Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
The title of four books, of which the first and second only are regarded by the Church as canonical; the third and fourth, as Protestants consider all four, are apocryphal. The first two have been so named because they treat of the history of the rebellion of the Machabees, the fourth because it speaks of the Machabee martyrs. The third, which has no connection whatever with the Machabee period, no doubt owes its name to the fact that like the others it treats of a persecution of the Jews. For the canonicity of I and II Mach. see CANON OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
(Makkabaion A; Liber Primus Machabaeorum).
The First Book of the Machabees is a history of the struggle of the Jewish people for religious and political liberty under the leadership of the Machabee family, with Judas Machabeus as the central figure. After a brief introduction (i, 1-9) explaining how the Jews came to pass from the Persian domination to that of the Seleucids, it relates the causes of the rising under Mathathias and the details of the revolt up to his death (i, 10-ii); the glorious deeds and heroic death of Judas Machabeus (iii-ix, 22); the story of the successful leadership of Jonathan (ix, 23-xii), and of the wise administration of Simon (xiii-xvi, 17). It concludes (xvi, 18-24) with a brief mention of the difficulties attending the accession of John Hyrcanus and with a short summary of his reign (see THE MACHABEES). The book thus covers the period between the years 175 and 135 B.C.
The narrative both in style and manner is modelled on the earlier historical books of the Old Testament. The style is usually simple, yet it at times becomes eloquent and even poetic, as, for instance, in Mathathias's lament over the woes of the people and the profanation of the Temple (ii, 7-13), or in the eulogy of Judas Machabeus (iii, 1-9), or again in the description of the peace and prosperity of the people after the long years of war and suffering (xiv, 4-15). The tone is calm and objective, the author as a rule abstaining from any direct comment on the facts he is narrating. The more important events are carefully dated according to the Seleucid era, which began with the autumn of 312 B.C. It should be noted, however, that the author begins the year with spring (the month Nisan), whereas the author of II Mach. begins it with autumn (the month Tishri). By reason of this difference some of the events are dated a year later in the second than in the first book. (Cf. Patrizzi, "De Consensu Utriusque Libri Mach.", 27 sq.; Schürer, "Hist. of the Jewish People", I, I, 36 sq.).
The text from which all translations have been derived is the Greek of the Septuagint. But there is little doubt that the Septuagint is itself a translation of a Hebrew or Aramaic original, with the probabilities in favour of Hebrew. Not only is the structure of the sentences decidedly Hebrew (or Aramaic); but many words and expressions occur which are literal renderings of Hebrew idioms (e.g., i, 4, 15, 16, 44; ii, 19, 42, 48; v, 37, 40; etc.). These peculiarities can scarcely be explained by assuming that the writer was little versed in Greek, for a number of instances show that he was acquainted with the niceties of the language. Besides, there are inexact expressions and obscurities which can be explained only in the supposition of an imperfect translation or a misreading of a Hebrew original (e.g., i, 16, 28; iv, 19, 24; xi, 28; xiv, 5). The internal evidence is confirmed by the testimony of St. Jerome and of Origen. The former writes that he saw the book in Hebrew: "Machabaeorum primum librum Hebraicum reperi" (Prol. Galeat.). As there is no ground for assuming that St. Jerome refers to a translation, and as he is not likely to have applied the term Hebrew to an Aramaic text, his testimony tells strongly in favour of a Hebrew as against an Aramaic original. Origen states (Eusebius, Church History VI.25) that the title of the book was Sarbeth Sarbane el, or more correctly Sarbeth Sarbanaiel. Though the meaning of this title is uncertain (a number of different explanations have been proposed, especially of the first reading), it is plainly either Hebrew or Aramaic. The fragment of a Hebrew text published by Chwolson in 1896, and later again by Schweitzer, has little claim to be considered as part of the original.
No data can be found either in the book itself or in later writers which would give us a clue as to the person of the author. Names have indeed been mentioned, but on groundless conjecture. That he was a native of Palestine is evident from the language in which he wrote, and from the thorough knowledge of the geography of Palestine which he possessed. Although he rarely expresses his own sentiments, the spirit pervading his work is proof that he was deeply religious, zealous for the Law, and thoroughly in sympathy with the Machabean movement and its leaders. However, strange to say, he studiously avoids the use of the words "God" and "Lord" (that is in the better Greek text; in the ordinary text "God" is found once, and "Lord" three times; in the Vulgate both occur repeatedly). But this is probably due to reverence for the Divine Names, Jahweh and Adonai, since he often uses the equivalents "heaven", "Thou", or "He". There is absolutely no ground for the opinion, maintained by some modern scholars, that he was a Sadducee. He does not, it is true, mention the unworthy high-priests, Jason and Menelaus; but as he mentions the no less unworthy Alcimus, and that in the severest terms, it cannot be said that he wishes to spare the priestly class.
The last verses show that the book cannot have been written till some time after the beginning of the reign of John Hyrcanus (135-105 B.C.), for they mention his accession and some of the acts of his administration. The latest possible date is generally admitted to be prior to 63 B. C., the year of the occupation of Jerusalem by Pompey; but there is some difference in fixing the approximately exact date. Whether it can be placed as early as the reign of Hyrcanus depends on the meaning of the concluding verse, "Behold these [the Acts of Hyrcanus] are written in the book of the days of his priesthood, from the time (xx xx, "ex quo") that he was made high priest after his father". Many understand it to indicate that Hyrcanus was then still alive, and this seems to be the more natural meaning. Others, however, take it to imply that Hyrcanus was already dead. In this latter supposition the composition of the work must have followed close upon the death of that ruler. For not only does the vivid character of the narrative suggest an early period after the events, but the absence of even the slightest allusion to events later than the death of Hyrcanus, and, in particular, to the conduct of his two successors which aroused popular hatred against the Machabees, makes a much later date improbable. The date would, therefore, in any case, be within the last years of the second century B.C.
In the eighteenth century the two brothers E.F. and G. Wernsdorf made an attempt to discredit I Mach., but with little success. Modern scholars of all schools, even the most extreme, admit that the book is a historical document of the highest value. "With regard to the historical value of I Mach.", says Cornill (Einl., 3rd ed., 265), "there is but one voice; in it we possess a source of the very first order, an absolutely reliable account of one of the most important epochs in the history of the Jewish people." The accuracy of a few minor details concerning foreign nations has, however, been denied. The author is mistaken, it is said, when he states that Alexander the Great divided his empire among his generals (i, 7), or when he speaks of the Spartans as akin to the Jews (xii, 6, 7, 21); he is inexact in several particulars regarding the Romans (viii, 1 sq.); he exaggerates the numbers of elephants at the battle of Magnesia (viii, 6), and some other numbers (e.g., v, 34; vi, 30, 37; xi, 45, 48). But the author cannot be charged with whatever inaccuracies or exaggerations may be contained in viii, 1-16. He there merely sets down the reports, inexact and exaggerated, no doubt, in some particulars, which had reached Judas Machabeus. The same is true with regard to the statement concerning the kinship of the Spartans with the Jews. The author merely reproduces the letter of Jonathan to the Spartans, and that written to the high-priest Onias I by Arius.
When a writer simply reports the words of others, an error can be laid to his charge only when he reproduces their statements inaccurately. The assertion that Alexander divided his empire among his generals (to be understood in the light of vv. 9 and 10, where it is said that they "made themselves kings . . . and put crowns on themselves after his death"), cannot be shown to be erroneous. Quintus Curtius, who is the authority for the contrary view, acknowledges that there were writers who believed that Alexander made a division of the provinces by his will. As the author of I Mach is a careful historian and wrote about a century and a half before Q. Curtius, he would deserve more credit than the latter, even if he were not supported by other writers. As to the exaggeration of numbers in some instances, in so far as they are not errors of copyists, it should be remembered that ancient authors, both sacred and profane, frequently do not give absolute figures, but estimated or popularly current numbers. Exact numbers cannot be reasonably expected in an account of a popular insurrection, like that of Antioch (xi,45,48), because they could not be ascertained. Now the same was often the case with regard to the strength of the enemy's forces and of the number of the enemy slain in battle. A modifying clause, such as "it is reported", must be supplied in these cases.
That the author used written sources to a certain extent is witnessed by the documents which he cites (viii, 23-32; x, 3-6, 18-20, 25-45; xi, 30-37; xii, 6-23; etc.). But there is little doubt that he also derived most of the other matter from written records of the events, oral tradition being insufficient to account for the many and minute details; There is every reason to believe that such records existed for the Acts of Jonathan and Simon as well as for those of Judas (ix, 22), and of John Hyrcanus (xvi, 23-24). For the last part he may also have relied on the reminiscences of older contemporaries, or even drawn upon his own.
The Greek translation was probably made soon after the book was written. The text is found in three uncial codices, namely the Sinaiticus, the Alexandrinus, and the Venetus, and in sixteen cursive manuscripts The textus receptus is that of the Sixtine edition, derived from the Codex Venetus and some cursives. The best editions are those of Fritzsche ("Libri Apocryphi V. T.", Leipzig, 1871, 203 sq.) and of Swete "O. T. in Greek", Cambridge, 1905, III, 594 sq.), both based on the Cod. Alexandrinus. The old Latin version in the Vulgate is that of the Itala, probably unretouched by St. Jerome. Part of a still older version, or rather recension (chap. i-xiii), was published by Sabatier (Biblior. Sacror. Latinae Versiones Antiquae, II, 1017 sq.), the complete text of which was recently discovered in a manuscripts at Madrid. Two Syriac versions are extant: that of the Peshitto, which follows the Greek text of the Lucian recension, and another published by Ceriani ("Translatio Syra photolithographice edita," Milan, 1876, 592-615) which reproduces the ordinary Greek text.
(Makkabaion B; Liber Secundus Machabaeorum).
The Second Book of Machabees is not, as the name might suggest, a continuation of the First, but covers part of the same ground. The book proper (ii, 20-xv, 40) is preceded by two letters of the Jews of Jerusalem to their Egyptian coreligionists (i, 1-ii, 19). The first (i, 1-10a), dated in the year 188 of the Seleucid era (i.e. 124 B.C.), beyond expressions of goodwill and an allusion to a former letter, contains nothing but an invitation to the Jews of Egypt to celebrate the feast of the Dedication of the Temple (instituted to commemorate its rededication, 1 Maccabees 4:59; 2 Maccabees 10:8). The second (i, 10b-ii, 19), which is undated, is from the "senate" (gerousia) and Judas (Machabeus) to Aristobulus, the preceptor or counsellor of Ptolemy (D.V. Ptolemee) (Philometor), and to the Jews in Egypt. It informs the Egyptian Jews of the death of Antiochus (Epiphanes) while attempting to rob the temple of Nanea, and invites them to join their Palestinian brethren in celebrating the feasts of the Dedication and of the Recovery of the Sacred Fire. The story of the recovery of the sacred fire is then told, and in connection with it the story of the hiding by the Prophet Jeremias of the tabernacle, the ark and the altar of incense. After an offer to send copies of the books which Judas had collected after the example of Nehemias, it repeats the invitation to celebrate the two feasts, and concludes with the hope that the dispersed of Israel might soon be gathered together in the Holy Land.
The book itself begins with an elaborate preface (ii, 20-33) in which the author after mentioning that his work is an epitome of the larger history in five books of Jason of Cyrene states his motive in writing the book, and comments on the respective duties of the historian and of the epitomizer. The first part of the book (iii-iv, 6) relates the attempt of Heliodoris, prime minister of Seleucus IV (187-175 B.C.), to rob the treasures of the Temple at the instigation of a certain Simon, and the troubles caused by this latter individual to Onias III. The rest of the book is the history of the Machabean rebellion down to the death of Nicanor (161 B.C.), and therefore corresponds to I Mach., I, 11-vii, 50. Section iv, 7-x, 9, deals with the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:11-6:16), while section x, 10-xv, 37, records the events of the reigns of Antiochus Eupator and Demetrius I (1 Maccabees 6:17-7:50). II Mach. thus covers a period of only fifteen years, from 176 to 161 B.C. But while the field is narrower, the narrative is much more copious in details than I Mach., and furnishes many particulars, for instance, names of persons, which are not found in the first book.
On comparing the two Books of Machabees it is plainly seen that the author of the Second does not, like the author of the First, write history merely to acquaint his readers with the stirring events of the period with which he is dealing. He writes history with a view to instruction and edification. His first object is to exalt the Temple of Jerusalem as the centre of Jewish worship. This appears from the pains he takes to extol on every occasion its dignity and sanctity. It is "the great temple", (ii, 20), "the most renowned" and "the most holy in all the world" (ii, 23; v, 15), "the great and holy temple" (xiv, 31); even heathen princes esteemed it worthy of honour and glorified it with great gifts (iii, 2-3; v, 16; xiii, 23); the concern of the Jews in time of danger was more for the holiness of the Temple than for their wives and children (xv, 18); God protects it by miraculous interpositions (iii, xiv, 31 sq.) and punishes those guilty of sacrilege against it (iii, 24 sq.; ix, 16; xiii, 6-8; xiv, 31 sq.; xv, 32); if He has allowed it to be profaned, it was because of the sins of the Jews (v, 17-20). It is, no doubt, with this design that the two letters, which otherwise have no connexion with the book, were prefixed to it. The author apparently intended his work specially for the Jews of the Dispersion, and more particularly for those of Egypt, where a schismatical temple had been erected at Leontopolis about 160 B.C. The second object of the author is to exhort the Jews to faithfulness to the Law, by impressing upon them that God is still mindful of His covenant, and that He does not abandon them unless they first abandon Him; the tribulations they endure are a punishment for their unfaithfulness, and will cease when they repent (iv, 17; v, 17, 19; vi, 13, 15, 16; vii, 32, 33, 37, 38; viii, 5, 36; xiv, 15; xv, 23, 24). To the difference of object corresponds a difference in tone and method. The author is not satisfied with merely relating facts, but freely comments on persons and acts, distributing praise or blame as they may deserve when judged from the standpoint of a true Israelite. Supernatural intervention in favour of the Jews is emphasized. The style is rhetorical, the dates are comparatively few. As has been remarked, the chronology of II Mach. slightly differs from that of I Mach.
II Mach. is, as has been said, an epitome of a larger work by a certain Jason of Cyrene. Nothing further is known of this Jason except that, judging from his exact geographical knowledge, he must have lived for some time in Palestine. The author of the epitome is unknown. From the prominence which he gives to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, it has been inferred that he was a Pharisee. Some have even maintained that his book was a Pharisaical partisan writing. This last, at tiny rate, is a baseless assertion. II Mach. does not speak more severely of Alcimus than I Mach., and the fact that it mentions the high-priests, Jason and Menelaus, by name no more proves it to be a Pharisaic partisan writing than the omission of their names in I Mach. proves that to be a Sadducee production. Jason must have finished his work shortly after the death of Nicanor, and before disaster overtook Judas Machabeus, as he not only omits to allude to that hero's death, but makes the statement, which would be palpably false if he had written later, that after the death of Nicanor Jerusalem always remained in the possession of the Jews (xv, 38). The epitome cannot have been written earlier than the date of the first letter, that is 124 B.C.
As to the exact date there is great divergence. In the very probable supposition that the first letter was sent with a copy of the book, the latter would be of about the same date. It cannot in any case be very much later, since the demand for an abridged form of Jason's history, to which the author alludes in the preface (ii, 25-26), must have arisen within a reasonably short time after the publication of that work. The second letter must have been written soon after the death of Antiochus, before the exact circumstances concerning it had become known in Jerusalem, therefore about 163 B.C. That the Antiochus there mentioned is Antiochus IV and not Antiochus III, as many Catholic commentators maintain, is clear from the fact that his death is related in connection with the celebration of the Feast of the Dedication, and that he is represented as an enemy of the Jews, which is not true of Antiochus III.
The two letters which were addressed to the Jews of Egypt, who knew little or no Hebrew or Aramaic, were in all probability written in Greek. That the book itself was composed in the same language, is evident from the style, as St. Jerome already remarked (Prol. Gal.). Hebraisms are fewer than would be expected considering the subject, whereas Greek idioms and Greek constructions are very numerous. Jason's Hellenistic origin, and the absence in the epitome of all signs that would mark it as a translation, are sufficient to show that he also wrote in Greek. Historicity.-- The Second Book of Machabees is much less thought of as a historical document by non-Catholic scholars than the First, though Niese has recently come out strongly in its defence. The objections brought against the two letters need not, however, concern us, except in so far as they affect their authenticity, of which hereafter. These letters are on the same footing as the other documents cited in I and II Mach.; the author is therefore not responsible for the truth of their contents. We may, then, admit that the story of the sacred fire, as well as that of the hiding of the tabernacle, etc., is a pure legend, and that the account of the death of Antiochus as given in the second letter is historically false; the author's credit as a historian will not in the least be diminished thereby. Some recent Catholic scholars have thought that errors could also be admitted in the book itself without casting any discredit on the epitomizer, inasmuch as the latter declines to assume responsibility for the exact truth of all its contents. But though this view may find some support in the Vulgate (ii, 29), it is hardly countenanced by the Greek text. Besides, there is no need to have recourse to a theory which, while absolving the author from formal error, would admit real inaccuracies in the book, and so lessen its historical value. The difficulties urged against it are not such as to defy satisfactory explanation. Some are based on a false interpretation of the text, as when, for instance, it is credited with the statement that Demetrius landed in Syria with a mighty host and a fleet (xiv, 1), and is thus placed in opposition to I Mach., vii, 1, where he is said to have landed with a few men. Others are due to subjective impressions, as when the supernatural apparitions are called into question. The exaggeration of numbers has been dealt with in connexion with I Mach.
The following are the main objections with some real foundation: (1) The campaign of Lysias, which I Mach., iv, 26-34, places in the last year of Antiochus Epiphanes, is transferred in II Mach., xi, to the reign of Antiochus Eupator; (2) The Jewish raids on neighbouring tribes and the expeditions into Galilee and Galaad, represented in I Mach., v, as carried on in rapid succession after the rededication of the temple, are separated in II Mach. and placed in a different historical setting (viii, 30; x, 15-38; xii, 10-45); (3) The account given in II Mach., ix, differs from that of I Mach., vi, regarding the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, who is falsely declared to have written a letter to the Jews; (4) The picture of the martyrdoms in vi, 18-vii, is highly coloured, and it is improbable that Antiochus was present at them.
To these objections it may be briefly answered: (1) The campaign spoken of in II Mach., xi, is not the same as that related in I Mach., iv; (2) The events mentioned in viii, 30 and x, 15 sq. are not narrated in I Mach., v. Before the expedition into Galaad (xii, 10 sq.) can be said to be out of its proper historical setting, it would have to be proved that I Mach. invariably adheres to chronological order, and that the events grouped together in chap. v took place in rapid succession; (3) The two accounts of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes differ, it is true, but they fit very well into one another. Considering the character of Antiochus and the condition he was in at the time, it is not at all improbable that he wrote a letter to the Jews; (4) There is no reason to doubt that in spite of the rhetorical form the story of the martyrdoms is substantially correct. As the place where they occurred is unknown, it is hard to see on what ground the presence of Antiochus is denied. It should be noted, moreover, that the book betrays accurate knowledge in a multitude of small details, and that it is often supported by Josephus, who was unacquainted with it. Even its detractors admit that the earlier portion is of the greatest value, and that in all that relates to Syria its knowledge is extensive and minute. Hence it is not likely that it would be guilty of the gross errors imputed to it.
Although these letters have a clear bearing on the purpose of the book, they have been declared to be palpable forgeries. Nothing, however, justifies such an opinion. The glaring contradiction in the first letter, which represents the climax of affliction as having been experienced under Demetrius II, has no existence. The letter does not compare the sufferings under Demetrius with those of the past, but speaks of the whole period of affliction including the time the time of Demetrius. The legend of the sacred fire etc., proves nothing against the genuineness of the second letter, unless it be shown that no such legend existed at the time. The false account of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes is rather a proof in favour of the authenticity of the letter. Such an account would be quite natural if the letter was written soon after the first news, exaggerated and distorted as first news often is, had reached Jerusalem. There remains only the so-called blunder of attributing the building of the Temple to Nehemias. The very improbability of such a gross blunder on the part of an educated Jew (the supposed forger) should have made the critics pause. Nehemias put the last touches to the Temple (Nehemiah 2:8; Josephus, "Antiq.", XI, 5:6) which justifies the use of oikodomesas. Codex 125 (Mosquensis) reads oikonomesas "having ordered the service of the temple and altar"; this would remove all difficulty (cf. Nehemiah 10:32 sq.; 13 sqq.).
The Greek text is usually found in the same manuscripts as I Mach.; it is wanting, however, in the Cod. Sinaiticus, The Latin version in the Vulgate is that of the Itala. An older version was published by Peyron and again by Ceriani from the Codex Ambrosianus. A third Latin text is found in the Madrid manuscripts which contains an old version of I Mach. The Syriac version is often a paraphrase rather than a translation.
III Mach. is the story of a persecution of the Jews in Egypt under Ptolemy IV Philopator (222-205 B. C.), and therefore has no right to its title. Though the work contains much that is historical, the story is a fiction. IV Mach. is a Jewish-Stoic philosophical treatise on the supremacy of pious reason, that is religious principles, over the passions. The martyrdom of Eleazar and of the seven brothers (2 Maccabees 6:18-7) is introduced to illustrate the author's thesis. Neither book has any claim to canonicity, though the first for a while received favourable consideration in some Churches.
GIGOT, Spec. Introd., I (New York, 1901), 365 sq.; CORNELY, Introd., II (Paris, 1897), I, 440 sq.; KNABENBAUER, Comm. in Lib. Mach. (Paris, 1907); PATRIZZI, De Consensu Utriusq. Lib. Mach. (Rome, 1856); FRÖLICH, De Fontibus Historiae Syriae in Lib. Mach. (Vienna, 1746); KHELL, Auctoritas Utriusq. Lib. Mach. (Vienna, 1749); HERKENNE, Die Briefe zu Beginn des Zweiten Makkabäerbuches (Freiburg, 1904); GILLET, Les Machabées (Paris, 1880); BEURLIER in Vig. Dict. de la Bible, IV, 488 sq.; LESÊTRE, Introd., II (Paris, 1890); VIGOUROUX, Man. Bibl., II (Paris, 1899), 217 sq.; IDEM, La Bible et la Critique Ration., 5th ed., IV, 638 sq.; SCHÜRER, Hist. of the Jewish People (New York, 1891), II, iii, 6 sq.; 211 sq.; 244 sq.; FAIRWEATHER in HASTINGS, Dict. of the Bible, III, 187 sq.; NIESE, Kritik der beiden Makkabäerbücher (Berlin, 1900); GRIMM, Kurzgefasstes Exeg. Handbuch zu den Apokryphen, Fasc. 3 and 4 (Leipzig, 1853, 1857); KEIL, Comm. über die Bücher der Makkabäer (Leipzig, 1875); KAUTZSCH (AND KAMPHAUSEN), Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des A. T. (Tübingen, 1900).
APA citation. (1910). The Books of Machabees. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09495a.htm
MLA citation. "The Books of Machabees." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09495a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Robert H. Sarkissian.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.