Books Of Maccabees, the collective title of four works belonging to the Old Testament Apocrypha, and containing principally the details of the struggles of the Jews against the religious and civil tyranny of the Syrian kings in the heroic period of the Maccabees or As-moneans. The books are connected only by their subjects, written by different authors, and of widely unequal literary merit. The first two in order are declared canonical by the councils of Florence and Trent, and are also contained in the original translation of Luther. The first book of Maccabees contains a narration of the persecution of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes, their revolt under Mat-tathias and his sons, the death of that old priest, the victories and death of his son Judas Maccabaeus, and the wars and death by assassination of the two brothers and successors of the latter, Jonathan and Simon, concluding with the succession of Simon's son John Hyrcanus. It embraces a period of about 40 years (175-135 B. C), but the history of the first seven years is very briefly given. In regard to the time treated this is the last of the four books.
Its narration is lucid and brief, and there is little doubt that it was originally written in Hebrew. The author is unknown, but he is supposed to have lived in Egypt, and to have belonged to the Pharisees. According to Bertholdt, De Wette, and Ewald, he wrote his work shortly after the death of John Hyrcanus (106). The Greek text of the Septuagint version is the original of all others extant. Jerome says that he saw the original Hebrew. The book is highly valued by the fathers of the church, as well as by Jewish and Christian historians. - The second book is superior to the former in the purity and elegance of its language, which is believed to have been originally Greek. It professes to be an abridgment of an earlier historical work by a Jewish writer of Cyrene named Jason, relates the principal events of Jewish history in the reigns of Seleucus IV., Anti-ochus Epiphanes, and Antiochus Eupator, a period of 15 years, partly covered by the contents of the first book, and contains besides some letters which are held by many critics to be spurious.
The historical epitome, which commences with the attempt of a Syrian general, Heliodorus, to rob the treasury at Jerusalem, and closes with the death of another, Nicanor, contains some valuable additions to other extant authorities on that period. This book is the second also in order of time. The precise age of both the author and his predecessor Jason is unknown; both probably lived between 150 and 70 B. C. Luther in his preface to the translation is severe in his judgment on this book, while he regards the first as hardly inferior to the histories of the Protestant canonical Scriptures. - A still lower opinion is generally entertained by Protestant theologians, as well as critics, of the contents of the third book of Maccabees, the first in order of time, which gives an account of a sacrilegious attempt of Ptolemy Philopator, after his victory over Antiochus the Great at Raphia (217 B. C), to enter the holy of holies in the temple of Jerusalem, which was baffled by a miracle, and of a subsequent equally abortive attempt of the same king to have his Jewish subjects crushed by elephants in the hippodrome of Alexandria. The author and his age are unknown, and the book is in no way entitled to rank among the histories of the Mac-cabaoan struggle.
It was written in Greek; and besides the Latin and other versions, there is also one in Syriac. - The fourth book, the third in order of time, contains an amplification of the history of the martyrdom of Elea-zar and of the seven sons of Hannah, the socalled Maccabees, whose deaths are also described in the second book. An ethical use is made of the history, as indicated in the second title, " The Supremacy of Reason." It was attributed to Josephus by Eusebius, Jerome, and others, an opinion which is now generally regarded as unfounded. - Besides these four books, there is a fifth extant in Arabic and Syriac, by an unknown author, translated probably from Hebrew, which, like the second book, commences with the attempt of Heliodorus, but brings the history of the house of the Asmoneans down to its extermination by Herod the Great. The translators seem to have lived after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem by Titus. Only the first two books of Maccabees are printed in the Apocrypha of the authorized English version.
All are contained in Cotton's "Five Books of Maccabees in English" (Oxford, 1832). - See Grimm, Das erste Bucli der Maccabaer (Leip-sic, 1853), and Das zweite, dritte und vierte Buch der Maccabiler (1857); Ewald, Geschiehte des Volkes Israel, vol. iv.; Freudenthal, Die Flavins Josephus beigelegte Schrift uber die Herrsehaft der Verniuift (Breslau, 1860); and Fritzsche, Libri ApocrypM Veteris Testamenti Greece (Leipsic, 1871).