Why Does the ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH Have Additional Books In Their Bible that Are Spurious or Noncanonical?

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EDWARD D. ANDREWS (AS in Criminal Justice, BS in Religion, MA in Biblical Studies, and MDiv in Theology) is CEO and President of Christian Publishing House. He has authored over 180+ books. In addition, Andrews is the Chief Translator of the Updated American Standard Version (UASV).

Facebook Question on Got Bible Questions group: The Catholic Bible has 73 books, while our Bible has 66 books. Who wrote the additional seven books, and why are they not included in our Bible? Was there an attempt to change the Word of God?

Brief Overview Response

The seven books included in the Catholic Bible but not in Protestant Bibles (known as the “Deuterocanonical” or “Apocryphal” books) were not considered to be part of the canon of scripture by the early church. These books were not written by the authors they are attributed to, and they contain historical and theological errors. The inclusion of these books in the Catholic Bible is an attempt to add to or change the Word of God.

The seven books that are included in the Catholic Bible but not in the Protestant Bible are Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and the two books of Maccabees.

  • Tobit is said to have been written by Tobit, a Jewish exile living in Nineveh, and it is estimated to have been written around 180-175 BCE
  • Judith is said to have been written by an unknown Jewish author and it is estimated to have been written around 150-100 BCE
  • Wisdom is said to have been written by Solomon, but it is estimated to have been written around 50-30 BCE
  • Sirach (also known as Ecclesiasticus) is said to have been written by Jesus ben Sira, a Jewish scribe, and teacher, and it is estimated to have been written around 180-175 BCE
  • Baruch is said to have been written by Baruch, the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah, and it is estimated to have been written around 550-450 BCE
  • The first book of Maccabees is said to have been written by an unknown Jewish author, and it is estimated to have been written around 110-70 BCE
  • The second book of Maccabees is said to have been written by an anonymous Jewish author, and it is estimated to have been written around 100-50 BCE.

Why Is Each Book not Inspired and Not Part of the Canon?

The reasons that conservative Protestant Christian apologists would give for why the seven books of the Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal books are not considered inspired and not part of the canon are varied and can include:

  • They were not considered to be part of the canon by the early church and were not present in the Jewish canon.
  • They contain historical and theological errors, such as Tobit’s depiction of a demon that causes blindness and Judith’s depiction of God delivering the Israelites through the hand of a woman.
  • They contain teachings that are not in line with Protestant theology, such as the book of Sirach’s emphasis on the fear of the Lord and Wisdom’s personification of Wisdom as a woman.
  • They are not quoted by Jesus or the apostles in the New Testament, which is considered an important criterion for canonicity in Protestant theology.
  • They were not written by the authors they are attributed to, which is considered to be a requirement for canonicity in Protestant theology

Why Might Some of the Seven Books of the Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal Be of Historical Value?

The Deuterocanonical/Apocryphal books, also known as the “Old Testament Apocrypha,” are a collection of Jewish texts that were not included in the Hebrew Bible. These texts were written during the intertestamental period, between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. They can be of historical value because they provide insight into the religious and cultural beliefs of the Jewish people during this time period, including their understanding of the Messiah and their expectations for the coming of the Messiah. They also contain historical information about the period in which they were written, such as the political and social conditions of the time. Additionally, they provide insight into the development of Jewish thought and practices and offer a deeper understanding of the historical context of the New Testament.

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The term “apocryphal” is derived from the Greek word “apokryphos,” which originally referred to things that were “carefully concealed.” When applied to writings, it originally meant texts that were not read publicly, or “concealed” from others. However, over time, the meaning of the term shifted to imply texts that were spurious or not considered part of the canon. In present-day usage, the term is most commonly applied to the collection of texts that were declared as part of the Bible canon by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1546. These texts, which include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees, are referred to by Catholic writers as deuterocanonical, meaning “of the second (or later) canon,” as distinguished from the texts that are considered part of the canon, known as protocanonical. These texts provide important historical and cultural context for the religious beliefs and practices of Jewish people during the intertestamental period, as well as insight into the political and social conditions of the time. They also offer a deeper understanding of the historical context of the New Testament.

Evidence Against Canonicity

The canonicity of the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books is highly debated among scholars. While they do have certain historical value, there is no solid foundation for considering them as part of the canon of inspired Scriptures. The evidence suggests that the canon of Hebrew Scriptures was closed following the writing of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Malachi in the 5th century BCE. These texts were never included in the Jewish canon and are not considered part of it today. This is supported by the testimony of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who stated that the Jewish people only recognized a limited number of books as sacred and that these were distinct from the Apocryphal writings. He wrote that “We do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty [equivalent to the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures according to modern division], and contain the record of all time.” He further acknowledged the existence of the Apocryphal books and their exclusion from the canon by adding, “From Artaxerxes to our own time the complete history has been written but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records, because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets.” Overall, while the Apocryphal books offer historical and cultural context, evidence suggests that they were not considered as part of the canon of inspired scripture by ancient Jewish communities.

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Inclusion in Greek Septuagint

Arguments in favor of the canonicity of the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books often center around the fact that these texts are included in many early copies of the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, which began around 280 BCE. However, since no original copies of the Septuagint are extant, it cannot be definitively stated that these texts were originally included in that translation. Many, if not most, of the Apocryphal writings were written after the Septuagint translation was started, and therefore were not part of the original list of books selected for translation by the translators. At best, they can be considered as later additions to the Septuagint. Furthermore, while the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria eventually included these texts in their Septuagint translations and viewed them as part of an expanded canon of sacred writings, it is clear that they were never accepted into the Jerusalem or Palestinian canon. They were viewed as secondary writings and not of divine origin. This is reinforced by the decision of the Jewish Council of Jamnia around 90 CE, which specifically excluded all such writings from the Hebrew canon. The importance of considering the Jewish perspective on this matter is highlighted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:1-2.

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Additional Ancient Testimony

One of the key arguments against the canonicity of the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books is the fact that none of the Christian Bible writers quoted from these texts. While this alone is not conclusive, as there are also a few books recognized as canonical that are not quoted by these writers, such as Esther, Ecclesiastes, and The Song of Solomon, the fact that not one of the Apocryphal writings is quoted even once is certainly noteworthy. Additionally, leading Bible scholars and “church fathers” of the first centuries of the Common Era generally gave the Apocryphal books an inferior position. For example, Origen, a prominent Christian scholar of the early 3rd century CE, made a distinction between these texts and those of the true canon. Similarly, Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Amphilocius, all of the 4th century CE, prepared catalogs of sacred writings in accordance with the Hebrew canon and either ignored these additional writings or placed them in a secondary class. Jerome, who is considered “the best Hebrew scholar” of the early church and who completed the Latin Vulgate in 405 CE, explicitly rejected these Apocryphal books and was the first to use the word “Apocrypha” in the sense of non-canonical in reference to these texts. In his prologue to the books of Samuel and Kings, Jerome listed the inspired books of the Hebrew Scriptures in accordance with the Hebrew canon and stated that “whatever is beyond these must be put in the apocrypha.” He advised that these texts be read with caution, and that one should be aware that they are not truly written by the authors to whom they are attributed and that they contain many inaccuracies.

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Differing Catholic Views

The trend towards including the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books as canonical was primarily initiated by Augustine, a prominent Christian theologian of the 4th century CE. However, even Augustine acknowledged in his later works that there was a clear distinction between the books of the Hebrew canon and these “outside books.” The Catholic Church, following Augustine’s lead, included these additional writings in the canon of sacred books determined by the Council of Carthage in 397 CE. However, it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1546 CE that the Roman Catholic Church officially confirmed its acceptance of these books as part of its canon of Bible books, due to the fact that even within the church, opinion was still divided over these writings. John Wycliffe, a Catholic priest and scholar who in the 14th century made the first translation of the Bible into English, included the Apocrypha in his work, but in the preface to this translation declared such writings to be “without authority of belief.” Similarly, Dominican Cardinal Cajetan, a prominent Catholic theologian of his time (1469-1534 CE) also differentiated between the books of the true Hebrew canon and the Apocryphal works, citing Jerome as an authority. It is important to note that the Council of Trent did not accept all the writings previously approved by the earlier Council of Carthage, it dropped three of these: the Prayer of Manasses and 1 and 2 Esdras (not the 1 and 2 Esdras that in the Catholic Douay Bible correspond with Ezra and Nehemiah). These three writings, which had appeared in the approved Latin Vulgate for over 1,100 years, were now excluded.

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Internal Evidence

The internal evidence of the Apocryphal or Deuterocanonical books also supports the argument against their canonicity. These texts lack the prophetic element present in the canonical books. Their teachings and contents, at times, contradict those of the canon, and they also contain contradictions within themselves. They are filled with historical and geographic inaccuracies and anachronisms. The writers of some of these texts are even guilty of dishonesty by falsely representing their works as those of earlier, inspired writers. Additionally, these texts display evidence of influence from pagan Greek ideas, and at times employ an extravagant language and literary style that is foreign to the inspired Scriptures. Two of the writers even imply that they were not inspired (as seen in the Prologue to Ecclesiasticus; 2 Maccabees 2:24-32; 15:38-40). Therefore, it can be said that the best evidence against the canonicity of the Apocrypha is the Apocrypha itself. Further examination of individual books within the Apocrypha will provide further insight.

The book of Tobit (also known as Tobias) tells the story of a devout Jewish man from the tribe of Naphtali who is exiled to Nineveh and becomes blind as a result of bird droppings falling in his eyes. He sends his son, Tobias, to Media to collect a debt, and Tobias is guided by an angel in disguise to Ecbatana (or Rages in some versions). Along the way, he acquires the heart, liver, and gall of a fish. He meets a widow who, despite being married seven times, remains a virgin due to the fact that each of her husbands were killed on their wedding night by the demon Asmodeus. With the encouragement of the angel, Tobias marries the widow and uses the fish’s heart and liver to drive away the demon. When he returns home, he restores his father’s sight with the gall of the fish. The story was likely originally written in Aramaic and is estimated to be from around the 3rd century BCE. It is not considered to be inspired by God because of the superstitions and inaccuracies present in the narrative. For example, it claims that Tobit witnessed the revolt of the northern tribes, which occurred in 997 BCE after Solomon’s death, and that he was later exiled to Nineveh with the tribe of Naphtali in 740 BCE. This would mean that he lived for over 257 years, yet the book states that he was 102 years old at the time of his death.

The book of Judith tells the story of a beautiful Jewish widow from the city of “Bethulia.” King Nebuchadnezzar sends his officer Holofernes on a campaign to destroy all forms of worship except that of Nebuchadnezzar himself. The Jews are under siege in Bethulia, but Judith pretends to betray their cause and is allowed into Holofernes’ camp, where she gives him false information about the conditions in the city. At a feast, in which Holofernes becomes drunk, she is able to behead him with his own sword and then return to Bethulia with his head. The following morning the enemy camp is thrown into chaos and the Jews gain a complete victory. However, the book of Judith is considered to be historically and geographically inaccurate. For example, the events are stated as occurring during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who is referred to as the king “who reigned over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh.” However, Nebuchadnezzar was actually the king of Babylonia and never reigned in Nineveh, which had been destroyed earlier by Nebuchadnezzar’s father Nabopolassar. The travel itinerary of Holofernes’ army is also considered to be a “geographical impossibility.” The book is thought to have been written in Palestine during the Greek period towards the end of the second century BCE or the start of the first century BCE. It is believed to have been originally written in Hebrew. The book of Judith is considered to be a work of fiction and is not considered to be inspired by God. Its inaccuracies and inconsistencies make it difficult to take it as a historical or geographical account. This is consistent with the view of many scholars, who consider the book to be a fictional story that was written with the purpose of providing inspiration to Jewish people living in Palestine during the Greek period.

The Additions to the Book of Esther are six additional passages that were added to the original book of Esther. These passages can be found in some ancient Greek and Latin texts, but their placement varies in different translations. The first addition, which is 17 verses long, presents a dream of Mordecai and his exposure of a conspiracy against the king. The second addition is the text of the king’s edict against the Jews, the third addition is the prayers of Mordecai and Esther, the fourth addition is Esther’s audience with the king, the fifth addition is the king’s edict allowing the Jews to defend themselves and the sixth addition is the interpretation of the dream presented in the Apocryphal introduction. The placement of these additions varies in different translations, with some placing them all at the end of the book, and others interspersing them throughout the canonical text. These additions are believed to be the work of an Egyptian Jew and were written during the second century BCE. However, these additions present historical inconsistencies and inaccuracies, such as Mordecai being presented as an important man in the king’s court over a century later, which contradicts the canonical part of Esther. Due to these inaccuracies, these additions are not considered to be inspired by God.

The book of Wisdom, also known as the Wisdom of Solomon, is a treatise that praises the benefits of seeking divine wisdom. It personifies wisdom as a celestial woman and includes a prayer from Solomon for wisdom. The latter half of the book reviews the history from Adam to the conquest of Canaan, using it to provide examples of how wisdom brings blessings and a lack of it brings misfortune. The book also criticizes the worship of idols. The book is attributed to Solomon, but it contains references to events and passages from books that were written long after Solomon’s death. The book is believed to have been written by a Jewish author in Alexandria, Egypt, around the first century BCE. The author heavily relies on Greek philosophy and incorporates concepts such as the immortality of the human soul, the preexistence of human souls, and the view of the body as an obstacle to the soul. The historical events presented in the book are embellished with many fanciful details that often conflict with the historical record. Some scholars have attempted to find similarities between this book and later Christian Greek scriptures, but the similarities are often slight and do not indicate that the Christian writers drew from this Apocryphal work, but rather from the Hebrew scripture, which the Apocryphal writer also used.

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Ecclesiasticus, also known as The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, is one of the books of the Apocrypha. It is known for being the longest of the Apocryphal books and for having an identified author, Jesus ben-Sirach of Jerusalem. The book focuses on the concept of wisdom and its practical application for a fulfilling life. It places emphasis on the importance of adherence to the Law and provides guidance on various aspects of social conduct and daily life. The author provides a review of notable figures of Israel and concludes with a mention of the high priest Simon II. However, the book contains content that contradicts the teachings of the apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-19, where Paul states that sin is caused by Adam. Additionally, the book has a negative view of women, stating that “From the woman came the beginning of sin, and by her we all die” and that “any wickedness, but the wickedness of a woman.” It was originally written in Hebrew during the early second century B.C.E. and is cited in the Jewish Talmud.

The book of Baruch, including the Epistle of Jeremias, is a work that presents itself as written by the scribe and friend of the prophet Jeremiah, named Baruch. The first five chapters are written as if they were authored by Baruch, while the sixth chapter is presented as a letter written by Jeremiah himself. The contents of the book revolve around the themes of repentance, prayer for relief, and exhortations to follow wisdom by the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Additionally, it includes encouragement to hope for deliverance and denunciation of Babylonian idolatry. However, there is some controversy surrounding the authenticity of the book’s authorship and historical context. The Bible record shows that Baruch went to Egypt with Jeremiah, and there is no evidence that he was ever in Babylon. Additionally, the book contradicts Jeremiah’s prophecy that the exile in Babylon would last 70 years, instead suggesting that the Jews would be in Babylon for seven generations before experiencing release. Scholars such as Jerome have stated that they do not consider the book to be worth translating, and some suggest that the composition may have been written as late as the second or first century BCE by an unknown author or authors. It is believed that the original language of the book was Hebrew.

The Song of the Three Holy Children is an addition to the book of Daniel that is placed after Daniel 3:23. It is made up of 67 verses that present a prayer supposedly spoken by Azariah while he was inside a fiery furnace, followed by an account of an angel extinguishing the fire, and finally, a song that is sung by the three Hebrews who are inside the furnace. The song has many similarities to Psalm 148, but its references to the temple, priests, and cherubim, do not align with the historical time period that it claims to depict. Scholars believe that the song may have been originally written in Hebrew and it is considered to be of the first century BCE. The Song of the Three Holy Children is considered to be a non-canonical text and is not considered to be a part of the official canon of the Bible by most Christian denominations.

Susanna and the Elders is a short story that tells the tale of an incident involving Susanna, the beautiful wife of Joakim, a wealthy Jew in Babylon. The story relates that while Susanna was bathing, she was approached by two Jewish elders who attempted to coerce her into committing adultery with them. When she refused, the elders falsely accused her of the crime. During her trial, Susanna was sentenced to death, but the young Daniel, through his clever questioning and cross-examination, was able to expose the two elders as liars, thus clearing Susanna of the charge. The original language of the story is uncertain, but it is considered to have been written during the first century BCE. In the Greek Septuagint, the story is placed before the canonical book of Daniel, while in the Latin Vulgate it is placed after it. Some versions of the Bible include it as the 13th chapter of the book of Daniel. The story of Susanna and the Elders is considered to be a non-canonical text and is not considered to be a part of the official canon of the Bible by most Christian denominations.

The Destruction of Bel and the Dragon is a third addition to the book of Daniel, and in some versions of the Bible, it is placed as the 14th chapter. The story relates that King Cyrus, the ruler of Babylon, orders Daniel to worship an idol of the god Bel. However, Daniel cleverly exposes the idol as a fraud by sprinkling ashes on the temple floor and detecting footprints, thus proving that the food supposedly eaten by the idol was actually being consumed by the pagan priests and their families. As a result, the priests are killed, and the idol is smashed by Daniel. The king then orders Daniel to worship a living dragon, but Daniel destroys it as well. However, the enraged populace throws Daniel into the lions’ den. During the seven days of his confinement, an angel picks up Habakkuk by his hair and carries him, along with a bowl of stew, from Judea to Babylon to provide Daniel with food. Habakkuk is then returned to Judea, Daniel is released from the den, and his opponents are thrown in and devoured by the lions. This addition is also considered to be from the first century BCE. These additions to Daniel are referred to as “pious legendary embroidery” in The Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Vol. 1, p. 76), meaning that they may be fictional stories added to the text to convey a moral or religious message. These additions are considered to be non-canonical texts and are not considered to be a part of the official canon of the Bible by most Christian denominations.

First Maccabees is a historical account of the Jewish struggle for independence during the second century BCE. It covers the period from the beginning of Antiochus Epiphanes’ reign in 175 BCE to the death of Simon Maccabaeus in around 134 BCE. The book is particularly focused on the exploits of the priest Mattathias and his sons, Judas, Jonathan, and Simon, in their battles with the Syrians. “First Maccabees” is considered to be the most valuable of the Apocryphal works because of the historical information it provides for this period. However, it should be noted that the book presents history from a human perspective, meaning that it may not be entirely accurate. The Jewish Encyclopedia (1976, Vol. VIII, p. 243) comments that “history is written from the human standpoint.” Like the other Apocryphal works, it did not form part of the inspired Hebrew canon, it was evidently written in Hebrew about the latter part of the second century BCE. The book of First Maccabees is considered to be a non-canonical text and is not considered to be a part of the official canon of the Bible by most Christian denominations.

Second Maccabees is a historical account that covers part of the same time period as “First Maccabees” (around 180 BCE to 160 BCE), but it was not written by the same author. The writer of “Second Maccabees” presents the book as a summary of the previous works of a certain Jason of Cyrene. It describes the persecutions of the Jews under Antiochus Epiphanes, the plundering of the Temple, and its subsequent rededication. The account also includes a depiction of Jeremiah as carrying the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant to a cave in the mountain from which Moses viewed the land of Canaan, which contradicts historical fact. The book also includes various texts used in Catholic dogma as support for doctrines such as punishment after death, intercession by the saints and the propriety of prayers for the dead. The style of the book is described as “hellenistic” and not of the best quality, being at times turgid and frequently pompous. The writer of Second Maccabees makes no claim of writing under divine inspiration, and in fact, devotes part of the second chapter to justify his choice of the particular method used in handling the subject material. The book was evidently written in Greek, sometime between 134 BCE and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Like the other Apocryphal works, it did not form part of the inspired Hebrew canon and is considered to be a non-canonical text, and is not considered to be a part of the official canon of the Bible by most Christian denominations.

Later Apocryphal Works

Later Apocryphal Works are a collection of texts that were written after the second century CE that claim to be divinely inspired and related to the Christian faith. These texts, also known as the “Apocryphal New Testament,” attempt to imitate the Gospels, Acts, letters, and revelations found in the canonical books of the Christian Greek Scriptures. Many of these texts are only known through fragments or references made by other writers. They often attempt to provide information that is not included in the canonical texts, such as accounts of Jesus’ life before his baptism, or they seek to provide support for doctrines or traditions that are not found in the Bible or are in contradiction to it. Examples of these texts include the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Protevangelium of James, which contain fanciful accounts of miracles supposedly performed by Jesus as a child. These texts have been criticized for presenting Jesus in a way that is inconsistent with the biblical portrayal and for promoting teachings that are not supported by the Bible. They have also been criticized for being trivial, theatrical, and even offensive. These texts were not accepted as inspired or included as canonical in the earliest collections or catalogs of the Greek New Testament.

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Who Were the Maccabees?

The Maccabees were a Jewish rebel group that fought against the Seleucid Empire in the 2nd century BCE. They were led by the priest Mattathias and his five sons, the most famous of whom was Judas Maccabeus. The Maccabees were able to defeat the Seleucids and establish an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonean dynasty. The Maccabean Revolt is celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

The Maccabees were able to defeat the Seleucid forces in a series of battles, and in 164 BCE they were able to reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by the Seleucids. This event is celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

With the Temple reclaimed and the Seleucid Empire driven out of the area, the Maccabees established an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonean dynasty. The Hasmoneans ruled for over a century, until 63 BCE, when the Roman Republic conquered the area and made it a province of the Roman Empire.

Throughout their history, the Maccabees were able to maintain Jewish religious and cultural traditions, and they are remembered as great defenders of the Jewish people. The Maccabean Revolt is an important event in Jewish history and an inspiration for Jewish nationalism movements throughout history.

How did they affect Judaism before the coming of the foretold Messiah?

The Maccabees played a significant role in shaping Judaism before the coming of the foretold Messiah.

Firstly, the Maccabees were able to reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem and rededicate it to the worship of God. This event, known as the “Miracle of the Oil,” is celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and is seen as a major victory for the Jewish people and their religious traditions.

Secondly, the Maccabees established an independent Jewish kingdom, the Hasmonean dynasty, which allowed for the preservation of Jewish religious and cultural traditions. The Hasmoneans, who were also priests, emphasized the importance of Jewish religious law and the study of the Torah, which helped to solidify the foundations of Judaism as a religion.

Thirdly, the Hasmoneans expanded the boundaries of the Jewish state and this led to the spread of Judaism and the conversion of many people to the faith.

Lastly, the Maccabees paved the way for the emergence of the Pharisees, a sect that developed around the time of the Hasmonean dynasty, which would later become one of the most influential Jewish sects before the coming of the Messiah.

Overall, the Maccabees played a vital role in preserving and strengthening Jewish religious and cultural traditions, and their legacy continues to be felt in the Jewish religion to this day.

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How were the Jews in Israel affected by Hellenistic rule?

The Jews in Israel were affected by Hellenistic rule in a number of ways.

Firstly, the Seleucid Empire, which controlled Israel after the death of Alexander the Great, attempted to impose Greek culture and religion on the Jewish population. This included efforts to build Greek-style temples and to encourage the adoption of Greek customs and practices. This led to a significant amount of cultural assimilation among the Jewish population, and many Jews began to adopt Greek ways of life.

Secondly, the Seleucid Empire also attempted to suppress Jewish religious practices. This included prohibiting the practice of Jewish rituals, such as circumcision, and banning the study of Jewish religious texts. They also tried to force the Jewish population to participate in Greek religious practices and festivals.

Thirdly, the Seleucid Empire also imposed heavy taxes on the Jewish population, which caused significant economic hardship.

All these efforts led to a growing sense of resentment among the Jewish population and eventually led to the Maccabean Revolt, where the Jewish people, led by the Maccabees, rose up against Seleucid rule, and were able to reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem, establish an independent Jewish kingdom and preserve Jewish religious and cultural traditions.

Corruption of the Priests

The corruption of the priests was one of the most significant ways in which Hellenistic influence manifested among the Jews. Many priests, eager to modernize and progress with the times, saw the incorporation of Hellenistic elements into Judaism as a way to do so. One such individual was Jason, the brother of the high priest Onias III.

While Onias was away in Antioch, Jason bribed the Greek authorities in order to secure appointment as high priest, in place of Onias. The Seleucid ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who was in need of funds for military campaigns, accepted the bribe and granted Jerusalem the status of a Greek city, or “polis”. Jason then built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, where young Jews and even priests could compete in Greek games.

However, this act of treachery led to further corruption and treachery. Three years later, Menelaus, who may not have been of the priestly line, offered an even higher bribe to Antiochus, and Jason was forced to flee. Menelaus then took large sums of money from the temple treasury to pay Antiochus, and arranged the murder of Onias III, who had spoken out against this theft.

When rumors spread that Antiochus had died, Jason returned to Jerusalem with a thousand men in an attempt to reclaim the high priesthood from Menelaus. But Antiochus was not dead, and upon hearing of Jason’s actions and the growing resistance to his Hellenization policies among the Jews, he responded with a vengeance. This incident highlights how the pursuit of power and wealth can lead to the erosion of religious and cultural traditions and how the actions of individuals can have far-reaching consequences for an entire community.

Antiochus Takes Action

In his book The Maccabees, historian Moshe Pearlman suggests that Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler, came to the conclusion that allowing the Jews religious autonomy was a political mistake. He believed that the rebellion in Jerusalem was not solely motivated by religious factors, but also by pro-Egyptian sentiments among the Jews, which were able to flourish precisely because of the Jews’ religious separatism. As a result, Antiochus decided to suppress Jewish religious practices and customs.

Israeli statesman and scholar Abba Eban describes the events that followed: Antiochus ordered the massacre of Jews, looting of the Temple, and the prohibition of Jewish religious practices. Circumcision and Sabbath observance were punishable by death. The ultimate insult came in December 167 BCE, when Antiochus ordered the construction of an altar to Zeus within the Temple and the sacrifice of pigs, which are considered unclean by Jewish law. This period saw the continuation of Hellenized Jews like Menelaus in their positions, officiating at the now defiled Temple.

While many Jews accepted Hellenism, a new group called the Hasidim, or pious ones, emerged, encouraging stricter adherence to the Law of Moses. The common people, now disillusioned with the Hellenized priests, began to side more and more with the Hasidim. A period of martyrdom ensued, as Jews throughout the country were forced to either conform to pagan customs and sacrifices or face death. The apocryphal books of the Maccabees provide accounts of men, women, and children who chose death over compromise during this time. Antiochus’s actions were a turning point that led to the Maccabean Revolt and the establishment of the independent Jewish kingdom. The events of this period were a stark reminder of the importance of religious freedom and the dangers of forced assimilation and cultural suppression.

The Maccabees React

The Maccabean Revolt was a significant event in Jewish history, sparked by the oppressive actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the ruler of the Seleucid Empire. The Greek king sought to impose Greek culture and religion on the Jewish people, including the forced worship of Greek gods. In response, a Jewish priest named Mattathias from the town of Modi’in, located northwest of Jerusalem, took a stand against the king’s representatives when they demanded that he participate in a pagan sacrifice. Enraged by the compromise of another Jew, Mattathias killed both the Greek official and the other Jew. This act of defiance inspired the residents of Modi’in and other Jews, including the Hasidim, to join Mattathias in his rebellion against Greek rule. Mattathias appointed his son Judah, also known as Judah Maccabee, as the leader of the military operations, and the family became known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees were successful in their rebellion and were able to reclaim Jerusalem and the Temple, which is celebrated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Mattathias, the father of Judah Maccabee, cried out: ‘Let everyone who is zealous for the Law follow me’

The Temple Reclaimed

The Maccabean Revolt, led by Mattathias and his sons, including Judah Maccabee, was a significant moment in Jewish history as it marked the beginning of Jewish autonomy and religious freedom. During the early stages of the revolt, Mattathias, who was viewed as a religious authority, made the decision to allow Jews to defend themselves on the Sabbath, which gave new life to the rebellion and set a precedent in Judaism for religious leaders to adapt Jewish law to changing circumstances.

After the death of his father, Judah Maccabee became the undisputed leader of the rebellion and employed guerrilla warfare tactics to defeat the larger and better-equipped Seleucid army. He was able to capture strategic locations and gain control of Jerusalem successfully. In December 165 BCE, or perhaps 164 BCE, Judah and his troops captured the Temple, cleansed its utensils, and rededicated it.

The Maccabees’ success in reclaiming the Temple was a significant moment in Jewish history as it allowed the Jewish people to practice their religion once again freely and restore their sense of identity and cultural heritage. The story of the Maccabees and the reclaiming of the Temple is told in the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees and is still remembered and honored. The Maccabees’ achievement also shows the importance of religious leaders adapting Jewish law to changing circumstances, which is reflected in later Jewish religious texts such as the Talmud.

Politics Over Piety

The Maccabean Revolt, led by the Maccabee brothers and initially sparked by the oppressive actions of the Seleucid Empire against the Jewish people, was successful in achieving its initial goals of removing prohibitions against the practice of Judaism and restoring worship and sacrifices at the Temple. However, the goals of the rebellion shifted as the Maccabees began to focus on establishing an independent Jewish state. The religious motivations that had initially sparked the revolt were replaced by political incentives, and the struggle for autonomy continued.

Judah Maccabee, after becoming the leader of the rebellion, sought support in his fight against Seleucid domination by forming a treaty with Rome. Despite his death in battle, his brothers continued the fight and Jonathan, one of the brothers, was able to maneuver a situation in which he was appointed as high priest and ruler in Judea, though still under Seleucid sovereignty. Eventually, under the leadership of Simeon Maccabee, the last vestiges of Seleucid domination were removed and an independent Hasmonaean dynasty was established, with the Maccabees in power.

The Maccabees were able to reestablish worship at the Temple before the coming of the Messiah, but their rule as politically-minded priests rather than a king of David’s line did not bring true blessings to the Jewish people. The actions of the Hellenized priests and the Hasmonaeans, the dynasty founded by the Maccabees, further shook the confidence in the priesthood and did not bring true stability to the Jewish people

The Maccabees continued to fight against the Seleucid Empire and were able to establish Jewish autonomy and religious freedom. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, the Maccabees defeated the Seleucid army in several major battles and reconquered Jerusalem and the Temple. They then rededicated the Temple in 164 BCE, an event that is commemorated in the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

After Judah’s death, his brother Jonathan assumed leadership and continued to expand Jewish territory and strengthen the Jewish state. The Hasmonean dynasty, founded by the Maccabees, ruled Judea for over a century and made significant contributions to Jewish culture and religious practice. However, internal conflicts and political rivalries eventually led to the decline of the Hasmonean dynasty and the rise of Roman rule in the region.

AN ENCOURAGING THOUGHT_01

The Hasmonaeans and Their Legacy

During the time of Jesus, Judaism was characterized by a diversity of factions vying for influence over the population. The New Testament Gospels and the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus both attest to this fact, with groups such as the Pharisees and Sadducees being particularly prominent in this regard. However, these groups are not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures. Josephus first mentions the Sadducees and Pharisees in the context of the second century BCE, a period marked by increased influence of Greek culture and philosophy, known as Hellenism, on Jewish society. This tension between Hellenism and Judaism reached a climax when the Seleucid rulers desecrated the temple in Jerusalem, dedicating it to the Greek god Zeus. The Hasmonaean family, led by the charismatic Judah Maccabee, successfully led a rebellion against the Seleucids, freeing the temple and restoring Jewish worship.

Following the Maccabean victory, a trend towards the formation of sects based on competing ideologies emerged, with each group vying to win over the wider Jewish community. This development raises the question of why Judaism became so divided. To understand this phenomenon, it is important to examine the history and legacy of the Hasmonaeans. The Hasmonaeans were a family of Jewish leaders who played a pivotal role in shaping the political and religious landscape of ancient Israel during the Second Temple period. Their legacy has had a profound and lasting impact on Jewish history and culture.

Increasing Independence and Disunity

After successfully restoring worship at the Temple of Jehovah, Judah Maccabee shifted his focus to politics, which led to many Jews distancing themselves from him. Nevertheless, he continued to fight against the Seleucid rulers, formed alliances with Rome, and aimed to establish an independent Jewish state. Following Judah’s death in battle, his brothers Jonathan and Simon carried on the struggle. Initially, the Seleucid rulers opposed the Maccabees fiercely, but over time, they agreed to a political compromise, granting the Hasmonaean brothers a degree of autonomy.

However, many Jews felt that the position of high priest, which had never been held by a Hasmonaean, should be filled by priests of the line of Zadok, as appointed by King Solomon. Jonathan used a combination of warfare and diplomacy to persuade the Seleucids to appoint him as high priest. After Jonathan’s death, his brother Simon achieved even more; in September 140 BCE, a crucial decree was issued in Jerusalem, which recognized Simon as high priest and leader of the Jewish people, a position that would be passed down to his descendants. This marked a significant turning point, as historian Emil Schürer noted, the Hasmonaeans’ primary concern shifted from fulfilling the Jewish Law to maintaining and expanding their political power. Simon employed the title “ethnarch,” or “leader of the people,” rather than “king” to avoid offending Jewish sensibilities.

However, not everyone was pleased with the Hasmonaeans’ control over both religious and political matters. According to many scholars, it was during this period that the Qumran community was formed. A priest of the line of Zadok, believed to be the one referred to in Qumran writings as “the Teacher of Righteousness,” left Jerusalem and led an opposition group into the Judean Desert by the Dead Sea. Many scholars believe that either Jonathan or Simon could fit the sect’s description of the ruling “Wicked Priest.” Simon continued military campaigns to expand the territory under his control, but his rule came to an abrupt end when his son-in-law, Ptolemy, assassinated him along with two of his sons while they were banqueting near Jericho. This attempt at gaining control failed, and John Hyrcanus, Simon’s remaining son, captured his potential assassins and took over the leadership and high priesthood in place of his father.

Further Expansion and Oppression

Upon taking leadership, John Hyrcanus initially faced significant challenges from Syrian forces. However, in 129 BCE, the Seleucid dynasty suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the Parthians, resulting in the collapse of the Seleucid kingdom. This allowed Hyrcanus to fully restore Judea’s political independence and to embark on a campaign of territorial expansion. Unencumbered by any Syrian threat, Hyrcanus began to invade and subjugate territories beyond Judea, forcing their inhabitants to convert to Judaism or face the destruction of their cities. One notable example of this was his campaign against the Idumaeans (Edomites), which resulted in the forced conversion of an entire race, rather than just a few individuals. Additionally, Hyrcanus conquered and razed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim.

This policy of forced conversion by the Hasmonaean dynasty contradicts the principle of religious freedom, which the previous generation, led by Judah Maccabee, had fought to defend. It is a striking irony that a grandson of Mattathias, Judah Maccabee’s father, would violate this principle. Historian Solomon Grayzel pointed out this irony in his writings. These actions of Hyrcanus and Hasmonaean dynasty drew criticisms from scholars and historians for the oppression of other religious groups and forced conversion.

Pharisees and Sadducees Appear

It was during the reign of John Hyrcanus that the influence of the Pharisees and the Sadducees began to increase, as noted by the Jewish historian Josephus. Although Josephus does not provide information on the origins of these groups, some scholars believe they emerged from the Hasidim, a sect of pious individuals who supported Judah Maccabee’s religious goals but withdrew their support when his ambitions turned political. The name Pharisees is generally associated with the Hebrew root meaning “separate ones,” although it could also be related to the word “interpreters.” They were scholars from among the common people, with no special descent, who separated themselves from ritual impurities by a philosophy of special piety, applying temple laws of priestly holiness to everyday life. They developed a new method of interpreting Scriptures and a concept known as the oral law. They gained greater influence during Simon’s reign, with some being appointed to the Gerousia, which later became known as the Sanhedrin.

However, Josephus reports that John Hyrcanus was initially a pupil and supporter of the Pharisees, but their relationship broke down when the Pharisees criticized him for not giving up the high priesthood.

As a result, Hyrcanus outlawed the Pharisees’ religious ordinances and aligned himself with their opponents, the Sadducees. The name Sadducees is likely connected to the High Priest Zadok, whose descendants held the priestly office since the time of King Solomon. However, not all Sadducees were of this line. According to Josephus, the Sadducees were the aristocrats and wealthy individuals of the nation, and they did not have the support of the masses. Professor Schiffman notes that “most of them…were apparently priests or those who had intermarried with the high priestly families.” They had long been closely connected to those in power, and the increasing role of the Pharisees in public life and the Pharisaic concept of extending priestlike sanctity to all the people was perceived as a threat that could undermine the Sadducees’ natural authority. In the final years of Hyrcanus’ reign, the Sadducees regained control.

In summary, the Pharisees were scholars among the common people who separated themselves from ritual impurities and applied temple laws of priestly holiness to everyday life. They gained greater influence during Simon’s reign and were appointed to the Gerousia. On the other hand, the Sadducees were the aristocrats and wealthy individuals of the nation, and they did not have the support of the masses. They were closely connected to those in power and were opposed to the Pharisees’ increasing influence in public life, which they perceived as a threat to their traditional authority. The Pharisees and Sadducees both emerged during the time of John Hyrcanus reign, and their rise was closely tied to the political and religious developments of the time. Hyrcanus initially supported the Pharisees, but their relationship broke down, leading him to outlaw their religious ordinances and align himself with the Sadducees. The Sadducees regained control in the final years of Hyrcanus’ reign.

More Politics, Less Piety

Under the reign of Alexander Jannaeus, the Hasmonaean dynasty reached the peak of its power. He broke with previous policy and declared himself both high priest and king. This led to increased conflicts with the Pharisees and even a civil war in which 50,000 Jews died. Jannaeus quelled the rebellion by having 800 of the rebels impaled, an act that was reminiscent of pagan kings. He also ordered the slaughter of the wives and children of the impaled rebels in front of them while he feasted with his concubines. Despite his hostility towards the Pharisees, Jannaeus was a pragmatic politician and recognized their increasing popular support.

Before his death, Jannaeus instructed his wife, Salome Alexandra, to share power with the Pharisees. Salome Alexandra proved to be a capable ruler and provided the nation with one of the more peaceful periods under Hasmonaean rule. She restored the Pharisees to positions of authority and revoked the laws against their religious ordinances.

However, after Salome’s death, her sons Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II entered into a power struggle. Both lacked the political and military insight of their forefathers and neither fully understood the significance of the increasing Roman presence in the area after the collapse of the Seleucid kingdom. In 63 BCE, both brothers turned to the Roman ruler Pompey for mediation in their dispute. That same year, Pompey and his troops marched into Jerusalem and took control. This marked the beginning of the end for the Hasmonaean kingdom. In 37 BCE, Jerusalem was taken over by the Idumaean King Herod the Great, whom the Roman Senate had approved as “King of Judea,” “ally and friend of the Roman people.” The Hasmonaean kingdom was no more.

Judah Maccabee sought Jewish independence

The Hasmonaean Legacy

The Hasmonaean Dynasty
Judah Maccabee
Jonathan Maccabee
Simon Maccabee

John Hyrcanus
↓ ↓
Aristobulus
Salome Alexandra — married — Alexander Jannaeus
↓ ↓
Hyrcanus II
Aristobulus II

David S. Dockery et al., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 512.

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