1 Maccabees - Chapter 1
41 The king then issued a proclamation to his whole kingdom that all were to become a single people, each nation renouncing its particular customs. 42 All the gentiles conformed to the king's decree, 43 and many Israelites chose to accept his religion, sacrificing to idols and profaning the Sabbath.
What are the Books of Maccabees? Why do some people not believe in them? Why are they important today?
What are the books of Maccabees?
The Maccabean Revolt is the Jewish rebellion against the Seleucid Empire from 167 BC to 160 BC. They are recorded in the books of First and Second Maccabees (Catholic Bible- Three Books in the Orthodox Bible and Four Books in the Armenian Bible) as well as Josephus's The Jewish Wars. To understand this revolt, one needs to know what happened between the history recorded in the biblical account and these events in 167 BC. After the Persians had conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple as recorded in Ezra and Nehemiah, Alexander the Great led the Greeks to conquer the Persians and gained control of Jerusalem. Upon Alexander's untimely death, the Greek empire was divided among his four generals. Judea came under the control of the Seleucid Empire, the quarter based out of Syria. The Seleucid Empire was begun by one of the generals of Alexander and the leaders of this empire were all his descendants.
When Antiochus IV came to power in 175 BC, he forbade Jewish religious practice. He wanted to convert the Jewish people and have them In 167 BC he defiled the temple in Jerusalem by installing an idol to Zeus and sacrificing pigs upon the altar. This made the temple unclean. He also profaned the temple by bringing in prostitutes.
2 Maccabees 6:4
For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.
Antiochus IV enforced a policy of assimilation to the Greek/Syrian way of life, forbidding circumcision, preventing kosher food restrictions, and requiring that sacrifices be made throughout the land to the Greek gods.
2 Maccabees 6: 9-10
9 and should kill those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them. 10 For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall.
When a Seleucid military officer arrived in the rural town of Modi'in to carry out Antiochus's orders, the Jewish priest in that town, Mattathias, vehemently refused and then killed the officer as well as any Jew who would obey such a command. He and his five sons then fled to the Judean wilderness where they were joined by like-minded Jews. Mattathias died there about a year later. His son Judah then led the small army of Jewish dissidents in guerilla warfare, first against other Jews who supported the Greek/Syrian way of life and then against the Seleucid army itself. Judah's militia was known to be swift and fierce, quickly conquering areas and then strictly enforcing Mosaic Law, including destroying Greek altars and forcibly circumcising those they conquered. This brutality earned him the name "Judah the Hammer" or "Judah Maccabeus" in Hebrew. That is how his militia became known as the Maccabees and their uprising as the Maccabean Revolt.
After victory in Jerusalem in 164 BC, the Maccabean army cleansed the temple and reestablished Jewish worship there. This cleansing and rededication of the temple is still celebrated today in the holiday of Hanukkah. Jesus also observed this celebration during His time on earth (John 10:22).
When Antiochus IV died, the Seleucid army was called to return home to Syria. Lysias, the commander of the Seleucid army, therefore agreed to grant religious freedom to the Jews, giving the Maccabees the right to run Judea semi-autonomously as long as they paid tribute taxes to the Seleucid Empire. Thus began the Hasmonean Dynasty, a name finding its origin in Mattathias's ancestor Hasmonaeus. The Hasmoneans ruled Judea in relative independence for the next nearly one hundred years and also continued to conquest the surrounding areas.
Ultimately the political intrigue and family infighting among the Hasmoneans led the Romans to eventually gain control of Judea, thus setting the political backdrop against which Jesus was born. People alive in Jesus' day remembered the independence they had enjoyed before the Roman occupation of Judea and they were eager for a new Jewish king to restore their freedom. However, Jesus' mission was not a political one at that time.
Antiochus IV's oppression of Jewish religious practice is only one example in a long and ongoing history of anti-Semitism in the world. The success of the Maccabean Revolt is just one example among many of God preserving a remnant of His people (Isaiah 10:22) in order to accomplish His plan. In this case, the Maccabean Revolt reinstated Jewish religious practice in Judea and left a hunger for the Messiah among the Jews who came after the Hasmonean Dynasty had ended.
In fact, what would have happened had it not happened? If the Jewish Religion had been converted to the Greek, would we have seen Jesus? Why would we need a Messiah for the Jews if there were no Jews left on earth? How could Jesus had been crucified by the Roman Empire, if the Empire had not controlled Jerusalem? In essence, the significance of these and other facts places the Books of the Maccabees to be one of the most important Books of the Bible.
Why Do Some People Not Believe In These Books?
In Bible study, the term "Apocrypha" refers to sections of the Bible that are not sanctioned as belonging to certain official canons. In some Protestant versions, these sections appear between the Old and New Testaments. More generally, the word refers to writings or statements whose purported origin is in doubt. This doubt was no doubt at all for the Armenians, Orthodox, and Catholic who have included the Books in their Bible. It was no doubt for Apostles who had it in their Bible- the Septuagint. The only doubts come in with the advent of the Protestants and the Protestant Reformation. Here, Martin Luther, who railed against the imperial powers of the Pope and Rome, took it upon himself to conclude that somehow these Books were tainted or that their origin was in doubt. He did this without listening to a Church Council or taking the advice of previous Church Councils who had approved the inclusion of these Books into the Bible. Is this not the same type of heavy-handed dealings that he was accusing others of doing? Can it be wrong for others to do this and then be right for you to do the same? Maybe, if he was wrong on these Books, he was wrong on many other things as well?
The Council of Nicea in 325 did not create the Books of Maccabees. They were created many years before and spoke about a subject that is critical to the history of our Church. Jesus was Jewish. Mary was Jewish. Jesus came to earth to be the Messiah of the Jews. Jesus spoke Aramaic he did not speak Latin. Jesus taught us the principles we need to know so that we can return to him someday and live. He came to establish a Church, not 40,000 churches. He did not come here to cause confusion. He came to show people the path they should follow. He showed us that through him, we too can and will be resurrected. Our life here is temporary, our life with Him will be forever.
Do we need the Book of Maccabees? Why are they so important? The answer is simple. It is the story of how a few people were able to stand against a mighty empire and make a difference. It was a story about standing up on religious principles and being successful. It is an important story because without it we would not have had:
- A Jewish Faith
- Roman Empire in Israel
Some will try to argue that Jesus did not mention this book while he was on earth. This is really a phony argument because Jesus would not have come to earth if it had not been the fact the Maccabees did happen and saved the Jewish population. Thank God, for the Maccabees, and may we have the same strength and courage if we were ever faced with the same set of circumstances. Amen