Maccabees (books of the Bible)

Maccabees . The books of the MACABEOS are two independent writings, which relate the struggles of the Jewish People against the dynasty of the Seleucids, in defense of their political autonomy and religious freedom. Their title comes from the nickname “Macabeo”, applied first to Judas – the main protagonist of that fight – and later extended to his brothers and even to his supporters. According to some, this nickname derives from a Hebrew word that means “hammer”, and would allude to the tremendous blows that Judas dealt to his enemies; others think, instead, that it means “appointed by God.”

Summary

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  • 1 Maccabees in Scripture
    • 1 Book
    • 2 Historical Outline
  • 2 Outline of the book
  • 3 See also
  • 4 Sources

Maccabees in Scripture

To understand the facts related in these Books, it is necessary to take into account the historical context that gave rise to the Maccabees’ rebellion. In the fourth century BC. C., the Near East experiences an enormous political and cultural transformation. Alexander the Great, the young king of Macedonia, secures dominance over all of Greece and then sets out to conquer the Persian Empire. When a premature death surprises him in Babylon, in 323 a. C., he leaves behind him the largest empire known until then. With its conquests begins the so-called “Hellenistic” era, whose main characteristic is the spread of Greek culture and language throughout the Mediterranean basin.

But the Alexander Empire soon dismembered. Two of his generals divide the Near East: Ptolemy, son of Lagos, seizes Egypt and founds the dynasty of the “Lágidas”; Seleucus becomes the sovereign of Syria and initiates the dynasty of the “Seleucids”. Following this division, Palestine is once again between two fires. For a century the Lágidas predominate in Egypt, who are respectful of national customs. But in 199 a. C., Antíoco III of Syria defeats the Egyptian army and Palestine falls into the power of the Seleucids. From this moment on, domination will begin to overwhelm the political sphere, to spread to the cultural and religious terrain.

The oppression of the Jewish People enters its most critical stage with the advent of Antiochus IV, who calls himself Epiphanes, that is, “divine manifestation” (175-164 BC). This king is not content to desecrate and loot the Temple of Jerusalem, but also has a fortress built in the Holy City, where he installs a detachment of permanent guard. Then it promotes a vast process of hellenization of local religious customs and practices. Thus the Law of Moses is proscribed and it is supplanted by the legislation of the State. This policy of Antiochus finds collaborators among the Jews of the wealthy classes, even among the priests. Instead, many prefer to face persecution and death rather than deny their faith, with hope placed in the God of Israel. Another group finally takes inspiration from the memory of former national heroes and chooses the path of armed resistance. The priest Matatías and his sons belong to this group, and they wage the war of liberation narrated in these Books.

Book

FIRST BOOK OF MACABEES

This Book, composed around the year 100 a. C., refers to the events that go from the ascension to the throne of Antíoco IV Epífanes, in the year 175 a. C., until the death of Simón, the last survivor of the Maccabees brothers, in 134 a. C. The author is unknown, but it is undoubtedly a Jew from Jerusalem, a very good connoisseur of Palestine, who wrote his work in order to exalt the heroes of the struggle for independence. The Maccabees are presented as the new “Judges” of Israel, raised up by God to liberate His People and restore theocracy. The precision and liveliness of certain stories seem to indicate that the author collected the direct testimony of some combatants. But he also had access to the archives of the Temple of Jerusalem, where the annals of the high priests and other official texts cited in the book were kept. In addition to these sources, he used a document from the Seleucid court, which allowed him to reconstruct the chronology of events. On this basis he composed a story of great historical value, using the literary resources of the Hellenistic era. So he often exaggerates the numbers of the enemies, to exalt the exploits of the Jews. He also puts eloquent speeches on the lips of the heroes, who highlight the fundamental teaching drawn from the victories of the Maccabees: faith in the Lord and fidelity to the Law are a force more powerful than a great army. On this basis he composed a story of great historical value, using the literary resources of the Hellenistic era. So he often exaggerates the numbers of the enemies, to exalt the exploits of the Jews. He also puts eloquent speeches on the lips of the heroes, who highlight the fundamental teaching drawn from the victories of the Maccabees: faith in the Lord and fidelity to the Law are a force more powerful than a great army. On this basis he composed a story of great historical value, using the literary resources of the Hellenistic era. So he often exaggerates the numbers of the enemies, to exalt the exploits of the Jews. He also puts eloquent speeches on the lips of the heroes, highlighting the fundamental teaching drawn from the victories of the Maccabees: faith in the Lord and fidelity to the Law are a force more powerful than a great army.

With the passing of time, the religious struggle of the Maccabees was giving way to political intrigues and ambitions for power. Carried away by the enthusiasm of triumph and of reconquered independence, the author ignores this aspect and even runs the risk of identifying God’s design with the wars of a nation. That does not prevent us from presenting a profoundly human history, where the intransigence of faith and the passion for freedom prevail.

Historical sketch

THE PROSCRIPTION OF JUDAISM AND THE BEGINNING OF THE HOLY WAR (167-166 BC) A quick historical outline describes the political-religious situation that triggered the Maccabees’ rebellion. At a time when all the pagan religions tended to merge into a vague syncretism, Antiochus IV Epiphanes decided to eliminate the particularisms within his kingdom. To this end, it promotes a kind of “cultural revolution”, destined to impose the religious customs and practices of Hellenism. In open opposition against this totalitarian policy, the most intransigent sectors of the Jewish People reaffirm the originality of their monotheistic faith and reject any form of commitment to paganism. Many pay with their lives for their fidelity to the Law, but the priest Mattathias calls for holy war and takes refuge in the mountains, with her five children and a group of faithful Jews. Thus he leads a popular uprising, which will later be continued by his children. Mattathias’ “testament” (2.49-64) clearly defines the meaning of this armed resistance.

Book sketch

  • Alexander the Great and his successors
  • Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Hellenization of Palestine
  • Antiochus IV’s victory in Egypt
  • The desecration of the Temple of Jerusalem
  • The occupation of Jerusalem
  • The decree of Antiochus IV
  • The execution of the decree and religious persecution
  • Mattathias and his sons
  • Lamentation of Mattathias over Jerusalem
  • The Mattathias Rebellion
  • Jews slaughtered in the desert
  • The organization of resistance
  • The will and death of Mattathias
  • THE WAR OF LIBERATION UNDER JUDAS MACABEO

(166-160 BC) When his father died, in 166 BC, Judas Macabeo took charge of the improvised Jewish troops. Following the example of Joshua and the great warrior chiefs of Israel, he organized the resistance and gave an irresistible impulse to the fight for national independence considered as the only way to achieve religious freedom. His victories over the generals of Antiochus IV Epiphanes open the way for him to Jerusalem, where he enters after three years of continuous wars. There he purifies the Temple and solemnly celebrates the feast of his Dedication. After the death of Antiochus IV, Judas Macabeo undertakes several campaigns in neighboring countries, to free Jews who are faithful to the Law and punish their persecutors. Antiochus’ successors make further efforts to contain the insurrection, but they fail.

  • In praise of Judas Macabeo
  • Judas Macabeo’s first victories
  • Antiochus IV’s preparations for war
  • Lysias’ regency
  • The invasion of Judea
  • Judas Macabeo’s reaction
  • The meeting of the Jews in Mispá
  • The organization of the Jewish army
  • The triumph of the Israelites at Emmaus
  • Lysias’ first campaign and defeat
  • Purification of the Temple and Dedication of the altar
  • Institution of the Feast of Dedication and other measures
  • The expedition against the idumeans and the ammonites
  • Preliminaries of the campaigns against Galilee and Gilead
  • Simon’s expedition against Galilee
  • Judas Maccabees expedition against Gilead
  • Ultimate victory for Judas Macabeo in Gilead
  • The return of Judas Maccabee to Jerusalem
  • The defeat of José and Azarías in Iamnia
  • Other triumphs of Judas Macabeo in Idumea and Filistea
  • The defeat of Antiochus IV in Persia
  • The death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the advent of Antiochus V
  • The site of the Citadel of Jerusalem
  • The campaign of Antiochus V and Lysias
  • The Battle of Betzacaría
  • The taking of Betsur and the siege of Jerusalem
  • Granting religious freedom to the Jews
  • The occupation of the throne by Demetrius I
  • Bacchides and Alcimus’ retaliation against the Israelites
  • The alliance of the Jews with the Romans
  • Judas Macabeo’s funerals
  • Simon’s death and John’s succession
  • Simon’s Praise
  • Assembly decree in honor of Simon
  • Antiochus VII’s claims to Simon
  • Victory of the sons of Simon over Cendebeo
  • conclusion

 

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