"Sacredness" of Deuterocanonical Works, Especially Maccabees

Salvete, omnes!

Just a quick question which should be able to be answered with some ease here from a Protestant who is educating herself as to Catholic history/theology/etc…: :slight_smile:

It is my understand, from what reading I’ve done, that various writings in Sacred Scripture, particularly the so-called “deuterocanonical” writings, are designated with varying levels of “sacredness”. First of all, am I correct in this understanding?

If so, in what way is this meant?

Let us take the books of I and II Machabees as an example from which to work. (This is really at the heart of my question in any case.) Is it true that the “level” of their “sacredness” is determined, in this case, to be because of their historical value and not much else? In other words, is any theology expressed in these books to be doscounted, or at least downplayed in comparison, say, with other non-deuterocanonical writings (and oven others within the so-called “deuterocanonical” sphere?)

I understand tha the so-called “Alexandrian” school of Judaism accepted all of the deuterocanonical works. This school was, as I understand it, considered “Hellenistic” or “Hellenized(?)”. I take this to mean that they were more open(?) to Greek custom/influence. Am I correct in this understanding? If so, it would seem that the books of the Machabees which Catholics accept as canon in some ways theologically contradict this tendency in opposing Greek influence, even gymnasia, within Jewish life. Indeed, as a classicist, I am very much wondering, if these books are accepted as theologically valuable, whether I myself should feel disapproval for all Graeco-Roman cultural elements, as the author ofthese books seemed to feel.

Finally, are all books within this deuterocanonical classification considered of equal “sacredness”? Always for historical reasons, or for others as well?

I have tried reading some things online on the subject of the deuterocanonical works, but have had a difficult time finding a lot of info on this particular aspect of the subject, so, with patience, I would appreciate it if folks here would kindly explain/clarify the above issues for me.

Thanks in advance!


1 and 2 Maccabees are plenty sacred, and Catholic exegesis has traditionally seen them as full of important Scriptural teaching. The seven martyred sons and their mother are great heroes of the faith, frequently cited by the Fathers, medieval theologians, and everybody else. The behavior of the martyrs and fighters in Maccabees were extremely important to early Christians as a model of what to do, while the appeasers were a model of what not to do.

In medieval times, Judah Maccabee was counted as one of the Nine Worthies, the best knights of all time, and many other people who appear in Maccabees are important figures for Christian culture. So was Antiochus, as a bad guy, and as being a figure similar to Nero, Caligula, Heliogabalus, et al.

Obviously there’s the famous text on prayer for the dead, as well as the description of what happened to the Ark of the Covenant. Also the explanation of what Jesus was celebrating when He celebrated Hanukkah.

For literary types, it’s nice to have an inspired description of the hard work that goes into editing a book! (From the opening chapters of 2 Maccabees.)

I could probably think of more stuff, but my brain is dead right now. But basically, if you don’t read the deuterocanonicals, you’re missing out on a lot of important texts, Christology, art references, etc. And that includes theological points.

I think this pretty much says it all.

Let’s also remember that the Maccabees is where the Story of Hanukkah comes from. Yet it’s not in their scriptures anymore??? :eek:

Why? Because the Jews began to deny the resurrection (even though Pharisees had believed in it before Christ). They also wanted to remove the Greek out of political reasons to alienate Gentiles, Christians and “re-nationalize” the religion around the Hebrews.

But then, they took it a step further… They then taught that the most important books are the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), practically ignoring the prophets, psalms, etc. Which of course all pointed towards Christ.

Thanks for this. Very informative!

Thanks for the info!

I guess my understanding that there was some variant of “sacredness” or variant of theological value for these texts came from my reading of the relevant articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia as presented on the New Advent website. To me, it seems to suggest that 1 and 2 Maccabees in particular are of most value for their historical narrative and the article seemed even to downplay their theological significance.

So, is this view incompatible with that of the Church? Did I misread this article in some way? Are both the historicity and theology of these books to be considered on par with the so-called “protocanonicals”?

If this is the case, then, particularly in the Maccabees, we (as I noted above) seem to have a very anti-Hellenist narrative wherein the Jews object to something as (apparently?) innocent in Greek culture as the way in which they exercised (an apparently quite clear theological opposition to it can be found in the narrative). I, once again, as a classicist, am particularly interested in such a matter as I need to know theologically how I am to view classical culture, in whole or in part. After all, I don’t wish to give ascent to something that God would not have. If indeed these texts are to be taken as theologically equal to the “protocanonicals”, where does that leave someone like myself who does appreciate certain aspects of classical culture?

Don’t get me wrong. If I must give up my love of the classics, including the culture surrounding them, I must be willing to do so. I am just wondering if I have a proverbial leg to stand on in this regard right now.

Perhaps you are meaning literal history or not as oppossed to sacred or less sacred. There are different genres of all the biblical books so you have a book like Maccabees that’s literal history/historical narrative, and then things like job and Tobit that are stories meant to convey a theological truth and aren’t necessarily literal history.

No. The book of Maccabees do contain the origin story of Hanukkah, but it’s hardly “where [it] comes from.”

Why? Because the Jews began to deny the resurrection (even though Pharisees had believed in it before Christ). They also wanted to remove the Greek out of political reasons to alienate Gentiles, Christians and “re-nationalize” the religion around the Hebrews.

Jews still believe in resurrection. “He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth!”

They do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus (obviously), but that’s mainly because they believe in a general resurrection of the dead (which was the expectation since the time of Jesus). You might say that it is us Christians who are the odd man out here, since we believe that that a Resurrection occurred in anticipation of that final general resurrection.

But then, they took it a step further… They then taught that the most important books are the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), practically ignoring the prophets, psalms, etc. Which of course all pointed towards Christ.

Er, no. The Jews always believed that the Torah occupied a preeminent position among the Scriptures. The belief in Torah as God-given, the sanctity of the Temple, the special status of Israel; those are the pillars of Judaism in Jesus’ day. You would notice that among the different Jewish sects (or as some scholars would say, ‘Judaisms’) of Jesus’ time, all Jews - including the Samaritans - did not dispute that the Torah is sacred Scripture, though they might have differences concerning the other books.

The reason why 1 and 2 Maccabees never made it into the finalized Jewish canon is:

(1) They glorify a dynasty with questionable credentials. The Hasmoneans (the dynasty founded by Simon Maccabee) appointed themselves both as kings and high priests of Judea. But from a traditional perspective, they don’t really have a claim towards both titles: they were not of the Davidic line (whereas the popular expectation for some time was that a descendant of King David will retake the throne - the idea that eventually morphed into a ‘messianic expectation’), and while the Maccabees were a priestly family, they were not of the traditional high priestly line, the line of Zadok.

(2) They glorify a dynasty not everybody liked. The Maccabees were folk heroes for liberating the Jews from Seleucid clutches, to the point that the names of the Maccabees and later Hasmoneans - Mattathias (= ‘Matthias’, ‘Matthew’), Judah (= ‘Judas’), Jonathan, Eleazar (= ‘Lazarus’), Simon, Salome, Mariam (= ‘Mary’) - were some of the most common Jewish names up to the time of Jesus. But they did not gain universal support. For example, it is thought that the founders of the Community at Qumran (once, and still is occasionally thought be Essenes or a related sect) were Zadokite priests who withdrew from the Temple - now controlled by the Hasmoneans - and secluded themselves into the desert. Also, there was this another group called the Hasidim or the Hasideans (the ‘Pious’) who initially supported the Maccabees, but later found them too fixated on politics and over-reliant on violence to achieve their goal and began to oppose them. Now note: the Hasideans were (one of) the predecessor groups to the Pharisees. In fact, the Pharisees continually opposed the Hasmoneans’ wars of conquest and their forced conversion of non-Jewish peoples in the areas they conquered.

Oh, and there was also the person who should have been high priest (as per tradition), the Zadokite Onias IV. Onias thought at first that the Maccabees will place him into the office of high priest when they’re done fighting with the Seleucids, but when the Maccabees failed to do so, he migrated to Egypt (the territory of the Ptolemies, the Seleucids’ rivals) with his supporters and built a rival Jewish temple there. (In fact, 2 Maccabees seems to be a work that were addressed to Egyptian Jews encouraging them to show their allegiance to the Hasmoneans instead by celebrating Hanukkah, which of course celebrated the rededication of the Jerusalem temple and the Maccabees’/Hasmoneans’ rise to power - implicitly making them reject the Zadokite/Oniad claims.)

Now the thing about 1 Maccabees - and 2 Maccabees to an extent - is that it’s a kind of propagandistic history, in a way. It tries to assert the right to rule of the Maccabees/Hasmoneans (despite their lack of necessary cred) by portraying them as the divinely-appointed saviors of Israel. In other words: since God chose them to save the Jews from gentile domination, therefore they must have this divine right to be high priest-kings - despite not being Davidids or Zadokites. Of course, those who do not agree with the Hasmoneans’ version of events would not like either work.

(3) Both works increasingly became kind of more ‘problematic’ as time went on. As most everybody here knows, the Hasmoneans were eventually replaced by the Herods and then by direct Roman rule (at least for Judaea and Samaria). Under the Herods, the work/s became a kind of liability: who would want a work that celebrates a now-defunct dynasty? (Given, Herod the Great did try to assert connections with the Hasmoneans to legitimize his rule, but he’s also the kind of person who was very paranoid about potential political rivals.)

Then, when the Romans came and proved to be not very benevolent as advertised, 1 Maccabees’ praise of the Roman Republic and the whole alliance between the Romans and Judah Maccabee became a kind of cruel joke. Really, praising an oppressor “as very strong and … well-disposed toward all who made an alliance with them, that they pledged friendship to those who came to them, and … very strong”? :shrug:

Then, after the Romans finally destroyed Jerusalem and kicked the Jews out of Palestine (AD 70-135), 1-2 Maccabees’ glorification of an armed struggle for Jewish political autonomy became an embarrassment. This was a time when Jewish survivors were disassociating themselves from the Zealots and other freedom fighters who (in their view) started the mess: it didn’t help that the Maccabees and their guerrilla tactics against the Greeks were kind of seen as encouraging zealotry.

This is pretty much the reason why the modern Hanukkah focuses on the miracle of the oil and all that instead of celebrating the success of an anti-Seleucid revolution (which was the original purpose of the holiday). The later Rabbis spiritualized, depoliticized Hanukkah to cover up any traces of its militaristic origins. 1 and 2 Maccabees were (still) a sort of embarrassment because it really kind of shows that militaristic side.

I think Jimmy Akin’s mention to Jamnia as a council where was established the jewish canon is a old claim without real evidences. This was a widespread idea in the past but not today. The “council” of Jamnia has been dismissed as a generalization of a 19th century jewish historian, Heinrich Graetz. The jewish bible canonization was a slow process that lasted several centuries and was established, to a great extent, in confrontation with the christian bible canon (alexandrian canon), rejecting all greek-written christian books of the OT in the process, and selecting the hebrew manuscripts with the most favourable reading in certain passages to the jewish theology (in detriment of christian claims)

Sacred Scripture is sacred because it is truth revealed to us by God. The same is true of Sacred Tradition. Both contain truths we would not know had God not revealed them to us. No part of what God has revealed to us is more or less sacred. It is all revealed truth. It all originates from God so that we might be saved.

Maccabees was written subsequent to Alexander the Great’s conquest and attempts to Hellenize the world. Alexander was so impressed with what he saw in Jerusalem that he let the Jews keep their culture, religion and language. The world was divided into 12 governorships after Alexander’s death and that is when the governor forced the Jews to adopt Greek customs and cultures. Jews went so far as to have their circumcisions surgically reversed.

Maccabees is more than a story about Hanukkah and the doctrinal basis for the resurrection of the dead. Maccabees is a story of the hardships which come about as a result of unfaithfulness to God’s covenant and the eventual victory of those who persevere in faithfulness to the end. That in a nutshell, is the message God wants us to know. It has to be read in the context of Jesus Christ and our salvation.


Where are you getting the idea that some parts of Holy Scripture are more or less Sacred? Can you post a source?

It is my understanding that the Council of Trent formally defined that the deuterocanonical works are all of the same level of sacredness as the protocanonical books when, after listing the Catholic canon, including the deuterocanonical works, it decreed:

If anyone does not accept as sacred and canonical the aforesaid books in their entirety and with all their parts, as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church and as they are contained in the old Latin Vulgate Edition, and knowingly and deliberately rejects the aforesaid traditions, let him be anathema. (source)

Certainly at Mass these days, readings from the deuterocanonical works are referred to as “The word of the Lord,” just as the protocanonical books are.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.