The second book of Maccabees is not a continuation of the first book.
Whereas the first book presents the history of the Jewish people during those critical years in a comprehensive and balanced way, this other focuses on a series of facts—and at times, commentaries and legends—allowing the author to emphasize the hopes and suffering of the persecuted believers. This second book, less interesting than the first for historians, is, nevertheless, extremely important in the Bible because of its profound vision of suffering and death and also of God’s justice. This book (with the book of Daniel) is the first in the Bible to affirm the resurrection of the dead, as the Wisdom of Solomon would do also at the next century.
First letter to the Jews in Egypt
•1Greetings to our brothers, the Jews in Egypt, from their brothers, the Jews in Jerusalem and in the region of Judea—may you have peace and happiness. 2May God fill you with every good and remember his Covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, his faithful servants. 3May he give you all a heart to worship him and to fulfill his will with generosity and a well-disposed spirit. 4May he incline your hearts to listen to his law and precepts, and give you peace. 5May he hear your prayers and be reconciled with you, and not abandon you in time of misfortune. 6This is what we now pray for you.
7In the year one hundred and sixty-nine (143 B.C.), when Demetrius was king, we Jews wrote to you during the most critical moment of trials that we had to endure during those years. And we said to you: Jason and his associates have betrayed the cause of the Holy Land and of the Kingdom. 8They have burned the Temple gateway and shed innocent blood.
But we prayed to the Lord and were heard. And now we have just offered a sacrifice with wheat flour, lighted the lamps again and set out the loaves of bread. 9So we write to you again that you may celebrate the Feast of Tents in the month of Chislev in this year one hundred and eighty-eight (124 B.C.).
Second letter to the Jews in Egypt
10The inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, their senators and Judas, to Aristobulus, teacher of king Ptolemy, belonging to the family of the anointed priests, and to the Jews in Egypt: greetings and prosperity.
11Having been saved by God from great dangers, we give him thanks because he came to our help against the king himself. 12God drove out those who fought against the Holy City; 13their leader left for Persia with a seemingly invincible army, but the priests of the goddess Nanea laid a trap for them and killed them in her temple.
14Antiochus and his friends came to that place under the pretext of marrying the goddess, but in reality they wanted to seize its great treasures as a dowry. 15The priests of Nanea had set out the treasures and Antiochus entered the sacred enclosure with a few men. But as soon as Antiochus had entered, they closed the temple 16and opened a secret door in the ceiling. Then they threw stones down and crushed the leader and his men. They then dismembered the bodies, cut off their heads and threw them to those outside. 17In all these things, may our God be blessed for he has handed over the impious to death.
18As we are about to celebrate the purification of the Temple on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev, it seems good to us to inform you, so that you, too, may celebrate the Feast of Tents and remember the fire that appeared when Nehemiah, who built the Temple and the altar, offered sacrifices. 19For when our ancestors were deported to Persia, the devout priests of the time took some of the fire from the altar and hid it secretly in the hollow of a dry well, with such caution that the place remained unknown to everyone.
20Many years had passed, when in God’s own time Nehemiah, who was commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to look for it. 21But they reported to us that they did not find the fire but instead a thick liquid. So Nehemiah ordered them to draw it out and bring it to him.
When the sacrifice had been prepared on the altar, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and the victims placed on it. 22They did so and after some time the sun which had previously been clouded over, shone. At once such a great fire blazed up that all were astonished.
23While the sacrifice was being consumed, the priests together with all those present prayed. Jonathan led while Nehemiah and the rest responded. 24This was their prayer:
“Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, dreadful and strong, just and merciful, you alone are good and are King, 25you alone are generous, just, all-powerful and eternal. You who save Israel from many evils, who chose our ancestors and sanctified them, 26accept this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel. Protect your heritage and sanctify it.
27Gather our scattered people together, set free those held in slavery among the nations, turn your eyes on those who are despised and crushed; so the pagans may know that you are our God. 28Afflict those who oppress us, who insult and treat us with contempt. 29Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses said.”
30The priests sang the hymns, 31and when the sacrifice was all consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the remaining liquid be poured over some large stones. 32This was done, and a flame flared up but it was outshone by the fire from the altar. 33This matter became known, and it was reported to the king of the Persians that the liquid with which Nehemiah and his companions had burned the sacrifice was found in the place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire. 34So, after verifying the facts, the king ordered that a fence be built to enclose the place and decreed that it be a sacred place.
35The king gave some of that liquid to those who enjoyed his favor, and they gave him gifts in return. 36Nehemiah and his companions called the place “Nephtar” which means “purification” but afterwards, many called it “Naphtha.”
1It is found in the archives that the prophet Jeremiah ordered the exiles to take the fire, as we have already said. 2After giving them the Law, he exhorted them not to forget the precepts of God and not to let themselves be dazzled by the idols of silver and gold with all their adornment. 3He spoke to them of many similar things, admonishing them never to lose their love for the Law.
4It is also said in these writings of the past that the prophet Jeremiah, fulfilling orders from Heaven, commanded that the Ark of the Covenant with its tent be brought with him. And he went to the mountain which Moses had climbed before and from where he had seen the promised land. 5There Jeremiah found a cave; and he brought in the ark, the tent that covered it and the altar of incense. Then he closed up the entrance with stones.
6Some of those who followed him returned to mark out the way, but they could not find it anymore.
7When Jeremiah learned this, he reproached them and said, “This place is to remain hidden until God has compassion on his scattered people and gathers them together. 8Then the Lord will reveal these things again and his Glory shall appear in the cloud as it appeared in the time of Moses and when Solomon asked God to come and consecrate his house.”
9It was also reported in these archives how Solomon, inspired by his wisdom, offered the sacrifice of the dedication and completion of the Temple. 10And as fire had come down from heaven through the prayer of Moses to consume the offerings and the sacrificial victim, so through the prayer of Solomon, fire also came down from heaven and burned up the holocausts. 11And what Moses had said was fulfilled: Inasmuch as the sin-offering was not eaten, the fire consumed it. 12Solomon celebrated the feast, too, for eight days.
13This also can be read in the archives and in the Memories of Nehemiah’s time. It is recounted there that Nehemiah founded a library and collected the books dealing with the kings and the prophets, the writings of David and the letters of the kings about offerings.
14In the same way, Judas has just gathered all the books dispersed on account of the war we suffered, and they are now in our possession. 15So, if you need any of them, send someone to get them for you.
16We said we are now about to celebrate the feast of the purification of the Temple; you will do well to celebrate these feast days also, 17for God has saved all his people and returned to everyone his own land. He let us recover the kingdom, the Temple, and the worship rendered to him in that Temple, 18as is commanded in his Law. God himself, as we do hope, will soon have mercy on us and gather us together from everywhere to the Holy Place, since he has rescued us from great evils and has purified this Place.
19The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers has been written by Jason of Cyrene. He narrated the purification of the Temple of the Most High, the dedication of the altar, 20the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, 21and the heavenly manifestations in favor of those who fought bravely and gloriously for Judaism. Although they were few in number, they liberated the whole land and put to flight hordes of foreigners. 22They regained the Temple renowned throughout the world, liberated the city and reestablished the laws which were nearly abolished, for the Lord was gracious to them in his great kindness. 23All this, which has been set forth in five volumes by Jason of Cyrene, we shall now attempt to sum up in a single book. 24We recognize that these books contain many figures, and that it is difficult for those who wish to understand this history because of so many facts. 25So we have concerned ourselves to offer something engaging for those who simply want to read, something easily committed to memory, and profitable for anyone who reads it.
26For us who have undertaken the arduous task of summarizing, it has not been easy but has cost as much effort 27as it would to prepare a banquet which would please everyone. But like those who prepare a banquet, we have endured this toil willingly in order to please others. 28So we leave to the historian the task of relating accurately all the details, and we have condensed this enormous work into a simple summary.
29For just as the architect of a new house has to be concerned about the whole construction, while the painters and decorators are concerned only about what relates to their task, so it is with us. 30The analysis of details and discussion on disputable points belongs to the historian. 31But for one who tries to condense a report, his task is to summarize and not present a complete narration of facts and events.
32So let us begin our narrative without going on at length about what has been said before, for it would be senseless to expand the preface while cutting short the narration of the history itself.
Heliodorus attempts to seize the temple treasures
1While the Holy City enjoyed complete peace and the laws were observed as perfectly as possible through the piety of Onias the High Priest and his hatred for all wickedness, 2it came about that kings honored the Holy Place and made the High Priest richer by their magnificent gifts. 3Even Seleucus, king of Asia, paid from his own account for the expenses of the sacrificial services. 4But a certain Simon, a priest of the tribe of Bilgah and the Temple administrator, came into conflict with the High Priest regarding the inspection of the city markets. 5But he could not prevail over Onias. So he went to Apollonius of Tarsus, the governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, 6and reported to him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of untold wealth, that there was a great amount of money which had nothing to do with the expenses required by the sacrifices, and that all this could easily be brought under the control of the king.
7Apollonius met with the king and told him about the wealth that had been disclosed to him. The king then sent Heliodorus, who was in charge of his affairs, with a letter that authorized him to transfer the treasures. 8Heliodorus at once set out on his journey, pretending that he was going to visit Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, but with the intention of carrying out the king’s order.
9On his arrival in Jerusalem, he was hospitably received by the city and the High Priest to whom he related the report that had been made. He revealed the reason for his coming and asked the High Priest if the report was really true. 10The High Priest explained that there were some deposits belonging to widows and orphans. 11Some belonged to Hyrcanus, son of Tobias, a person of very prominent position, who had also been affected by these slanders. All in all, the treasury had four hundred talents of silver and two hundred of gold. 12Finally, Onias pointed out that it was utterly impossible to cheat those who had put their confidence in this Holy Place and in the inviolable majesty of that Temple venerated throughout the world.
13But, following the orders of the king, Heliodorus insisted that all those treasures should be turned over to the king. 14So, on the day set for Heliodorus to draw up the inventory, there was great disturbance in the city. 15The priests in their sacred vestments stood before the altar and called upon Heaven: he who had given the law governing deposits should now preserve them for those who had deposited them.
16None could look at the face of the High Priest without being deeply touched, for his appearance and his paleness revealed the anguish of his soul. 17A kind of fear overwhelmed him that made him tremble from head to foot, showing to those who saw him the sorrow of his heart. 18People rushed out of their houses in great confusion to pray together because the Holy Place was about to be profaned. 19The women, girded with sackcloth below their breasts, thronged into the streets. The younger girls who were not yet allowed to go out into the streets ran to the doorways, and some climbed the walls and others looked out from the windows. 20All raised their hands to heaven and joined in prayer. 21It was touching to see such a crowd prostrate in disarray on the ground and the High Priest in great anguish.
22While they were praying to the All-powerful Lord to protect the deposits of the Temple and keep them safe for those who entrusted them to the High Priest, 23Heliodorus began to carry out what had been decided upon.
24He had already come near the Treasury with his bodyguard, when the Lord of the spirits and of every power caused so great a manifestation that all who had dared accompany Heliodorus were astonished before the power of God, and they lost their strength and courage. 25There appeared to them a horse with magnificent gear and on it was a fearsome rider. It rushed furiously at Heliodorus and struck at him with its forefeet. The rider appeared to have armor of gold. 26And two young men, strong and very beautiful and magnificently clothed, also appeared. They stood on each side of Heliodorus, and flogged him continuously, inflicting stroke after stroke.
27Heliodorus fell to the ground, enveloped in great darkness; then his men took him up and put him on a stretcher. 28So he was carried away, powerless even to help himself, he who but a moment before had proudly entered the treasury with a great retinue and all his bodyguard. Everyone clearly recognized the power of God. 29Because of the divine intervention, Heliodorus became mute and lost all hope of saving his life. 30Meanwhile the Jews praised the Lord who had glorified his Holy Place. The Temple, which a little while before had been filled with terror and fear, now overflowed with joy and gladness because of the extraordinary manifestation of God.
31Then some of Heliodorus’ companions begged Onias to call upon the Most High to grant the grace of life to him who was at the point of death. 32The High Priest, on his part, feared that the king might suspect the Jews of some foul play against Heliodorus, so he offered a sacrifice for the man’s recovery.
33While the High Priest was offering the sacrifice of atonement, the same young men, clothed in the same way, again appeared to Heliodorus, and standing before him, said, “Thank Onias the High Priest, for through him the Lord grants you the grace of life. 34And as for you, who have been scourged by heaven’s command, make known to all how great is the power of God.” Having said this, they vanished.
35Heliodorus then offered a sacrifice to the Lord and prayed at great length to him who had spared his life. He took leave of Onias and went back with his guards to the king. 36There he began to bear witness to the works of the Most High God, which he had seen with his own eyes.
37The king asked Heliodorus who could be sent again to Jerusalem to carry out what he failed to do. Heliodorus answered him, 38“If you have some enemy whom you wish to eliminate, send him there and you will see him return well flogged; that is, if he ever returns at all, for surely, divine power is in that place. 39He himself who dwells in heaven watches over the place and defends it, striking to death those who come to profane it.”
40This was what happened to Heliodorus and how the Treasury was saved.
1The Simon mentioned before as the informer about the treasures of the Temple, who was traitor to his country, spoke evil of Onias, accusing him of a plot against Heliodorus and saying that he was responsible for all the troubles. 2He even dared to lay the blame for everything on Onias who was the great benefactor of the city, the defender of his compatriots and a zealous observer of the laws. 3The hostility between them reached such proportions that crimes were even committed by some of the supporters of Simon.
4Onias recognized the dangers involved in such an unbearable rivalry. Even Apollonius, son of Menestheus, governor of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, was instigating Simon to evil. 5So Onias went to the king, not to accuse his fellow citizens, but for the good of the whole nation. 6For he saw that it was impossible to maintain peace and stop the foolishness of Simon without the king’s intervention.
•7When king Seleucus died, his son Antiochus who was called Epiphanes, succeeded to the throne. Then, Jason, the brother of Onias the High Priest, usurped the office of high priest. 8In a conversation with the king, Jason promised three hundred and sixty talents of silver and eighty talents from other revenues. 9He further committed himself to pay one hundred fifty more talents if he would be allowed to establish on his own account a gymnasium with a Center for the cultural advancement of the youth and if the statute of Antioquian citizenship could apply to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as well.
10With the consent of the king and using the power at his disposal, he at once set about encouraging his fellow citizens to adopt the customs of the Greeks. 11He suppressed the privileges that kings had granted to the Jews through John, the father of Eupolemus, who had established friendship and an alliance between the Romans and the Jews. He overthrew lawful institutions and introduced new customs contrary to the Law.
12So, he very readily founded a gymnasium right under the Citadel, and persuaded the noblest among the young to be educated in the Greek way. 13Paganism was propagated through Jason’s influence, who proved to be more of a godless wretch than a high priest.
Greek customs were so much in vogue, 14that priests no longer showed any interest in serving at the altar. They despised the sanctuary and neglected the sacrifices and as soon as the discus throw began they would run to the stadium to take part in athletic competitions prohibited by the Law. 15They did not value anymore the customs of their ancestors, but held in highest esteem the values of the Greeks.
16With this, they themselves were put in a difficult situation, for those whom they took as models and whose customs they wanted to imitate in everything proved to be their enemies and tyrants. 17For it is not easy to break the divine laws with impunity as the following episodes will show.
18When the quinquennial games held every five years were going on in Tyre before the king, 19the wicked Jason sent as envoys some “citizens of Antioch” from the inhabitants of Jerusalem and he entrusted to them three hundred drachmas of silver allotted for the sacrifice to Hercules. When these envoys came, they decided that it was not fitting to spend the money on the sacrifice, but preferred to spend it on other things. 20So through the sole initiative of those sent to spend the money for the sacrifice to Hercules, the amount was used instead for the construction of trireme ships.
21Antiochus had sent Apollonius, son of Menestheus, to Egypt to represent him in the enthronement of king Philometor. But when Antiochus learned that Philometor had become his political adversary, Antiochus was worried about his own safety. 22So, he left Joppa, and went to Jerusalem where he was well received by Jason and the whole city, entering the city in the midst of acclamations and torches. Then, he went with his troops to Phoenicia.
23After three years, Jason sent Menelaus, brother of the Simon mentioned above, to bring the money to the king and initiate steps to negotiate urgent matters with him. 24Menelaus presented himself to the king whom he impressed by his personal bearing as a man of authority, and so obtained the office of high priest for himself, offering three hundred talents more than Jason. 25After receiving the royal mandate, he returned with nothing worthy of a high priest, but only with the rage of a cruel tyrant or a wild beast. 26Jason, who had usurped the office of his brother, was now supplanted by another, and had to flee to the land of Ammon.
27Menelaus held the office but did not pay the amount he promised to the king, 28although Sostratus, the commander of the Citadel, demanded the payment, since the king had entrusted to him the collection of revenue. The two of them were then summoned by the king because of this. 29Menelaus left his brother Lysimachus as his substitute, and Sostratus left Crates, the commander of the Cypriots.
Murder of Onias
30Meanwhile, the inhabitants of Tarsus and Mallus revolted because their cities were given as a gift to Antiochis, the king’s concubine. 31The king set out at once to reestablish order, leaving Andronicus, one of his ministers, as his deputy. 32Menelaus thought of taking advantage of the opportunity, and stole some of the golden vessels from the Temple, which he then gave to Andronicus as gifts. He also managed to sell others in Tyre and in the neighboring cities.
33When Onias had clear evidence of what Menelaus had done, he sought refuge in Daphne near Antioch, a place of asylum, and from there denounced him. 34For this reason, Menelaus met Andronicus in private and urged him to kill Onias. Andronicus went to Onias and deceitfully gained his confidence, offering Onias his right hand in oath. He was able to persuade Onias, in spite of the latter’s suspicion, to come out of his place of refuge. Then Andronicus killed him at once without any regard for justice.
35For this reason, not only Jews but people of other nationalities as well became indignant and grieved over the unjust killing of that man. 36When the king returned to the regions of Cilicia, the Jews of Jerusalem, together with the Greeks who were for justice, went to see him and complained about the murder of Onias.
37The king was touched and became sad, and even wept as he remembered the personality and noble conduct of the departed. 38He became angry with Andronicus and immediately removed him from office. Then he ordered that Andronicus be divested of his purple robe, tore his garments off him, and led him all around the city up to the place where Andronicus had murdered Onias, and right there the king ordered that he be put to death—God dealing out to him the punishment he deserved.
39Lysimachus committed much sacrilegious plunder in Jerusalem with the connivance of Menelaus. When this became known, the populace rebelled against Lysimachus, who had already taken many golden vessels from the city. 40When Lysimachus saw the people rising up in rebellion and becoming enraged, he armed about three thousand men and began a violent repression, designating as leader a certain Auranus, a man advanced in years but of very little intelligence. 41So, as the people were attacked by the men of Lysimachus, they reacted by picking up stones and clubs, and even gathered handfuls of ashes lying at hand, and threw everything against the men of Lysimachus. 42In this way, they wounded many of them, killed some, and put the rest to flight. As for the sacrilegious robber Lysimachus, they killed him near the treasury.
43Because of all this a charge was brought against Menelaus and 44when the king arrived at Tyre, three men sent by the council of the elders of Jerusalem told him of Menelaus’ cruelty. 45Seeing his ruin, Menelaus promised a great amount of money to Ptolemy, son of Dorymenes, in order to have the king in his favor.
46Ptolemy then went with the king privately to a colonnade for some fresh air, and persuaded him to change his mind. 47The king actually dismissed all the accusations against Menelaus, the cause of all this evil, while he condemned to death Menelaus’ unfortunate accusers who would have been acquitted had a tribunal of barbarians judged them. 48So those who had defended the cause of the city, the people and the sacred vessels were executed at once.
49Some Tyrians were so enraged by that crime that they prepared a magnificent funeral for them. 50But through the corruption of the rulers, Menelaus remained in power, growing in wickedness and becoming a tyrant towards his own people.
Antiochus sacks the temple
1By this time, Antiochus was preparing a second expedition against Egypt. 2And for nearly forty days, there appeared throughout the city, galloping through the air, horsemen dressed in gold, 3troops with swords drawn and formed in squadrons, cavalry squadrons in order of battle, attacks and charges from this side and that, movements of shields, many spears, arrows, missiles, the glitter of golden outfits and armor of all kinds. 4Everyone prayed that these apparitions would be an announcement of something good about to happen.
5As a false rumor spread that Antiochus had died, Jason gathered together about ten thousand men and launched a surprise attack on the city. The troops upon the walls defended the city, but once these were taken, the whole city fell into the hands of Jason, while Menelaus took refuge in the Citadel. 6Jason cruelly massacred his fellow citizens, without realizing that his victory against his own nation was the greatest defeat. He seemed to believe that he was winning over enemies when, in reality, these were his own people. 7But he did not stay in power for long and after obtaining nothing but shame for himself, he had to flee once again to the land of Ammon. 8Finally, he had a very unfortunate end. Accused before Aretas, the king of the Arabs, fleeing from city to city, pursued by all, scorned as a renegade from the law and hated as the executioner of his country and fellow citizens, he was banished to Egypt. 9And he, who had exiled so many from their own country, died in exile: for he went as far as Lacedemonia in the hope of finding protection there because of the kinship between that people and ours. 10He, who had deprived so many of burial places, died with no one to mourn him, no funeral rites nor place in the tomb of his fathers.
Persecution of Antiochus
11When news of these events reached the king, he thought that the whole of Judea had risen in rebellion. He became furious and, leaving Egypt, went to take Jerusalem by force. 12He ordered his soldiers to kill without mercy everyone they encountered and to behead as well all those who took refuge in their houses. 13Young and old perished; men, women and children were massacred, and infants and virgins were put to the sword. 14Within only three days, there were eighty thousand victims—forty thousand perished in the slaughter and as many were sold as slaves. 15Not content with this, Antiochus boldly entered the holiest Temple in the entire world, guided by Menelaus, the traitor to the law and country.
16With his unclean hands, Antiochus seized the sacred vessels, and with impious hands took away what other kings had given as gifts for the glory and honor of the Temple. 17But in acting in such an insolent manner, Antiochus did not realize that the Lord had let him profane the Temple in order to punish the inhabitants of the city, because their sins had offended him.
18For, had the city not been sinful, Antiochus would have been flogged the moment he entered, as Heliodorus who was sent by Seleucus to rob the treasury had been. And he would have also repented of his audacity. 19But God had not chosen the people for the Temple, but the Temple for the sake of the nation.
20Therefore, the Temple also shared in the nation’s misfortune, as it also shared afterward in its restoration. As it had been abandoned in the time of the wrath of God, it was again restored to its glory when the Most High Lord was appeased.
21Antiochus took with him eighteen hundred talents which he had stolen from the Temple, and hurriedly went back to Antioch, so proud that he thought himself capable of sailing by land and walking on the sea. 22At his departure, he left ministers to oppress our race. In Jerusalem, he appointed Philip, of Phrygian ancestry and of more barbarous character than he who had appointed him; 23and he left Andronicus in Gerizim. Besides there was Menelaus, who surpassed them in his hatred for his fellow citizens. This man had indeed a deep hatred for Jewish compatriots.
24Antiochus also sent Apollonius with an army of twenty-two thousand soldiers with orders to behead all the grown men and sell the women and children. 25Arriving in Jerusalem, under the pretext of peace, he waited until the holy day of the sabbath. Then he took the Jews by surprise as they rested. He ordered his men to conduct a military parade, 26and he killed all those who came out to see the show. Then, running through the streets, the soldiers killed many people.
27Judas Maccabeus, however, withdrew into the desert with about nine others willing to live like the wild beasts. There they fed on clean vegetables, for they did not want to eat unclean meat.
First victims of persecution
•1After a while, the king sent an older Athenian to force the Jews to abandon their ancestral laws and no longer live according to the laws of God. 2And to have them also profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to the Olympian god. In the same way, he wanted them to dedicate the temple in Mount Gerizim to the hospitable god, according to the wishes of the inhabitants of the place.
3This worsened the evil and made it difficult and unbearable for all. 4The Temple was profaned by the orgies of the pagans who went there to have a good time with prostitutes, and had intercourse in the sacred enclosures. And besides, they brought into the Temple things not permitted by the Law; 5the altar was laden with unclean victims prohibited by the law. 6It was no longer allowed to celebrate the sabbath or observe the customs of our ancestors, or even to declare oneself a Jew. 7But, on the contrary, they were led by bitter necessity to celebrate the king’s birthday with a monthly sacrifice.
And when the feast of Dionysus came, they were also forced to follow the Dionysus procession and wear floral wreaths.
8At the suggestion of the inhabitants of Ptolemy, a decree was sent to the neighboring Greek cities ordering them to treat the Jews who lived there in the same way and oblige them to participate in the sacrifices. 9Those who would not adopt the Greek customs were to be killed. So it was easy to foresee the fatal outcome.
10Two women were charged of having performed the rite of circumcision on their sons. They publicly paraded the women throughout the city with their babies hung at their breasts. Then they hurled them down from the city wall. 11Others who had assembled in nearby caves to celebrate the sabbath were denounced to Philip and they allowed themselves to be burned. Because of the holiness of the sabbath day, they had scruples about defending themselves.
12I now ask the readers of this book not to be shocked by these calamities. Bear in mind that this did not happen for the destruction of our race, but rather for our education.
13God is showing his kindness when he does not let sinners continue on their way for a long time, but punishes them at once. 14As for the other nations, the patient Lord doesn’t punish them until they reach the full measure of their sins. But he deals with us in a different manner: 15he does not wait until we have reached the full measure in order to punish us. 16Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us, and does not abandon his people, even when he punishes us with some adversity.
17After reminding our readers of these truths, let us continue the story.
The martyrdom of Eleazar
•18Eleazar, one of the prominent teachers of the Law, already old and of noble appearance, was forced to open his mouth to eat the flesh of a pig. 19But he preferred to die honorably than to live in disgrace, and voluntarily came to the place where they beat him to death. He spat out bravely the piece of meat, 20as should be done by those who do not want to do things prohibited by the Law, even to save their life.
21Those in charge of this impious banquet took him aside, since they had known him for a long time, and tried to convince him to pretend to be eating the meat, but in reality, to eat something allowed by the Law and prepared by himself. 22In this way, he could escape death, and be treated with humanity for the sake of their long-time friendship.
23But he preferred to make a noble decision worthy of his age, of his noble years, of his shining white hair, and of the irreproachable life he had led from childhood. Above all, showing respect for the holy laws established by God, he answered that he would rather be sent to the place of the dead. And he added, 24“It would be unworthy to pretend at our age, and to lead many young people to suppose that I, at ninety years, have gone over to the pagan customs. 25If I led them astray for the sake of this short life I would bring disgrace to my old age. 26Even if I could now be saved from mortals, I cannot—whether living or dead—escape from the hands of the Almighty. 27I prefer to bravely sacrifice my life now, as befits my old age. 28So I shall leave an excellent example to the young, dying voluntarily and valiantly for the sacred and holy laws.”
Having said this, he gave himself over to death.
29Those who escorted him considered his words foolishness, so their previous gentleness turned into harshness.
30When he was almost at the point of death, he said groaning, “The Holy Lord, who sees all, knows that though I could have saved myself from death, I now endure terrible sufferings in my body. But in my soul, I suffer gladly because of the respect I have for him.” 31In his death, he left a noble example and a memorial of virtue and strength, not only to the young but to the whole nation.
Martyrdom of the seven brothers
•1It happened also that seven brothers were arrested with their mother. The king had them scourged and flogged to force them to eat the flesh of a pig which was prohibited by the Law.
2One of them, speaking in behalf of all, said, “What do you want to find out from us? We are prepared to die right now rather than break the law of our ancestors.”
3The king became furious and ordered that pans and caldrons be heated over a fire. 4When these were red-hot, he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out, his head scalped, and his hands and feet cut off while his brothers and mother looked on.
5When he had been thoroughly mutilated, the king ordered that while still breathing, he be brought to the fire and roasted alive. While the smoke from the pan spread widely, the other brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely. And they said, 6“The Lord God sees all, and in reality, has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song, and clearly said: The Lord will have pity on his servants.” 7When the first had left the world in this way, they brought the second for execution. After stripping the skin with the hair from his head, they asked him: “Which do you prefer: to eat the flesh of a pig or to be tortured limb by limb?” 8He answered them in the language of his ancestors, “I will not eat.” And so he, too, was tortured.
9At the moment of his last breath, he said, “Murderer, you now dismiss us from life, but the king of the world will raise us up. He will give us eternal life since we die for his laws.”
10After this, they punished the third. He stuck his tongue out when asked to, bravely stretched forth his hands, 11and even had the courage to say: “I have received these limbs from God, but for love of his laws I now consider them as nothing. For I hope to recover them from God.” 12The king and his court were touched by the courage of this young man, so unconcerned about his own sufferings.
13When this one was dead, they subjected the fourth to the same torture. 14At the point of death, he cried out, “I would rather die at the hands of mortals, and wait for the promises of God who will raise us up; you, however, shall have no part in the resurrection of life.”
15They took the fifth at once and tortured him. But with his eyes fixed on the king, 16he said to him, “Though you are mortal, you have authority over people and are able to do what you will. But do not think that our race has been abandoned by God. 17Wait, and you shall see his great power when he torments you and your descendants.”
18After this, they took the sixth who, at the point of death, said, “Don’t be mistaken. We suffer all this because of ourselves for we have sinned against our own God; so these astonishing things have come upon us. 19But do not think that you are going to remain unpunished, after having made war with God.”
20More than all of them, their mother ought to be admired and remembered. She saw her seven sons die in a single day. But she endured it even with joy for she had put her hope in the Lord. 21Full of a noble sense of honor, she encouraged each one of them in the language of their ancestors. Her woman’s heart was moved by manly courage, so she told them:
22“I wonder how you were born of me; it was not I who gave you breath and life, nor I who ordered the matter of your body. 23The Creator of the world who formed man in the beginning and ordered the unfolding of all creation shall in his mercy, give you back breath and life, since you now despise them for love of his laws.”
24Antiochus thought that she was making fun of him and suspected that she had insulted him. As the youngest was still alive, the king tried to win him over not only with his words, but even promised to make him rich and happy, if he would abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He would make him his Friend and appoint him to a high position in the kingdom. 25But as the young man did not pay him any attention, the king ordered the mother to be brought in. He urged her to advise her son in order to save his life. 26After being asked twice by the king, she agreed to persuade her son. 27She bent over him and fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her ancestral language:
“My son, have pity on me. For nine months I carried you in my womb and suckled you for three years; I raised you up and educated you until this day. 28I ask you now, my son, that when you see the heavens, the earth and all that is in it, you know that God made all this from nothing, and the human race as well. 29Do not fear these executioners, but make yourself worthy of your brothers—accept death that you may again meet your brothers in the time of mercy.”
30When she finished speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I do not obey the king’s order but the precepts of the Law given by Moses to our ancestors. 31And you who have devised such tortures against the Hebrews, shall not escape the hands of God. 32Know that we perish because of our sins. 33Our living Lord punishes and corrects us for a short time because he is angry with us, but he shall again be reconciled with his servants.
34And you, the most wretched and impious man, do not be proud or be carried away by your vain hopes. Do not raise your hand against the children of Heaven, 35for you have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty God, who sees everything. 36Our brothers suffered a short time for the sake of eternal life and have already entered into the friendship of God. But you, for your part, shall suffer the punishment you deserve for your arrogance.
37With my brothers, I give up my body and my soul for the laws of my fathers, calling on God that he may at once have pity on our race, and that by trials and afflictions, you may come to confess that he is the only God. 38Through me and my brothers, may the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on the whole of our race come to an end.”
39The king was even more infuriated at him than at the others because of his mockery and he dealt more cruelly with him. 40So the youngest also died undefiled, putting his whole trust in God. 41After all her sons, the mother also died.
42This is enough to make known what happened regarding the pagan sacrifices and the tortures beyond all imagination.
First exploits of Judas Maccabeus
1Meanwhile, Judas, also called Maccabeus, and his companions, would enter secretly into the villages, call their relatives, summon those who had remained faithful to Judaism, and finally they assembled about six thousand men. 2They prayed to the Lord to turn his countenance on his people oppressed on all sides, to take pity on the Sanctuary profaned by the impious, 3to have compassion on the city—destroyed and on the point of being leveled—to listen to the cry of the blood reaching out to him; 4and they asked that he not forget the unjust killing of innocent children and show his indignation against those who had insulted his Name.
5The Lord’s anger turned into compassion, and as soon as Maccabeus had organized his troops, they became invincible against the pagans.
Judas generally took advantage of the night for his military campaigns. 6So he attacked them by surprise, set cities and villages on fire, captured strategic positions, and put to flight many of the enemies. 7And people everywhere talked about him and his bravery.
8When Philip saw that Judas was making progress little by little and his victories increased from day to day, he wrote to Ptolemy, the military commissioner of Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, to come and help him under the king’s service. 9Ptolemy at once appointed Nicanor, son of Patroclus, one of the king’s first friends, and sent him at the head of some twenty thousand men coming from all nations, with the order to wipe out all the Jews. At his side, he put Gorgias, a general of much experience in matters of war.
10Nicanor intended to raise two thousand talents by the sale of Jewish slaves in order to pay for the tribute the king owed to the Romans. 11So he extended an invitation to all the coastal cities to come and buy slaves for a talent, without any regard for the punishment of the Almighty that might come upon him.
12When Judas learned that Nicanor had come with a great army, he told his men about this. 13So the cowardly and those who had no confidence in divine justice took to flight. 14Still others sold everything they owned and asked God to deliver from the impious Nicanor those who had been sold even before any battle. 15They prayed that if the Lord would not save them because of their own merits, that at least out of consideration for the Covenant he made with their ancestors and for that great venerable Name with which he had blessed his people, he would do so.
16Maccabeus gathered and reorganized his troops, numbering about six thousand, and exhorted them not to fear the enemy but to fight bravely against their unjust aggressors, despite their great number. 17He reminded them how those men had profaned the Holy Place, slaughtered the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and removed their traditional institutions. 18He said to them, “They come with confidence in their weapons and their boldness, but we trust in the almighty God, who is able to wipe out in one stroke all who invade our land and even the whole world.” 19He recounted to them all the occasions when God had come to help their ancestors, especially when he wiped out one hundred and eighty-five thousand men under Sennacherib. 20He also reminded them of what had happened in Babylonia, in the battle against the Galatians. On that day, eight thousand Jews fought side by side with four thousand Macedonians, and as the Macedonians were hard pressed, their Jewish allies alone killed twenty thousand of the enemies’ troops with heaven’s help and seized a great booty.
21Judas encouraged them with these words, and made them ready to die for their laws and country; then, he divided the army into four groups. 22He assigned his brothers Simon, Joseph and Jonathan to each lead one division with fifteen hundred men in each. 23He ordered that the Sacred Book be read, and he gave them their watchword “Help from God”; then, he himself led the first battalion, and fell on Nicanor. 24With the help of the Almighty they slaughtered nine thousand enemies, wounded and crippled many, and put the rest to flight.
25They seized the money of those who had come to buy the Jews, and pursued them for a good while. But it was nearly evening, 26so they had to return because it was the vigil of the sabbath. That is why they stopped pursuing their enemies. 27They gathered the weapons and the plunder of their enemies, and celebrated the sabbath on that day with praise and thanksgiving to God who had just saved them and had begun to show them his mercy. 28After the sabbath, they divided part of the booty among those who had been tortured, the widows and the orphans; and they divided the rest among themselves and their men. 29Having done this, they asked the Merciful Lord during a public prayer to be fully reconciled with his servants.
30Then, in an encounter with the army of Timotheus and Bacchides, they killed more than twenty thousand men, and took control of the fortified cities. They divided the abundant plunder into equal shares among themselves, those who had been tortured, the orphans, the widows and the aged.
31They carefully stored in safe places the weapons they had taken from the enemies, and brought the rest of the booty to Jerusalem. 32They killed the chief guard of Timotheus, an extremely wretched man who had done so much evil against the Jews. 33Then, as they celebrated their victory in Jerusalem, they burned alive those who had burned the temple gates, including Callisthenes who had taken refuge in one small house. So these men paid the price deserved for their impiety.
34The thrice-as-wretched Nicanor, who had brought thousands of merchants to buy the Jews, 35found himself humbled with God’s help by those same men he had despised before. Having discarded his splendid robe he fled across the country as a fugitive, and reached Antioch, very much relieved that he had not perished with his army.
36He who had intended to pay the tribute owed to the Romans by selling the Jews, now affirmed that the Jews were invincible and invulnerable, and that Someone fought for them, provided they were obeying the laws prescribed by him.
Death of the persecutor
•1By that time, Antiochus had to return without glory from the regions of Persia. 2When he entered a city called Persepolis, and tried to plunder the temple and seize the city, its inhabitants rebelled and took up arms against him. This people threw Antiochus and his men out. They fled and returned very much humiliated. 3When Antiochus came to Ecbatana, he was informed of what had happened to the two generals—Nicanor and Timotheus—in Israel. 4He was infuriated and determined to take revenge on the Jews for the offense he had just received in Persepolis when they forced him to flee.
He ordered the chariot driver to hurry up and not to stop until the journey’s end. But the judgment of God was coming upon him, for he said in his pride, “As soon as I arrive in Jerusalem, I shall turn it into a cemetery of the Jews.” 5Then the Lord who sees all, the God of Israel, punished him with an incurable sickness of an internal nature. 6He had barely finished speaking when he felt an unbearable pain in his stomach and began to be afflicted all over his body.
This was indeed just for one who had tortured others in the same way with countless new punishments. 7But this did not diminish his arrogance. In his rage against the Jews, he gave orders to journey ahead with even more speed. Yet, because his chariot was running very fast, Antiochus fell and his physical condition worsened.
8Not long before, in his conceit and sense of superiority he thought of giving orders to the sea and measuring the heights of the mountains. Now he lay down and had to be brought on a stretcher, giving to all a clear testimony of the power of God. 9Worms began to teem in the body of the impious and though he was still alive, his flesh tore off into pieces, leaving him in agonizing pain. The stench of his decay was so intolerable that his whole army shunned him. 10No one went near him who not long before thought he could touch the stars of heaven with his hand. 11Only when he was beaten by the divine scourge did he begin to shed his arrogance. His pains grew worse, and he realized this was the punishment of God. 12He himself could no longer endure his stench. He said, “It is right to submit to God. Mortals should not try to be equal with him.” 13And the wretch made a vow to the Lord who would no longer take pity on him.
14He had marched to Jerusalem to level it and turn it into a cemetery. But now he even promised to declare it a free city. 15Moreover, he who before had refused burial to the Jews and wished to throw them with their children to the wild beasts, now offered to make them equal with the Athenians. He had plundered the temple and profaned the Sacred Place; 16but now he promised to decorate it lavishly, to return a great number of the sacred vessels, and to pay for all the expenses of the sacrifices. 17And he promised to become a Jew and to proclaim in all the inhabited countries the power of God.
18His pains however did not diminish, for the just judgment of God had come upon him. He lost hope of recovery and wrote to the Jews this letter of supplication, 19“To the honorable Jews, our citizens, good health, prosperity and all good things from the king and general, Antiochus. 20If you and your children are well and your wishes are fulfilled, we give thanks to Heaven, for we remember your token of affection and kindness. 21On my return from Persia, I became gravely ill, and because of this, I thought it necessary to be concerned for the common security of all of you. 22I do not despair of my condition, and even have great hope of recovering from this illness. 23But I thought of how my father would designate his successor whenever he set out for any military expedition into the uplands, 24so that his subjects would not be upset if anything unexpected should happen or any misfortune should befall him. Everyone would know who is in power. 25I am aware that the kings of all the neighboring countries around are watching the turn of events and waiting for an opportune time. Therefore, I have designated my son, Antiochus, as king. I already presented and commended him to most of you, when I set out for the northern regions. And now I communicate to him this letter I am sending you. 26I ask you, then, to take into account the favors each and everyone of you has received from me and maintain the same kindness toward me and my son. 27I am sure that following my own policies of moderation and humanity, he shall live in good accord with you.”
28In this way that blasphemer and murderer ended, suffering the terrible torments he had inflicted on others. He died miserably in the mountains of a foreign land. 29His companion, Philip, brought his body and then withdrew to Egypt to the court of Ptolemy Philometor, because he feared the son of Antiochus.
Judas purifies the temple
1With God’s help Maccabeus and his men seized the Temple and the city. 2They destroyed the altars built by the foreigners in the public squares, as well as the sacred enclosures. 3After purifying the Temple, they built a new altar. They kindled fire from flint and for the first time in two years offered sacrifices. Once again, there were incense, lamps, and the bread of presence.
4Having done all this they threw themselves flat on the ground and asked the Lord not to send them such calamities anymore. But if they should sin again, they asked that he would correct them with gentleness and not hand them over again into the hands of blasphemous and ferocious foreigners.
5The purification of the Temple took place on the same date on which the foreigners had profaned it, that is, on the twenty-fifth of the month of Chislev. 6For eight days they celebrated the feast with rejoicing, in the same way that they celebrated the Feast of the Tabernacles remembering how, not long before on that same date, they were dwelling in the mountains and caves like wild animals.
7Then, carrying leafy branches and palms, they chanted hymns to Him who had brought the cleansing of his own Holy Place to a happy end.
8They also decided by public vote that this event would be commemorated annually by the whole Jewish nation.
Victories of Judas in Idumea
9This is all that refers to the death of Antiochus, called Epiphanes. 10We shall now proceed to narrate the events that happened under Antiochus Eupator, son of the impious, and to relate briefly the calamities brought about by the war.
11In fact, once he inherited the kingdom, he appointed Lysias to be in charge of his affairs and to act as high commissioner for Coele-Syria and Phoenicia. 12Now Ptolemy, called Macron, was the first governor to do justice to the Jews. He was upset by injustices done against them, so he tried to solve all their problems satisfactorily. 13But the friends of king Eupator made use of this to accuse him before the king. They continually called him a traitor, reminding him that he had once abandoned the land of Cyprus, which had been entrusted to him by Philometor, in order to go over to Antiochus Epiphanes.
Since he could not discharge his high office with dignity, he was driven to despair and committed suicide by poisoning himself.
14It was then that Gorgias was appointed military commissioner of those regions, and began to stir up war against the Jews by any means. 15On the other hand, the Idumeans had strong fortresses and harassed the Jews. Gathering the fugitives from Jerusalem, they managed to prolong the war.
16The men of Maccabeus, after praying and asking the Lord to come and fight at their side, attacked the fortresses of the Idumeans. 17They carried on with their assaults and the place fell into their power. They repelled those who fought on the ramparts, slaughtered all who fell into their hands, and killed more than twenty thousand men.
18At least nine thousand men took refuge in the two towers that were strongly fortified with everything they needed to withstand a prolonged siege. 19Maccabeus left Simon, Joseph, and also Zaccheus and his men in sufficient numbers to sustain the siege, and went off to where his presence was more needed.
20Yet the men of Simon were tempted by greed, and let themselves be bought with the silver of those in the towers. So in exchange for sixty thousand pieces of silver, they allowed a number of them to escape. 21As soon as Maccabeus learned this, he assembled the leaders of the people and accused those men of having sold their brothers for money by letting their enemies escape. 22He condemned them to death as traitors, and proceeded at once to capture the towers. 23He killed more than twenty thousand men in those two towers, successfully bringing to an end the undertaking they had begun.
24Timothy, who had been defeated before by the Jews, gathered together an enormous number of foreign troops and a great number of horses from Asia. He appeared in Judea in order to conquer it by force of arms. 25Before his attack, the men of Maccabeus sprinkled dust on their heads and put on sackcloth as a means of entreating God. 26They bowed at the foot of the altar and asked God to treat them well and to be the enemy of their enemies, the adversary of their adversaries, as written in the Law.
27After praying, they armed themselves and advanced from the city. They stopped when they came close to the enemy. 28Right at daybreak, they attacked from both sides. One side placed their confidence in their Lord as the pledge of success and victory besides their bravery, while the others were moved by hatred. 29When the battle was at its height, there appeared from heaven before the enemies, five radiant men riding on horses with golden bridles, who put themselves at the head of the Jews.
30They surrounded Maccabeus and defended him with their weapons, making him invulnerable. At the same time, they rained arrows and thunderbolts on the enemy, who in turn fell and were dispersed in great disorder, blinded and confused. 31Twenty thousand five hundred infantrymen and six hundred horsemen died.
32Timothy took refuge in a heavily guarded fortress called Gezer where Chereas was in command. 33The forces of Maccabeus gallantly besieged the fortress for four days. 34Those within were confident in the strength of the fortress, so they hurled insults and curses at the Jews.
35At daybreak on the fifth day, twenty young men from the troops of Maccabeus, enraged by the blasphemies they had been hearing, bravely stormed the wall and with brutal fury killed everyone who stood before them. 36Others took advantage of this diversion to climb the walls and set fire to the towers. They made bonfires and burned the blasphemers alive. Others destroyed the gates while the rest of the army entered to occupy the city.
37They killed Timothy who had hidden in a well, and his brother Chereas, and Apollophanes. 38When all this was over, they chanted hymns and praises to the Lord who had exalted Israel and had given them victory.
First campaign of Lysias
1After a while, Lysias, the king’s tutor and kinsman, who was head of the government, was much displeased at the turn of events, 2and gathered together about eighty thousand men and his entire cavalry. They advanced against the Jews intending to make the city of Jerusalem a Greek colony and 3to convert the Temple into a source of revenue, as they had done with other Sanctuaries of the pagans, and to put the office of high priest up for sale every year.
4He took God’s power for granted, and went up with his infantry regiments, his horsemen by the thousands, and his eighty elephants. 5He entered Judea, came near Beth-zur, a strong city some kilometers away from Jerusalem, and besieged it.
6When the men of Maccabeus learned that Lysias had begun laying siege to their strong cities, they prayed to the Lord together with all the people, with tears and lamentations, that the Lord might send a good angel to save Israel. 7Maccabeus himself was the first to take arms and exhort the rest to go with him to face the danger and help their brothers and sisters. They set out together, full of enthusiasm. 8While they were still near Jerusalem, a horseman dressed in white with golden armor appeared and stood at the head of them. 9So with one voice, everyone blessed the merciful God. They were strengthened and prepared not only to face men in battle but even the most savage beasts and walls of iron.
10They advanced with the aid of this ally sent from heaven, for the Lord had compassion on them. 11They charged like lions against the enemy, brought down eleven thousand infantrymen and one thousand six hundred horsemen, and forced the rest to flee. 12Most of them fled, wounded and disarmed, until Lysias himself fled in disgrace in order to save himself.
13Lysias, being an intelligent man, reflected on the defeat he had suffered and understood that the Hebrews were invincible because the powerful God fought for them. 14So he sent a messenger to convince them to accept peace with every kind of just condition. And he even promised to persuade the king to make peace with them, too.
15Maccabeus, thinking of the common good of all, accepted Lysias’ offer of peace. And in fact, the king granted all the demands that Maccabeus had presented to Lysias in writing. 16Lysias wrote to them as follows:
“From Lysias to the Jewish people, greetings. 17John and Absalom, your envoys, have delivered to us your written petitions, asking us to respond. 18I have set forth before the king everything that needed his attention; and I have granted everything that was within my competence. 19Therefore, if you maintain your good will toward the State, I will also try in the future to work in your favor. 20As for the details, I have given orders for your envoys and my own representatives to discuss these with you. 21May everything go well with you. In the year one hundred and forty-eight, the twenty-fourth day of the month of the Corinthian God.”
22The king’s letter was as follows: “King Antiochus greets his brother Lysias. 23From the day we succeeded to the throne of our father, who has gone to the dwelling place of the gods, it has been our desire that all our subjects live undisturbed so that everyone may dedicate himself to his own work. 24Learning that the Jews do not wish to adopt Greek customs, as it was the will of my father, but prefer their own way of life and ask that they be allowed to live according to their laws, 25and since it is our desire that this nation live in peace, we have decreed that the Temple be restored to them and that they be allowed to live according to the laws and customs of their ancestors.
26You will do well, therefore, to send envoys to conclude a treaty of peace with them. May they come to know our constant aim, so they may be reassured and dedicate themselves with joy to their own occupations.”
27This was the king’s letter to the Jewish people: “King Antiochus to the Council of Elders and to the Jewish people: greetings! 28If you enjoy good health, we are happy for you; we ourselves are also well.
29Menelaus has told us that you wish to return to your homes and occupations. 30Therefore, I have issued a decree of amnesty for all who would go home before the thirtieth day of the month of Xanthicus. 31The Jews from now on may live according to their own customs concerning their food, and be governed by their own laws as before. None of them is to be molested in any way for anything done involuntarily. 32I have ordered Menelaus to reassure you of all this. 33I wish you good health. In the year one hundred and forty-eight (164 B.C.), the fifteenth day of the month of Xanthicus.”
34The Romans also sent them a letter which read as follows: “Quintus Memmius and Titus Manius, ambassadors of the Romans, send their greetings to the Jewish people. 35Everything that Lysias, the king’s kinsman, has granted you, we also approve. 36As for the matters about which Lysias considered it necessary to inform the king and take up with him, we ask that you study them carefully and send someone to us at once, so we can explain everything to the king to your advantage, for we are now leaving for Antioch.
37Lose no time, therefore, in sending someone to us, that we may know your plans. 38We wish you good health. In the fifteenth day of the month of Xanthicus in the year one hundred and forty-eight.”
Victories against the neighboring peoples
1After these agreements had been concluded, Lysias returned to the king and the Jews began to return to their fields. 2But the commanders of the different regions, Timotheus and Apollonius, the son of Genneus, as well as Hieronymus and Domophenes, and Nicanor, the leader of the Cypriots, would not let them live in peace and quiet. 3Moreover, the inhabitants of Joppa committed this grave crime: they invited the Jews with their wives and children to a cruise on some boats they had prepared, as if they did not have any hostility. 4This was decided by the city authorities and the Jews accepted in order to show their desire to live with them in peace and without any suspicion at all. But once out in the open sea, the men of Joppa pushed them into the water and at least two hundred died.
5When Judas Maccabeus was informed of this cruelty against his countrymen, he informed his men. 6After calling upon God, the just judge, he set out against the murderers of his brothers and sisters. He set fire to the harbor by night, burned the ships and put to the sword those who had taken refuge there. 7But, as the gates were closed, he could not enter the city, so he withdrew, intending to come back to wipe out all the inhabitants of Joppa.
8Meanwhile, he learned that the inhabitants of Jamnia wanted to deal in the same way with the Jews who lived there. 9He also attacked the people of Jamnia by night, and set the harbor and ships on fire. The blaze was so great that the glow could be seen even from Jerusalem, some fifty kilometers away.
10From there, they set out and marched against Timotheus, but when they had marched for about two kilometers, five thousand Arabs supported by five hundred horses, attacked them. 11A bloody battle took place, and the men of Judas emerged victorious with the help of God. The Arabs begged for peace, and promised to give them livestock, and to help them in the future. 12Judas, convinced that they could indeed be useful to them, made peace with them. Then the Arabs withdrew to their camps.
13Judas attacked a city strongly fortified with ditches and walls. The city was called Caspin. People of every race lived there. 14The besieged, confident in the strength of their walls and because they had their storehouses full of provisions, underestimated the men of Judas and behaved most insolently toward them. They also shouted insults, blasphemies and sacrilegious words at them. 15The men of Judas called on the great Sovereign of the world who had demolished the walls of Jericho without engines of war during the time of Joshua, and then rushed furiously upon the walls. 16God willed that they should take possession of the city, and they carried out an incredible slaughter: the nearby lake, five hundred meters wide, seemed filled with blood.
The battle of Carnaim
17After marching for one hundred and fifty kilometers, they arrived in Charax, where the Jews were known as Tubians. 18They did not find Timotheus there, for he had gone without having achieved anything; but he had left a strong garrison in one place. 19Dositheus and Sosipater, leaders of the troops of Maccabeus, marched against them and destroyed the garrison of more than ten thousand men left behind by Timotheus.
20Maccabeus then organized his army, set these two as their commanders, and rushed out against Timotheus who had twenty thousand infantrymen and two thousand five hundred horsemen with him. 21When Timotheus learned that Judas was approaching, he sent the women and children away with a good deal of the baggage to a fortress called Carnaim which was in an impregnable place and difficult to reach because of the narrow approaches surrounding it.
22At the sight of the first battalion of Judas, terror and panic seized their enemies because of an apparition of Him who sees all things. They fled in all directions, so that they were dragged on the ground by their own companions and wounded by their own swords. 23Judas pursued Timotheus in fury and ardor, putting to the sword those wicked men and killing about thirty thousand of them.
24Timotheus himself fell into the hands of Dositheus’ and Sosipater’s troops. He very cunningly pleaded with them to let him go, for, as he said, he had the parents and brothers of most of the Jews in his power and they would surely be put to death if he were to be killed. 25When he had convinced them by the strength of his words, they let him go in order to save their kindred.
26Then Judas left for Carnaim and Atargateion, and killed twenty-five thousand men there. 27After defeating and destroying these enemies, he led an expedition against the walled city of Ephron, where Lysias had taken refuge with people of every race. Strong young men were stationed outside the walls and they fought bravely. And there were stores of war engines and missiles inside.
28After calling on the Lord almighty to crush the forces of the enemy, the Jews seized the city and killed more than twenty-five thousand of the people inside. 29Moving off from there, they went to Scythopolis, a city one hundred and twenty kilometers from Jerusalem. 30But as the Jews who lived there assured Judas that the inhabitants of that city had always treated them well and had received them favorably in times of persecution, 31Judas and his men thanked these people and asked them to extend the same kindness to his race in the future. Then they returned to Jerusalem, since the feast of Weeks of Pentecost was approaching.
32After the feast and Pentecost, they marched against Gorgias who was the governor of Idumea. 33Gorgias came out with three thousand infantrymen and four thousand horsemen to meet him. 34The battle began and some fell in the ranks of the Jews.
35Dositheus, a horseman from Bachenor’s troops, a very valiant man, grasped Gorgias by the cloak, and forcibly dragged him along, wanting to take that criminal alive. But a Thracian horseman rushed upon Dositheus and slashed his shoulder, so that Gorgias was able to flee to Marisa. 36Judas saw that the men of Esdrias were exhausted because they had been fighting for a long time. He, therefore, prayed to the Lord to show himself as their ally and lead them in battle. 37Then, he chanted a battle hymn in the language of their ancestors, charged against the troops of Gorgias all of a sudden, and defeated them.
Sacrifice for the fallen
•38Judas reorganized his army, and then went to the city of Adullam. Since it was the week’s end, they purified themselves and celebrated the sabbath there. 39The next day the companions of Judas went to take away the bodies of the dead (it was urgent to do it) and buried them with their relatives in the tombs of their fathers. 40They found under the tunic of each of the dead men objects consecrated to the idols of Jamnia, which the Law forbade the Jews to wear. So it became clear to everyone why these men had died.
41Everyone blessed the intervention of the Lord, the just Judge who brings to light the most secret deeds; 42and they prayed to the Lord to completely pardon the sin of their dead companions. The valiant Judas urged his men to shun such sin in the future, for they had just seen with their own eyes what had happened to those who sinned. 43He took up a collection among his soldiers which amounted to two thousand pieces of silver and sent it to Jerusalem to be offered there as a sacrifice for sin.
They did all this very well and rightly inspired by their belief in the resurrection of the dead. 44If they did not believe that their fallen companions would rise again, then it would have been a useless and foolish thing to pray for them. 45But they firmly believed in a splendid reward for those who died as believers; therefore, their concern was holy and in keeping with faith.
46This was the reason why Judas had this sacrifice offered for the dead—so that the dead might be pardoned for their sin.
Antiochus invades Judea
1In the year one hundred and forty-nine (163 B.C.), the men of Judas learned that Antiochus Eupator had come against Judea with countless troops, 2together with Lysias, his tutor who was head of the government. Each of them was in command of a Greek army of one hundred and ten thousand infantrymen, five thousand and three hundred horsemen, twenty-two elephants and about three hundred chariots of war with scythes.
3Menelaus joined them, and incited Antiochus with every evil intent since he was not seeking the freedom of his country but only hoping that he would be restored to the office of High Priest. 4But the king of kings roused the anger of Antiochus against that wicked man, when Lysias made the king realize that Menelaus was the cause of all the evils.
So the king ordered that Menelaus be taken to Berea and executed according to the custom of the place. 5There is a tower in that place, twenty-five meters high, full of burning ashes, provided with a revolving device on top, which sloped on all sides into ashes. 6Whoever robbed any sacred thing or committed any other notorious crime was brought up to the tower, and then, pushed into the ashes. 7In this way, Menelaus died without even a burial. 8This was indeed a just punishment for him who had committed so many offenses against the Altar whose fire and ashes were sacred; and so, he met his death in ashes.
Prayer and success of the Jews in Modein
9The king came with a heart full of evil designs, prepared to be more cruel to the Jews, than his father had been. 10When Judas learned of this, he ordered his army to call on God day and night, so that as God had done in other circumstances, he would now also help those 11who were in danger of be-ing deprived of their Law, their country and their temple. God could not let his people, who had hardly begun to breathe freely, fall once again into the hands of blasphemous pagans.
12Once all the people had carried out the order to pray to the merciful Lord with lamentations, fasting and prayer for three consecutive days, Judas encouraged them and commanded them to stand ready. 13After summoning the Elders in private, he determined to leave with his men for a decisive attempt with the help of God, before the king’s army could invade Judea and take control of Jerusalem.
14Judas entrusted the decision to the Creator of the world, and encouraged his men to fight heroically to the death for the Law, the Temple, the city, the country and the institutions. So he left with his army and encamped near Modein. 15He gave his men this watchword: “God’s victory.” With the most capable young men of his army he attacked by night the tent of the king, putting to the sword about two thousand men, the strongest elephant and its rider. 16They caused fear and confusion in the camp and then withdrew in complete success. 17All this happened just as day was dawning, for God’s help protected them.
18When the king saw the daring attitude of the Jews, he tried to take control of their fortresses by using tricks. 19He advanced against Beth-zur, a city strongly defended by the Jews; he attacked it but was repelled and defeated. 20Judas supplied the defenders of the city with everything they needed.
21Rhodocus, one of Judas’ men, gave secret information to the enemies. He was hunted, captured and executed. 22The king again kept in contact with the defenders of Beth-zur, made peace with them and withdrew. 23He attacked the troops of Judas but was defeated. When he was informed that Philip, whom he had left in Antioch as head of the government, had revolted, he was dismayed. He sought peace with the Jews and had to accept and swear to observe their just petitions; he became reconciled with them, offered sacrifices, honored the Temple and showed generosity to the Holy Place.
24The king took leave of Maccabeus and named Hegemonides as governor from Ptolemais to the land of the Gerarrites. 25When he came to Ptolemais, he found the inhabitants were indignant over that treaty; they were so angry they wanted to annul its terms. 26 But Lysias came up to the tribunal to defend what had been decided; he convinced and appeased them, winning their goodwill before he set out for Antioch. This was what happened with the king’s expedition and retreat.
1Three years later, Judas and his men were informed that Demetrius, son of Seleucus, had landed in Tripoli with a fleet and a powerful army, 2and had taken control of the kingdom, killing Antiochus and his tutor Lysias.
3A certain Alcimus, who had been High Priest before, but was disgraced during the time of the rebellion, realized that there was no way for him to be restored to the ministry at the sacred altar. 4So, he went to king Demetrius in about the year one hundred and fifty-one (161 B.C.), and offered him a golden crown, a palm and even some olive branches from the Temple as usual. On that day, he did not ask for anything. 5But he found a proper occasion for his evil designs when he was called to a meeting of the king’s council. When he was asked with what disposition and spirit the Jews were to be confronted, he answered, 6“There exists a party called Hasideans among the Jews, headed by Judas Maccabeus, that keeps up war and rebellion, and hinders the reestablishment of peace and order in the land. 7Because of them, I have been deprived of the dignity of my ancestors, that is, the office of High Priest. And I came here, 8concerned for the king’s interests above everything else, but for my compatriots as well, since the fanaticism of those men has plunged our people into great misery.
9O King, look upon our land and nation which is hard pressed on all sides, with that same kindness you have for all. 10For as long as Judas lives, it is impossible for the State to find peace.”
11When Alcimus had said this, the rest of the king’s friends who were hostile to Judas, quickly incited Demetrius against him. 12And the king immediately chose Nicanor, who commanded the squadron of elephants, and appointed him military commissioner of Judea 13with orders to kill Judas, disperse his men and restore Alcimus as priest of the great Temple.
14The pagans who had earlier escaped from Judea for fear of Judas, flocked in great number to Nicanor, thinking that the misfortunes and defeat of the Jews would mean victory for them.
Treaty of peace between Nicanor and Judas
15When the men of Judas learned about the coming of Nicanor and the invasion of Nicanor was coming and about the invasion of the pagans, they sprinkled dust upon their heads, and called on Him who had established his people forever, and had each time protected his people by wonderful manifestations. 16Then, at their leader’s command they set out to march, and the battle began near Dessau. 17Simon, the brother of Judas, had attacked Nicanor, but his men were suddenly confounded by the enemies, suffering a slight setback.
18However, as Nicanor had heard of the courage of Judas and his men and of how bravely they fought for their country, he feared resolving the situation by bloodshed. 19So, he sent Posidonius, Theodotus and Mattathias to arrange for peace. 20After a thorough consideration of the conditions, he communicated this to his troops and it seemed that they were unanimous about it. The treaty of peace was accepted.
21So they set the date on which the leaders should meet. A chariot came forward from each side and they prepared seats of honor. 22Judas positioned armed men in strategic places, in case of sudden treachery on the part of the enemy. But their meeting went well.
23Nicanor spent some time in Jerusalem without doing any harm, and even dismissed the people that had gathered around him. 24He always had Judas with him, for he had a high regard for him. 25He advised him to get married and have children, so Judas got married and enjoyed a peaceful life.
26When Alcimus saw the good understanding between the two, he secured a copy of the signed accord and went to Demetrius, accusing Nicanor of acting against the interests of the State, inasmuch as he had appointed Judas, the enemy of the kingdom, as his minister.
27The king was infuriated and stirred up by the slanders of that wicked man. He wrote Nicanor telling him how indignant he was over the treaty and ordering him to put Maccabeus in chains and to send him to Antioch at once.
28Nicanor was dismayed to learn that he was asked to break the treaty with Judas who had done nothing wrong. 29But he could not go against the king’s orders, so he sought an occasion to carry this out by deceit. 30Maccabeus noticed that Nicanor had become more reserved towards him and more unpleasant in their usual meetings, so he understood that this did not promise well. He began to gather some of his men, but did not make this known to Nicanor. 31When the latter became aware that Judas had escaped without being disloyal, he appeared in the holy Temple while the priests were offering the ritual sacrifices, and demanded that they hand Judas over to him. 32The priests declared on oath that they did not know where he was to be found. 33Then, he stretched out his hand to the Sanctuary and made this oath: “If you do not hand Judas over to me in chains, I shall raze this place consecrated to God, destroy the altar, and right here build a splendid temple to Dionysus.” 34And after saying this, he left.
The priests stretched forth their hands to heaven and called on him who had unceasingly defended our nation, saying 35“O Lord of the universe, though you do not need anything, it has pleased you to put among us this temple as your dwelling place. 36So now, keep undefiled forever this house that has just been purified.”
37Razis, one of the elders of Jerusalem, was denounced to Nicanor as being a very patriotic man, well known as “father of the Jews” because of his kindness. 38In the time before the rebellion, he had been accused of Judaism and with much enthusiasm he had totally given himself to the defense of Judaism.
39Now then, Nicanor, wishing to show his hatred towards the Jews, ordered more than five hundred soldiers to take him prisoner. 40He thought that by putting him in prison, he would deal a great blow to the Jews.
41When the soldiers were about to capture the tower and were breaking the door of the courtyard (they had already ordered that fire be brought to burn the door), Razis, surrounded on all sides, struck his belly with his own sword. 42He preferred to die bravely rather than fall into the hands of foreigners and suffer insults unworthy of his noble birth. 43But when he fell upon his sword, he did not hit exactly, so when he saw the troops were now rushing in through the gates, he gathered enough strength to climb to the top of the tower, and manfully threw himself down upon the soldiers. 44But they quickly withdrew, so he fell into an empty space.
45Still alive, and aflame with valor, he stood up in spite of the blood that gushed forth and the wounds he had, and came running through the soldiers. 46He stood on a steep rock and there, with his blood almost completely drained from him, he took hold of his intestines with both hands and hurled them at the crowd. Then calling upon the name of the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again one day, he left this life.
Victory for Judas and death of Nicanor
1Nicanor was informed that the men of Judas were in the neighboring villages of Samaria, so he prepared to safely attack them on the day of the sabbath. 2The Jews, who were forced to accompany him, said to him, “Do not destroy them so savagely and barbarously, but show respect for the day of the sabbath, for He who sees all has honored this day and sanctified it.” 3But the wretch asked if there was indeed a sovereign in heaven who had commanded that the sabbath be holy. 4They answered, “It is the living God himself, the Sovereign in heaven, who has commanded us to celebrate the seventh day.”
5“So I, as sovereign on earth, command you to take up arms and carry out the decrees of the king.” But he could not bring to completion his evil designs.
6Nicanor was so sure of victory, that he planned to build a monument with the mortal remains of Judas and his men. 7But Maccabeus, for his part, felt confident and put his trust in God’s help. 8He encouraged his men not to fear the attack of the pagans, and not to forget the times God had come to their help, confident that even now God would give them victory. 9He roused their spirit with the words of the Law and the Prophets, reminding them of previous triumphs. 10Encouraging his men more and more, he finished by showing them the evil of the pagans and how they had betrayed their oath.
11So he armed them not with the sword or shield but with the certainty that comes from noble words. Then he made them all full of joy by telling them what he saw in a true dream.
•12He had seen Onias, the former High Priest, a courteous, good man, humble in his ways, distinguished in his words and exemplary in his irreproachable conduct since childhood. With arms outstretched, Onias prayed for the whole Jewish community. 13Then, a gray-haired and honorable man appeared, praying in the same way, and characterized by dignity and majesty. 14Then Onias, the High Priest, said to Judas, “This is he who loves his compatriots, he who prays without ceasing for the people and for the Holy City. He is Jeremiah, the prophet of God.” 15And Jeremiah had stretched out his right hand giving a golden sword to Judas, as he said, 16“Receive this sword as a gift from God, with which you shall destroy your enemies.”
17Encouraged by these beautiful words of Judas, which were able to encourage righteous people and strengthen young souls, they determined not to set up camp with defenses. They decided instead to rush out bravely and take the offensive to settle the matter by fighting bravely, for the Holy City Jerusalem, their religion and the Temple were in danger. 18They considered of secondary importance any concern for their wives, children and friends; because they feared above all for the Temple consecrated to God. 19Regarding those who had stayed in the city, their anxiety was by no means little, since they were worried about the battle that was about to begin in the camp.
20Everyone waited for the imminent outcome as the enemies attacked. They had set their troops in place, led the elephants to strategic positions and had the cavalry in the wings. 21Then Maccabeus could see this multitude with their weapons of every kind and the ferocious elephants. He stretched forth his hands to heaven and called on the Lord who works marvels, for he knew that God gives victory to those who deserve it, and this does not depend on weapons, but on the will of God.
22So Judas said in prayer, “O Lord, you sent your angel in the days of Hezekiah, the king of Judah, and he wiped out one hundred and eighty-five thousand men of the army of Sennacherib. 23So now, O Lord of Heaven, send your good angel, before us too, to fill our enemies with fear and terror. 24Show your power and let your arm strike those who insult you and who come to destroy your holy people.” With this, he ended his prayer.
25Meanwhile, Nicanor and his men advanced amid blasts of trumpets and shouts of war. 26Judas and his men, for their part, entered into battle with supplication and prayer. 27As they fought with their hands, their hearts prayed to God. And being so magnificently strengthened by the manifest presence of God, they killed no less than thirty-five thousand enemies.
28When the battle ended, and they returned rejoicing, they found Nicanor dead, lying on the ground with all his armor.
29Then they blessed God in their ancestral language amidst shouts and clamors. 30Judas, who had once fully consecrated himself to the welfare of his fellow residents and had never wavered in his affection for them, ordered that Nicanor’s head and arms up to the shoulders be cut off and brought to Jerusalem.
31There he summoned his compatriots and priests. He stood before the altar and ordered them to send for those in the Citadel. 32He showed them the head of that wretched, Nicanor, and the hand which that wicked man had raised in pride above the House of God. 33He ordered that Nicanor’s tongue be cut into pieces and given to the birds, and the hand be hung in front of the Sanctuary as punishment for his arrogance. 34At this everyone sent blessings heavenwards saying, “Blessed be he who did not let his Sacred House be defiled!”
35Finally, Judas ordered that Nicanor’s head be hung in the Citadel as a sign of God’s help. 36By popular agreement, they decided that on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month called Adar in Aramaic, the vespers of the day of Mordecai would be commemorated as a festival day.
37These were the events during the time of Nicanor. As from those days the city remained under the power of the Hebrews, I end my account here. 38If the narration has been good and well composed, that is indeed what I desired; but if it has been ordinary and indifferent, it is what I was able to do. 39The readers’ pleasure depends on how the account was arranged, just as it is with one who drinks. It does not do any good when one drinks only pure wine or water but wine mixed with water is tasty and delightful. Let this, then, be my last word.
• 1.1 This part of the first letter could be a model for wishing someone a “Happy New Year.”
The Jews of Palestine write this letter after having overcome their oppressors. When they are about to celebrate the Purification of the Temple which has been retrieved from the enemy forces, they inform the Jewish communities dispersed in Egypt about it.
The letter deals with several themes. We single out the legend according to which the Ark (which had in fact been destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem in 587) had been saved and hidden. This was to express the great faith of the people; nothing that God had done in the time of their ancestors could be lost.
Note 2:13-15. This fact, not totally reliable, completes what we read in 1 Chronicles 29: 29-30; 2 Chronicles 9:29; 16:11… Ezra 7:25-26; Nehemiah 8; regarding the formation of the nucleus of the Bible, a task which was achieved not by Nehemiah, but rather by Ezra.
• 4.7 We single out this paragraph which vividly describes the penetration of Greek culture. Should it be seen as progress or cultural colonization? See what is said to that effect in 1 Maccabees 1:41. Since the priests were better educated, they received the first shock of the cultural and spiritual crisis. Unfortunately for the Jews, at the time of the crisis, personal interests and politics entered into the appointment of the religious leaders.
• 6.1 Religious persecution as it is experienced by the people means:
– obligatory suppression of religious customs;
– sexual licentiousness disguised as cultural progress;
– violence against those who remain faithful to God;
– abandoning the humble and the women who are faced with the cruelty of the law and of the people.
The moral crisis continues in the wake of the trials that good people are going through. How can God allow this?
An answer is given: the purpose of these trials is to correct God’s people. The Jews know that God’s mercy is present during the trial.
• 18. How noble are Eleazar’s words:
– he does not want to hide his faith;
– he prefers honor to life;
– above all he fears God;
– to die out of faithfulness to divine laws sets a noble example for young people;
– Eleazar suffers physically, but he dies happy.
We have in him the prototype, the model of martyrs.
• 7.1 In relating the martyrdom of these seven brothers, whose names are unknown, the author places on their lips a declaration of their faith in immortality. This is the most valuable message of the book.
In the previous centuries, God’s promises were for the people as a whole. The believer only hoped for the life and prosperity of his race.
Here, we have a giant step in the faith: the resurrection of individuals. It is not only the hope for survival of the spirit, or the soul: the believer thinks he will be raised as a person to meet God. In Ezekiel 37, in the vision of the dry bones, God was promising to raise his people who had died. Here, every person hopes to rise, body and soul, to share the happiness that God promised and will give on the final day.
If martyrs are not raised, how would God achieve justice?
• 9.1 The way God does justice. Antiochus’ death is told differently in 1 Maccabees 6, which leads us to think that everything is not correct in this popular story. However, the author made no mistake in showing the change that illness and suffering bring about in the powerful.
At that moment, they see themselves as they really are, and they become aware of their pride. They discover the connection between their present humiliation and those they inflicted on others. They promise to change their ways, though a bit late, as long as God grants them life.
The end of the persecutor shows that, if indeed God’s real punishment is for the afterlife, there are also sins so abominable that they are punished in this world, as an example for others and to console the afflicted and the oppressed.
• 12.38 Judas’ soldiers feel encouraged in their faith when they find that their companions who died in the war deserved it because of some sin. Before, for example in the days of Joshua, believers were resigned to accept God’s justice and were not concerned about their guilty brothers (see Jos 7).
Now, Judas’ companions are concerned: did those who sinned stop being our brothers? They belonged to God’s people as we do: being raised to life, will they not share a happy future with us?
Hence, Judas’ initiative and the prayer for the dead. They have just discovered the solidarity among the members of God’s people, between the living and the dead.
• 15.12 The faithful begin to discover the solidarity binding the living and dead members of God’s people. Here, the men of God of the past intercede for their descendants: Jeremiah, the prophet of previous centuries as well as Onias, the High Priest murdered a few years before.