1 Maccabees

By James M. Rochford

Unless otherwise noted, all citations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).


Metzger writes that 1 and 2 Maccabees were written by “two authors of quite different interests and capabilities.”[1]

1 Maccabees is especially good historical material. Metzger writes, “The narrative is… the work of a plain and honest chronicler who set down the facts in their historical sequence, with scarcely any attempt to theorize upon them or to emphasize their significance.”[2] The author writes in “strict chronological order.”[3]

2 Maccabees is far more focused on theology, rather than history. While the author of 1 Maccabees is a “sober historian,” the author of 2 Maccabees is a “moralizing theologian.”[4]


1 Maccabees was “undoubtedly written in Hebrew.”[5]


The author is unknown. Though Metzger writes, “The intimate knowledge of the Palestinian countryside which he displays in tracing the military campaigns shows that he was a Palestinian himself. His knowledge of the world outside Palestine is slight and vague.”[6]


The final event in the book is the accession of John Hyrcanus in 134 BC. Therefore, the book must date after this time.

The book has a high view of Jewish relations with Rome. This must mean that the book dates before the invasion of Rome by Pompey in 63 BC.

Metzger dates the book to around 100 BC.[7] DeSilva concurs that the book should be dated “sometime after John Hyrcanus’s death in 104 B.C.E. and before Roman intervention in the dispute between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II in 63 B.C.E.”[8]

Important content in this book

Samuel Taylor Coleridge said that the book is “inspiring enough to be inspired.” The book tells the story of the Greek tyrant Antiochus Epiphanes taking over the nation of Israel.

Antiochus Epiphanes (“manifest”) was called Epimanes (“madman”) by his enemies.

Alexander’s generals agreed that Seleucus should rule Palestine. Ptolemy didn’t agree, and his successors kept Palestine. The Ptolemies ruled Palestine until 198 BC, when Antiochus III threw them out. Antiochus III allowed them to rule their own way.

Tobiad family. They were ambitious. Simon wanted to give the funds to Seleucus IV. In the account, angels beat him up, and Seleucus’ brother (Antiochus IV) took over the throne.

Oniad family. Onias III was a conservative, but his brother Jason was a progressive. Jason bought the high priesthood from Antiochus IV, and he led massive political reforms to Hellenize Israel. As a consequence, Onias III was exiled.

The Tobiad family put forward their candidate for high priest: Menelaus (a Greek). Menelaus led the religious reform, which led to the Abomination of Desolation.

Jason (from the Oniad family) received support from Hyrcanus, who was an alienated member of the Tobiad family. Jason came with an army, after he believed Antiochus IV died. Of course, Antiochus IV wasn’t dead, and he rescued Menelaus. He plundered the Temple, and he outlawed Torah observance.

The persecution spread to the rural areas. In these rural areas, Mattathias was the leading elder of one of the villages. An official ordered Mattathias to offer a sacrifice to a foreign god. Mattathias refused. An unnamed opportunist went to sacrifice instead of Mattathias, and Mattathias killed both the opportunist and the government official in one stab!

(Chapter 1) Antiochus Epiphanes takes over Israel

Alexander the Great was conquering the known world. He fell sick and divided his kingdom up.

Antiochus Epiphanes’ ascension and military prowess. Antiochus Epiphanes began to reign in 175 BC (1:10). Some Jewish people began to conform to the Gentiles to fit in, making a “covenant with the Gentiles” (1:11). How do you removed the marks of circumcision? (1:15) Antiochus beat Ptolemy in Egypt (1:18), and he attacked Israel in 169 BC (1:19). Antiochus plundered the Temple (1:21-23). He came back two years later (~167 BC) and plunder Jerusalem (1:29-1:31).

Antiochus against Jewish practices. Antiochus made it a capital crime (1:50) to practice Temple offerings, Sabbaths, festivals, and circumcision. Instead, they had to sacrifice pigs! And worship idols (1:45-49). In 167 BC (1:54), they offered the desolating sacrilege on the altar. They collected and burned the Scriptures (1:56), and killed anyone who possessed a Bible (1:57). They killed Jewish mothers who circumcised their boys (1:60).

“Anyone found possessing the book of the covenant, or anyone who adhered to the law, was condemned to death by decree of the king” (1:57).

“According to the decree, they put to death the women who had their children circumcised, and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks” (1:60-61).

(Chapter 2) Mattathias leads a revolution

Mattathias revolts against the apostasy. Mattathias—the priest—settled in Modein (2:1). He had five sons (2:2-4). Mattathias mourned at the evil happening in Israel. The king’s officers tried to get Mattathias to apostatize (2:15). Mattathias openly refused (2:19). A Jewish opportunist came forward after Mattathias’ impassioned speech to offer sacrifice (2:23). Mattathias killed the man on the altar, killed the King’s official, and tore down the pagan altar! (2:24-25) This is where the Zealot party got their name (2:27). Mattathias and his followers fled to the wilderness to fight guerilla warfare (2:29). This is similar to the plot of the movie Red Dawn.

The Greeks fight dirty! Antiochus’ men waited to battle some of the survivors on the Sabbath, so that they couldn’t fight back (2:32-38). These Jewish men didn’t defend themselves. It was an absolute slaughter: men, women, and children (~1,000 dead). Mattathias decides that his men will fight on the Sabbath (2:42). They killed apostates, tore down pagan altars, forcibly circumcised boys, and recovered the Scriptures (2:44-48).

Mattathias dies. On his deathbed, Mattathias tells his sons: “Do not fear the words of sinners, for their splendor will turn into dung and worms. Today they will be exalted, but tomorrow they will not be found, because they will have returned to the dust, and their plans will have perished” (2:62-63). Judas Maccabeus takes over the army after Mattathias dies (2:66). He died in 166 BC (2:70).

(Chapter 3) Judas Maccabeus takes over after Mattathias

Judas Maccabeus (Mattathias’ son) takes over the army. Judas continues to cleanse Israel of apostasy (3:1-9). Samaritan and Syrian enemies try to kill Judas, but he kills them both.

“It is easy for many to be hemmed in by few, for in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between saving by many or by few. 19 It is not on the size of the army that victory in battle depends, but strength comes from Heaven. 20 They come against us in great insolence and lawlessness to destroy us and our wives and our children, and to despoil us; 21 but we fight for our lives and our laws. 22 He himself will crush them before us; as for you, do not be afraid of them” (3:18-22).

Antiochus hears about this. Antiochus tries to gather money to build up the army in Israel to fight Judas. He leaves for Persia to collect tribute from them to pay for his military police (3:30-31). He leaves Lysias in charge while he’s gone. Antiochus took half of his forces to Persia in 165 BC (3:37).

Lysias sends the troops into Judah. He sends 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry (3:39). Judas’ men bunkered down for war, prayed, fasted, and offered sacrifices.

Judas told the men, “Arm yourselves and be courageous. Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary. It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary” (3:58-59).

(Chapter 4) Judas battles the Gentiles—followed by the first Hanukkah

Failed attack of Gorgias. Gorgias attacked the city, but Judas and the people escaped. Judas came back the next day with his men, and wiped Gorgias’ army out. Judas plundered their camp (4:1-25).

Failed attack of Lysias. Lysias hears this report from the surviving soldiers (4:26). He sent another 60,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry (4:28). Judas only had 10,000 men (4:29). Judas’ men beat Lysias’ army, and killed 5,000 of them (4:34). Lysias was afraid of the bravery and zealotry of the Jewish men (4:35).

Judas cleanses and rededicates the Temple. Judas rededicates the Temple in Jerusalem. The priests cleanse the Temple, and tear down the old altar. They rededicate the Temple in 164 BC (4:52). This is where we get Hanukkah (“the Festival of Lights”) from.

(Chapter 5) Liberation of Galilee and Gilead

The Gentiles attacked the people of Galilee. The Jewish people in Galilee reach out to Judas for help. They successfully rescue the Galileans, and they brought them back to Judea. Both Judas and Simon led successful battles with the Gentiles.

Foolishness of Joseph. Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem, Joseph heard about all of the military exploits and bravery of his brothers. He wanted to make a name for himself (5:57). He marched against Jamnia, and faced off against Gorgias (5:59). This led to 2,000 dead in Israel (5:60).

(Chapter 6) Antiochus Epiphanes dies in Persia—Lysias makes a false truce in Israel

While all of this is happening in Israel, Antiochus is still trying to plunder Persia. But he is turned away in Elymais (6:1-3). Messengers tell Antiochus how badly things were going back in Israel, and it scares him (6:8). He believes he is dying from his anxiety, and he thinks that his poor fortune is because he went against Israel (6:12-13). He gave his kingdom to Philip and died in 163 BC (6:16).

Lysias heard about the death of Antiochus, and put Antiochus’ son Eupator in power (6:17).

Judas besieged the citadel in 162 BC (6:20). Eupator gathers an army of 100,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry, and 32 war-elephants (6:30). They got the war-elephants drunk on wine to prepare them for battle (6:34). Even though they were afraid, Judas’ men fought and killed 600 of them (6:41-42).

Eleazar saw that one of the war-elephants looked more majestic than the others, and he supposed that the king was in it. He made a drastic effort to kill the elephant, but he stabbed it from underneath and it crushed him (6:46).

Lysias heard that Philip was attacking back in Persia, so he decides to make a truce with the Jews (6:59), which they accepted (6:60). Lysias broke the truce when he saw Jerusalem, went back to Persia, and fought Philip (6:62-63).

(Chapter 7) The Roman Demetrius takes over from Antiochus

The Roman Demetrius sends new leadership to Israel. Demetrius (son of Seleucus) left Rome in 161 BC (7:1). He killed Antiochus and Lysias (7:2-4). The power hungry apostates urged Demetrius to give them power. Demetrius sent Bacchides to be the ruler, and he sent Alcimus to be the new high priest.

The deceitful “high priest” Alcimus. The Hasideans were the first to seek peace with Alcimus, because Alcimus was claiming to be from Aaron’s line and promised not to hurt them (7:14-15). Alcimus was a traitor, and killed 60 of them. Judas hears about this, and he think Alcimus is worse than the Gentiles (7:23). Alcimus brings false charges against Judas, and the king sends Nicanor to kill the people of Israel (7:25-26).

The deceitful Nicanor. Nicanor calls for a peace-treaty, but secretly plans to kidnap Judas (7:28-29). Judas refuses to go because he finds out Nicanor’s plan. Nicanor promises to destroy the Temple and kill Judas. Judas kills Nicanor instead in battle (7:43). They decapitated him and cut off his hand, and they put them on public display outside the city of Jerusalem (7:47).

(Chapter 8) Alliance with Rome

Judas had heard about the bravery of the Romans in battle, and their governmental practices (8:1-16). Judas tried to make an alliance with Rome (8:17). They promised to be the allies of the Romans (8:25-27).

(Chapter 9) Bacchides kills Judas and terrorizes Israel

Demetrius sent Bacchides and Alcimus back into Judah and killed many people in 160 BC (9:3). Judas’ men abandoned him—only 800 remained. Judas still wanted to fight—even though his men said not to (9:5-10). Judas and his men put up a good fight, but Judas was killed (9:11-19). They called Judas the “savior of Israel” (9:21).

After Judas died, the apostates reappeared (9:23). Bacchides put these men in charge (9:25). They chased down the friends of Judas and “made sport of them” (9:26).

Jonathan takes over as the leader (9:31), and Bacchides pursues him to kill him.

The family of Jambri. This family kills John, but the Maccabees kill them during a wedding, ambushing them (9:36-41).

Bacchides retaliates but is defeated. The faithful Jews escape after killing 1,000 of the Romans. Bacchides built up towers and fortresses, and Alcimus tried to tear down the inner sanctuary (9:54). But midway, Alcimus was paralyzed and struck mute (9:55) and died in agony (9:56). Afterwards, Bacchides let the people alone for two years.

Bacchides finally makes peace. Bacchides comes back to wipe out Jonathan (9:58). They defeated Bacchides (9:68). Afterwards, Jonathan made peace with Bacchides (9:70-73).

(Chapter 10) Alexander Epiphanes takes over

Alexander Epiphanes (Antiochus’ son) occupied Ptolemais in 152 BC (10:1).

Demetrius tries to make peace with Jonathan before Alexander does (10:4). Demetrius released the prisoners over to Jonathan to make peace.

Meanwhile, Alexander Epiphanes wants Jonathan as his ally (10:15-16). He tries to make Jonathan high priest (10:20). Jonathan accepts this and becomes high priest in 152 BC (10:21).

Demetrius counter offers and claims that he will free the Jews of taxes and tribute. He promises to hand over the city of Jerusalem and the Temple to the Jews (10:31-32). Demetrius offers religious freedoms. He offers to rebuild the Temple (10:45).

Jonathan had a hard time believing this, because of Demetrius’ past evil (10:46). They sided with Alexander (10:47). Alexander killed Demetrius (10:49-50).

Ptolemy gave Cleopatra to Alexander in marriage (10:58).

Alexander makes Jonathan royalty.

In 147 BC (10:67), Demetrius’ son (also named Demetrius) came into the picture. This spooks Alexander (10:68).

Demetrius challenges Jonathan to a battle (10:70-73), and Jonathan wins (10:84). Alexander honored Jonathan for this battle.

(Chapter 11) Ptolemy invades Alexander in Syria

Ptolemy takes his daughter back from Alexander, and he betroths her to Demetrius (11:9). An Arab decapitated Alexander and sent the head to Ptolemy (11:17), but Ptolemy died three days later (11:18). Demetrius took over in 145 BC (11:19).

Trypho tries to revolt against Demetrius.

Jonathan and Demetrius make peace, and Jonathan even bails him out of a revolt with 3,000 men (11:47).

Jonathan kills 3,000 of the foreign men and returns to Jerusalem (11:74).

(Chapter 12) Capture of Jonathan

Jonathan makes an alliance with Rome and Sparta. The Spartans claim that they and the Jews are all descendants of Abraham (12:21).

Trypho tricked Jonathan into dismissing his troops, and he captures him (12:44-45). Trypho led Jonathan into an ambush at Ptolemais (12:48). The nations view the death of Jonathan as an opportunity to attack (12:53).

(Chapter 13) Jonathan dies, but Simon brokers peace in Israel with Rome

Trypho threatens to invade again, but Simon (a Maccabean brother) takes a stand to defend Israel. The people rally around Simon and rebuild the fortification walls (13:9-10).

Trypho offers a deal: send money and two of Jonathan’s sons for his release (13:15-16). Simon knew that this was deceitful, but did it to garner the trust of the people. Trypho killed Jonathan anyway (13:23).

Demetrius made a truce with Simon in 142 BC (13:41). Simon retook the Temple in 141 BC (13:51).

(Chapter 14) Simon leads Israel

Demetrius fights against Trypho in 140 BC (14:1). The Romans reaffirmed their alliance with Israel through Simon. They give their full support of Simon’s high priesthood and leadership.

(Chapter 15) Antiochus VII

Demetrius’ son (Antiochus VII) sent a letter to Simon (and all of Israel). He grants freedom to Jerusalem and the Temple. Taxes and debt are cancelled. Antiochus VII attacked Trypho in 138 BC (15:10). Simon aids Antiochus VII in fighting Trypho (15:26). But Antiochus VII broke his alliance with Simon (15:27).

(Chapter 16) John takes over

Simon bequeathed leadership to his sons, Judas and John (16:2-3). In 134 BC (16:14), Simon visited Jericho. Ptolemy killed Simon and his two sons (16:16). John takes over after Simon and kills his attackers (16:22-24).

Historical or internal contradictions

Internal contradiction for the date of Antiochus’ death. 1 Maccabees states that Antiochus’ death was after the rededication of the Temple, while 2 Maccabees places it before the rededication of the Temple.[9]

In 1 Maccabees, the priests rededicate the Temple in 164 BC (1 Macc. 4:52). Afterwards, Antiochus Epiphanes IV gave his kingdom to Philip and died in 163 BC (1 Macc. 6:16).

[1] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 129.

[2] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 130.

[3] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 131-132.

[4] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 130.

[5] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 130.

[6] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 130.

[7] Bruce M. Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), 130.

[8] David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 248.

[9] David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 251.