1 Maccabees

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Martyrs refusing to sacrifice to the Greek idol from Die Bibel in Bildern

The First Book of Maccabees, also known as First Maccabees (written in shorthand as 1 Maccabees or 1 Macc.), is a book written in Hebrew by an anonymous[1] Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom by the Hasmonean dynasty around the late 2nd century BC. The original Hebrew is lost and the most important surviving version is the Greek translation contained in the Septuagint.[2] The book is held as canonical scripture by the Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches (except for the Orthodox Tewahedo), but not by Protestant denominations nor any major branches of Judaism; it is not part of the Hebrew Bible. Some Protestants consider it to be an apocryphal book (see also Deuterocanonical books).

1 Maccabees is best known for its account of an early victory in the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire: the recapture of Jerusalem in the year 164 BC and rededication of the Second Temple – the narrative behind the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.[3]


The name Maccabee is related to the Hebrew word for "Hammer".[4] This was applied to the first leader of the revolt, Judas Maccabeus, third son of Mattathias. In the early days of the rebellion, Judah received the surname Maccabee. It is not known whether this surname should be understood in Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic. Several explanations have been put forward for this surname. One suggestion is that the name derives from the Aramaic maqqaba ("makebet" in modern Hebrew), "hammer" or "sledgehammer" in recognition of his ferocity in battle. Others believe it is in reference to his weapon of choice.

According to Jewish folklore the name Maccabee is an acronym of the verse Mi kamokha ba'elim Adonai, "Who among the gods is like you, O Adonai?", the Maccabean battle-cry to motivate troops. (Exodus 15:11). Some scholars maintain that the name is a shortened form of the Hebrew maqqab-Yahu (from naqab, "to mark, to designate"), meaning "the one designated by Yahweh".[5] Although originally the surname Maccabee was exclusive to Judah (his brothers had different surnames), at a later date it came to signify all the Hasmoneans who fought during the Maccabean Revolt.[6]


The narrative is primarily prose text, but is interrupted by seven poetic sections, which imitate classical Hebrew poetry. These include four laments and three hymns of praise. There are 16 chapters.[7] English language versions of the Bible which contain this book include the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Good News Translation (GNT), New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE).[8] and Knox Bible.[9]


The Jerusalem Bible suggests 1 Maccabees was written about 100 BC, and certainly before the capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC.[10] Most scholars are in agreement on this date.[1]



The Jerusalem Bible divides the book into five sections:[11]

  1. Chapter 1: Introduction
  2. Chapter 2: Mattathias and the Holy War
  3. 3:1 to 9:22, under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus
  4. 9:23 to 12:53, under the leadership of Jonathan
  5. Chapters 13–16, under the leadership of Simon

Detailed synopsis[edit]

The setting of the book is about a century and a half after the conquest of Judea by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, after Alexander's empire had been divided so that Judea had become part of the Greek Seleucid Empire. It tells how the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to suppress the practice of basic Jewish law, resulting in the Maccabean Revolt. The book covers the whole of the revolt, from 175 to 134 BC, highlighting how the salvation of the Jewish people in this crisis came through Mattathias' family, particularly his sons, Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan Apphus, and Simon Thassi, and Simon's son, John Hyrcanus. The doctrine expressed in the book reflects traditional Jewish teaching, without later doctrines found, for example, in 2 Maccabees. The First Book of Maccabees also gives a list of Jewish colonies scattered elsewhere through the Mediterranean at the time.[12]

In the first chapter, Alexander the Great conquers the territory of Judea, and is later succeeded by the Seleucid Antiochus IV Epiphanes. After successfully invading the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Antiochus IV captures Jerusalem and removes the sacred objects from the Temple in Jerusalem, slaughtering many Jews. He then imposes a tax and establishes a fortress in Jerusalem.

Antiochus then tries to suppress public observance of Jewish laws, in an attempt to secure control over the Jews. In 168 BC, he desecrates the Temple by setting up an "abomination of desolation" (establishing rites of pagan observance in the Temple, or sacrificing an unclean animal on the altar in the Holy of Holies). Antiochus forbids both circumcision and possession of Jewish scriptures on pain of death. He forbids observance of the sabbath and the offering of sacrifices at the Temple. He also requires Jewish leaders to sacrifice to idols. While enforcement may be targeting only Jewish leaders, ordinary Jews were also killed as a warning to others.

Hellenization included the construction of gymnasia in Jerusalem. Among other effects, this discouraged the Jewish rite of circumcision even further, which had already been officially forbidden; a man's state could not be concealed in the gymnasium, where men trained and socialized in the nude. However, 1 Maccabees also insists that there were many Jews who sought out or welcomed the introduction of Greek culture. According to the text, some Jewish men even engaged in foreskin restoration in order to pass as fully Greek.

The narrative reports that news of the desolation reaches Mattathias and his five sons, a priestly family who live in Modein.[13] Mattathias calls upon people loyal to the traditions of Israel to oppose the invaders and the Jewish Hellenizers, and his sons begin a military campaign against them (the Maccabean Revolt).[14] There is one complete loss of a thousand Jews (men, women, and children) to Antiochus when the Jewish defenders refuse to fight on the Sabbath. The other Jews then reason that, when attacked, they must fight even on the holy day. In 165 BC the Temple is freed and reconsecrated, so that ritual sacrifices may begin again. The festival of Hanukkah is instituted by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers to celebrate this event (1 Maccabees 4:59).

More wars involving Judas and his brothers Simon and Jonathan are reported in chapters 5, 6 and 7.[15] Chapter 6 reports the last days of Antiochus Epiphanes[16] and the accession of his young son Antiochus V Eupator to the throne.

In chapter 8, Judas seeks an alliance with the Roman Republic, aiming to remove the Greeks.[17] Verses 23–32 record an agreement between Rome and the nation of the Jews, whereby each party would act as a willing ally of the other and refuse to supply their enemies in time of war, specific warning being given to Demetrius I Soter that this pact would be activated against him if requested by the Jews.[18] Jewish historian Uriel Rappaport asserts that "the majority of scholars today accept the authenticity of this document".[15]

After the death of Judas and a period of lawlessness,[19] he is succeeded by his brother Jonathan Apphus, whose battles with the Greek general Bacchides are recounted in chapter 9. Jonathan becomes high priest (1 Maccabees 10:20). Demetrius' death is reported in 1 Maccabees 10:50, and Ptolemy VI Philometor and Alexander Balas, claimant to the Seleucid throne, enter into an agreement under which Alexander marries Cleopatra Thea, Ptolemy's daughter (1 Maccabees 10:58). The relationship between Jonathan and Demetrius' son and successor, Demetrius II Nicator, is covered in chapter 11: Jonathan provides military support to Demetrius at the latter's request (verse 44), and a successful engagement against a popular revolt at Antioch enables the Jews to "gain glory in the sight of the king" (verse 51). Maccabees does not mention the involvement of the mercenaries who are mentioned in other accounts, whereas other accounts do not mention the Jewish involvement.[20] Ultimately the relationship between Jonathan and Demetrius breaks down: Maccabees' opinion is that Demetrius "broke his word about all that he had promised; he became estranged from Jonathan and did not repay the favors that Jonathan had done him, but treated him very harshly".[21]

Alliances with Rome and with Areus of Sparta are covered in 1 Maccabees 12:1–23. Jonathan's capture in 143 BC, having been double-crossed by Diodotus Tryphon, is recorded in 1 Maccabees 12:48. Simon follows Jonathan as the next Jewish leader "in place of Judas and your brother Jonathan",[22] taking on civil, military and liturgical roles: "great high priest, governor, and leader of the Jews".[23] Simon fortifies Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 13:10) and secures the reoccupation of Joppa (1 Maccabees 13:11), leading the people in peace and prosperity until he is murdered by agents of Ptolemy, son of Abubus, who had been named governor of the region by the Macedonian Greeks. The period of peace and prosperity is celebrated in a biblical-style poetic passage, the "Eulogy of Simon",[24] which Rappaport considers to be "one of the most important poetic passages in 1 Maccabees".[25]

Simon is succeeded by his son, John, referred to by Josephus as John Hyrcanus.[26]

The concluding verses (1 Maccabees 16:23-24)[27] note that "the acts of John and his wars and the brave deeds that he did ... are written in the annals of his high priesthood".


Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical with the list given at Trent including the two books of Maccabees. Origen of Alexandria (253),[28] Augustine of Hippo (c. 397 AD),[29] Pope Innocent I (405),[30][31] Synod of Hippo (393),[32] the Council of Carthage (397),[33] the Council of Carthage (419),[34] the Apostolic Canons,[35] the Council of Florence (1442)[36] and the Council of Trent (1546)[37] listed the first two books of Maccabees as canonical.

Transmission, language and author[edit]

The text is extant in three codices of the Koine Greek Septuagint: the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Vaticanus, as well as some cursives.

The original book is speculated to have been written in Hebrew, due to a number of Hebrew idioms in the text,[38] but if so, the Hebrew version has been lost, and the only extant version is found in the Septuagint. Some authors date the original Hebrew text even closer to the events covered, while a few suggest a later date. Because of the accuracy of the historical account, if the later date is taken, the author would have to have had access to first-hand reports of the events or other primary sources.

Origen of Alexandria[39] gives testimony to the existence of an original Hebrew text. Jerome likewise claims "the first book of Maccabees I have found to be Hebrew, the second is Greek, as can be proved from the very style" (per Prologus Galeatus). Only the Greek text has survived, and likely only through its inclusion in the Christian canon. Origen claims that the title of the original was Sarbēth Sarbanael (variants include Σαρβηθ Σα[ρ]βαναι ελ, Sarbēth Sa[r]banai El, and Σαρβηθ Σα[ρ]βανέελ, Sarbēth Sa[r]baneel), an enigmatic Greek transliteration from a putative Hebrew original.[40] Various reconstructions have been proposed:

  • "Book of the Prince of the House of Israel" or "the Prince of the House of God (El)", from the Hebrew שַׂר בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל, Sar Beit-Yisra'el, or שַׂר בֵּית אֵל, Sar Beit-El, respectively,
  • History of the House of the Warriors,[41]
  • Book of the House of the Princes of God,[42]
  • the Book of the Dynasty of God's resisters,[43] perhaps from סֵפֶר בֵּית סָרְבָנֵי אֵל, Sefer Beit Sarevanei El ("Book of the House who strive for God").

Gustaf Dalman, meanwhile, suggests that the title is a corruption of the Aramaic "The Book of the House of the Hasmoneans".[44]

The book's author is unknown. The author appears to have written early in the reign of the Hasmoneans, likely during the rule of John Hyrcanus. The author has detailed knowledge of both battles of the revolt and the geography of Judea and the broader Land of Israel and is less precise about events outside the Hasmonean's borders. Theologically, the author sees the revolt as divinely ordained, but downplays direct divine intervention such as miracles.[45] Rather, the author interprets events as God using the military genius of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers as the instrument to achieve the liberation of Judea. At times, the author even takes a dismissive approach of more passive Jewish resistance, seemingly considering it futile and pointless. Unlike 2 Maccabees, which interprets the misfortunes of the Jews as God's punishment for their own sins, the author of 1 Maccabees depicts the problems as due to the external evil of Antiochus IV and his generals.

The author also propagates "Hasmonean propaganda" in the sense of upholding the righteousness of the Hasmoneans and their just claim to rule the Hasmonean kingdom. The Hasmoneans were not an obvious choice to be rulers; they did not descend from the priestly line of Zadok that had taken the office of High Priest for generations at the point of the Maccabean Revolt. The author seeks to promote the view that the Hasmoneans were indeed God's new chosen and would-be rulers in line with heroes of the Hebrew Bible.[46] Various passages call back to Biblical passages such as Joshua's conquests or the battle of David and Goliath and equate the Hasmoneans' deeds with the earlier stories. Antipathy toward the Seleucid-friendly Hellenizing Jews is unsurprising, as they were enemies in war, but 1 Maccabees extends criticism to internal Jewish opponents of the Hasmoneans as well. In 1 Maccabees, those dissatisfied with the Hasmoneans "hated their nation"[47] as a whole; the Hasmoneans were equated with Judea itself.[48] Jews who complain about Judas's activities "bring to the king an accusation against the people".[49] The book dismisses a defeat suffered by other commanders named Joseph and Azariah as because "they did not listen to Judas and his brothers. But they did not belong to the family of those men through whom deliverance was given to Israel."[50][45] All of this makes clear that God has specifically chosen a new dynasty to rule Judea, the Hasmoneans.[45]

Liturgical usage and theological significance[edit]

The Roman Catholic Lectionary makes use of texts from 1 Maccabees 1 to 6, along with texts from 2 Maccabees 6 and 7, in the weekday readings for the 33rd week in Ordinary Time, in year 1 of the two-year cycle of readings, always in November, and as one of the options available for readings for the dedication of an altar and as one of the suggested readings at a Mass celebrated to honour persecuted Christians.[51]

During the Crusades, Pope Urban II and other church leaders used 1 Maccabees 2 to justify the concept of holy war against the Muslim kingdoms controlling the holy city of Jerusalem.[52]

In the Church of England's lectionary of 1922 in the Book of Common Prayer, 1st Maccabees is appointed annually to be read in late summer/early autumn.


  1. ^ a b Rappaport, U., 47. 1 Maccabees in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, p. 711
  2. ^ Mendels, Doron (2021-07-15). "1 Maccabees". In Oegema, Gerbern S. (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of the Apocrypha (1 ed.). Oxford University Press. pp. 150–168. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190689643.013.9. ISBN 978-0-19-068964-3.
  3. ^ Gilad, E., The Revolt of the Maccabees: The True Story Behind Hanukkah, published 27 December 2019, accessed 9 December 2020
  4. ^ "MACCABEES, THE - JewishEncyclopedia.com". www.jewishencyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  5. ^ New Catholic Encyclopedia, second edition, vol. 9, p. 9
  6. ^ "חשמונאים". 27 February 2018.
  7. ^ "1 Maccabees, the first book of Maccabees". bible.usccb.org. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  8. ^ "1 Maccabees 1:1 - Bible Gateway". BibleGateway.com. Retrieved 2022-11-02.
  9. ^ Catholic Bible Online, The First Book of Machabees — Liber I Machabæorum, Baronius Press, published 2016, accessed 26 December 2020
  10. ^ Jerusalem Bible (1966), Introduction to the Books of Maccabees, p 654
  11. ^ Jerusalem Bible (1966), The First Book of Maccabees
  12. ^ Johnson, P., A History of the Jews, pp. 170–71.
  13. ^ 1 Maccabees 2:1–6
  14. ^ "History & Overview of the Maccabees". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2019-12-29.
  15. ^ a b Rappaport, U., 47. 1 Maccabees in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, p. 718-722
  16. ^ Sub-heading at 1 Maccabees 6:1–17 in the New Revised Standard Version
  17. ^ 1 Maccabees 8:17–18
  18. ^ 1 Maccabees 8:23–32
  19. ^ 1 Maccabees 9:23–27
  20. ^ Rappaport, U., 47. 1 Maccabees in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, p. 728
  21. ^ 1 Maccabees 11:53
  22. ^ 1 Maccabees 13:8
  23. ^ 1 Maccabees 13:42: NABRE
  24. ^ 1 Maccabees 14:4–15
  25. ^ Rappaport, U., 47. 1 Maccabees in Barton, J. and Muddiman, J. (2001), The Oxford Bible Commentary Archived 2017-11-22 at the Wayback Machine, p. 730
  26. ^ Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, Book 1, chapter 2
  27. ^ 1 Maccabees 16:23–24
  28. ^ Eusebius, of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History Book 6 Chapter 25:1–2. newadvent. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  29. ^ Augustine of Hippo. On Christian Doctrine Book II Chapter 8:2. newadvent. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  30. ^ Westcott, Brooke Foss (2005). A general survey of the history of the canon of the New Testament (6th ed.). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. p. 570. ISBN 1597522392.
  31. ^ Letter from Innocent I to Exsuperius, bishop of Toulouse.
  32. ^ "Canon XXIV. (Greek xxvii.)", The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  33. ^ B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (5th ed. Edinburgh, 1881), pp. 440, 541–542.
  34. ^ Council of Carthage (419) Canon 24
  35. ^ in Trullo, Council. The Apostolic Canons. Canon 85. newadvent. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  36. ^ Council of Florence, Session 11–4 February 1442 Archived 20 February 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ Council of Trent, Session IV Celebrated on the eighth day of April, 1546 under Pope Paul III Archived 2015-03-23 at the Wayback Machine
  38. ^ See: Darshan, Guy, "The Original Language of 1 Maccabees: A Reexamination," Biblische Notizen (Neue Folge) 182 (2019), 91–110, esp. 94–97.
  39. ^ Cited by Eusebius, Church History vi. 25.
  40. ^ See: Darshan, Guy, "The Original Language of 1 Maccabees: A Reexamination," Biblische Notizen (Neue Folge) 182 (2019), 91–110, esp. 92–94.
  41. ^ Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History and The Martyrs of Palestine, translated by J. E. L. Oulton and H. J. Lawlor (London: SPCK, 1927–1928); II, 74f.
  42. ^ The Interpreter's dictionary of the Bible, by William H. Brownlee (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962), III, 203.
  43. ^ I Maccabees, by Jonathan A. Goldstein (AB 41, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, 1976), 414–15.
  44. ^ Gustaf Dalman, Grammatik des Jüdisch-Palästinischen Aramäisch, section 6
  45. ^ a b c Harrington, Daniel J. (2009) [1988]. The Maccabean Revolt: Anatomy of a Biblical Revolution. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock. p. 36–56. ISBN 978-1-60899-113-6.
  46. ^ Harrington, Daniel J. (2012). First and Second Maccabees. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. ISBN 978-0-8146-2846-1.
  47. ^ 1 Maccabees 11:21
  48. ^ Bickerman, Elias (1979) [1937]. The God of the Maccabees: Studies on the Meaning and Origin of the Maccabean Revolt. Translated by Moehring, Horst R. Leiden: E. J. Brill. p. 16–21. ISBN 90-04-05947-4.
  49. ^ 1 Maccabees 7:6
  50. ^ 1 Maccabees 5:60–5:62
  51. ^ Roman Missal, Lectionary, Revised Edition approved for use in the dioceses of England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, published by Collins, Geoffrey Chapman and Veritas, 1981, 1982, volumes 2 and 3
  52. ^ Naimark, Norman M. (2017). Genocide: A World History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-19-063771-2. OCLC 960210099.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bartlett, John R. 1998. 1 Maccabees. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press.
  • Borchardt, Francis. 2014. The Torah in 1 Maccabees: A Literary Critical Approach to the Text. Boston: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Darshan, Guy. 2019. "The Original Language of 1 Maccabees: A Reexamination." Biblische Notizen (Neue Folge) 182: 91–110.
  • Goldstein, Jonathan A. 1976. I Maccabees: A New Translation, with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Bible 41. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
  • Lanzinger, Daniel. 2015. "Alcimus' Last Command: History and Propaganda in 1 Maccabees 9:54." Journal for the Study of Judaism 46, no. 1: 86–102.
  • Williams, David S. 1999. The Structure of 1 Maccabees, Washington, DC: Catholic Biblical Association.

External links[edit]

1 Maccabees
Preceded by Roman Catholic Old Testament Succeeded by
Eastern Orthodox Old Testament