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Synopsis

Martin Luther said, "Apocrypha--that is, books which are not regarded as equal to the holy Scriptures, and yet are profitable and good to read." 

The name Maccabee in Hebrew, means "hammer". This is properly applied to the first leader of the revolt, Judas, third son of Mattathias, whose attacks were "hammer-like". The name came to be used for his brothers as well, which accounts for the title of the book. 

The text comes to us in three codices of the Septuagint: the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Venetus, as well as some cursives. The two Books of Maccabees contain independent accounts of events (in part identical) that 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. 

I 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 deliverance of Israel that God worked through the family of Mattathias (5:62)—especially through his three sons, Judas, Jonathan, and Simon, and his grandson, John Hyrcanus. The writer compares their virtues and their exploits with those of Israel’s ancient heroes, the Judges, Samuel, and David. 

There are seven poetic sections in the book that imitate the style of classical Hebrew poetry: four laments (1:25–28, 36–40; 2:7–13; 3:45), and three hymns of praise of “our fathers” (2:51–64), of Judas (3:3–9), and of Simon (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 covenant-partner, and they alone are privileged to know and worship God, their eternal benefactor and unfailing source of help. The people, in turn, must worship the Lord alone and observe exactly the precepts of the law given to them. The rededication of the Jerusalem Temple described in 4:36–59 (see 2 Mc 10:1–8) is the origin of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. 

Unlike the Second Book of Maccabees, 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” (1 Mc 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 and 2 Maccabees are presented here in stunning E-book format specially designed for digital reading. Included are the King James and Douay Rheims versions, a gallery of art inspired by the book over the ages and links to free complete audio recordings of different versions of ‘Maccabees.’ 

The King James Version 
Douay-Rheims Version 
Image gallery 
Links to free complete audio recordings of both Maccabees.  

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