The Second Book of Maccabees, also known as Second Maccabees (written in shorthand as 2 Maccabees or 2 Macc.), is a deuterocanonical book originally in Greek which focuses on the Maccabean Revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes and concludes with the defeat of the Seleucid Empire general Nicanor in 161 BC by Judas Maccabeus, the "hero of the Jewish wars of independence".[1]

Unlike 1 Maccabees, the style of 2 Maccabees suggests that it was written in Koine Greek,[2][3] probably in Alexandria,[citation needed] some time between 150 and 120 BC[4] (c. 124 BC according to Stephen L. Harris).[5] It presents a revised version of the historical events recounted in the first seven chapters of 1 Maccabees, adding material from the Pharisaic tradition, including prayer for the dead and a resurrection on Judgment Day.[5]

The book, like the other Books of the Maccabees, was not included in Masoretic Hebrew canon, the Tanakh. It was included in the Greek Septuagint, known as the Alexandrian canon. For this reason, Jews and Protestants reject most of the doctrinal issues present in the work, while Catholics and Eastern Orthodox consider the work to be deuterocanonical and part of the Bible. Some Protestants include 2 Maccabees as part of the biblical apocrypha, useful for reading in the church. Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England defines it as useful but not the basis of doctrine and not necessary for salvation.[6][7]


The author of 2 Maccabees is not identified, but he claims to be abridging a 5-volume work by Jason of Cyrene.[8] This longer work is not preserved, and it is uncertain how much of the present text of 2 Maccabees is simply copied from that work. The author wrote in Greek, apparently, as there is no particular evidence of an earlier Hebrew version. A few sections of the book, such as the Preface, Epilogue, and some reflections on morality are generally assumed to come from the author, not from Jason. Jason's work was apparently written sometime around 100 BC and most likely ended with the defeat of Nicanor, as does the abridgement available to us.[citation needed]

The beginning of the book includes two letters sent by Jews in Jerusalem to Jews of the Diaspora in Egypt concerning the feast day set up to celebrate the purification of the temple (see Hanukkah) and the feast to celebrate the defeat of Nicanor. If the author of the book inserted these letters, the book would have to have been written after 124 BC, the date of the second letter. Some commentators hold that these letters were a later addition, while others consider them the basis for the work. Catholic scholars tend toward a dating in the last years of the 2nd century BC, while the consensus among Jewish scholars place it in the second half of the 1st century BC.[citation needed]


Vision of Judas Maccabee, 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld
Vision of Judas Maccabee, 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Karolsfeld


Unlike 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees does not attempt to provide a complete account of the events of the period, instead covering only the period from the high priest Onias III and King Seleucus IV (180 BC) to the defeat of Nicanor in 161.

In general, the chronology of the book coheres with that of 1 Maccabees, and it has some historical value in supplementing 1 Maccabees, principally in providing a few apparently authentic historical documents. The author seems primarily interested in providing a theological interpretation of the events; in this book God's interventions direct the course of events, punishing the wicked and restoring the Temple to his people. It has been suggested that some events appear to be presented out of strict chronological order to make theological points, but there seems little reason to expect a sequential chronology anyway, and little evidence for demonstrating the point one way or the other. Some of the numbers cited for sizes of armies may also appear exaggerated, though not all of the manuscripts of this book agree.

The Greek style of the writer is very educated, and he seems well-informed about Greek customs. The action follows a very simple plan: after the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple is instituted. The newly dedicated Temple is threatened by Nicanor, and after his death, the festivities for the dedication are concluded. A special day is dedicated to commemorate the Jewish victory in the month of Adar,[9] on the day before "Mordecai's Day" (Purim).[10]


The Jerusalem Bible divides the book into seven sections:[11]

  1. 1:1 - 2:18 - Two letters to the Jews of Egypt
  2. 2:19-32 - Compiler's Preface
  3. Chapter 3 - The Story of Heliodorus
  4. Chapters 4-7 - Hellenistic Propaganda and Persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes
  5. 8:1 - 10:8 - The Victory of Judaism
  6. 10:9 - 13:26 - The Struggle of Judas against the Neighbouring Peoples, and against Lysias, Eupator's High Commissioner
  7. Chapters 14 and 15 - The Conflict with Nicanor, General of Demetrius I, The Day of Nicanor

The divisions used by the New American Bible (Revised Edition) are similar, except that all the "renewed persecution" of 2 Maccabees 10:10 to 15:36 is treated as one section, with a brief "epilogue" in verses 15:37-39.[12]


Rider on the Horse with golden armour, who appears in Chapter 3 to fight Heliodorus, from Die Bibel in Bildern
Rider on the Horse with golden armour, who appears in Chapter 3 to fight Heliodorus, from Die Bibel in Bildern

2 Maccabees demonstrates several points of doctrinal interpretation deriving from Pharisaic Judaism, and also found in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology.

Doctrinal issues that are raised in 2 Maccabees include:

In particular, the long descriptions of the martyrdoms of Eleazar and of a mother with her seven sons (2 Macc 6:18–7:42) caught the imagination of medieval Christians. Several churches are dedicated to the "Maccabeean martyrs", and they are among the few pre-Christian figures to appear on the Catholic calendar of saints' days (that number is considerably higher in the Eastern Orthodox churches' calendars, where they also appear). The book is considered the first model of the medieval stories of the martyrs.

Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin examines Hebrews 11:35 ("Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life") and notes that this hope of eternal life after torture is not found anywhere in the protocanonical books of the Old Testament, but is found in 2 Maccabees 7.[16]


See also: Biblical canon, Development of the Hebrew Bible canon, and Development of the Old Testament canon

Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox regard 2 Maccabees as canonical. Jews and all Protestants other than Anglo-Catholics do not. Based on copies,[17][18] 1 and 2 Maccabees appears in manuscripts of the Septuagint,[19] the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, which was completed by the 2nd century BC[20] along with (in some copies) 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151 which are considered apocryphal by the Roman Catholic church.[21] The Codex Vaticanus lacks 1 and 2 Maccabees (but includes 1 Esdras) which Codex Sinaiticus includes along with 4 Maccabees (but omits Baruch), which evidences a lack of uniformity in the lists of books in early manuscripts of the Septuagint.[22] Neither 1st nor 2nd Maccabees were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls.[23] Pope Damasus I's Council of Rome in 382, if the Decretum Gelasianum is correctly associated with it, issued a biblical canon identical with the list given at Trent including the two books of Maccabees. Origen of Alexandria (A.D. 253),[24] Augustine of Hippo (c. 397 AD),[25] Pope Innocent I (405 AD),[26][27] Synod of Hippo (393 AD),[28] the Council of Carthage (397 AD),[29] the Council of Carthage (419 AD),[30] the Apostolic Canons,[31] the Council of Florence (1442 AD)[32] and the Council of Trent (1546 AD)[33] listed the first two books of Maccabees as canonical.

In the Council of Jamnia (late 1st century AD), according to one theory now largely discredited,[citation needed] rabbis endorsed a narrower canon, excluding deuterocanonical works such as 2 Maccabees. This had little immediate impact on Christians, however, since most Christians did not know Hebrew and were familiar with the Hebrew Bible through the Greek Septuagint text from Hellenistic Jews, although some[who?] researchers believe that under Christian auspices the books known to Protestants and Jews as apocryphal and to Roman Catholics as deuterocanonical were added to the Septuagint.[34] In addition, the canonical status of deuterocanonical books was disputed among some notable scholars from early on and into the Council of Trent,[35][36][37] which first definitively settled the matter of the OT Canon[38] on 8 April 1546,[39] after the death of Martin Luther.[40]

Although 2 Maccabees was included by Luther[41] and other early reformers in their Bibles, they were rejected as not being on the same level as canonical writings.[42] Martin Luther said: "I am so great an enemy to the second book of the Maccabees, and to Esther, that I wish they had not come to us at all, for they have too many heathen unnaturalities."[43] Other evangelical writers have been more positive towards the book: twentieth century author James B. Jordan, for example, argues that while 1 Maccabees "was written to try and show the Maccabean usurpers as true heirs of David and as true High Priests" and is a "wicked book", a "far more accurate picture of the situation is given in 2 Maccabees."[44]

Liturgical usage and theological significance

In the Roman Catholic Church, the Latin Church Lectionary makes use of texts from 2 Maccabees 6 and 7, along with texts from 1 Maccabees 1 to 6, in the weekday readings for the 33rd week in Ordinary Time, in year 1 of the two-year cycle of readings, always in November, and as one of the options available for readings during a Mass for the Dead.[45]

The texts regarding the martyrdoms under Antiochus IV in 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees are held in high esteem by the Anabaptists, who faced persecution in their history.[46]


  1. ^ Knight, G. A. F., Maccabees, Encyclopædia Britannica, accessed 14 January 2021
  2. ^ "The Books of the Maccabees | biblical literature". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-05-30.
  3. ^ II Maccabees: "Unlike I Maccabees, the book known as II Maccabees was written in Greek."
  4. ^ Stuckenbruck, Loren T.; Gurtner, Daniel M. (2019). T&T Clark Encyclopedia of Second Temple Judaism Volume One. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9780567658135. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  5. ^ a b Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985.
  6. ^ Article VI at Archived 2007-09-28 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "The Thirty-nine Articles: I-VIII".
  8. ^ 2 Maccabees 2:23
  9. ^ 2 Maccabees 15:36
  10. ^ Koller, A., Purim, accessed 17 January 2021
  11. ^ Jerusalem Bible (1966), The Second Book of Maccabees
  12. ^ 2 Maccabees 10:10: NABRE
  13. ^ (A)nd they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 12:42–45)
  14. ^ 12:44 For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead.
  15. ^ "NAB 2 Maccabees 15:14". February 12, 2013. Archived from the original on 2013-02-12.
  16. ^ Akin, J., Defending the Deuterocanonicals
  17. ^ "Septuagint". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  18. ^ Ellis, E. Earle (2003). The Old Testament in early Christianity : canon and interpretation in the light of modern research. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. pp. 34, 35. ISBN 978-1592442560.
  19. ^ VanderKam, James C.; Flint, Peter (2004). The meaning of the Dead Sea scrolls : their significance for understanding the Bible, Judaism, Jesus, and Christianity (1st paperback ed.). San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco. p. 99. ISBN 978-0060684655.
  20. ^ Life after death: a history of the afterlife in the religions of the West (2004), Anchor Bible Reference Library, Alan F. Segal, p. 363
  21. ^ Muddiman, John (2004). Barton, John (ed.). The Oxford Bible commentary (Repr. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 618. ISBN 978-0199277186.
  22. ^ Jr, Gleason Archer (2007). A survey of Old Testament introduction ([Rev. and expanded]. ed.). Chicago, IL: Moody Press. p. 81, 82. ISBN 978-0802484345.
  23. ^ Freedman, David Noel; Allen C. Myers; Astrid B. Beck, eds. (2000). Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible ([Nachdr.] ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman. p. 426. ISBN 978-0802824004.
  24. ^ Eusebius, of Caesarea. Ecclesiastical History Book 6 Chapter 25:1–2. newadvent. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  25. ^ Augustine of Hippo. On Christian Doctrine Book II Chapter 8:2. newadvent. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  26. ^ "Letter of Innocent I on the Canon of Scripture".
  27. ^ Westcott, Brooke Foss (2005). A general survey of the history of the canon of the New Testament (6th ed.). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. p. 570. ISBN 1597522392.
  28. ^ "Canon XXIV. (Greek xxvii.)", The Canons of the 217 Blessed Fathers who assembled at Carthage, Christian Classics Ethereal Library
  29. ^ B.F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (5th ed. Edinburgh, 1881), pp. 440, 541–42.
  30. ^ "CHURCH FATHERS: Council of Carthage (A.D. 419)".
  31. ^ in Trullo, Council. The Apostolic Canons. Canon 85. newadvent. Retrieved 12 October 2016.
  32. ^ "Session 11–4 February 1442".
  33. ^ "Session IV Celebrated on the eighth day of April, 1546 under Pope Paul III".
  34. ^ Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1999. p. 985. ISBN 9780877790440. Retrieved 24 December 2016. added the extra books.
  35. ^ Allison, Gregg (2012). How the Bible Was Formed: A Zondervan Digital Short. Grand Rapids, MI: HarperCollins Publishing. ISBN 9780310496144. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  36. ^ Hubert, Jedin (1947). apal Legate At The Council Of Trent. St Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co. p. 270. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  37. ^ White, James R. (2004). Scripture Alone: Exploring the Bible's Accuracy, Authority and Authenticity. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers. ISBN 978-0764220487. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  38. ^ New Catholic encyclopedia. 3. Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America. 2003. pp. 20, 26, 390.
  39. ^ Metzger, Bruce M. (March 13, 1997). The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance. Oxford University Press. p. 246. ISBN 0-19-826954-4. Finally on 8 April 1546, by a vote of 24 to 15, with 16 abstensions, the Council issued a decree (De Canonicis Scripturis) in which, for the first time in the history of the Church, the question of the contents of the Bible was made an absolute article of faith and confirmed by an anathema.
  40. ^ Nichols, Stephen. "Martin Luther's Death and Legacy". Ligonier Ministries. Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved 24 December 2016.
  41. ^ Hiers, Richard H. (2001). The Trinity Guide to the Bible (Pbk. ed.). Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press International. p. 148. ISBN 978-1563383403.
  42. ^ McDonald, Lee Martin (2009). Forgotten scriptures: the selection and rejection of early religious writings (1st ed.). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 81. ISBN 978-0664233570.
  43. ^ Luther, Martin (1893) [1566]. "Of God's Word: XXIV". The Table-Talk of Martin Luther. trans. William Hazlitt. Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society. LCC BR332.T4.
  44. ^ Jordan, James B. (2007). The Handwriting on the Wall: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel. American Vision. p. 580.
  45. ^ Roman Missal, Lectionary, Revised Edition approved for use in the dioceses of England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, published by Collins, Geoffrey Chapman and Veritas, 1981, 1982, volumes 2 and 3
  46. ^ deSilva, David A. (20 February 2018). Introducing the Apocrypha: Message, Context, and Significance. Baker Books. ISBN 978-1-4934-1307-2.

Further reading

2 Maccabees Deuterocanon / Apocrypha Preceded by1 Maccabees Catholic and OrthodoxBooks of the Bible Succeeded by3 Maccabees in the Eastern Orthodox OT Job in the Current Roman Catholic OT Matthew in the Older Roman Catholic OT
Wikisource has original text related to this article: 2 Maccabees