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Judaean coin, showing  a bunch of grapes.
Hasmonaean coin (!!)

2 Maccabees 1

The Second Book of Maccabees describes the struggle of the Jews for religious, cultural, and political independence against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Greek who sympathized with the hellenization of Judah. The Alexandrian author says that his work is not original, but an excerpt from an earlier history on the same subject by an otherwise unknown Jason of Cyrene, and that this excerpt was made after 124 BCE. It is slightly ironic that Jason and the anonymous author of The Second Book of Maccabees wrote a history to make his point, because this literary genre was invented by Greeks.

The book belongs to what is called 'pathetic history', which tries to create sympathy for the actors and is not primarily aimed at the full truth. It is also a more religious book than its twin 1 Maccabees; it uses many themes from the Jewish Bible (e.g., several titles for God). One of the most interesting theological aspects is that the author assumes that the people who maintain God's Law will be resurrected.

The contents of the book can be summarized as follows:

  • Chapter 1-2: Introductory letters, introduction.
  • Chapter 3-10: The Temple is miraculously saved from looting; tensions between two high priests; interference by Antiochus IV Epiphanes; military actions by Judas the Maccabaean ('battle hammer'); death of Antiochus; the Temple purified; Hanukah.
  • Chapter 10-14: War against Lysias; another war against Lysias; Judas recognized by Antiochus V Eupator; accession of Demetrius I Soter; war against Nicanor; his defeat.
The first chapter of 2 Maccabees is offered here in the Revised Standard version.
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First Letter

The Jewish brethren in Jerusalem and those in the land of Judea,
To their Jewish brethren in Egypt, Greeting, and good peace.

May God do good to you, and may He remember His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, His faithful servants. May He give you all a heart to worship Him and to do His will with a strong heart and a willing spirit. May He open your heart to His law and His commandments, and may he bring peace. May He hear your prayers and be reconciled to you, and may He not forsake you in time of evil. We are now praying for you here.

In the reign of Demetrius[II Nicator], in the one hundred and sixty-ninth year [of the Seleucid era;143/142 BCE], we Jews wrote to you, in the critical distress which came upon us in those years after [the high priest] Jason and his company revolted from the holy land and the kingdom and burned the gate and shed innocent blood. We besought the Lord and we were heard, and we offered sacrifice and cereal offering, and we lighted the lamps and we set out the loaves. And now see that you keep the feast of booths in the month of Kislev, in the one hundred and eighty-eighth year [124/123].
 

Second Letter

Those in Jerusalem and those in Judea and the senate and Judas,
To Aristobulus, who is of the family of the anointed priests, teacher of Ptolemy the king, and to the Jews in Egypt, Greeting, and good health.

Having been saved by God out of grave dangers we thank Him greatly for taking our side against the king [Antiochus IV Epiphanes]For He drove out those who fought against the holy city. For when the leader reached Persia with a force that seemed irresistible, they were cut to pieces in the temple of Nanea by a deception employed by the priests of Nanea. For under pretext of intending to marry her, Antiochus came to the place together with his friends, to secure most of its treasures as a dowry. When the priests of the temple of Nanea had set out the treasures and Antiochus had come with a few men inside the wall of the sacred precinct, they closed the temple as soon as he entered it. Opening the secret door in the ceiling, they threw stones and struck down the leader and his men, and dismembered them and cut off their heads and threw them to the people outside. Blessed in every way be our God, who has brought judgment upon those who have behaved impiously.

Since on the twenty-fifth day of Kislev we shall celebrate the purification of the temple, we thought it necessary to notify you, in order that you also may celebrate the feast of booths and the feast of the fire given when Nehemiah, who built the temple and the altar, offered sacrifices. For when our fathers were being led captive to Persia [i.e., Babylonia], the pious priests of that time took some of the fire of the altar and secretly hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern, where they took such precautions that the place was unknown to any one.

But after many years had passed, when it pleased God, Nehemiah, having been commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to get it. And when they reported to us that they had not found fire but thick liquid, he ordered them to dip it out and bring it. And when the materials for the sacrifices were presented, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and what was laid upon it. When this was done and some time had passed and the sun, which had been clouded over, shone out, a great fire blazed up, so that all marveled. And while the sacrifice was being consumed, the priests offered prayer - the priests and every one. Jonathan led, and the rest responded, as did Nehemiah. The prayer was to this effect: "O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, Who art awe-inspiring and strong and just and merciful, Who alone art King and art kind, Who alone art bountiful, Who alone art just and almighty and eternal, Who dost rescue Israel from every evil, Who didst choose the fathers and consecrate them, accept this sacrifice on behalf of all Thy people Israel and preserve Thy portion and make it holy. Gather together our scattered people, set free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look upon those who are rejected and despised, and let the Gentiles know that Thou art our God. Afflict those who oppress and are insolent with pride. Plant Thy people in Thy holy place, as Moses said." Then the priests sang the hymns.

And when the materials of the sacrifice were consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the liquid that was left should be poured upon large stones. When this was done, a flame blazed up; but when the light from the altar shone back, it went out. When this matter became known, and it was reported to the king of the Persians that, in the place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire, the liquid had appeared with which Nehemiah and his associates had burned the materials of the sacrifice, the king investigated the matter, and enclosed the place and made it sacred And with those persons whom the king favored he exchanged many excellent gifts. Nehemiah and his associates called this "nephthar," which means purification, but by most people it is called naphtha. 





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Latest revision: 6 December 2006
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