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

2 Maccabees - Introduction

Second Maccabees is an abridgment of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene. It covers the events leading up to the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes, * and the course of the revolt down to the victory over Nicanor in 161 BCE (prior to the death of Judas). Unlike 1 Maccabees, the account is vivid and emotional, with frequent reference to miraculous and supernatural occurrences. A major feature of the book is the prominence accorded to the deaths of the martrys. * Second Maccabees is often described as “tragic” or “pathetic” history writing, but this emotional quality is typical of much of Hellenistic * history writing, even in the case of the eminent historian Polybius, who criticized others for being too emotional. Miraculous episodes are not uncommon in Hellenistic historiography. While some of the episodes are fantastic, 2 Maccabees is also a valuable historical source and is superior to 1 Maccabees on some points.

The summary of Jason's work is introduced at 2.19 as “the story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, * and the dedication of the altar, and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, and the appearances which came from heaven.” The preface in 2.19–32 and the conclusion in 15.37–39 are evidently the work of the person who abridged Jason's work. Other editorial comments can be found in 6.12–17 , and probably in 4.17 and 5.17–20 . The story of the martyrs in 2 Macc 7 may originally have been an independent story, but it is now well integrated into the theology of the book. Two letters found at the beginning of the book ( 1.1–2.18 ) are of separate origin.

Jason of Cyrene probably wrote soon after the last events he recorded (about 160 BCE, or shortly thereafter). The author may well have been the same Jason who was sent to Rome by Judas Maccabee (1 Macc 8.17 ). His companion, Eupolemus, also a historian, is mentioned in passing in 2 Macc 4.11 . The context of the abridgment is indicated by the first letter in 2 Macc 1.1–9 . This letter is dated to 124 BCE (the 188th year of the Seleucid era), and it is written to urge the Jews of Egypt to celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. The summary of Jason's history is appended to the letter to provide an explanation of the reason for the celebration. The summary was not necessarily compiled for this purpose; it has its own theological message. But it was evidently congenial to the promotion of the festival of Hanukkah.

The theological and literary context of 2 Maccabees is somewhat different from that of 1 Maccabees. Both Jason's work and the summary were written in Greek, and were more clearly steeped in Hellenistic culture than was the case with the originally Hebrew chronicle. * Jason of Cyrene presumably came from the Diaspora, * and the abridgment was found suitable for supporting an appeal to Diaspora Jews. Also, 2 Maccabees is not so closely bound to the Hasmonean dynasty, * the ruling family, as was the case with 1 Maccabees. Judas is the hero of the story, but there is no mention of Mattathias, and the story ends before the emergence of Jonathan and Simon as leaders.

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