The Glossary of Terms

2 Maccabees


Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Maccabees, the Second Book of the, a second history of the Maccabean revolt, written from a different perspective than 1 Maccabees. Where the latter is concerned to praise Judas, Jonathan, and Simon for their role in the liberation of the Jewish people from Seleucid oppression, 2 Maccabees focuses upon the insult to the Temple and its cult, for which it holds the Jewish Hellenizers primarily responsible. Judas Maccabeus is honored as the sole leader of the resistance. The narrative concludes with his defeat of Nicanor, the Syrian governor of Judea (14:12), ending a major threat to the sanctity of the rededicated temple, and Judas is even described at one point as a leader of the Hasideans (Hasidim), in curious contrast to their role in 1 Maccabees. The period covered by 2 Maccabees is about 180-161 b.c.


The Second Book of the Maccabees

I. Two letters from Jews in Jerusalem to the Egyptian Jewish community concerning the new festival of Hanukkah (1:1-2:18)

II. The preface to the epitome (2:19-32)

III. The epitome, or summary, of Jason’s history (3:1-15:36)

A. A threat to the Temple during the high-priesthood of Onias III is thwarted by a supernatural manifestation (3:1-4:6)

B. The Hellenistic ‘reforms’ (4:7-50)

C. The desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, here pictured as a response to a revolt against the Hellenistic reforms rather than, as in 1 Maccabees, an effort to impose a state religion on the Jews (chap. 5)

D. Tales of martyrdom (chaps. 6-7; cf. 4 Macc.; T. Moses 9; and Wisd. of Sol. 2:12-5:23)

E. Judas defeats Nicanor’s first invasion (chap. 9)

F. Antiochus is struck down by God and repents upon his deathbed, leading to the purification and rededication of the Temple by Judas (9:1-10:9)

G. Judas defeats Timothy and Lysias under Antiochus V Eupator (10:10-11:38)

H. Judas defends Jews in Palestine (chap. 12)

I. Judas rebuffs an effort by Antiochus V to reinstall Menelaus, high priest during the Hellenistic reforms (chap. 13)

J. Judas defeats and kills Nicanor (who has undertaken a second campaign) following a vision of the martyred Onias III, the pious high priest, in which Judas receives a sword to defeat his adversaries (14:1-15:36)

IV. The epitomist’s conclusion (15:37-39)

While 1 Maccabees is generally considered historically more reliable where the two are parallel, 2 Maccabees is of value because it describes in greater detail the Hellenistic reform and the origin of the revolt prior to the emergence of the Maccabees, and because it provides greater insight into the history of the Jewish religion. It represents an epitome, or condensation, of a five-volume history written by an otherwise unknown Jason of Cyrene probably sometime after 110 b.c. The original language was Greek, and the condensation has survived as a part of the Septuagint, or Greek version of the ot. Protestants treat it as a part of the Apocrypha, while Catholics classify it as one of the deuterocanonical books.

2 Maccabees is generally termed a ‘pathetic’ history (from Gk. pathos, ‘emotion’ or ‘feeling’) because of the way in which it dwells upon the deaths of the righteous martyrs or the wicked king in a manner designed to evoke compassionate or contemptuous pity in the reader. The writer develops a theology of history in 6:12-17 that echoes the point of view of the Deuteronomistic school (see Judg. 2:11-23). Because the Jews themselves have profaned the Temple when the Hellenizers Jason and Menelaus used its treasure and vessels to buy the high-priesthood from Antiochus, God disciplines them by permitting Antiochus to desecrate the Temple (throughout the book God’s punishment tends to fit the crime—see 4:38; 9:5-6; 13:8). Repentance, however, ensures that God will protect the Jews from their enemies by sending a leader like Judas and by responding from heaven with a manifestation of supernatural power in defense of Temple or people (2:21; 3:22-40; 5:18; 9:5; 10:29-31; 15:22-27). The righteous who perish in the process can expect the resurrection of the dead (7:9-11; 12:44; 14:46) and are able to intercede to heaven on behalf of the living (15:12). Sin offerings on the part of the dead are also possible (12:39-45). 2 Maccabees is thus an important piece of evidence for the development of the idea of the resurrection of the dead in the period between the composition of Isa. 26:19 and Dan. 12:2 (in the fourth or third and the second centuries respectively) and the origin of Christianity.


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