2 Maccabees

Author & Date:

  • A well-educated Greek speaking Jew from diaspora, perhaps from Cyrene or Egypt, where flourishing Jewish communities existed in the last centuries before Christ. Very high-flowing Greek.
  • Pharisaic tendencies = resurrection of the dead.
  • Earlier work than 1 M.
  • More edifying & inspiring than 1 M.
  • Book is a digest of a 5-volume history which Jason of Cyrene wrote in Greek shortly after 160 BC (ends around death of Judas). Author is a Hellenistic Jew & important figure in the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt (if opening words are his). Epitomist finished digestion around 124 BC and before original Hebrew 1 Maccabees was finished.

Literary Form:

  • Condensation of Jason of Cyrene’s 5 volume work. Reliable work.
  • Style: Brevity of expression & forego exhaustive treatment (2 M. 2:31).

Pathetic history (literature that uses every means to appeal to the imagination and stir the passions of the reader). Marked by exaggeration of #’s, creation of dialogue, prodigious miracles… idealizes his story & leaves out other parts.

Overall:

  • Narrates the history from Seleucus IV (187 BC) to Maccabean victory of Seleucid general Nicanor (160 BC).
  • The Second book of Maccabees covers much the same ground as 1 Maccabees 1–7, but it is more explicit in giving a theological interpretation of the events of the period. Begins around 180 BC and ends 161 BC
  • 2 M = Martyrdom – history from above – divine – interior life – subjective florid lessons.
  • Focuses just on Judas Maccabaeus.
  • Subordinates militarism to martyrdom.
  • Heroes of 2 M = NOT freedom fighters but ordinary Jews who remained faithful to the Law in the face of the Seleucid persecution.
  • Judas = defender and advocate of the faithful.
  • Focus on spiritual protest over the call to arms.
  • Advocates non-violence.
  • 1st 7 chapters –> starts earlier than 1 M.

2 Maccabees:

  1. Introduction (chapters 1-2)
    1. A Letter to the Jews in Egypt (1:1–9)
    2. A Letter to Aristobulus (1:10–2:18)
      1. Jeremiah hid the Ark of the Covenant, Tent, & Altar.
    3. Preface (2:19-32)
      1. “Judaism” = concept emerges here for 1st time = religious faith + culture –> opposed to Hellenism.
  1. Prelude to the Wars (chapters 3-7)
    1. Events relating to Temple, priesthood, Syrian persecution of Jews from years 176 to 164 BC
    2. 2 Maccabees focuses more on internal corruption in priesthood of Simon, Jason, Menelaus.
    3. Heliodorus is sent to rob the Temple BUT Heaven intervenes with a miracle (horse & 2 figures attack him = divine intervention theme).
    4. Jason steals high priesthood from Onias & leads nation into “Greek way of life” … then Menelaus bribes to get high priesthood.
    5. Statue of Zeus in Temple –> national disaster = punishment for sin –> hope though — sign of God’s kindness to punish swift rather than let them go on sinning for long time. God is correcting His people and values them more than Temple.
    6. Martyrdom of 7 brothers – gory details about torture – heroism over observance of Law –> doctrines of resurrection from dead + creation ex nihilo (b/c God created from nothing He will raise from nothing) + vicarious suffering (faith of innocent effective power against evil of other’s sins).
        1. Mother is the great hero & true theologian of 2M. God put life into her being & arranged its elements. Connects beginning of man + origin of all things (same origin). If he can create from nothing, he can also raise up back from the dust. Those who confidently have this hope can forget themselves for the sake of His laws (natural law = preserve own life highest duty).
        2. Meaning of suffering = (1) expiatory, (2) training, (3) bring out other’s confession, (4) vicarious suffering for nation. –> maturation of Israel’s theology of suffering over 200-300 years since Ezra-Nehemiah.
  1. Judas Maccabaeus (chapters 8-15) – 166-160 BC
    1. Parallels 1 M 3-7.
      1. But skips story of his father & Judas’ defeat & death & leadership of Judas’ brothers Jonathan and Simon + far more religious commentary.
      2. Chapter 8 – Judas’ guerrilla warfare = probably historically accurate.
    1. Story of Judas and his decisive victory over Nicanor.
    2. Death of Antiochus gruesome + makes vow to set Jerusalem free = God’s retribution – justice is done.
    3. Capture of Jerusalem & Temple by Judas – feast of Hannukah.
    4. Prayers for dead – purgatory – power of prayer – mercy of God.
    5. Judas’ victory over Nicanor – men fighting with their hands and praying to God with their hearts.

Themes:

  • Judaism, the distinctive culture animated by Jewish faith in conflict with Hellenism
  • Treachery and corruption within Israel, especially within the high priesthood
  • Miraculous intervention of heavenly beings
  • Oppression by hostile powers seen as God’s temporary anger for the correction of the people
  • Life after death by resurrection of the body
  • suffering and death as redemptive for others
  • vicarious expiation through sacrifices and prayers

Theology:

  • Culture war –> permeated even to the high priesthood (like how book of Kings talks about sins of kings)
  • Just war theory.
  • Suffering = punishment of God for sins of high priests (like Deut. theology)
  • Punishment as medicinal = punishment from God’s love.
  • Suffering of just is redemptive for others too.
  • God named constantly. God close at hand. Waiting to be prayed to & anxious to answer the prayers of his chosen ones.
  • Divine intervention
  • Faith & hope & dedication to God
  • Resurrection of dead = God’s justice fulfilled.
  • Pious dead can still assist the living (Onias & Jeremiah vision).

Catechism & 2 Maccabees:

  1. Creation ex nihilo
  2. Existence of soul
  3. Resurrection of dead
  4. Communion with dead

Purpose:

  • “we have aimed to please those who wish to read, to make it easy for those who are inclined to memorize, and to profit all readers” (2 Mac. 2:25).
  • Goal = use historical events to edify, instruct and inspire readers.
  • The Victory of faith
      • Faith = proves victorious for God’s ppl at all times.
  1. God’s interaction with the Jewish people
    • God exercises judgments upon the Jews within history to bring them to salvation in the end + always hope-filled (repentance evokes divine mercy always) + obey = victory
    • God is sovereign over beginning & end of history (mother of 7 sons = links conception & resurrection – great theologian of the book).
    • Life after death = efficacy of prayers on behalf of those who died.
  1. Prayer, the Temple, the Law
  • Prayer = always efficacious
  • Judas as leader of prayer – before & after battle = focus on preserving Temple & observing the Law.
  • Temple = what distinguishes God’s holy people – God defeats enemies who try to destroy Temple + allows infidels to defile Temple only to discipline his people
  • People = more important than Temple (“the Lord did not choose the nation for the sake of the holy place; but the place for the sake of the nation” (5:19)).
  • Obey Law = brings success – Judas and companions observe Sabbath.
  • Obey Scripture = must animate prayer to shape community life.
  1. The Character Portraits of Faith
  • Faith produces authenticity
  • Heroes of the faith shown.
  • Judas = model of leadership & courage –> prayer + Temple + God’s word.
  • Martyrs = ordinary people overshadow Judas in virtue.
  • Eleazar = wisdom + faith –> model of elderly.
  • Mother of 7 sons = integrity + truth.
  • Strength of character instead of political power.

Priests

  1. Simon II (220-198) – Ref Sirach 50 – praised & described in splendour in liturgy.
  2. Onias (198-175) – under Onias, Seleucids came under power (NOT the Ptolemys)… so Seleucids made Jason priest
  3. Jason (174-171) – promoted Hellenism.
  4. Menelaus (172-162) – paid a lot to gain high priesthood.

The Inspiration and Truth of Scripture 2014

Approach Bible as given + come to it with nuanced understanding of its formation & how God speaks through it.

Historical books = NOT trying to give chronological account.  God = main actor in the historical books. They are theologized accounts. History from God’s intervention & direction. Truth = didactic or theological. This history is NOT a myth though. * Truth of Scripture = DV11 – God committed to Scripture to truth in view of our salvation. Need flexibility to work with literary genre.

So how do we read it faith-filled and intelligibly?

  1. Inspiration of scripture – put yourself in the stream of the faith of the Church. Church has accepted & handed down these books as normative and decisive for our faith as inspired by God.
    1. influence of the Spirit – the same Spirit who inspired scripture also helps us to interpret it. Spirit active in Church and in authors = both ends. dynamic living process.
    2. Guided by lived experience of the risen Lord.
    3. Unity that all works come from Holy Spirit… but in a plurality of ways…expressions through many human voices… and in ongoing elaboration of books.
    4. Mature adherence to the word of God overall.
  1. Truth of Scripture – has divine qualities. NOT just a sum of info about human knowledge. but God’s revelation of His plan globally. Goal = salvation of the world. So that is why there an inconsistencies. Truth of Scripture = DV11 – God committed to Scripture to truth in view of our salvation. Need flexibility to work with literary genre.
      1. Truth expressed in a multiplicity of forms. Different kinds of literary means, points of views, … overall gives symphony of voices… unified message from many individuals. 
      2. Truth is revealed IN HISTORY – has a shape to it.
      3. Truth has to be heard within WHOLE canon.
      4. Truth gathered up fully in Christ. The One and the Many.
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