Get the CD Now!

2 Maccabees

Discuss this text or ask a question on the official Early Writings forum. Anyone can post.

Online Text for 2 Maccabees

Online Resources for 2 Maccabees

Offline Resources for 2 Maccabees

Information on 2 Maccabees

James King West writes: "In the author's own preface, 2:19-32, he tells us that his work is an epitome, condensing 'into a single book' a five-volume history of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers written by Jason of Cyrene. His description of the toils, difficulties, and responsibilities of the epitomizer is a classic (2:26-31). Since Jason's work has been lost, how faithfully the epitomizer has represented the scope and character of his work, and how much, if anything, has been imported into the present work from other sources, are moot questions into which we need not enter. The epitomizer has also assumed responsibility for making his work pleasant reading (2:25), and to that end employed the devices and style of popular Greek rhetoric. If the mention of 'Mordecai's day,' in 15:36, comes from Jason's work, the original from which the epitome of II Maccabees was made must have been written some time after Esther, not earlier than the last part of the second century B.C. The epitomizer, therefore, can hardly have written earlier than 100 B.C. Some scholars date his work as late as A.D. 50." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 468)

J. Alberto Soggin writes: "The book abounds in explanation of the law, either for the use of the pagans or for Israel (cf. 6.5 and 5.17-20; 6.12-17 respectively). In fact II Maccabees has a much greater interest in theology than I Maccabees, although it is expressed in a somewhat rough form of reward and punishment. The pagans are defined as 'blasphemous and barbarous nations' in 10.4, but there are also severe censures of apostate Jews, of whom there must therefore have been considerable numbers. We find a series of theological features in II Maccabees which were abent from I Maccabees: for example, the resurrection of the body in 7.11; 14.46, a feature which is quite a contrast first to Wisdom and then to Philo, both of whom, following Neo-Platonic lines, tend rather to teach the immortality of the soul. In 7.28 there appears for the first time in Hebrew thought the doctrine which will later be called creatio ex nihilo, though not in the absolute form in which it has sometimes been presented: the Greek is ouk ex onton epoiesen auto ho theos, that is, 'God made the world not from things which were', which is not identical with 'nothing' in the philosophical sense of the term. In 7.9, 14 (cf. 14.46; 12.43) we have concepts of eternal life and death, and in 12.43 the intercession of the living for the dead, an element on which the Catholic church has sometimes sought to found the doctrine of Purgatory. We have drawn attention to a well-developed angelology (3.24-28; 5.2-4; 10.29ff.; 11.8, etc.). As Pfeiffer has well observed, the fact is that II Maccabees is more a work of edification than of history. The author, Jason of Cyrene (in Cyrenaica), seems to have been a diaspora Jew who lived at Alexandria about 100 BC." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 469)

Neil J. McEleney writes: "The first letter, 2 Mc 1:1-9, dated to 124, contains reference to another (vv. 7-8) written in 143. The second letter, 2 Mc 1:10-2:18, which is undated, is considered substantially authentic and a literary unity by Abel and Starcky (op. cit., 27-30), who assign it to a contemporary of Judas writing in 164. Other authors (W. Brownlee, IDB 3, 208; Dancy, op. cit., 15-16; Eissfeldt, OTI 580-81) consider it spurious, and even a composite, because 2 Mc 1:19-2:15, a later addition, seems to interrupt the flow of the letter." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 462)

Lawrence H. Schiffman writes: "It seems most likely that the abridger worked directly from the works of Jason of Cyrene, shortening Jason's lengthy text into this small book. Either he or a later hand added the two letters in 2 Macc. 1:1-2:18. It is difficult to judge the full extent of the work of Jason. In view of its five-volume length, it is difficult to believe that it would only have been a more detailed history of these fifteen years. It may be that the abridger selected a period of great importance to him and prepared an abridgment and adaptation of Jason's account of that period. As to the letters, there are a number of indications that they were added by a third hand, since they are not fully integrated into the text as it now stands. They may have been added in an attempt to propagate the observance of the festival of Hanukkah, which celebrated the purification of the Temple by Judah in 164 B.C. A few other additions were certainly made by either the abridger or some other editor." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 898)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The forthright and engaging way in which the author expresses himself in his preface can mask several critical problems in using 2 Maccabees as a historical source. The first problem concerns the relationship between the original five-volume work of Jason of Cyrene (now lost) and the one-volume work now known as 2 Maccabees. The original composition of both works seems to have been in Greek. But there is no way of knowing how closely the epitomator (as the author is often called) followed the style and vocabulary of Jason of Cyrene. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing what the epitomator left out or added into Jason's story in his efforts at being entertaining and telling the story from his own perspective. In particular, was Jason's work as focused on the defense of the Jerusalem temple as 2 Maccabees is?" (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 138-139)

David A. deSilva writes: "Assessing the date of the work is difficult. Jason's original history must post-date 161 B.C.E. and may even have been written just before, or shortly after, Judas's death. Goldstein (1983: 71-83), however, places Jason's work as late as 85 B.C.E., after 1 Maccabees. The epitome is generally held to have been composed prior to 50 C.E., given its influence on 4 Maccabees and Hebrews, and probably before 63 B.C.E., given the positive portrayal of relations with Rome (4:11; 8:10, 36; 11:34-36) (van Henten 1997: 51). Because it is important to consider how the epitome came to be connected with the two prefixed letters, the question of their date often enters the discussion. The later letter (1:1-9) was written in 124/123 B.C.E., a period in which Judea enjoyed prosperity and strength under John Hyrcanus. This was a suitable period in which to invite the translocal Jewish community (yet again) to join in the celebrations of their independence from Greek rule (van Henten 1997: 53). Harrington (1988: 38) suggests that the epitome was used as support for the request for observance of Hanukkah among the Jews in Egypt, to provide the festal story, as it were. The epitome probably was not composed for this purpose, since the epitomator's prologue itself gives no hint that promoting Hanukkah was part of the agenda but certainly was conducive to it. In this hypothesis, both Jason and his abridger would have completed their work prior to 124 B.C.E." (Introducing the Apocrypha, pp. 269-270)

Please buy the CD to support the site, view it without ads, and get bonus stuff!

Early Jewish Writings is copyright © 2001-2013 Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

Get the CD Now!

Kirby, Peter. Early Jewish Writings. <>.