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Maccabees, Books of

The Books of Maccabees (see Maccabee) are four books among the books of the Septuagint, the Old Testament accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox BibleFirst Maccabees, Second Maccabees, Third Maccabees and Fourth Maccabees—the first two of them 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), the third and fourth of them included in the Orthodox Greek Bible in accordance with sacred tradition. Since the Council of Trent, First Maccabees and Second Maccabees are 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]

The Historical Books of the First and Second Books of Maccabees were first removed from the Old Testament and placed in the Apocrypha by Martin Luther in the 16th century. They are regarded as apocryphal books of the Old Testament by less than one-third of Christian believers.[2] The Protestant Reformers were apparently unaware of the traditional canon of scripture preserved by the Orthodox East as the Christian Bible, and possibly for this reason dealt only with the canon of the Catholic Bible, which they rejected as corrupted with un-Christian doctrines as being contained in what they declared against tradition as uninspired books and parts of books, books which were also rejected from the canon of Judaism. Editions of the Protestant Bible do not include the Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha.

The Third Book of Maccabees, an account of the persecution of the Jews under the tyrant Ptolemy Philopater and their divine rescue by the sovereign ruling providence of God, is held to be inspired scripture by Orthodoxy as part of the whole Bible received and handed down from the apostles of the Lord to the one, holy, orthodox, catholic and apostolic church.

The Fourth Book of Maccabees, a philosophical treatise on the sovereignty of reason inspiring courage imparted by the invincible truth of wisdom in the law of Moses in defense of religion, which strengthened the Maccabean Martyrs against torture in 2 Maccabees 6:18–7:42 and Hebrews 11:35, is in an appendix to the Old Testament of the Orthodox Bible as a valuable text informing Orthodox spirtuality.

See Biblical Canon and Apocrypha; also Council of Jamnia.

A Table of Contents of the Chapters of the Books of Maccabees

First Maccabees

Chapter 1 The reign of Alexander the Great 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.

Chapter 2 The zeal and success of Mattathias. His exhortation to his sons at his death.

Chapter 3 Judas Maccabeus 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.

Chapter 4 Judas routs the king's army. Gorgias flees 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.

Chapter 5 Judas and his brothers attack the enemies of their country, and deliver those who were distressed. Josephus and Azarias, attempting contrary to orders to fight against their enemies, are defeated.

Chapter 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.

Chapter 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.

Chapter 8 Judas hears of the great character of the Romans: he makes a treaty of league with them.

Chapter 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. Alchimus dies miserably. Bacchides besieges Bethbessen. He is forced to raise the siege and leave the country.

Chapter 10 Alexander Balas sets himself up as king: both he and Demetrius seek to make Jonathan their Friend. Alexander kills Demetrius in battle, and honors Jonathan. His victory over Apollonius.

Chapter 11 Ptolemy invades the kingdom of Alexander: the latter is slain: and the former dies soon afterward. Demetrius honors Jonathan, and is rescued by the Jews from his own subjects in Antioch. Antiochus the younger favors Jonathan. His exploits in diverse places.

Chapter 12 Jonathan renews his league with the Romans and Lacedaemonians. The forces of Demetrius flee from him. He is deceived and made prisoner by Tryphon.

Chapter 13 Simon is made captain general in the place of his brother. Jonathan is slain by Tryphon. Simon is favored by Demetrius: he takes Gaza and the fortress-castle of Jerusalem.

Chapter 14 Demetrius is taken by the king of Persia. Judea flourishes under the government of Simon.

Chapter 15 Antiochus son of Demetrius honors Simon. The Romans write to diverse nations in favor of the Jews. Antiochus quarrels with Simon and sends troops to annoy him.

Chapter 16 The sons of Simon defeat the troops of Antiochus. Simon with two of his sons are treacherously murdered by Ptolemy his son-in-law. John son of Simon apprehends the men sent against him. John is made high priest after his father.

Second Maccabees

The narrative of the Second Book of Maccabees parallels the events related in the first seven chapters of the First Book of Maccabees.

Chapter 1 Letters of the Jews of Jerusalem to those that were in Egypt. They give thanks for their delivery from Antiochus: and exhort their brothers to keep the feast of the dedication of the altar, and of the miraculous fire.

Chapter 2 The continuation of the second letter. Of Jeremiah's hiding the ark at the time of the captivity. The author's preface.

Chapter 3 Heliodorus is sent by king Seleucus to take away the treasures deposited in the temple. He is struck by God, and healed by the prayers of the high priest.

Chapter 4 Onias the high priest has recourse to the king. The ambition and wickedness of Jason and Menelaus. Onias is wrongfully murdered.

Chapter 5 Wonderful signs are seen in the air. Jason's wickedness and end. Antiochus takes Jerusalem, and plunders the temple.

Chapter 6 Antiochus commands the law of Moses to be abolished, sets up an idol in the temple, and persecutes the faithful. The martyrdom of Eleazar.

Chapter 7 The glorious martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother.

Chapter 8 Judas Maccabeus gathering an army gains diverse victories.

Chapter 9 The wretched end, and faithless repentance of king Antiochus.

Chapter 10 The purification of the temple and city. Other exploits of Judas. His victory over Timothy.

Chapter 11 Lysias is overthrown by Judas. He sues for peace.

Chapter 12 The Jews are still molested by their neighbors. Judas gains diverse victories over them. He orders sacrifice and prayers for the dead, that they may be freed from their sins.

Chapter 13 Antiochus and Lysias again invade Judea. Menelaus is put to death. The king's great army is worsted twice. The peace is renewed.

Chapter 14 Demetrius challenges the kingdom. Alcimus applies to him to be made high priest: Nicanor is sent into Judea: his dealings with Judas: his threats. The story of Razis.

Chapter 15 Judas encouraged by a vision gains a glorious victory over Nicanor. The conclusion.

Third Maccabees

The narrative of the Third Book of Maccabees relates events preceding the events narrated in the First and Second Books of Maccabees, during the reign of Ptolemy Philopater in Egypt. The title of this book is a misnomer since it treats of the sufferings of the Egyptian Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203 B.C.) rather than of the persecution of the Palestinian Jews under Antiochus IV at the time of the Maccabees. The chronology represented by the narratives of the three is therefore as follows: Third Maccabees, Second Maccabees, First Maccabees. They may be read with profit in this sequence, but they were not written in that order.[3] (The first portion of the text of the first chapter of 3 Maccabees has been lost.)

Chapter 1 Philopater attacks the army of Antiochus near Raphia[4], foils the plot of the apostate Dositheus to assassinate him; defeats Antiochus[5]: he visits the temples of the cities in gratitude, presumes to seek to enter the temple of the Jews: the priests entreat God, the people cry out in prayer; Philopater approaches the temple.

Chapter 2 The high priest prays, beseeching God; confesses the sins of the people, begging forgiveness. Philopater enters the temple, God strikes him with paralysis, he is dragged out; when he recovers he departs with threats. In Egypt he defames the Jews and demands they register and be taxed and branded with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysis; those who resist are to be put to death. Some of the people, abhorring the price of religious fidelity, abandon themselves to the king for personal advantage; the majority acting courageously did not abandon their religion, payed money in exchange for life instead; they have hope of help, and avoid those who abandoned religion as enemies, depriving them of companionship and mutual help.

Chapter 3 Philopater, infuriated, ordered all Jews be gathered together and be most cruelly put to death. During arranging of this policy, the Jews are defamed by those with ill-will as hindering the religious customs of others; their law about foods and their form of worship is used as a pretext for hostility against them as being hateful and opposite to the government, though they are loyal: the Greeks under tyranny defend them. The king's letter slandering the Jews, condemning all who help them to be tortured to death with their infants, their property seized, and the place that helps them to be burned and made useless.

Chapter 4 Where the decree arrives a feast for the Gentiles is provided at public expense; they are glad: the Jews mourn, are treated harshly, gathered, led away, and brought by ships to Scedia; they are enclosed in the hippodrome; those who lament with them are ordered to be joined to the Jews, are registered over forty days and enclosed with them. The king organizes feasts to his idols, and utters blasphemy against God; the scribes report that they are unable to take the full census of the immense multitude of Jews in the country, the task is impossible for the generals in Egypt. He threatens the seventy scribes; they prove that the paper and the pens they used had failed: this was the invincible providence of him who aided the Jews from heaven.

Chapter 5 The king in wrath orders the keeper of the elephants to drug them and he continues to feast. Hermon the keeper obeys; the servants bind the hands of the condemned, who pray with tears and loud cries to the Almighty Lord that he avert with vengeance the evil plot and rescue them with a glorious manifestation. Hermon presents himself to the king in the morning, but the king had been overcome with sleep sent by the Lord, frustrating his plan. He wakens the king: the hour of the banquet is passing; the king and his assembled guests return to feasting: the king demands to know why the Jews were allowed to live; Hermon answers that while it was night his order was completed; the king orders the elephants prepared again for the next day. All is prepared; Hermon invites him to come out, the king asks the reason for the preparations: God had acted by implanting forgetfulness in him: the king threatens Hermon for seeking to harm the Jews who had been extraordinarily loyal; the king's Friends quietly depart. The king reconvenes the party and demands with threats to know how many times he must give orders about these things; he orders the elephants prepared again a third time; the guests require an explanation of him; the king is unaware of his change of mind; with an irrevocable oath he orders the Jews sent to death without delay, to be trampled by the elephants; he will march against Judea, level it and reduce the temple to powder; his Friends and officers rejoice. The people crowd into the hippodrome; the elephants have been drugged to madness; Hermon comes to the king at dawn and urges him; he enters with the animals; the Jews thought this was the end of their suspense, and cried out to the Ruler of all.

Chapter 6 The prayer of Eleazar the priest. The king arrives with the animals; the Jews cry out, and the true God sends two angels visible to all, whom the Jews cannot see, filling the enemy with confusion and terror, paralyzing them and the king; the animals turn and trample the armed forces behind them. The king's anger turns to pity and tears; he threatens his Friends as traitors and tyrants in cruelty; he demands they release the Jews and send them to their homes in peace begging their pardon; the Jews praise God for their escape. The king orders provisions for the Jews that they might feast seven days; they cease mourning; the king joins in their celebrations with a banquet of thanksgiving to heaven. The Jews establish a public annual celebration for themselves and their descendants. A summary of the events; the three-day celebration to the fourteenth day. The king writes a letter to the generals.

Chapter 7 The letter. The Jews delay departing, declaring the transgressors against God and the law of God should receive the punishment they deserve, that the transgressors would never favor the government: the king gives them license to destroy the transgressors: that day more than three hundred are put to a public and shameful death; they keep the day as a joyful festival over the death of the profaners: the faithful depart crowned with flowers and singing praises to the eternal Savior of Israel. At Ptolemais they celebrate their deliverance with provisions sent by the king. The three days of festival are inscribed on a pillar, and a place of prayer is dedicated. Their prestige in the eyes of their enemies: their belongings are not subject to confiscation, they recover their property; those who held it restore it to them with extreme fear. The supreme God performed great deeds for their deliverance. Conclusion with blessing of God.

Fourth Maccabees

Chapter 1 The subject discussed is most philosophical. The value of philosophy and reason. Reason rules over the emotions. Demonstration is possible; best demonstrated from the noble bravery of Eleazar and the seven brothers who died for the sake of virtue; the anniversary of their death, a fitting occasion to praise the virtues of those who died for goodness and nobility, the honor given them by the people; the land was purified through them. He states his main principle: whether reason is sovereign over the emotions. The kinds of wisdom; the consequences of emotions on the soul, on the body; offshoots of pleasure and pain; the restraining power of self-control; mental desire, physical desire, self-control, reason ruling, checking the appetites by a temperate mind, the impulses of the body are bridled by reason.

Chapter 2 Temperate Joseph nullified desire. Unjust greed overcome by reason in accordance with the law [of Moses]. Reason defending virtue rules over emotions for parents, wife, children, friends, enmity, desire to destroy enemy property; it rules over more violent emotions of lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, malice, repels anger: Moses by reason controlled anger at Dathan and Abiram; Jacob censuring Simeon and Levi for their irrational slaughter of the Shechemites. God fashioned man, implanted emotions, inclinations, enthroned mind as governor, giving it the law [of Moses]; a ruler living according to the law is temperate, just, good, and courageous. The objection that reason does not rule over forgetfulness and ignorance.

Chapter 3 The objection is ridiculous; reason rules not its own emotions but the body, cannot eradicate them but provides a way to not be enslaved by desire; helps deal with anger, fights malice, does not uproot them, is their antagonist. King David's thirst overcome by nobility of reason. The present occasion invites a narrative demonstration of temperate reason. During the peaceful reign of Seleucus Nicanor, persons attempted a revolution against public harmony, causing disasters.

Chapter 4 A summary of the history. Simon opposes Onias, incites Apollonius to seize the temple treasure; angels strike him, he is saved by the prayers of Onias. His successor Antiochus Epiphanes removes Onias, appoints Jason the brother of Onias as high priest; who violates the law [of Moses], constructs a gymnasium by the temple, abolishes the temple service; divine justice is angered, causes Antiochus to make war on the Jews; he hears the Jews rejoice at a rumor of his death, marches on them; he plunders them, issues an oppressive decree, condemns observers of the law to die; his threats ignored, women thrown down from the temple with their infants knowing they would die; his policy of torture.

Chapter 5 The summary continued. Antiochus orders his soldiers to seize the Hebrews and compel them to eat pork sacrificed to idols. Eleazar is brought before him, a priestly man, known for his philosophy; Antiochus addresses him, urges him; Eleazar responds, praises the rationality of the law, the benevolence of God by it, the benefit of healthy foods prescribed by it, despises the threat of torture, acknowledges the king's tyranny of the ungodly, and denies that he shall ever dominate his religious principles by either words or deeds.

Chapter 6 The summary continued. An account of the torture of Eleazar, his courage, his prayer, his death. An appeal to admit that reason is dominant over the emotions; the propriety of attributing to it the power to govern; right to acknowledge its mastery over external agonies: he has proved not only this but also that it masters pleasures, does not yield to them.

Chapter 7 Praise of Eleazar, an aged man. Objection that not all have full command of their emotions because not all have prudent reason; the answer that only those who attend to religion with a whole heart are able to control the passions of the flesh, since they believe that they do not die to God, trust in God, know that it is blessed to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue; there is no contradiction when some appear dominated by their passions because of weak reason;; only the wise and courageous are masters of their emotions.

Chapter 8 The very young by philosophy in accordance with devout reason prevail over torture. The seven youths; the counsel of Antiochus to them; their reply.

Chapter 9 Their reply continued. The rage of the tyrant; their answers; they encourage each other; the death of the eldest; the reply of the next eldest.

Chapter 10 The death of the next eldest. The answer of the third; his death. The fourth brother; his answer.

Chapter 11 The death of the fourth brother: the readiness of the fifth brother; his reproach of the tyrant; his death. The sixth brother, a boy; his answer.

Chapter 12 The death of the sixth brother. The seventh brother; Antiochus feels compassion for him, promises rewards; he sends for the mother to counsel her son to save himself; the answer of the youngest brother, his imprecation of the tyrant: he throws himself into the fiery braziers.

Chapter 13 Because the seven despised sufferings unto death, all must concede that reason is sovereign over the emotions. The supremacy of the mind exemplified by them; their encouraging words of counsel to each other, their devotion to the law, their consecration to God, the promise of welcome by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, refusal to betray the ones who died. The affection of family ties bequeathed to the fathers, implanted by Providence in the womb; the strength from nurture, companionship, general education and from discipline in the law of God. Sympathy of the brothers, education in the law, training in virtue, right living, increased their loving all the more; zeal for nobility strengthened by mutual goodwill, aided by their fervent religion; although strengthened in affection for one another, they endured the sight of tortures for the sake of religion.

Chapter 14 All this encouraged them to face torture, despise their agonies, master the emotions of brotherly love. Praise of reason, royal and free. Praise of the seven brothers. Reason had command of these men; the mind of women also, for the mother bore up under the rackings of each of her children. Mothers love, even unreasoning animals protecting their young, and human beings, have sympathy and parental love; birds, even bees, defend themselves: but sympathy for her children did not sway the mother of the young men: she was of the same mind as Abraham.

Chapter 15 Reason, tyrant of the emotions. Religion, more desirable than children. The mother's options: she loved religion more; the emotions of parents who love their children; tender love; her reason was not perverted; yearning for her offspring; the cries of her children; her torments at seeing them tortured; devout reason giving her heart a man's courage to disregard her parental love; disregard of parental love because of faith in God: mother of the sons, champion of religion, daughter of God-fearing Abraham, remembering his fortitude. Praise of the mother more strong than males in endurance, protected as by Noah's ark from the flood by the guardian of the law, withstanding the torture of her sons.

Chapter 16 Emotion in women conquered by reason. Praise of the mother, soldier of God in the cause of religion. The zeal of Abraham. The words of the mother of the seven encouraging and persuading each of them to die rather than violate God's covenant. Those who die for the sake of God live to God, as do Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the patriarchs.

Chapter 17 Praise of the aged priest and aged mother and seven sons; vindicating their nation, looking to God and enduring torture even to death. These were contestants in the competition; amazement and admiration by the antagonist Antiochus, the world and the human race as spectators; God is the victor and awards the crown; they live the life of eternal blessedness: the tyrant was punished, the homeland purified; through the atoning sacrifice for sin by the blood of those devout ones and their death, Providence preserved Israel, previously mistreated. Antiochus the tyrant proclaimed them as examples of endurance to his soldiers.

Chapter 18 The conclusion of the demonstration. Exhortation to Israelite children to obey the law [of Moses], and exercise piety, knowing that devout reason is master of all emotions. Those who sacrificed themselves were deemed worthy of a share in the divine inheritance; the tyrant Antiochus was punished on earth and is being punished after death. The words of the mother, that she spoke to her sons. The bitterness of that day—yet not bitter—the rage of the tyrant and his tortures; the accursed tyrant pursued by justice and being pursued for these crimes; the sons of Abraham with their victorious mother received immortal souls from God, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.


  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. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
    Christianity. Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 See Percentage of Christians in Protestant Denominations (29.5%).
  3. 1 Maccabees was written c. 100 B.C. in Hebrew, but the original is not extant. Instead we have an early pre-Christian Greek translation full of Hebrew idioms. 2 Maccabees was written in Koine Greek, probably in Alexandria Egypt, c. 124 B.C.. The dating of 3 Maccabees is less certain. Estimates range in speculation from as early as c. 100 B.C. to A.D. 30 during the persecution under Caligula, according to Early Jewish Writings: 3 Maccabees. The reader unfamiliar with the history of the period after the time of Ezra and before the birth of Jesus will benefit by first reading 1 Maccabees chapter 1, then 2 Maccabees chapters 3 and 4, and then the book of 3 Maccabees, before resuming with the whole of the book of 2 Maccabees followed by the book of 1 Maccabees.
  4. The battle of Raphia (217 B.C.)
  5. Antiochus III (223-187 B.C.)