Excerpted from Lawrence H. Schiffman, Texts and Traditions, Ktav, Hoboken 1998, p.156-160 and Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Apocrypha, copyright 1957 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Image courtesy of Avi Deror, Wikimedia Commons.
The account of 1 Maccabees, composed in Hebrew as an official court history for the Hasmonean House in ca. 100 B.C.E., portrays the course of the persecutions and the battle that led to Jewish victory. The leadership of the Hasmonean House is a central theme of the book.
1-43 All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath. 44 And the king sent letters by messengers to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah; he directed them to follow customs strange to the land, 45 to forbid burnt offerings and sacrifices and drink offerings in the sanctuary, to profane sabbaths and feasts, 46 to defile the sanctuary and the priests, 47 to build altars and sacred precincts and shrines for idol sacrifice swine and unclean animals, 48 and to leave their sons uncircumcised. They were to make themselves abominable by everything unclean and profane, 49 so that they should forget the law and change all the ordinances. 50 “And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”
51 In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city. 52 Many of the people, everyone who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53 they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.
54 Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty fifth year, 98 they erected a desolating sacrilege 99 upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah, 55 and burned incense at the doors of the houses and in the streets. 56 The books of the law which they found they tore to pieces and burned with fire. 57 Where the book of the covenant (the Torah) was found in the) possession of anyone, or if anyone adhered to the law, the decree of the king condemned him to death. 58 They kept using violence against Israel, against those found month after month in the cities. 59 And on the twenty-fifth day of the month 100 they offered sacrifice on the altar which was upon the altar of burnt offering. 60 According to the decree they put to death the women who had their children circumcised 61 and their families and those who circumcised them; and they hung the infants from their mothers’ necks.
62 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 And very great wrath came upon Israel.
2-1 In those days Mattathias the son of John, son of Simeon, a priest of the sons of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modein. 101 2 He had five sons, John surnamed Gaddi, 3 Simon called Thassi, 4 Judas called Maccabeus, 5 Eleazar called Avaran, and Jonathan called Apphus. 6 He saw the blasphemies being committed in Judah and Jerusalem….14 And Mattathias and his sons rent their clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned greatly.
15 Then the King’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Modein to make them offer sacrifice. 16 Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. 17 Then the King’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows- “You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers. 18 Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the King, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”
19 But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice- “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, 20 yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. 21 Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. 22 We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand
or to the left.”
23 When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Modein, according to the king’s command. 24 When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar. 25 At the same time he killed the king’s officer who was forcing them to sacrifice, and he tore down the altar….
27 Then Mattathias cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying- “Let everyone who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!” 28 And he and his sons fled to the hills and left all that they had in the city. 29 Then many who were seeking righteousness and justice went down to the wilderness to dwell there, 30 they, their sons, their wives, and their cattle, because evils pressed heavily upon them….
42 Then there united with them a company of Hasideans, 102 mighty warriors of Israel, every one who offered himself willingly for the law. 43 And all who became fugitives to escape their troubles joined them and reinforced them. 44 They organized an army, and struck down sinners in their anger and lawless men in their wrath; the survivors fled to the Gentiles for safety. 45 And Mattathias and his friends went about and tore down the altars; 46 they forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel. 47 They hunted down the arrogant men, and the work prospered in their hands. 48 They rescued the law out of the hands of the Gentiles and kings, and they never let the sinner gain the upper hand.
49 Now the days drew near for Mattathias to die, and he said to his sons- “Arrogance and reproach have now become strong; it is a time of ruin and furious anger. 50 Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our fathers….” 70 He died in the one hundred and forty-sixth year l03 and was buried in the tomb of his
fathers at Modein. And all Israel mourned for him with great lamentation.
3-1 Then Judas his son, who was called Maccabeus, took command in his place….
38 Lysias l04 chose Ptolemy the son of Dorymenes, and Nicanor and Gorgias, mighty men among the friends of the king, 39 and sent with them forty thousand infantry and seven thousand cavalry to go into the land of Judah and destroy it, as the king had commanded. 40 So they departed with their entire force, and when they arrived they encamped near Emmaus l05 in the plain. 41 When the traders of the region heard what was said of them, they took silver and gold in immense amounts, and fetters, and went to the camp to get the sons of Israel for slaves. And forces from Syria and the land of the Philistines joined with them.
42 Now Judas and his brothers saw that misfortunes had increased and that the forces were encamped in their territory. They also learned what the king had commanded to do to the people to cause their final destruction. 43 But they said to one another, “Let us repair the destruction of our people, and fight for our people and the sanctuary.” 44 And the congregation assembled to be ready for battle, and to pray and ask for mercy and
45 Jerusalem was uninhabited like a wilderness;
not one of her children went in or out.
The sanctuary was trampled down,
and the sons of aliens held the citadel;
it was a lodging place for the Gentiles.
Joy was taken from Jacob;
the flute and the harp ceased to play.
46 So they assembled and went to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem, 106 because Israel formerly had a place of prayer in Mizpah. 47 They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and rent their clothes. 48 And they opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the Gentiles were consulting the images of
their idols. 107 49 They also brought the garments of the priesthood and the first fruits and the tithes, and they stirred up the Nazirites who had completed their days; 108 50 and they cried aloud to Heaven, saying,
“What shall we do with these?
Where shall we take them?
51 Thy sanctuary is trampled down and profaned,
and thy priests mourn in humiliation.
52 And behold, the Gentiles are assembled against us to destroy us;
thou knowest what they plot against us.
53 How will we be able to withstand them,
if thou dost not help us?”
54 Then they sounded the trumpets and gave a loud shout. 55 After this Judas appointed leaders of the people, in charge of thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens. 56 And he said to those who were building houses, or were betrothed, or were planting vineyards, or were fainthearted, that each should return to his home, according to the law. 109 57 Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.
58 And Judas said, “Gird yourselves and be valiant. Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary. 59 It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary. 60 But as his will in heaven may be, so he will do….”
4-12 When the foreigners looked up and saw them 110 coming against them, 13 they went forth from their camp to battle. Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets 14 and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed and fled into the plain, 15 and all those in the rear fell by the sword. They pursued them to Gazara, 111 and to the plains of
Idumea, 112 and to Azotus 113 and Jamnia; 114 and three thousand of them fell.
98. December, 167 B.C.E.
99. An altar to Zeus Olympius and perhaps a statue of him as well in the Jerusalem Temple.
100. The 25th of Kislev would also be the day of the rededication of the Temple in 164 B.C.E.
101. About 17 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
102. Literally, “pious ones.”
103. 166 B.C.E.
104. Lysias is identified in 2 Macc. 11-1 as “the king’s guardian and kinsman who was in charge of the
105. Located about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem.
106. North of the city.
107. The Jews consulted the Bible, whereas the non-Jews were accustomed to seeking oracles from their
108. Cf. Num. 6-1-21
109. Deut. 20-5-8 details the laws of conscription and exemption from military service
110. Judas and his forces.
111. Modem Gezer in the foothills of the Judean Mountains.
112. In the Negev region in the south.
113. Modern Ashdod on the Mediterranean coast.
114. Modern Yavneh on the Mediterranean coast.