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    Maccabees in the Bible – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why were the Maccabees left out of the Bible?

    A. The story of the Maccabean revolt is told in the two Books of the Maccabees, which not only give an account of events but also illustrate the importance of courage, heroism and loyalty.

    The Books of the Maccabees are part of the Apocrypha, works omitted from the Hebrew Bible. The structure of the Bible took time to crystallise, but by the time of the Maccabees the historical sections of Scripture may already have been finalised and hence there was no room for these two books. Another factor behind the exclusion of Maccabees from Scripture may be the sages’ disapproval of the Hasmonean dynasty because it tried to combine spiritual with temporal power.

    The two Books of the Maccabees do not form a continuous story, unlike the two books of Samuel or the two Books of Kings. They both tell the same story, though in different ways. The first book is more detailed; it does not limit itself to the chronology but attempts to explain the causes of the Greek oppression and the need for Jewish resistance. It praises those Jews who remained loyal to the Torah and criticises those who adopted too many hellenistic ways. The book is by a Judean author, writing a few decades after the events. It was written in Hebrew but what we have is a Greek translation, not the original.

    The second book, deriving from about the same period but written in Greek, also criticises those who abandoned Jewish observance but aims not only to persuade Jews generally to be loyal to the Torah but to urge Egyptian Jews in particular to observe the now established festival of Chanukah. Amongst the interesting features of this second book are the references to life after death, which was assuming increasing importance in Jewish thinking at this time.

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