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Maccabees Books of

Mac’cabees, Books of. Four books which bear the common title of “Maccabees” are found in some MSS of the LXX. Two of these were included in the early current Latin versions of the Bible, and thence passed into the Vulgate. As forming part of the Vulgate they were received as canonical by the Council of Trent, and retained among the Apocrypha by the reformed churches. The two other books obtained no such wide circulation, and have only a secondary connection with the Maccabæan history.

1. The First Book of Maccabees contains a history of the patriotic struggle of the Jews in resisting the oppressions of the Syrian kings, from the first resistance of Mattathias to the settled sovereignty and death of Simon, a period of thirty-three years—b.c. 168–135. The great subject of the book begins with the enumeration of the Maccabæan family, ch. 2:1-5, which is followed by an account of the part which the aged Mattathias took in rousing and guiding the spirit of his countrymen. ch. 2:6-70. The remainder of the narrative is occupied with the exploits of Mattathias’ five sons. The great marks of trustworthiness are everywhere conspicuous. Victory and failure and despondency are, on the whole, chronicled with the same candor. There is no attempt to bring into open display the working of Providence. The testimony of antiquity leaves no doubt that the book was first written in Hebrew. Its whole structure points to palestine as the place of its composition. There is, however, considerable doubt as to its date. Perhaps we may place it between b.c. 120–100. The date and person of the Greek translator are wholly undetermined.

2. The Second Book of Maccabees.—The history of the second book of Maccabees begins some years earlier than that of the first book, and closes with the victory of Judas Maccabæus over Nicanor. It thus embraces a period of twenty years, from b.c. 180 to b.c. 161. The writer himself distinctly indicates the source of his narrative—“the five books of Jason of Cyrene,” ch. 2:23, of which he designed to furnish a short and agreeable epitome for the benefit of those who would be deterred from studying the larger work. Of Jason himself nothing more is known than may be gleaned from this mention of him. The second book of Maccabees is not nearly so trustworthy as the first. In the second book the groundwork of facts is true, but the dress in which the facts are presented is due in part at least to the narrator. The latter half of the book, chs. 8-15, is to be regarded as a series of special incidents from the life of Judas, illustrating the providential interference of God in behalf of his people, true in substance, but embellished in form.

3. The Third Book of Maccabees contains the history of events which preceded the great Maccabæan struggle, beginning with b.c. 217.

4. The Fourth Book of Maccabees contains a rhetorical narrative of the martyrdom of Eleazar and of the “Maccabæan family,” following in the main the same outline as 2 Macc.