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First Book of the Maccabees

First Book of the Maccabees
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

The first book of Maccabees is a book written by a Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom, probably about 100 BC. It is included in Orthodox and Roman Catholic canons, but excluded from most Protestant ones. Jews and most Protestants regard it as generally reliable historically, but not a part of Scripture. Protestants usually call such religious books "Apocrypha." In the Eastern Orthodox faith they are called "deuterocanonical, " as they are received in Greek and regarded as part of the Holy Scripture, like 1 Maccabees.

Known as 1 Maccabees, this historical work concerns the activities of the Hasmonaean family during the struggle of the Jews for independence in the period 175 to about 134 BC. It is thought to date from about 100 BC. The author is unknown but is generally regarded by scholars as having been a Palestinian Jew, perhaps an admirer of the Hasmonaeans; he patterned his book chiefly after the books of Kings and Chronicles. The book is preserved only in Greek translations, the original Hebrew having been lost. Chapters 1–2 relate briefly the background and beginning of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Next follow lengthy accounts of the careers of Judas, Jonathan, and Simon. The book then ends with a brief reference to the reign of John Hyrcanus, Simon's son. Many scholars consider 1 Maccabees the best source for this period of Jewish history.

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Chapter 1:1-10: An account of the rise of the Seleucid Dynasty.

Chapter 1:11-16:24: History of the Jews from 175 to 135 BC.

1:11-63: Some Jews inclined to adopt Greek customs (religious, etc.); Antiochus' aim to conquer Egypt and to suppress the Jewish religion as a source of Jewish disloyalty. Desecration of the Jewish temple: martyrdom of many faithful Jews.

Chapter 2: The revolt of Mattathias.

Chapters 3-8: Leadership of Judas Maccabeus after his father's death. Brilliant victories over the Syrians. Purification of the temple. Death of Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) and accession of Antiochus V (Eupator) (164 BC). Demetrius I became king of Syria, and Alcimus Jewish high priest (162 BC). Treaty between Jews and Romans. Defeat of Jews at Eleasa and death of Judas Maccabeus (161 BC).

Chapters 9-12: Leadership of Jonathan, 5th son of Mattathias, elected to succeed his brother Judas. He becomes high priest. Political independence of Judea secured.

Chapters 13-16: Peaceful and prosperous rule of Simon, brother of Jonathan; accession of his son John Hyrcanus (135 BC).

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