The name Maccabee, probably meaning “hammer,” is actually applied in the Books of Maccabees to only one man, Judas, third son of the priest Mattathias and first leader of the revolt against the Seleucid kings who persecuted the Jews (⇒ 1 Macc 2:4, ⇒ 66; ⇒ 2 Macc 8:5, ⇒ 16; ⇒ 10:1, ⇒ 16). Traditionally the name has come to be applied to the brothers of Judas, his supporters, and even to other Jewish heroes of the period, such as the seven brothers (2 Macc 7).
The two Books of Maccabees, placed last in the Douai version of the Old Testament, contain independent accounts of events in part identical which accompanied the attempted suppression of Judaism in Palestine in the second century B.C. The vigorous reaction to this attempt established for a time the religious and political independence of the Jews.
1 Maccabees was written about 100 B.C., in Hebrew, but the original has not come down to us. Instead, we have an early, pre-Christian, Greek translation full of Hebrew idioms. The author, probably a Palestinian Jew, is unknown. He was familiar with the traditions and sacred books of his people and had access to much reliable information on their recent history (from 175 to 134 B.C.). He may well have played some part in it himself in his youth. His purpose in writing is to record the salvation of Israel which God worked through the family of Mattathias (⇒ 1 Macc 5:62)-especially through his three sons, Judas, Jonathan, and Simon, and his grandson, John Hyrcanus. Implicitly the writer compares their virtues and their exploits with those of the ancient heroes, the Judges, Samuel, and David.
There are seven poetic sections in the book which imitate the style of classical Hebrew poetry: four laments (⇒ 1 Macc 1:25-28, ⇒ 36-40; ⇒ 2:8-13; ⇒ 3:45), and three hymns of praise of “our fathers” (⇒ 1 Macc 2:51-64), of Judas (⇒ 1 Macc 3:3-9), and of Simon (⇒ 1 Macc 14:4-15). The doctrine expressed in the book is the customary belief of Israel, without the new developments which appear in 2 Maccabees and Daniel. The people of Israel have been specially chosen by the one true God as his covenant-partner, and they alone are privileged to know him and worship him. He is their eternal benefactor and their unfailing source of help. The people, in turn, must be loyal to his exclusive worship and must observe exactly the precepts of the law he has given them.
There is no doctrine of individual immortality except in the survival of one’s name and fame, nor does the book express any messianic expectation, though messianic images are applied historically to “the days of Simon” (⇒ 2 Macc 14:4-17). In true deuteronomic tradition, the author insists on fidelity to the law as the expression of Israel’s love for God. The contest which he describes is a struggle, not simply between Jew and Gentile, but between those who would uphold the law and those, Jews or Gentiles, who would destroy it. His severest condemnation goes, not to the Seleucid politicians, but to the lawless apostates among his own people, adversaries of Judas and his brothers, who are models of faith and loyalty.
1 Maccabees has importance also for the New Testament. Salvation is paralleled with Jewish national aspirations (⇒ 1 Macc 4:46-⇒ 14:41), in contrast to the universal reign of God taught by Christ in the Gospel (⇒Matthew 13:47-50; ⇒ 22:1-14). Also, destruction of the wall of the temple separating Jew from Gentile is an act of desecration in ⇒ 1 Macc 9:54 but in ⇒ Eph 2:14, an act of redemption and unification of both through Christ. On the other hand, association, in ⇒ 1 Macc 2:52, of Abraham’s offering up of Isaac (Gen 22) with his justification by God (⇒ Genesis 15:6) is reflected in ⇒ John 2:21, ⇒ 22 just as the Scriptures are regarded as a source of consolation in ⇒ 1 Macc 12:9 and in ⇒ Romans 15:4.
The Books of Maccabees, though regarded by Jews and Protestants as apocryphal, i.e., not inspired Scripture, because not contained in the Palestinian Canon or list of books drawn up at the end of the first century A.D., have nevertheless always been accepted by the Catholic Church as inspired, on the basis of apostolic tradition.
1 Maccabees is divided as follows:
Introduction: Hellenism in Asia Minor (⇒ 1 Macc 1:1-9)
- Leadership of Jonathan (⇒ 1 Macc 9:23-12:54)
- Simon, High Priest and Ethnarch (⇒ 1 Macc 13:1-⇒ 16:24)
1 After Alexander the Macedonian, Philip’s son, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and Medes, he became king in his place, having first ruled in Greece.
He fought many campaigns, captured fortresses, and put kings to death.
He advanced to the ends of the earth, gathering plunder from many nations; the earth fell silent before him, and his heart became proud and arrogant.
He collected a very strong army and conquered provinces, nations, and rulers, and they became his tributaries.
But after all this he took to his bed, realizing that he was going to die.
He therefore summoned his officers, the nobles, who had been brought up with him from his youth, to divide his kingdom among them while he was still alive.
2 Alexander had reigned twelve years when he died.
So his officers took over his kingdom, each in his own territory,
and after his death they all put on royal crowns, and so did their sons after them for many years, causing much distress over the earth.
3 There sprang from these a sinful offshoot, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus, once a hostage at Rome. He became king in the year one hundred and thirty-seven of the kingdom of the Greeks.
In those days there appeared in Israel men who were breakers of the law, and they seduced many people, saying: “Let us go and make an alliance with the Gentiles all around us; since we separated from them, many evils have come upon us.”
The proposal was agreeable;
some from among the people promptly went to the king, and he authorized them to introduce the way of living of the Gentiles.
4 Thereupon they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem according to the Gentile custom.
They covered over the mark of their circumcision and abandoned the holy covenant; they allied themselves with the Gentiles and sold themselves to wrongdoing.
When his kingdom seemed secure, Antiochus proposed to become king of Egypt, so as to rule over both kingdoms.
5 He invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants, and with a large fleet,
to make war on Ptolemy, king of Egypt. Ptolemy was frightened at his presence and fled, leaving many casualties.
The fortified cities in the land of Egypt were captured, and Antiochus plundered the land of Egypt.
6 After Antiochus had defeated Egypt in the year one hundred and forty-three, he returned and went up to Israel and to Jerusalem with a strong force.
He insolently invaded the sanctuary and took away the golden altar, the lampstand for the light with all its fixtures,
the offering table, the cups and the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the golden ornament on the facade of the temple. He stripped off everything,
and took away the gold and silver and the precious vessels; he also took all the hidden treasures he could find.
Taking all this, he went back to his own country, after he had spoken with great arrogance and shed much blood.
And there was great mourning for Israel, in every place where they dwelt,
and the rulers and the elders groaned. Virgins and young men languished, and the beauty of the women was disfigured.
Every bridegroom took up lamentation, she who sat in the bridal chamber mourned,
And the land was shaken on account of its inhabitants, and all the house of Jacob was covered with shame.
Two years later, the king sent the Mysian commander to the cities of Judah, and he came to Jerusalem with a strong force.
He spoke to them deceitfully in peaceful terms, and won their trust. Then he attacked the city suddenly, in a great onslaught, and destroyed many of the people in Israel.
He plundered the city and set fire to it, demolished its houses and its surrounding walls,
took captive the women and children, and seized the cattle.
7 Then they built up the City of David with a high, massive wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel.
There they installed a sinful race, perverse men, who fortified themselves inside it,
storing up weapons and provisions, and depositing there the plunder they had collected from Jerusalem. And they became a great threat.
The citadel became an ambush against the sanctuary, and a wicked adversary to Israel at all times.
And they shed innocent blood around the sanctuary; they defiled the sanctuary.
Because of them the inhabitants of Jerusalem fled away, and she became the abode of strangers. She became a stranger to her own offspring, and her children forsook her.
Her sanctuary was as desolate as a wilderness; her feasts were turned into mourning, Her sabbaths to shame, her honor to contempt.
Her dishonor was as great as her glory had been, and her exalation was turned into mourning.
Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people,
each abandoning his particular customs. All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king,
and many Israelites were in favor of his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath.
The king sent messengers with letters to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land;
to prohibit holocausts, sacrifices, and libations in the sanctuary, to profane the sabbaths and feast days,
to desecrate the sanctuary and the sacred ministers,
to build pagan altars and temples and shrines, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals,
to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to let themselves be defiled with every kind of impurity and abomination,
so that they might forget the law and change all their observances.
Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king should be put to death.
Such were the orders he published throughout his kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people, and he ordered the cities of Judah to offer sacrifices, each city in turn.
Many of the people, those who abandoned the law, joined them and committed evil in the land.
Israel was driven into hiding, wherever places of refuge could be found.
8 On the fifteenth day of the month Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five, the king erected the horrible abomination upon the altar of holocausts, and in the surrounding cities of Judah they built pagan altars.
They also burnt incense at the doors of houses and in the streets.
9 Any scrolls of the law which they found they tore up and burnt.
Whoever was found with a scroll of the covenant, and whoever observed the law, was condemned to death by royal decree.
So they used their power against Israel, against those who were caught, each month, in the cities.
On the twenty-fifth day of each month they sacrificed on the altar erected over the altar of holocausts.
Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death, in keeping with the decree,
with the babies hung from their necks; their families also and those who had circumcised them were killed.
But many in Israel were determined and resolved in their hearts not to eat anything unclean;
they preferred to die rather than to be defiled with unclean food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. Terrible affliction was upon Israel.ä”…
1  Land of Kittim: Greece. The name referred originally to inhabitants of Kiti, capital of the isle of Cyprus, then to any Cypriots (⇒ Isaiah 23:1; ⇒ Jeremiah 2:10), later to Greeks in general, and finally even to Romans. See note on ⇒ Daniel 11:30. Darius: Darius III, Codoman (336-331 B.C.).
2  Twelve years: 336-323 B.C.
3  The year one hundred and thirty-seven: Antiochus IV seized the throne in September, 175 B.C. Dates are given in this book according to the Seleucid era, which however was reckoned in two different ways. Antiochians considered this date to be October, 312 B.C. (Syrian calendar), while Babylonians and Jewish priests accepted April, 311 B.C. as the commencement of the era (temple calendar). The author of 1 Macc dates political events by the Syrian calendar but religious events by the temple calendar. Accordingly, the civil New Year occurred variously in September or October, the religious New Year in March or April.
4  Gymnasium: symbol and center of athletic and intellectual life, it was the chief instrument of Hellenistic propaganda. Jewish youth were attracted by sports and encouraged to join youth clubs. They received training in military skills and in the duties of citizens. Through participation in the intellectual life, many were gradually won over to paganism.
5  Elephants: an important part of Seleucid armament. About 300 B.C. Seleucus I, founder of the dynasty, procured five hundred of them from India; cf ⇒ 1 Macc 6:34-37.
6  Defeated Egypt in the year one hundred and forty-three: 169 B.C. No mention is made in 1 Mc of the second expedition to Egypt a year later, described in ⇒ 2 Macc 5:1, ⇒ 11; ⇒ Daniel 11:25, ⇒ 19 records both.
7  City of David: not Mount Zion on the eastern hill of Jerusalem, which David captured from the Jebusites (⇒ 2 Sam 5:7), but a new fortress built on the western hill and overlooking the temple and its courts on Mount Zion. It was occupied for twenty-six years by the Syro-Macedonian garrison, together with apostate Jews, and was a continual threat to the temple and the Jewish people (⇒ 1 Macc 1:36); cf ⇒ 1 Macc 13:49-51.
8  Fifteenth day of the month Chislev, in the year one hundred and forty-five: December 6, 167 B.C. Horrible abomination: in the original Hebrew, a contemptuous pun on the title “Lord of heaven” given to the god Zeus Olympios, to whom an image or perhaps an altar was erected upon the altar of holocausts in the temple of Jerusalem; cf ⇒ Daniel 9:27; ⇒ 11:31.
9 [56-57] Scrolls of the law: one or more of the first five books of the Old Testament.