The extermination of the first-born Egyptians (Wis 18:5-18:9)

“When they had resolved

To kill the infants of your holy ones,

One child had been abandoned.

He was rescued.

You in punishment

Took away a multitude of their children.

You destroyed them all together

By a mighty flood.

That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors.

Thus they might rejoice in sure knowledge

Of the oaths in which they trusted.

The deliverance of the righteous

Was expected by your people.

The destruction of their enemies

Was expected by your people.

By the same means

By which you punished our enemies

You called us to yourself.

You glorified us.

In secret,

The holy children of good people offered sacrifices.

With one accord,

They agreed to the divine law.

Thus the saints would share alike the same things,

Both blessings and dangers.

Already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.”

Here we have an attempt to explain the passover killing of the first born in Egypt. This story seems to imply that the Egyptians had killed Israelite children first. However, in the story in Exodus, chapters 11 and 12, there is no indication of this. This was simply the 10th plague after all the other plagues had failed to change the mind of the Egyptian Pharaoh. Apparently this is a reference to the persecution and story of the birth of Moses in Exodus, chapters 1-2, but it is unrelated to the Passover events. It is true that in this story of the Passover, the Israelites were warned ahead of time about the angel of death. Obviously, God’s righteous people were saved (λαοῦ σου σωτηρία μὲν δικαίων). The enemies were destroyed. They had a sacred meal that has become the Passover because the holy ones (τοὺς ἁγίους) were willing to follow the divine law (τῆς θειότητος νόμον). This became the central part of the Israelite religion as they shared both the blessings and dangers of being an Israelite.

Thanksgiving for the punishment to King Antiochus IV (2 Macc 1:11-1:17)

‘Having been saved by God,

Out of grave dangers.

We thank him greatly

For taking our side against the king.

God drove out those who fought against the holy city.

When the leader reached Persia

With a force that seemed irresistible,

They were cut to pieces in the temple of Nanea

By a deception employed by the priests of Nanea.

On the pretext of intending to marry her,

Antiochus came to the place together with his friends,

To secure most of its treasures as a dowry.

When the priests of the temple of Nanea

Had set out the treasures,

Antiochus had come with a few men

Inside the wall of the sacred precinct,

They closed the temple as soon as he entered it.

Opening the secret door in the ceiling,

They threw stones.

They struck down the leader and his men,

They dismembered them.

They cut off their heads.

They threw them to the people outside.

Blessed in every way be our God,

Who has brought judgment

Upon those who have behaved impiously.”

They were thankful that God had taken King Antiochus IV in 164 BCE. He had brought great dangers to Jerusalem by his attack as in 1 Maccabees, chapter 1. He died about the same time of the writing of this letter, according to 1 Maccabees, chapter 5. However, there was no indication there on how he died, but this story in 2 Maccabees is very explicit. Here the king died at the hands of the Nanea priests, since Nanea was some kind of Syrian goddess. Perhaps King Antiochus IV was trying to take money from the temple. This story shows how the king suffered a brutal death with stones dropped on him and his men. Then they dismembered him, cutting off his head, and throwing him outside the temple.   All this they did because he had acted impiously. However, in 1 Maccabees, chapter 6, King Antiochus IV had repentance for what he had done. However, there is no mention of that here. Remember that this same King Antiochus IV had invaded Egypt also. He had received his just reward.