The Book of Maccabees On the Canonical authority sought to be affixed to two of these books.

p. 35

It is well known to the learned, that of these five books, those which are commonly called the first and second have been usually attached to copies of the Bible throughout the western church ; and by the adherents to the see of Rome they are, even at this day, deemed to be of Canonical authority. The ground for this may perhaps be -ought, and found, in an over-strained interpretation of those approving terms in which several of the early Fathers spoke of these books, either as faithful or edifying narratives.

But, on the question of their having been considered as the work of inspiration, and in such a character admitted either into the Jewish or early Christian canon, I shall beg permission to adduce one single testimony from each of these two churches; which, as it is that of a writer of high character, and is direct and unambiguous. I trust p. 36 may be thought decisive of the question, according to the maxim of Aristotle, [ click to enlarge] For the Jewish canon, hear Josephus, in his first book against Apion,[1]sect. 8. [ click to enlarge] ” But from Artaxerxes down to our own times all events are indeed recorded : but they are not considered equally worthy of belief with those which preceded them, because there was not an exact succession of prophets as before.”

And for the Christian church, no less an authority than St. Jerome distinctly affirms, LATINMachabaeorum libros legit quidem ecclesia, Sed Eos Inter Canonicas Scripturas Non Recipit.[2]English translation: Machabaeorum reads the books of the church, but as a canonical Scripture not. Praefat. in Proverb. Salomonis.

One might have thought, that this solemn assertion, coming from so high a quarter, would have been decisive : that a Roman catholic at least would have bowed with implicit deference to the recorded judgment of this learned Father, to whom he owns himself indebted for his Bible. And so indeed he did, during earlier and better times. But Rome found troubles come upon her : doubts arose, and objections were made, and must be met at all events : and the third book of Maccabees offered too fair a field, of dreams, and visions, and miraculous appearances, and a (fancied) recommendation of prayers for the dead, to be neglected by that church. The council of Trent boldly pronounced the two books Canonical ; and p. 37 as such they are professedly received by all the adherents of the Roman see[3]Pope.

It is sad however, to see some of her learned followers betraying their distrust of the grounds upon which they are bidden to stand ; and such men as P. de la Haye, and Calmet after him, driven to the miserable shift of attempting to find reasons for the propriety of their being deemed Canonical, from the mere fact of St. Paul’s having used, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, ch. xii. 35, where he is speaking of the martyrs, the expression, [ click to enlarge] ” which torture,” say they, ” Eleazar suffered !” as if therefore it necessarily followed, that the particular book which details these his sufferings must be, not only that one which the Apostle had in view, but moreover must have been written by divine inspiration, and consequently be Canonical!

The reader, who desires to see this point treated in detail, is referred to ” Jo. Rainoldi LATINcensura librorum apocryphorum Veteris Testament[4]English translation: The censorship of books Old Testament apocrypha], LATINadversum Pontificios,[5]English translation: against Catholics[6]2 tom. 4to. Oppenheimii 1591 : and to Archbishop Ussher’s ” Summary of “Christian Religion.”

I may also take leave to mention, that the question of the Canonical character of these books was warmly debated in Germany, about the middle of the last century, by Fraelich and the two Wernsdorfs; the former of whom denied, and the latter maintained, their title to that high distinction. The contest began by some observations made in a publication of Fraelich, entitled LATINAnnales Regum Syriae[7]English translation: Syrian chronicle of Kings,”[8]4to. 17-14. To these E. Wernsdorf p. 38 replied, in LATINProlusio de Fontibus Historiae Syriae in Libris Maccabaeorum,[9]English translation: Selections from Syria in the preliminary History Book of Maccabees[10]4to. Lipsiae, 1746. Fraelich rejoined, in LATINProlusio in Examen vocata[11]English translation: In the preliminary examination is called,[12]4to. 1746. G. Wernsdorf then entered the field, with a LATINCommentatio de Fide Historica Librorum Maccabaeorum,[13]English translation: The history of the Faith Book of Maccabees[14]4to. 1747; and was supported by an anonymous Jesuit, who published a treatise entitled, LATINAuthoritas Librorum Maccabaeorum canonico-historica adserta,[15]English translation: Book of Maccabees and historical authority of law upheld[16]4to. Viennae, 1749 In 1754, Fraelich republished his “Annales,[17]English translation: chronicle” and probably replied to all the arguments of his opponents : for in the Preface he states, LATINpost ultimum anno[18]English translation: After last year 1749, LATINpro libris Maccabaeorum finitum certamen, silentium et pax.[19]English translation: the Book of Maccabees, the contention, silence and peace.

What may be the character or merits of these last-named publications, I am unable to judge or pronounce ; as not a single one of them was to be procured in any public or private library in Dublin.— Nor have I been able to meet with ” Michaelis on the Maccabees,”[20]4to. 1774 : nor “Charles Wilson’s Version of the apocryphal books, with critical and historical Observations,”[21]8vo. 1801: nor the dissertations said to be contained in the LATINBibliotheca Historica[22]English translation: The historical library” of Meuselius: nor the “Harmony” by J. M. Faber,[23]8vo. 1794, &c. &c.: a perusal of which treatises, together with many others illustrating the same subject, might perhaps have considerably diminished the imperfections of the present work.
Source of comments[24]p.35 – 38 [PDF: 39/42 of p. 524] THE FIVE BOOKS OF MACCABEES BY HENRY COTTON, D.C.L.

Original Source: Transcribed from PDF copy of Book "The Five Books of Maccabees in English. With Notes and Illustrations", by HENRY COTTON, D.C.L.(Sir) Archdeacon of Cashel, and Late Student of Christ Church, Oxford. Publication date 1832 | PDF


1 sect. 8.
2 English translation: Machabaeorum reads the books of the church, but as a canonical Scripture not.
3 Pope
4 English translation: The censorship of books Old Testament apocrypha
5 English translation: against Catholics
6 2 tom. 4to. Oppenheimii 1591
7 English translation: Syrian chronicle of Kings
8 4to. 17-14.
9 English translation: Selections from Syria in the preliminary History Book of Maccabees
10 4to. Lipsiae, 1746.
11 English translation: In the preliminary examination is called
12 4to. 1746.
13 English translation: The history of the Faith Book of Maccabees
14 4to. 1747
15 English translation: Book of Maccabees and historical authority of law upheld
16 4to. Viennae, 1749
17 English translation: chronicle
18 English translation: After last year
19 English translation: the Book of Maccabees, the contention, silence and peace.
20 4to. 1774
21 8vo. 1801
22 English translation: The historical library
23 8vo. 1794, &c. &c.
24 p.35 – 38 [PDF: 39/42 of p. 524] THE FIVE BOOKS OF MACCABEES BY HENRY COTTON, D.C.L.

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