Biblical Studies First–Fourth Maccabees
Jan W. van Henten
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0041


Several ancient versions of the Old Testament contain four books named after the Maccabees, which are not part of the Hebrew Bible. Hippolytus of Rome mentions for the first time several of these Books of the Maccabees in a reference to 1 Maccabees in his Commentary on Dan (4.3). Manuscripts of the Septuagint include sometimes two and sometimes three or four of these Maccabean books. The Codex Alexandrinus from the 5th century CE is the oldest manuscript that contains all four books. The obvious reason for the development of a cluster of Books of the Maccabees is that three writings are devoted to Maccabean heroes, either the five sons of a priest from Modein called Mattathias or the Maccabean martyrs who died during the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The name “Maccabee” itself comes from the surname of Mattathias’s oldest son Judas: the Maccabee (o9 Makkabai = oj) and probably derives from the Hebrew Maqqabi, meaning “Hammer” or “Hammerer.” This may refer to the physical appearance of Judas or to his military success. There is no direct connection between a group of Maccabees and 3 Maccabees, which is sometimes called “About the Ptolemies.” However, the narrative of 3 Maccabees concerns a deliverance from Greek oppression as the other three Maccabean books do, and the related content as well as certain connections with 2 Maccabees explains why the Third Book became part of this small collection of Hellenistic-Jewish writings.

General Overviews

Apart from many short entries in various encyclopedias, dictionaries, and handbooks (Fischer and Anderson 1992), there are only a few general treatments of the Books of the Maccabees, or at least several of the books. One explanation of this situation concerns the different status of the books in connection with the various canons of Holy Scripture. 1 and 2 Maccabees belong to the Deuterocanonical or apocryphal books of the Old Testament. Dörrie 1937 indicates why 3 and 4 Maccabees never reached a canonical status in any church. Another explanation concerns the different origins of the books. 1 Maccabees was probably written in Jerusalem, but 3 and 4 Maccabees derive from the diaspora. The origin of 2 Maccabees is debated. Collins 2000 discusses 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees in this study of Jewish identity constructions in the diaspora in the Hellenistic period. Mittmann-Richert 2000 offers so far the most detailed introduction to the historiographical books (1–3 Maccabees). Two works about the Septuagint, the Old Greek translation of the books of the Hebrew Bible with additional books, include introductions to all four Maccabean books (Karrer and Kraus 2011, Aitken 2015). DiTommaso 2001 and Lehnhardt 1999 deal with apocryphal and pseudepigraphical writings with entries on 1–4 Maccabees. Xeravits and Zsengellér 2007 and Baslez and Munnich 2014 are collections of essays devoted to various aspects of the Maccabean books.

  • Aitken, James K., ed. The T&T Clark Companion to the Septuagint. London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015.

    This companion to the Septuagint offers readable introductions to all four Maccabean books, focusing on introductory issues and offering bibliographies to each book.

  • Baslez, Marie-Françoise, and Olivier Munnich, eds. La mémoire des persécutions: Autour des livres des Maccabées. Collection de la Revue des Études juives 56. Leuven, Belgium: Peeters, 2014.

    Collection of essays devoted to historical issues such as the persecution by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175–164 BCE), memory, literary analysis, and aspects of the reception history of 1, 2, and 4 Maccabees (mainly the Maccabean martyrdoms).

  • Collins, John J. Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000.

    Monograph about various identity constructions within diaspora Judaism in the Hellenistic era includes good discussions of 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees and puts these books in the broader cultural context of diaspora Judaism.

  • DiTommaso, Lorenzo. A Bibliography of Pseudepigrapha Research, 1850–1999. Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement Series 39. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001.

    Bibliography with entries on 3 and 4 Maccabees, listing publications on the various versions of the text, translations and commentaries, as well as general and specific studies.

  • Dörrie, Heinrich. “Die Stellung der vier Makkabäerbücher im Kanon der griechischen Bibel.” Nachrichten von der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Philologisch-Historische Klasse Fachgruppe 5.1.2 (1937): 45–54.

    Classical discussion of the canonical status of all four books in the Greek version of the Old Testament.

  • Fischer, Thomas, and Hugh Anderson. “Books of the Maccabees.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 4. Edited by David N. Freedman, 439–454. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    More elaborate survey than usual for a dictionary article, with good introductions to all four books and bibliographies (including references up to c. 1990).

  • Karrer, Martin, and Wolfgang Kraus, eds. Septuaginta Deutsch: Erläuterungen und Kommentare zum griechischen Alten Testament. Vol. 1, Genesis bis Makkabäer. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2011.

    This German commentary on the books of the Septuagint includes introductions to all four Maccabean books, brief per verse explanations of the content and notes about the social, cultural, and historical context.

  • Lehnhardt, Andreas. Bibliographie zu den Jüdischen Schriften aus hellenistisch-römischer Zeit. Jüdische Schriften aus hellenistisch-römischer Zeit 6.2 Supplementa. Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1999.

    Bibliography with entries on 1–4 Maccabees, listing publications on editions, translations, and commentaries, as well as articles and monographs on specific topics in these books.

  • Mittmann-Richert, Ulrike. Einführung zu den historischen und legendarischen Erzählungen. Jüdische Schriften aus hellenistisch-römischer Zeit 6.1.1. Gütersloh, Germany: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2000.

    Elaborate introductions to 1, 2, and 3 Maccabees, focusing on introductory issues, composition, and content of these books.

  • Siegert, Folker. Einleitung in die hellenistisch-jüdische Literatur. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110353778

    Introduction to Hellenistic-Jewish writings includes useful introductory information about all four Maccabean books.

  • Xeravits, Géza, and József Zsengellér, eds. The Books of the Maccabees: History, Theology, Ideology; Papers of the Second International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books, Påapa, Hungary, 9–11 June, 2005. Journal for the Study of Judaism Supplements 118. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    Collection of essays devoted to various aspects of the Maccabean books, mainly 1 and 2 Maccabees.

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