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1 Maccabees

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The First Book of Maccabees is a book written by a Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom, probably about 100 BCE. It is included in all Christian Bibles ("canons") except most Protestant ones. Jews and most Protestants regard it as generally reliable historically, but not a part of Scripture. These Protestants usually call such religious books "Apocrypha". Some people call "deuterocanonical" the books received in Greek and regarded as part of the Holy Scripture by some Christian Churches, like 1 Maccabees.


The setting of the book is about a century after the conquest of Judea by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, after Alexander's empire has been divided so that Judea was part of the Greek Seleucid Empire. It tells how the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to suppress the practice of basic Jewish religious law, resulting in a Jewish revolt against Seleucid rule. The book covers the whole of the revolt, from 175 to 134 BCE, highlighting how the salvation of the Jewish people in this crisis came from God through Mattathias' family, particularly his sons, Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan Maccabaeus and Simon Maccabaeus and his grandson, John Hyrcanus. The doctrine expressed in the book reflects traditional Jewish teaching, without later doctrines found, for example, in 2 Maccabees.

In the first chapter, Alexander the Great conquers the territory of Judea, only to be eventually 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 Jerusalem temple, 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. He desecrates the Temple by setting up an "abomination of desolation" (an idol). Antiochus forbids both circumcision and possession of Jewish scriptures on pain of death. He also 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, some Jews (and children) are killed as a warning to others. Antiochus introduces Hellenistic culture; this process of Hellenization included the foundation of gymnasiums in Jerusalem. The latter practice discouraged the Jewish practice of circumcision, which had already been forbidden, even further; a man's state could not be concealed in the gymnasium, where men socialized in the nude. Jews even engage in non-surgical foreskin restoration in order to pass in Hellenic culture.

Mattathias calls forth the people to holy war against the invaders, and his three sons begin a military campaign against them. 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 Sabbath. In 165 BCE 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 Macc. iv. 59). Judas seeks an alliance with the Roman Republic to remove the Greeks. He is "succeeded" by his brother Jonathan, who becomes high priest and also seeks alliance with Rome and confirms alliance with Sparta (1 Macc. xii. 1-23). Simon follows them, receiving the double office of high priest and prince of Israel. (Simon and his successors form the Hasmonean dynasty, which is not always considered a valid kingship by the Jews, since they were not of the lineage of David.) Simon leads 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. He is succeeded by his son, John Hyrcanus.


The name Maccabee probably means "hammer" and is properly applied only to the first leader of the revolt, Judas, third son of Mattathias. The name Maccabee also might have been derived from the battle cry of the revolt, Mi Kamocha B'elim, YHWH ("Who is like you among the heavenly powers, YHWH!!" - Exodus ch. 15:11.) In Hebrew, the first letters of this four word slogan form the acronym MKBY (Mem, Kaf, Bet and Yud). This became synonymous with the revolt. The name came to be used for his brothers as well, which accounts for the title of the book. Scholars infer that in the original Hebrew, the term used for "abomination of desolation" would have sounded similar to "Lord of heaven", so that this term might refer to an image or altar of Zeus.


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.

Transmission, language and author

The text comes to us in three codices of the Septuagint: the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Venetus, as well as some cursives.

Though the original book was written in Hebrew, as can be deduced by a number of Hebrew idioms in the text, the original has been lost and the version which comes down to us is 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[1] 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). Many scholars suggest that they may have actually had access to a Biblical Aramaic paraphrase of the work—most Christian scholars of the time did not distinguish between Hebrew and Aramaic. In either case, only the Greek text has survived, and this only through its inclusion in the Christian canon. Origen claims that the title of the original was Sarbeth Sarbanael (variants include Sarbeth Sarbanaiel and Sarbeth Sarbane El), which some translate either as "the Book of the Prince of the House of Israel" or "the Book of the Dynasty of God's resisters" .

The book's author is unknown, but is assumed to have been a devout Jew from the Holy Land who may have even taken part in the events described in the book. He shows intimate and detailed geographical knowledge of the Holy Land, but is inaccurate in his information about foreign countries. The author interprets the events not as a miraculous intervention by God, but rather God's using the instrument of the military genius of the Maccabees to achieve his ends. The words "God" and "Lord" never occur in the text, always being replaced by "Heaven" or "He".


  1. Cited by Eusebius, Church History vi. 25.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at 1 Maccabees. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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