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Second Book of the Maccabees

Second Book of the Maccabees
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

Like the First Book of Maccabees, 2 Maccabees is a deuterocanonical book of the Bible which focuses on the Jews' revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes and concludes with the defeat of the Syrian general Nicanor in 161 BC by Judas Maccabeus, the hero of the work.

2 Maccabees was written in Koine Greek, probably in Alexandria[, Egypt, round 124 BC. It presents a revised version of the historical events recounted in the first seven chapters of 1 Maccabees, adding material from the Pharisaic tradition, including prayer for the dead and a resurrection on Judgment Day.

Orthodox and Roman Catholics consider the work to be canonical and part of the Bible.

Known as 2 Maccabees, this is an epitome, or abridged version, of a five-volume history apparently by “Jason of Cyrene." The author is unknown; his work is preserved in Greek. Scholars have dated 2 Maccabees variously from about 125 bc to about ad 70. The book is concerned with the history of the Jews from roughly 180 to 160 bc (more specifically, with the career of Judas Maccabeus, and thus parallels 1 Maccabees 1:10–7:50). Theologians have found 2 Maccabees interesting because of the pre-Christian reference in it to the resurrection of the dead (see 12:43–45). Two letters prefixed to the account of the events and addressed to Egyptian Jews (see 1:1–2:18) have suggested to some scholars that 2 Maccabees was written to encourage the faithfulness of the Jewish community in Egypt.

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Chapter 1:

Two letters from the Jews of Jerusalem to their brethren in Egypt, urging them to keep the Feast of Dedication and in a general way to observe the Law given them by God through Moses. Both letters appear designed to win for the Jerusalem temple the love and devotion which the Jews of Egypt were in danger of lavishing upon the Leontopolis temple in Egypt. These letters have no connection with the rest of the book or with each other, and both are undoubted forgeries. There can be no doubt that 2 Maccabees was first of all composed, and that subsequently either the author or a later hand prefixed these letters on account of their affinity in thought to the book as it first existed.

Chapter 2:

Introduction to what follows. The author or epitomizer claims that his history (Chapter 3 to end of the book) is an epitome in one book of a larger work in 5 books by Jason of Cyrene.

Chapter 3:

History of the rise and progress of the Maccabean wars from 176 BC, to the closing year of the reign of Seleucus IV Philopator, to the defeat and death of Nicanor in 161 BC, a period of 15 years. The record in 2 Maccabees begins one year earlier than that of 1 Maccabees, but as the latter reaches down to 135 BC. 1 Maccabees covers a period of at least 40 years, while 2 Maccabees gives the history of but 15 years. The history of this period is thus treated:

Chapters 3:1-4:6:

Traitorous conduct of the Benjamite Simon in regard to the temple treasures and the high priest; futile attempt of Heliodorus, prime minister of Seleucus IV, to rob the temple.

Chapters 4:7-7:42

Parallels 1 Macc 1:10-64 with significant variations and additions. Accession of Antiocus Epiphanes (175 BC); the Hellenizing of some Jews; persecution of the faithful; martyrdom of Eleazar and the 7 brethren and their mother (this last not in 1 Maccabees);

Chapters 8-15:

Parallels 1 Macc 3-7, with significant divergences in details.

Rise and development of the Maccabean revolt. In the closing verses (2 Macc 15:38) the writer begs that this composition may be received with consideration.

Two new festivals are instituted:

Chanukkah (Festival of Dedication) (1:9,18; 2:16; 10:8); and Nicanor Day (15:36), to commemorate the defeat and death of Nicanor.

We now turn to the Book of 3 Maccabees.

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