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Purpose of The Book of 2 Maccabees:
2 Maccabees narrates and interprets the ups and downs of events that took place in Jerusalem prior to and during the Maccabean revolt: institutionalized Hellenization and the foundation of Jerusalem as a polis; the persecution of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes, accompanied by famous martyrdoms; and the rebellion against Seleucid rule by Judas Maccabaeus.
Summary of The Book of 2 Maccabees:
Unlike 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees does not attempt to provide a complete account of the events of the period, instead covering only the period from the high priest Onias III and King Seleucus IV (180 BC) to the defeat of Nicanor in 161. In general, the chronology of the book coheres with that of 1 Maccabees, and it has some historical value in supplementing 1 Maccabees, principally in providing a few apparently authentic historical documents. The author seems primarily interested in providing a theological interpretation of the events; in this book God's interventions direct the course of events, punishing the wicked and restoring the Temple to his people. It's possible that some events appear to be presented out of strict chronological order in order to make theological points. Some of the numbers cited for sizes of armies may also appear exaggerated though not all of the manuscripts of this book agree.
Author and Dates of The Book of 2 Maccabees:
The author of 2 Maccabees is not identified, but he claims to be abridging a 5-volume work by Jason of Cyrene. This longer work is not preserved, and it is uncertain how much of the present text of 2 Maccabees is simply copied from that work. The author wrote in Greek, apparently, as there is no particular evidence of an earlier Hebrew version. A few sections of the book, such as the Preface, Epilogue, and some reflections on morality are generally assumed to come from the author, not from Jason. Jason's work was apparently written sometime around 100 BC and most likely ended with the defeat of Nicanor, as does the abridgement available to us.
The beginning of the book includes two letters sent by Jews in Jerusalem to Jews of the Diaspora in Egypt concerning the feast day set up to celebrate the purification of the temple (see Hanukkah) and the feast to celebrate the defeat of Nicanor. If the author of the book inserted these letters, the book would have to have been written after 124 BC, the date of the second letter. Some commentators hold that these letters were a later addition, while others consider them the basis for the work. Catholic scholars tend toward a dating in the last years of the 2nd century BC, while the consensus among Jewish scholars place it in the second half of the 1st century BC.
Outline of The Book of 2 Maccabees:
Themes of The Book of 2 Maccabees: