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

Maccabees By (Toy/Barton/Jacobs/Abrahams)

The Book of: The Book of: The Book of: The Book of: The Book of:
I Maccabees. II Maccabees. III Maccabees. IV Maccabees. V Maccabees.
value-1 value-2 value-3 value-4 value-5

I Maccabees.  #1Maccabees
II Maccabees. #2Maccabees
III Maccabees. #3Maccabees
IV Maccabees. #4Maccabees
V Maccabees. #5Maccabees

Section 2.0.

J. A second article on the Book of Maccabees is inserted as treating the subject from a Jewish standpoint.



I Maccabees, now extant only in Greek, was originally composed in Hebrew or Aramaic, most probably the former; but the original can not have been long in circulation. The fragment of a Hebrew text of I Maccabees published by Chwolson (1896) and again by Schweizer (1901) is not part of the original; and it may well be that even Origen knew only an Aramaic translation and not the original. He calls (Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.” vi. 25) I Maccabees Σαρβηθ Σα(ρ)βαναιελ, a title which has given rise to much conjecture.

Only two suggestions need be named: Derenbourg’s  (“Book of the Family of the Chief of the People of God”), given in his “Essai sur l’Histoire et la Géographie de la Palestine” (p. 450, Paris, 1867), and Dalman’s , in his “Grammatik des Jüdisch-Palästinischen Aramäisch” (p. 6, Leipsic, 1894). Of the name “Maccabees” it may be mentioned that in a text of the Megillat Anteyukas (“J. Q. R.” xi. 291 et seq.) the reading is  (= “the zealot”), which would be very acceptable were it better attested.

As to the date of the book, much turns on the meaning of the last two verses. Some critics, indeed, doubt the authenticity of the whole of the last section (xiv. 16-xvi. 24), but the trend of opinion is in favor of the integrity of the book. Schürer and Niese (in “Kritik der Beiden Makkabäerbücher,” Berlin, 1900) maintain that the last verses imply that I Maccabees was written after the death of John Hyrcanus (105 B.C.), but there is good reason for holding that the reference is to the beginning (135 B.C.) and not to the end of Hyrcanus’ reign (see “J. Q. R.” xiii. 512 et seq.).

Critics are practically unanimous in attaching great value to I Maccabees as a historical record. “On the whole, the book must be pronounced a work of the highest value, comparing favorably, in point of trustworthiness, with the best Greek and Roman histories” (Torrey). This is high praise; but it is fully deserved (comp. Schürer, “Gesch.” iii. 141). Niese (l.c.) has done good service in vindicating the authenticity of Judas’ embassy to Rome; and it is no peculiar demerit in I Maccabees that in the reports of the numbers engaged in battle, of speeches, and even of documents, its account is inexact and sometimes quite incredible.

Such defects are shared by Thucydides and Livy. The substance, not the exact form, of documents was given by ancient historians. On the other hand, it differs somewhat from the Biblical histories in its standpoint. The divine element is not wanting, and success is ultimately traced (as in Mattathias’ deathbed utterances) to God. Judas invariably sings psalms of thanksgiving for victory, and the key-note of the revolt is “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,but unto thy name give glory” (Ps. cxv. 1).

The period also, as many hold, gave rise to numerous new psalms. But in I Maccabees, nevertheless, history is written from the human standpoint. Victory is earned by endeavor as well as bestowed by grace. Partly because of this phenomenon, it was urged by Geiger (“Urschrift,” 1857, pp. 200-230) that one may detect a dynastic purpose in the book and that its author was a Sadducean apologist for the Hasmoneans.

It is certainly true that the author is silent concerning the worst excesses of the (Sadducean) high priests, and attaches primary importance to the founder of the dynasty, Mattathias. Mattathias is unknown to II Maccabees, though the latter is supposed by Geiger to be a Pharisaic counterblast to the Sadducean I Maccabees. Yet, strangely enough, in the Pharisaic tradition of the Talmud and Synagogue Mattathias plays a large part, so large that Judas is thrown into the background.

On one important point some modern writers are unfair to the book. God is not “named” in it; the term “heaven” replaces the divine name. From this the inference has been drawn that “God was absolutely conceived as reigning in the remote heaven, and no longer as dwelling among the people by the Shekinah” (Fairweather and Black, “I Maccabees,” Introduction, p. 47). This is as false an inference as would be a similar conclusion from the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in Heaven.”

God is not “named” throughout the Lord’s Prayer. In I Maccabees the personal pronoun is most significantly used (iii. 22, 51; iv. 10, 55) with relation to the term “heaven”; and, more remarkable still, the pronoun is sometimes used (ii. 61) without any noun at all: “And thus consider ye from generation to generation, that none that put their trust in him shall want for strength.” That there grew up a disinclination to “name” God is undoubted; but whatever the origin of this scrupulosity, it was not any sense of the remoteness of God (see discussion by Benjacob, “Im Namen Gottes,” p. 164, Berlin, 1903). From the Maccabean period onward God becomes ever nearer to Israel. If there was a fault at all, it was not that God became too transcendent; the tendency was rather in the direction of overfamiliarity than of undue aloofness.


Unlike I Maccabees, the book known as II Maccabees was written in Greek. For the history of the war it is of less value than I Maccabees, though some recent writers (in particular Niese) have maintained the opposite opinion. It adds, however, important particulars regarding the events that led up to the Maccabean revolt. Besides this, II Maccabees, written quite independently of I Maccabees, is a strong support of the general truth of the familiar story of the revolt, though II Maccabees is embellished with angelical and miraculous ornament foreign to the first book. Its style is rhetorical, its purpose didactic.

It emanated from Alexandria and was addressed to the Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora. It was designed to impress on them the unity of Judaism, the importance of Jerusalem as the center of religious life, and the duty of observing the two feasts of Ḥanukkah and Nicanor’s Day (see Nicanor). That the book has a Pharisaic color is undoubted, but not in the sense of being a partizan pamphlet in reply to I Maccabees, which, indeed, the author of II Maccabees most probably did not know.

Moreover, II Maccabees takes no account of Mattathias, nor, indeed, of any of the band of heroes except Judas; and this is not easily forced into evidence of Pharisaic partizanship. On the other hand, in II Macc. xiv. 6 Judas is represented as the leader of the Hasidtæans, who have many points in common with the Pharisees, and from whom the Hasmoneans were soon alienated.

Of specifically non-Sadducean doctrines, II Maccabees has a very clear expression of belief in the resurrection. Death is a “short pain that bringeth everlasting life” (II Macc. vii. 36; comp. other passages in the same chapter and xiv. 46). Judas is represented (II Macc. xii. 43 et seq.) as making offerings for the dead because “he took thought of the resurrection.” The reference to such offerings is, however, without parallel in Jewish literature, and nothing is otherwise known of such offerings being made at the Temple in Jerusalem (see Israel Lévi, “La Commemoration des Ames dans le Judaïsime,” in “R. E. J.” xxix. 48).

The book is usually held to belong to the latter part of the first century B.C.; Jason (of whose work it purports to be an epitome) wrote at least a century earlier. Niese places II Maccabees at the date 125-124 B.C., thus regarding it as older than, as well as superior to, I Maccabees. In this preference of the second to the first book, Niese stands practically alone, but he has done great service in vindicating the importance and value of the former (comp. also Sluys, “De Maccabæorum Libris I et II Quæstiones,” Amsterdam, 1904).

It remains to add that the authenticity of the letters prefixed to II Maccabees has been fiercely assailed. Yet it is coming to be recognized that the letters have a clear bearing on the design of the book, as explained above, and it is quite conceivable, though very improbable, that they were part of the original work of Jason. On these letters see, besides earlier literature, Herkenne, “Die Briefe zu Beginn des Zweiten Makkabäerbuchs,” Freiburg, 1904.


III Maccabees purports to record a persecution of the Jews in Alexandria during the reign of Ptolemy (IV.) Philopator (222-204 B.C.). The Jews are assembled in the hippodrome, and 500 infuriated elephants are to be let loose upon them. In the event the elephants turned against the persecutors, and the Jews not only escaped, but were treated with muchhonor by the king. That there is much of the fabulous in this story is obvious, and it may well be that the similar story told in Josephus (“Contra Ap.” ii. 5) concerning Ptolemy (VII.) Physcon is, as most assume, the original of III Maccabees.

The book would thus belong at the latest to the first century C.E.; at the earliest to the last century B.C.Recently important new light has been thrown on the book by the discovery of early Jewish settlements in the Fayum. On independent gounds, the present writer (“J. Q. R.” ix. 39) and Prof. A. Büchler (“Tobiaden und Oniaden,” pp. 172 et seq., Vienna, 1899) have put forward the theory that the book refers to a persecution in the Fayum. Certainly, the rapid transference of Jewish allegiance from Egyptian to Syrian hegemony about 200 B.C. finds its explanation if the Jews of Egypt were then undergoing persecution. That the author was an Alexandrian is unquestionable. On the other hand, Willrich (“Hermes,” 1904, xxxix. 244) disputes the Fayum theory and supports the view that the book is best explained as referring to Caligula.


The martyrdoms described in II Maccabees, especially of the mother and her seven sons, have given the book undying value as an inspiration and encouragement to the faithful of all ages and creeds. As will be seen below (in connection with IV Maccabees), this feature of the Maccabean heroism made a special appeal to the Christianity of the first four centuries. “The figure of the martyr, as the Church knows it, dates from the persecution of Antiochus; all subsequent martyrologies derive from the Jewish books which recorded the sufferings of those who in that day were strong and did exploits” (E. Bevan, “House of Seleucus,” 1902, ii. 175).


The beautiful work known as IV Maccabees is a homily, not a history. As Freudenthal was the first to show, it is a sermon addressed to a Greekspeaking audience, and delivered probably on Ḥanukkah (“Die Flavius Josephus Beigelegte Schrift über die Herrschaft der Vernunft [IV Makkabäerbuch],” Breslau, 1869), the thesis being that, reason (religion) can control the passions; the author illustrates this from many examples, especially from the story of the Maccabean martyrdoms as related in II Macc. vi., vii. A very noble level of eloquence is reached by the writer, and the book is in many ways one of the best products of the syncretism of Hebraic and Greek thought.

The authorship of IV Maccabees was at one time ascribed (as by Eusebius, Jerome, and other authorities) to Josephus, but this is clearly wrong. Nothing can with definiteness be asserted as to the date of the book; it belongs probably to the period shortly before the fall of Jerusalem. In its present form it contains possibly some Christian interpolations (e.g., vii. 19, xiii. 17, xvi. 25), but they are certainly very few and insignificant.

Later on, Christian homilists used the same topic, the martyrdoms, as the theme for sermons; the Church maintained a Maccabean feast (though not on the same date as the Jews) for at least four centuries. Homilies by Gregory Nazienzen and Chrysostom for the festival of Aug. 1 (the “Birthday of the Maccabees”) are extant on this subject. On the “Maccabees as Christian Saints” see Maas in “Monatsschrift,” xliv. 145 et seq.


V Maccabees, so called by Cotton (“Five Books of Maccabees,” 1832), is known also as the Arabic II Maccabees. It is included in the Paris and London Polyglots. It has clear relations to II Maccabees, the Arabic “Yosippus,” and the Hebrew “Yosippon.” Late in origin and without historical value, the book is, however, of considerable importance from other points of view. [1]Source.

RELATED: Background to the Books of Maccabees Section 1.0 
 The Books of Maccabees By (Toy/Barton/Jacobs/Abrahams) Read Here

Original Source: Jewish Encyclopedia


1 Source.

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