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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

1 Maccabees - Introduction

First Maccabees is a historical chronicle * of an important period in Jewish history: the attempt by the Syrian king Antiochus to suppress traditional Jewish worship in Jerusalem, in 167 BCE, and the ensuing Maccabean revolt, that led to a century of Jewish independence. The tone is straightforward and factual. Consequently, it conveys an impression of greater reliability than does 2 Maccabees, which gives a more colorful account of the same period. This impression may be misleading. While 1 Maccabees is an important historical source, it embodies a particular interpretation of the events in question. The story is told so as to glorify the Maccabees, or the Hasmonean house, as the dynasty * established by the Maccabees is called. The Maccabees are viewed as “the family of those men through whom deliverance was given to Israel” ( 5.62 ). Their slogan, as articulated by Mattathias in 2.27 , is to be zealous for the law and support the covenant. * Not all Jews, however, either then or later, agreed that militant action was the right way to express zeal for the law. Different perspectives on the same material can be found in Daniel, which has little place for human militancy, and in 2 Maccabees, where the martyrs * who submit to death are just as important as the Maccabean rebels.

First Maccabees begins by recounting the events that led up to the persecution and continues with the history of the revolt, down to the death of Simon Maccabee and the rise to power of John Hyrcanus in 134 BCE. The book was probably written during the reign of Hyrcanus (134–104 BCE), but certainly before the conquest of Judea by the Romans in 63 BCE. This was a turbulent period in Jewish history. Apocalyptic * literature, such as we find in Daniel, became prominent during the time of persecution. Apocalyptic literature is literature that reports revelations about the heavenly world and about the future. Typically, it predicts the end of this world and the judgment of the dead. It takes its name from the Apocalypse * of John in the New Testament.

After the success of the Maccabees we find the emergence of different sects * in Judaism: Pharisees, * Sadducees, * and Essenes. * The movement that produced the Dead Sea Scrolls was probably identical with the Essenes, and for much of its early history it was highly critical of the Hasmoneans (the Maccabean dynasty). In this context, 1 Maccabees represents the point of view of the ruling family. The book simply ignores many of the issues that dominate other writings of the time: issues of purity, interest in angels, and eschatological * hopes for a radical change in the course of history. But the silence of the book on these issues is itself a theological position. The focus of 1 Maccabees is on politics, power, and the establishment of a Jewish state.

First Maccabees was almost certainly written in Hebrew, although it has only survived in Greek and translations based on the Greek. Remarkably, it was not accepted into the canon * of Hebrew Scriptures, * a fact that may reflect the ambivalence of the rabbis toward the legacy of the Maccabees. The book did, however, find a place in the Greek scriptures (the Septuagint * ) and consequently in the Christian Bible, in the Catholic Orthodox traditions. It is ironic that a book that describes the militant defense of Judaism should owe its preservation primarily to Christians.

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