Reading the Book
Letters to the Jews in Egypt (2 Mc 1, 2–2, 18 )
The book begins with two letters directed at the Jewish community in Egypt. Both call upon that community to celebrate a festival in honor of the rededication of the Temple following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucids. The feast in question is Hanukkah. Since the Torah did not mandate the celebration of this feast, the leadership of the Jewish community had to take this special step to encourage its observance.
The Jewish community in Egypt built its own temple under the direction of Onias IV, the son of the last legitimate high priest. Perhaps one purpose of these letters was to redirect these peoples' loyalty to the community in Jerusalem. Encouraging the Jews in Egypt to celebrate a festival in honor of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem may have been an attempt to keep them from forgetting their ties with Palestine. Also it may be that the person responsible for the present form of 2 Maccabees added these letters to the story of the triumph of the Maccabees in order to make the book into a festal scroll for Hanukkah as is the book of Esther for the Feast of Purim.
The Author's Preface (2 Mc 2, 19–32 )
The person responsible for this preface is the individual who has decided to abridge the work of Jason of Cyrene. He states that he wishes to simplify Jason's work to make it helpful to more people ( 2, 24–26 ). He also advises his readers that he will add his own touches to Jason's work ( 2, 29 ). Second Maccabees, as it stands today, is not simply a digest of a much longer work. There are portions of the book that do not come from Jason but were the product of the same person who made the abridgement.