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Bible Encyclopedias
Books of Maccabees

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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The name given to several Apocryphal books of the Old Testament. The Vulgate contains two books of Maccabees which were declared canonical by the council of Trent (1546) and found a place among the Apocrypha of the English Bible. Three other books of this name are extant. Book iii. is included in the Septuagint but not in the Vulgate. Book iv. is embraced in the Alexandrian, Sinaitic, and other MSS. of the Septuagint, as well as in some MSS. of Josephus. A "Fifth" book is contained in the Ambrosian Peshitta, but it seems to be merely a Syriac reproduction of the sixth book of Josephus's history of the Jewish War. None of the books of Maccabees are contained in the Vatican (B); all of them are found in a Syriac recension.

I Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew, but is preserved only in a Greek translation. Origen gives a transliteration of " its semitic title," I and Jerome says distinctly: " The First Book of Maccabees I found in Hebrew." The frequent Hebraisms which mark the Greek translation, as well as the fact that some obscure passages in the Greek text are best accounted for as mistranslations from the Hebrew, afford internal evidence of the truth of this testimony. There are good reasons for regarding the book as a unity, although some scholars (Destinon, followed by Wellhausen) consider the concluding chapters (xiii. - xvi.) a later addition unknown to Josephus, who, however, seems to have already used the Greek. It probably dates from about the beginning of the first century B.c .2 As it supplies a detailed and accurate record of the forty years from the accession of Antiochus Epiphanes to the death of Simon (175-135 B.C.), without doubt the most stirring chapter in Jewish history, the book is one of the most precious historical sources we possess. In its careful chronology, based upon the Seleucid era, in the minuteness of its geographical knowledge, in the frankness with which it records defeat as well as victory, on the restraint with which it speaks of the enemies of the Jews, in its command of details, it bears on its face the stamp of genuineness. Not that it is wholly free from error or exaggeration, but its mistakes are due merely to defective knowledge of the outside world, and its overstatements, virtually confined to the matter of numbers, proceed from a patriotic desire to magnify Jewish victories. While the author presumably had some written sources at his disposal,' his narrative is probably for the most part founded upon personal knowledge and recollection of the events recorded, and upon such first-hand information as, living in the second 1 Eap/31 7 9 Ea f3avaaX (Sarbeth Sabanaiel). No satisfactory explanation of this title has yet been given from the Hebrew (see the commentaries). The book may, however, have been known to Origen only in an Aramaic translation, in which case, according to the happy conjecture of Dalman ( Gramm. 6) the two words may have represented the Aramaic '.ninon r' vo (" book of the Hasmonaean house").

z If the book is a unity, ch. xvi. 23 implies that it was written after the death of Hyrcanus which occurred in 105 B.C. On the other hand the friendly references to Rome in ch. viii. show that it must have been written before the siege of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 B.C.

3 Cf. ix. 22, xi. 37, xiv. 18, 27.

generation after, he would still be in a position to obtain. His sole aim is honestly to relate what he knew of the glorious struggles of his nation.

Although written in the style of the historical books of the old Testament, the work is characterized by a religious reticence which avoids even the use of the divine name, and by the virtual absence of the Messianic hope. The observance of the law is strongly urged, and the cessation of prophecy deplored (iv. 46; xiv. 41). There is no allusion either to the immortality of the soul or to the resurrection of the dead. The rewards to which the dying Mattathias points his sons are all for this life. Many scholars are of opinion that the unknown author was a Sadducee, 1 but all that can be said with certainty is that he was a Palestinian Jew devotedly attached to the national cause.

Until the council of Trent i Maccabees had only " ecclesiastical " rank, and although not accepted as canonical by the Protestant churches, it has always been held in high estimation. Luther says " it closely resembles the rest of the books of Holy Scripture, and would not be unworthy to be enumerated with them." 2 Maccabees, the epitome of a larger work in five books by one Jason of Cyrene, deals with the same history as its predecessor, except that it begins at a point one year earlier (176 B.C.), and stops short at the death of Nicanor (161 B.C.), thus covering a period of only fifteen years. First of all 2 the writer describes the futile attempt of Heliodorus to rob the Temple, and the malicious intrigues of the Benjamite Simon against the worthy high priest Onias III. (iii. 1 - iv. 6). As throwing light upon the situation prior to the Maccabaean revolt this section of the book is of especial value. Chapters iv. 7 - vii. 42 contain a more detailed narrative of the events recorded in 1 Macc. i. 10-64. The remainder of the book runs parallel to 1 Macc. iii. - vii.

Originally written in excellent Greek, from a pronouncedly Pharisaic standpoint, it was possibly directed against the Hasmonaean dynasty. It shows no sympathy with the priestly class. Both in trustworthiness and in style it is inferior to 1 Macc. Besides being highly coloured, the narrative does not observe strict chronological sequence. Instead of the sober annalistic style of the earlier historian we have a work marked by hyperbole, inflated rhetoric and homiletic reflection. Bitter invective is heaped upon the national enemies, and strong predilection is shown for the marvellous. The fullness and inaccuracy of detail which are a feature of the book suggest that Jason's information was derived from the recollections of eye-witnesses orally communicated. In spite of its obvious defects, however, it forms a useful supplement to the first book.

The writer's interests are religious rather than historical. In 1 Macc. there is a keen sense of the part to be played by the Jews themselves, of the necessity of employing their own skill and valour; here they are made to rely rather upon divine intervention. Fantastic apparitions of angelic and supernatural beings, gorgeously arrayed and mostly upon horseback, are frequently introduced. In general, the views reflected in the book are those of the Pharisees. The ungodly will be punished mercilessly, and in exact correspondence to their sins.' The chastisements of erring Jews are of short duration, and intended to recall them to duty. If the faithful suffer martyrdom, it is in order to serve as an example to others, and they shall be compensated by being raised up " unto an eternal renewal of life." The eschatology of 2 Macc. is singularly advanced, for it combines the doctrine of a resurrection with that of immortality. It is worthy of note that the Roman Church finds support in this book for its teaching with 1 See especially Geiger, Urschrift and Uebersetzungen der Bibel, 206 seq.

Prefixed to the book are two spurious letters from Palestinian Jews (i., ii. 18), having no real connexion with it, or even with one another, further than that they both urge Egyptian Jews to observe the Feast of the Dedication. Between these and the main narrative is inserted the writer's own preface, in which he explains the source and aim of his work (ii. 19-32).

iv, 38, 42; v. 9 seq.; ix. 5-18.

reference to prayers for the dead and purgatory (xii. 43 seq.). An allusion to Jeremiah as " he who prayeth much for the people and the holy city " (xv. 14) it likewise appeals to as favouring its views respecting the intercession of the saints.

Neither of Jason's work, nor of the epitomizer's, can the precise date be determined. The changed relations with Rome (viii. io, 36) prove, however, that the latter was written later than r Macc.; and it is equally clear that it was composed. before the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.

The account given of the martyrs in chs. vi. and vii. led to frequent allusions to this book in early patristic literature. Only Augustine, however, was minded to give it the canonical rank to which it has been raised by the Roman Church. Luther judged of it as unfavourably as he judged of I Macc. favourably, and even " wished it had never existed." 3 Maccabees, although purporting to be an historical narrative, is really an animated, if somewhat vapid, piece of fiction written in Greek somewhere between ioo B.C. and A.D. 70, 4 and apparently preserved only in part.' It has no connexion with the Hasmonaeans, but is a story of the deliverance experienced by the Egyptian Jews from impending martyrdom at the hands of Ptolemy IV. Philopator, who reigned in the century previous to the Maccabaean rising (222-205 B.C.). The title is of later origin, and rendered possible only by the generalization of the name Maccabee so as to embrace all who suffered for the ancestral faith. Josephus refers the legend on which it is based to the time of Ptolemy VII. Physcon (146-117 B.C.). Some scholars (Ewald, Reuss, Hausrath) think that what the story really points to is the persecution under Caligula, but in that case Ptolemy would naturally have been represented as claiming divine honours. No other source informs us of a visit to Jerusalem, or of a persecution of the Jews, on the part of Philopator. Possibly, however, the story may be founded on some historical situation regarding which we have no definite knowledge. The purpose of the writer was evidently to cheer his Egyptian brethren during some persecution at Alexandria. Although the book was favourably regarded in the Syrian, it was apparently unknown to the Latin Church. Among the Jews it was virtually ignored.

Briefly, the tale is as follows: - After the battle of Raphia 6 (217 B.C.), Ptolemy IV. Philopator insisted on entering the sanctuary at Jerusalem, but was struck down by the Almighty in answer to the prayers of the horrified Jews. On his return to Egypt he revenged himself by curtailing the religious liberty of the Alexandrian Jews, and by depriving of their civic rights all who refused to worship Bacchus. Exasperated by their loyalty to their religion, the king ordered all the Jews in Egypt to be imprisoned in the hippodrome of Alexandria. Clerks were told off to prepare a list of the prisoners' names, but after forty days constant toil they had exhausted their writing materials without finishing their task. Ptolemy further commanded that 500 elephants should be intoxicated and let loose upon the occupants of the racecourse. Only an accident prevented the carrying out of this design; the king had slept until it was past the time for his principal meal. On the following day, in virtue of a divinely induced forgetfulness, Ptolemy recollected nothing but the loyalty of the Jews to his throne. The same evening, nevertheless, he repeated his order for their destruction. Accordingly, on the morning of the third day, when the king attended to see his 4 The date of composition can be only approximately determined. As the writer is acquainted with the Greek additions to Daniel (vi. 6), the first century B.C. forms the superior limit; and as the book found favour in the Eastern Church, the first century A.D. forms the inferior limit.

Apart from its abrupt commencement, the references in i. 2 to " the plot " as something already specified, and in ii. 25 to the king's " before-mentioned " companions, of whom, however, nothing is said in the previous section of the book, point to the loss of at least an introductory chapter.

6 The statements with reference to the war between Antiochus the Great and Ptolemy Philopator are in general agreement with those of the classical historians, and to this extent the tale may be said to have an historical setting. By Grimm (Einl. § 3), the observance of the two yearly festivals (vi. 26; vii. 19), and the existence of the synagogue at Ptolemais when the book was written, are viewed as the witness of tradition to the fact of some great deliverance. Fritzsche has well pointed out, however (art. " Makkabaer " in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexicon ) that in the hands of Jewish writers of the period nearly every event of consequence has a festival attached to it.

commands executed, things had reached a crisis. The Jews prayed to the Lord for mercy, and two angels appeared from heaven, to the confusion of the royal troops, who were trampled down by the elephants. Ptolemy now vented his wrath upon his counsellors, liberated the Jews, and feasted them for seven days. They determined that these should be kept as festal days henceforth in commemoration of their deliverance. The provincial governors were enjoined to take the Jews under their protection, and leave was given to the latter to slay those of their kinsmen who had deserted the faith. They further celebrated their deliverance at Ptolemais, where they built a synagogue, and they reached their various abodes to find themselves not only reinstated in their possessions, but raised in the esteem of the Egyptians.

4 Maccabees differs essentially from the other books of this name. While it does not itself aim at being a history, it makes striking use of Jewish history for purposes of edification. It bears, moreover, a distinctly philosophical character, and takes the form of a " tractate " or discourse, addressed to Jews only,' upon " the supremacy of pious reason over the passions." 2 The material is well arranged and systematically handled. In the prologue (i. 1-12) the writer explains the aim and scope of his work. Then follows the first main division (i. 13-iii. 18), in which he treats philosophically the proposition that reason is the mistress of the passions, inquiring what is meant by " reason" and what by " passion," as well as how many kinds of passion there are, and whether reason rules them all. The conclusion reached is that with the exception of forgetfulness and ignorance all the affections are under the lordship of reason, or at all events of pious reason. To follow the dictates of pious reason in opposition to natural inclination is to have learned the secret of victory over the passions. In the second part of the book (iii. r9-xviii. 5) the writer goes on to prove his thesis from Jewish history, dwelling in particular upon the noble stand made against the tyranny of Antiochus IV. Epiphanes by the priest Eleazar, the seven brothers and their mother - all of whom chose torture and death rather than apostatize from the faith. Finally he appeals to his readers to emulate these acts of piety (xvii. 7xviii. 24). In his gruesome descriptions of physical sufferings the author offends against good taste even more than the writer of 2 Macc., while both contrast very unfavourably in this respect with the sober reserve of the gospel narratives.

The book is written in a cultured, if somewhat rhetorical, Greek style, and is unmistakably coloured by the Stoic philosophy. The four cardinal virtues are represented as forms of wisdom, which again is inseparable from the Mosaic law. That the writer owes no slavish adherence to any philosophical system is plain from his independent treatment of the affections. Although influenced by Hellenism, he is a loyal Jew, earnestly desirous that all who profess the same faith should adhere to it in spite of either Greek allurements or barbaric persecution. It is not to reason as such, but only to pious reason (i.e. to reason enlightened and controlled by the divine law), that he attributes lordship over the passions. While in his zeal for legalism he virtually adopts the standpoint of Pharisaism, he is at one with Jewish Hellenism in substituting belief in the soul's immortality for the doctrine of a bodily resurrection.

The name of the author is unknown. He was, however, clearly a Hellenistic Jew, probably resident in Alexandria or Asia Minor. In the early Church the work was commonly ascribed to Josephus and incorporated with his writings. But apart from the fact that it is found also in several MSS. of the Septuagint, the language and style of the book are incompatible with his authorship. So also is the circumstance that 2 Macc., which forms the basis of 4 Macc., was unknown to Josephus. Moreover, several unhistorical statements (such as, e.g. that Seleucus was succeeded by his son Antiochus Epiphanes, iv. 15) 1 Even if with Freudenthal we regard the work as a homily actually delivered to a Jewish congregation - and there are difficulties in the way of this theory, particularly the absence of a Biblical text - it was clearly intended for publication. It is essentially a book in the form of a discourse, whether it was ever orally delivered or not. So Deissmann in Kautzsch, Die Apok. u. Pseudepigr. des A. T. ii. 151.

Hence the title sometimes given to it: On the supremacy of reason "). It is also styled MaKKaf3aiuw MaKKaaaiovr. militate against the view that Josephus was the author. The date of composition cannot be definitely fixed. It is, however, safe to say that the book must have been written later than 2 Macc., and (in view of the acceptance it met with in the Christian Church) prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Most likely it is a product of the Herodian period.

5 Maccabees. Writing in 1566 Sixtus Senensis mentions having seen at Lyons a manuscript of a so-called " Fifth Book of Maccabees " in the library of Santas Pagninus, which was soon afterwards destroyed by fire. It began with the words: " After the murder of Simon, John his son became high priest in his stead." Sixtus conjectures that it may have been a Greek translation of the " chronicles " of John Hyrcanus, alluded to in i Macc. xvi. 24. He acknowledges that it is a history of Hyrcanus practically on the lines of Josephus, but concludes from its Hebraistic style that it was not from that writer's pen. The probability, however, is that it was " simply a reproduction of Josephus, the style being changed perhaps for a purpose " (Schiirer).

The Arabic " Book of Maccabees " contained in the Paris and London Polyglotts, and purporting to be a history of the Jews from the affair of Heliodorus (186 B.C.) to the close of Herod's reign, is historically worthless, being nothing but a compilation from i and 2 Macc. and Josephus. In the one chapter (xii.) where the writer ventures to detach himself from these works he commits glaring historical blunders. The book was written in somewhat Hebraistic Greek subsequent to A.D. 70. In Cotton's English translation of The Five Books of Maccabees it is this book that is reckoned the " Fifth." The best modern editions of the Greek text of the four books of Maccabees are those of O. F. Fritzsche (1871) and H. B. Swete (Cambridge Septuagint, vol. iii., 1894). C. J. Ball's The Variorum Apocrypha will be found specially useful by those who cannot conveniently consult the Greek. The best modern commentary is that of C. L. W. Grimm (1853-1857). C. F. Keil's commentary on i and 2 Macc. is very largely indebted to Grimm. More recently there have appeared commentaries by E. C. Bissell on I, 2 and 3 Macc. in LangeSchaff's commentary, 1880 - the whole Apocrypha being embraced in one volume, and much of the material being transferred from Grimm; G. Rawlinson on 1 and 2 Macc. in the Speaker's Commentary 1888 (containing much useful matter, but marred by too frequent inaccuracy); O. Zockler, on I, 2 and 3 Macc., 1891 (slight and unsatisfactory); W. Fairweather and J. S. Black on 1 Macc. in the Cambridge Bible for Schools (1897)

E. Kautzsch on 1 and 3 Macc., A. Kamphausen on 2 Macc. and A. Deissmann on Macc. in Die A pok. u. Pseudepigr. des Alt. Test., 1898 (a most serviceable work for the student of apocryphal literature). Brief but useful introductions to all the four books of Maccabees are given in E. Schiirer's Geschichte des Jiidischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (3rd ed., 1898-1901; Eng. tr. of earlier edition, 1886-1890). (W. F.*)

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Books of Maccabees'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​b/books-of-maccabees.html. 1910.
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