AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | II Macc: Title, Author, and Characteristics | Date | Historicity | Contents | Greek Text and the Versions | Literature


In the two uncials A and V the title is Μακκαβαίων β´, and this is followed in all the cursives.
As pointed out above, Cod. B does not include any of the books of the Maccabees.
II Maccabees does not figure in Cod. א.
Il Maccabees is not a continuation of I Maccabees, but deals with part of the history contained in this latter.
That, unlike I Maccabees, our book was originally written in Greek is generally acknowledged.

The main part of the book is said to be an abbreviation of the history of Jason of Cyrene (ii.23).
The truth of this is borne out by the way in which the material is presented.
The narrative consists of broken pieces, thrown down in a somewhat haphazard fashion, without historical sequence.
An author writing his own work would not be guilty of such literary slovenliness.
The difficulty that the Epitomist experienced in making his extract must be his excuse for this.
He says it was a "painful labour," a matter of "sweat and watching" (ii.26).
Whether the irritating verbosity, so characteristic of the book, was imitated from Jason, or whether this is the style of the Epitomist, it is certainly an unattractive element in the work.

A striking thing about the book is its Pharisaic spirit and general tendency.
This was long ago convincingly shown by Geiger [Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel, pp.219 (1857).]:
Sabbath observance is noted in I Macc.ii.32-38, but it is abrogated in case of need during wartime (ii.40, 41), and it would appear that even the Hasidim acquiesced in this.
But in II Maccabees the whole spirit of its observance is different (v.25, viii.26, .38; xv.1 ff.;
the last reads almost like a protest against I Macc.ii.40, 41).
It is the later, specifically Pharisaic, attitude.
Again, the Pharisees ardently taught belief in the resurrection, and we have a striking instance of this in the story of the martyrdom of the seven sons and their mother (vii).
Thus in verse 9 one of the martyrs cries:

"... the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto an eternal renewal of life"
(see also verses 14, 23, 29, 36).

The Pharisaic attitude is further seen in the long drawn-out account of the martyrdom of Eleazar,

"one of the principal scribes" (vi.18 ff.);

the scribes were predominantly members of the Pharisaic party.

From the point of view of the history of Jewish parties during the last pre-Christian century this pro-Pharisaic bias is of special interest because of its strongly anti-Hasmonaean animus which is both subtly implied as well as explicitly set forth.
In x.1, e.g., it is said,

"Maccabaeus and they that were with him,
the Lord leading them on,
recovered the temple and the city".

The words, "the Lord leading them on" are evidently intended as an implicit rebuke, since in the parallel narrative in I Macc.iv.36 ff. it is Judas and his brethren, with never a hint of divine help, who accomplish this.
Again, in xv.1 ff., where it is a question of fighting on the Sabbath, Nicanor is made to ask whether there is a Sovereign in heaven that had commanded to keep the Sabbath day.
The reply is

"There is the Lord, living himself a Sovereign in heaven, who bade us observe the seventh day".

It is then added that Nicanor was not able to execute his purpose of fighting against the Jews on the Sabbath.
Here we have another implicit hit at the Hasmonaeans who, according to I Macc.ii.40, 41, decided that fighting on the Sabbath was justified under certain circumstances.

In addition to these covert rebukes there are one or two instances of a
Thus in x.20 ff., Simon is charged with covetousness, and the Maccabaean brothers with their followers are represented as having fallen out.
Whether this was historically true or not there is not a word about it in I Maccabees.
And, once more, in xiv.17 Simon is said to have suffered a reverse at the hands of Nicanor;
but in the much fuller account of Nicanor's fighting, in I Macc.vii.26 ff., nothing is said of any reverse overtaking Simon.
It is possible that II Maccabees has here preserved a detail wanting in the older book.
Nevertheless, the far more reliable history of I Maccabees makes it more probable that this is merely an anti-Hasmonaean thrust on the part of the Pharisaic writer.
The most significant fact, however, about this attitude is the protest of the writer of II Maccabees against the exclusive claims of the Hasmonaeans and their Sadducaean partisans, expressed in the words:

"Now God, who saved all his people, and restored the heritage to all,
and the kingdom, and the priesthood, and the hallowing,
even as he promised through the law, -
in God have we hope,
that he will quickly have mercy on us,
and gather us together out of all the earth into the holy place ..."

(ii.17, 18).

There can be no shadow of doubt as to what is implied by these words.

[For the antagonism between the Pharisees and the Hasmonaeans with their Sadducaean following, which began as early as the reign of John Hyrcanus, (134/3-104/3BC), see Oesterley and Robinson, A History of Israel, ii.282 ff. (1933).]

One thing is, however, noteworthy in this connexion.
Although II Maccabees must be regarded as definitely anti-Hasmonaean, there is never a word said against Judas.
Indeed, in so far as the book is concerned with the Maccabaean struggle, his exploits alone are dealt with, so that there would have been ample scope for seeking anything against him had such been the wish of the writer.
The reason why Judas is not only not found fault with, but is placed in the position of the Maccabaean, to the exclusion of his brothers, brings us to another characteristic of the book connected with Pharisaism.
This is connected with the two feasts mentioned in the book, in regard to each of which Judas appears as the really important person concerned, viz. the feast of Hanukkah, and the feast of Nicanor.

It is doubtless of set purpose that these feasts are described at the close of each of the two divisions, respectively, of our book; the intention being by this means to stress their importance.
As religious institutions they would naturally have appealed to the Pharisaic Epitomist.

Regarding the feast of Hanukkah it is said in x.6-8:

"And they kept eight days with gladness in the manner of (the feast of) Tabernacles. ...
They ordained also with a common statute and decree, for all the nation of the Jews,
that they should keep these days every year."

Furthermore, in his long Preface, the Epitomist is almost entirely concerned with this feast and with what he regards as precedents in justification of its inauguration.

Then as to the feast of Nicanor, which is, naturally enough, of far less importance, after Judas' defeat of the Syrian forces, it is said:

"And they all ordained with a common decree in no wise to let this day pass undistinguished,
but to mark with honour the thirteenth day of the twelfth month ... "

It is hardly necessary to say that neither of these feasts had Biblical authority;
and yet they were evidently very popular, and the former at any rate, has been observed ever since.
[Nicanor's Day was not observed after the seventh century.]

But feasts, which were of Hasmonaean origin, and without the sanction of the Law, can hardly have been regarded with favour in Pharisaic circles.
To abrogate them was out of the question for they had become settled institutions.
The only thing to be done, therefore, was to discover some point of attachment between the feasts in question and feasts of Biblical authority. Hochfeld [In Z.A.T.W. for 1902, pp.276 f.] points to the expression in II Macc.i.9, 18, σκηνοπηγία τοῦ χασελεῦ μηνός ("the feast of tabernacles of the month Chislev") as a description of the feast of Hanukkah, and the reference in connexion therewith to the feast of Tabernacles proper (Sukkoth) in x.6.
What was needed, he says, was a Biblical feast by means of which Hanukkah could be brought into the circle of the feasts of ancient tradition.
For this purpose Sukkoth commended itself both because chronologically they were close to one another (Sukkoth 15 Tishri onwards, Hanukkah 25 Chislev onwards), and also because of their similar duration of eight days;
perhaps, moreover, because the dedication of Solomon's temple (I Kgs.viii.2) also took place during Sukkoth.
Thus, a point of attachment was found for the feast of Hanukkah and a feast of the Law whereby it could be made acceptable to the Pharisees in spite of its origin.
But the method of doing this was characteristically Pharisaic, and offers further support to the contention that the Epitomist was a Pharisee.

Regarding Nicanor's Day the process was not so successful.
It is said in xv.36:

" ... but to mark with honour the thirteenth day of the twelfth month
(it is called Adar in the Syrian tongue)".

Then the addition of the words

"the day before the day of Mordecai"

seems to be an attempt to connect it with the feast of Purim (see Esther ix.17-19)

One other characteristic of the book to be noted is the love of the miraculous and of supernatural apparitions.
The Epitomist prepares us for these in his Preface, where he speaks of

"the manifestations that came from heaven unto those that vied with one another in manful deeds for the religion of the Jews" (ii.21),

as among the things which he is about to relate in his abridged form of Jason of Cyrene's work.

The first of these manifestations is described in chap.iii, where Heliodorus is prevented from robbing the Temple by the appearance of "a horse with a terrible rider upon him";
two young men of great strength accompany him, standing on either side of Heliodorus, and scourge him unceasingly, whereby he is made "to recognize the sovereignty of God."
Presently the rider appears again, bidding Heliodorus give thanks to God that his life had been spared;
this Heliodorus does, and all is well.
[See, further, Nestle in the Z.A.T.W. for 1905, pp.203 f.]

The next description is much shorter, and somewhat pointless-perhaps due to the abridgement:
for forty days, nearly, "throughout the city" armed horsemen appear in the sky, drawn up in battle array.
They attack and retreat.
But nothing definite happens (v.2, 3).
Whether in Jason's work this was in some way connected with the campaign of Antiochus Epiphanes in Egypt, which is referred to at the beginning of the section, it is impossible to say.

The next apparition described (x.24-31) occurs in answer to prayer.
Judas Maccabaeus is about to fight Timotheus.
But he first joins with his soldiers in prayer that God will be

"an enemy to their enemies and an adversary to their adversaries."

They then enter into the battle, when five riders appear out of heaven, two of whom take Judas between them, cover him with their armour, and guard him from wounds, while they attack the enemy with arrows and thunderbolts with terrible effect.
The victory is with Judas.

Finally, we have the account of how, on the approach of Lysias with his army, Judas and all the people prayed that the Lord would "send a good angel to save Israel."
Thereupon they sallied forth to meet the enemy;
and "there appeared at their head one on horseback in white apparel".
This so heartened them that they fell upon the enemy like lions, and won a great victory (xi.1-14)

While it must be acknowledged that there is an air of unreality about all these stories, it is only right to recognize that a genuine piety prompts the composer of them, whether Jason of Cyrene or the Epitomist. In nearly every case the apparition is the result of prayer.
Evidently, therefore, the narrator believed in the possibility of such apparitions in times of special stress.
In so far as this testifies to a trust in divine protection it witnesses to deep religious conviction.
If the ideas of the mode of divine interposition in the affairs of men strike us as naive, it must be recognized that that is not the fault of the writer, but of his age.
The credulousness of an unenlightened age should not be allowed to detract from the sincerity of the individual.


An important factor in considering the date of our book is the question as to whether the writer was acquainted with I Maccabees.
And the matter is complicated further by the uncertainty as to how far the Epitomist relied solely on Jason of Cyrene, and how far he added material of his own.
[As Schurer says (op. cit., iii.485):
"We do not know how much belongs to the Epitomist and how much to the original writer."]

This, unfortunately, is not a question that can be answered with any certainty.

From what has been said in the previous section it will have been seen that there are strong grounds for the contention that the existence of I Maccabees is assumed in II Maccabees.
It must also be asserted that the strongly marked Pharisaic tendency of the book, spoken of above, is too deep-seated to be regarded as belonging to the Epitomist alone.
It was Jason of Cyrene himself who represented this attitude.
As to the date of I Maccabees, we have seen reasons for regarding this as approximately 90-70BC (see above, p.301).
Therefore, on the present view, Il Maccabees must at the earliest be later than this date, and this will apply to Jason's work equally with the book as we now have it.

The breach between the Pharisees and the Hasmonaeans took place towards the end of the reign of John Hyrcanus, in the year 106BC. [Josephus, Antiq. i.288-298.]

Some time must have elapsed before the breach had assumed such proportions as to find expression in written documents; on the other hand, Philo, who died about AD 40, knew our book (Quod omn. prob. liber, ii.459 [Mangey]).
A nearer date than, approximately, the middle of the last pre-Christian century for Jason's work hardly seems possible;
nor is there anything to show how much time elapsed before the Epitomist undertook his work.
It is certain only that it was written well before the death of Philo.

It is, however, necessary to point out that there is considerable difference of opinion as to the date both of Jason's work and of the book in its present form.
An exhaustive list of opinions is not called for, but a few of those of wellknown writers may be given.

Niese believes that it was written before I Maccabees, an opinion with which very few scholars agree.
Hochfeld, following Geiger, puts the year 106BC as the terminus a quo, and the time of Herod, or the beginning of the Christian era, as the terminus ad quem.
Schurer thinks that Jason wrote not long after the year 161BC, while as to the Epitomist "it can only be said that he is earlier than Philo."
dates the book in its present form as belonging to "about the beginning of the Christian era".
And Moffatt holds that Jason's work may be dated "roughly after 130BC," while "the epitome falls not later than the first half of the first century B.C." (See literature, VI.)

These few opinions, of a much larger number, are of course the outcome of solid arguments.
But to deal with these here would take up far too much space.
The question is undoubtedly a difficult one to decide within close limits, but the main argument in coming to a decision must rest, we believe, on the Pharisaic element in the book.


Even more pronounced than the differences of opinion regarding the date of our book are those held about its historical value.
Some scholars, such as Schlatter 1 and Niese, place, as it seems to us, far too great a reliability on its historical trustworthiness.

Others depreciate it, perhaps unduly. [E.g. Willrich, Kosters.]

That II Maccabees has preserved some historical data not recorded in I Maccabees may well be the fact.
That Il Maccabees has distorted history in certain directions is demonstrable.
So that there is something to be said for each of these two positions.
But, upon the whole, it is probable, we believe, that the depreciatory attitude is nearer the truth than that which would place an exaggerated value on the historical records of our book; and for these reasons:

  1. The marked contrast between the sober, straightforward, historical presentation of I Maccabees, and the exaggerated, often fantastic, statements in Il Maccabees, together with its chronological disorder, creates an unfavourable impression regarding the reliability of this latter.
  2. The divergence between the two books must as a rule, though there may be some exceptions, be decided in favour of I Maccabees, a fact that detracts from the reliability of Il Maccabees.
  3. The tendency of II Maccabees to subordinate the facts of history to the interests of Pharisaic propaganda must arouse suspicion as to the bona fides of II Maccabees. [See Geiger, op. cit., pp.219 ff.; Wellhausen, Die Pharisaer und Sadduzaer p.282 (1874).]
  4. There are a number of historical mistakes in II Maccabees (iv.21, ix.2, 9; x.11; i.22, cp. I Macc.vii.47; xv.33, 37); whether due to ignorance, or other cause, such things undermine confidence. [See further, Willrich, Urkundenfalschung pp.44-57.]

Thus, facts compel one to regard with considerable suspicion the historical reliability of Il Maccabees.
Though it must be recognized that in some instances historical details that are peculiar to II Maccabees are based upon facts (e.g. chap.iii in parts), and in so far our book has a value for the study of the history of the period.


Introductory Letters


The Jews of Palestine send greetings to the Jews of Egypt. God's blessing is invoked on the latter. The sore trials through which the Palestinian Jews had passed are briefly referred to, special mention being made of the evil perpetrated by Jason and his following. The greeting concludes with an exhortation to the Egyptian Jews to observe the feast of Tabernacles in the month Chislev, i.e. the festival of the Dedication of the Temple. i.1-10a.
A second letter from the Palestinian Jews to the Jews of Egypt, in which the exhortation to observe the feast of Tabernacles in the month Chislev is repeated (verses 13-16 are in parentheses). Precedents from past history regarding the re-kindling of the altar fire. i.10b-ii.18.

[Willrich, Juden und Griechen vor der makkabaischen Erliebung, pp.76 f (1895); Buchler, Das Sendschreiben der Jerusalmer an die Juden in Aegypten ... in "Monatschr. f. Gesch. u. Wissensch. des Judenthums," 481-500, 529-554 (1897); Torrey, "Die Briefe ii. Makk." i.1-18, in the Z.A.T.W. for 1900, p.225-242; Herkenne, "Die Briefe zu Beginn des Zweiten Makka-Werbuc es," in Bardenhewer's Biblische Studien, viii.(1904); Laqueur, Kritische Untersuchungen zum zweiten Makkabaer buch, pp.52 (1904); Wellhausen ''Ueber den geschichtlichen Wert des zweiten Makkabaerbuchs in Nachr. der Gat. Get. der Wissensch., Phil.-hist. K.I., pp.117-163 (1905)] 

The Epitomist's Preface


The record of the events about to be recounted is taken from the large work of Jason of Cyrene. Tthe writer says that he intends to offer only an abridged form of the work before him. ii.19-32.

Pre-Maccabaean History


The attempt of Heliodorus, envoy of the Syrian king Seleucus IV, to plunder the Temple. He is induced to undertake this owing to the report of Simon, " the guardian of the Temple," concerning the immensity of the Temple treasure. The miraculous way in which the attempt was frustrated. iii.1-40.
Onias, the High-priest, seeks the intervention of the Syrian king in order that the strife between him and Simon may be ended. iv.1-6.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeeds to the Syrian throne. Jason, through bribery, receives from him the High priest's office; his encouragement of the Hellenistic Jews. iv.7-22.
Menelaus, by offering a higher bribe, supplants Jason in the High priesthood. He causes Onias, the real High priest, to be murdered by Andronicus, who is punished by the king for his act. iv.23-38.
Lysimachus, with the connivance of Menelaus, commits many sacrilegious acts. He is killed by the mob. iv.39-42.
Menelaus, in spite of his wicked deeds, succeeds in retaining the High-priesthood. iv.43-50.
An account of a miraculous appearance of warriors in the sky. v.1-3.
Jason's attack on Jerusalem in the hope of regaining the High priesthood; his death. v.4-10.
Antiochus Epiphanes, under the impression that Jason's attack had been a revolt of the Jews, takes a terrible vengeance on the city. Judas Maccabaeus is mentioned for the first time. v.11-27.
The Temple is desecrated at the command of Antiochus Epiphanes. vi.1-11.
Parenthetic Legendary Material. vi.12-vii.42.
The doctrine of retribution. vi.12-17.
The martyrdom of Eleazar the scribe. vi.18-31.
The martyrdom of the seven sons and their mother. vii.1-42.
The Maccabaean Rising. viii.1-xv.36.
Judas Maccabaeus musters a following. viii.1-7.
The victory of Judas over Nicanor. viii.8-29.
The victory of Judas over Timotheus and Bacchides. viii.30-33.
The humiliation of Nicanor. viii.34-36.
The terrible sufferings of Antiochus Epiphanes; his repentance and his letter to the Jews; his death. ix.1-29.
The clearing of the Temple under the guidance of Judas; the inauguration of the feast of Dedication. x.1-9.
Antiochus V Eupator becomes king; the death of Ptolemy Macron, satrap of Cocle-Syria. x.10-13.
Judas defeats the Idumaeans. x.14-23.
The victory of Judas over Timotheus owing to the miraculous appearance of five heavenly horsemen. x.24-38.
Judas defeats Lysias, the regent, after the miraculous appearance of a rider in white apparel who rides at the head of the Jewish forces. A treaty of peace between the Syrians and the Jews is concluded. xi.1-38.
Timotheus and his followers break the peace in Joppa and Jamnia. Judas, who also defeats the Arabians, punishes them. The city of Caspin is captured. .1-25.
Further successes of Judas. .26-37.
Judas makes a propitiation on behalf of those who have fallen. .38-45.
The death of Menelaus. i.1-8.
The unsuccessful campaign of Antiochus Eupator and Lysias against Judas. A peace is arranged. i.9-26.
Demetrius, being now king, is urged by Alkimus, "who had formerly been high-priest" to send Nicanor against the Jews. Nicanor, however, makes peace with Judas. Alkimus misrepresents Nicanor's action with unfortunate results. xiv.1-36.
The tragedy of Razis, an elder of Jerusalem. xiv.37-46.
Nicanor's attack on the Jews; his defeat and death; the institution of "Nicanor's day". xv.1-36.
The concluding words of the Epitomist. xv.37-39.



In general, see under I Maccabees (p.34).
In most of the MSS the two books are found together, so that their textual history is similar.
There are a certain number of corruptions, sometimes serious, in the text;
difficulties occur, e.g. in iv.34; viii.33; ix.14, and in many other places.
Several Latin Versions, or portions of them, are in existence.
The Old Latin is preserved in the Vulgate.
A different Latin Version is represented in a MS (Cod. Ambrosianus), published by Peyron, Ciceronis orationum pro Scauro ?, pp.73-117 (1824), and another in Codex Complutensis (Berger, Notices et extraits de la Bibl. Nat., pp.147-152 (1895);
and further, Molsdorf has published some fragments (iii.13-iv- 4, iv.10-14) which differ in various ways from the other Old Latin MSS. (Z.A.T.W., 1904, pp.240-250).
The Syriac Version is not of much help as it is too free a translation.


Grimm, op. cit., iv.3 ff. (1857).
Geiger, Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel, pp.219 ff. (1857).
Wellhausen, Die Pharisder und Sadduzder (1874).
Kosters, Theol.
Tydschrift for 1878, pp.491-558.
Rawlinson, in Wace, op. cit., ii.539 ff. (1888).
Willrich, Juden und Griechen vor der makkabaischen Erhebung, pp.64 ff. (1895).
Willrich, Urkundenfalschung ?, pp.14-36 (1924).
Schlatter, Jason von Kyrene, ein Beitrag zu seiner Wiederherstellung (1891).
Weiss, Judas Makkabaus, Ein Lebensbild (1897).
Buchler, Die Tobiaden und Oniaden im II Makkabaerbuche, pp.277-398 (1899).
Niese, Kritik der beiden Makkabderbacher ... (1900).
Kamphausen, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.81 - 119 (1900).
Andre, op. cit., pp.86 ff. (1903).
Scharer, op. cit., i.32-40 (1901), iii.482-489 (1909).
Hochfeld, "Die Enstehung des Hanukkafestes," in the Z.A.T.W. for 1902, pp.264-284.
Laqueur, Kritische Untersuchungen Zum zweiten Makkabaerbuch (1904).
Moffatt, in Charles, op. cit., i.125-154 (1913).