Apocrypha: 2 Maccabees

This is a much shorter historical document than 1 Maccabees, and by most accounts a less reliable one.  It was likely authored in the late second century BC.  It covers details not found in 1 Maccabees and contradicts some details provided in 1 Maccabees.  It only covers material up through Judas Maccabee and his exploits – roughly chapter 7 of 1 Maccabees,  so may have been composed earlier than 1 Maccabees.  The author of  this document himself describes his work as a compilation of a much larger work by a relatively unknown 2nd century BCE Jewish historian by the name of Jason of Cyrene.  The original 5-volume work has been lost to history and would  otherwise be unknown save for the reference in 2 Maccabees 2:23.

Whoever (whether one author or several) composed 2 Maccabees, their language and style differs markedly from 1 Maccabees.  The author freely offers judgmental statements regarding the events he is relating, and overall works to include a far more theological tone to his writing.   There is a far more supernatural tone to this book, with several angelic visitations and visions reported.  It seems to me  a level of creative license has been employed to render the events more exciting and personal to the reader.

On a problematic  note, chapter 14 describes  in honorable terms death by suicide, something forbidden to God’s people (Exodus 20:13).   There is also a passage in chapter 12 promoting prayers for the dead as atonement for likely idolatry on the part of the deceased.  On the positive side, throughout there is a strong emphasis on the resurrection of the dead as a theological reality to be anticipated.

The usefulness of this book seems to lie in careful parsing and evaluation of the historical data presented.  I don’t have a problem with the supernatural elements in this book but also find them far less than compelling, feeling more like an afterthought  than a relating of actual events.

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