I Maccabees and II Maccabees (for 3rd – 4th grade children)

What really happened in the Chanukah story?

I Maccabees

Chapter 1:

Antiochus began to reign in the one hundred and thirty-seventh year of the kingdom of the Greeks. Under his rule, Jewish people stopped following the laws of their fathers and began following Greek customs. They misled others, saying, “Let us go and make a treaty with the gentiles around us!” They built a Greek gymnasium in Jerusalem, as was the Gentiles’ custom, and abandoned Jewish laws.

Then the king wrote that his whole kingdom should be one people, and that everyone should give up their customs and follow the Greek customs. Many from Israel gladly adopted the king’s religion: they sacrificed to idols, stopped keeping the Sabbath, and ate unholy foods.


Chapter 1 sets the scene for why the Hasmoneans are fighting. Who are the “bad guys” in this chapter? (The Hasmoneans will fight them later on.)



Chapter 2

In those days, Mattityahu, a high priest, moved from Jerusalem and settled in the town of Mode’in. He had five sons: Yochanan, called Gaddi, Shimon, called Thassi, Yehuda, called Maccabee, Eleazar called Avaran, and Yonatan, called Apphus. They saw all their people in Jerusalem and throughout Judah not following their Laws and sacrificing to Greek gods. Mattityahu said, “Alas! Why was I born to see this, the ruin of my people, the ruin of the holy city?”

And Mattityahu and his sons tore their clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourned greatly.

Then the king’s officers, who were enforcing the new laws, came to Mattityahu and said, “You are a leader, honored and great in this city. Come and do what the king commands. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattityahu answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, and ignore the laws of their fathers, I and my sons and my brothers will live by the laws of our fathers. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion.”

When Mattityahu had finished speaking, a Jew came forward from the crowd and, in front of everyone, got ready to offer a sacrifice on the altar set up by the Greeks. When Mattityahu saw this, he burned with zeal. With righteous anger he ran up and killed this man.

Then Mattityahu cried out in the city with a loud voice, saying: “Let every one who is zealous for the law come out with me!” And he and all his sons fled to the hills. Many who were seeking righteousness and justice went out to the wilderness with them, because they saw evil all around them.


Chapter Two: Who are the Hasmoneans fighting in this chapter? Why are they fighting?



Chapters 3&4:  

Mattityahu died, and Yehudah, the Maccabee, took over his place as commander of the Hasmonean army.  Now Yehudah and his brothers saw that the Greek forces had increased and were set up in the Hasmonean territory. Yehudah also learned that the king had commanded his army to destroy the Hasmoneans once and for all.

But the Hasmoneans said to one another, “Let us repair the destruction of our people, and fight for our people and the Temple.” And the Jewish army gathered to be ready for battle, and to pray and ask for mercy and compassion.

Jerusalem was empty like a wilderness; not one person went in or out. The Temple was trampled down, and foreigners controlled it; The flute and the harp ceased to play.

So they assembled and went to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem.

At daybreak Yehudah appeared with three thousand men, but they did not have as much armor and swords as they needed. And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with weapons round about it; and these men were trained in war.

But Yehudah said to the men who were with him, “Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge.  Remember how our fathers were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces chased them. And now let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favor us and remember his covenant with our fathers and crush this army before us today. Then everyone who is not Jewish will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.”

When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, they went forth from their camp to battle. Then the men with Yehudah blew their trumpets and engaged in battle. The Greeks were crushed and fled into the plain.

The beginning of Chapter 4 tells us about another one of the battles that the Hasmoneans fought.  Who were they fighting this time? Who does the author compare Hasmoneans to?



Chapter 4 (continued)

They sang hymns and praises to Heaven. Then Yehudah and his brothers said, “Our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.”

So all the army assembled and they went up to Mount Zion. They saw the sanctuary empty, the altar full of sacrifices to other gods, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes had begun to grow, and the priests’ rooms were in ruins. So they rent their clothes, and mourned greatly, and sprinkled themselves with ashes.

But Yehudah sent an army to keep the Jerusalem safe until they had cleansed the Temple. He chose good priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Kislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year, they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and offered burnt offerings with gladness; they offered a sacrifice of deliverance and praise.

The rest of Chapter 4 describes how the Hasmoneans celebrated their victory. What are 3 things the Hasmoneans did when they got back to the Temple?



Think about what we said we know about Chanukah early today. What do we know about Chanukah that isn’t in the story we just read?  

What really happened in the Chanukah story?



II Maccabees

Chapter 4

When Seleucus died and Antiochus became king, Jason the brother of Onias was appointed to the high priesthood. But Jason got his position because he was corrupt, and had promised the king three hundred and sixty talents of silver and, from another source, eighty more talents of silver. As soon as the king was crowned, and Jason came to office, they shifted all of Israel to the Greek way of life.

All of the Jews had to follow Greek laws. There were no exceptions. The king quickly founded a gymnasium right under the Temple.

Jason was wicked and ungodly–he didn’t act like a high priest! Because of him, and all of the Jews who followed him and adopted Greek ways of life, the priests were no longer respected the Temple and upheld its holiness. The priests neglected to make sacrifices and hurried to take part in the Greek gymnasium.

For this reason terrible things happened to the priests; the people the priests admired, soon became their enemies. For it is no light thing to show abandon to the divine laws — and you will soon see why…

Chapter 4 sets the scene for the upcoming revolt. Who are the “bad guys” in this chapter?  



Chapter 6

At this time, the Greek soldiers went about enforcing the new laws. Eleazar, one of the scribes, a very important man, now quite old and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pig’s flesh.  But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life disobeying Jewish law, spit out the flesh, as men ought to who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to eat, even when their life is at risk.

Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because they knew him well, and privately urged him to bring his own meat, kosher meat, and pretend that he was eating the sacrificial meal which had been commanded by the king, so that he might be saved from death and be treated kindly.

But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs which he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to kill him rather than feed him food that is forbidden to him.

“Such pretending is not worthy of us at this time,” he said, “otherwise many of the young people should think that Eleazar, in his ninetieth year, has changed to another religion. If I pretend, just so I could live a brief moment longer, they should be led astray and I will be disgraced in my old age.”

And so, those who a little before had acted kindly toward him now turned on him, because what he had said, in their opinion, was sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.”

So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.



Chapter 6 sets the scene for the upcoming revolt and, through the story about Elazar, tells us who the “noble people” are and what they care about.


  • What was Elazar’s position in society?


  • What was he asked to do? Why did he choose to die?


Chapter 10

Maccabee and his followers, the Lord leading them on, recovered the temple and the city; and they tore down the altars which had been built in the public square by the foreigners. They purified the sanctuary, and made another altar of sacrifice; then, striking a fire out of flint, they offered sacrifices, after two years had passed since the last sacrifice, and they burned incense and lit lamps. And when they had done this, they fell and prayed to the Lord that they might never again fall into such misfortunes.

The beginning of Chapter 10 tells us about how they celebrated their victory. Who led the rededication of the Temple?


And on the same day on which the sanctuary had been taken over by the foreigners, they purified the sanctuary again–on the twenty-fifth day of the same month, which was Kislev. And they celebrated it for eight days with rejoicing, in the manner of the feast of Sukkot, remembering how not long before, during the feast of Sukkot, they had been wandering in the mountains and caves like wild animals.  Therefore bearing ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, they offered hymns of thanksgiving (Hallel) to God who had given them success in purifying of God’s own holy place again.

They decreed by public ordinance and vote that the whole nation of the Jews should observe these days every year.  Such then was the end of Antiochus.

At the end of Chapter 10, we hear this author’s reason for celebrating Chanukah. Why did they celebrate for 8 days?

Who, at end, does the author say was the “bad guy” in the story?20121213-235026.jpg

Think about what we said we know about Chanukah early today. What do we know about Chanukah that isn’t in the story we just read?  


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  1. […] Here’s a link to several selections from the three books. The short version (easier to read aloud!) is here. Happy Chanukah! […]

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