The Roman Catholic Bible editions usually include seven other books that are from the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, many of the English Protestant Bibles, particularly the King James Bible used only the Hebrew texts. These later Greek works became known as deuterocanonical or apocryphal works of the Bible. These post-exilic books tell the stories of various Israelite figures. These seven extra books have the story of Tobit, the story of Judith, as well as the stories of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. However, they also include writings the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, and Baruch.
Yahweh will dwell in their midst (Zech 2:10-2:12)
O daughter Zion!
I will dwell
In your midst.’
Shall join themselves
In that day.
‘They shall be my people.
I will dwell
In your midst.’
You shall know
That Yahweh of hosts
Has sent me to you.
Yahweh will inherit Judah
As his portion
In the holy land.
He will again choose
Yahweh wanted daughter Zion to sing and rejoice. He was going to come to dwell in their midst, among them. Many nations or people from many different countries would join with Yahweh on that day. Yahweh said that they would be his people. He was going to live among them. Yahweh would inherit Judah, since he had sent his prophet to his Holy Land. This was the first use of this term that was later used in 2 Maccabees, chapter 1. Yahweh had chosen Jerusalem again.
The death of King Antiochus IV (Dan 11:44-11:45)
“But reports from the east,
Reports from the north,
Shall alarm him.
He shall go out
With great fury
To bring ruin,
To bring complete destruction
He shall pitch
His palatial tents
Between the sea and
The beautiful holy mountain.
Yet he shall come
To his end,
With no one
To help him.”
It is not clear where King Antiochus IV died. However, in 2 Maccabees, chapter 9, there was a vivid description of the illness that led to his death. Here it takes place between the coast and the holy mountain of Jerusalem. Apparently, this king had problems in the east and north. Thus, he set out to ruin and destroy them. Then he pitched his palatial tent before he died. 1 Maccabees, chapter 6, and 2 Maccabees, chapter 9, have this dreadful king have a deathbed conversion to the God of Israel. Here, that is not mentioned.
The second campaign against Egypt (Dan 11:29-11:31)
“At the time appointed,
He shall return.
He shall come
Into the south.
But this time,
It shall not be
As it was before.
The ships of Kittim
Shall come against him.
He shall lose heart.
He shall withdraw.
He shall be enraged.
He shall take action
Against the holy covenant.
He shall turn back.
He shall give heed
To those who forsake
The holy covenant.
Forces sent by him
Shall occupy the temple.
They shall profane
They shall occupy
They shall abolish
The regular burnt offering.
They shall set up
That make it desolate.”
The second time that King Antiochus IV attacked Egypt, he was not as successful as the first time. The ships of Kittim, or the ships of the Romans, came against him. Kittim was the name for Cyprus and thus applied to all western troops. Once again, on his way home, in 167 BCE, he attacked Jerusalem. This time, there was a clear explanation of what he did. He turned against the people of the covenant. He even helped those who had forsaken the covenant, taking sides in a dispute there as explained in 2 Maccabees, chapters 3 and 4. He occupied the Temple and the fortress citadel in Jerusalem. He even profaned the Temple by abolishing the regular burnt offerings. These invaders even set up abominations in the Temple to make it a desolation.
My Understanding of 2 Maccabees
Unlike 1 Maccabeees, 2 Maccabees does not attempt to provide a complete account of all the events of the second century BCE. 2 Maccabees covers only about twenty years, from the high priest Onias III and King Seleucus IV, around 180 BCE, to the defeat of Nicanor in 161 BCE. In general, the chronology of the book coheres with that of 1 Maccabees. However, it does not show any dependence on 1 Maccabees, or vice versa. Thus it has some historical value in supplementing 1 Maccabees, principally in providing a few apparent historical documents. This biblical author seems primarily interested in providing a theological interpretation of the events that led up to the independence of Jerusalem. God’s interventions direct the course of the events, punishing the wicked and restoring the Tempel to his people. Some of the numbers cited for the sizes of the armies appear to be exaggerated, but that was common throughout all the biblical works.
Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians regard 2 Maccabees as a canonical Biblical work because it was in the Septuagint. 2 Maccabees, along with 1 and 3 Maccabees, appeared in this Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible completed in the 1st century BCE. Jewish people and the 16th century Christian Reformers do not have this work in their Bible because it was not in the Hebrew Bible.
The Greek style of the writer is erudite, since he seems well-informed about Greek customs. The author of 2 Maccabees was not identified, but he claimed to be abridging a 5-volume work by Jason of Cyrein. This longer work has not been preserved. It is uncertain how much of the present text of 2 Maccabees is simply copied from that work. This Jewish author wrote in Greek, as there is no particular evidence of an earlier Hebrew version. A few sections of this book, such as the Preface, Epilogue, and some reflections on morality are generally assumed to come from the author, not from Jason. Jason’s work was apparently written sometime around 100 BCE and most likely ended with the defeat of Nicanor. However, that work is not available to us.
The action follows a very simple plan. After the death of King Antichous IV Epiphanes, the feast of the Dedication of the Temple was instituted. The newly dedicated Temple was threatened by Governor and General Nicanor. After his death, the festivities for the dedication came to be a special day dedicated to commemorate the Jewish victory. Each year this feast was to be celebrated two days before “Mordecai Day” that came from the Book of Esther called Purim.
The beginning of this book includes two letters sent by the Jews in Jerusalem to the Jews of the Diaspora in Egypt concerning the feast day to celebrate the purification of the Temple and the feast to celebrate the defeat of Nicanor. If the author of the book inserted these letters, the book would have to have been written after 124 BCE, the date of the second letter. Some commentators hold that these letters were a later addition, while others consider them the basis for the work. Some scholars tend toward dating this in the last years of the 2nd century BCE, while the consensus among Jewish scholars place it in the second half of the 1st century BCE, so that somewhere between 104-63 BCE seems acceptable.
The first letter greeted and blessed the Jews in Egypt as they explained their situation in Jerusalem. The second letter, which was probably the first sent, addressed the Jews of Egypt also. They gave thanksgiving for the punishment that King Antiochus IV suffered with his death. They wanted a festival of fire as there was a stress on the importance of fire, including a prayer to God over the fire. Somehow naphtha had become sacred. The Jerusalem Jews reminded the Egyptian Jews of the admonition of the prophet Jeremiah and how he had hidden religious cult materials. This letter pointed out the importance of fire to Moses and Solomon, as well as the library of Nehemiah. They were inviting the Egyptian Jews to celebrate this dedication festival.
This biblical author had a preface to his story about Judas Maccabeus. This was only about Judas Maccabeus, not about all his father and brothers as in 1 Maccabees. He maintained that he was presenting a condensed story of a larger work. He considered that the role of a historian was to tell a story. In the epilogue he even used the first person “I” which was rare, while here he used the plural first person, “we.”
This author talked about the good old days before Simon went to Apollonius of Tarsus. Thus Heliodorus came to Jerusalem to inspect the situation and usage of the Temple funds. This distressed the priests in Jerusalem and the women of Jerusalem. However, the divine punishment of Heliodorus left him nearly dead. There was a prayer of thanksgiving, as the high priest Onias prayed for the life of Heliodorus, who then had a conversion.
There was more intrigue between Simon and the high priest Onias as Jason, the high priest took over. He sent representatives to the king at the Olympics in Tyre. King Antiochus IV was welcomed at Jerusalem as Menelaus became the high priest. The murder of the high priest Onias also led to the death of Andronicus. Lysimachus was convicted and killed, while Menelaus was acquitted of this murder.
There was some kind of apparition over Jerusalem. Then the deposed high priest Jason led an unsuccessful uprising. At that point, King Antiochus IV despoiled the Temple. King Antiochus IV thought that he was on top of the world as he set up governors to rule the various provinces. There was a second attack on Jerusalem, but Judas Maccabeus escaped.
This time King Antiochus IV introduced the Greek god Zeus into Jerusalem as the gentiles were in charge of the Jewish Temple. They installed the various pagan cults. They punished those who were circumcising and the keeping the Sabbath. God seemed to allow this persecution because of the sins of the people of Jerusalem.
However, there were a few people who refused to eat the unclean swine food. The old man Eleazar was urged to eat this unclean meat or at least pretend to do so. He replied that he could not even give a hint that he was worshiping false gods. He then gave an inspirational speech that also turned out to be his last words before he was killed.
The more interesting story is the mother with her seven sons who refused to eat unclean meat and worship Zeus or the other gods. All of them were arrested. First the king mutilated and killed the spokesman for theses seven sons. Then one after another, they mutilated and killed each one of the sons, but not before each one was able to give a last minute testimony to their faith in the God of Israel. Finally the mother of the seven was also killed after encouraging her sons to stand up to the wicked men of the king.
In particular, the long descriptions of the martyrdoms of Eleazar and of a mother with her seven sons caught the imagination of medieval Christians. Several churches were dedicated to these Maccabeean martyrs. They were among the few pre-Christian figures to appear in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints’ days. This section of the book of 1 Maccabees was considered a model for the medieval stories about martyrs and saints.
Then Judas Maccabeus with his men took center stage. They prayed to God as they created an army to fight against the Jewish persecution. King Antiochus IV had decided to wipe out the Jews. However, Judas Maccabeus heard about the invasion and rallied his troops. He told them to remember their ancestors and how God had helped them. Then he divided his army into four with each one of his brothers in charge of a quarter of the troops.
This army of Judas Maccabeus was extremely successful against the armies of Nicanor, Timothy, and Bacchides. Nicanor fled to Antioch like a runaway slave. When King Antiochus IV heard about this news, he was very angry. He wanted to wipe out the Jews. However, he was struck with a cruel painful illness. Then he accepted God and reversed his position about the Jews. King Antiochus IV sent a letter to the Jews where he appointed his son King Antiochus V as his successor before he died. Judas Maccabeus, in the meantime, set about to purify the Temple. When he had completed the job two years after its desecration, there was a big celebration in Jerusalem.
King Antiochus V, known as the Eupator was only nine years old when he took over as king. Meanwhile a man named Ptolemy who had been kind to the Jews took poison to kill himself after he was accused of being a traitor. After this disgrace, Gorgias succeeded Ptolemy. Judas Maccabeus had a war with the southern Idumeans also. However, some of the forces of his brother Simon took bribes to let several of the enemy people get away. Judas Maccabeus then prayed for success against Timothy since he had always relied on the Lord. Heavenly horsemen came to help him bring about the death of Timothy.
Then he began the campaign against Lysias, who was the guardian of the young King Antiochus V in charge of the government. Once again there was a divine intervention at Beth-zur. Finally there was a peace treaty with Lysias, who sent a letter to the Jews. King Antiochus V then sent letters to Lysias and to the Jewish senate. Finally there was a letter of the Romans to the Jews confirming this peace treaty.
The Jews had other problems. The people at Joppa drowned some Jews so that Judas Maccabeus attacked both Joppa and Jamnia along the seacoast. Then he had a run in with some nomads which led to the attack of Judas Maccabeus on Caspin. There was a battle at Carnaim with the guileful Timothy, who got away. Judas Maccabeus then took the temple at Carnaim and had a battle at Ephron. However, there was a happy visit to Scythopolis, where the Jews were treated well.
The campaign against Gorgias led to his defeat. Judas Maccabeus and his troops kept the Sabbath at Adullam. After a battle, they found out that all the dead Jewish soldiers were idolaters wearing token idols. However, Judas and his troops made a sacrifice for the dead in the hope of their resurrection.
King Antiochus V and Lysias with their army again came after Judas Maccabeus. However, they realized that part of the cause of the problem was the high priest Menelaus, so that he was killed. Judas Maccabeus asked for prayers before God’s victory at Modein. Once again, King Antiochus V attacked the Jews. However, they came to a stand-off so that they had a strange peace treaty with Lysias who defended this peace treaty in Ptolemais.
Then King Demetrius I showed up as the king since he was the uncle of King Antiochus V. He eliminated his nephew. The high priest Alcimus gave a speech before King Demetrius I. The king then made Nicanor the governor of Judea. There was a battle with Nicanor and Judas Maccabeus that came to a standstill. Nicanor sent friendly emissaries so that they ended up with a peace treaty again. After the consultation of Judas Maccabeus and Nicanor, they became friends. Then Alcimus claimed that Nicanor was disloyal to the king that led to the split between Nicanor and Judas Maccabeus.
The priests in Jerusalem prayed that the temple would be safe. Then there was the strange tragic suicide death of Razis. Nicanor planned to attack Judas Maccabeus who also prepared to attack also. Judas had a dream about Onias the high priest and Jeremiah the prophet. The people and Judas Maccabeus made final preparations for the battle. The prayer of Judas Maccabeus asked for God to send an angel of God to protect him. They were successful as Nicanor died. They cut off his head, his arm, and his tongue at a big celebration in Jerusalem. This victory celebration was to be commemorated yearly near the time of Purim. So the story ended at this point.
Epilogue (2 Macc 15:38-15:39)
“If it is well told and to the point, that is what I myself desired. If it is poorly done and mediocre, that was the best I could do. Just as it is harmful to drink wine alone or to drink water alone, but wine mixed with water is sweet and delicious. It enhances one’s enjoyment. So also I hope the style of this story delights the ears of those who read the work. Here will be the end.”
This biblical author is somewhat apologetic for not writing a better book. This was rare and even rarer today. If you like it fine, but otherwise it was the best that I could do, a rare hint of humility. It was the custom to read aloud even when reading alone because so few people had books anyway. Thus the hearing of the story is so important. The illusion to wine and water may be an attempt to speak about the Greek language of his work. Despite the opposition to Hellenization, the book was written not in Hebrew, but in Greek. Nevertheless, a little Hebrew water would add to the taste and enjoyment of all.
The end of the story (2 Macc 15:37-15:37)
“This, then, is how matters turned out with Nicanor. From that time on the city has been in the possession of the Hebrews. So I too will here end my story.”
This is a very personal remark by the biblical author. This is the end of the story of Nicanor, therefore the end of this story. This was the turning point. As far as this author knows, this was the day of independence, the defeat of Nicanor in 161 BCE. Jerusalem was then a Hebrew city from that time forward, at least until the writing of this author. This then seems like a story of Jewish or Jerusalem independence. What happened after this was not a concern of this author.
The celebration of this event (2 Macc 15:36-15:36)
“They all decreed by public vote never to let this day go unobserved, but to celebrate the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is called Adar in the Syrian language, the day before Mordecai’s day.”
Here like in 1 Maccabees, chapter 7, they will keep this day as a memorial, the day before Mordecai’s Day, the 13th of Adar, as the celebration of this event. However, here it is a public vote. So that Purim is then connected to this event with a clear reference to the Book of Esther, chapter 9, with the mention of Mordecai.
The victory celebration (2 Macc 15:29-15:35)
“Then there was shouting and tumult. They blessed the Sovereign Lord in the language of their ancestors. Then the man, who was in body and soul the defender of his people, the man who maintained his youthful goodwill toward his compatriots, ordered them to cut off Nicanor’s head and his arm. They were to carry them to Jerusalem. When he arrived there, he called his compatriots together. He stationed the priests before the altar. He sent for those who were in the citadel. He showed them the vile Nicanor’s head and that profane man’s arm. This was the arm that had been boastfully stretched out against the holy house of the all powerful one. He cut out the tongue of the ungodly Nicanor. He said that he would give it piecemeal to the birds. He would hang up these rewards of his folly opposite the sanctuary. They all, looking to heaven, blessed the Lord who had manifested himself, saying.
‘Blessed is he who has kept his own place undefiled.’
Judas Maccabeus hung Nicanor’s head from the citadel, a clear and conspicuous sign to every one of the help of the Lord.”
Once again, this is similar to 1 Maccabees, chapter 7. In both 1 and 2 Maccabees, they cut off the head and the arm of Nicanor. Here they also cut out his tongue in the presence of the men from the citadel. As in 1 Maccabees, they hung the head of Nicanor, but here it is more specific from the hated citadel. Here there is more praise for Judas Maccabeus as the defender with good will towards his people. Here they pray in the language of their ancestors that may have been Hebrew, instead of the common language of Aramaic. As usual they were happy that the Temple had remained undefiled.
The death of Nicanor (2 Macc 15:25-15:28)
“Nicanor and his troops advanced with trumpets and battle songs. Judas Maccabeus and his troops met the enemy in battle with invocations to God and prayers. So, fighting with their hands and praying to God in their hearts, they laid low no less than thirty-five thousand men. They were greatly gladdened by God’s manifestation. When the action was over, they were returning with joy. They recognized Nicanor, lying dead, in full armor.”
Nicanor and his army advanced with trumpets and battle songs. On the other hand, Judas Maccabeus and his troops went to fight with prayers in their hearts to God. Thus they fought and prayed at the same time. This seemed to have worked quite well. They killed 35,000 troops of Nicanor. They were glad because God had manifested his gladness with their actions. After the action was all over, they too were happy. Then they recognized Nicanor in full armor dead. There is something similar to this in 1 Maccabees, chapter 7, where Nicanor was defeated.