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Books of the Maccabees

The Books of the Maccabees are books concerned with the Maccabees, the leaders of the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid dynasty, or related subjects.

The term mostly refers to two deuterocanonical books contained in various canons of the Bible:

  • 1 Maccabees, originally written in Hebrew and surviving in a Greek translation, relates the history of the Maccabees from 175 BCE until 134 BCE.
  • 2 Maccabees, a Greek abridgment of an earlier history in Hebrew, relating the history of the Maccabees down to 161 BCE, focusing on Judas Maccabaeus, talks about praying for the dead, offerings.

The term also commonly refers to two further works:

The term may also refer to:

  • 5 Maccabees, an Arab language history from 186 BCE to 6 BCE. The same title is also used for a Syriac version of 6th book of Josephus' Jewish War.[1][2]
  • 6 Maccabees, a Syriac poem which possibly shared a lost source with 4 Maccabees.[2]
  • 7 Maccabees, a Syriac work focusing on the speeches of the Maccabean Martyrs and their mother.[2]
  • 8 Maccabees, a brief account of the revolt drawing on Seleucid sources, preserved in the Chronicle of John Malalas (pp. 206–207 in Dindorf).[2][3]
  • Meqabyan, a similar account from Ethiopian sources. They offer a narrative of other Jewish rebels who fight against Antiochius' rule, but make no mention of the famous brothers from Modein. The origin of these accounts are unknown.

Differences between First and Second books of Maccabees

The books of the First and Second Maccabees express vastly different accounts. The author of each book has considerably different beliefs, thus each book’s narrative is shaped and told in a dissimilar manner.  First, there are differences on the inclusion and beliefs of martyrdom from both authors. In First Maccabees, the author does not mention the value of martyrdom; he is completely silent on the subject.  He insinuates that martyrdom was useless. In the First Maccabees, Pious Jews’ martyrdom does not stimulate God to take action in the Maccabean revolt. Pious Jews, in the author’s eyes, had to obey the Hasmoneans, whom he believed were favored by God.  Religious devotion was not sufficient enough to bring emancipation to the Jews. In contrast, Jason of Cyrene, the author of the Second book of Maccabees, believed that martyrs were heroes and had power. In his narrative, Jason depicts Onias III and other martyrs alongside Judas Maccabaeus as champions; divine favor as a result martyrdom was pivotal to Judas' victories, according to the author.  He bitterly denies the notion that Pietist martyrs were less favored to the Hasmoneans by God. Furthermore, the tone of each record is in contrast. The author of First Maccabees presents an objective and sober account, taking influence from the authors of the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, Second Maccabees is particularly subjective and emotional. For instance, Jason of Cyrene has an emotional outburst in his narrative, where he powerfully supports the belief in resurrection, which is denied in First Maccabees. He continues, providing proof how Judas held the same belief, too. In regards to composition, these two books are unalike. First Maccabees begins with the rise and legitimacy of the Hasmonean dynasty, originating with a narrative of the Jewish priest Mattathias, a forefather to the Maccabean revolt. On the other hand, Second Maccabees begins with two letters, Epistle I and Epistle II. These letters are insubstantial aspects in relation to the narrative.[4]


  1. ^ a b c 'Maccabees, Books of, 3-5.' International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (via Last accessed: 7 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b c d James R. Davila, 'The More Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Project.' U of St. Andrews. Last accessed: 7 May 2013.
  3. ^ John Malalas. Chronographia. Edited by Ludwig A. Dindorf. Vol. 15 of Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae. Bonn: Weber, 1831.
  4. ^ Goldstein, Jonathan A. (1976). “Introduction,” in I Maccabees. Garden city, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. pp. 12, 18–19, 24–26, 33, 79.