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1 Maccabees is a deuterocanonical book of the Bible which was probably written about 100 BC, after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom. It is accepted in the Catholic and Orthodox canons. Protestants regard it as apocryphal, while Jews regard it as reliable history, but not a part of Scripture.
The book tells the story of the conquest of Palestine by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, the attempt by the Greeks to impose Greek culture on the Jews, and the Jewish revolt against that domination. The name "Maccabee" probably means "hammer" and is properly applied only to the first leader of the revolt, Judas, third son of the priest Mattathias. [The maccabee name was derived from the battle cry of the revolt, "Me Kumocha B'elim, Hashem". (Who is like you among the heavenly powers, HASHEM! -Exodus ch. 15:11-) In hebrew the acronym of this slogan, meaning, the first letters of this four word slogan is MKBY (Mem, Kaf, Bet and Yud). This became synonymous with the revolt. Its most famous warrior was Judah hence the name tag Judah the Maccabee. ] The name has come to be used for his brothers as well, which accounts for the title of the book. The doctrine expressed in the book reflects traditional Jewish teaching, without any of the new doctrines found, for example, in 2 Maccabees.
The book covers the whole of the revolt, from 175 to 134 BC and highlights that the salvation of the Jewish people in this crisis came from God through Matthatias' family, particularly his sons Judas, Jonathan and Simon, and his grandson John Hyrcanus.
In the first chapter, Alexander conquers the territory of Palestine, only to be eventually succeeded by the Seleucid Antiochus Epiphanes, who desecrates the Temple by setting up a "horrible abomination". Scholars infer that in the original Hebrew, the term used for "horrible abomination" would have sounded similar to "Lord of heaven", so that this term would refer to an image or altar of Zeus. Further, Antiochus introduced Hellenistic practices such as gymnasiums into Jerusalem, thus causing many of the young to fall away from their faith.
Mattathias calls the people forth to holy war against the invaders, and his three sons begin a military campaign against them. After one complete loss because the defenders refused to fight on the Sabbath, when Antiochus attacked, Judas reasons that they must fight when attacked. In 165 BC the Temple is freed and reconsecrated, so that ritual sacrifices may begin again. Judas seeks an alliance with the Roman Republic to remove the Greeks. He is "succeeded" by his brother Jonathan, who becomes high priest and also seeks alliance with Rome and Sparta. Simon follows them, receiving the double office of high priest and prince of Israel. (Simon and his successors form the Hasmonean dynasty, which is not always considered a valid kingship by the Jews, since they were not of the lineage of David.) He leads the people in peace and prosperity, until he is murdered by agents of Ptolemy, who had been named governor of the region by the Greeks. He is succeeded by his son, John Hyrcanus.
The narrative is primarily prose text, but is interrupted by seven poetic sections, which imitate classical Hebrew poetry. These include four laments and three hymns of praise.
The history presented is very good, comparing favorably to pagan historians such as Livy or Tacitus. The author exhibits a personal interest in the events, but presents them accurately. Josephus most likely used some form of this text (very likely the Hebrew original) in writing his account of the Maccabean revolt.
Transmission, language and author
The text comes to us in three codices of the Septuagint, the Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Venetus, as well as some cursives.
Though the original book was written in Hebrew, as can be deduced by a number of Hebrew idioms in the text, the original has been lost and the version which comes down to us is a pre-Christian Greek translation. Some authors date the original Hebrew text even closer to the events covered, while a few suggest a date even later. Because of the accuracy of the historical account, if the later date is taken, the author would have to have had access to first-hand reports of the events or other primary sources.
Origen and Jerome give testimony to having seen the original Hebrew text, though many scholars suggest that they may have actually had access to a Biblical Aramaic paraphrase of the work -- most Christian scholars of the time did not distinguish between Hebrew and Aramaic. In either case, only the Greek text has survived.
The book's author is unknown, but is assumed to have been a devout Jew from the Holy Land who may or may not have directly taken part in the events described in the book. He shows intimate and detailed geographical knowledge of the Holy Land, but is inaccurate in his information about foreign countries. The author interprets the events not as a miraculous intervention by God, but rather God's using the instrument of the military genius of the Maccabees to achieve his ends. The words "God" and "Lord" never occur in the text, always being replaced by "Heaven" or "He".
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