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Foils or Heroes? On Martyrdom in First and Second Maccabees

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Publication Date: January 2009

Publisher(s): Association for Jewish Studies; Association for Jewish Studies

Author(s): Daniel R. Schwartz; Daniel R. Schwartz

Series: AJS Perspectives: The Newsletter of the Association for Jewish Studies, Spring 2009, pp.10-11.

Special Collection: Berman Jewish Policy Archive

Topic: Culture and religion (Religion and religious groups)
Culture and religion (Literature)

Keywords: Jewish Text; Religion; Literature; Judaic Studies

Type: Report


The author examines the treatment of martyrdom in 1 Maccabees in comparison to 2 Maccabees, in order to explore subsequent Jewish attitudes toward martyrdom. The two books tell the story from very different perspectives, the author explains, and this difference in ideology manifests in the portrayal of martyrdom. Martyrs are pivotal in 2 Maccabees, says the author, with martyrdom serving to appease God and atone for past sins. In 1 Maccabees, by contrast, martyrs serve only to highlight the evil of the invaders, and as foils for the real heroes, the Hasmoneans.