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APOCRYPHA SUMMARIES


Book

Approximate Historical Period

Earliest Manuscripts and Versions

Detailed Summary

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)

c. 3rd - 2nd century BC

Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, Latin, Ethiopic

Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, is a collection of ethical teachings and practical advice. It emphasises wisdom, reverence, and piety in daily life.

1 Maccabees

c. 2nd century BC

Septuagint, Vulgate, Ethiopic

1 Maccabees recounts the struggle for Yashara'alite independence under the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire, highlighting acts of valour and faithfulness.


Setting: Judea, 175-134 BC, under the rule of the Seleucid Empire.


The Seleucid Empire, established in 312 BC by Macedonian general Seleucus I Nicator, was a major power in West Asia during the Hellenistic period. 


Emerging from the fragmented remains of Alexander the Great's vast empire, the Seleucids ruled until their eventual annexation by the Roman Republic under Pompey in 63 BC.



Main Characters:

Mattathias the Hasmonean: A devout Judean priest who refuses to comply with King Antiochus IV's Hellenization policies and ignites the rebellion.


Yahawadah (Judah) Maccabee (Hammer): Mattathias' son, a skilled military leader who emerges as the central figure of the revolt.


Jonathan Apphus and Simon Thassi: Other sons of Mattathias who play crucial roles in the struggle.


King Antiochus IV Epiphanes: The Seleucid ruler who enforces Hellenization, triggering the Judean resistance.


Plot:

The book opens with the growing pressure on Jews to adopt Greek customs and worship deities besides their own. King Antiochus desecrates the Second Temple in Jerusalem, erecting a statue of Zeus and sacrificing pigs on the altar. This act, along with other oppressive measures, fuels widespread resentment.


The Revolt:

Mattathias refuses to comply with Hellenization demands and kills a Judean apostate in public, sparking the rebellion.


He gathers followers in the Judean wilderness, forming a guerrilla army known as the Maccabees.


Yahawadah (Judah) Maccabee takes command after Mattathias' death and defeats several Seleucid forces in impressive guerrilla warfare.


He recaptures Jerusalem and cleanses the Temple, rededicating it in a joyous celebration (Hanukkah).


Political Manoeuvring:

  • Yahawadah (Judah) seeks alliances with neighbouring powers like Rome to strengthen his position against the Seleucids.


  • He faces internal challenges and rivalries from fellow Jews who disagree with his tactics or leadership.


  • Yahawadah (Judah) dies in battle, but his brothers Jonathan and Simon continue the fight.


  • Jonathan secures a favourable treaty with the Seleucids, granting some autonomy to Judea.


  • Simon Thassi is declared High Priest and ruler of Judea, marking the establishment of the Hasmonean dynasty.


Themes:

  • Religious freedom and resistance against oppression

  • Military prowess and leadership

  • Importance of faith and divine favour

  • Political complexity and internal conflicts


1 Maccabees: Chapter by Chapter Summary

Chapters 1-2:

Introduce Alexander the Great's conquests and the rise of the Seleucid Empire.

Detail Antiochus IV Epiphanes' desecration of the Jerusalem Temple, including stealing sacred objects and enforcing Hellenistic practices.

Describe the initial Judean resistance led by Mattathias, a priest who refuses to comply with Antiochus' demands.


Chapters 3-9:

Focus on the leadership of Judas Maccabeus, Mattathias' son.

Chronicle Judas' military victories against Seleucid forces, including the recapture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple.

Narrate internal conflicts within Judea between pro-Hellenistic Jews and traditionalists supporting the Maccabees.

Record Judas' alliances with neighbouring powers and his death in battle.


Chapters 10-12:


Follow Jonathan Apphus, Judas' brother, succeeding him as leader.

Highlight Jonathan's diplomatic skills and ability to secure political and religious concessions from Seleucid rulers.

Detail conflicts with rival Judean factions and assassination attempts against Jonathan.


Chapters 13-16:

Describe Simon Thassi, another of Mattathias' sons, taking charge after Jonathan's death.

Document Simon's successful consolidation of power, elimination of rivals, and establishment of an independent Judean state.

Conclude with Simon's assassination and succession by his son John Hyrcanus.



Additional Notes:

The book emphasises the Maccabees' bravery, cunning, and reliance on God in their struggle.


It portrays the Seleucids as tyrannical and disrespectful of Yashara'alite traditions.

The historical accuracy of some events is debated by scholars, but the book remains a significant source for understanding the Maccabean Revolt.

2 Maccabees

c. 2nd century BC

Septuagint, Vulgate, Ethiopic

2 Maccabees complements the history of the Maccabean revolt found in 1 Maccabees. It includes accounts of martyrdom and prayers for the dead.


Setting: Judea, 175-161 BC, roughly overlapping with the period covered in 1 Maccabees.


Main Characters:

Onias III: A just High Priest removed from office by Antiochus IV (not present in 1 Maccabees).


Judas Maccabee and his brothers: Featured prominently in both books, though with less detailed accounts in 2 Maccabees.


Heliodorus: Seleucid official sent to plunder the Temple treasury (not in 1 Maccabees).


Nicanor: Seleucid general leading campaigns against the Maccabees (featured in 1 Maccabees as well).


Eleazar and the seven brothers: Judean martyrs who refuse to eat pork under Antiochus' decree.


Plot:

The book starts with two letters, purportedly from the Judean community in Jerusalem to Jews in Alexandria, Egypt. These letters emphasise Judean identity and religious observance. The main narrative then begins with:


A dream vision of Jeremiah the prophet encouraging Onias III to resist Hellenization.


A miraculous intervention by angels protecting the Temple treasury from Heliodorus' attempt to steal it.


An account of Antiochus IV's illness and death, emphasising divine punishment for his actions against the Jews.


Judas Maccabee's victories over Seleucid forces, presented with more supernatural elements and divine interventions compared to 1 Maccabees.


The martyrdom of Eleazar, an elderly scribe who refuses to comply with Hellenization demands and inspires others.


The story of the seven brothers and their mother, who are tortured and killed one by one for refusing to eat pork, showcasing their unwavering faith and courage.


Judas Maccabee's final battle against Nicanor and his miraculous victory, attributed to God's intervention.


The book concludes with a call to celebrate Hanukkah and emphasises the importance of remembering past struggles and upholding Judean traditions.


Themes:

Martyrdom and the power of faith: The book presents several examples of heroic individuals who choose death over compromising their beliefs.


Divine intervention and God's favour: Miracles and supernatural elements play a significant role in shaping the narrative and highlighting the belief in God's support for the Judean cause.


Emphasis on religious observance and identity: The text underscores the importance of upholding Judean traditions and resisting assimilation.


Political context and warfare: Though less detailed than 1 Maccabees, the book still portrays the struggle against Seleucid rule and celebrates military victories.



1 Maccabees: Chapter by Chapter Summary


Chapters 1-2:

Open with letters addressed to Egyptian Jews, urging them to celebrate a festival commemorating the rededication of the Temple.

Briefly summarise events from 1 Maccabees, presenting a more theological and symbolic interpretation.


Chapters 3-7:

Focus on specific episodes not found in 1 Maccabees, including Heliodorus' attempt to seize Temple treasures and the intervention of angels.


Highlight the martyrdom of the mother and her seven sons under Antiochus IV, emphasising their unwavering faith.


Chapters 8-15:

Narrate the Maccabean Revolt from Judas Maccabeus' perspective, emphasising divine guidance and miraculous interventions.

Include vivid descriptions of battles and victories against Seleucid forces, portraying Judas as a divinely chosen leader.


Chapters 16-17:

Depict the martyrdom of Razis and the suicide of Eleazar, showcasing their sacrifices for their faith.


Detail Judas' death in battle and the succession of his brothers Jonathan and Simon, emphasising their piety and leadership.


Chapters 18-19:

Conclude with a summary of Simon's achievements, including securing independence for Judea and expanding its territory.


Briefly mention Simon's succession by his son John Hyrcanus and offer concluding remarks on the importance of remembering past struggles.



Additional Notes:

The historical accuracy of 2 Maccabees is debated, with some events likely embellished or fictionalised for dramatic effect.


The book's focus on martyrdom and divine intervention distinguishes it from the more grounded approach of 1 Maccabees.


2 Maccabees served as a source of inspiration and spiritual encouragement for Jews living in the Hellenistic world.


Wisdom of Solomon

c. 1st century BC - 1st century AD

Septuagint, Vulgate, Ethiopic

The Wisdom of Solomon provides reflections on wisdom, righteousness, and the nature of Yahawah. It also explores the contrast between the righteous and the wicked.

Baruch

c. 6th - 2nd century BC

Septuagint, Vulgate, Ethiopic

The book of Baruch includes prayers, confessions, and a message of hope written during the Babylonian Captivity. It addresses the theme of repentance and Yahawah's mercy.

Letter of Jeremiah

c. 6th - 2nd century BC

Septuagint, Vulgate, Ethiopic

The Letter of Jeremiah is a companion piece to the book of Baruch. It is a pseudonymous letter of warning against idolatry and the futility of worshipping false Gods.


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