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1 Maccabees: Chapter 1

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1After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated a Heb Syr: Gk lacks this line. Compare 49.15 King Darius of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) 2He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth. 3He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up. 4He gathered a very strong army and ruled over countries, nations, and princes, and they became tributary to him.

5After this he fell sick and perceived that he was dying. 6So he summoned his most honored officers, who had been brought up with him from youth, and divided his kingdom among them while he was still alive. 7And after Alexander had reigned twelve years, he died.

8Then his officers began to rule, each in his own place. 9They all put on crowns after his death, and so did their descendants after them for many years; and they caused many evils on the earth.

10From them came forth a sinful root, Antiochus Epiphanes, son of King Antiochus; he had been a hostage in Rome. He began to reign in the one hundred thirty‐seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. a This title is included in the Gk text.

11In those days certain renegades came out from Israel and misled many, saying, “Let us go and make a covenant with the Gentiles around us, for since we separated from them many disasters have come upon us.” 12This proposal pleased them, 13and some of the people eagerly went to the king, who authorized them to observe the ordinances of the Gentiles. 14So they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, according to Gentile custom, 15and removed the marks of circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant. They joined with the Gentiles and sold themselves to do evil.

16When Antiochus saw that his kingdom was established, he determined to become king of the land of Egypt, in order that he might reign over both kingdoms. 17So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet. 18He engaged King Ptolemy of Egypt in battle, and Ptolemy turned and fled before him, and many were wounded and fell. 19They captured the fortified cities in the land of Egypt, and he plundered the land of Egypt.

20After subduing Egypt, Antiochus returned in the one hundred forty‐third year. b Other ancient authorities read work He went up against Israel and came to Jerusalem with a strong force. 21He arrogantly entered the sanctuary and took the golden altar, the lampstand for the light, and all its utensils. 22He took also the table for the bread of the Presence, the cups for drink offerings, the bowls, the golden censers, the curtain, the crowns, and the gold decoration on the front of the temple; he stripped it all off. 23He took the silver and the gold, and the costly vessels; he took also the hidden treasures that he found. 24Taking them all, he went into his own land.

He shed much blood, and spoke with great arrogance. 25 Israel mourned deeply in every community, 26 rulers and elders groaned, young women and young men became faint, the beauty of the women faded. 27 Every bridegroom took up the lament; she who sat in the bridal chamber was mourning. 28 Even the land trembled for its inhabitants, and all the house of Jacob was clothed with shame.

29Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position; 35they stored up arms and food, and collecting the spoils of Jerusalem they stored them there, and became a great menace,36

for the citadel a Heb Syr: Gk lacks this line. Compare 49.15 became an ambush against the sanctuary, an evil adversary of Israel at all times. 37 On every side of the sanctuary they shed innocent blood; they even defiled the sanctuary. 38 Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled; she became a dwelling of strangers; she became strange to her offspring, and her children forsook her. 39 Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert; her feasts were turned into mourning, her sabbaths into a reproach, her honor into contempt. 40 Her dishonor now grew as great as her glory; her exaltation was turned into mourning.

41Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, 42and that all should give up their particular customs. 43All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the towns of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and festivals, 46to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idols, to sacrifice swine and other unclean animals, 48and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49so that they would forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50He added, a Heb: Gk the Father of my lord “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

51In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. He appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the towns of Judah to offer sacrifice, town by town. 52Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.

54Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred forty‐fifth year, b Gk her they erected a desolating sacrilege on the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding towns of Judah, 55and offered incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56The books of the law that they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king. 58They kept using violence against Israel, against those who were found month after month in the towns. 59On the twenty‐fifth day of the month they offered sacrifice on the altar that was on top of the altar of burnt offering. 60According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, 61and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers' necks.

62But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64Very great wrath came upon Israel.

Notes:

j Heb Syr: Gk lacks this line. Compare 49.15

g This title is included in the Gk text.

a Other ancient authorities read work

b Heb: Gk the Father of my lord

a Gk her

Text Commentary view alone
Commentary spanning earlier chapters

2.1–48 : Revolt of Mattathias.

1 :

The family of Mattathias is known as Hasmoneans from a traditional ancestor Hashmonia, not mentioned in 1 Maccabees but named in Josephus (Ant. 12.6.1). The name may be a rendering of Simeon, the grandfather of Mattathias. Joarib was first in the list of divisions of priests (1 Chr 24.7; Neh 11.10 ). Modein, in the hills on the road from Beth‐horon, about 30 km (18 mi) northwest of Jerusalem.

2–5 :

Simon, third of the family to rule (chs 13–16 ). Maccabeus, probably from a Hebrew word meaning “hammer.” The other surnames are of uncertain derivation. Jonathan, successor of Judas (chs 9–12 ).

7–13 :

Poetic lament (cf. 1.36–40 ); for the portrait of Jerusalem as a beautiful woman dishonored, see Lam 1.1 .

14 :

Tore their clothes, put on sackcloth, signs of mourning (Gen 37.34 ).

18 :

The Friends of the king were a special class of courtiers who wore distinctive purple dress and insignia (1 Macc 10.65; 11.27 ).

23 :

Elsewhere in chs 1–13 , “Israelite” is used instead of the term Jew, which here perhaps means “Judean.”

24 :

His heart, literally “his kidneys,” which were considered the seat of emotion.

25 :

He tore down the altar, see Judg 6.25 .

26 :

As Phinehas did, the whole episode is written to echo Num 25.6–15 . Phineas is praised in Sir 45.23–24 .

28 :

2 Macc 5.27 .

29–31 :

In the wilderness of Judea they found hiding places (Isa 32.16 ).

37 :

1.63 .

41 :

The earliest statement of the principle that one may profane one sabbath in order to keep all the others.

42 :

Hasideans, “the pious,” a group not concerned for Jewish nationalism but only for the religious law. At first they resisted passively ( 1.62–63; 2.37 ), but now turned to violent action (but see 1 Macc 7.12–13 ).

1.1–10 : Introduction.

A summary of history from Alexander to Antiochus IV, setting the stage for the story that follows. For a fuller version, see Dan 11.1–28 .

1 :

Alexander the Great (356–323 BCE), son of Philip of Macedon, who had conquered Kittim (Greece), swept through Asia Minor and defeated King Darius III at Issus (333 BCE) and at Gaugamela (331).

3 :

After taking Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia he advanced to the ends of the earth (to Bactria and India). He was exalted, i.e., he was deified; such pride in rulers is castigated in Isa 2.5–22 ; and his heart was lifted up is a biblical idiom for pride (2 Chr 26.16, Ezek 28.2 ).

4 :

He planned a universal empire dominated by Greek culture.

5 :

He fell sick in Babylon.

6 :

A complex history of power struggles lies behind this statement.

8–9 :

By 275 three dynasties were established the Antigonids of Macedonia, the Ptolemies of Egypt, and the Seleucids of Syria.

9 :

Crowns, lit. “diadems”; these were strips of white cloth decorated on the edges.

10 :

Sinful root, cf. Isa 11.10; Dan 11.7 . Antiochus IV, who took the name Epiphanes (“god manifest”), reigned 175–164; he was son of King Antiochus III the Great (223–187), who had wrested Palestine from Egypt at the battle of Paneas in 198 but lost most of Asia Minor to Rome at Magnesia in 190. Because of this defeat the son had been a hostage in Rome. One hundred thirty — seventh year of the Seleucid era; reckoning of this era varied in different places; dates given in the notes (b, c, etc.) are approximate.

1.11–15 : Conflicts over Hellenization.

Greek culture had become a part of life in Judea, but now enthusiasts introduced customs that compromised Jewish religious observance (2 Macc 4.11–17 ).

11 :

Certain renegades, led by Jason, whom Antiochus appointed high priest in place of his brother Onias III (2 Macc 4.7 ). Renegades, lit. “lawless ones,” those who compromised the law of Moses. The term is used throughout 1 Maccabees to describe Jews who did not support the Hasmoneans. Making a covenant with the Gentiles was expressly forbidden (Ex 34.11–16; Deut 7.1–6 ) because of the danger of being led into idolatry. Disasters, loss of business and prestige because relations with Syria had deteriorated, cf. Jer 44.15–23 .

14 :

A gymnasium, the center of political and cultural education, as well as sports (2 Macc 4.9–10 ).

15 :

Removed the marks of circumcision by a surgical procedure (epispasm), since Greek athletics were performed in the nude.

1.16–40 : Antiochus invades Egypt and Palestine.

Invasion of Egypt is followed by plundering of the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Macc 5.1,11–26; Dan 11.25–28 ).

17 :

The Syrian army had elephants, though the treaty of Apamea with Rome (188 BCE) had forbidden this.

18 :

Ptolemy VI Philometor reigned 180–145 .

20 :

Antiochus returned because the Roman envoy, Popilius Laenas, threatened him with war if he annexed Egypt; also, news of internal strife in Jerusalem had reached him, and he feared a revolt (2 Macc 5 ).

20–23 :

Although plundering temples was a sacrilegious act, cash‐strapped kings often resorted to it. Antiochus may have justified his act because the high priest Menelaus had not paid him promised funds (2 Macc 5.15 ).

22 :

The bread of the Presence, twelve loaves of unleavened bread set in the Temple sanctuary by the priests every sabbath, symbolizing the covenant between God and Israel (Ex 30.25; Lev 24.5–9 ).

24–28 :

Fragment of a contemporary poem.

28 :

The house of Jacob, Israel, the Jewish people.

29 :

Chief collector of tribute may be a mistranslation of “chief of the Mysians,” mercenary troops from Asia Minor (2 Macc 5.22–26 ).

33 :

City of David, a term with several different meanings in the Bible (cf. Isa 22.9 and 1 Kings 11.27 with 2 Sam 5.7,9 ); the precise location of this fortification within Jerusalem is unknown. The term highlights the author's point that Antiochus is not the true king. The citadel remained in Seleucid control until 141 when it was captured by Simon (1 Macc 13.49–52 ).

34 :

Sinful people, like “lawless ones,” a biblical term used primarily for Israelites who were not faithful to the covenant (Isa 1.4 ); here it connotes Jews who supported the Seleucids.

36–40 :

Lament for Jerusalem; cf. Ps 74; 79 ; Lamentations.

1.41–64 : Desecration of the Temple.

The first religious persecution of Jews, also recounted in Dan 11.29–39 (cf. 2 Macc 6.1–11 ).

41–42 :

His whole kingdom, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, and parts of Asia Minor. Parallel accounts in 2 Macc 6 and Josephus (Ant. 12.5.5) report that the decree was aimed solely at Palestinian Jews and Samaritans.

45 :

Burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings were offerings of meat, grain, and drink made in the Temple daily to the Lord, commanded in Ex 29.38–42; Num 28.3–8 .

47 :

Swine and other unclean animals were not dirty but ritually impure and unacceptable for sacrifice (Lev 11.1–8; 22.17–30 ).

54 :

Chislev, November/December. The precise meaning of desolating sacrilege is unknown; it included an altar to Zeus Olympios (the Greek equivalent of the Syrian god Baal Shamem) and perhaps a stone statue (Dan 11.31; 12.11; 2 Macc 6.2 ). Built altars, thereby violating the commandment in Deut 12.5–28 .

59 :

Offered sacrifice, probably of swine (2 Macc 6.4–5 ).

60–64 :

2 Macc 6–7 and 4 Maccabees contain stories of martyrdoms. Chose to die rather than to be defiled by food, cf. Dan 3.8–18 . Wrath came upon Israel is a formula signifying God's justice when the covenant is broken (Num 25.1–4; Neh 13.15–18; Zech 7.8–14; 2 Macc 6.12–16 ).

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