1 Maccabees

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The First Book of Maccabees is found in the books of the Septuagint, the Old Testament accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox Bible, and found in the books of the Old Testament of the Vulgate and included in the canon of inspired scripture by the Third Council of Carthage (397). It is included in the canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible. Since the Council of Trent it is dogmatically accepted as inspired and canonical by the Catholic Church in the Catholic Bible—books of the Bible accepted as divinely inspired by the majority of Christian believers in the United States and throughout the world.[1][2]

1 Maccabees was first removed from the Old Testament and placed in the Apocrypha by Martin Luther in the 16th century. The First Book of Maccabees is regarded as an apocryphal book of the Old Testament by less than one-third of Christian believers.[2]

See Apocrypha.

Canonical status

The First and Second Books of Maccabees are regarded by Jews and Protestants as apocryphal, that is, not inspired Scripture, because they were not contained in the Jewish list of books drawn up at the end of A.D. the first century. They have always been accepted as an integral part of the traditional Septuagint since the beginning of the 1st century, used as scripture accepted by Greek-speaking Jews before the birth of Christ, and during his ministry and after his ascension, and accepted as inspired books of the Old Testament since the middle of the 1st century by the ancient church of the apostles and the Catholic and Orthodox Church in the east and west. They are called "deuterocanonical" to indicate that they are canonical even though they have been disputed by some.[3]

The four books of I, II, III, and IV Maccabees are included in the Biblical canon of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.


The name, Maccabee (Hebrew: מכבי), is probably derived from the Hebrew word makkabah, "hammer", and this has become the traditional interpretation of its meaning. It is actually applied in the Books of Maccabees to only one man, Judas Maccabeus ("Mac-cab-be-es", "Maccabe-es") third son of the priest Mattathias and first leader of the revolt, the "Hammer" of the resistance, against the Seleucid kings who persecuted the Jews (1 Maccabees 2:4, 66; 2 Maccabees 8:5, 16; 10:1, 16). Traditionally the name, "the Maccabees", has come to be extended to the 4 brothers of Judas and his supporters, and even to other Jewish heroes of the period, such as the seven martyred brothers (2 Maccabees chapter 7).

In the Septuagint the title of the book is ΜΑΚΚΑΒΑΙΩΝ Α.
In the Vulgate under the heading Machabaeorum the title of the book is Machabaeorum I.
In the Douay-Rheims Bible the title of the book is I Machabees.
In the Apocrypha the title of the book is I Maccabees. The most common English spelling today is 1 Maccabees, or First Maccabees.

The title is commonly abbreviated in commentaries and footnotes as 1 Macc. or 1 Mc..


The two Books of the Maccabees contain independent (in part identical) accounts of events that occurred during 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, under the priestly dynastic rule of the Hasmoneans, which lasted from 146 B.C. until 63 B.C..

First Maccabees is one of the Historical books of the Bible, similar in tone to the books of Kings and Chronicles and Joshua and Judges. It covers the history of the Jews beginning from the (briefly mentioned) time of the rise of Alexander the Great during the high priesthood of Jaddua about 333 B.C. (Nehemiah 12:10-11, 22), and continues through the details of the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and the war of resistance of the Maccabees, to the beginning of the high priesthood of John Hyrcanus I of the Hasmonean Dynasty and the establishment of the independent kingdom of Judea about 124 B.C.. The book is written as a testimony and witness demonstrating to its hearers the miraculous providence of God in preserving the nation in the face of violent religious oppression, and the overcoming of pagan forces seeking the annihilation of the Jews and the systematic destruction of the books (scrolls) of the sacred scriptures containing the written Word of God.

The work was written about 100 B.C., in Hebrew. The original has not come down to us, but instead, we have an early, pre-Christian, Greek translation full of Hebrew idioms. The author himself is unknown. He was probably a Palestinian Jew, 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.), and he may well have played some part in it as a young man. The writer's purpose is clearly to record the deliverance of Israel that God worked through the family of Mattathias the priest (5:62)—especially through Judas called Maccabeus, Jonathan called Apphus, and Simon called Thassi, three of his five sons (the other two are John surnamed Gaddi and Eleazar called Avaran), and through his grandson, John Hyrcanus son of Simon. The author compares their virtues and their exploits with those of Israel’s ancient heroes, Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, and David.

Chapter 4:36-59 relates the triumphant recovery and dedication of the Temple after the defilement of the pagans and those apostate Jews who had gone over to Hellenism. The Feast of the Dedication is mentioned in the Gospel According to John, chapter 10:22-23. Today this celebration is called Ḥanukkah.

Divisions of the book

First Maccabees can be divided as follows:

Crisis and Response (1:1–2:70)
Leadership of Judas Maccabeus (3:1–9:22)
Leadership of Jonathan (9:23–12:53)
Leadership of Simon (13:1–16:17)
Succession of John Hyrcanus (16:18-24)

Chapter summary headings

The chapter summary headings as found in the Douay-Rheims Bible are as follows:

The First Book of the Machabees.

1 The reign of Alexander and his successors: Antiochus rifles and profanes the temple of God: and persecutes unto death all that will not forsake the law of God, and the religion of their fathers.
2 The zeal and success of Mathathias. His exhortation to his sons at his death.
3 Judas Machabeus succeeds his father, and overthrows Apollonius and Seron. A great army is sent against him out of Syria. He prepares his people for battle by fasting and prayer.
4 Judas routs the king's army. Gorgias flies before him. Lysias comes against him with a great army, but is defeated. Judas cleanses the temple, sets up a new altar, and fortifies the sanctuary.
5 Judas and his brethren attack the enemies of their country, and deliver them that were distressed. Josephus and Azarias, attempting contrary to order to fight against their enemies, are defeated.
6 The fruitless repentance and death of Antiochus. His son comes against Judas with a formidable army. He besieges Sion: but at last makes peace with the Jews.
7 Demetrius is made king, and sends Bacchides and Alcimus the priest into Judea, and after them Nicanor, who is slain by Judas with all his army.
8 Judas hears of the great character of the Romans: he makes a league with them.
9 Bacchides is sent again into Judea: Judas fights against him with eight hundred men and is slain. Jonathan succeeds him and revenges the murder of his brother John. He fights against Bacchides. Alcimus dies miserably. Bacchides besieges Bethbessen. He is forced to raise the siege and leave the country.
10 Alexander Bales sets himself up for king: both he and Demetrius seek to make Jonathan their friend. Alexander kills Demetrius in battle, and honours Jonathan. His victory over Apollonius.
11 Ptolemee invades the kingdom of Alexander: the latter is slain: and the former dies soon after. Demetrius honours Jonathan, and is rescued by the Jews from his own subjects in Antioch. Antiochus the younger favors Jonathan. His exploits in divers places.
12 Jonathan renews his league with the Romans and Lacedemonians. The forces of Demetrius flee away from him. He is deceived and made prisoner by Tryphon.
13 Simon is made captain general in the room of his brother: Jonathan is slain by Tryphon. Simon is favoured by Demetrius: he taketh Gaza, and the castle of Jerusalem.
14 Demetrius is taken by the king of Persia. Judas flourishes under the government of Simon.
15 Antiochus son of Demetrius honours Simon. The Romans write to divers nations in favour of the Jews. Antiochus quarrels with Simon, and sends troops to annoy him.
16 The sons of Simon defeat the troops of Antiochus. Simon with two of his sons are treacherously murdered by Ptolemee his son in law.

See Literalist Bible chronology

Historical-grammatical analysis: Historical setting

The First Book of Maccabees, beginning with the accession of King Antiochus IV to the Seleucid throne in 175 B.C., covers a period of just over forty years in Jewish history. The book is a "dynastic history" concentrated on the exploits of one priestly family—the priest Mattathias; his sons Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan, Simon, John, and Eleazar; and Simon's son John Hyrcanus. The sons of Mattathias, known collectively as the Maccabees, rescued the Jerusalem temple from pagan hands and eventually gained political independence for the Jews. They are the founders of the Hasmonean dynasty, which provided political and spiritual leadership for Israel for about a century. The rededication of the Jerusalem Temple described in 4:36–59 (see 2 Maccabees 10:1–8) is the origin of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah.

The book's ending seems to indicate that it was completed sometime after the end of John Hyrcanus's reign in 104 B.C. On the other hand, since it speaks of the Romans in favorable—even idealistic—terms (see I Macc. 8:1-16), it was certainly written before 63 B.C., when a Roman takeover of Jerusalem under Pompey ended Hasmonean rule.

The book is our most important historical source for the period of Jewish history it describes. Josephus considered it to be reliable; he paraphrased 1 Maccabees 1:11-13:42 in books twelve and thirteen of his Antiquities of the Jews. 1 Maccabees, with its extensive use of official documents and precise dates, purports to be an accurate account of the Maccabean revolt, and at the same time, the book has an unmistakable point of view. Written in the style of 1 and 2 Kings (see 1 Maccabees 9:22; 16:23-24), it portrays the Maccabees as God's chosen instruments (5:62) and worthy successors of earlier kings and priests of Israel. The book makes several connections between these earlier heroes and the Maccabees. In them is combined for the first time in Jewish history the offices of high priest and king of the people. Compare Pope.

Historical, religious, cultural background: the Challenge of Hellenism

First Maccabees begins with the rise to power of Alexander the Great. He had conquered the empire of the Medes and Persians (including the land of Israel) and set up his own Graeco-Macedonian empire in its place (1:1-4; see Dan. 8:5-7, 20-21). Just before he died in 323 B.C., he divided his vast territories among four of his "most honored officers" (1:6; Daniel 8:8, 22). One of those officers, Ptolemy, controlled Palestine, and he and his successors in Egypt ruled over the Jews until 198 B.C., when Israel came under the authority of the Syrian Seleucids, whose empire was headquartered at Antioch.

The importance of the Greek polis

Although Alexander's rule was short-lived (twelve years, according to I Macc. 1:7), the policies that he set in motion had a profound effect on the world for centuries to come. A pupil of Aristotle and lover of Greek ways, Alexander hoped to use Greek language, learning, and culture to unite the empire. To this end, he founded Greek cities (poleis) throughout his territories. Dr. Oskar Skarsaune (In the Shadow of the Temple, page 31 [4]) gives the following description of a typical polis:

"A polis contained some obligatory institutions: a public town center and marketplace (the square agora); a hall for the city council (the bouleuterion); baths; temples to the Greek (later Roman) gods; a theater; a gymnasium (a combined higher school and sports training ground); preferably a library and a sports stadium; and if a big city, also a hippodrome." By means of the poleis, Greek culture was introduced to surrounding areas and mingled with the native cultures of those regions, creating a cultural synthesis called Hellenism. Correspondingly, the spread of Greek language and customs was known as "Hellenization" (see 2 Macc. 4:13).


In their interactions with Greek culture, the various native cultures did not enjoy a "level playing field." Although the Greeks had some admiration for the more ancient cultures of their empire (In the Shadow of the Temple, pages 29–30 [4]), they were still the ones in charge. Skarsaune comments,
"Greek culture was the culture of the conquerors, the rulers, the armies and the new business elite. Greek was the language of government and administration, business and commerce. And Greek literature was taken as the supreme model for all kinds of literary production. In other words, Greek culture was the culture of the new era, and anyone who would belong to the new elite had to adopt it" (In the Shadow of the Temple, p. 28 [4]).

Thus the dominant Greek culture created great pressure to Hellenize through its attractions. A number of ancient cultures essentially disappeared from history as a result, swallowed up by Hellenism.

Hellenism offered both opportunities and temptations for the Jews. Ultimately, Jewish thought was greatly enriched by certain Greek concepts. A prime example is the Greek idea that "the hidden law governing the entire universe is divine reason, logos, and the moral task of humanity is to live a life of conformity to this divine reason, which is the law of ethics as well as the law of nature" (In the Shadow of the Temple, p. 35 [4]). Beginning with the author of Sirach in the early second century B.C. (c. 150), Jewish thinkers identified the underlying universal law as God's Torah (see especially Sirach 24). Thus, a Hellenistic concept, logos, led to the exaltation of the God of Israel and the promotion of his inspired word, finding its purest expression in the words of the beginning of the Gospel of John:

"In the Beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God" John 1:1.

However, Hellenism also created temptations for Jews to compromise aspects of the Torah—the Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws—which set them apart as a unique and distinct people, as being identifiably those who worship and serve the only real God. Some Jews and Greeks reasoned that, by remaining separate from the Gentiles, the Jewish people and the nation were missing out on the wealth and prestige also afforded by Hellenism.

By the time the greedy and power-hungry Seleucid, Antiochus IV, took over the Seleucid throne in 175 B.C. (1 Maccabees 1:10), there seems to have arisen a considerable controversy in Judea over the issue of Hellenism (1:11-15). One of those who favored Hellenization was Yeshua (called Jason), the brother of Onias (III) the high priest. Jason handsomely bribed the new king in order to seize control of the high priesthood from Onias.

The Second Book of Maccabees tells us that Jason despised the authority of Torah by taking steps to transform Jerusalem into a Greek polis (2 Maccabees 4:9-17). First Maccabees 1:11-15 does not explicitly mention Jason's name, but it is evident that he was chief among the "renegades" referred to in those verses. Jason probably rationalized his corrupt actions by claiming that his Hellenization program was in the best interests of the people. Instead, his takeover of the high priesthood set in motion a sequence of events that led to one of the greatest spiritual and cultural crises in the history of Israel.
"All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath." 1 Maccabees 1:43.

The Abomination of Desolation

Ironically, when Jason sent his subordinate Menelaus to Antiochus on official business in 172 B.C., Menelaus double-crossed him in much the same way that Jason had ousted Onias, and managed to grab the high priesthood for himself by outbidding and offering a bribe to the greedy king much richer than Jason's (2 Maccabees 4:23-24).

Menelaus was another Hellenizer, and he seems to have been mainly concerned with staying in office and lining his own pockets. He quietly arranged for Onias to be murdered (Daniel 11:21-22), causing a cry of outrage from both pagans and Jews, and created additional scandal by plundering gold vessels from the temple, giving some of them to the assassin Andronicus, and selling the others to surrounding cities (2 Macc. 4:25-34). When the Jews appealed to Antiochus against Andronicus, he stripped him, had him marched round the city naked, and executed him.

In 169 B.C., Jason, hearing a false rumor that Antiochus had been killed in battle in Egypt, tried unsuccessfully to oust Menelaus and regain control of Jerusalem (2 Macc. 5:5-10), even burning the gates of the city (2 Maccabees 1:7-8). Antiochus then hurried to Jerusalem with his forces to put down the uprising. At Menelaus's invitation, the king raided the temple before returning to Antioch (1 Macc. 1:20-28; 2 Macc. 5:11-16).

Two years later, Antiochus sent his general Apollonius ("Apollyon", Revelation 9:11) to Jerusalem with a large force to increase Seleucid control over Judea. Apollonius killed multitudes of Menelaus's opponents in hiding, in a cruel attack on the Sabbath day, knowing they would refuse to fight because of their devotion to the commandment in the Torah (1 Maccabees 1:29-32; 2 Maccabees 5:24-26). He then built up Akra, "the city of David", a fortress citadel located near the temple, where he stationed a garrison of Syrians and Hellenized Jews (1 Maccabees 1:33-40).

This was only the beginning. Antiochus proceeded to outlaw temple sacrifices, circumcision, Sabbath and festival observance, and reading of the scriptures (I Macc. 1:41-61; 2 Macc.6:1-11). He established idolatrous pagan worship in the temple itself (2 Macc. 6:1-5). The king's men "erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering." This phrase identifies Antiochus's blasphemous sacrifices as the "abomination of desolation" prophesied in Daniel 11:31. 1 Maccabees 1:54. He sacrificed a pig on the altar and ordered swine's broth poured over the altar and sprinkled over all the walls and the interior of the temple and throughout the whole outer court.[5]

Historians do not know exactly why Antiochus IV persecuted the Jews so harshly. Certainly his judgment was impaired by greed and an arrogance reflected in the name he gave himself—"Epiphanes", "the manifest [one]."—he claimed to be a god manifest in human form. The Jews changed this title to a more fitting designation so that he came to be known as Epimanes ("the madman").

Historical-critical textual analysis

James King West (Introduction to the Old Testament, page 467) [6] sees the story as told in the idiom of the Former Prophets and Chronicles (see 9:22 and 16:23 with 1 Kings 11 beginning verse 41) and as concerned principally with the war itself and the providential victories of the Jews. Because the form is so similar, R. H. Pfeiffer conjectures that the author may have planned his book as a sequel to Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah.[7] There is no doubt that Judas is his hero, and that the book was written to show him as God's instrument to again bring deliverance to Israel. The author provides appropriate speeches and prayers to help interpret the story, to accent its important turns, to characterize the heroes. He presents copies of official documents affecting the course of his history. Their authenticity is a matter of dispute among scholars. West acknowledges that, although in the Second Book of Maccabees we have an alternate source for a considerable part of this history, 1 Maccabees is so basic to our knowledge of this period as to be indispensable, and even Josephus took it over as his main source for the period in his Antiquities of the Jews (XII, 5 to XIII, 7).

J. Alberto Soggin (Introduction to the Old Testament, page 466 [8]) wrote that the author of 1 Maccabees is never mentioned, and whoever he was, he must have composed his text in the last years of John Hyrcanus I, certainly before Pompey's occupation of Jerusalem, sometime at the end of the second to the beginning of the first century B.C.. Soggin says he was apparently a Palestinian Jew who knew Hebrew and Aramaic well; it is unknown whether he knew Greek. The book shows him to be an ardent patriot, identifying religion with nation. He notes that the last chapters of the Hebrew-Aramaic version of the protocanonical book of Daniel are modest compared to the outstanding celebration of the action of the Maccabees. Soggin observes that the author seems to have had no close contact with the sect of the Pharisees, since he never speaks of resurrection or of the messianic hope, and speculates that he wanted to write a kind of unofficial history of his time glorifying the Maccabees. Yet he does not conceal some of Simon's misdeeds, the founder of the Hasmonean dynasty: only 14.4-48 and 15:15-24 give him unqualified praise. Soggin sees the author admiring those who have made a substantial contribution towards liberating his country from Syrian oppression, but also as trying to show that they were subordinate to an historically obscure institution he mentions on a number of occasions, which he calls 'the Great Synagogue' (3.44; 14:26-28): in the last analysis it is this which decides national policy and confirms Simon in his position.

David A. deSilva (Introducing the Apocrypha, p. 248) [9] says that the book must have been written some time after the accession of John Hyrcanus in 134 B.C., since this is the last event related in the narrative. The author admires the Romans, and emphasizes the Jews' friendly relations with Rome and Rome's faithfulness as allies, which fact makes necessary a date of composition prior to 63 B.C. (he cites Oesterley 1913: 60; Goldstein 1976: 63; Fischer 1992: 441; Bartlett 1998: 34). He sees the narrated encomium of the achievements and character of the Romans earlier in 8:1-16 as contrasting sharply with later Jewish reflection on Roman conquest and rule as arrogance, insolence, and an affront against God. DeSilva points out that Pompey's entry into the holy places in 63 B.C. would have marred the author's unqualified appreciation of the Romans (he cites the comparable response of Psalms of Solomon 2; 8; 17 to that event). He observes that the conclusion to the whole work (16:23-24), while it does not necessitate a date of composition after the death of John Hyrcanus, is certainly more naturally taken that way, given that the author intentionally draws on parallels in the books of Samuel and Kings (citing Oesterley 1913: 60; Pfeiffer 1949: 301; Goldstein 1976: 63; Bartlett 1998: 33). DeSilva suggests therefore that it seems preferable to consider 1 Maccabees as having originated sometime after John Hyrcanus's death in 104 B.C. and before Roman intervention in the dispute between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II in 63 B.C.

Lawrence H. Schiffman (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 875 [10]) tells readers that biblical critics generally agree that the First Book of Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew, even though no manuscripts or fragments still exist in Hebrew. He says that the Greek text of 1 Maccabees has the unmistakable style of a rather literal translation from the Hebrew, and the church father Origen (A.D. third century) claimed the Hebrew title of 1 Maccabees was Sarbethsabaniel. This puzzling title, difficult to interpret, may be a slightly corrupted rendering of Hebrew sar bet 'el ("Prince of the House of God") or of sfar bet sabanai 'el ("Book of the House of the Resisters of God"). Schiffman says most Greek manuscripts of 1 and 2 Maccabees are designated Makkabaion A and Makkabaion B, and by A.D. the second century the designation for both 1 and 2 Maccabees was To Makkabaika ("The things Maccabean" or "Maccabean Histories"). Clement of Alexandria, the early church father (A.D. second century), termed 1 Maccabees to Biblion ton Makkabaikon ("The Book of Things Maccabean") and 2 Maccabees he ton Makkabaikon epitome ("The Epitome of Things Maccabean"). Although "Maccabee" ("hammer") was originally the nickname of Judah the hero, Schiffman says the generally used title "Maccabean Histories" led to the habit of referring to all of the heroes of the book as the "Maccabees".

Neil J. McEleney (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 463 [11]) writes that among the several complaints lodged against the historical reliability of 1 Maccabees, both the author's nationalism, and the exaggerated importance he gives Judean events (1:41-43; 3:27-31; 6:5-13) are said in general to make his objectivity suspect: he is anti-Seleucid (1:9-10), and he is apparently ignorant of the actual history, geography, and political organization of foreign peoples. McEleney says the author's Jewish nationalism leads him to inflate the numbers of the enemy in a way that makes the divine intervention on behalf of the Hasmoneans more striking, and says he has wrongly placed the death of Antiochus IV after the dedication of the Temple. He asserts that these historical shortcomings and others are thought to disqualify this author as an accurate reporter of the period. Nevertheless, McEleney says that he cannot be dismissed so easily. Given the context of his culture and the canons of histriography standard for the time, he is a trustworthy witness of men and events. His carefully expressed details in matters of topography (7:19; 9:2, 4, 33) and Jewish chronology (1:54; 4:52; etc.) illustrate a genuine concern to report matters accurately within the limits of his capabilities and aims. His placing of Antiochus' death is wrong, but his description of it corresponds to the independent secular witness of the historian Polybius of Megalopolis (Histories 31.9). Therefore, as Dancy notes,[12] despite his limitations, 1 Maccabee's author has "such large stretches of honest and sober narrative that 1 Mc deserves to be regarded as equal if not superior in historical worth, not only to any book of the Old Testament but also to most surviving Hellenistic history"

Daniel J. Harrington (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 135 [13]) says there has been a puzzling ambivalence about 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Jewish tradition, since Hanukkah, which celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Jerusalem temple in 164 B.C. under Judas, is part of the traditional Jewish calendar of festivals. Although it is a minor holiday (except in countries where its proximity to Christmas has made it very significant), the 'biblical basis' for it lies in books not regarded by Jews as canonical. Harrington pointedly states that the absence 1 Maccabees from the canon of Hebrew Scriptures is somewhat puzzling, since according to all the textual evidence it is likely that was originally composed in Hebrew. These puzzlements have led some scholars to suspect that there was a Jewish reaction at some point in the first century against the Maccabees and what they stood for, and a deliberate attempt to push them out of the sacred tradition of Judaism. Harrington speculates that perhaps 'messianic' claims were being made about Judas Maccabeus, or about some other figure who traced his ancestry back to the Maccabean movement. In light of failed uprising against the Romans by Jews claiming to follow the example of Judas and his brothers, the custodians of the Jewish tradition perhaps found the Maccabees too controversial and dangerous. Harrington says the relatively recent revival of interest in the Maccabees as men of action and noble warriors within the modern state of Israel suggests that these suspicions have some basis in fact.

Of the four books which pass under this name—I, II, III, and IV Maccabees—historical critics have judged, on the basis of their assessment of the available historical evidence, that the First Book of Maccabees is the only one of the four which can be regarded as a reliable historical source.

Original Language

Although there are no surviving Hebrew manuscripts of the book, scholars universally agree that it was originally written in Hebrew and subsequently translated into Greek. From the Semitic idioms which occur throughout the work it is clearly evident that 1 Maccabees was composed in a Semitic language (see, for example, 2:40; 4:2), and with great clearness certain passages indicate that the original language was Hebrew (see 2:39, 3:19). Origen and Jerome also bear testimony to this evident fact, though it is possible that the version or paraphrase known to them was Aramaic.

According to Dr. David A. deSilva (Introducing the Apocrypha, page 247), "Translating the book back into Hebrew offers relatively few challenges and has been used to clear up difficulties in the Greek text, a fact that weighs heavily in favor of a Hebrew original standing behind the Septuagint tradition." As shown above, the Hebrew original does not seem not to have borne the name "Maccabees," and what its real designation was is not known. Eusebius ("Hist. Eccl." vi. 25) quotes Origen as authority for the name Σαρβηθ Σαβαναι Sarbeth Sabanai, a name which has been explained in many different ways. For some of these see Grimm ("Das Erste Buch der Makkabäer," page xvii.[14]). Torrey (Cheyne and Black, "Encyc. Bibl." [15]) follow Dalman ("Grammar," p. 6 [16]), who takes the name as a corruption of "Book of the Hasmoneans". If this is the correct interpretation, an Aramaic translation of the book must have been made at an early time, and this, then, was the translation known to Origen and Jerome—a view which does not seem improbable. In any case, the Hebrew text was certainly translated very early into Greek, and the Greek only has survived. It seems to be a literal one, often preserving the Semitic, and sometimes even the Hebrew, idiom; but it is clear, on the whole, that the Greek form of the text is most probably a satisfactory translation. It is transmitted to us in three uncial manuscripts of the Septuagint—the Codex Sinaiticus, the Codex Alexandrinus, and the Codex Venetus—as well as in several cursives.


No information about the author himself is obtainable beyond that which may be inferred from the book itself. The author of First Maccabees probably lived in the Holy Land, since he was very familiar with the geography of the region (some disagree) and had access to official documents that would have been archived in Jerusalem. That he was a devout and patriotic Jew who lived and wrote in Palestine is seen as proved by his intimate and exact geographical knowledge of the Holy Land (compare 3:24; 7:19; 9:2-4, 33, 34, 43; 12:36-40; 13:22, 23; 16:5, 6)—an opinion which does not accord with the opinion of Neil J. McEleney (above)—and proved also by the author's lack of accurate knowledge of any of the foreign countries which he mentions—which does accord with McEleney. As always, in Higher Critical studies, what one scholar holds to be very probable another considers to be very unlikely, even when considering the same data and the same texts.

First Maccabees was certainly written by a supporter of the Hasmoneans. The author shows himself a loyal admirer of the Hasmonean family. He believed that to this chosen family Israel owed her deliverance and existence (5:62). He admired not only the military deeds of Judas (compare 5:63), but also those of Jonathan (compare 10:15-21) and Simon (compare 14:4-15).


The author's datings of all events are according to the terms of the Seleucid era which have a known correspondence to the current Gregorian calendar. The terminus a quo (earliest possible date) of the work is found in the fact that John Hyrcanus I, who began to reign in 135 B.C., is mentioned at the close of the book (16:21-24). As the Romans are presented throughout in terms of respect and friendliness, it is clear that the terminus ad quem (latest possible date) must be found at some time before the conquest of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 B.C.. Scholars are not agreed on whether the date can be more nearly determined, and the determining fact is held by most to be the statement in 16:23, 24, that "the rest of the acts of John...are written in the chronicles of his high-priesthood." Many think that this implies that John had died and that a sufficient time had elapsed since his death to permit the circulation of the chronicles. Bissell (Lange's "Commentary," page 479 [17]) thinks that no more than a score or two of years had passed, while Schürer ("Hist. of the Jewish People," div. ii., vol. iii., p. 8 [18]) and Fairweather (in "Cambridge Bible" [19] and Hastings, "Dict. Bible" [20]) think that not more than a decade or two had elapsed, and they date the work in the first or second decade of the first century B.C. Torrey, on the other hand, concludes ("Encyc. Bibl." [15]) that this reference to the chronicle of the priesthood is an imitation of well-known passages in the Books of Kings, that it was intended solely as a compliment to John [Hyrcanus], and that the work instead was composed early in his reign (that is, soon after 135 B.C.) by one who had been an interested observer of the whole Maccabean movement. The vivid character of the narrative, and the fact that it closes so abruptly after the death of Simon, make this a very plausible view.

Sources and Integrity

A proposal for a later date of the work must account for the vivid details it contains by supposing that the writer employed older sources, such as letters and memoranda. In Torrey's view such sources are not necessary, as the author could have supplied his lack of personal knowledge, by interviewing aging participants or eyewitnesses of the events. In either case the First Book of the Maccabees is one of the best sources known for information on this period in the history of the Jews.

J. D. Michaelis insists that Josephus used the Hebrew original of the book, which differed in some important particulars from the present Greek text. Destinon ("Die Quellen des Josephus," 1882 [21]) revived this theory and endeavored to prove (pages 80 and following) that chapters 14-16 were not contained in the edition used by Josephus. Destinon bases his argument on the fact that Josephus treats these chapters very sparsely in comparison with his treatment of the other material of the same book, although these chapters contain just as much material and just as interesting. Wellhausen ("I. J. G." pages 222 and following [22]) follows him. But Torrey (in "Encyc. Bibl."), utilizing the investigations of Mommsen,[23] demonstrates that Josephus actually knew some of this material and introduced it at a later point in his work ("Ant." xiv. 8, § 5), in describing the history of Hyrcanus II. From all of this, it seems highly probable that the First Book of the Maccabees has retained its original form.

Literary elements

The enthusiasm of the writer at times rises to a high pitch and breaks out into poetry of a genuine Semitic character (compare 3:3-9). Seven poetic sections in the book 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 the "fathers" (2:51–64), of Judas (3:3–9), and of Simon (14:4–15). Throughout the work the style of the narrative is modeled on that of the historical books of the Old Testament: simple, terse, restrained, and objective. The fact that due weight is given and proper proportions are observed in treating the different parts of the narrative proves the author to have been a writer of considerable skill.

Throughout the work the priesthood is represented in a favorable light. The renegade priests Jason and Menelaus are not mentioned by name—a striking contrast with the treatment given them in the Second Book of the Maccabees. From these facts Abraham Geiger [24] conjectured that the author was a Sadducee, and most recent writers follow his opinion, although they fault him for calling the First Book of the Maccabees a partisan document; its temperate and just tone certainly redeems it from such a narrow evaluation.

The narrative is told as though the victory over pagan suppression was due to the military genius of these men, exercised under the favoring guidance of God (1:64, 3:8), and not solely a divine deliverance of the people and the nation by the direct intervention of God. Curiously enough the word "God" does not appear in the work, nor does the word "Lord." However, the idea itself, as in the Book of Esther, is not lacking but is represented by "Heaven," or by the pronoun "He." In spite of this mannerism, the author was a deeply religious man, very zealous for the Law and for his peoples' national religious institutions (see 1:11, 15, 43; 2:20-22; 3:21), for the Scriptures (1:56, 3:48), and for the Temple (1:21, 39; 3:43). Devout Jews today, in particular the Hassidic Jews, in their writing and speech, use similar circumlocutions, using the written form G-d, for example, instead of God, and in the synagogue readings, where the printed edition of the books indicate the Name with the mark ' ' , they speak the word "Adonai" in place of the Tetragrammaton יהוה YHVH LORD.


The cultural religious teaching expressed in the book is the traditional belief of Israel, without the newer developments found in 2 Maccabees and Daniel. There is no doctrine of individual immortality as found in the Second Book of Maccabees, except for the survival of one’s name and fame, and the book does not express any messianic expectation, although messianic images are applied historically to "the days of Simon" (1 Maccabees 14:4–17). The author insists, in accordance with true Deuteronomic tradition, on fidelity to the law as the expression of Israel’s love for God. The struggle he describes is a contest, not only between Jew and Gentile, but between those who would uphold the law and those, Jews or Gentiles, who would destroy it. While he rightly condemns the Seleucid politicians for their policy of intolerant ethnic extermination of true religion, his severest condemnation goes to the lawless apostates among the people of Israel, who have been uniquely chosen by the one true God as a covenant-people, for they alone have been privileged to know and worship God, their eternal benefactor and unfailing source of help, who had warned them in the law what would happen to the community of the people if they ever turned aside from him and broke the covenant-bond he had established between him and them. The people for their part must worship the Lord alone and observe exactly the precepts of the holy law He has given to them.

There is some slight evidence in the book of an awareness of a tradition of interpreting the Written Torah according to the Oral Torah (1 Maccabees 2:40-41, 49-68; 3:20-21, 48; 4:42-47, 60; 7:12-18; 15:41-43) which centuries later was given a more developed written expression first in the Mishnah and then the Talmud. Christianity continued this tradition of interpretation of the scriptures according to the oral tradition of the ancient Christian church. See Deuteronomy 18:15-22, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Luke 10:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 2 Corinthians 3:13-16, Hebrews 13:17 and 2 Peter 3:14-18.


  1. The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian body comprised of several distinct "Rites". The Catholic Church (Latin Rite) is the largest religious body in the United States, with over 60 million adherents (4 times as large as the second largest church, the Orthodox).
    “The Global Catholic Population,” © 2011, Pew Research Center.
    The Largest Catholic Communities
    The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church, and also referred to as the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, most of whom live in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia.
    The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Of America (1983). Retrieved on 7 May 2014.
    Christianity:Basics:Eastern Orthodox Church Denomination. about.com. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
    Christianity. Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents. adherents.com. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 See Percentage of Christians in Protestant Denominations (29.5%).
  3. Septuagint Quotes in the New Testament
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Oskar Skarsaune, In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, March 2002. 455 pages. ISBN 0-8308-2670-X ISBN 978-0-8308-2670-4.
  5. Four sources:
    Antiochus IV Epiphanes (bible-history.com)
    Faussett's Bible Dictionary: Antiochus: 3. Antiochus IV. (bible-history.com)
    Watchtower Online Library: Insight, Volume 1. Festival of Dedication (wol.jw.org)
    The popular encyclopedia; or, 'Conversations Lexicon' 1877: ed. by A. Whitelaw from the Encyclopedia Americana. (Google eBook)
  6. James King West, Introduction to the Old Testament. Macmillan, 1981. 609 pages. ISBN 0024259209 ISBN 9780024259202.
  7. Pfeiffer, Charles F., Between the Testaments. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959. ISBN 10: 1584271043 ISBN 13: 9781584271048.
  8. J. Alberto Soggin, Introduction to the Old Testament. Westminster John Knox Press, Jan 1, 1989. 644 pages. ISBN 9780664221560.
  9. David A. deSilva (Author), James Charlesworth (Foreword), Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance. Baker Academic, November 1, 2004. ISBN 0801031036 ISBN 978-0801031038
  10. Lawrence H. Schiffman, "Commentaries on 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees", in Harper’s Bible Commentary, ed. J. L. Mays, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988. 1344 pages. ISBN 0060655410 ISBN 978-0060655419.
  11. Neil J. McEleney, "1-2 Maccabees" /The New Jerome Biblical Commentary / ed. Brown, Raymond E. 1928-1998, Fitzmyer, Joseph A., Murphy, Roland E. 1917-2002. Englewood Cliffs, N.J. : Prentice-Hall, 1990. ISBN 10: 0136149340 ISBN 13: 9780136149347
  12. Dancy, J. C., A Commentary on I Maccabees. Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1954. OCLC Number: 459042841.
  13. S.J. Daniel J. Harrington, Invitation to the Apocrypha. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company; First Edition edition, September 1, 1999. 230 pages. ISBN 0802846335 ISBN 978-0802846334.
  14. See Grimm, Das Erste Buch der Makkabäer, Universität Innsbruck. Die Bibel in der Einheitsübersetzung
  15. 15.0 15.1 Encyclopædia Biblica: A Critical Dictionary of the Literary, Political, and Religious History, the Archæology, Geography, and Natural History of the Bible. Edited by T.K. Cheyne and J. Sutherland Black. In 4 volumes. (New York: Macmillan; London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899-1907) This work is a critical encyclopedia of the Bible.
  16. Dalman's Aramaic Grammar and Reader: Grammatik des Jüdisch-Palästinischen Aramäisch, by Gustaf Dalman; see also Aramäische Dialektproben, by Gustaf Dalman
  17. Edwin Cone Bissell, "The Apocrypha of the Old Testament," in John Peter Lange, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1880)
    Edwin Cone Bissell, in Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures 12 Double Volumes, by John Peter Lange. Zondervan (1960) ASIN: B00133NOEM.
  18. Emil Schürer. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, by Emil Schürer, D.D., M.A., Professor of Theology at the University of Göttingen, Being a Second and Revised Edition of a "Manual of the History of New Testament Times", Second Division, The Internal Conditions of Palestine and of the Jewish People, in the Time of Jesus Christ, Translated by Sophia Taylor and Rev Peter Christie. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 38 George Street (1886)
  19. W. Fairweather. The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: 1 Maccabees, by Fairweather, William, Black, J. Sutherland • Cambridge University Press. 1897
    J J. Stewart 1823-1904 Perowne (Author), The Cambridge Bible for schools and colleges Paperback, Nabu Press (August 10, 2011) 84 pages. ISBN 1174833807 ISBN 978-1174833809
  20. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. Author: Hastings, James, 1852-1922; Selbie, John A. (John Alexander), 1856-1931; Lambert, John Chisholm, 1857-1917; Mathews, Shailer, 1863-1941. Dictionary of the Bible, edited by James Hastings, D.D., with the cooperation of John A. Selbie, D.D., and with the assistance of John C. Lambert, D.D., and of Shailer Matthews, D.D., Professor of Theology and Dean of the University School of the University of Chicago. New York, Charlse Scribner's Sons, 1909.
  21. J. von Destinon, Die Quellen des Flavius Josephus. I Die Quellen der Archäologie Buch XII-XVII = Jüd. Krieg Buch I, Kiel: Lipsius & Tischer 1882
  22. Julius Wellhausen, "Israelitische und Jüdische Geschichte" (4th ed., 1901) German. Severus Verlag (26. September 2013) 404 pages. ISBN 3863476395 ISBN 978-3863476397.
  23. Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen (30 November 1817 – 1 November 1903)
  24. Abraham Geiger (1810 - 1874) (jewishvirtuallibrary.org)

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