The Apocrypha, Lesson 11: 1-2 Maccabees

Zeus (610x351)Introduction

1 Maccabees describes the attempts at Hellenization by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (1:1-2:70), moving on to cover the exploits of Judas Maccabeus (3:1-9:22) and his brothers Jonathan (9:23-12:53) and Simon (13:1-16:24).  Judas and his brothers battle to remove the Greek influence from Israel.

The book was written after 134 BC since the last event mentioned in 1 Maccabees is the accession of John Hyrcanus, which took place in 134 BC.

2 Maccabees is an abridgment of a much longer work, Jason of Cyrene’s five-volume history of the Maccabean Revolt (2 Maccabees 2:23, 26, 28).  Since Jason’s work does not survive, we don’t know what belonged to Jason and what originated from the author.

2 Maccabees is more of a theological reflection of events, focusing on the Temple in the 2nd century BC.  Chapters 3-15 tell of three attacks on the Temple and its defense.

  • Seleucus IV: The first attack (3:1-40)
  • Antiochus IV Epiphanes: The second attack (4:1-10:9), which results in the recapture of the Temple and its rededication by Judas.
  • Antiochus V: The third attack (10:10-15:36) and involves the defeat of his general Nicanor as he tries to capture and kill Judas.

The date of 2 Maccabees most likely is after 161 BC, which was when Jason died.

Since 2 Maccabees starts before Antiochus IV desecrating the Temple, we will not delve into the first three chapters of this book.


11, Timline Leading Up to the Maccabees


Antiochus IV Epiphanes

11, Antiochus IV2 Maccabees 4:7: When Seleucus died and Antiochus, who was called Epiphanes [manifestation of God], succeeded to the kingdom, Jason, the brother of Onias, obtained the high priesthood by corruption…

1 Maccabees 1:10-11, 14-15

10 Antiochus Epiphanes… began to reign in the 137th year [175 BC] of the kingdom of the Greeks.

11 In those days, some renegade Israelites emerged and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us … to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles.”  14 So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15 and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant.

2 Maccabees 4:13: There was such an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign customs …

  • What developed in Israel under Antiochus’ rule, with the collusion of many Jews?


NT Tie-In: 1 Corinthians 7:18 mentions living the faith where God places you to serve.  So, if you were raised and a Jew and circumcised, Paul said, “Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision” (1 Corinthians 7:18).  This expression hails back to 1 Maccabees 1:15 when many Jews tried to become Greeks.  With that one statement, the Apostle Paul and Pastor Sosthenes tell the Jewish Christians that having Gentiles in the congregation does not mean they now need to try to become Greeks.  One can be Jewish and be a Christian.  In fact, Judaism properly understood leads one to Christianity.


Revolt within Israel

1 Maccabees 1:16-19:

16 With his kingdom secured, Antiochus determined to become king of the land of Egypt and to rule over both kingdoms.  17 So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet.  18 He engaged King Ptolemy of Egypt in battle, and Ptolemy turned and fled before him, and many were wounded and fell.  19 They captured the fortified cities in the land of Egypt, and he plundered the land.

2 Maccabees 5:5, 11-14

5 When a false rumor arose that Antiochus was dead, Jason took no fewer than a thousand men and suddenly made an assault on the city [Jerusalem and the citadel Antiochus had built]….

11 When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt.  So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm.  12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses.  13 Then there was a massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants.  14 Three days later, Jerusalem had lost 80,000 people: 40,000 killed in hand-to-hand fighting, with as many sold into slavery as were killed.

15 Not content with this, Antiochus dared to enter the most holy Temple …

1 Maccabees 1:21-24

21 In his arrogance, he entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils.  22 He also took the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple—he stripped it all off.  23 He took the silver, the gold, and the costly vessels, also taking the hidden treasures he found.  24 Taking them all, he went into his land.

2 Maccabees 5:21: So Antiochus carried off eighteen hundred talents from the temple, and hurried away to Antioch …

  • What takes place based on a false rumor?


  • How does Antiochus respond?


The Jews Must Become Greeks

1 Maccabees 1:41-50

41 Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42 and that all should give up their particular customs.  43b Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the Sabbath.  44 The king also sent messengers with a decree … 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the Temple, to profane Sabbaths and festivals, 46 and to defile the sanctuary and the priests.  47 They were commanded to build pagan altars, temples, and shrines, to sacrifice pigs and other unclean animals.  48 They were forbidden to circumcise their sons…. 50 He added, “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

  • What are the Israelites forbidden to do?


  • What are they commanded to do?


  • If they disobey, what is the penalty?


Paganism is Enforced and the Revolution Begins

1 Maccabees 2:15-25

15 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice.  16 Many from Israel joined them, including Mattathias and his sons.  17 Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this town, and supported by sons and brothers.  18 Now be the first to come and do what the king commands … Then you and your sons will be numbered among the Friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

19 But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him … 20 I and my sons and my brothers will continue to live by the covenant of our ancestors….  22 We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or the left.”

23 When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer to offer a pagan sacrifice in Modein in keeping with the king’s command.  24 When Mattathias saw it, he …  gave way to his righteous anger and ran forward and killed him on the altar.  25 At the same time, he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar….

27 Then Mattathias cried out in the town with a loud voice, saying: “Let everyone who is zealous for the Law and supports the covenant come out with me!”  28 Then he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the town.

2 Maccabees 5:27

[Mattathias’ son] Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do.  They continued to live on what grew wild so they might not share in the defilement.

  • What does the head elder of Modein, Mattathias, not do?


  • What does he do instead?


  • With only nine leaving shows what is ruling the people?


Mattathias Will Fight on the Sabbath

1 Maccabees 2:29-38

29 At that time, many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to live there, 30 they, their sons, their wives, and their livestock, because troubles pressed heavily upon them.  31 And it was reported to the king’s officers, and to the troops in Jerusalem the city of David, that those who had rejected the king’s command had gone down to the hiding places in the wilderness.  32 Many pursued them, and overtook them; they encamped opposite them and prepared for battle against them on the Sabbath day.  33 They said to them, “Enough of this! Come out and do what the king commands, and you will live.”  34 But they said, “We will not come out, nor will we do what the king commands and so profane the Sabbath day.”  35 Then the enemy quickly attacked them.  36 But they did not answer them or hurl a stone at them or block up their hiding places, 37 for they said, “Let us all die in our innocence; heaven and earth testify for us that you are killing us unjustly.”  38 So they attacked them on the Sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and livestock, to the number of a thousand persons.

  • What happened because supporters of Mattathias refused to fight on the Sabbath?


39 When Mattathias and his friends learned of it, they mourned for them deeply.  40 And all said to their neighbors: “If we all do as our kindred have done and refused to fight with the Gentiles for our lives and our ordinances, they will quickly destroy us from the earth.”  41 So they made this decision that day: “Let us fight against anyone who comes to attack us on the Sabbath day; let us not all die as our kindred died in their hiding places.”

  • What does Mattathias decide to do if demanded by the enemies’ attack strategies?


NT Tie-In: Jesus, surrounded by Pharisees, cured a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.  Before He healed the man, Jesus asked: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it?” (Mark 3:4).  When Jesus said mentioned saving or killing life on the Sabbath, He hailed back to 1 Maccabees 2:34-41.  The Jews temporarily suspended the Sabbath observance, when required, to permit defensive warfare.  That was the “doing good” needed on the Sabbath.  Jesus was, in effect, saying, “If Israel didn’t observe the Sabbath when needed to ‘do good,’ then can I not ‘do good’ to heal a man’s hand on the Sabbath?”


The Hasideans Join Mattathias

We find a group joining the Maccabees.  They are the Hasideans (Greek), which in Hebrew would be Chasidim (or Hasidim).  This name is based on the Hebrew root word Chesed, which means something like “loyal, faithful, and enduring love.”  This group wanted to be loyal and faithful to God. 

These Chasidim first banded together following the return from the Babylonian exile to encourage one another in the study and practice of the Law.  Because remaining faithful to God’s Law meant much to them, they joined with the Maccabees against the Seleucids who tried to force them to become culturally and religiously Greek. 

These Chasidim were not interested in the politics of the Maccabees, as long as they strictly observed the Law of Moses.  Later, the Chasidim withdrew their support for the Maccabees.  They then became known as the Perushim or “separated ones.”  It is from Perushim where we get the word “Pharisee.”  We first hear of the Pharisees during the reign of John Hyrcanus, mentioned at the end of 1st Maccabees.  The historian, Josephus, wrote of the Pharisees existing by about 150 BC. 

1 Maccabees 2:42-48

42 Then there united with them a company of Hasideans, mighty warriors of Israel, all who offered themselves willingly for the law.  43 And all who became fugitives to escape their troubles joined them and reinforced them.  44 They organized an army, and struck down sinners in their anger and renegades in their wrath; the survivors fled to the Gentiles for safety.  45 And Mattathias and his friends went around and tore down the altars; 46 they forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel.  47 They hunted down the arrogant, and the work prospered in their hands.  48 They rescued the law out of the hands of the Gentiles and kings, and they never let the sinner gain the upper hand.

  • What did Mattathias and the Hasideans do in Israel?


  • What is included in never letting the sinner gain the upper hand?


Hellenization Continues in Jerusalem

Meanwhile, these Greek practices we taking place at the Jerusalem Temple.

2 Maccabees 6:4-7, 9-11

4 For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.  5 The altar was covered with abominable offerings that were forbidden by the laws.  6 People could neither keep the Sabbath, nor observe the festivals of their ancestors, nor so much as confess themselves to be Jews.

7 On the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreaths of ivy and to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus….

9b those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs … [had] misery come upon them.  10 For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children.  They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall.  11 Others who had assembled in the caves nearby to observe the seventh day secretly were … all burned together …


To be continued …


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