corner graphic

Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Maccabees, the Second Book of,

Resource Toolbox

according to the order of the Sept., which is followed both by the ancient versions and modern expositors of the Apocrypha.

I. Position. This book ought, according to the historic order, to be the first of the Maccabees, because its narrative begins with an event which occurred in the reign of Seleucus Philopator, about B.C. 180, i.e. four years earlier than the preceding book. Its being placed second in order is evidently owing to the fact that it is both of a later date and of less intrinsic worth than the one denominated the first of the Maccabees. Cotton, in his translation of the Maccabees, has put this book as the third of Maccabees.

II. Design, Contents, and Division. The design of this book is to admonish and encourage the Jews to keep the religion of their fathers, and especially to inculcate in the Israelites resident in Egypt a reverence for the Temple in Jerusalem, urging them to take part in the celebration of the festivals instituted to commemorate the dedication of the Temple as the sacred and legitimate place for divine worship (2 Maccabees 10:6), and the defeat of Nicanor (2 Maccabees 15:36). To effect this design, the writer gives a condensed history of the Maccabees struggles for their religion and sanctuary, beginning with the attempts of Heliodorus to plunder the Temple, cir. B.C. 180, and terminating with the victory of Judas Maccabaeus over Nicanor, B.C. 161. The whole narrative, therefore, which is partly (2 Maccabees 3:1 to 2 Maccabees 4:6) anterior to 1 Maccabees, partly (2 Maccabees 4:7, 2 Maccabees 7:42) supplementary to the brief summary in 1 Maccabees 1:10-64, and partly (2 Maccabees 7:1-15) parallel with 1 Maccabees 3:1 to 1 Maccabees 7:48, embraces a period of about nineteen years, and is divided into three sections, each of which is made to terminate with the great event commemorated by the festival which the writer is so anxious that his Egyptian brethren should celebrate.

1. The first section (2 Maccabees 1:1 to 2 Maccabees 2:32) comprises two epistles, the relation of which to the substance of the book is extremely obscure. The first (2 Maccabees 1:1-9) is a solemn invitation to the Egyptian Jews to celebrate "the feast of tabernacles in the month Casleu" (i.e. the feast of the dedication, 2 Maccabees 1:9), as before they had sympathized with their brethren in Judaea in "the extremity of their trouble" (2 Maccabees 1:7). The second (2 Maccabees 1:10 to 2 Maccabees 2:18, according to the received division), which bears a formal salutation from "the council and Judas" to "Aristobulus... and the Jews in Egypt," is a strange, rambling collection of legendary stories of the death of "Antiochus," of the preservation of the sacred fire and its recovery by Nehemiah, of the hiding of the vessels of the sanctuary by Jeremiah, ending, if, indeed, the letter can be said to have any end with the same exhortation to observe the feast of dedication (2 Maccabees 2:10-18). Then follows an account given by the writer of this book of the sources from which he derived his information, and of the trouble he had in compiling it (2 Maccabees 2:19-32).

2. The second section (2 Maccabees 3:1 to 2 Maccabees 10:9) gives important information about the origin of the persecutions (2 Maccabees 3:1 to 2 Maccabees 7:42), which is simply hinted at in 1 Maccabees, and then describes and supplements (in 2 Maccabees 8:1 to 2 Maccabees 9:29) the events recorded in 1 Maccabees, concluding with the dedication of the Temple (2 Maccabees 10:1-9), which is the great object of the book, cir. B.C. 180-165.

3. The third section (2 Maccabees 10:10 to 2 Maccabees 15:37) records the various victories of the Jews, terminating in the crowning success of Judas Maccabaeus and the death of Nicanor, which led to the institution of the feast commemorating the victory over him, B.C. 164-161.

This is followed by an epilogue (2 Maccabees 15:38-39) which is wanting in Coverdale's (after the Zurich) Bible; in Matthew's, 1537; in Cranmer's, 1539; and in the various reprints of these editions; and which the Geneva Bible, 1560, followed by the Bishops', 1568, was the first to insert.

The latter two of the above sections, taken together, present several natural subdivisions, which appear to coincide with the "five books" of Jason on which it was based. The first (ch. 3) contains the history of Heliodorus, as illustrating the fortunes of the Temple before the schism and apostasy of part of the nation (cir. B.C. 180). The second (ch. 4-7) gives varied details of the beginning and course of the great persecution-the murder of Onias, the crimes of Menelaus, the martyrdom of Eleazar, and of the mother with her seven sons (B.C. 175-167). The third (ch. 2 Maccabees 8:1 to 2 Maccabees 10:9) follows the fortunes of Judas to the triumphant restoration of the Temple service (B.C. 166,165). The fourth (2 Maccabees 10:10-13) includes the reign of Antiochus Eupator (B.C. 164-162). The fifth (ch. 14, 15) records the treachery of Alcimus, the mission of Nicanor, and the crowning success of Judas (B.C. 162,161). Each of these divisions is closed by a phrase which seems to mark the end of a definite subject (2 Maccabees 3:40; 2 Maccabees 7:42; 2 Maccabees 10:9; 2 Maccabees 13:26; 2 Maccabees 15:37); and they correspond, in fact, with distinct stages in the national struggle.

III. Author, Date, and original Language. The compiler of this book distinctly declares that the original author of it, or of the "five books" from which he condensed the narrative before us, was "Jason of Cyrene" (2 Maccabees 2:23). Herzfeld thinks that this Jason is the same as Jason, the son of Eleazar, whom Judas Maccabaeus sent with Eupolemus as envoy to Rome after the defeat of Nicanor to conclude a treaty with the Romans (1 Maccabees 8:17; Josephus, Ant. 2 Maccabees 12:10; 2 Maccabees 12:6); because it is only a Hellenistic Jew who, being master of the Greek language, would be qualified for such a mission to a foreign court. This hypothesis, moreover, explains the otherwise anomalous circumstance that this book, which records the Maccabaean struggles, goes no further in its history than the victory over Nicanor, inasmuch as up to this point Jason was an eye-witness to the exploits of Judas, and was sent to Rome after this most important event; and it is confirmed by the accurate knowledge which the writer displays of the events (2 Maccabees 4:21 sq.; 2 Maccabees 8:1 sq.; 2 Maccabees 9:29 sq.; 2 Maccabees 10:12-13; 2 Maccabees 14:1; Herzfeld, Geschichte d. Volkes Israel, 1:445 sq.). Accordingly, the original work must have been written about B.C. 160, immediately after the victory over Nicanor, and prior to the defeat and death of Judas (1 Maccabees 9:16-18), which brought new calamities upon the Holy City, and again transferred the power to the heathenishly-inclined Jews under the pontificate of Alcimus (1 Maccabees 9:23-29). The errors in the order of the events and of history must be ascribed to the epitomator, whose great object was not to narrate history faithfully, but to make the facts harmonize with his design.

As a Cyrenian Jew, Jason most naturally composed his work in Greek; and Jerome's testimony, "Secundus [Machabaeorum liber] Graecus est, quod ex ipsa quoque phrasi probari potest" (Prol. Gal.), is fully borne out by the style of the epitome. (See below.) The epitomator or compiler of the present book was a Hellenistic Jew, residing in Palestine, and must have lived a considerable period after the events transpired. The date of the compilation is put within the limits B.C. 150-124. The two epistles with which the book begins do not proceed from Jason, and are of a much later date, though the first purports to have been written B.C. 124, or 188 of the Seleucidae; and the second, by mentioning a recent deliverance from great perils, evidently implies that it was written after the news of the death of Antiochus Epiphanes, i.e. 148 of the Seleucidae. The original language of these letters seems to be Hebrew. Indeed, Geiger shows that the difficult passage, ἀφ᾿ ο à ἀπέστη Ι᾿άσων καὶ οἱ μετ᾿ αὑτοῦ ἀπὸ τῆς ἁγίας γῆς καὶ τῆς βασιλείας (2 Maccabees 1:7), which is ambiguous, and, as commonly understood, represents Jason and his companions as apostatizing from the land and the kingdom is, when retranslated into Hebrew, ואשר אתו מאדמת הקדש והמלוכה הת סר יאסון, shown to mean, from the time that Jason and those who sided with him front the holy land and the kingdom, apostatized; חמלוכה either standing for זרע המלוכה, royal descent (comp. 2 Kings 25:25; Jeremiah 41:1; Ezekiel 17:13; Daniel 1:3), or referring back to אדמת in the sense of עיר המלוכה (2 Samuel 12:26), i.e. those who call themselves after the sacred ground of the royal residence. The same is the case with 2 Maccabees 1:9; 2 Maccabees 1:18, where the Feast of Dedication is most extraordinarily called the Feast of Tabernacles, which can only be explained when the passages are retranslated into Hebrew. Now the Hebrew for ἵνα ἄγητε τὰς ἡμέρας τῆς σκηνοπηγίας τοῦ Χασελεῦ μηνός (2 Maccabees 1:9) is למען תחגו ימי חג חדש כסליו ; and for ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ ἄγητε τῆς σκηνοπηγίας (καὶ ) τοῦ πυρός (2 Maccabees 1:18) is חג האש למען תחגו גם אתם את . When it is borne in mind that the expression חג, which is the general term for feast in earlier Hebrew (Exodus 10:9; Exodus 12:14; Leviticus 23:39), was afterwards used for the feast of tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2; 2 Chronicles 5:3; Josephus, Ant. 2 Maccabees 8:4; 2 Maccabees 8:1), it will at once be seen that the translator of these epistles, instead of rendering the word in question simply by test, attached to it the later sense of the specific festival, which he was evidently led to do by the fact that both these festivals are of eight days' duration, and that the feast of tabernacles is mentioned in 2 Maccabees 10:6. So also διαοίξαι τὴν καρδίαν ὑμῶν ἐν τῷ νόμῳ αὐτοῦ (2 Maccabees 1:4) is a translation of בתורתו יפתה לבכם

The style of the book is extremely uneven. At times it is elaborately ornate (2 Maccabees 3:15-39; 2 Maccabees 5:20; 2 Maccabees 6:12-16; 2 Maccabees 6:23-28; 2 Maccabees 7, etc.), and, again, it is so rude and broken as to seem more like notes for an epitome than a finished composition (2 Maccabees 13:19-26); but it nowhere attains to the simple energy and pathos of the first book. The vocabulary corresponds to the style. It abounds in new or unusual words. Many of these are forms which belong to the decay of a language, as ἀλλοφυλισμός , 2 Maccabees 4:13; 2 Maccabees 6:24; ῾Ελληνισμός, 2 Maccabees 6:13 (ἐμφανισμός , 2 Maccabees 3:9); ἐτασμός, 2 Maccabees 7:37; θωρακισμός, 2 Maccabees 5:3; σπλαγχνισμός, 2 Maccabees 5:6-7; 2 Maccabees 5:21; 2 Maccabees 7:42; or compounds which betray a false pursuit of emphasis or precision: διεμπίμπλημι , 2 Maccabees 4:40; ἐπευλαβεῖσθαι, 2 Maccabees 14:18; κατευθικτεῖν , 2 Maccabees 14:43; προσαναλέγεσθαι, 2 Maccabees 3:19; προσυπομιμνήσκω, 2 Maccabees 15:9; συνεκκεντεῖν , 2 Maccabees 15:26. Other words are employed in novel senses, as δευτερολογεῖν, 2 Maccabees 13:22; εἰσκυκλεῖσθαι, 2 Maccabees 2:24; εὐαπάντητος , 2 Maccabees 14:9; πεφρενωμένος, 2 Maccabees 11:4; ψυχικῶς, 2 Maccabees 4:37; 2 Maccabees 14:24. Others bear a sense which is common in late Greek, as ἀκλερεῖν , 2 Maccabees 14:8; ἀναζυγή, 2 Maccabees 9:2; 2 Maccabees 13:26; διάληψις , 2 Maccabees 3:32; ἐναπερείδω, 2 Maccabees 9:4; φρυάσσομαι . 34; περισκυθόζω , 2 Maccabees 7:4. Others appear to be peculiar to this book, as διάσταλσις, 2 Maccabees 13:25; δυσπέτημα , 2 Maccabees 5:20; προσπυροῦν, 2 Maccabees 14:11; πολεμοτροφεῖν , 2 Maccabees 10:14-15; - ὁπλολογεῖν, 2 Maccabees 8:27; 2 Maccabees 8:31; ἀπενθανατίζειν, 2 Maccabees 6:28; δοξικός, 2 Maccabees 8:35; ἀνδρολογία , 2 Maccabees 12:43. Hebraisms are very rare (2 Maccabees 8:15; 2 Maccabees 9:5; 2 Maccabees 14:24). Idiomatic Greek phrases are much more common (2 Maccabees 4:40; 2 Maccabees 12:22; 2 Maccabees 15:12, etc.); and the writer evidently had a considerable command over the Greek language, though his taste was deformed by a love of rhetorical effect.

IV. Historical and Religious Character. As the avowed design of the book is religio-didactic and parmnetic, the aim of the writer was not to recount a series of dry facts in chronological order, but rather to select such events from the period on which he treats, and arrange, embellish, and comment upon them in such a manner as should most strikingly set forth to his Egyptian brethren the marvelous interposition of God to preserve the only legitimate and theocratic sanctuary in Jerusalem. Hence the desire to point out the signal punishment of the wicked according to the principle in eo gener e quisque punitur. in quo peccavit (2 Maccabees 5:9-10; 2 Maccabees 9:5-6; 2 Maccabees 13:8; 2 Maccabees 15:32-33); the moral reflections (2 Maccabees 5:17-20; 2 Maccabees 6:12-16; 2 Maccabees 9:8-10; 2 Maccabees 12:43-45); the colored descriptions (2 Maccabees 3:14-23; 2 Maccabees 5:11-20); the exaggerated account of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, which king Antiochus, for the sake of effect, is made to witness in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 6:18 to 2 Maccabees 7:42); the enormous numbers of the enemy slain by a handful of Jews (2 Maccabees 8:24; 2 Maccabees 8:30; 2 Maccabees 10:23; 2 Maccabees 10:31; 2 Maccabees 11:11; 2 Maccabees 12:16; 2 Maccabees 12:19; 2 Maccabees 12:23; 2 Maccabees 12:26; 2 Maccabees 12:28; 2 Maccabees 15:27); the numerous and strange miracles (2 Maccabees 3:25-27; 2 Maccabees 5:2-3; 2 Maccabees 10:29-31; 2 Maccabees 11:8-10; 2 Maccabees 15:12, etc.); the historical and chronological inaccuracies, making Antiochus witness the death of the Jewish martyrs (2 Maccabees 7:3); the death of Antiochus (ch. 9); the representing of the sacrifices as having been renewed after two years' interruption (2 Maccabees 10:3, comp. with 1 Maccabees 4:52; 1 Maccabees 4:54; 1 Maccabees 1:54; 1 Maccabees 1:59); the description of the different battles which the Jews fought between the purification of the Temple and the death of Antiochus (2 Maccabees 8:30; 2 Maccabees 10:15-38; 2 Maccabees 12:24, comp. with 1 Maccabees 5); the campaign of Lysias (2 Maccabees 11:12, comp. with 1 Maccabees 4:26-32); etc.

But apart from these embellishments, traditional stories, inversions of events, etc., which, in accordance with ancient usage, the author adopted in order to carry out his design, and in spite of the fact that the two letters with which the book begins are now generally given up as spurious, the best critics accept the groundwork of the facts as true. Grimm, whose elaborate, thorough, and impartial comment on this book is unparalleled, has shown that there is no ground to question the historical import of the most important section (chap. 4-6. 10), which is not only most consistent in itself. but, fits most appropriately the space of 1 Maccabees 1:10-64; or the truthfulness of ch. 3, when stripped of the miraculous. He says that its truthfulness, within the specified limits, is supported by the fact that, 1. Notwithstanding the many differences, it agrees in not a few portions with 1 Maccabees, though both these books are perfectly independent of each other; and, 2. In four events which it records anterior to 1 Maccabees, it agrees with Josephus, who is entirely independent of it, viz. the account of the Temple at Gerizirn (6:2, comp. with Josephus, Ant. 12:5, 5); the execution of Menelaus at Beroea (13:38, comp. with Josephus, Ant. 12:9, 7); the landing of Demetrius at Tripolis (14:1); and of the priestly intrigues (ch. 4) which were the cause of the protracted series of struggles between the Jews and the Syrian monarchs.

The religious character of the book is one of its most important and interesting features. God is throughout recognized as ordaining even the most minute affairs of his people; the calamities which befel them are looked upon by the Jews as a temporary visitation for their sins (2 Maccabees 4:16-17; 2 Maccabees 5:17-20; 2 Maccabees 6:12-17; 2 Maccabees 7:32-33; 2 Maccabees 12:40); and the sufferings which come upon the righteous in this common visitation are regarded as atoning for the sins of the rest of the people, and staying the anger of God (2 Maccabees 7:38). The book. moreover, shows that the interposition of angels for the salvation of the people (2 Maccabees 10:29, etc.; 2 Maccabees 13:2, etc.), and supernatural manifestations (2 Maccabees 3:25; 2 Maccabees 5:2, etc.; 2 Maccabees 13:2, etc.), which play a very important part in the N.T., were of no common occurrence. What is, however, most striking, is, that not only did the Jews then believe in the surviving of the soul after the death of the body, in the resurrection of the dead, and in their reunion with those near and dear to them (2 Maccabees 7:6; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 2 Maccabees 7:11; 2 Maccabees 7:14; 2 Maccabees 7:23; 2 Maccabees 7:29; 2 Maccabees 7:36), but that God does not irrevocably seal the eternal doom of man immediately after his departure, and that the decision o our heavenly Father may be influenced by the prayers and sacrifices of the surviving friends of the departed (2 Maccabees 12:43-45). This passage also shows that the offering of sacrifices for the dead must have been common in those days, inasmuch as it is spoken of in very commendable terms. The striking distinction between the religious sentiments of this book and those of the former goes far to justify Geiger's conclusion that "the two books of Maccabees are party productions; the author of the first was a Sadducee, and a friend of the Maccabman dynasty while the author or epitomator of the second was a Pharisee, who looked upon the Maccabees with suspicion" (Urschrif, p. 206). Still the second book, like the first, contains no hopes about the coming of a Messiah.

V. Canonicity. Though portions of this book are incorporated in the Jewish writings, and form a part of the ritual, viz., the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother (ch. 6:1-42), which is not only mentioned in the Talmud (Gittin, 57, b), the Midrash of the ten commandments (ed. Jellinek; Beth Ha-Midrash, 1:70, etc.), Midrash Jalkut (On Deuteronomy section תבא, 301, b), etc., but is interwoven in the service for the Feast of Dedication (compare The Jozer, אודכִי אנפת ); the martyrdom of Eleazar (ch. 6:18-31), also embodied in the same service, and described by Josippon, who also speaks of the wonderful appearance of the horsemen, and other circumstances narrated in 2 Maccabees (compare Josippon, lib. ii, c. ii-iv, ed. Breithaupt, p. 172 sq.), yet the book was never part of the Jewish canon. Hence, even if it could be shown more unquestionably that the apparent parallels between 2 Maccabees and diverse passages in the N.T. (compare 2 Maccabees 1:4, with Acts 16:14; 2 Maccabees 5:19, with Mark 2:27; 2 Maccabees 6:19; 2 Maccabees 7:2, etc., with Hebrews 11:35; 2 Maccabees 7:14, with John 5:29; 2 Maccabees 7:22, etc.; 14:46, with Acts 17:24-26; 2 Maccabees 7:36, with Revelation 6:9; 2 Maccabees 8:2, with Luke 21:24; Revelation 11:2; 2 Maccabees 10:7, with Revelation 7:9; 2 Maccabees 15:3-5, with Ephesians 6:9) are actual quotations, it would only prove that the apostles, like the rest of their Jewish brethren, alluded to the incidents recorded in this book without regarding the book itself as canonical.

The only references, however, to be found in the A. V. are from Hebrews 11:35-36, to 2 Maccabees 6:18-19; 2 Maccabees 7:7, etc.; and 2 Maccabees 7:1-7; but even these are disputed, and it is quite possible that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews refers to the sufferings of the Essenes (compare Ginsburg, The Esssenes, etc., Longman, 1864, p. 36). In harmony with the decisions of the Jewish Church, this book is excluded from the canon of sacred books in the catalogues of Melito, Origen, the Council of Laodicea, St. Cyril, St. Hilary, etc. (compare Du Pin, History of the Canon, London, 1699, 1:12). Jerome emphatically declares: "Maccabaeorum libros legit quidem ecclesia, sed eos inter canonicas scripturas non recipit" (Praef. in Prov.); and Augustine, though stating that this book, like 1 Maccabees, was regarded by the Christians as not unuseful, yet expressly states that the Jews did not receive it into the canon (Contra ep. Gaudent. 1:31), and draws a distinction between it and the canonical Scriptures (De Civ. Dei, 18:36). The Council of Trent, however, has settled (April 8, 1546) the canonicity of it for the Roman Church. The Protestant Church generally agrees with Luther, who remarks, "We tolerate it because of the beautiful history of the Maccabaean seven martyrs and their mother, and other pieces. It is evident, however, that the writer was no great master, but produced a patchwork of various books; he has likewise a perplexing knot in ch. 14, in Razis, who committed suicide, which was also troublesome to Augustine and other fathers. For such example is of no use, and is not to be commended, though it may be tolerated and charitably explained. It also describes the death of Antiochus, in ch. 1, differently from 1 Maccabees To sum it all up: Just as 1 Maccabees deserves to be adopted in the number of sacred Scriptures, so 2 Maccabees deserves to be thrown out, though there is something good in it" (Vorrede auf das Zweite Buch Maccabaeorum, in the German Bible, ed. 1536).

VI. Versions and Literature. There are two ancient versions of this book, a Latin and a Syriac. The Latin, which was current before Jerome, and does not always follow closely the Greek, is now incorporated in the Roman Vulgate, while the Syriac, which is still less literal, is given both in vol. iv of the London Polyglot and by De Lagarde, Libri Veteris Testamenti Apocryphi Syriace (Loud. 1861). The Arabic so-called version of 2 Maccabees is really an independent work. (See MACCABEES, FIFTH BOOK OF).

Of commentaries and exegetical helps, we may mention Whitaker, A Disputations on Holy Scripture, Parker Society (Cambridge, 1849), p. 93- 102; Whiston, A Collection of Authentick Records (Lnondon, 1727), 1:200-232; Hasse, Das and. Buck der Makhk. neu iibers. nm. Anmerk. (Jena, 1786); Eichhorn, Einleitung in die apok. Schriften d. Alten Test. (Leipzig, 1795), p. 249-278; Bertheau, De Secundo Maccabceor. libro (Getting. 1829); Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees (Oxford, 1832), p. 148-217; Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 4:530 sq.; Schliinkes, Epistolce que Secundo Maccab. libro, cap. i-ii. 9, legitur explicatio, commentat. crit. (Colon. 1854); Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel (Nordhausen, 1854), 1:443456; Patritius, De Consensu utriusque librii Macctbceor. (Romans 1856); Geiger, Urschrift und Uebersetzanqen der Bibel (Breslau, 1857), p. 219-230; and, above all, the valuable work of Grimm, Kurzgefasstes exegyetisches Hlandbuch zu d. Apokryphen d. A Iten Testanents, pt. 4 (Leipz. 1857). (See APOCRYPHA).


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Maccabees, the Second Book of,'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/m/maccabees-the-second-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

Search for…
Enter query in the box:
 or 
Choose a letter to browse:
A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M 
N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  Y  Z 

 
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology