The books of the Maccabees.

Counted among the apocrypha.

Attributed author(s).

Text(s) available.
None on site.
Swete LXX (Greek only).
HTML Bible:

1 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (Latin Vulgate only).
2 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 (Latin Vulgate only).
Humanities Text Initiative: 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees (English only).
Kata Pi LXX:
1 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (Greek and English).
2 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 (Greek and English).
3 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (Greek and English).
4 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 (Greek and English).
Sacred Texts:
1 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 (polyglot).
2 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 (polyglot).
3 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (Greek only).
4 Maccabees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 (Greek only).
Online Critical Pseudepigrapha.

Useful links.
Books of Maccabees in the Jewish Encyclopedia.
EJW (Peter Kirby).
Books of Machabees and the apocryphal books in the Catholic Encyclopedia.
1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees at Kata Pi (Oesterly and Robinson).
Lecture Notes on 3 Maccabees.
Lecture Notes on 4 Maccabees.

Jewish background texts (Jim Davila).

The books of the Maccabees are counted among the apocryphal books of the Old Testament.

These books are not extant among the Hebrew scriptures, but rather in the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX.

Peter Kirby (Early Jewish Writings).

1 Maccabees.
2 Maccabees.
3 Maccabees.
4 Maccabees.
5 Maccabees.

Peter Kirby surveys scholars writing on the book of 1 Maccabees:

James King West writes: "After a brief preface summarizing Alexander's conquests, death, and successors, the author begins his story with Antiochus Epiphanes' invasion of Egypt and subsequent desecration of the temple, and traces the story of the Maccabean revolt, the death of Antiochus, the defeat of Nicanor, and Simon's achievement of independence, his death, and the accession of John Hyrcanus I. The story is told in the idiom of the Former Prophets and Chronicles (cf. 9:22 and 16:23 with I Kg. 11:41 passim) and is concerned principally with the war itself and the providential victories of the Jews. So similar is the form, in fact, that R. H. Pfeiffer conjectures that the author may have planned his work as a sequel to Chronicles-Ezra-Nehemiah. The large place he gives to the exploits of Judas Maccabeus leaves no doubt that Judas is the author's hero, and that the book was written to show how God used him to bring deliverance once more to Israel. As with most ancient historians, the author provided appropriate speeches and prayers to help interpret the story, accent its important turns, characterize the heroes, and the like. At several points he presents copies of official documents affecting the course of his history. Whether these are authentic materials is a matter of dispute among scholars. Probably they represent a knowledge of the existence of such documents, and perhaps also at least a general knowledge of their content. Although in II Maccabees we have an alternate source for a considerable part of this history, the work is so basic to our knowledge of this period as to be indispensable. Not without reason, Josephus took it over as his main source for the period in his Antiquities of the Jews (XII, 5 to XIII, 7)." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 467)

J. Alberto Soggin writes: "The author of the work is not mentioned once. Whoever he was, he must have composed his text in the last years of John Hyrcanus, and in any case before the occupation of Jerusalem by Pompey, that is, about the end of the second ro the beginning of the first century BC. He was a Palestinian Jew who knew Hebrew and Aramaic well; we do not know whether he also knew Greek. He was an ardent patriot, for whom religion and nation were identical. The celebration of the action of the Maccabees stands out here against the modesty of the last chapters of proto-canonical Daniel. The author does not seem to have had any close contact with the sect of the Pharisees, since he never speaks of resurrection or of the messianic hope; it is possible that he wanted to write a kind of unofficial history of his time glorifying the Maccabees. However, he does not conceal some of the misdeeds of Simon, the founder of the dynasty: 14.4-48; 15:15-24 are the only texts which give him unqualified praise. In reality the author admires those who have made a substantial contribution towards liberating his country from Syrian oppression, but he also tries to show that they were subordinate to an institution which is historically obscure but mentioned on a number of occasions, which he calls 'the Great Synagogue' (3.44; 14:26-28): in the last analysis this decides policy and confirms Simon in his position." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 466)

David A. deSilva writes: "The book must have been written after the accession of John Hyrcanus in 134 B.C.E., since this event is the last related in the narrative. The author speaks of the Romans highly and emphasizes the Jews' friendly relations with Rome and Rome's faithfulnes as allies, necessitating a date of composition prior to 63 B.C.E. (Oesterley 1913: 60; Goldstein 1976: 63; Fischer 1992: 441; Bartlett 1998: 34). The narration of the achievements and character of the Romans in 8:1-16 is an encomium, contrasting sharply with later reflection on Roman conquest and rule as arrogance, insolence, and an affront against God. Pompey's entry into the holy places in 63 B.C.E. would have marred the author's unqualified appreciation of the Romans (as a comparison with the response of Psalms of Solomon 2; 8; 17 to that event might show). . . . The conclusion to the whole (16:23-24), while not necessitating a date after Hyrcanus's death, is certainly more naturally taken that way, given the parallels in the books of Samuel and Kings, on which the author is intentionally drawing (Oesterley 1913: 60; Pfeiffer 1949: 301; Goldstein 1976: 63; Bartlett 1998: 33). . . . It seems preferable, therefore, to consider 1 Maccabees as having originated 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." (Introducing the Apocrypha, p. 248)

Lawrence H. Schiffman writes: "It is generally agreed that the First Book of Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew. Even though no manuscripts or fragments still exist in Hebrew, the Greek text of 1 Maccabees has the unmistakable style of a rather literal translation from the Hebrew. Moreover, the church father Origen (third century A.D.) claimed that the Hebrew title of 1 Maccabees was Sarbethsabaniel. This puzzling title is difficult to interpret but may be a somewhat corrupt rendering of Hebrew sar bet 'el ('Prince of the House of God') or of sfar bet sabanai 'el ('Book of the House of the Resisters of God'). Most Greek manuscripts simply term the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees Makkabaion A and Makkabaion B. By the second century A.D. To Makkabaika ('The things Maccabean' or 'Maccabean Histories') was the designation for both 1 and 2 Maccabees. The early church father Clement of Alexandria (second century A.D.) termed 1 Maccabees to Biblion ton Makkabaikon ('The Book of Thing Maccabean') and 2 Maccabees he ton Makkabaikon epitome ('The Epitome of Things Maccabean'). Although 'Maccabee' (meaning 'hammer') was originally the nickname of the hero Judah, the use of the title 'Maccabean Histories led to the custom of referring to all of the heroes of the book as 'Maccabees.'" (Harper's Bible Commentary, p. 875)

Neil J. McEleney writes: "Several complaints have been lodged against the historical reliability of 1 Mc. Its author's nationalism and the exaggerated importance he gives Judean events (1:41-43; 3:27-31; 6:5-13) are said to make his objectivity suspect. He is anti-Seleucid (1:9-10), and, moreover, he shows ignorance of the history, geography, and political organization of foreign peoples. His Jewish nationalism leads him to inflate the numbers of the enemy so as to make more striking the divine intervention on behalf of the Hasmoneans. And he has erred in placing the death of Antiochus IV after the dedication of the Temple. These and other historical shortcomings are thought to disqualify him as an accurate reporter of the period. Nevertheless, we cannot dismiss him so easily. Within the context of his culture and the canons of histriography then in force, he is a trustworthy witness of men and events. His care, for example, in matters of topography (7:19; 9:2, 4, 33) and Jewish chronology (1:54; 4:52; etc.) illustrate his genuine concern to report matters accurately within the limits of his capabilities and aims. His placing of Antiochus' death is wrong, but his description of it corresponds to that of an independent witness, the secular historian Polybius of Megalopolis (Histories 31.9). Despite his limitations, then, 1 Mc's author has, as Dancy notes, 'such large stretches of honest and sober narrative that 1 Mc deserves to be regarded as equal if not superior in historical worth, not only to any book of the Old Testament but also to most surviving Hellenistic history' (Dancy, op. cit., 8)." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 463)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "First Maccabees is part of the canon of Scripture in the Roman Catholic, Greek, and Russian Orthodox churches. It is not recognized as Scripture by Protestants and Jews. There has been, however, a puzzling ambivalence about 1 and 2 Maccabees in the Jewish tradition. Hanukkah, which celebrates the cleansing and rededication of the Jerusalem temple in 164 B.C.E. under Judas, is part of the traditional Jewish calendar of festivals. Although it is a minor holiday (except in countries where its proximity to Christmas has made it very significant), the 'biblical basis' for it lies in books not regarded as canonical. Since it is likely that 1 Maccabees was composed in Hebrew, its absence from the canon of Hebrew Scriptures is somewhat puzzling. These puzzlements have led some scholars to suspect that at some point in the first century there was a Jewish reaction against the Maccabees and what they stood for, and a deliberate attempt to push them out of the sacred tradition of Judaism. Perhaps 'messianic' claims were being made about Judas Maccabeus or some other figure who traced his ancestry back to the Maccabean movement. Perhaps in light of failed uprising against the Romans by Jews claiming to follow the example of Judas and his brothers, the custodians of the Jewish tradition found the Maccabees too controversial and dangerous. The revival of interest in the Maccabees as men of action and noble warriors in the modern state of Israel suggests that these suspicions have some basis in fact." (Invitation to the Apocrypha, p. 135)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the book of 2 Maccabees:

James King West writes: "In the author's own preface, 2:19-32, he tells us that his work is an epitome, condensing 'into a single book' a five-volume history of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers written by Jason of Cyrene. His description of the toils, difficulties, and responsibilities of the epitomizer is a classic (2:26-31). Since Jason's work has been lost, how faithfully the epitomizer has represented the scope and character of his work, and how much, if anything, has been imported into the present work from other sources, are moot questions into which we need not enter. The epitomizer has also assumed responsibility for making his work pleasant reading (2:25), and to that end employed the devices and style of popular Greek rhetoric. If the mention of 'Mordecai's day,' in 15:36, comes from Jason's work, the original from which the epitome of II Maccabees was made must have been written some time after Esther, not earlier than the last part of the second century B.C. The epitomizer, therefore, can hardly have written earlier than 100 B.C. Some scholars date his work as late as A.D. 50." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 468)

J. Alberto Soggin writes: "The book abounds in explanation of the law, either for the use of the pagans or for Israel (cf. 6.5 and 5.17-20; 6.12-17 respectively). In fact II Maccabees has a much greater interest in theology than I Maccabees, although it is expressed in a somewhat rough form of reward and punishment. The pagans are defined as 'blasphemous and barbarous nations' in 10.4, but there are also severe censures of apostate Jews, of whom there must therefore have been considerable numbers. We find a series of theological features in II Maccabees which were abent from I Maccabees: for example, the resurrection of the body in 7.11; 14.46, a feature which is quite a contrast first to Wisdom and then to Philo, both of whom, following Neo-Platonic lines, tend rather to teach the immortality of the soul. In 7.28 there appears for the first time in Hebrew thought the doctrine which will later be called creatio ex nihilo, though not in the absolute form in which it has sometimes been presented: the Greek is ouk ex onton epoiesen auto ho theos, that is, 'God made the world not from things which were', which is not identical with 'nothing' in the philosophical sense of the term. In 7.9, 14 (cf. 14.46; 12.43) we have concepts of eternal life and death, and in 12.43 the intercession of the living for the dead, an element on which the Catholic church has sometimes sought to found the doctrine of Purgatory. We have drawn attention to a well-developed angelology (3.24-28; 5.2-4; 10.29ff.; 11.8, etc.). As Pfeiffer has well observed, the fact is that II Maccabees is more a work of edification than of history. The author, Jason of Cyrene (in Cyrenaica), seems to have been a diaspora Jew who lived at Alexandria about 100 BC." (Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 469)

Neil J. McEleney writes: "The first letter, 2 Mc 1:1-9, dated to 124, contains reference to another (vv. 7-8) written in 143. The second letter, 2 Mc 1:10-2:18, which is undated, is considered substantially authentic and a literary unity by Abel and Starcky (op. cit., 27-30), who assign it to a contemporary of Judas writing in 164. Other authors (W. Brownlee, IDB 3, 208; Dancy, op. cit., 15-16; Eissfeldt, OTI 580-81) consider it spurious, and even a composite, because 2 Mc 1:19-2:15, a later addition, seems to interrupt the flow of the letter." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 462)

Lawrence H. Schiffman writes: "It seems most likely that the abridger worked directly from the works of Jason of Cyrene, shortening Jason's lengthy text into this small book. Either he or a later hand added the two letters in 2 Macc. 1:1-2:18. It is difficult to judge the full extent of the work of Jason. In view of its five-volume length, it is difficult to believe that it would only have been a more detailed history of these fifteen years. It may be that the abridger selected a period of great importance to him and prepared an abridgment and adaptation of Jason's account of that period. As to the letters, there are a number of indications that they were added by a third hand, since they are not fully integrated into the text as it now stands. They may have been added in an attempt to propagate the observance of the festival of Hanukkah, which celebrated the purification of the Temple by Judah in 164 B.C. A few other additions were certainly made by either the abridger or some other editor." (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 898)

Daniel J. Harrington writes: "The forthright and engaging way in which the author expresses himself in his preface can mask several critical problems in using 2 Maccabees as a historical source. The first problem concerns the relationship between the original five-volume work of Jason of Cyrene (now lost) and the one-volume work now known as 2 Maccabees. The original composition of both works seems to have been in Greek. But there is no way of knowing how closely the epitomator (as the author is often called) followed the style and vocabulary of Jason of Cyrene. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing what the epitomator left out or added into Jason's story in his efforts at being entertaining and telling the story from his own perspective. In particular, was Jason's work as focused on the defense of the Jerusalem temple as 2 Maccabees is?" (Invitation to the Apocrypha, pp. 138-139)

David A. deSilva writes: "Assessing the date of the work is difficult. Jason's original history must post-date 161 B.C.E. and may even have been written just before, or shortly after, Judas's death. Goldstein (1983: 71-83), however, places Jason's work as late as 85 B.C.E., after 1 Maccabees. The epitome is generally held to have been composed prior to 50 C.E., given its influence on 4 Maccabees and Hebrews, and probably before 63 B.C.E., given the positive portrayal of relations with Rome (4:11; 8:10, 36; 11:34-36) (van Henten 1997: 51). Because it is important to consider how the epitome came to be connected with the two prefixed letters, the question of their date often enters the discussion. The later letter (1:1-9) was written in 124/123 B.C.E., a period in which Judea enjoyed prosperity and strength under John Hyrcanus. This was a suitable period in which to invite the translocal Jewish community (yet again) to join in the celebrations of their independence from Greek rule (van Henten 1997: 53). Harrington (1988: 38) suggests that the epitome was used as support for the request for observance of Hanukkah among the Jews in Egypt, to provide the festal story, as it were. The epitome probably was not composed for this purpose, since the epitomator's prologue itself gives no hint that promoting Hanukkah was part of the agenda but certainly was conducive to it. In this hypothesis, both Jason and his abridger would have completed their work prior to 124 B.C.E." (Introducing the Apocrypha, pp. 269-270)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the book of 3 Maccabees:

Martin McNamara writes: "The title of this book is a misnomer since it treats of the sufferings of the Egyptian Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-203 B.C.) rather than of the persecution of the Palestinian Jews under Antiochus IV at the time of the Maccabees. It describes how Ptolemy IV attempted to enter the holy of holies in the temple in Jerusalem and how he was miraculously repelled (1:1-2:24). Then, on his return to Egypt he revenges his humiliation on the Jewish community there and attempts to impose the pagan cult of Dionysius on them. He even orders punishment and death on all who refuse to forsake Judaism (2:25-5:51). However, after Eleazar an aged preist prays for his people, the king repents and becomes the protector of the Jews." (Intertestamental Literature, p. 230)

James C. VanderKam writes (An Introduction to Early Judaism, pp. 78-79):

The title of 3 Maccabees is curious because the book has nothing to do with the Maccabees (who are never mentioned in it). The principal feature that it shares with 1-2 Maccabees is that it is a story about a situation in which the Jewish people, this time in Egypt, were in danger of being annihilated by a Hellenistic monarch, in part for their religious convictions and practices. The book was composed in Greek and relates a story set in the time of Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203 BCE).

After his victory over Antiochus III (223-187 BCE) in the battle of Raphia (217 BCE), Ptolemy, according to our story, visited the cities in Coele-Syria (the area that Antiochus was trying to take from Ptolemy) to boost their morale and give gifts to their temples. Naturally he came to Jerusalem. While there, he was so impressed with the temple that he wanted to enter it, including the holy of holies. The Jews desperately tried to stop thiw violation of their law. Amid the great uproar that broke out in the city, the high priest Simon offered a prayer in which he appealed to past cases of divine deliverance from danger and to the promise that if his people prayed in their distress from the temple God would hear them (see 1 Kings 8:33-34, 48-50). The Lord answered his prayer swiftly by striking King Ptolemy with temporary paralysis that forced him to withdraw from Palestine and return to Egypt, though he went uttering curses and vowing revenge for such humiliating treatment.

His plan for revenge involved the Jews of Alexandria. The king decreed that they were to be subjected to a registration that involved a poll-tax and reduction of status to the level of slaves. In addition the registration included being branded with an ivy leaf shape, a symbol of the god Dionysus. The monarch also decreed through a letter that the many Jews outside Alexandria were to be delivered to the city in chains after undergoing other forms of harsh treatment. Those who handed Jews to the authorities were to be given substantial monetary rewards. During the process of registering this large number of Jews, the second divine intervention in the story occurred: God made the writing materials used by the scribes run out so that the registration was impeded.

When Ptolemy saw that his plans were being frustrated by exhaustion of scribal materials, he angrily commanded that his five hundred elephants be given an intoxicating drink and that, when drunk, they be let loose to trample the Jews who were bound and held within the enclosed hippodrome. On the day when the plan was to be carried out, the king miraculously overslept so badly that the event had to be postponed until the next day. However, on the next day God plagued the king with forgetfulness so that he was unable to remember his plan, reversed himself, and defended the Jews as loyal subjects. Indeed he claimed it was only his own benevolence that kept him from letting loose the elephants on his own employees who had made them drunk to trample Jews. Later the king did another about-face and vowed irrevocably to kill the Jews the next day and swore that he would also level Judea and its temple. When it seemed that all was lost, Eleazar, an elderly Jewish priest, prayed; like Simon the high priest, he cited biblical examples of past deliverances and asked God to intervene on behalf of his people in these dire circumstances. Once more God responded by sending two angels (unseen by the Jews) who terrified the elephants and made them turn back on the soldiers (and on Ptolemy) who were conducting them to the hippodrome.

Astonishingly, the king changed his mind yet again and chided his subordinates for how they had treated the Jews. He released the imprisoned Jews and provided the resources so that they could celebrate a seven-day festival of deliverance. He then dismissed them and wrote a letter to governmental officials in Egypt. He blamed all the misfortunes suffered by the Jews on malicious friends of his, and credited their salvation to his own actions and his awareness of the true situation. Some sentence in the letter are thematic for 3 Maccabees: "Since we have come to realize that the God of heaven surely defends the Jews, always taking their part as a father does for his children, and since we have taken into account the friendly and firm goodwill that they had toward us and our ancestors, we justly have acquitted them of every charge of whatever kind" (7:6b-7; see also v. 9). The Jews requested and received permission from the king to execute any Jews who had apostatized to save themselves from the king's earlier edicts; they killed about three hundred and also kept that day as a holiday. The Jews from the countryside were then transported home, where there was more celebrating and all regained their confiscated property.

Emil Schürer writes: "As to the date of the author, the utmost that can be ventured is a conjecture. The contents and tendency of the book seem to presuppose a persecution of the Alexandrian Jews, on account of which the author desires to comfort and encourage his co-religionists. This leads our thoughts to the time of Caligula, when such a persecution on a large scale took place for the first time. Hence Ewald, Hausrath, Reuss and others place the composition of the book in his reign. But then it would be strange, that the author does not make Ptolemy lay claim to divine honours, which was the chief stumbling-block in th case of Caligula. On the whole we should expect in it more special references to events under Caligula. Hence we can but approve of Grimm's reservation, though he has every inclination to agree with Ewald's hypothesis (Exeget. Handb. p. 218 sq.). In general, we may say, that the book originated at the earliest in the first century before Christ, at the latest in the first century after Christ; the former, because the author already knows the Greek additions to Daniel (vi. 6); the latter, because it would otherwise have found no acceptance with the Christian Church." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, p. 218)

Raymond F. Surburg writes: "Waxman says there is a possibility that the story was written around A.D. 30, when the first persecution took place against the Jews under Caligula. There is, however, no evidence to corroborate this theory, because 3 Maccabees contains no reference to Caligula. Ferrar places its origin around 100 B.C., at the same time that The Letter of Aristeas and 2 Maccabees originated, with both seemingly linked by literary similarity. Hadas would have the book originate in the year 25-24 B.C., when the privileges of the Alexandrian Jews were in danger of being lost." (Introduction to the Intertestamental Period, pp. 148-149)

Leonhard Rost writes: "Although it is likely that there was some historical occasion for the celebration of the festival in Alexandria (it is mentioned also by Josephus), and although the description of the historical events at the battel of Raphia is accurate and the journey to Jerusalem appears reasonable, the rest of the story is highly unlikely. At the very least it is highly exaggerated. Furthermore, in Contra Apionem ii. 5 Josephus ascribes the attempt to take all the Jews captive and have them stand naked in readiness to be trampled by elephants to Ptolemy VII Physcon (146-117). It is naturally possible to draw the conclusion that the history of the Jews in Egypt includes situations in which the very existence of Jews was endangered and even that on some occasion command was given to have certain Jews, or the Jewish population of one or more cities, trampled by elephants. But there is no certain evidence of such an event. The permissions to slay apostate Jews is probably wholly legendary, although it is likely that such illegal executions were occasionally carried out." (Judaism Outside the Hebrew Canon, pp. 106-107)

Emil Schürer writes: "This narrative is not only almost throughout a mere fiction, but it belongs, among productions of the kind, to those of the weakest sort. The author evidently revels in keeping up psychological impossibilities. The style also corresponds, being bombastic and involved. The only foundation for the author's fiction seems to have been an old legend which we still read in Josephus. For he relates (contra Apion. ii. 5) that Ptolemy VII. Physcon cast the Jews of Alexandria, who as adherents of Cleopatra were his political opponents, to intoxicated elephants, who however turned instead against the friends of the king, whereupon the king gave up his purpose and the Jews of Alexandria celebrated the day in remembrance of the event. According to this account the celebration of this festival, which is also mentioned in the third Book of Maccabees (vi. 36), seems at all events to be historical. And some unascertained fact may certainly be the foundation of the legend, the older form of which seems to have been in the hands of Josephus, since all is in his account simpler and more psychologically comprehensible, and he was evidently unacquainted with the third Book of Maccabees. When then the latter refers the history to Ptolemy IV. instead of VII., this is already a divergence from the older legend, and still more so are the other additions with which the author has enriched his narrative." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, pp. 217-218)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the book of 4 Maccabees:

Leonhard Rost writes: "The author's purpose is to examine a 'wholly philosophical question'—can religious reason of her own accord become mistress over the passions? At the same time, he counsels men for their own benefit to hold fast to philosophy. He brings all the forces of rhetoric to bear on the question. In chapters 1-3, he takes up particular ethical problems and illustrates the power of reason through examples taken from the conduct of Jacob, Joseph, and David. Then he moves on to the history of the recent past, recounting the intrigues of Simon, who envied Onias the office of high priest, telling of the attempt of Apollodorus to enter the Temple (instigated by the order of Antiochus Epiphanes), of the replacement of Simon with Jason (3:19-4:26), and of the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus, using the examples of Eleazar (cf. II Macc. 6:18-31) and of the mother and her seven sons (cf. II Macc. 7). In spite of torture and threatened execution, reason led these faithful souls to maintain their fear of God and thus remain superior to the threats of the king; at the same time, they became models for the people (5:1-17:6). The striking conclusion begins with an imaginary memorial inscription ascribing the deliverance of the nation to the death of these sacrificial victims; there follows a call to emulate them. Then the mother addresses her sons, pointing out to them how careful she had been to observe the Law and the traditional customs of the fathers. The book ends with a hymn in praise of God, who took vengeance on Antiochus for the execution of the victims but received the victims of his tyranny into 'the company of the fathers once they had received pure and immortal souls' (17:7-18:24; following A. Deissmann in Kautzsch, p. 177)." (Outside the Hebrew Canon, pp. 108-109)

Raymond F. Surburg writes: "In a brief introductory paragraph, the author indicated the scope of the question which he proposes to discuss (1:1-11) and the method he will use in the course of his presentation. The book has two main divisions: 1) A philosophical discussion on the main proposition (1:13-3:18); 2) The story of the martyrs and the lessons to be learned from it (3:19-to the end). Chapters 3-7 of 2 Maccabees furnishes the basic material for the second part of the book." (Introduction to the Intertstamental Period, pp. 149-150)

Martin McNamara writes: "4 Maccabees is a philosophical treatise that could be entitled: 'On the Supremacy of Reason over the Emotions.' It opens with the words: 'The subject that I am about to discuss is most philosophical, that is, whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.' First there is a philosophical introduction (1:1-3:18) in which the author tells us that he is about to demonstrate his point best 'from the noble bravery of those who died for the sake of virtue, Eleazar and the seven brothers and their mother' (1:8). The author of this work belongs to the Stoic tradition, combining its principles with those of Judaism. He then moves on to the story of the Maccabean martyrs, referring to the High Priest Onias III, 'that noble and good man', and to Apollonius' attempt on the treasury of the temple (3:9-4:14). After this there follows (5:1-7:23) a detailed account of the martyrdom of Eleazar, 'leader of the flock . . ., of priestly family, learned in the law, advanced in age' (5:4) after which is narrated the martyrdom of the seven brothers (8:1-12:19). The author then gives a philosophical interpretation of the events (13:1-14:10), followed by an account of the martyrdom of the mother of the seven (14:11-17:1) and the author's panegyric of her (17:2-18). To this brave woman, the real heroine of the story, the author reserves the closing oration, one in which she expatiates on the principles that guided her life. Her words are addressed to her children, by which all God-fearing Jews, not merely the seven martyrs are intended." (Intertestamental Literature, pp. 233-234)

James Charlesworth writes: "The composition is a diatribe (see J. C. H. Lebram, no. 1101) with Stoic influences by a Jew who had mastered Greek thought and language. The theme is clarified in the prologue (1:1-12): inspired reason is the supreme ruler over passions (pleasures and pains). After a definition of reason and passion, Joseph, Moses, Jacob, and David are chosen as examples of how reason can rule the passions (1:13-3:19). Following an historical note regarding the cultural and religious innovations by Antiochus Epiphanes and Jason (3:20-4:26), 'the demonstration of the story of the self-controlled reason' (ten apodeixin tes historiae tou sophronos logismou, 3:19), the heart of the book, unfolds with an account of the courageous words and actions of Eleazar (cf. 2Mac 6:18-31), and of the seven young men and their mother (cf. 2Mac 7:1-52), with appropriate concluding summaries (5:1-17:24). The work ends with an exhortation to the Israelites to obey the Law, be righteous, and recognize 'that inspired reason is lord over passion' (hoti ton pathon setin despotes ho eusebes logismos, 18:2), and with a speech by the mother (18:1-24). There are tensions and inconsistencies, since the motive for martyrdom is not reason but obedience to Torah (cf. 5:16, 9:1-8, 16:17-22)." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 151-152)

Emil Schürer writes: "Josephus is named by Eusebius and other Church writers as the author of this book. This view however has only the value of a hypothesis. For the book still appears in many manuscripts anonymously, and was therefore certainly at first issued without the name of the author. The entirely different style, and the circumstance, that Josephus in his Antiquities nowhere makes use of the second Book of Maccabees and thus seems not to know it, while the work in question is entirely based upon it, speak against his authorship. The first century after Christ is generally accepted as the date of composition, chiefly because the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. though the latter cannot be proved, this view must be pretty nearly correct, since a more recent book would no longer have been accepted by the Christian Church." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, p. 246)

Peter Kirby also surveys scholars writing on the book of 5 Maccabees (which is not included in any canonical list to the best of my knowledge):

James Charlesworth writes (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 153-156):

This book is extant in unedited Karshuni (Borg. syr. 28, ff. 412v-482v of A.D. 1581; Par. syr. 3, ff. 92v-116v [?] of A.D. 1695; Vien. or. 1548, ff. 20r-199r of A.D. 1729 [Karshuni or Syriac?]) and Arabic manuscripts (Vat. ar. 468, ff. 718v-759v of A.D. 1579; Vat. syr. 461, ff. 831-888 of A.D. 1667; Leningrad, Collection of Gregory IV. Nr. 3 [?]; and Leningrad, Collection of Gregory IV. Nr. 18, ff. 69-78 of A.D. 1642). The Arabic manuscript listed first was probably (so G. Graf, Geschichte, vol. 1, p. 223) the text behind G. Sionita's edition (in Le Jay's Polyglotte de Paris, 1645. Vol. 9, pp. 1-76 at the end; repr. in Walton's London Polyglotta, 1657. Vol. 4, pp. 112-59). An English translation, unfortunately made "from the Latin version of the Arabic text printed in the Polyglotts," was published by H. Cotton (The Five Books of Maccabees. Oxford: OUP, 1832; see esp. pp. xxx-xxxv, 227-446).

The crucial question regarding this work, which is virtually unknown to scholars, is its date. While Graf (Geschichte, vol. 1, p. 223) suggested it originated in early Melchite circles, Cotton (p. xxxii) and E. Beurlier ("Machabées [Livres apocryphes des]," DB 4, col. 502) concluded that the book was written in the latter part of the first century.

A date in the early Middle Ages appeared likely until the lack of later tendencies and ideas became noticeable, along with the recognition of early expressions (viz., "the third house," 22:9), the mention of the destruction of Jerusalem (9:5, 21:30), and the impossibility of concluding that it is a pasticcio of 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees and Josephus' Antiquities and Wars. It is wise to remain skeptical about the possibility of a late first century A.D. date for the work, although the intrinsic evidence presently appears to point in that direction.

The author of 5 Maccabees used other sources besides the works attributed to the Maccabees and Josephus' writings. Is it possible that this document preserves portions of the books written by Jason of Cyrene, Justus of Tiberias, or Nicolaus of Damascus? This question needs examination along with another; what is the relation between 5 Maccabees and the medieval Hebrew chronicle of Jewish history called Josippon? D. Flusser has completed a critical edition of the Hebrew text, which is now with the printer.

An important link between 5 Maccabees and Nicolaus of Damascus is that both, against Josephus (Wars 1.6, 2) and others (e.g. Hegesippus), claim that Antipater, Herod's father, was not an Idumaean, but a Jew who had come from Babylonia with Ezra (cf. 5Mac 35:1 with Josippon 37).

Is 5 Maccabees an epitome of the Josippon, as Graf contended (p. 223)? It is tempting to dismiss so-called 5 Maccabees from the Pseudepigrpaha and assume it is derived from the late Jewish Josippon. This attribution would solve some problems and explain why specialists of the Pseudepigrapha and of Josippon do not discuss or mention 5 Maccabees (e.g. it is mentioned neither in J. Strugnell's "Josippon," NCE 7, p. 1124, nor in A. A. Neuman's "Josippon and the Apocrypha," Landmarks and Goals. Philadelphia: Dropsie, 1953; pp. 35-59). The acid test is always the sources themselves, and the manuscripts of 5 Maccabees and of Josippon resist a simple explanation of their relationship. 5 Maccabees, moreover, is dissimilar from the Arabic epitomes of Josippon (it is extremely different from the text edited and translated by M. Sanders and H. Nahmad; cf. their "A Judeo-Arabic Epitome of the Yosippon," Essays in Honor of Solomon B. Freehof, eds. W. Jacob, et al. Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1964; pp. 275-99). Since neither the Arabic of 5 Maccabees nor the Hebrew of Josippon was available, Cotton's translation of 5 Maccabees was juxtaposed with J. Wellhausen's translation of Josippon (Der arabische Josippus [Abhand. der Königl. Gesell. d. Wiss. z. Göttingen, Philol.-Hist. Klasse, n. F. 1, 4] Berlin: Weidmann, 1897). The comparison did not suggest that 5 Maccabees derives from Josippon. Any conclusion, however, must be unusually cautious since no reliable edition exists of either text. It is also difficult to conclude that 5 Maccabees is an abbreviated version of Josippon, because it is a longer text yet covers only a portion of the history represented in Josippon, which begins with Alexander the Great and concludes with the capture of Masada in A.D. 73.

Additional evidence that a relationship exists between 5 Maccabees and Josippon is that both interrupt, though with substantial differences, the chronology from Heliodorus to Antiochus IV by inserting an account of the translation of the Septuagint for Ptolemy. A significantly shared feature is the identification of the famous martyr Eleazar as one of the seventy translators.

Without having completed a detailed research on the relationships of 5 Maccabees with the other Maccabean books, with Josephus' two works, and with Josippon, one should not suggest a theory. A tentative hypothesis, which is similar to those suggested by Wellhausen (p. 47) and Beurlier (cols. 502f.), may be proposed: perhaps 5 Maccabees is a late first-century A.D. compilation of early documents, some now lost, and of a few new sections; this compilation was later epitomized along with other texts by the author of the Josippon.

Beurlier (col. 502) thought that the original language of the book is Hebrew. This possibility is enhanced by numerous Semitisms that suggest a Hebrew Vorlage. It is difficult to prove this hypothesis since some of the Semitisms could have been introduced in the transmission of the Karahuni and and Arabic texts. A note in some Arabic manuscripts at the end of the first sixteen chapters, however, reports that this section had been translated from Hebrew.

5 Maccabees is a chronicle of Jewish history from Heliodorus' attempt to rob the Temple treasury in the early decades of the second century B.C. to the death of Herod the Great's two sons about 6 B.C.—with an interpolation relating Eleazar's role in translating the Septuagint, as well as other interesting expansions (viz. the futile prayer of Antiochus Epiphanes, chp. 8). The work is bifurcated internally: the first section, 1:1-16:26, relates the history from Heliodorus to the death of Nicanor which is called "The Second Book of the Maccabees According to the Translation of the Hebrews"; 17:1-59:96, the second section, is the history from the war between the Roman Scipio and the Carthaginian King Hannibal to the murder of the sons Alexander and Aristobulus, which is called "The Second Book of Maccabees" (cf. the preface in the Polyglotte de Paris).

This work is not included in Charlesworth's The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.