I. LETTERS TO THE JEWS IN EGYPT
Letter 1: 124 B.C.
1The Jews in Jerusalem and in the land of Judea send greetings to their kindred, the Jews in Egypt, and wish them true peace! 2May God do good to you and remember his covenant with his faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, 3give to all of you a heart to worship him and to do his will wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit, 4open your heart to his law and commandments and grant you peace, 5hear your prayers, and be reconciled to you, and never forsake you in time of adversity. 6Even now we are praying for you here.
7In the reign of Demetrius,#Demetrius: Demetrius II, king of Syria (145–139, 129–125 B.C.). The one hundred and sixty-ninth year: i.e., of the Seleucid era, 143 B.C. Regarding the dates in 1 and 2 Maccabees, see note on 1 Mc 1:10. On the troubles caused by Jason and his revolt against the kingdom, i.e., the rule of the legitimate high priest, see 2 Mc 4:7–22. the one hundred and sixty-ninth year, we Jews wrote to you during the height of the distress that overtook us in those years after Jason and his followers revolted against the holy land and the kingdom,#a. [1:7] 2 Mc 4:7–20. 8set fire to the gatehouse and shed innocent blood. But we prayed to the Lord, and our prayer was heard;#Our prayer was heard: in the victory of the Maccabees. we offered sacrifices and fine flour; we lighted the lamps and set out the loaves of bread.#b. [1:8] 1 Mc 4:50–51. 9We are now reminding you to celebrate the feast of Booths in the month of Kislev.#Feast of Booths in the month of Kislev: really the feast of the Dedication of the Temple, Hanukkah (2 Mc 10:1–8), celebrated on the twenty-fifth of Kislev (Nov.–Dec.). Its solemnity resembles that of the actual feast of Booths (Lv 23:33–43), celebrated on the fifteenth of Tishri (Sept.–Oct.); cf. 2 Mc 1:18. 10Dated in the one hundred and eighty-eighth year.#The one hundred and eighty-eighth year: 124 B.C. The date pertains to the preceding, not the following letter. Senate: the council of Jewish elders of Jerusalem; cf. 1 Mc 12:6. King Ptolemy: Ptolemy VI Philometor, ruler of Egypt from 180 to 145 B.C.; he is mentioned also in 1 Mc 1:18; 10:51–59.
Letter 2: 164 B.C.
The people of Jerusalem and Judea, the senate, and Judas send greetings and good wishes to Aristobulus, teacher of King Ptolemy and member of the family of the anointed priests, and to the Jews in Egypt. 11Since we have been saved by God from grave dangers, we give him great thanks as befits those who fought against the king;#The king: Antiochus IV of Syria, the bitter persecutor of the Jews, who, as leader of the Syrian army that invaded Persia, perished there in 164 B.C. 12#c. [1:12–17] 2 Mc 9:1–29; 1 Mc 6:1–13; Dn 11:40–45. for it was God who drove out those who fought against the holy city. 13When their leader arrived in Persia with his seemingly irresistible army, they were cut to pieces in the temple of the goddess Nanea#Nanea: an oriental goddess comparable to Artemis of the Greeks. through a deceitful stratagem employed by Nanea’s priests. 14#Differing accounts of the death of Antiochus IV are found in 2 Mc 9:1–29 and in 1 Mc 6:1–16 (see also Dn 11:40–45). The writer of this letter had probably heard a distorted rumor of the king’s death. This and other indications suggest that the letter was written very soon after Antiochus IV died, perhaps in 164 B.C. On the pretext of marrying the goddess, Antiochus with his Friends had come to the place to get its great treasures as a dowry. 15When the priests of Nanea’s temple had displayed the treasures and Antiochus with a few attendants had come inside the wall of the temple precincts, the priests locked the temple as soon as he entered. 16Then they opened a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling, and hurling stones at the leader and his companions, struck them down. They dismembered the bodies, cut off their heads and tossed them to the people outside. 17Forever blessed be our God, who has thus punished the impious!
18#This legendary account of Nehemiah’s miraculous fire is incorporated in the letter because of its connection with the Temple and its rededication. Booths: see note on v. 9. Since we shall be celebrating the purification of the temple on the twenty-fifth day of the month Kislev,#d. [1:18] 2 Mc 6:7; 10:5; 1 Mc 1:59; 4:59. we thought it right to inform you, that you too may celebrate the feast of Booths and of the fire that appeared when Nehemiah, the rebuilder of the temple#Nehemiah, the rebuilder of the temple: he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, but the Temple had been rebuilt by Zerubbabel almost a century before. and the altar, offered sacrifices. 19For when our ancestors were being led into captivity in Persia,#Persia: actually Babylonia, which later became part of the Persian empire. devout priests at the time took some of the fire from the altar and hid it secretly in the hollow of a dry cistern, making sure that the place would be unknown to anyone. 20Many years later, when it so pleased God, Nehemiah, commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to look for it. 21When they informed us that they could not find any fire, but only a thick liquid, he ordered them to scoop some out and bring it. After the material for the sacrifices had been prepared, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the wood and what lay on it with the liquid. 22This was done, and when at length the sun, which had been clouded over, began to shine, a great fire blazed up, so that everyone marveled. 23While the sacrifice was being burned, the priests recited a prayer, and all present joined in with them. Jonathan led and the rest responded with Nehemiah.
24The prayer was as follows: “Lord, Lord God, creator of all things, awesome and strong, just and merciful, the only king and benefactor, 25who alone are gracious, just, almighty, and eternal, Israel’s savior from all evil, who chose our ancestors and sanctified them: 26accept this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel and guard and sanctify your portion. 27Gather together our scattered people, free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look kindly on those who are despised and detested, and let the Gentiles know that you are our God. 28Punish those who lord it over us and in their arrogance oppress us. 29Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses said.”#e. [1:29] 2 Mc 2:18; Ex 15:17; Dt 30:3–5.
30Then the priests sang hymns. 31After the sacrifice was consumed, Nehemiah ordered the rest of the liquid to be poured upon large stones. 32As soon as this was done, a flame blazed up, but its light was lost in the brilliance coming from the altar. 33When the event became known and the king of the Persians was told that, in the very place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire, a liquid was found with which Nehemiah and his people had burned the sacrifices, 34the king, after verifying the fact, fenced the place off and declared it sacred. 35To those whom the king favored, he distributed many benefits he received. 36Nehemiah and his companions called the liquid nephthar, meaning purification, but most people named it naphtha.#By a play on words, the Greek term naphtha (petroleum) is assimilated to some Semitic word, perhaps nephthar, meaning “loosened.” #f. [1:36] 2 Mc 2:18; 10:3; 14:36.