Apocrypha, in Lange’s Commentary; Fairweather and Black, First Book of Maccabees, in Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges; Kautzsch, Apokryphen; Torrey, Schweizer’s Hebrew Text of I Maccabees, in Jour. Bib. Lit. xxii. 51-59.


The Second Book of the Maccabees opens with two letters written by Jews resident in Palestine to brethren dwelling in Egypt. The first letter occupies ch. i. 1-10a; the second, ch. i. 10b-ii. 18. These letters, it is thought by some, formed no part of the original work. The preface is found in ch. ii. 19-32, and states that Jason of Cyrene had composed five books on the Maccabean revolt, which the writer undertakes to epitomize for his readers. Ch. iii. relates how the attempt of Heliodorus to plunder the Temple was miraculously thwarted; ch. iv. narrates the wickedness of the high priests Jason and Menelaus, and of Simon, the Temple overseer; ch. v., how Antiochus began the persecution of the Jews; ch. vi. and vii., the story of the martyrdom of Eleazar and the seven young men and their mother; while ch. viii.-xv. are occupied with the history of the wars of Judas Maccabeus.

1.05 Historical and Religious Character. 

The time covered by this material is barely fifteen years, from the very end of the reign of Seleucus IV., whose servant was Heliodorus, to the victory of Judas over Nicanor (175-160 B.C.). The reason why the book terminates here is to be found in its aim, which was to set before the Jews of the Diaspora the importance of observing the two Maccabean feasts—the Feast of the Dedication and the Feast of Nicanor. In no other way, the writer believed, could they share in the glory and the fruits of the great struggle for liberty. The author is so intent on this that though he has lauded Judas as a splendid example of religious patriotism he passes in silence over his death. The writer further takes occasion often to impress upon his readers the sacred character of the Temple at Jerusalem, which the Diaspora might easily undervalue.

In contrast with I Maccabees, the language of II Maccabees is highly religious. God appears as the great “Sovereign” who miraculously delivers His people (see iii. 24 and, perhaps, ii. 21). The author is a religious teacher (see iii. 1 et seq., iv. 15-17, v. 17-20, et al.); he did not write for the sake of the history as such. This places his work in a very different class from that of I Maccabees. In the earlier part he supplies some welcome information not contained in I Maccabees, and in nearly every chapter are interesting facts—some of them confirmed by Josephus—which may, with caution, be used. But his purpose, style, and temperament are such that, since the time of Ewald, it has been recognized that the work is not a sober and restrained history like I Maccabees, but is rhetorical and bombastic.

1.06 Sources. 

One important fact to be noted is the writer’s belief in the bodily resurrection of the dead (see vii. 9, 11, 14, 36; xiv. 16; and especially xii. 43-45). This, together with his attitude toward the priesthood as shown in his lifting the veil which I Maccabees had drawn over Jason and Menelaus, led Bertholdt and Geiger to regard the author as a Pharisee and the work as a Pharisaic party document. This much, at least, is true—the writer’s sympathies were with the Pharisees.

The author claims that he epitomized the work of Jason of Cyrene (ii. 23), which seems to have been his only source, unless he himself prefixed the two letters to his work. Jason is thought by Schürer (l.c. p. 212) to have compiled his work from hearsay shortly after 160 B.C. at Cyrene. If this is true, the work of Jason, like II Maccabees, concluded with the victory over Nicanor. There can be no doubt that both the work of Jason and that of his epitomizer (i.e., the author of II Maccabees) were written in Greek, and that the latter was a Hellenistic Jew.

There is a reference in ch. xv. 37 to the Book of Esther, which would preclude any earlier date of authorship than about 130 B.C. (see Cornill, “Einleitung,” p. 252). On the other hand, II Maccabees was known to the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (see Peak, in “The Century Bible,” p. 223) and to Philo (see Schürer, l.c. p. 214). The work, therefore, must have been composed about the beginning of the common era

1.07 The Letters. 

The two letters prefixed to II Maccabees have excited much discussion. Some scholars regard them as the basis of the author’s work, which he himself prefixed to it because they treat of the topics of which he wished to speak—the Temple at Jerusalem and the importance of observing its feasts. Others hold that the letters were placed in their present position by a later hand, while some believe them to be fabricated. There is in the letters nothing which is inconsistent with their belonging to the time from which they profess to come, and there seems to be no good reason for doubting that it was the epitomist himself who prefixed them to the book. For details see the works mentioned below.

Bibliography: Grimm, Zweites, Drittes, und Viertes Bücher der Makkabäer, in Kurzgefasstes Exegetisches Handbuch zu den, Apokryphen; Wace, Apocrypha; Kautzsch, Apokryphen; Bruston, Trois Lettres des Juifs de Palestine, in Stade’s Zeitschrift, 1890, x. 110 et seq.; Torrey, Die Briefe 2 Makkabäer, i. 1-ii. 18, ib. 1900, xx. 225 et seq.; Herkenne, Die Briefe zu Beginn des Zweiten Makkabäerbuches, 1904.


The Third Book of the Maccabees has in reality nothing to do either with the Maccabees or with their times. It received its name probably because it is a fiction concerning the persecution of the Jews by a foreign king; that king was Ptolemy Philopator (222-205 B.C.). The story runs as follows: After Ptolemy’s defeat of Antiochus III. in 217 B.C., at the battle of Raphia, the former visited Jerusalem and tried to enter the Temple, but was miraculously prevented (i. 1-ii. 24). Returning to Alexandria, he assembled the Jews in the hippodrome to be massacred, but the necessity of writing down their names exhausted the paper in Egypt, so that they escaped (ii. 25-iv. 21). Next the king devised a plan for having the Jews trampled to death by elephants; this also was frustrated in various improbable ways (v. 1-vi. 21). The king then underwent a change of heart and bestowed great favor on the Jews, and the day on which this occurred was ever after celebrated as a festival in memory of the deliverance (vi. 22-vii. 23)

1.08 Authorship and Character. 

The author of this fiction was certainly an Alexandrian Jew who wrote in Greek, for its style is even more rhetorical and bombastic than that of II Maccabees. The work begins abruptly and is thought to be but a fragment of a once larger whole. Whether there is any foundation for the story concerning Philopator with which the writer begins there is no means of knowing. If true, it is one of a very few grains of fact in the whole account. Josephus (“Contra Ap.” ii. 5) tells how Ptolemy Physco (146-117 B.C.) cast the Jews of Alexandria, who, as adherents of Cleopatra, were his political opponents, to intoxicated elephants.

When the elephants turned on his own people the king saw a sudden apparition and gave up his purpose. The Jews, it is added, celebrate the day of their deliverance. It would seem that the author of III Maccabees, anxious to connect this celebration with Jerusalem, has transferred it to an earlier Ptolemy and given it an entirely unhistorical setting. His narrative can not be regarded as a successful fiction, as it abounds in psychological as well as historical improbabilities.

This work was written later than II Maccabees, for its author made use of that book (see ii. 9; comp. II Macc. vi. 18 et seq. and xiv. 35 with III Macc. iii. 25-33; see also Grimm, l.c. p. 220). He can not have written earlier, therefore, than the end of the first century B.C. On the other hand, he can not have written later than the first century C.E. or his work would not have been used by Christians. Ewald regarded this work as a polemic against Caligula and dated it accordingly about 40 C.E.; this view has been abandoned by more recent writers, since Philopator is not represented as claiming divine honors.

Bibliography: In addition to the works cited in the bibliography to the second part of this article: Deissmann, Bible Studies, 1901, pp. 341-345; I. Abrahams, in J. Q. R. 1896-97, ix. 39 et seq.; Ewald, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, iv. 611-614.


The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, so called, is a semiphilosophic discourse, or sermon, on the “supremacy of the pious reason” (ch. i. 1). It consists of a prologue (i. 1-12) and of two principal parts. The first of these (i. 13-iii. 18) is devoted to the elucidation of the author’s philosophical thesis, and the second (iii. 19-xviii. 24) to the illustration of the thesis by examples drawn from II Maccabees. In the latter portion of the work there is, first (iii. 19-iv. 26), a brief review of the sufferings of the Jews under Seleucus and his son(?) Antiochus Epiphanes; the conquering power of reason is illustrated (v. 1-vii. 23) by the example of Eleazar, drawn from II Macc. v. 18-31; by that of the seven brethren (vii. 24-xiv. 10), drawn from II Macc. vii. 1-23; and by that of their mother (xiv. 11-xvi. 25), taken from II Macc. vii. 25 et seq. In ch. xvii. and xviii. the author expresses his impressions with reference to these martyrdoms. It appears, therefore, that the only connection this work has with the Maccabees is in the fact that the author’s illustrations are drawn from the Second Book of the Maccabees.

1.09 Integrity and Character. 

Ch. xviii. 3-24 has been thought by several scholars to be the work of a later hand, but the opinion does not appear to be well founded. Ch. xvii. 2 would form a weak ending to the book, while xviii. 20-24 suits well the style of the author of the earlier parts, and the apparent incongruity of xviii. 6-19 would seem to be designed in this hortatory composition to make a strong impression on its hearers. This latter view is strengthened if it be remembered that the work is throughout a discourse addressed directly to listeners (comp. i. 1, 7; ii. 13; xiii. 19; xviii. 1). Ewald and Freudenthal called it a sermon and held that it is an example of Alexandrian synagogue preaching, but this view is now abandoned, for even in the Diaspora the sermon of the synagogue was usually founded on a passage from the Bible. This discourse, also, is too abstruse for an ordinary congregation; it is an address to a more select circle.

Its style is oratorical and ornate, though not so extravagant as that of III Maccabees. It contains a large philosophic element of the Stoic type, though its author possessed a taste for philosophy rather than real philosophical insight. It contains also a core of Judaism. The writer was a Jew who could clothe his religion in a philosophic garb in accordance with the tendency of the times. The Hellenic and the Jewish elements in his work both appear at their best and in a combination almost without a parallel; the nearest example is the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.

1.10 Author and Date. 

It is probable, therefore, that the author of IV Maccabees was an Alexandrian Jew. Eusebius (“Hist. Eccl.” iii. 10) and Jerome (“De Viris Illustribus,” xiii.) ascribe the work to Josephus—an opinion which was for a long time followed, and which has caused the text of IV Maccabees to be included in many editions of the works of Josephus. But the language and style of the work differ so radically from those of the writings of Josephus that it is clear that this is a mistaken opinion. Of some of its historical combinations, as in iv. 5 and v. 1, Josephus could hardly have been guilty.

The writer of IV Maccabees had certainly come under the influence of the culture of Alexandria, even if he lived and wrote in some other city. As to the time when the book was written, the data for an opinion are the same as in the case of III Maccabees: it was written probably at the close of the last century B.C. or during the first century C.E., and before the time of Caligula, for the Jews seem to have been at peace at the time.

1.11 Eschatology. 

The writer is a strong believer in immortality, but he has abandoned the Pharisaic standpoint of II Maccabees, which recognizes a bodily resurrection, and holds to the view that all souls exist forever, the good being together in a state of happiness (xvii. 18), with the Patriarchs (v. 37) and with God (ix. 8 and xvii. 18). These views are the more striking as they are entwined with the same narratives which in II Maccabees express the more materialistic view. The writer holds, also, that the suffering of the martyrs was vicarious; by it they wrought deliverance for their nation (comp. i. 11, xvii. 19-23, xviii. 24).

Bibliography: For the Greek text of IV Maccabees, as well as of the other books, see Swete, The Old Testament in Greek, vol. iii., 1894; for the translation, see Kautzsch, Apokryphen, ii. 152 et seq.; for introductions, see Bissell in Lange’s Commentary, and Schürer, History of the Jewish People; see also Bensly, The Fourth Book of Maccabees in Syriac, 1895.

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Maccabees. from a Jewish standpoint Section 2.0: By (Toy/Barton/Jacobs/Abrahams) Read Here

Original Source: Jewish Encyclopedia

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