2 Maccabees

Like 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees is named for the heroes of ancient Israel who rebelled against their Greek overlords and asserted their independence from the remnants of Alexander the Great’s empire. It is not, though, a continuation of 1 Maccabees. Rather, it is the telling of the tale of the Maccabean rebellion from another point of view. Accordingly, what we have in 1 and 2 Maccabees are two ‘competing’ histories, the comparison of which leads to a fairly clear understanding of the purpose of each.

1:1-2:18 Introductory ‘epistles’
2:19-32 Preface to the book
3-10 The miraculous rescue of the Temple and the destruction of its would be destroyer
11-14 Wars and rumours of war

Date and authorship

The book claims to be an abridgement of a history in five books written by one Jason of Cyrene, who is not otherwise known (2:23). R. H. Charles suggests that a possible purpose of the text is to serve as Anti-Hasmonean literature, that is, it implicitly attacks the Hasmonean dynasty founded by the Maccabees. If this is correct, then the material herein can be dated some time before 105 BCE. The author appears to be someone with an almost fundamentalistic view of Judaism, more specifically a Pharisee (see the next paragraph).


The tone of 2 Maccabees is quite different from that of 1 Maccabees. Here the Jewish converts to Hellenism are virtually held responsible for the ills of the land. They are the authentic foe of the people of God and as such, are far worse than the Gentile oppressors. 2 Maccabees seems best understood as an explanation of Pharisaism. Reading the volume through that lens provides ample resources for a fairly complete ‘theology of the Pharisees’ shortly before the beginning of the Christian era. Key to its outlook are the themes of punishment, election, sin, rebellion, salvation, the Temple, and prayers for the dead.

Further reading

Achtemeier, Paul J., ed. Harper’s Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2. Society of Biblical Literature. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985.
Bartlett, John R. “2 Maccabees.” Pages 831-50 in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Edited by James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003.
Doran, R. “2 Maccabees.” Pages 734-50 in The Oxford Bible Commentary. Edited by John Barton and John Muddiman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Goldstein, Jonathan A. 2 Maccabees. Anchor Bible 41A. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007; London: Yale University Press, 2007.