1 Maccabees

Author & Date:

      • Around year 100 BC.
      • Could be: (1) a contemporary of period / involved in events, possibly the official historiographer of Hasmonean family, (2) a Sadducee writer (no mention of life after death, etc).
      • Originally written in Hebrew.
      • Supporter of Hasmonian dynasty.
      • Book we have in Greek = 100-63 BC. Reference to John Hyrcanus at end of book = term was 134-104… so near end of his term.

Literary Form:

  • Honest historical work.
    • Josephus said great historical value.
    • Sickness of Anti-IV corroborated with secular history.
    • Honesty of defeats & victories + topographical and chronological accounts.


  • Consists of detailed accounts mostly of military battles & international politics. Gives Jews a national sense of identity.
  • Narrates the history of the Jewish people form the enthronement of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanies (175 BC) until the installation of John Hyrcanus as the high priest in Jerusalem (134 BC).


1 Maccabees:

    1. Introduction (chaps. 1–2) = Prelude to the Wars
      1. A. Alexander the Great and the Seleucid Persecution (1:1–63)
      2. B. Mattathias and His Sons (2:1–70) –> Mattathias named “Hasmoneus” by Josephus = Hasmonean dynasty. Mattathias = new Phineas  – who purifies ppl from worshiping foreign gods + new David – assembles force in desert to take over city.
      3. Overall = The rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanies and his religious persecution of the Jews – initial revolt by Mattathias and his sons.
    1. The Leadership of Judas Maccabeus (3:1–9:22)  –> 166-160 BC
      1. Judas takes his father’s place in the war.
      2. Judas new Moses – leads them through hostile territory + new Joshua – reconquers land.
      3. Outwitted Syrian forces with guerrilla warfare.
      4. Absolute confidence in God + ready to die in battle.
      5. Judas restores & rededicates the Temple = feast of Hanukkah December 14, 164 BC.
      6. Death of Antiochus IV
      7. Demetrius rises as Syrian King
      8. Judas’ crucial victory over Nicanor – Demetrius names Nicanor to destroy the people.
      9. Judas dies in battle against Bacchides & renegade Jewish high priest Alcimus.
    1. The Leadership of Jonathan (9:23–12:53) –> 160-143 BC
      1. Land is in the grip of Syrian military + pro-Syrian Jews (“lawless ones”)
      2. Jonathan gains control of Judean countryside after demoralizing forces of Bacchides + negotiate a treaty with him.
      3. Jonathan becomes high priest – goes against Demetrius and allies with Alexander Balas, son of Antiochus, accepts his offer to appointment as high priest in 152 BC. Breaks sacred tradition of passing the high priesthood down by inheritance in the line of Zadok. Alexander defeats Demetrius in 150 BC = consolidates Jonathan’s power in Judea.
      4. Demetrius II takes over in 145 BC after defeating Alexander — Jonathan alliance with Demetrius… but then D goes against J.
      5. Jonathan defeats D II in battle of Hazor 144 BC through prayer.
      6. Trypho executes Jonathan in prison after tricking him. –> time of mortal danger for all Jews as all surrounding nations sought to destroy them.
    1. The Leadership of Simon (13:1–16:17) –> 143-134 BC
      1. Simon, oldest son of Mattathias becomes “high priest, leader, and governor of Jews” (13:42).
      2. Simon negotiates treaty with former enemy Demetrius II => Simon confirmed as high priest + agrees to presence of Simon’s stronghold + remits all taxes.
      3. Simon’s peaceful and prosperous reign involved treaties with Rome and Sparta.
      4. 137 BC WAR –> Military victory of Simon’s sons, Judas and John, against Cendebeus.
      5. Death of Simon + his sons Judas & Mattathias –> tragic = Ptolemy, Simon’s son-in-law murders them at a banquet in 134 BC.
    1. The Reign of John Hyrcanus (16:18–24)
      1. John escaped Ptolemy’s plan to kill them all and gain control of Judea –> Hasmonean dynasty begins.
      2. Succession of Simon’s son as leader of Jews.


  • Sin within Israel as lawlessness + impiety – leading to religious compromise
  • Opposition to the faith, at times violent & deadly
  • The willingness of believers to die for the faith
  • Loyalty to law + covenant
  • Warfare and violence as way of protecting faith in a time of violence = Judas’ righteous cause out of reverence for Heaven.
  • God’s assistance in war that is waged with “strength that comes from Heaven”
  • Importance of Temple, Temple sacrifice, high priesthood
  • Absence of prophecy


  • God is NOT mentioned by name –> great reverence of divine name YHWH – refer to God as “Heaven”. Like Matthew’s Gospel. prayers offered by heroes before they go into battle.  Jewish fighters = “help of heaven” in battle.  God decides fate of Jewish people. Reverence for 1st commandment –> sparks insurrection.
  • NO miracles of divine intervention appear –>  Similar to book of Judges – violence breaks out as a defence against oppression and injustice. To prevent extermination of whole nation. Successful maneuvering on stage of international politics.
  • NO prophets speak –> distress + waiting for true prophets (beyond human control). Temple and high priesthood becomes important in absence. Institutional religion = way to reach out to God when God does NOT seem to reach out to them. LEADERS = good + brave –> remarkable considering absence of any sense of recompense in the afterlife. give lives for national good + divine order of things. “Whatever Heaven, wills, he will do” (3:59) = Judas’ view.  POSITIVE END = yoke of Gentiles removed from Israel + Hasmonean dynasty established.
  • NO one expresses faith in life after death.
  • NO women.
  • NO miracles = but still “strength that comes from heaven” (3:19). NEED to see God more in natural events of world and history… still mysterious unfolding of God’s plan. Leaders face mystery with strength, faith, courage. God is NOT manipulated by prayer.
  • Overall = need to love God + be faithful to His law + serve God at any cost + NO reward possibly = faith in God as a sacred mystery.


  • 1 M = purpose of glorifying the Maccabees as “those men by whom salvation was brought to Israel” (5:62). Enhances victories and minimizes defeats.
  • “The Jewish Insurrection” –> Maccabean revolt aimed to reclaim Holy Land from foreign occupation. Antiochus IV Epiphanies VS. Mattathias, Judas, Jonathan, Simon. The story of liberation = Jews eventually appoint their own ruler in the end. People of God must live out their faith within the political tensions of the real world. 
    1. Sacred History Experienced in the Present
      • Author adopts Deut. style = God at work in time of Maccabees = to re-present the history of salvation. Mattathias = new Phineas & David. Judas = new Moses + new Joshua.
    1. Prayer, spiritual discipline, worship
      • Achievements are the fruit of prayer & reverence for Law. Pray before war.
      • Psalms of thanksgiving after war.
      • Name of Lord too holy to be uttered. “Heaven”
      • Dedication to Law = unites and energizes Jewish resistance. Mattathias burns with zeal for Law + Judas has Law as guide + victory due to observing Law.
    1. reverence for institutions: the temple & the holy city
      • Maccabees fought on behalf of the Temple and the Law against Gentile oppression and Jewish apostasy.
      • Temple = worth more than one’s life. –> leads to Judas and brothers sacrificing themselves in battle. Climax = rededicate Temple.
      • Jerusalem = holy city b/c Lord’s presence in Temple. = attack Jerusalem –> eventually attacker is destroyed.
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