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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

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Commentary on 2 Maccabees

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Commentary spanning earlier chapters

The Prefixed Letters ( 1:1–2:18 )

( 1:1–10a ) The First Letter

The first letter follows the normal format of letters in the Hellenistic period as it first indicates who the recipients and senders of the letter are (v. 1 ), then follows this with good wishes for the recipients (vv. 2–6 ), the body of the letter (vv. 7–9 ), and closes with the date (v. 10a ). The letter was written in 124 BCE, a year in which a bitter civil war in Egypt had ended. The letter makes no reference to these events, however, nor does it refer to any specific individuals. Rather, it emphasizes that both recipients and senders are all brothers. A somewhat similar greeting is found in the letter of 419 BCE found in the Elephantine papyri (Cowley 1923: 60–5). One wonders who were the senders—John Hyrcanus the high priest and his council?—and who were the recipients—the Jewish community in Alexandria, or the military colony at Leontopolis? The greeting combines a Jewish formula—‘true peace’—and a Greek formula—‘greetings’.

The initial greetings are followed by a long prayer of blessing which emphasizes the common covenant with the patriarchs, and the role the Torah should play in their lives. Particularly interesting is the stress on God's active role in the following of the Torah. The Greek verb for ‘be reconciled’ at v. 5 (katallageiē) is unusual in the rest of the LXX. It is found with this meaning at 2 Macc 7:33; 8:29 , and this may constitute one piece of evidence for seeing a connection between the letter and the epitome. The same notion is found in the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the first temple (2 Chr 6:19 ). Some scholars have found in v. 5 an allusion either to the civil war in Egypt or to the need for reconciliation because of the sin of Onias IV in building a temple at Leontopolis (Jos. Ant. 13.62–73). The terms are those used for general good wishes, however, and so such specificity need not be present.

The body of the letter contains a quotation of a previous letter. Since there are no quotation marks in Greek, where does the quotation begin? Does the ‘critical distress’ of v. 7 refer to the time of Demetrius II in 169 of the Seleucid Era, i.e. spring 143 to spring 142 BCE, the time when Jonathan was captured (1 Macc 12:48 )? If that were the case, why is Jonathan's capture not mentioned whereas an event over 20 years previously, the withdrawal of Jason, is? Would the body of the letter begin with a quotation of a letter with no indication of the fact? We should probably begin the letter at ‘In the critical distress…’ It is not exactly sure what event is being described as the time of distress. It is not Jason who is said to have burned the gates, but others (2 Macc 8:33; 1 Macc 1:31; 4:38 ). I suggest that the withdrawal, not revolt, of Jason is being referred to (2 Macc 5:1–9 ) and the subsequent destruction of the city by the Seleucids is described using the traditional figures of burnt gates and the shedding of innocent blood.

The end of the quotation is marked by the formula, ‘And now’. Only here and at 2 Macc 1:18 and 10:6 is the festival of Chislev connected with the Feast of Booths. The date is given at the end of the letter, as is usual.

( 1:10b–2:18 ) The Second Letter

The second letter bristles with problems. The first section ( 1:10b–18 ) speaks of the death of Antiochus IV and seems about to stop at 1:18 with an invitation to celebrate the festival of the purification of the temple, but then the letter continues on with a digression on the holiness of the second temple until the exhortation to celebrate the festival of Chislev is repeated at 2:16 . No date is given. While the first letter had as recipients and senders only the brothers in Judaea, Jerusalem, and Egypt, this letter provides a range of people with Judas and Aristobulus being specifically named. The reference would seem to be to Judas Maccabeus, the leader of the revolt in Judea, and possibly to the Aristobulus whose fragments are preserved by the later Christian bishop, Eusebius of Caesarea (Praep. Evang. 7.32. 16–18; 8.9.38–8.10.17; 13.12.1–16). Aristobulus is said to have presented a work to Ptolemy VI Philometor (180–145 BCE), whereas in this letter he is called the teacher of Ptolemy. Most scholars do not regard this letter as genuine. Rather it is creative historiography, wherein an author writes what should have been written. What is in evidence is the attempt to show a close connection between Jews in Egypt and in Judea.

The account of the death of Antiochus IV differs from that in Polybius, 31, and Appian, Syriaca, 66, and, more interestingly, from that in 1 Macc 6:16 and 2 Macc 9 . All these other sources agree that Antiochus IV did not die at the temple of Nanea. One cannot reconcile the death accounts in this letter and in the epitome, and one must conclude that they were written by different people.

( 1:19–36 ) The Miraculous Fire

At 1:18 , the text unexpectedly speaks of a festival of fire at the time of Nehemiah. The author has this Nehemiah commissioned by the Persian king ( 1:20 ), and seems to refer to the Nehemiah who is the central figure of the book of Nehemiah. However, he sets the scene at the end of the Babylonian exile, when another Nehemiah accompanied Zerubbabel back to Judea (Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7; 1 Esd 5:8 ), and so has conflated the two figures. Here Nehemiah, not Jeshua and Zerubbabel (Ezra 3–6 ), is credited with the restoration of temple worship. Nehemiah is also important at 2 Macc 2:13–14 ; perhaps his role as governor and temple restorer provided a model for the activity of Judas. The fire on the altar was never to go out (Lev 6:12–13 ) and so its miraculous preservation emphasizes the continuity between the first and second temple, which some had questioned (Ezra 3:12 ; 1 Enoch 89:73 ; 2 Apoc. Bar. 68:5–6 ).

The prayer of the priests stresses God's election of Israel, and his role as the Divine Warrior who fights for his people and leads them to their home, as in the hymn in Ex 15 . The miracle of the fire is verified and acknowledged by the Persian king, and Nehemiah is recognized as the discoverer of naphtha, a kind of petroleum well known to Hellenistic scientists and geographers (Dioscorides, De materia medica, 1.73; Strabo, Geog. 15.3.15; 16.1.15). He is thus ranked with other ‘inventors’ of benefits to mankind, as Dionysos of wine and Demeter of grain. Among Jewish Hellenistic authors, Abraham was said to be the inventor of astrology and mathematics (Eus. Praep. Evang. 9.17.3) and Moses the discoverer of ships, weapons of war, and Egyptian religion (ibid. 9.27.4–6).

( 2:1–15 ) The Temple and Earlier Traditions

The narrative now answers the question of who had ordered the sacred fire to be taken to Babylonia, and the answer is Jeremiah. While that story shows the continuity between the first temple and the second, the hiding of the sacred vessels on Mt. Nebo shows the discontinuity. The sacred vessels are returned to God's mountain until the ingathering of the people when, as during the Exodus (Ex 40:34–8 ) and at the dedication of the first temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:10 ), God's glory will appear again.

v. 4 , many traditions clustered around the figure of Jeremiah. He will appear again as an intercessor for his people at 2 Macc 15:14–16 . Eupolemus, perhaps the ambassador of Judas Maccabeus, stated that Jeremiah preserved the ark and the tablets from the Babylonians (Eus. Praep. Evang. 9.39.5) and the Letter of Jeremiah similarly exhorts the exiles to refrain from idolatry.

vv. 9–12 , the reference to Moses and Solomon in v. 8 is further developed. There is no mention of Moses' praying at Lev 9:23–4 when fire consumes the burnt offering, although at Solomon's prayer fire came down (2 Chr 7:1 ). The saying of Moses in v. 11 is not found in the HB although the event referred to derives from Lev 10:16–20 . The command to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for eight days given at Lev 23:33–6 seems to be missing before v. 12 . These stories all testify to the lively narrative world of Second-Temple Judaism as the traditional stories were told and retold with creative nuances.

vv. 13–15 , after discussing the divine fire at the time of Moses and Solomon, the author returns to Nehemiah and his fire exploits. Interesting is the reference to Nehemiah's founding a library and collecting books. After Ptolemy I founded the great library at Alexandria, others imitated him as did the Attalid kings of Pergamum in Asia Minor. Nehemiah is being put in good company! Scholars have puzzled over exactly what is referred to in the list of books. Rather than attempting to align this list neatly with specific books of the canonical HB, one should recognize that, as the finds at Qumran are showing us, Judean society was filled with many more stories, hymns, and retellings of traditional narratives than are extant today. 1 Macc 1:56–7 relates how the books of the law were ripped apart and burnt if found. Judas is said to act similarly to Nehemiah, and so another element of the comparison made at 2 Macc 1:18 is introduced. Does v. 15 suggest a superiority of the library at Jerusalem as regards Jewish books to the one in Alexandria?

( 2:16–18 ) Conclusion

The request of 1:18 is repeated here, and interwoven with the themes of God as Divine Warrior ( 1:25 ), of the people as God's inheritance ( 1:26–7 ), and of the ingathering of the people ( 1:27–9; 2:3 ). The reference in v. 18 to God's rescue of his people and his purification of the place provides the appropriate introduction to the epitome. As mentioned in the introduction, we do not know what exactly the relationship is between the two prefixed letters and the epitome. One can suggest corresponding themes, but there is no intrinsic connection.

The Epitome ( 2:19–15:39 )

( 2:19–32 ) Prologue

The author writes an elegant preface to his work, outlining his source, the contents of the work, his aims, and his methods. He shows his control of the current historiographical methods and style, and his command of Greek. The source of his work is Jason of Cyrene, of whom we know nothing. Ptolemy I Lagus is said to have settled a group of Jews in Cyrenaica (Jos. Ag. Ap. 2.44) and Jewish inscriptions have been located there. At the time of Sulla (around 85 BCE), Strabo stated that the city of Cyrene was composed of four elements, citizens, farmers, resident aliens, and Jews (Jos. Ant. 14.115). Jason would therefore have been a Greek-speaking Jew from Cyrenaica which was under the control of the Ptolemies.

As for the content of the book, the author says nothing about the events under Seleucus IV which open the book (ch. 3 ) nor those under Demetrius I which close the book (chs. 14–15 ). The operative word for the author appears to be the term ‘epiphany’/‘appearance’, a word which the author uses throughout the work, and which appears also in these chapters ( 3:24; 14:15; 15:27 ). In this prologue, the author, who loves to play on words, contrasts Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the ‘epiphanies’ which God gave his people. A further contrast is between Judaism and the barbarian hordes. This is the first known use of the term ‘Judaism’, seemingly coined to contrast with ‘Hellenism’ (2 Macc 4:13 ) and ‘allophylism/foreign ways’ (2 Macc 4:13; 6:25 ). The Greeks called those who did not speak their language ‘barbarians’. Here the author is calling the Greek-speaking Seleucids the barbarians.

The aims and methods that the author espouses are those standard for Hellenistic historians, as is the motif of hard work undertaken willingly for the benefit of the reader. At v. 24 , the author does not really claim to get rid of ‘the flood of statistics’; the terms rather mean that the author is concerned to shorten the number of lines, of which there would have been quite a few in a five-volume work.

( 3:1–39 ) The First Attack on the Temple

The first attack and the first epiphany are set during the reign of Seleucus IV Philopator (187–175 BCE). The story is similar to other accounts written in praise of a deity who defends his/her temple: the attack, the plea for help, the response of the deity, the rout of the enemy, and the rejoicing of the defenders. One finds such a scheme, for example, in the repulse of Sennacherib from Jerusalem (2 Chr 32:1–22; 2 Kings 18:17–19:36 ), and in the defence of Delphi by Apollo against the Persians under Xerxes in 480 BCE (Hdt. 8.37–9) and against the Gauls in 179 BCE (Paus. 10.23.2).

( 3:1–8 ) The Problem

The city is described as idyllically at peace. The author stresses that peace depends on the piety of the leader, the high priest, a theme found in the books of Kings (1 Kings 9:1–9; 2 Kings 17:7–8; 21:11–15 ). The behaviour of Onias will stand in sharp opposition to that of his successors in the office. This utopian picture contrasts with the conflict and division described in the history of the Qumran Covenanters (CD 1) and in the narrative of 1 Enoch 1–11. The benign relationship of the ruling powers depicted here is similar to what is found elsewhere as the Persian kings had provided for the sacrificial cult (Ezra 6:9–10; 7:20–3 ), and Josephus states that the Ptolemies and Antiochus III had bestowed privileges on Jerusalem (Ant. 12.50, 58, 138–44; Ag. Ap. 2.48).

vv. 4–8 , this utopian scene is disrupted. One should follow the Latin and Armenian translations which show that Simon belonged, not to the tribe of Benjamin, but to the priestly clan of Bilgah (Neh 12:5, 18; 1 Chr 24:14 ). Simon's exact position is not known, as the term for ‘captain’ could cover civil and military as well as religious functions, nor do we know if he had been appointed by the high priest or by Seleucid authorities. Precisely what the conflict was over is not known either: was the disagreement over what the duties of the supervisor of the market were, or who would supervise all aspects of buying and selling? According to the Temple Scroll (11QT 47:7–18 ), only hides from clean animals sacrificed in Jerusalem could be brought into Jerusalem, whereas the decree of Antiochus III on the temple only forbade the hides of unclean animals and did not require that the hides be from animals sacrificed in Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. 12.146). This purity debate obviously has economic implications. Is this the basis for the conflict, or is it more likely a power-play between two factions in the small city-state of Judea? Such power-plays were earlier evident in Jerusalem in the historical romance of the Tobiads (Ant. 12.154–222). Simon was the brother of Menelaus, the future high priest, and one should see here a struggle between important families for control of the city. Simon makes his move by appealing to the governor, who, not willing to interfere in temple affairs, sends the question to the Seleucid ruler. The Peace of Apamea in 188 BCE had imposed a large indemnity on the Seleucids and so they were looking for funds. Seleucus reasoned that Simon's suggestion did not involve any sacrilege as it was not a question of funds for the actual temple cult, and so sent Heliodorus, chancellor of the realm, who had been brought up with him.

( 3:9–14a ) The Attack on the Temple

The author stresses the friendly reception of the Seleucid minister to underline the unexpectedness of the attack. The high priest cleverly responds, basing his argument on the idea that deposits in temples should not be violated, particularly those of widows and orphans who are particularly protected by God (Ps 146:9; Deut 27:19; Isa 1:23 ). The mention by the high priest of deposits in the temple by a Hyrcanus, son of Tobias, has led some scholars to suggest that Onias was pro-Ptolemaic and the leader of an anti-Seleucid faction. Within the Tobiad romance preserved in Josephus' Antiquities (12.154–222), the Tobiads and the youngest son Hyrcanus are depicted as closely allied with the Ptolemies. However, such a suggestion seems totally out of place in a context in which the high priest is trying to win over the Seleucid minister. Would he bring his anti-Seleucid leaning to the attention of Heliodorus? More likely, Hyrcanus is simply mentioned as an important personage.

( 3:14b–21 ) The Plea for Divine Help

The description of the distress of the citizens is highly emotional. The author stresses the involvement of the whole populace, as married women, usually excluded from public business, and unmarried women, normally hidden out of sight, are included.

( 3:22–30 ) The Response of the Deity

The author highlights the sovereignty of God through the title given to him at v. 24 and the reference to God's sovereign power at v. 28 . This first epiphany has first a horseman and then two young men and so Bickerman (1979 ) suggested that there were two intertwined accounts, one with the horseman (vv. 24–5, 27–8, 30 ) and another with the two young men (vv. 26, 29, 31–4 ). However, one could also argue that the author is displaying God's power through several agents. The description of the avenging figures as dressed in golden armour and extremely handsome is how divine interveners are usually portrayed in Hellenistic literature.

( 3:31–9 ) The Effect of the Miracle

Heliodorus later appeared in history in a plot to assassinate Seleucus IV, and so this story sees his recuperation. His recognition of the power of the God of Israel does not mean that Heliodorus converted, only that he acknowledges the power of the deity who resides there. A similar story is told of Ptolemy IV Philopator in 3 Macc 1–2 , but Ptolemy does not repent on his recovery. Recognition of the power of the resident deity is a theme in the story of how the Persian commander Datis was forced to proclaim the power of the goddess Athene who sent a miraculous thirst on the Persian forces when they besieged the isle of Lindos (Faure 1941 ). The healing of Heliodorus through a sacrifice, possibly a reparation offering about deposits (Lev 6:1–7; Num 5:5–10 ), and the prayer of the high priest, highlight that Heliodorus was defeated by divine aid, not by some human ambush. Heliodorus in turn offered sacrifice, perhaps a sacrifice of well-being (Lev 7:11–18 ), as Alexander is reported by Josephus to have done (Ant. 11.336). Both sacrifices emphasize the power of the God of Israel and suggest that Jews and Gentiles can live on good terms, as long as the rights of the Jews are respected.

( 3:39–10:8 ) The Second Attack on the Temple

The second attack encompasses the time of Antiochus IV. The section has the same structure as in the earlier part of ch. 3 : attack against the temple and the traditional way of life ( 4:1–6:17 ); the cry for help ( 6:18–7:42 ); God's answer (chs. 8–9 ); the reversal of the effects of the attack ( 10:1–8 ).

( 3:39–6:17 ) The Attack on the Traditional Way of Life

The traditional way of life is disturbed when the pious high priest Onias is removed from Jerusalem and replaced by an innovative high priest, Jason, and his usurper, Menelaus ( 4:1–5:10 ). This internal disruption is then followed by the attack of the outsider, Antiochus IV ( 5:11–6:10 ). The author has interspersed his narrative with reflections on the significance of events ( 4:16–17; 5:17–20; 6:12–17 ), which evidence the author's belief in the election of Israel by God and the requirement that Jews live according to the laws of the covenant.

( 3:39–4:6 ) The Removal of Onias

3:39 sums up the events in the previous chapter, but 4:1 shows that the underlying problem, the rivalry between families of the ruling élite, still exists. The increase in violence is an index of the breakdown of the polity, but now the new Seleucid governor takes an active role in the political in-fighting by supporting Simon against Onias. We do not know why he would encourage such unrest. Onias' response is to go over his head to the king. The author insists that this is not Onias playing politics, but altruistic concern for the welfare of Jerusalem. This selflessness of Onias will constrast sharply with the self-seeking motives of his successors.

( 4:7–22 ) The High-Priesthood of Jason

The author omits the details of Seleucus IV's assassination, the installation of his young son, and the usurpation of the throne by Seleucus' brother, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who returned from Rome where he had been a hostage (App. Syr. 45; cf. Dan 11:20–1 ). A new monarch would appoint or confirm rulers in their position, and Jason, Onias' brother, seized the opportunity to grasp for the position of high priest. The annual indemnity imposed by the Romans on the Seleucids at the Treaty of Apamea was 1,000 talents of silver, and so Jason's offer of 590 talents, quite a hefty sum for a small country like Judea, would have been welcomed towards paying the few last instalments.

Exactly what Jason wanted in exchange has long been debated. The gymnasium was the sign par excellence of Greek life. Originally designed for physical and military training, the gymnasium normally had a running-track and a wrestling area, and sometimes areas for jumping and javelin- and discus-throwing. There were buildings for changing and bathing, and for storing oil. Later, gymnasia became centres for intellectual training with halls for lectures on various topics, but exactly when this changeover took place is unclear. One does not know how much intellectual training would have been carried on in a city like Jerusalem in the early second century BCE. The group called ‘ephebes’, translated ‘body of youth’ in NRSV, were boys who had reached the age of puberty. At Athens for a short period of time in the late fourth century BCE, all young men aged 18–20, the ephebes, had to do compulsory military training for two years before being enrolled as citizens of Athens. In the late second century, ephebes were still doing such military exercises as archery and the use of siege-engines. Few families could afford not to let their sons work for two years, and this period of training, as with education in general, became primarily for the sons of rich families. The ephebate involved the young men in the public life of a city, and they would participate in its religious festivals and processions. It is important to note that education in the Hellenistic world was to fit a student to be a citizen of that particular city with its peculiar civic and religious responsibilities. The physical exercises would remain the same, as would the study of mathematics and the ability to read and write Greek, but such lessons would take place within the context of the city's traditional culture. Even the physical exercises, however, evidenced a desire to be part of the larger world, as athletes from different cities would compete against each other ( 4:18–20 ). Construction and maintenance of such a facility would have been costly and one gains a sense of the wealth of these aristocratic families. According to 4:12 , the gymnasium lay right under the citadel. If one locates the citadel on the south-eastern hill of Jerusalem, the gymnasium would lie either between the city of David and the temple or in the broad ravine which separated the Lower from the Upper City (Jos. JW 5.140).

Jason's further request in 4:9b has been much disputed: should one translate ‘to enrol the people of Jerusalem as Antiochenes, i.e. as citizens of Antioch’, or ‘to enrol the Antiochenes in Jerusalem’? Who were these Antiochenes? Four suggestions have been made: (1) the Hellenized Jews would be made citizens of Antioch of Syria; (2) that Antiochus IV had set up a new republic on the pattern of the Roman one and its citizens were to be called Antiochenes (Goldstein 1983 ); (3) that a Hellenistic corporation was to be set up in Jerusalem whose members would be called Antiochenes (Bickerman 1979 ); (4) that Jerusalem itself would now become a Greek polis, called Antioch-in-Jerusalem, and its citizens called Antiochenes (Tcherikover 1961 ). The first three seem unlikely: even a king could not force a city to bestow en bloc citizenship on those of another city; Antiochus IV seems to have supported local traditions rather than instituted a new republic; the word for Antiochene always refers, not to members of a corporation, but to citizens. The last suggestion seems the best, although it is intriguing that the author of 2 Maccabees does not complain about such a name change, and 1 Maccabees does not mention it. Many ancient cities received new Greek names, and this seems the best explanation for this verse. What did such a name change involve? Tcherikover (1961 ) argued that the change had constitutional implications: theoretically the Mosaic law could be overthrown as the law of the city, and Jason would control who became citizens of the city—only those who underwent ephebic training could become citizens of Antioch-in-Jerusalem. However, there is no evidence that a name change meant a change in constitution, nor that ephebic training was the only way to become a citizen. All we can say is that the name was changed, but even that implies that Jason wanted to connect Judea more closely with the Seleucid empire. Jason's position depended on royal favour, and Antiochus not only gained more money but a secure ally on his southern border.

The author of 2 Maccabees uses all his rhetorical skill to condemn what Jason did. As noted above, education was intimately tied to preparation for public life in a city. The author depicts Jason's educational reforms as a denial of traditional Jewish culture. Hellenization, which formerly meant the use of a pure style of the Greek language, is now labelled as foreign, and Jason is said to be a wicked priest. The author mocks concern for physical pursuits rather than spiritual. At v. 13 , the Greek hat is the broad-brimmed hat worn by athletes to protect them against the sun, and said to be that of Hermes, the god of athletics. At v. 14 , the signal was that given to start activity, not specifically discus-throwing. The reflection of the author at vv. 16–17 shows the author's notion of just deserts, whereby the punishment meted is appropriate to the crime committed ( 4:26, 38; 5:9–10; 13:8; 15:32 ).

vv. 18–22 show further how Jason was concerned to integrate Judea into the Seleucid empire. Every four years games were held at Tyre in honour of the god Melqart/Heracles, perhaps in imitation of Alexander the Great's celebration of games to Heracles after capturing Tyre in 331 BCE (Arr. Anab. 3.6.1). Jason sends official representatives of Antioch-in-Jerusalem. The author contrasts the action of Jason with that of the envoys who use the 300 silver drachmas, the customary price for a sacrificial ox, to fit out triremes, Greek ships with three rows of oars. Such a fitting-out would seem to go against the stipulations of the Treaty of Apamea. Did Jason reason that such a sacrifice was not against the Torah, in line with the Greek translator of Ex 22:28 who translated ‘You shall not revile the gods’, a translation which seems to imply that the gods of other nations could be honoured as subordinate to the supreme God of Israel? The author clearly sees Jason as an apostate. Jason's welcome to Antiochus on his visit to Jerusalem is similar to the ceremonial reception of Hellenistic kings and again emphasizes the friendly relations between Jews and their Greek rulers.

( 4:23–5:10 ) The Rule of Menelaus

The Bilgah clan gained control of the city as Simon's brother, Menelaus, successfully outmanœuvred Jason, who fled across the Jordan. The reader is now informed that there was a Seleucid garrison in the city, perhaps stationed in response to the Ptolemaic threat, and manned by mercenaries from Cyprus. Since Sostratus' duties involved collecting the revenue, there was probably a division of authority within Jerusalem, with a regular royal functionary operating within and above the city's political structure.

Menelaus' tenure is marked by murder and intrigue. Short of cash, he had sold temple treasure perhaps to pay his taxes, as had Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:13–16 ). Using temple vessels to pay taxes is one thing, using them to connive at murder is quite another matter. Clearly Onias III, as well as the epitomist, thought it wrong to sell temple vessels. Onias is depicted as upholding tradition, but yet appears to take sanctuary in the famous temple of Apollo and Artemis in Daphne. The murder of Onias by the utterly treacherous Andronicus, perhaps the same Andronicus who is said by Hellenistic historians to have murdered the son of Seleucus IV (Diod. Sic. 30.7.2), has the author emphasize the motif of just deserts, and also the fact that non-Jews can have a sympathetic attitude towards Jews unjustly punished.

( 4:39–50 ) Further Charges against Menelaus

Whereas Onias had protected the temple, Menelaus and Lysimachus despoil it, and launch an armed attack against the unarmed citizens who protest their actions. Divine help is intimated in the fact that unarmed citizens put to flight the armed followers of Lysimachus, who dies. Where Onias had been slandered by Simon ( 4:1 ), the true charges against Menelaus are dismissed and justice is perverted through bribery. Ptolemy son of Dorymenes may already have been governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia as at 8:8 . He certainly continues the favourable attitude to the Bilgah faction that Apollonius is said to have shown ( 4:4 ). He acts against the three members of the Jewish council, a body known from a letter of Antiochus III (Jos. Ant. 12.142), but whose exact function is unknown. As at the murder of Onias, non-Jews are shown as sympathetic to the unfairly condemned councillors.

( 5:1–10 ) Jason's Uprising

The author of 2 Maccabees locates the events after the second invasion of Antiochus IV in Egypt in 168 BCE, while 1 Maccabees places them after his first invasion (170/169 BCE). According to Dan 11:28–30 , there were two invasions of Egypt and two attacks against the temple, but Daniel does not explicitly state that Antiochus IV came in person against Jerusalem the second time. The chronology of 1 Maccabees is to be preferred, and the epitomist has perhaps run the two attacks on the temple together. 1 Maccabees gives a precise date for the second attack by the captain of the Mysians (1 Macc 1:29 ), whereas 2 Maccabees does not ( 5:24 ).

Portents are frequently described in non-Jewish literature as occurring before a momentous event (Tacitus, Histories, 2.50.2; 78.2). The closest parallel to this passage is found in the narrative of Josephus about events before the destruction of Jerusalem (JW 6.298–9). Such portents could be interpreted in different ways: Jason must have hoped that Antiochus' successor would accept the fait accompli of his defeat of Menelaus, but he failed. Tcherikover suggested that he did so because a third force of pious crowds as at 4:40 rose up to repel him, but it is more likely that the citadel, well-stocked and defended by the Seleucid garrison, could hold out until reinforcements came. Jason's death is depicted in terms of just deserts. 1 Macc 12:6–18, 20–3 also speaks of a fictive relationship between the Jews and the Spartans. Many Hellenistic cities sought to connect themselves to famous events and cities, as the Romans traced their origins to Aeneas the Trojan.

( 5:11–6:17 ) The Attack on the Temple

This section contains Antiochus' own attack on Jerusalem ( 5:11–20 ); the repressive measures he imposed on Jerusalem ( 5:21–7 ); the new cult imposed ( 6:1–11 ). The author includes two reflections on what was happening ( 5:17–20; 6:12–17 ).

( 5:11–20 ) Antiochus' Attack

The parallel account is found at 1 Macc 1:20–4 , but there no reason is given for Antiochus' assault after his first invasion of Egypt. At that time, Antiochus had not captured Alexandria, but had installed his nephew Ptolemy VI Philometor, with himself as Ptolemy's guardian. It is not known why Antiochus withdrew from Egypt, but perhaps he was satisfied with a weakened Ptolemaic empire. A Babylonian text records that Antiochus celebrated his victory with a great festival in August/September 169 BCE, and such a festival suggests that Antiochus was satisfied with his incursion. If Jason's coup attempt occurred after the second invasion, the author of 2 Maccabees makes no mention of the rebuff of Antiochus by the Romans and writes as if the only reason Antiochus left Egypt was to put down the revolt in Jerusalem. He dehumanizes Antiochus with animal-like descriptions—‘inwardly raging’ is literally ‘wild-beast-like in soul’. The author is not concerned with exact chronology or exact numbers so much as with rhetorical polemic. At about the same time, Antiochus was forcibly extracting treasures from a temple in Babylon, so Jerusalem must not be seen as a special act of temple despoliation on the part of Antiochus. His liberal gifts to Greek cities, particularly to Athens where he wanted to complete the magnificent temple of Zeus, made him always on the look-out for more revenue. The contrast between Onias and Menelaus is shown as Onias had defended the deposits in the temple while Menelaus now guides Antiochus in his plunder of the temple.

At 5:17–20 , the author reflects on the discrepancy between Antiochus' purpose and that of God: Antiochus is uplifted, thinking himself special, but God is simply using him as the instrument of his anger. This motif is found earlier at Isa 10:5–15 concerning the role of the king of Assyria. The theology is that of Deuteronomy where, if the people disobey God's laws, they will be punished (Deut 11:13–17; 28; cf. Jer 18–19 ). The hope of restoration expressed in v. 20 looks forward to the events of ch. 8 , and reflects the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the first temple (1 Kings 8:46–53 ).

( 5:21–7 ) Antiochus' Measures in Jerusalem

The arrogance of Antiochus is described as was that of the Persian king Xerxes who dared to bridge the Hellespont and cut a canal through Mt. Athos (Hdt. 7:22–4, 34–7 ; Aesch. Pers. 69–72, 744–51). Philip appears again at 6:11; 8:8 and was perhaps the commander of the Seleucid garrison in Jerusalem. The enemy of the Jews is called a barbarian, as at 2:21 . It is fascinating to note how the author of 2 Maccabees binds the Jews and the Samaritans as one people in v. 22 and 6:2 , whereas Josephus reports a letter from same Samaritans which forcefully argues that the Samaritans are not like the Jews (Ant. 12.257–61).

The account parallels that of 1 Macc 1:29–40 . There a purpose for the attack is given—to install and fortify a strong Seleucid garrison in the city. In 2 Maccabees, however, the attack seems unprovoked and senseless, duplicating the action of Antiochus at 5:13–14 . The author also dates it to the sabbath, thereby heightening the offence (cf. Jos. Ag. Ap. 1.209–12). The author of 1 Maccabees dates the event two years after Antiochus' first invastion of Egypt, i.e. to 167 BCE, and so not long after Antiochus' humiliation by the Romans in Egypt. These further fortifications might be part of an attempt to strengthen Antiochus' southern border.

In the midst of this tragedy the author strikes a hopeful note with the mention of Judas Maccabeus. The author has Judas living in Jerusalem until this. He makes no mention of Mattathias, the father of Judas, who is such an important personage in 1 Maccabees. The author of 1 Maccabees, concerned to highlight the Hasmonean family (1 Macc 5:62 ), focuses on the reaction of Mattathias to the persecutions but gives little attention to the martyrdoms. The author of 2 Maccabees, on the other hand, views the martyrdoms as the appropriate reaction to persecution and God's mercy comes through the martyrdoms ( 7:38; 8:5 ). Judas's story is placed before the persecution to provide hope for the reader. The wilderness was the traditional place of refuge (1 Sam 23:14; 1 Kings 19:1–9 ). Here Judas escapes from the pollution in the city into the natural world of the mountains (cf. Hos 2:14–15; Mk 1:12 ).

( 6:1–11 ) The Imposed Cult

Further measures are now taken by the king, measures directed against the Jews in Judea, not all Jews in the empire. We do not know why Antiochus took this extremely unusual step of outlawing Jewish religion in Judea. 1 Maccabees blames the megalomania of the emperor who is said to have wanted all nations to be the same and to give up their particular customs (1 Macc 1:41–2 ). Antiochus is thus portrayed as zealous in the spread of Hellenization. However, all the evidence we possess points in the direction of Antiochus encouraging local customs, rather than attempting to suppress them (Mørkholm 1966 ). Rather, Antiochus must have considered the cult in Judaea to be the focal point of resistance to his administration, even though the high priest Menelaus was his friend, and its suppression a final step in trying to stabilize conditions in this restless southern border region. The king's agent is Geron the Athenian (NRSV marg.). Jews are no longer to follow the civic institutions of their ancestors, not even privately, as the stories at 6:10–11 show. The first change is to the name. Olympios and Xenios (‘the Friend-of-Strangers’) are both common epithets for Zeus. The author gives a reason for the name Xenios, but the translation is uncertain. The NRSV accepts an emendation of the text to bring it into line with the petition, known from Josephus (Ant. 12.261), of some Samaritans to Antiochus IV requesting that their temple be renamed Zeus Hellenios. However, the author seems to hold no antipathy to the Samaritans but rather links the two together in undergoing oppression from Antiochus ( 5:22–3 ), and so one could maintain the present text and translate ‘as those who live there are hospitable’.

What exactly was the cult imposed? In posing the question in this fashion, scholars have undertaken to find one particular cult substituted for the cult in Jerusalem. Noticing how the Hebrew expression for ‘abomination of desolation’, which is used in Dan 9:27; 11:31 and is reflected in the corresponding Greek terms at 1 Macc 1:54 , is a play on the name Baal Shamem, i.e. Lord of heaven, scholars such as Bickerman (1979 ) argued that the cult imposed was a Syro-Canaanite cult. Tcherikover (1961 ) followed him in this, adding that the cult was that of the Syrian garrison stationed in the citadel, while Goldstein (1983 ) suggested it was the cult of a heterodox Jewish garrison in the citadel. Bringmann (1983 ) noted that the sacrifice of pigs and the prohibition of circumcision would be against Syrian religion and so suggested that the cult was created by Menelaus. Rather than looking for one cult to substitute for another, however, perhaps simply the worship of many gods was introduced. 1 Macc 1:47 speaks of many altars, sacred precincts, and shrines for idols, and 2 Macc 10:2 mentions that altars had been built in the public square of Jerusalem and that there were sacred precincts. Besides Zeus Olympios and Dionysos, other gods would have been worshipped.

The description at 6:3–6 differs from the accounts in 1 Maccabees and Dan 7–12 . Cult prostitution is prohibited at Deut 23:17 ; getting rid of cult prostitutes is praised (1 Kings 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 ), while their presence is a sign of evil (1 Kings 14:24 ). The author of 2 Maccabees seems to be using stereotypical accusations to point out the barbarism of the actions. Antiochus III had proclamed that only the sacrificial animals known to their ancestors were to be introduced into Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. 12.145–6), and this is now done away with. It is noteworthy that the author does not mention the desolating sacrilege of Dan 11:31; 1 Macc 1:54 . Also, one wonders what precisely is meant by ‘confess themselves to be Jews’. Does Jew mean more than a geographical designation, i.e. someone who follows the Torah, or does the phrase mean that one had to call oneself an Antiochene? The author insists that the Jews were forced to take part in the pagan festivals, in contrast to 1 Macc 1:52 which states that many were eager to follow the new practices. The attempt to force Jews to follow Greek ways is extended to neighbouring cities, probably those which bordered on Judea so that the Judeans could not slip across the border to practise their religion. v. 8 is difficult: the verb can mean either the less forceful ‘suggest’ or the stronger ‘enjoin’; and the MSS read either ‘Ptolemais’, i.e. the coastal city, or ‘of Ptolemy’, i.e. Ptolemy the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia ( 4:45 ). Ptolemais was later hostile to the Jews (1 Macc 5:14; 2 Macc 13:25 ), but so was Ptolemy.

Two examples of the persecution are then adduced (cf. 1 Macc 1:60–1; 2:31–8 ). Women with babies at their breasts, who would normally enjoy privacy at home are paraded publicly through the streets as opponents of Antiochus' ideals for the city. Men who meet outside the city and away from sight are still burnt, their rituals seen as a threat to the state. The ritual of initiation into Judaism, circumcision (Gen 17:9–14 ), and the sabbath, the sign of God's delivering his people from Egypt (Deut 5:12–15 ), are outlawed.

( 6:12–17 ) Reflections of the Author

The persecution is interpreted as God's discipline of his people, pre-empting a harsher judgement. As at Deut 8:5 , God is seen as a parent who trains and educates his child. In some ways this differs from Wis 11:10–12:27 where God's forbearance towards other nations is to give them time to repent (cf. Sir 5:4–8 ).

( 6:18–7:42 ) The Cry for Help

After providing a reflection on the events, the author focuses on the martyrdoms of Eleazar and the mother and her seven sons. That the two narratives are tied together is shown by the concluding note at 7:42 : ‘the eating of sacrifices’ is a term found in the story of Eleazar ( 6:18 ), the term for ‘tortures’ is found at 7:1, 13, 15 . The author sees these events as the pivotal point in turning God's anger into mercy ( 7:38; 8:5 ).

( 6:18–31 ) Eleazar

The story of Eleazar is retold in greater detail in 4 Macc 5–7 . There he is a priest (4 Macc 5:4 ), here he is a scribe. The exact social meaning of this term is not certain, but it means more than someone who copies or writes documents. He is a leading official, well known to those in charge of the sacrifices. We do not know if they are Jews or non-Jews. As all heroes, Eleazar is handsome, of noble birth, and dignified. Pork was prohibited by the Torah (Lev 11:7–8; Deut 14:8 ). The method of torture is unclear: tympanon is a drum, stick, or wagon-wheel and so the sense is of something turning around, perhaps a rack. The narrative is full of rhetorical flourishes and contrasts, as the last words are designed to arouse emotion in the reader. Eleazar refuses any contradiction betwen his private and public behaviour; consistency, not hypocrisy, is his watchword. He is a model of aretē (Simonides, Lyra Graeca, LCL ii 359, no. 127), just as Achilles chose death with honour rather than long life without glory (Homer, Iliad, 9.410–16). Here a Jew rather than the Seleucid officials symbolizes this classical Greek virtue. What is interesting is that there is no mention of restoration to life in this story. Eleazar asks that he be sent down to the bleak world of Hades. Eleazar is not seeking a reward, only to live nobly.

( 7:1–42 ) The Mother and her Seven Sons

After the martyrdom of an important male comes the story of the deaths of a mother and her sons. Stories of whole families perishing under attack are found in Jewish literature, for example in the story of Taxo and his seven sons (As. Mos. 9) and in that of the Galilean martyrs (Jos. JW 1.312–13; Ant. 14.429–30) and in Greek literature, as in the deaths of Theoxena and her sister's children (Polyb. 23.10–11). The particular story of a mother with her seven sons, so laden with emotion, was a favourite one in later rabbinic literature, either before a Roman emperor (b. Git. 57b; Midr. Lam. 1:16 ) or more generally in the days of persecution (Pesiq. R. 43). The folklore motif of the importance of the youngest son is also found in this traditional tale. The story is loosely connected with the preceding account, and scholars have wondered where it took place. Later tradition, both Jewish and Christian, located it at Antioch. However, there is no indication of a change of scene from the preceding account, and the folk-tale type where a ruler is bested by a wiser underling argues against any search for a specific locale. The wicked character of the emperor is stressed, as the martyrs respond calmly while the emperor loses control of himself.

vv. 3–5 , the brothers are all dehumanized, as first the tongue, the instrument of human communication, is cut out and then, with legs and arms lopped off, the first brother is fried like an animal. vv. 6–7 , the quotation from Deut 32:36 is apt, as the purpose of the song of Deut 32 is to confront the people as a witness. The quotation is from that section of the song where God, after chastising his faithless people, begins to take vengeance on his instruments of anger who think they have conquered God's people by their own power.

vv. 7–9 , the boy uses his last breath to contrast Antiochus' limited power with that of the King of the universe. The mention of a renewal of life evidences the growing belief in a resurrection and judgement after death. As noted, the story of Eleazar only speaks of the traditional shade-like existence in Sheol/Hades. In the psalms, however, there are passages which speak of a longing for a continued enjoyment of God (Ps 73:23–6; 16:9–10; 84:10 ), and also passages which speak of resurrection in the context of national restoration (Ezek 37; Hos 6:2 ; the fascinating Isa 26:19 ). 1 Enoch speaks of an after-death judgement (1 Enoch 22–7; 91:10; 93:2; 104:1–16 ) and Dan 12:2–3 clearly expresses a belief in resurrection (cf. also 1 Enoch 90:33 ). The Greek translators of passages such as Isa 26:19; Job 19:24–6; 14:14 seem to speak of individual renewal. The threefold repetition of the first person plural in v. 9 shows that the author of 2 Maccabees is speaking of individual resurrection. There probably was a rich tradition about the shades in Sheol (cf. Isa 14:9–22 ); they can be brought back, but do not like to be disturbed (1 Sam 28:18–19 ), and Job 14:7–22 asserts that the shades do not come back to this present existence. The boy about to be martyred, however, is made to proclaim that the dead will be given life again, presumably life on this earth as the description at 7:23 resonates with the description of the first human at Gen 2:7 .

vv. 13–19 , Antiochus is threatened with punishment. Since kings were granted divine honours, this is a radical statement. Hope for the people as a whole is now expressed: the suffering is attributed to their sins, not to the power of Antiochus. Antiochus is now listed among those who fight against God and therefore sure to lose (Isa 14 ; cf. Eur. Bacch.).

vv. 20–9 , the mother's attachment to her ancestral customs is shown, as earlier by the second son ( 7:8 ), in her use of Hebrew. In a patriarchal culture, her nobility is shown by her possessing a man's courage. The origin of human life is unknown (Ps 139:13–16 ; Eccles 11:5 ), but the author uses language which resonates with the creation of humans at Gen 2:7 when God breathed life into the human's nostrils. Her wisdom is further shown as she tricks the emperor and tells her last son to recall God's creating power when he shaped the unformed world (Gen 1:2 , particularly in the LXX). Later Christian writers, such as Origen (On First Principles, 2.1.5) and the Latin translator of 2 Maccabees, interpreted the phrase at v. 28 to mean that God created out of nothing, but the text states that God did not make them from what already existed as properly formed. vv. 30–8 , the last and most impressive speech is given to the youngest brother, as appropriate to traditional literature. Themes already met in 2 Maccabees are spoken again: the Hebrews suffer because of their sins as God disciplines them ( 5:17–20; 6:12–17 ); the king should not be arrogant ( 4:17, 21; 7:15 ) as God will punish him ( 7:14–19 ). The text of v. 36 is difficult to translate: ‘endured a brief suffering in exchange for everlasting life and have fallen under God's covenant’ or ‘endured a brief suffering and have fallen to everlasting life under God's covenant’. The meaning reflects that of earlier statements that God will renew their life for they have followed his laws ( 7:9, 23 ). vv. 37–8 foretell what the following narrative will show: the deaths of the martyrs have turned God's wrath to mercy, and Antiochus learns through sickness to confess the power of God. vv. 39–42 , as at the beginning of the chapter, the king loses control of himself. ‘In his integrity’ is literally ‘pure’, suggesting not only the separation from unclean actions, but also the purification of the temple which will soon occur. We are not told how the mother died, a classic example of patriarchal neglect. Nothing is mentioned of her husband either, as the author focuses on the maternal role of the woman.

(Chs. 8–9 ) God's Response

The response of God to the cry for help comes quickly as Judas wins the first victory (8), and afflicts Antiochus (9).

( 8:1–36 ) The First Victory

The parallel narrative in 1 Macc 3:10–4:25 describes a series of events and tactical manœuvres with various commanders, whereas the author of 2 Maccabees concentrates on one single battle against one commander. Such a focus heightens the dramatic effect. The main villain in 1 Maccabees is Gorgias, whereas in 2 Maccabees it is Nicanor, no doubt to balance the villain in the final battle in 2 Maccabees 14–15 . Both are called thrice-wretched ( 8:34; 15:3 ).

( 8:1–7 ) The Rise of Judas

Last mentioned before the martyrdoms ( 5:27 ), Judas and his companions now gather a force of like-minded followers. They have persisted in following ‘Judaism’ ( 2:21; 14:38 ), not the ‘Jewish faith’ as NRSV translates. The number 6,000 is repeated at 8:16 , although some are reported to have left at 8:13 . The group prayer employs traditional language, with the motif of blood crying out from the ground recalling the blood of the innocent Abel (Gen 4:10; cf. Heb 12:24, and Deut 32:43 ). The mention of the levelling of the city looks forward to Antiochus' vow ( 9:13 ). God's aid renders Judas unbeatable, although he first used the tactic of suprise raids and ambushes.

( 8:8–11 ) The Reaction of the Seleucids

While the account in 1 Maccabees has the matter dealt with at the highest level (1 Macc 3:27 ), 2 Maccabees has the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia deal with the nuisance and is the more likely account. Many Nicanors are mentioned at this time: one is a royal agent of the middle rank mentioned in the letter of the Sidonians in Shechem to Antiochus IV (Jos. Ant. 12.257–64); one is mentioned as being one of the closest friends of Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV (Polyb. 31.14.4; Jos. Ant. 12.402); and there is Nicanor the Cypriarch (2 Macc 12:2 ). It is unlikely that all these references are to the same person. Gorgias was later governor of Idumea (2 Macc 10:14; 12:32 ), presumably someone with local experience. The author's estimate of a mixed army of 20,000 is half that of 1 Macc 3:38 , but still high. Ninety slaves per talent was cheap, perhaps showing contempt for the Jews. At that rate, Nicanor would need to sell 180,000 slaves, many more than those already taken from Jerusalem ( 5:41 ). Nicanor is stated to be the author of the plan to enslave, thereby heightening his evil and preparing for the theme of appropriate retribution at the end of the story where Nicanor has to run away like a fleeing slave ( 8:35 ).

( 8:12–20 ) Judas's Preparation

While others fear, Judas is unafraid. The Gentiles act arrogantly, like Antiochus at 5:17–21 . The ‘torture of the derided city’ echoes the language used of the martyrs (tortures: 7:1, 13, 15, 42 ; derided: 7:7, 10 ). Judas, as every good general would do, exhorts his troops. The unconquerable power of God is captured in the phrase ‘with a single nod’. Two examples are adduced. The first is known from the HB, the defeat of Sennacherib in 701 BCE (2 Kings 19:35–6; Isa 37:36 ), the same as used at 1 Macc 7:41 and again at 2 Macc 15:22 . The precise reference of the second example is unclear. The Galatians are the Celts who were forced to travel from western and central Europe towards the east and southeast. In 280/279 BCE some Celts invaded Greece, while others went towards Asia Minor in 278/277 BCE and overran many Greek cities. After a long process they were confined to an area north of Phyrgia later called Galatia. Scholars have suggested three possibilities for the example Judas mentions: (1) a battle of Antiochus I against the Celts in the 270s BCE, although this took place in Asia Minor and the text would have to be emended from Babylonia to Bagadonia, near the Tauros mountains in Cilicia; (2) an incident during the rebellion of Molon, governor-general of the eastern satrapies, in 220 BCE; (3) an incident in the rebellion of Antiochus Hierax in 227/226 BCE in the east against his brother Seleucus III—Antiochus used Galatian mercenaries. The last-mentioned seems the best candidate. This passage shows that there were Jewish soldiers serving under the Seleucids, and supports Josephus who said that Antiochus III transferred Jewish soldiers from Babylonia to Phyrgia and Lydia to maintain the loyalty of the local population (Ant. 12:147–53).

( 8:21–9 ) The Battle

The actual order of the Jewish army is not certain: some MSS read as if Judas appointed his four brothers, Simon, Joseph, Jonathan, and Eleazar, to be in charge of 1,500 men each while Judas read the Scriptures and led another division, the first, the word for which normally means a phalanx unit of 256 men; others suggest that Eleazar read aloud from the Scriptures. 2 Maccabees has one of the brothers named Joseph, while 1 Maccabees calls him John (1 Macc 2:3–5 ). Whatever the proper understanding, the author of 2 Maccabees wants to stress that the whole family is involved, and therefore divides the forces in a way that is not paralleled elsewhere. The focus is on the Jews following correct covenantal procedure, and so the Scriptures are read (Deut 20:2 ), and the sabbath observed. Note how the spoils are given not only to the fighters but to the widows and orphans (Deut 14:29; 26:12–15 ), and to the tortured, which brings back the role of the martyrs in obtaining God's mercy.

( 8:30–3 ) The Defeat of Timothy and Bacchides

The shortened character of the work is evident in this section as names and events are introduced without any preparation, and disrupt the flow of the Nicanor story. In 2 Maccabees, there seem to be two Timothys: one who appears at 9:3 and 10:24–38 , where he is killed, and another at 12:10–25 , where he escapes. In 1 Maccabees there is only one Timothy, who engages Judas's forces three times (1 Macc 5:6–8, 28–34, 37–44 ). 1 Maccabees appears to relate the events in the proper sequence, and so the author of 2 Maccabees has misplaced events. v. 31 has Judas in control of Jerusalem, which otherwise does not occur until 10:1–8 . The author of 2 Maccabees tightly connects vv. 30–3 with the rest of the Nicanor story, however. The complex of widows, orphans, and tortured is used, the same word for collecting arms is found at vv. 27, 31 , and the appropriate retribution motif appears in both. Perhaps the author wants to show how Judas's men behave after victory and also to heighten interest as to what happened to Nicanor. As for Bacchides, in 1 Maccabees he is a high-ranking Seleucid official (1 Macc 7:8–20 ) and it is unlikely that he would be listed after such a low-level commander as Timothy. Perhaps another Bacchides is meant than the one in 1 Maccabees. The spoil taken to Jerusalem is probably God's portion as in Num 31:28 . At v. 32 , patris should probably not be translated with NRSV as ‘city of their ancestors’, but as ‘fatherland’. Nothing else is known about Callisthenes except that he is appropriately punished. At 1 Macc 1:31 , the city is said to have been burnt by the Mysarch commander.

( 8:34–6 ) The Fate of Nicanor

Nicanor's plan to enslave the Jews went awry and he himself had to flee like a runaway slave. The help of the Lord (v. 35 ) was the watchword of Judas's forces (v. 23 ); the word for defender at v. 36 (hypermachōn) resonates with the word for ally (symmachōn) at v. 24 . The author returns to themes found in his opening chapter: the Jews are invincible when they follow God's law ( 3:1 ), and Nicanor, as Heliodorus before him ( 3:35–9 ), proclaims God's power.

( 9:1–29 ) The Death of Antiochus

Antiochus IV set out in mid-to late 165 BCE to consolidate his rule in the eastern satrapies. Early in his reign, a local dynasty of priests and princes had risen to power around Persepolis and won their independence. This account appears confused as to the geography, as Persepolis, the old capital of the Persian empire, lay hundreds of miles south-east of Ecbatana in Media. This account of Antiochus' death is one of many versions (2 Macc 1:13–14; 1 Macc 6:1–16 ; Polyb. 31.9). According to Polybius, Antiochus died after attempting to rob the temple of Nanaia in Elymais, south of Ecbatana. Antiochus, a well-known plunderer of temples and someone always in need of ready cash, took the opportunity to help finance his eastern campaign.

According to a Babylonian chronicle, news of Antiochus' death reached Babylonia in the month Chislev of 148 according to the Babylonian calendar, i.e. between 20 Nov. and 18 Dec. 164 BCE (Sachs and Wiseman 1954 ). The order of 2 Maccabees, where Antiochus dies before the purification of the temple thus seems confirmed over against the order of 1 Maccabees, where Antiochus dies after the purification, although some scholars still dispute this point. However, the narrative of 2 Maccabees has significantly dramatized history. The author concentrates on the death of the arch-enemy of the Jews and places it as part of the victory of God over Israel's attackers, and ignores the more complex details. 1 Maccabees tells of an invasion by the regent Lysias (1 Macc 5:26–35 ) and there were negotiations to settle the rebellion as evidenced by the letters in 2 Macc 11 which have been put out of order. These negotiations may have included the replacement of the inimical Ptolemy son of Dorymenes by the more friendly Ptolemy Macron as governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia (2 Macc 10:12–13 ). The death of Antiochus is told in gruesome detail to highlight God's power. The threat of 2 Macc 8:3 is repeated by Antiochus at 9:14 , and 9:3 ties the narrative to the preceding one so that the two chapters work together to show God's vindication of his people.

( 9:1–12 ) The Punishment of Antiochus

The last time the king was mentioned he was in a rage ( 7:39 ), so now too he rages like a bully against those weaker than him. The seventh brother had prayed that Antiochus' arrogance be punished ( 7:36; cf. 5:21 ), and now it begins to be. The punishment is said to fit the crime. The deeds impossible for a human reflect Isa 40:12 and 2 Macc 5:12 , and v. 10 compares with the hymns of the prophets Isaiah ( 14:4–21 ) and Ezekiel ( 28:12–19 ) against proud kings. The cruel punishment of death by worms is found both in Greek (Hdt. 3.66; Diod. Sic. 21.16.4–5) and Jewish writers (Isa 66:24; Jdt 16:17 ). As Heliodorus came to confess the power of God when flogged ( 3:33–9 ), so Antiochus, ‘under the scourge of God’, came to understand that one must not fight against God.

( 9:13–27 ) The Repentance of Antiochus

Antiochus vows, but he will not be heard. One does not know exactly what freedom Antiochus was going to give to Jerusalem. Freedom in the meaning of autonomy was always a slogan that competing parties would use to gain allegiance as, for example, the counter claims of Antiochus Gonatas and Ptolemy I to set all Greek cities free, as well as the Roman Senate declaring in 196 BCE that all Greeks were to be free. Freedom here did not mean independence from the superior party. Each ‘free’ city would have been allowed to keep its own traditions and system of government, but the relationship between the monarch and each such city was a special one. Nor is one sure what is meant by making the Jews equal to the Athenians. Athens was relatively prosperous in the second century BCE; the Parthenon was restored and the Agora reconstructed. Antiochus IV promised in 174 BCE to complete the unfinished temple of Olympian Zeus. He certainly promises to restore the status quo as at the time of Onias ( 3:1 ), but in what way will he become a Jew? Clearly the meaning here is not geographical, i.e. become a Judean, but religious. Would it mean more than the worship of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1–18 ), or Nebuchadnezzar's confession (Dan 4:34–6 )? Does the author envisage Antiochus being circumcised and following the laws of Torah, or being a ‘god-fearer’? Compare the debate in Josephus (Ant. 20.34–48) as to whether Izates, king of Adiabene, should be circumcised.

Even in such pain, the king pens a letter, a deathbed testament. The authenticity of the letter has been questioned: either an original letter has been added to, or this letter has been modelled on the form of a genuine letter, possibly a letter to the army for support in any change in leadership. The present letter, whether authentic or not, has been used by the author to further his own rhetorical plan. The addressees, the Jews, are placed before the king, and are said to be ‘worthy’, ‘esteemed’, and even ‘citizens’, although one does not know what the Jews are being said to be citizens of. The Jews as a whole were not usually given citizen rights in any community where they lived: note e.g. 2 Macc 12:3 , where the citizens of Joppa are distinct from the Jews living among them. The phrasing, however, suits the author in his desire to show that the Jews are good citizens, i.e. not antisocial. The greeting formula is quite extravagant, and then the king is said to remember with affection the Jews' esteem and goodwill. After the description of Antiochus' condition in 9:5–12 , to describe himself as suffering an annoying illness is a marvellous understatement to say the least, and it suggests that the letter does not belong in its current context. Antiochus trusts the Jews to help in the successful transfer of power, and Antiochus describes his policy towards the Jews as moderate and kind! The thrust of this letter is clearly to put the Jews in as good a light as possible and as good citizens of the empire, contrary to what was suggested by many anti-Jewish stories which circulated in the Hellenistic world.

( 9:28 ) The Death of Antiochus

Antiochus is said to die in a strange land, like Jason ( 5:9–10 ), although Antiochus died in his own empire. In 1 Macc 6:55–63 , Philip was appointed guardian of Antiochus V but was forced out of Antioch by Lysias, who had been left in charge of Antiochus' son. A revolt led by a Philip is mentioned at 2 Macc 13:23 , but the narrative in its extreme brevity seems to distinguish between this Philip and the guardian appointed by Antiochus IV. Ptolemy VI Philometor had been driven out of Alexandria in October 164, just before Antiochus' death, and did not return until mid-163, and so the conflict between Lysias and Philip must have occurred around that time. Lysias is said by Josephus (Ant. 12.386) to have had Philip murdered before he reached Egypt.

( 10:1–8 ) The Result of the Lord's Intervention

With the death of the contender against God, Antiochus, the people now regain control of the temple and purify it. As the author has emphasized how the temple was overthrown because of the sins of the people ( 5:17–20; 6:12–17 ), he stresses the sin of the people and the cleansing of the temple. In contrast, at 1 Macc 4:36–59 not only the purification is stressed but also the dedication of the temple as at 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chr 7:5; Ezra 6:16–17 . 1 Maccabees also underlines the need to defend the temple from those in the citadel ( 4:41, 60 ), whereas the epitomist does not mention it here. Setting altars around the agora reflects Greek custom. The restoration of temple worship shows Judas as following the Torah. 1 Macc 4:52 states it was an interval of three years, Dan 12:7 three and a half years. 1 Maccabees is the more likely: the providential care of God is shown by the renewal falling on the anniversary of the defilement. Judas's flight to the mountains is recalled ( 5:27 ) and the connection to the Feast of Tabernacles, as in the prefixed letters, is made. The carrying of branches was commanded at Lev 23:40 , but the word used here—thyrsoi, ivy-wreathed wands—signified what was carried in processions to the god Dionysos and may have been chosen to show again the reversal of the persecution when Jews were forced to process in honour of Dionysos ( 6:7 ). The language at v. 8 is repeated almost verbatim at 15:36 to bind the two festivals together.

( 10:9–15:36 ) Further Defence of the Temple

Further attacks against the temple by the successors of Antiochus IV are described in this third section. The first section shows marked signs of condensation, whereas the account of Nicanor's expedition is treated more extensively. The author dramatizes his account by focusing on the attacks of the two Nicanors.

( 10:9–13:26 ) The Attacks under Antiochus V

The events in this section seem to be structured in such a way that attacks by local leaders ( 10:14–38; 12:3–45 ) alternate with major expeditions (chs. 11, 13 ). First, however, come changes brought about by the new dynasty. Antiochus V was 9 years old and under the guardianship of Lysias (1 Macc 3:33 ). Lysias kept the position given him by Antiochus IV (1 Macc 3:32 ), and appointed Protarchos as governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia. The NRSV at v. 11 is wrong, as the offices of chief minister and governor of Coelesyria did not overlap. A new governor is appointed at 13:24 . Ptolemy Macron, former governor of Cyprus, had been loyal to Ptolemy VI Philometor, but the intrigues at the Ptolemaic court and the victory of Antiochus IV in 170/169 BCE led him to go over to Antiochus IV's side, possibly when Antiochus' fleet besieged Cyprus in 168 BCE. Ptolemy's friendly attitude towards the Jews should not be seen as something personal, but as part of Seleucid policy. The previous governors of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, Apollonius ( 4:4 ) and Ptolemy son of Dorymenes ( 4:45; 8:8 ), had been hostile to the Jews, and they probably reflected court policy. The appointment of Ptolemy Macron and his friendly attitude would then reflect the changed Seleucid policy after peace negotiations had begun under Antiochus IV ( 11:27–33 ) and after the first expedition of Lysias in 164 BCE (1 Macc 4:28–9; 2 Macc 11:14, 16–21 ). These events have been rearranged by the author of 2 Maccabees as he wished to portray Antiochus, not as someone who negotiated peace with the Jews, but as their arch-enemy till overthrown by God. The restoration of the temple called for a rethinking of this friendly policy before the second expedition of Lysias (1 Macc 6:21–8 ).

( 10:14–38 ) Attacks by Local Leaders

Campaigns in Idumea ( 10:14–23 ): the author provides sparse details, both as regards geographical location and exact naming of opponents. His main concern is to emphasize that it was not the Jews who initiated the attacks, but the Seleucid forces, and that the Jews pray to God as their ally (see 8:24 ). The figures in vv. 17, 18, 23 for those killed are high. The parallel account is found in 1 Macc 5:3–5 . The names of the three commanders in charge of the siege are most likely two brothers of Judas ( 8:22 ) and an otherwise unknown Zacchaeus. Scholars have suggested that this episode is a doublet of 1 Macc 5:18, 55–61 where two commanders, jealous of Judas, attempt to win glory for themselves and are defeated. Moreover, Simon is glorified in 1 Maccabees, but not here in 2 Maccabees (see also 14:17 ): is this subtle anti-Hasmonean polemic on the part of the epitomist? Rather, the epitomist alludes to many stories of compromise ( 12:24–5 ), backsliding ( 12:39–40 ), and deception ( 13:21 ), so this story here should be taken, not as anti-Hasmonean, but as evidencing as do the others the faithfulness and incorruptibility of Judas. The accusation ‘lovers of money’ was a regular accusation against opponents (see Lk 16:14 ). The story here should be compared to the story of Achan in Josh 7 .

( 10:24–38 ) The Defeat of Timothy

This campaign is also told with sparse chronological and geographical detail. It is often compared with the campaign of Judas into Ammonite territory reported in 1 Macc 5:6–8 , but there are considerable differences. Whereas Judas attacks the Ammonites in their territory (1 Macc 5:6 ), here Timothy invades Judea ( 10:24–5 ) and the battle seems to take place in Judea, if at a considerable distance from Jerusalem ( 10:27 ). Timothy is killed in this campaign in 2 Maccabees, but not in the one in 1 Maccabees, and the town of Gazara (Gezer) in the Shephelah just outside the border of Judea appears to be captured, whereas it is not so until much later by Simon at 1 Macc 13:43–8 .

Given that the author has Timothy die here and another Timothy emerge at 12:17–25 , he must suppose there were two Timothys. The author emphasizes the size of the threat by speaking of mercenaries, i.e. trained soldiers, and excellent cavalry. The Jewish forces are pictured around the altar in Jerusalem, supplicating God in the traditional signs of mourning as if buried and wearing sackcloth from which shrouds were made. They refer to Ex 23:22 , where God promises to be an enemy to their enemies if they listen to his words. After so praying, the Jews await in calm confidence in contrast to the animal rage of their opponents. The epiphany has many Greek touches. In the Iliad, a hero is often protected by a god (e.g. 5.436–7). Gigantic figures pursued the fleeing Persians and later the Gauls who had dared to attack Delphi while thunderbolts crashed about them (Hdt. 8.36–9; Paus. 1.4.4; 10.23.1–6). Zeus was pre-eminently Zeus Keraunos who hurls thunderbolts at his enemies (Homer Od. 23.330; Hes. Theog. 854). There is no satisfactory explanation of why five figures are involved. The motif of taunting defenders occurs again at 12:14–16 , and is reminiscent of what happened at David's siege of Jerusalem (2 Sam 5:6–9 ). Timothy found a perfect hiding-place in a cistern, a large pit with plastered walls for storing water, but to no avail. The victory hymn, as the army marched back to Jerusalem, may be compared to the song of Miriam at the defeat of Pharaoh (Ex 15:20–1 ), or that after David's defeat of Goliath (1 Sam 18:6–7 ).

( 11:1–38 ) The Campaign of Lysias

As mentioned above, the author of 2 Maccabees, to intensify the dramatic quality of the narrative, recorded only one major battle before the death of the arch-enemy, Antiochus IV, and so places the campaign of Lysias after Antiochus' death. The events as recounted in 1 Maccabees show much more action as the first campaign of Lysias occurs during the time of Antiochus IV. The displacement of the campaign of Lysias by the epitomist has made him place all the correspondence of peace negotiations out of order as well.

( 11:1–12 ) The Campaign

Lysias is given his full title here, rather than at 10:10 , which may suggest some misplacement. He is guardian and in charge of the government, positions to which Antiochus IV had appointed him (1 Macc 3:32–3 ). ‘Kinsman’ was a high title in the Seleucid hierarchy (cf. 1 Macc 10:89 ). The number of his forces exceeds that given in 1 Macc 4:28 , and is exaggerated. The description of Lysias's intentions at vv. 2–3 is fascinating given what happened under the high priest Jason ( 4:7–15 ). v. 4 shows how the author enjoys contrasts, particularly those between the might of men and the power of God. By the Treaty of Apamea, the Seleucids had been forbidden to use elephants. Lysias approaches from the south, as in 1 Macc 4:29 . At v. 5 , Beth-zur is located five schoinoi, not stadia, from Jerusalem by the author. A schoinos, a Persian measure, could equal anywhere from 30 to 60 stadia (Strabo, 17.1.24, 41). Five schoinoi of 30 stadia would locate Beth-zur about 30 kms. south of Jerusalem, which is almost right. The prayer is for God to send an angel as he had before the Israelites in the Exodus from Egypt (Ex 23:20; 33:2 ). The commander of the Lord's army had appeared to Joshua before Jericho (Josh 5:13–15 ), and Sennacherib's army had been struck down by an angel (2 Kings 19:35 ). Within the Greek tradition, Theseus is said to have rushed before the Greeks against the Persians at Marathon (Plut. Thes. 35), Athena had helped the citizens of Cyzicus (Plut. Luc. 10.3), and the twin gods, the Dioscuri, had led the Roman force against the Latins (Dion. Hal. 6.13). The author has taken over Greek descriptions. Here Lysias makes a disgraceful flight, while in 1 Maccabees he makes an orderly retreat in order to collect an even larger force.

( 11:13–38 ) Peace Negotiations

Further, 2 Maccabees has Lysias recognize, as Heliodorus had done ( 3:38–9 ) that the Hebrews are invincible while God is their ally, and to start peace negotiations. At this point the author brings in four documents which talk of peace. These letters have been much debated. The same year is given for the first, third, and fourth letters although it seems inconsistent with their contents. The second letter has no date. The month in the first letter, Dioscorinthius ( 11:21 ), is not known in the Macedonian calendar. Scholars have set out to find what is the correct setting and date for each letter. Habicht (1976 ) suggested that the third letter reflects peace efforts by Menelaus before Antiochus IV began his eastern mission. When this fell through, Lysias set out on his invasion and then negotiated with the rebels (first letter). The second letter would come at the accession of Antiochus V and be an amnesty to the rebels on that occasion. Bar-Kochva (1988 ) suggested that negotiations began after Nicanor and Gorgias were defeated, and the first letter represents an interim report and the fourth a sign of Roman willingness to help. Antiochus IV refused to negotiate with the rebels, but acceded to Menelaus' request for a conditional amnesty (third letter). The second letter would be the official reprieve of the persecution by Antiochus V. I would concede a larger role to Menelaus, and place the third letter after the local initiatives had failed. The amnesty offer was rejected, Lysias invaded and then sought peace (first letter) and the fourth letter is the request of the Roman emissaries for a report on the progress of the negotiations. The second letter would be placed either at the accession of Antiochus V, or after Lysias' second expedition.

( 11:16–21 ) First Letter

Lysias uses a neutral term plēthos, multitude, mass, sometimes people, to refer to the addressees, not the formal ethnos, nation, or gērousia, senate ( 11:27 ), or dēmos, people ( 11:34 ). Such an address may be a hint that the letter is not written to a formally recognized group. The envoys, John and Absalom, are otherwise unknown but carry Hebrew, not Greek, names. Two sons of an Absalom, Mattathias (1 Macc 11:70 ) and Jonathan (1 Macc 13:11 ), fight with Judas's successors. v. 18 should not read with the NRSV ‘agreed to what was possible’, but rather ‘what lies within my competence, I have agreed to’. The year 148 of the Macedonian Seleucid calendar is from Oct. 165 BCE to Sept. 164 BCE. Dioscorinthius has been interpreted as the first month in the Macedonian calendar, Dios, or the fifth, Dystros, or the eighth, Daisios.

( 11:22–6 ) Second Letter

v. 23 is phraseology usual at the death of a king, and suggests a time near the accession of Antiochus V. The change to Greek customs most probably refers to the decrees of Antiochus IV: the same verb politeuesthai is found at 6:1 and 11:25 . The language of v. 25 is similar to that used by Antiochus III (Jos. Ant. 12.142) allowing the Jews to live by their ancestral religion. If this letter is dated to the beginning of Antiochus V's reign with Habicht (1976 ), the temple was already in Judas's hands and the letter simply recognizes the status quo. If with Bar-Kochva (1988 ) it is dated to the end of Lysias's second expedition (1 Macc 6:55–62 ), it contains a real concession as Lysias had retaken Jerusalem.

( 11:27–33 ) Third Letter

The gērousia is the official municipal body in Jerusalem ( 4:44 ). Is the letter addressed only to supporters of Menelaus, as some have suggested? The phrase, ‘to the other Jews’, seems to make it quite general. The fifteenth and thirtieth Xanthicus refer to the middle and end of March respectively. As Antiochus IV left on his eastern campaign in 165 BCE, the concession must have been granted while he was away from Antioch in March 164 BCE, but the allowance of only 15 days to accomplish the conditions seems to cut things a bit close. At v. 31 , one should read ‘customs’ (diaitēmata) rather than ‘food’ (dapanēmata), as the kosher laws would be included in the reference to the Torah. The offer is conditional on the cessation of hostilities and the return home of the rebels; if these conditions are not met, hostilities will break out again. The reference to Menelaus is intriguing: elsewhere in 2 Maccabees he is portrayed as a traitor to Judaism, but here he seems to come across as an advocate for allowing the Jews to return to their ancestral customs.

( 11:34–8 ) Fourth Letter

After forcing Antiochus IV from Egypt in 168 BCE, the Romans had kept an eye on him. An embassy had been sent to Antioch in 166 BCE, and another would come in 163/162 BCE. This embassy probably took place in autumn 164. The date in the text should probably be disregarded and seen as copying the date on the third letter. The tacit recognition of the rebels as a dēmos, a ‘people’, is a sign of how Rome liked to cause discomfort to other sovereigns: in 164 BCE, the Roman commissioner C. Sulpicius Gallus publicly invited accusations against Eumenes II of Pergamum in his own city of Sardis.

( 12:1–45 ) Further Local Hostilities

The author insists that the Jews are peaceful ( 10:14–15; 14:25 ), only wanting to follow their own ancestral customs, but they would not be let alone. Various hostile leaders are mentioned, about whom we know nothing more. This author must see the Timothy here as distinct from the earlier Timothy; Nicanor is not, as NRSV translates, governor of Cyprus as Cyprus was at this time in Ptolemaic hands, but rather the commander of Cypriot mercenaries and of a lower rank that the Nicanor of ch. 8 and chs. 14–15 .

(vv. 3–9 ) Deceit in Joppa and Jamnia

This incident is not found in 1 Maccabees. Both these events take place at coastal areas, and are linked through the burning of ships in the respective harbours. As non-citizens, the Jews would not take part in a public assembly, but would they have no inkling of the matter? The author wishes to insist on the peaceful character of the Jews, and stress the hatred of the citizen body of these towns. They stand in marked contrast to the citizens of Scythopolis ( 12:30 ).

(vv. 12–16 ) The Campaign in Gilead

The scene shifts quickly from the west coast in a march towards Transjordan. The campaign in Gilead is also told in 1 Macc 5:9–36 . Arabs are mercenaries in Timothy's forces at 1 Macc 5:39 , but the first encounter between Judas's forces and the Nabateans is a peaceful one at 1 Macc 5:24–5 . Judas is shown in this incident in 2 Maccabees to be a pragmatist, not someone completely antagonistic to non-Jews. A town named Chaspo is simply mentioned at 1 Macc 5:36 , but here it is given a more prominent role. Here the result is much different from that with the Arabs, as the author stresses the blasphemous insults of the enemy. The image of the blood-filled lake is starkly emotional, and reminiscent of the way enemies are put under the ban in the book of Joshua as, for example, at Jericho (Josh 6:21 ).

(vv. 17–26 ) The Pursuit of Timothy

The author of 2 Maccabees now has Judas and his men travel south. 1 Macc 5:13 states that all male Jews in the land of the Toubiani had been killed, whereas our author insists that Timothy accomplished nothing. At this point in the narrative of 1 Maccabees, the Jewish forces are divided into three, one for Gilead, one for Judaea, and one for Galilee (1 Macc 5:17–18 ), whereas Judas in 2 Maccabees keeps his forces together. Most likely this reflects the author's intentions to show that, now that God is on the side of the Jews, nothing untoward can happen to them, and that the Jews are unified. The size of Timothy's forces is exaggerated, but only emphasizes the more the epiphany that takes place. vv. 24–6 stress the deceit of Timothy rather than the gullibility of the Jewish commanders, who are shown as deeply concerned about Jewish lives. Carnaim was where Timothy had sent the women and children for refuge, and one wonders if the slaughter encompassed them as well, i.e. was all that lived put under the ban?

( 12:26–31 ) The Road Back to Judea

The parallel story is in 1 Macc 5:45–7 . As told here, the narrative has a formulaic quality like that at Caspin (vv. 13–16 ). v. 27 suggests that Lysias, the chancellor of Syria, had a residence in this Transjordanian town. The incident at Scythopolis shows that the Jews do not hate Gentiles but only wish to live peaceably among them. The piety of the Jewish forces is shown in their desire to be at Jerusalem to celebrate a major feast.

( 12:32–42 ) The Battle against Gorgias

Judas now turns south of Jerusalem to Idumea. After stories which show the piety of the Jewish forces comes a story which tells what happens to those who are not pious. The few details provided by the author all dramatize the event: the courage and near success of Dositheus, the weariness of the troops, the rallying prayer and the shouts and hymns in Hebrew, the sudden unexpected success. In the encounter at 1 Macc 5:55–61 , Gorgias is victorious against the foolhardy commanders Judas had left behind in Judaea, Joseph and Azariah. In the account of 2 Maccabees, a commander called Esdris is mentioned without any explanation of who he is. Some scholars wish to identify him with the Eleazar of 8:23 , but more likely one should recognize that we are dealing with a shortened account. While 1 Maccabees explains the defeat at the hands of Gorgias by the jealous behaviour of the two leaders, Joseph and Azariah (1 Macc 5:55–62 ), the epitomist sees the deaths as caused by lack of Torah piety. Judas is shown as ever observant, as he and his soldiers purify themselves. So far from the temple, why did they need to become ritually clean so that they could participate in temple service? The purification seems to refer to purifying oneself after coming into contact with a dead body (Num 19:10–22; 31:24 ; 1QM 14:1–2 ). The sacred objects may have been taken on the raid on Jamnia ( 12:8–9 ). Greek inscriptions from Delos set up by the people of Jamnia honour two Phoenician deities, Herakles and Horon. Such idolatrous objects were forbidden at Deut 7:25–6 , and the transgression of such a command was embodied in the story of Achan (Josh 7 ). Most likely the soldiers wore amulets which were thought would protect them.

vv. 42–5 are difficult textually and also to translate. The language of v. 45 is similar to that of Lev 4:26, 35 and suggests that the sacrifice is similar to the reparation offering described at Lev 4:13–35 to make atonement for the sin committed. Each man contributes to the sacrifice, and thus the whole community is involved in reparation. As seen in 2 Macc 7 , the author believes in resurrection, whereby the martyred brothers hope to live in a new created world. vv. 44–5 offer alternatives: either Judas does not think that the dead rise, that it is foolish to pray for the dead, or he considers that a reward awaits those who die piously, ‘a holy and a pious thought’. In the light of recent research on rituals for the dead in Israel, e.g. those underlying Isa 57 , ‘to pray for the dead’ may reflect a custom of which only traces can be discerned. The dead clearly had an existence in Israel, albeit a shadowy one (1 Sam 28:14–19; Deut 18:11–12; Isa 65:4 ). What the author seems to suggest is that there is a community which stretches beyond death and that atonement can be made for those who have died so that they gain a more splendid reward. Many of the burial practices among the Greeks and Romans were to help the deceased be properly integrated into the realm of the dead, and suggest that the dead could benefit from actions performed on their behalf by the living. In speaking of a splendid reward, one is reminded of the different regions of the underworld signalling different rewards found in Book 6 of Virgil's Aeneid. A similarly obscure ritual is mentioned by Paul at 1 Cor 15:29 , where some Christians are baptized on behalf of the dead.

( 13:1–26 ) The Second Invasion of Lysias

The author gives no reason for the breaking of the agreements reached in ch. 11 , except that the young king wished to do worse than his father (v. 9 ). Perhaps the author sees the successes of ch. 12 as sufficient reason for this attack. Except for the dates given in the letters in ch. 11 , only here and at 14:4 are dates given. They appear to follow the Seleucid Macedonian calendar which would place this event between Sept. 164 and Oct. 163 BCE. 1 Macc 6:20 dates the second invasion to 150 of the Seleucid Babylonian calendar, i.e. to 162 BCE. The force assembled is enormous, and no doubt exaggerated. One wonders in particular what use scythed chariots would be in the hilly terrain of Judea. Instead of both Antiochus V and Lysias each having a separate force, as the NRSV translation suggests, Antiochus came with Lysias as well as a huge force.

(vv. 3–8 ) The Death of Menelaus

Menelaus resumes his role in the narrative as the opposite of the good high priest+ Onias, as a plotter against his own people. Perhaps the failure of Menelaus' peace overtures or simply the fact that he was a left-over from Antiochus IV's regime caused his death. Josephus (Ant. 12.383–5) states that Menelaus died after the expedition. Death by ashes was a Persian punishment (Ctesias, Persia, FGrH 688): cold ashes suffocated the criminal, hot burnt him to death. The holiness of the altar fire had caused the death of Aaron's two sons (Lev 10:1–5 ). Menelaus is appropriately punished.

(vv. 9–17 ) The Battle at Modein

The Greek king is said to be barbarous ( 2:21; 4:25 ). The Jewish response to the invasion is for the whole community to pray, as at 3:14–22 . The elders with whom Judas consults may be members of the council/senate as at 4:44; 11:27 . Judas is portrayed as not acting arrogantly. In the Temple Scroll from Qumran, the king is supposed to have twelve princes of his people, twelve priests, and twelve Levites with him at all times and he should not do anything without consulting them; before going to war he should have the high priest consult the Urim and Thummim (11QTemple 57–8).

The account of this battle is the opposite of that of 1 Macc 6:32–47 where the Jewish forces are defeated at Bethzechariah. The author of 2 Maccabees is adamant that the loyal Jews cannot be defeated, and so the defeat is turned into a victorious assault at Modein, the home-town of the Maccabees (1 Macc 2:1 ), an account filled with heroic tales as Judas with twenty men kills over 2,000, creates havoc in the enemy camp, and yet retires unharmed.

(vv. 18–26 ) Treaty of Antiochus V

The contrast with 1 Maccabees is again striking: there the forces at Beth-zur fight courageously but eventually are forced to capitulate ( 6:31, 49–50 ). The forces at Jerusalem hold out but survive only because the king withdraws at the news of Philip's return (1 Macc 6:51–62 ). It looks as if the author of 2 Maccabees has transferred the events at Jerusalem to Beth-zur as he did not want any hint of danger to the temple. The only setback to the Jews comes through a traitor, but even he does not succeed. All in all, the invasion of Antiochus V and Lysias is shown to be completely unsuccessful and the Jews remain undefeated. Both 1 and 2 Maccabees mention the approach of a Philip: in 1 Maccabees, he is the same as the one given charge of affairs at Antiochus IV's death (1 Macc 6:55 ); in 2 Maccabees, it appears to be a different Philip from that of 9:29 .

In 2 Maccabees, the king behaves honourably, and honours the temple (cf. 3:2–3 ). Antiochus and Judas seem to be on good terms—another sign that the author stresses that Jews and Gentiles can get along. The installation of a new governor perhaps signals the new friendly policy of the Seleucids as the removal of Ptolemy Macron at 10:12 had been a sign of increased hostility. Some scholars place the land of the Gerrenians south of Gaza and west of Beersheba, others as far south as near Lake Pelusium, then under Ptolemaic control, others that it be placed north of Ptolemais at Gerrha, which lies south-east of Beirut. If the area covered by the new governor lay south of Ptolemais, he would have been in charge of Joppa and Jamnia and possibly Idumea, overseeing Gorgias ( 12:32–7 ). If north of Ptolemais, he would have overseen Tyre and Sidon. The citizens of Ptolemais, previously shown to hate the Jews ( 6:8; 1 Macc 5:15 ), have to be appeased in order to secure the king's rear. In glaring contrast to this rosy account, the author of 1 Maccabees has the king break his oath and tear down the walls of Jerusalem (1 Macc 6:61–2 ).

( 14:1–15:39 ) The Attacks under Demetrius I

The transition to the new ruler, Demetrius I, is made quickly. Demetrius, son of Seleucus IV and nephew of Antiochus IV had replaced Antiochus as a hostage in Rome in 178 BCE. Demetrius had tried to leave Rome at the death of Antiochus IV but had been refused permission. After the murder of a Roman envoy in Laodicea in 162 BCE, Demetrius had again asked permission to leave, was again refused, but then slipped out of Rome anyway. 2 Maccabees states that he landed in Tripolis with a large force, whereas Polybius (31.12.11–13; 31.14.8–13) and 1 Macc 7:1 state that he arrived with only a handful of supporters. He was quickly successful in overthrowing Antiochus V and Lysias. Given the date at 2 Macc 13:1 , the three years at 14:1 must refer to the beginning of the year 151 of the Seleucid Macedonian calendar, i.e. Sept. 162 to Oct. 161 BCE. Demetrius would have landed in 162 BCE, and so the three years must be interpreted as within the third year.

( 14:3–25 ) The Expedition of Nicanor

Just as the peace gained at the end of 2 Macc 11 was broken, so now the peace at the end of 2 Macc 13 . Josephus states that Alcimus, also called Yakim, had been appointed high priest after Menelaus (Ant. 12.385–7). When the new king came to the throne, he had come with the requisite gifts for confirmation of his office (1 Macc 10:60–4; 11:23–7; cf. 1 Macc 13:36–7 ). ‘Olive branches’ might be translated by the more general ‘gifts’. Scholars have puzzled over what Alcimus had done in the times of separation (v. 3 : amixia). At 1 Macc 7:12–18 , Alcimus is said to have been acceptable to the Hasideans, and so scholars have argued that this ‘defilement’ of Alcimus could not refer to participation in actions like those of Menelaus. Some have suggested that the defilement refers to the incident in 1 Macc 7:12–18 where sixty Hasideans are executed, others that it refers to the division between the Hasideans and Judas over receiving Alcimus or not (1 Macc 7:10–11 ). However, the incident in 1 Maccabees takes place after Alcimus has been reappointed high priest by Demetrius, and so this interpretation seems unlikely. Other scholars have accepted another MS reading and translate ‘in times of peace (epimixia)’. However, the use of amixia in the same chapter of 2 Maccabees to describe the loyal Razis ( 14:38 ) argues for retaining its use here. The term translated ‘defile’ can have the general meaning of ‘disgrace’ as at Sir 21:28; Tob 3:15 , and so may not refer to some particular incident. Rather, it contrasts Alcimus with Razis and with Judas who left Jerusalem so as not to share in the ‘defilement’ ( 5:27 ). Alcimus must have been forced out of Jerusalem (1 Macc 7:6 ). Alcimus acts shrewdly in waiting until the king has a meeting about Judaea, for it would be appropriate for the king to ask someone with local knowledge. The author provides Alcimus with the right speech for the circumstances: he first answers the king by throwing the blame on others while maintaining that he has only the king's and the country's best interests at heart in requesting help. He describes Judas as leader of the Hasideans, a group clearly demarcated from Judas in 1 Macc 2:42; 7:13 . Here Alcimus lumps them all together under the term hasidim (pious, faithful ones), using it in a derogatory fashion much as people today talk of ‘fundamentalists’. These Hasideans are distinguished from the nation (v. 8 ). The accusation against Judas is the opposite of what the reader knows from the earlier narrative: it is always the non-Jews who start trouble ( 10:14–15; 12:2 ). The charge that the state will never know peace while they are around ( 14:10 ) parallels the charge made by Onias against Simon ( 4:6 ). It is an accusation found also in the Greek Esther ( 3:13 ) and in 3 Macc 3:26; 7:4; 6:28 .

v. 7 is sometimes interpreted to mean that Alcimus has had the high-priesthood taken away from him, but in this context it probably means no more than that he has left behind his high-priestly duties to come to the king, as Onias did earlier ( 4:4–6 ). The glory here would then refer to the glorious robe of the high-priesthood (Sir 45:8; 50:5–11 ): the verb translated ‘laid aside’ can mean ‘take off a garment’ as at Esth 4:4 ; LXX Esth 4:17 k. As at 10:13 , the king's counsellors instigate action against the Jews.

No mention is made in 2 Maccabees of the expedition of Bacchides and Alcimus' tenure as high priest told in 1 Macc 7:8–25 , as such a defeat would have spoiled his thesis of the invincibility of the Jews. The Jews' response is to pray to God, who is said to uphold his heritage ‘with an epiphany’ (v. 15 ). The slight set-back at Dessau is not mentioned in 1 Maccabees. Some scholars have seen in this ‘defeat’ of Simon an anti-Hasmonean stance, but I see it as in line with the feints and probes that take place before a major engagement. At v. 16 the armies were drawn up in battle array, rather than engaged in battle as NRSV. As in the dealings with Antiochus V, a very different picture emerges in the dealings of Judas and Nicanor from that in 1 Maccabees. Here Nicanor acts honourably, although Judas acts with commendable caution after again consulting with the people. The ambassadors are otherwise unknown, and the scene of the meeting is vividly drawn. In 1 Macc 7:27 , Nicanor is pictured as planning treachery, a motif common in 1 Maccabees ( 1:30; 7:10–18 ). The author of 2 Maccabees insists on the warm attachment that Nicanor had for Judas, although one might suspect that the Seleucid commander kept Judas close to him for more strategic reasons. The genuineness of the peace is underscored with the image of the battle-hardened Judas married with children and taking part in normal community life.

( 14:26–46 ) The Change in Nicanor

Alcimus intervenes to ruin the peace. The account assumes that Alcimus is in Jerusalem, presumably functioning as high priest. Alcimus charges that Judas has been appointed Nicanor's deputy as the word is used at 4:29 , not ‘successor’ as NRSV. If Alcimus is not lying, Judas had become part of the normal bureaucracy of Jerusalem. The slander works. The author notes the distress of Nicanor, an honourable man, at breaking the covenant, but he obeys orders. The scene of Judas carefully observing the change in Nicanor reads like a movie script. No mention is made in 2 Maccabees of the battle at Caphar-salama in 1 Macc 7:31–2 , the narrative moves straight to the confrontation of Nicanor with the temple. Why would the priests know where Judas was hiding? Does Nicanor think they will follow the principle that it is better for one man to die than for the nation to be destroyed (2 Sam 20:14–22 ; John 11:50 )? In any event, Nicanor's character changes: from being honourable, he turns into someone who fights against God. The contrast between Nicanor stretching out his hand against the temple (v. 33 ) and the priests stretching out their hands to God (v. 34 ) underscores the point. Nicanor, in his threat to level the temple to the ground, is likened to Antiochus ( 9:13; 8:3 ). Nicanor threatens to build a splendid (epiphanēs) temple to Dionysos, foreshadowing God's manifestation (epiphaneia) in defeating Nicanor ( 15:27 ). The prayer of the priests at v. 36 refers back to the purification at 10:4 and is fulfilled in the blessing at 15:34 . It is interesting that the term used in v. 35 for ‘habitation’ is literally ‘tenting’ (skēnōsis), a term which reflects God's tent of meeting in the wilderness (Ex 25:8–9; cf. 1 Kings 8:4 ).

( 14:37–46 ) The Death of Razis

The episode of Razis lies between the threat of Nicanor and his final defeat. Just as the martyrdom accounts in 6:17–7:42 were placed after the desecration of the temple and brought about God's mercy, so now the death of Razis precedes the removal of Nicanor.

vv. 37–40 , Razis is an unusual name. He is a lover of his compatriots in contrast to Alcimus who claims to be one. No reason is given why Razis was denounced. Nicanor is now simply said to hate the Jews. Five hundred soldiers to arrest one man emphasizes the importance of Razis. vv. 41–6 , the scene takes place in a private house with a tower overlooking a courtyard, in which Razis is surprised. With no escape he kills himself, preferring to die nobly like Eleazar ( 6:23 ) rather than be insulted. A code of honour and disgrace is clearly at play here. Plato in Book 9 of his Laws had said that suicide was allowable: (1) under judicial constraint; (2) under the constraint of unavoidable misfortune; (3) in order not to participate in a dishonourable deed. Razis chooses not to be humiliated. vv. 43–6 , the suicide is drawn out to the last grisly detail. He throws his entrails on the troops so that his blood is literally upon them. His last prayer is similar to that of the martyrs at 7:11, 22–3 .

( 15:1–5 ) The Defeat of Nicanor

The confrontation between Judas and Nicanor continues. Bordering Samaria lie the Gophna Hills, just north-east of Modein, a favourite hidingplace of the Maccabeans (1 Macc 2:28 ). The treachery of Nicanor is further emphasized by his desire to attack on the sabbath (cf. 1 Macc 2:29–38 ). Non-Jews knew how the Jews kept the sabbath and characterized it as a superstition which allowed them to be taken unawares (Jos. Ant. 12.4–6; Ag. Ap. 1.209–12). The Hasmoneans in 1 Macc 2:40–1 resolved to defend themselves even if attacked on the sabbath. Here Nicanor's wish shows him to be barbarous (cf. 2:21; 4:25; 10:4; 11:9 ). Nicanor taunts God as Goliath taunted the army of the living God (1 Sam 17:2–10, 26 ). His foolishness is shown in the fact that the sabbath observance is grounded in God's creating heaven and earth (Ex 20:8–11 ).

( 15:6–19 ) The Battle Preparations

As usual, the author contrasts the arrogance of the Seleucids with the trust in God of Judas and his forces. Following the injunctions for a speech before battle at Deut 20:1–4 , Judas cites victories from the law and the prophets, where prophets here would include the books of the HB from Joshua to 2 Kings (Jos. Ag. Ap. 1.39–40). The perfidy of the Gentiles refers to Nicanor's breaking of the covenant he had made ( 14:20–2, 28 ). Judas then relates a dream. Dreams in antiquity were one means by which humans kept company with the gods. People were aware that not all dreams were heaven-sent, but they were one way by which the gods communicated with humans. The author of 2 Maccabees describes the dream as ‘a certain waking reality’, reading hypar ti instead of hyper ti at v. 11 . The detail of the description suggests that the elements of the dream were so clear that Judas thought he was awake. The characters in the dream are significant. Onias takes us back to the beginning of the epitome; he is called a perfect Greek gentleman, one trained in aretē, excellence, as Eleazar ( 6:18 .23) and Razis ( 14:37–8, 42 ) were. As the priests stretched out their hands ( 14:34 ), so does Onias. The continuity between the dead and the living is shown by the dead praying for the living, as the living had prayed for the dead at 12:42–5 . The second person in the dream is the prophet Jeremiah. Often his message is one of doom, but he is also sent to build and to plant (Jer 1:10 ). Although before the destruction of the temple Jeremiah had been instructed not to pray for the people (Jer 7:16; 11:14; 14:11 ), after the destruction he is told to pray for the people (Jer 42 ). Jeremiah in the dream gives Judas a golden sword. Heavenly weapons are of gold ( 3:25; 5:2 ). The giving of special weapons to a hero is a motif found widely in traditional literature. In Egyptian accounts, a god often gives a sword to Pharaoh to defeat his enemy. The giving of the sword thus provides divine assurance of victory. Polybius relates how the Roman general Scipio cynically used the motif of a dream to urge his soldiers on (10.11.5–8). v. 19 suggests that those inside the city could almost see what was happening out in the open, impossible if the location of the battle given in 1 Macc 7:40 , Adasa, is correct.

( 15:20–7 ) The Battle

The armies are again contrasted. The presence of war elephants is unlikely: the Roman envoy Octavius had had them hamstrung in 162 BCE, just before Demetrius became king. Judas refers, as he had at 8:19 in the battle against the first Nicanor, to the defeat of Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:13–19:35 ). He asks for an angel as he had at 11:6 , as happened against Sennacherib and as promised at Ex 23:20 . At v. 25 , the battle songs are perhaps those often addressed by soldiers to Apollo, and contrast with the prayers of Judas's forces. The battle is portrayed as a fight between gods. The God of Israel manifests himself (cf. 2:21 ). The numbers are exaggerated.

( 15:28–36 ) The Feast of Nicanor

The use of the ancestral language, as by the martyrs ( 7:8, 12, 27 ), signals the victory of the God of the Jews. Judas is described in terms reminiscent of Onias ( 4:2, 5 ). Decapitation and cutting off the sword hand, the right hand, is found among the Persians (e.g. Xen. An. 1.10.1; 3.1.17; Plut. Art. 13.2); dismemberment is also found among the Greeks (e.g. Cleom. 38) and Romans (e.g. Plut. Cic. 48–9). David had Goliath's head brought into Jerusalem (1 Sam 17:54 ), the Philistines cut off Saul's head and fastened his body to the wall of Beth-shan (1 Sam 31:9–10 ), and Judith had the head of Holofernes displayed on the walls of Bethulia (Jdt 14:1, 11 ). The details of the narrative may have been influenced by such heroic tales as these. Certainly the punishment fits the crime: 15:32 responds to 14:33, 15:34 to 14:36 . The author distinguishes those in the citadel from Judas's compatriots. However, the fact that all bless the Lord (v. 34 ) and that Judas can hang Nicanor's head from the citadel suggests that the citadel is in Judas's control. This is rhetorically powerful but probably incorrect. The citadel remained under the control of the enemies of the Hasmoneans (1 Macc 9:53; 10:9 ) and was not captured until 141 BCE under Simon (1 Macc 13:49–52 ). According to 1 Macc 7:47 , Nicanor's head and right hand were displayed just outside Jerusalem. It seems unlikely that the dead corpse of an unclean Gentile could be brought into the view of the priests around the altar. The skins of unclean animals were forbidden in Jerusalem (Jos. Ant. 12:145–6 ; see also 11QTemple 48:11–14 ), and how much more so a dead Gentile? There is debate among scholars as to whether some later rabbinic texts would allow a corpse into the court of women, although m. Kelim 1.7 explicitly forbids burial within towns.

The wording of v. 36 is very close to that of 10:8 , and shows how the book was structured. Interestingly, the author identifies the feast by reference to Mordecai's day known from the book of Esther ( 3:7; 9:20–3 ). Since the author knows about otherwise unknown events in Babylonia ( 8:20 ), he also must know about this popular celebration.

( 15:37–9 ) The Epilogue

Even though the author seems to know of later events—e.g. perhaps the embassy of Eupolemus to Rome ( 4:11; cf. 1 Macc 8:17 ), although 4:11 may refer to earlier contacts with Rome—he closes at this point. His statement that the city was in the possession of the Hebrews from this time on hardly agrees with what happened: a year after Nicanor's defeat, Bacchides returned and conquered Judea, killing Judas and reinstalling Alcimus (1 Macc 9:1–57 ). Just as the epitomist suppressed any mention of Bacchides' first expedition, so he ends here with a great victory of the Jews to promote his programme of how the God of Israel defended his temple. 2 Maccabees is propaganda history, and should not be judged by other criteria.

The last verse recall the images the epitomist used in his prologue ( 2:29–31 ) as well as his posture of humility ( 2:26–7 ). Wines in the ancient world were so strong they were usually mixed with water.

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