This word does not occur in Scripture. It was the name given to the leaders of the national party among the Jews who suffered in the persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes, who succeeded to the Syrian throne B.C. 175. It is supposed to have been derived from the Hebrew word (makkabah) meaning "hammer," as suggestive of the heroism and power of this Jewish family, who are, however, more properly called Asmoneans or Hasmonaeans, the origin of which is much disputed.
After the expulsion of Antiochus Epiphanes from Egypt by the Romans, he gave vent to his indignation on the Jews, great numbers of whom he mercilessly put to death in Jerusalem. He oppressed them in every way, and tried to abolish altogether the Jewish worship. Mattathias, an aged priest, then residing at Modin, a city to the west of Jerusalem, became now the courageous leader of the national party; and having fled to the mountains, rallied round him a large band of men prepared to fight and die for their country and for their religion, which was now violently suppressed. In 1 Macc. 2:60 is recorded his dying counsels to his sons with reference to the war they were now to carry on. His son Judas, "the Maccabee," succeeded him (B.C. 166) as the leader in directing the war of independence, which was carried on with great heroism on the part of the Jews, and was terminated in the defeat of the Syrians.
Maccabees, Books of the
There were originally five books of the Maccabees. The first contains a history of the war of independence, commencing (B.C. 175) in a series of patriotic struggles against the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes, and terminating B.C. 135. It became part of the Vulgate Version of the Bible, and was thus retained among the Apocrypha.
The second gives a history of the Maccabees' struggle from B.C. 176 to B.C. 161. Its object is to encourage and admonish the Jews to be faithful to the religion of their fathers.
The third does not hold a place in the Apocrypha, but is read in the Greek Church. Its design is to comfort the Alexandrian Jews in their persecution. Its writer was evidently an Alexandrian Jew.
The fourth was found in the Library of Lyons, but was afterwards burned. The fifth contains a history of the Jews from B.C. 184 to B.C. 86. It is a compilation made by a Jew after the destruction of Jerusalem, from ancient memoirs, to which he had access. It need scarcely be added that none of these books has any divine authority.