Tuesday, July 30, 2019 - Updated: 10:18 am
QUESTION: At work, I got into a discussion with a non-Catholic friend. I mentioned the lessons found in the Book of Maccabees. I know he reads the Bible, but said he never heard of the Maccabees. What is the story of those biblical books?
ANSWER: The two Books of Maccabees are found in the Old Testament in the section frequently described as the historical books (in Catholic Bibles). In most Protestant versions of the Bible, the two Books of Maccabees are not found or are found in a special section called “the apocrypha.”
These biblical Books contain accounts of events surrounding the attempted suppression of Judaism in Palestine in the second century before Christ (175-134 B.C.).
Most conquerors of Palestine disregarded religious matters provided that taxes were paid and no rebellion occurred. King Antiochus IV (175-164 B.C.), however, was different, and attempted to compel all his subjects to worship Zeus and the other Greek gods. In 167 B.C., he ordered an end to the sacrifices Jews offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. He also decreed that Jews were no longer permitted to observe the Sabbath. He attempted to force Jews to eat foods forbidden by the law, and set up altars to the pagan gods and forced everyone to sacrifice at them.
While some Jews complied with these demands, many others did not. Opposition was strongest in the hill country and in the deserts. In pursuit of complete compliance, the king sent soldiers into a remote region and demanded that the local priest (Mattathias) and his five sons offer sacrifice on a pagan altar. They refused to do so and killed the soldiers, destroyed the pagan altar and fled further into the hills. There, they formed an army to fight for their faith. The father was soon killed in the initial battle, but three of his sons became leaders of the resistance.
Judas Maccabee was the eldest of the sons and led the resistance from 166-160 B.C. He succeeded in forming a close-knit, heavily armed band. It defeated the troops of Antiochus IV, won back Jerusalem and re-established daily sacrifice in the Temple. Upon the death of Judas, his brother, Jonathan, led the resistance into the desert in order to regroup. While there, he was tricked into meeting with the enemy and was taken prisoner and executed. Another brother, Simon, then rallied the Jewish army and became strong enough to win certain concessions from the oppressors.
The First Book of Maccabees offers the chronology and details of these events. The Second Book of Maccabees is more of a reflection on their significance. There, the author focuses on the Temple and its priesthood, and attempts to explain the nearness of God to the people. The author stresses such things as resurrection from the dead (7:9-11 and 14:46), intercessory prayer (15:11-16), and the assistance that the living can offer the dead by prayer and sacrifice (12:38-46).
These books contain moving narratives about faith-filled men and women of unshakable principle. They speak of a people who came to know the nearness of God in the midst of suffering. These Old Testament books speak to many people who suffer for their faith in our day.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.