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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

The Story of the Maccabees (2 Mc 3, 1–15, 36 )

A theological purpose dominates the way 2 Maccabees tells its story: to show how the events of Jewish history—from the time of Onias the high priest to the time of Judas Maccabee—disclose a God who cares for the Jewish people by rewarding the faithful and punishing evildoers. In telling his story, the author uses a scheme first devised by the author of the story of Israel in its land as found in the books of Joshua to 2 Kings. This story, infused by Deuteronomic theology, told how Israel came to possess the land of Canaan under Joshua and then how it lost the land because of the infidelities of its kings. The story of Israel in its land (Jos through 2 Kgs) is a story of how Israel's infidelity transformed the blessing into a curse.

The story told in 2 Maccabees begins with a period of blessing ( 3, 1–40 ) during the time of Onias III when people observed the Torah ( 3, 1–3 ). During the time of the high priests Jason and Menelaus, the people and their leaders sin by violating the Torah and following the customs of the Greeks ( 4, 1–5, 10 ). This inevitably leads to punishment ( 5, 11–6, 17 ). Antiochus was the agent of God's judgment just as the Assyrians and Babylonians were agents of divine judgment in 2 Kings.

In the midst of Antiochus's persecution of the Jews, the prayers of the people, and especially the heroic death of the Jewish martyrs, led to a turning point ( 6, 18–8, 4 ). The refusal of the martyrs to sin, their obedience to the Torah, and their innocent death bring a change in circumstances. God extended mercy to the Jews and brought an end to their persecution. Although the book was aware that it was the military victories of Judas Maccabee that ended the domination of Antiochus, it assumed that it was the death of the martyrs that turned God's anger to mercy and made the Maccabean victories possible.

This section of the book has influenced the development of the Christian notion of suffering as a positive value. Suffering can be a form of divine education ( 6, 18–7, 42 ). God did not design the suffering of the Jewish people under Antiochus to destroy the people but to discipline them. God may discipline the people but does not abandon them ( 6, 12–16 ).

The suffering of the innocent led the author to affirm his belief in the resurrection of the dead ( 7, 9.11.14.23; 14, 46 ). This belief enabled the Jewish martyrs to accept their suffering because God will deliver the pious despite their death at the hands of the impious. (See the Reading Guide on Daniel, RG 337 ). The history of the Maccabean wars ends with a summary of Judas's victories ( 8, 5–15, 36 ) that brings salvation to the beleaguered Jewish community. The cycle is complete: blessing has returned to the Jewish people.

Parallel to this story of salvation is another story of retribution. The enemies of the Jews came to a terrible end: Antiochus died in agony ( 9, 8 ), the Greek who murdered the good high priest Onias was himself killed ( 4, 38 ), and the general who commanded the siege against Jerusalem died in battle and his head was hung from the citadel of the city ( 15, 35 ). The wicked among the Jews also suffered under divine judgment. The evil high priests Jason and Menelaus both came to miserable ends ( 5, 1–10 and 13, 7f ).

Prayers for the Living and Dead

One of the most significant texts in this book for Roman Catholic theology is 12, 42–46 . Here the author wished to show that Judas Maccabee believed in the resurrection of the dead since he ordered prayers and sacrifices for those who had fallen in battle. The author concludes that such prayers would be futile unless Judas believed that they would rise again ( 12, 44 ). Sometimes this text is used as support for the Roman Catholic belief in purgatory and the efficacy of the prayers of the living for the dead.

Another significant text for Roman Catholics is 2 Maccabees 15, 12–16 . Here Judas Maccabee has a dream in which he sees the prophet Jeremiah praying for the Jews and Jerusalem. Catholic tradition accepts this text as one support for the belief in the efficacy of the intercession of the saints.

The Epilogue (2 Mc 15, 37–39 )

The author ends his work rather abruptly with a hope that readers will find his work pleasant reading.

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