The First Book of Maccabees, also called 1 Maccabees, is a book written in Hebrew by an anonymous Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom by the Hasmonean dynasty, around the late 2nd century BC. The original Hebrew is lost and the most important surviving version is the Greek translation contained in the Septuagint. The book is held as canonical scripture by the Catholic, Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox churches (except for the Orthodox Tewahedo), but not by Protestant denominations nor any major branches of Judaism; it is not part of the Tanakh. Some Protestants consider it to be an apocryphal book (see also Deuterocanon).
1 Maccabees is best known for its account of an early victory in the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire: the recapture of Jerusalem in the year 164 BC and rededication of the Second Temple - the narrative behind the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
The name Maccabee in Hebrew, means "Hammer". This is applied to the first leader of the revolt, Judas, third son of Mattathias. The name came to be used for his brothers as well, which accounts for the title of the book.
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. There are 16 chapters. English language versions of the Bible which contain this book include the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Good News Translation (GNT), New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE). and Knox Bible.
1 Maccabees was written around the late 2nd century BC. The Jerusalem Bible suggests it was written in about 100 BC, and certainly before the capture of Jerusalem by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC. Most scholars are in agreement on this date.
The setting of the book is about a century and a half after the conquest of Judea by the Greeks under Alexander the Great, after Alexander's empire had been divided so that Judea had become part of the Greek Seleucid Empire. It tells how the Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to suppress the practice of basic Jewish law, resulting in the Maccabean Revolt (a Jewish revolt against Seleucid rule). The book covers the whole of the revolt, from 175 to 134 BC, highlighting how the salvation of the Jewish people in this crisis came through Mattathias' family, particularly his sons, Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan Apphus, and Simon Thassi, and Simon's son, John Hyrcanus. The doctrine expressed in the book reflects traditional Jewish teaching, without later doctrines found, for example, in 2 Maccabees. The First Book of Maccabees also gives a list of Jewish colonies scattered elsewhere through the Mediterranean at the time.
In the first chapter, Alexander the Great conquers the territory of Judea, and is later succeeded by the Seleucid Antiochus IV Epiphanes. After successfully invading the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, Antiochus IV captures Jerusalem and removes the sacred objects from the Temple in Jerusalem, slaughtering many Jews. He then imposes a tax and establishes a fortress in Jerusalem.
Antiochus then tries to suppress public observance of Jewish laws, in an attempt to secure control over the Jews. In 168 BC, he desecrates the Temple by setting up an "abomination of desolation" (that is, establishing rites of pagan observance in the Temple, or sacrificing an unclean animal on the altar in the Holy of Holies). Antiochus forbids both circumcision and possession of Jewish scriptures on pain of death. He forbids observance of the sabbath and the offering of sacrifices at the Temple. He also requires Jewish leaders to sacrifice to idols. While enforcement may be targeting only Jewish leaders, ordinary Jews were also killed as a warning to others.
Hellenization included the construction of gymnasiums in Jerusalem. Among other effects, this discouraged the Jewish rite of circumcision even further, which had already been officially forbidden; a man's state could not be concealed in the gymnasium, where men trained and socialized in the nude. However, 1 Maccabees also insists that there were many Jews who sought out or welcomed the introduction of Greek culture. According to the text, some Jewish men even engaged in foreskin restoration in order to pass as fully Greek.
The narrative reports that news of the desolation reaches Mattathias and his five sons, a priestly family who live in Modein. Mattathias calls upon people loyal to the traditions of Israel to oppose the invaders and the Jewish Hellenizers, and his sons begin a military campaign against them (the Maccabean Revolt). There is one complete loss of a thousand Jews (men, women and children) to Antiochus when the Jewish defenders refuse to fight on the Sabbath. The other Jews then reason that, when attacked, they must fight even on the holy day. In 165 BC the Temple is freed and reconsecrated, so that ritual sacrifices may begin again. The festival of Hanukkah is instituted by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers to celebrate this event (1 Maccabees 4:59).
More wars involving Judas and his brothers Simon and Jonathan are reported in chapters 5, 6 and 7. Chapter 6 reports the last days of Antiochus Epiphanes and the accession of his young son Antiochus V Eupator to the throne.
In chapter 8, Judas seeks an alliance with the Roman Republic, aiming to remove the Greeks. Verses 23-32 record an agreement between Rome and the nation of the Jews, whereby each party would act as a willing ally of the other and refuse to supply their enemies in time of war, specific warning being given to Demetrius I Soter that this pact would be activated against him if requested by the Jews. Jewish historian Uriel Rappaport asserts that "the majority of scholars today accept the authenticity of this document".
After the death of Judas and a period of lawlessness, he is succeeded by his brother Jonathan Apphus, whose battles with the Greek general Bacchides are recounted in chapter 9. Jonathan becomes high priest and also seeks alliance with Rome and confirms alliance with Areus of Sparta (1 Macc. 12:1-23). 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.) Simon leads the people in peace and prosperity, until he is murdered by agents of Ptolemy, son of Abubus, who had been named governor of the region by the Macedonian Greeks. He is succeeded by his son, John Hyrcanus.
View the Chapters of 1 Macabees:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9