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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Maccabees, the First Book of
the most important one of the five apocryphal productions which have come down to us under this common title.
I. Title and Position of the Book. — In the editions of the Sept. which we follow, this book is called the first of Maccabees (Μακκαβαίων ά ), because in the MSS. it is placed at the head of those apocryphal books which record the exploits and merits of the Maccabaean family in their struggles for the restoration of their ancestral religion and the liberation of their Jewish compatriots from the Seleucidian tyranny. According to Origen, however (comp. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 6:25), the original Hebrew title of this book was Σαρβὴθ Σαρβανὲ ἔλ . Great difficulty has been experienced in the endeavor to obtain the exact Hebrew equivalent to these words. They have been resolved —
1. Into שרֵ שרי (or שר ) בני אל , History of the Princes of the Sons of God, that is, of Israel (Michaelis, Orient. Biblioth. 12:115, and most modern commentators).
2. Into אל שרביט שר בני , The Sceptre of the Prince of the Sons of God, i.e. of Simon, who is called prince in 1 Maccabees 13:41; 1 Maccabees 14:47 (Bochart, Buddeus, and Ewald, Geschichte d. V. Israel 4:528). But this makes chapters 13-16 the principal part of the book, and the rest a mere introduction.
3. Into שר בית שר בני אל , Princeps templi (i.e. epontifex maximus), Princeps filiorum Dei (i.e. dux populi Judaici), based upon the words Σίμωνος ἀρχιερέως μεγάλου καὶ στρατηγοῦ καὶ ἡγουμένου Ι᾿ουδαίων, 1 Maccabees 13:42; and ἐπὶ Σίμωνος ἀρχιερέως ἐν Σαραμέλ , ibid. 14:27 (Wernsdorf, Comment. de fide libb. Maccab. p. 173).
4. Into שרביט סרבני אל, Sceptrum rebellium Dei. i.e. of the Syrian kings, who were regarded as rebelling against God because they persecuted the Jews (Junius, Huetiun, etc.), or as Herzfeld, who espouses this solution of the words, explains it, the chastisizng rod of the apostates, which he submits is an appropriate appellation of the Maccabaeans (Geschichte d. V. Israel, 1:265). We incline to the first explanation, because it escapes the censure which the second incurs, and is less artificial than the third and fourth. It must, however, be remarked that this title does not occur in the Hebrew literature, and that both the ancient and modern Jews call the book ספר החשמונאים, The Book of the Hashmonaeans; ראשון לחשמונאי, Hashnmoneans; מגלת בית חשמונאי , The Scroll of the Family of the Hashmonaeans, or simply מגלת חשמונאי, The Scroll of the Hashmonaeans, after the title Hashmonaeans or Ashmoneans, by which the Maccabmean family are denominated. (See MACCABEE).
Though the book occupies the first position, it ought, according to the historic order, to be the fourth of Maccabees, inasmuch as its narrative commences at a later period than the other three books. Tradition, however, in determining the priority of position, was evidently guided by the age and the intrinsic value of these books, since 1 Maccabees is obviously the oldest, and surpasses the other three books in importance. Cotton, in his translation of the Maccabees, has departed from this traditional and commonly accepted arrangement, and placed the first book as second in order.
II. Contents and Division. — This book contains a lucid and chronological history of the tyrannical proceedings of Antiochus Epiphanes, commencing with the year B.C. 175, and of the series of patriotic struggles against this tyranny, first organized by Mattathias, B.C. 168, down to settled sovereignty and the death of Simon, B.C. 135, thus embracing a period of forty years.
1. The first part, of which Mattathias is the hero, comprises chap. 1-2, 70, and embraces a period from the commencement of Antiochus Epiphanes's reign to the death of Mattathias, B.C. 175-167.
2. The second part, of which Judas Maccabaeus is the hero, comprises chap. 1 Maccabees 3:1-9; 1 Maccabees 3:22, and describes the exploits and fame of this defender of the faith, B.C. 167-160.
3. The third part, of which Jonathan, the high-priest, surnamed Apphus (Ἀπφοῦς חפוש, the simulaltor, the sly one), is the hero, comprises ch. 1 Maccabees 9:23 to 1 Maccabees 12:50, and records the events which transpired during the period of his government, B.C. 160-143.
4. The fourth part, of which Simon, surnamed Thassi (θασαί=תדשי , the flourishing) is the hero, comprises ch. 13, l-16. 24, and records the events which occurred during his period of government, B.C. 143-135.
III. Historical and Religious Character. — There is no book among all the Apocrypha which is distinguished by greater marks of trustworthiness than 1 Maccabees. Simplicity, credibility, and candor alike characterize its description of friends and foes, victories and defeats, hopes and fears. When the theme so animates the writer that he gives expression to his feelings in lyric effusions (e.g. 1 Maccabees 1:25-28; 1 Maccabees 1:37-40; 1 Maccabees 2:7-13; 1 Maccabees 2:49-68; 1 Maccabees 3:3-9; 1 Maccabees 3:18-22; 1 Maccabees 4:8-11; 1 Maccabees 4:30-33; 1 Maccabees 4:38; 1 Maccabees 6:10-13; 1 Maccabees 7:37-38; 1 Maccabees 7:41-42), no poetic exaggerations and hyperboles deprive the description of its substantially historic character. When recording the victories of his heroes, struggling for their liberties and their religion, he wrests no laws of nature from their regular course to aid the handful of Jewish champions against the fearful odds of their heathen oppressors; and when speaking of the arch-enemy, Antiochus Epiphanes (1 Maccabees 1:10, etc.), he indulges in no unjust and passionate vituperations against him. Yet he marks in one expressive phrase (ῥίζα ἁμαρτωλός ) the character of the Syrian type of Antichrist (comp. Isaiah 11:10; Daniel 11:36).
If no mention is made of the reckless profligacy of Alexander Balas, it must be remembered that his relations to the Jews were honorable and liberal, and these alone fall within the scope of the history. So far as the circumstances admit, the general accuracy of the book is established by the evidence of other authorities; but for a considerable period it is the single source of our information. Even the few historical and geographlical inaccuracies in the description of foreign nations and countries, such as the foundation of the Greek empire in the East (1 Maccabees 1:5-9), the power and constitution of Rome (1 Maccabees 8:1-16), "the great city Elymaias, in the country of Persia" (1 Maccabees 6:1), etc., so far from impairing the general truthfulness of the narrative when it confines itself to home and the immediate past, only show how faithfully the writer has depicted the general notions of the time, and for this reason are of intrinsic value and instructive. The subjugation of the Galatians, who were the terror of the neighboring people (comp. Livy, 38:37), and the conquest of Spain, the Tarshish (ch. 1 Maccabees 8:3) of Phoenician merchants, are noticed, as would be natural from the immediate interest of the events; but the wars with Carthage are wholly omitted (Josephus adds these in his narrative, Ant. 1 Maccabees 12:10; 1 Maccabees 12:6). The errors in detail — as the capture of Antiochus the Great by the Romans (1 Maccabees 1:7), the numbers of his armament (1 Maccabees 1:6), the constitution of the Roman senate (1 Maccabees 1:15), the one supreme yearly officer at Rome (1 Maccabees 1:16; compare 1 Maccabees 15:16) — are only such as might be expected in oral accounts; and the endurance (1 Maccabees 1:4, μακροθυμία ), the good faith (1 Maccabees 1:11), and the simplicity of the republic (1 Maccabees 1:14, οὐκ ἐπέθετο οὐδεὶς αὐτων διάδημα καὶ οὐ περιεβάλοντο πορφύραν é στε ἁδρυνθῆναι ἐν αὐτῇ , contrast 1 Maccabees 1:9), were features likely to arrest the attention of Orientals.
That the writer used written sources and important official documents in his history is evident from 1 Maccabees 8:2, etc.; 1 Maccabees 10:18, etc.,1 Maccabees 10:25-45; 1 Maccabees 11:30-37; 1 Maccabees 12:5-23; 1 Maccabees 12:36-40; 1 Maccabees 14:25, etc.; 1 Maccabees 15:2-9; 1 Maccabees 16:23-24; some of these passages being expressly described as copies (ἀντίγραφα ). It is questionable whether the writer designed to give more than the substance of the originals. Some bear clear marks of authenticity (1 Maccabees 8:22-28; 1 Maccabees 12:6-18), while others are open to grave difficulties and suspicion; but it is worthy of notice that the letters of the Syrian kings generally appear to be genuine (1 Maccabees 10:18-20; 1 Maccabees 10:25-45; 1 Maccabees 11:30-37; 1 Maccabees 13:36-40; 1 Maccabees 15:2-9).
Though the strictly historical character of the book precludes any description of the religious and theological notions of the day, so that no mention is made in it of a coming Messiah or a future state, even in the dying speech of Mattathias, wherein he exhorts his sons to sacrifice their lives for the law of God and the covenant of their fathers, and recounts the faith and rewards of Abraham, Joseph, Phinehas, Joshua, Caleb, David, Elijah, Haanaiah, Azariah, Mishael, and Daniel (1 Maccabees 2:49-60), yet the whole is permeated with the true spirit of religion and piety. The writer mentions the time from which "a prophet was not seen among them" (1 Maccabees 9:27) as a marked epoch; and twice he anticipates the future coming of a prophet as of one who should make a direct revelation of the will of God to his people (1 Maccabees 4:46), and supersede the temporary arrangements of a merely civil dynasty (1 Maccabees 14:41). God is throughout acknowledged as overruling all the machinations of the enemy, and prayer is offered up to him for success after all the preparations are made for battle, and before the faithful host encounter their deadly enemies (1 Maccabees 3:18-19; 1 Maccabees 3:44; 1 Maccabees 3:48; 1 Maccabees 3:53; 1 Maccabees 3:60; 1 Maccabees 4:10, etc., 1 Maccabees 4:24-25; 1 Maccabees 4:30, etc.; 1 Maccabees 5:34; 1 Maccabees 5:54; 1 Maccabees 7:36-38; 1 Maccabees 7:41-42; 1 Maccabees 9:45, etc.); and even the tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes is made to acknowledge in his dying hour that he is punished for profaning the Temple and destroying the inhabitants of Judaea (1 Maccabees 6:8-13). The absence of even the remotest allusion to a future state in the hour of death, or to a resurrection of the dead, it must be confessed, rather favors the conclusion of the ingenious but daring critic, Dr. Geiger, rabbi at Breslau, that the author of this book was a Sadducee (comp. Urschrift und Uebenrsetzuln der Bibel, p. 216 sq.).
IV. Author, Date, and Original Language. — All that can be said with certainty about the author of this book is that he was a Palestinian Jew. This is indicated by the whole spirit which pervades the book, by the lively sympathies which the writer manifests for the heroes whom he describes, and by his intimate acquaintance with the localities of Palestine.
Not so certain, however, is its date. Prideaux, Michaelis, Hengstenberg, Bertheau, Welte. Scholtz. Keil. and others, though discarding the notion of Lapide, Huet, etc., that John Hyrcanus was the author, are yet of opinion that the concluding words, τὰ λοιπὰ τῶν λόγων Ι᾿ωάννου καὶ τῶν πολέμων αὐτοῦ ... ἰδοὺ ταῦτα γέγραπται ἐπὶ βιβλίῳ ἡμερῶν ἀρχιερωσύνης αὐτοῦ, ἀφ᾿ ου ἐγενήθη ἀρχιερεύς μετὰ τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ (1 Maccabees 16:24), plainly show that the book was written during the government of this high-priest, perhaps about B.C. 120106. inasmuch as this passage only gives the terminus a quo of the high-priesthood of John, without the terminus ad quem, thus indicating that John was still living, and that his pontificate was not as yet terminated. After the close of the priesthood, or after the death of John, this remark would be superfluous, because no reader could take the words, "diary of his priesthood," in any other sense than that they denote a chronicle of the whole duration of it from the beginning to the end. Nor can the words ἔως τῆς ἡμέρας ταύτης, in 1 Maccabees 13:30, be adduced as implying a later date; for it was something remarkable that, in those days of war and devastation, the sepulcher which Simon made for his family in Modin remained between twenty and thirty years unhurt. Eichhborn, Bertholdt, De Wette, Ewald, Grimm, and others, however, maintain that the book was written after the death of John Hyrcanus oscillating between B.C. 105 and 64.
The language of the book does not present any striking peculiarities. Both in diction and structure it is generally simple and unaffected, with a marked and yet not harsh Hebraisti chararacter. The number of peculiar words is not very considerable, especially when compared with those in 2 Maccabees. Some of these are late forms, as ψογέω (ψογίζω ), 1 Maccabees 11:5; 1 Maccabees 11:11; ἐξουδένωσις, 39; ὁπλοδοτεω, 1 Maccabees 14:32; ἀσπιδίσκη, 1 Maccabees 4:57; δειλόομαι, 1 Maccabees 4:8; 1 Maccabees 4:21; 1 Maccabees 5:4; 1 Maccabees 16:6; ὅμηοα, 1 Maccabees 8:7; 1 Maccabees 9:53, etc.; ἀφαίρεμα, 1 Maccabees 15:5; τελωνεῖσθαι , 1 Maccabees 13:39; ἐξουσιάζεσθαι, 1 Maccabees 10:70; or compounds, such as ἀποσκορίζω, 1 Maccabees 11:55; ἐπισυστρέφω , 1 Maccabees 14:44; δειόψυχος, 1 Maccabees 8:15; 1 Maccabees 16:5; φονοκτονία , 1 Maccabees 1:24. Other words are used in new or strange senses, as ἀδρύνω, 1 Maccabees 8:14; παράστασις , 1 Maccabees 15:32; διαστολή, 1 Maccabees 8:7. Some phrases clearly express a Shemitic idiom (1 Maccabees 2:48, δοῦναι κέρας τῷ ἁμαρτ . 1 Maccabees 6:23; 1 Maccabees 10:62; 1 Maccabees 12:23), and the influence of the Sept., is continually perceptible (e.g. 1 Maccabees 1:54; 1 Maccabees 2:63; 1 Maccabees 7:17; 1 Maccabees 9:23; 1 Maccabees 14:9). Josephus undoubtedly made use of the Greek text (Ant. Deuteronomy 12:5 sq.).
That this book, however, was originally written in Hebrew is not only attested by Origen, who gives the Hebrew title of it (see above, § 1), and by St. Jerome, who saw it ("Maccabaeorum primum librum Hebraicum reperi" — Prol. Galatians ad Libr. Reg.), but is evident from the many Hebraisms which are literal translations of the Hebrew (comp. καὶ ἡτοιμάσθη ἡ βασιλεαί — מלכות ותכן, 1 Maccabees 1:16, with Sept. 1 Samuel 20:31; 1 Kings 2:12; εἰς διάβολον πονηρόν=לשטן רע , 1 Maccabees 1:36; ἐν τῷ ἐλέῳ ατὐου=בחסדו , 1 Maccabees 2:57, with Jeremiah 2:2; ἀπολλυμένους=אבדים , 1 Maccabees 3:9; ἀπὸ γένους τῆς βασιλείας =המלוכה מזרע, 1 Maccabees 3:32, with Jeremiah 41:1), as well as from the difficulties in the Greek text, which disappear on the supposition of mistakes made by the translator (compare καὶ ἐσείσθη ἡ γῆ ἐπὶ κατοικοῦντας αὐτήν =ותרעש הארוֹ על יושביה, 1 Maccabees 1:28; ἐγένετο ὁ ναὸς αὐ τῆς ώς ἀνἡρ ἄδοξος '=ביתה כאיש נבזה, i.e. כבית איש נבזה ביתה, 1 Maccabees 2:8; see also 1 Maccabees 2:34; 1 Maccabees 3:3; 1 Maccabees 4:19; 1 Maccabees 4:24, etc.). The Hebrew of this book, however, like that of the later canonical writings of the O.T., had a considerable admixture of Aramaic expressions (compare 1 Maccabees 1:5; 1 Maccabees 4:19; 1 Maccabees 8:5; 1 Maccabees 11:28; and Grimm's Comment. on these passages).
As to the Heb. Megillath Antiochus (מגלת אנטיוכס ) still existing, which was first published in the editions of the Pentateuch of 1491 and 1505 along with the other Megilloth; is given in the Spanish and Italian Ritual for the Festivals (מחזורים ) of 1555-56, etc.; is inserted, with a Latin translation, in Bartolocci's Bibliotheca Mallgna Rabbinica, 1:383; is printed separately, without the translation (Berlin, 1766); and which has recently been republished by Jellinek in his Beth Ha-Midrash, 1:142-146- this simply gives a few of the incidents of the Maccabaean wars, and makes John, the high-priest who it says slew Nicanor in the Temple, play the most conspicuous part. It tells us that Antiochus began persecuting the Jews in the 23d year of his reign and 213th after the building of the second Temple; and that the descendants of the Maccabees, who crushed the armies of this tyrant, ruled over Israel 206 years, thus following the chronology of the Talmud (comp. Aboda Zaru, 9 a; Seder Olam Sutta; De Rossi, Meor Enajim, c. xxvi; Zunz, Gottesdienzst. Vortrage, p. 134). That the Aramaic (Chaldee). which was for the first time published by Filipowski, together with the Hebrew and an English version (London, 1851), is the original, and that the Hebrew is a translation, may be seen from a most cursory comparison of the two texts. — The Hebrew version slavishly imitates the phrases of the Aramaic original instead of giving the Hebrew idioms. Thus, for instance, the Chaldee בה שעתא is rendered in the Hebrew version by באותה שעה, instead of בעת ההיא; אלין לאלין by אלה לאלה, instead of איש אל אחיו or איש אל רעהו, etc. It is perfectly astonishing that this document, which was evidently got up about the 7th century of the Christian sera. to be recited on the Feast of Dedication in commemoration of the Maccabean victories over the enemies of Israel, should be regarded by Hengstenberg (Genuineness of Daniel. English transl., p. 237) as the identical "Chaldee copy of the first book of Maccabees to which Origen and Jerome refer." Hengstenberg, moreover, most blunderingly calls the Hebrew version published by Bartolocci the Chaldee.
The date and person of the Greek translator of the first book of Maccabees are wholly undetermined, but it is unlikely that such a book would remain long unknown or untranslated at Alexandria.
V. Canonicity and Importance of the Book. — This book never formed a part of the Jewish canon, and is excluded from the canon of sacred books in the catalogues of Melito, Origen, the Council of Laodicea, St. Cyril, St. Hilary, St. Athanasius, St. Jerome, etc. In the Chronicle of Eusebius it is put in the same category as the writings of Josephus and Africanus, so as to distinguish it from the inspired writings. Still the book is cited with high respect, and as conducive to the edification of the Church, at a very early period (August. De Civit. Dei, lib. 18, c. 36). The councils at Hippo and Carthage (A.D. 393 and 397) first formally received it into the canon, and in modern times the Council of Trent has settled for the Catholic Church all disputes about its canonical authority by putting it into the catalogue of inspired Scripture.
But, though the Protestant Church rejects the decisions of these councils, and abides by the ancient Jewish canon, yet both the leaders of the Reformation and modern expositors rightly attach great importance to this book. The great value of it will be duly appreciated when it is remembered that it is one of the very few surviving records of the most important, but very obscure period of Jewish history between the close of the O.T. and the beginning of the N.T. It is, therefore, not to be wondered at that the far-seeing Luther remarks, in his introduction to the translation of this book — "This is another of those books not included in the Hebrew Scriptures, although in its discourses and description it almost equals the other sacred books of Scripture, and would not have been unworthy to be reckoned among them, because it is a very necessary and useful book for the understanding of the prophet Daniel in the eleventh chapter" (Vorraede aufidas erste Buch Maccabaorum, German Bible, ed. 1536). It is rather surprising that the Anglican Church has not prescribed any lessons to be read from this book. A reference to 1 Maccabees 4:59, however, is to be found in the margin of the A. V., John 10:22.
VI. Versions and Literature. — The books of Maccabees were not included by Jerome in his translation of the Bible. "The first book," he says, "I found in Hebrew" (Prol. Galatians in Reg.), but he takes no notice of the Latin version, and certainly did not revise it. The version of the two books which has been incorporated in the Romish Vulgate was consequently derived from the old Latin current before Jerome's time. This version was obviously made from the Greek, and in the main follows it closely. Besides the common text, Sabatier has published a version of a considerable part of the first book (cap. 1-14 1) from a very ancient Paris MS. (S. Germ. 15) in 1751, which exhibits an earlier form of the text. Angelo Mai has also published a fragment of another Latin translation, comprising chap. 2:49-64, which differs very materially from both texts (Spicilegium Romanorum, 9:60 sq.). The old Syriac version given in the Paris and London Polyglots, and byr De Lagarde, Libri Veteris Testamenti Apocryphi Syriace (Lond. 1861), is, like the Latin, made literally from the Greek.
Of commentaries and exegetical helps we specially mention the works of Drusius and Grotius, reprinted in the Critici Sacri; Calmet, Conmmentaire Litelal, etc., vol. 8 (Paris, 1724); Michaelis, Deutsche Uebersetzung des 1 Maccab. B.'s mit Amerkk. (Gottingen und Leipsic, 1778); Eichhorn, Einleit. in die apokryphischen Schrift. d. A. T. (Leipsic, 1795), p. 218-248; Hengstenberg, Genuineness of Daniel (English transl., Edinburgh, 1847), p. 235-239, 267-270; Cotton, The five Books of Maccabees (Oxford, 1832); Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 4:526 sq.; the masterly work of Grimm, Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zu den Apokryphen (Leipsic, 1853); Geiger, Urschrift und Uebersetzung der Bibel (Breslau, 1857), p. 206-219. (See APOCRYPHA).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Maccabees, the First Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/m/maccabees-the-first-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
Eve of Ascension