‘Infancy Narratives’ in 1-2 Maccabees

Image result for magi matthew



 Damien F. Mackey


“When Mattathias saw all the sins that were being committed

in Judea and Jerusalem, he said:

‘Our children have been killed in the streets,

and our young men by the sword of the enemy’.”

 I Maccabees 2:6, 9




From memory, it was Daniel 11 that may have started me towards my realisation (as I see it) that the wicked king Herod ‘the Great’, at the time of the infancy of Jesus Christ, could be the same as Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’, arguably the most evil ruler in the entire Bible.

Philip Mauro’s compelling interpretation of Daniel 11 in his book, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation (1921): https://www.preteristarchive.com/Books/1921_mauro_seventy-weeks.html most likely assisted me in arriving at such a connection, for Mauro – having, like most, assigned vv. 32-35 to the Maccabean era – then convincingly argued for king Herod as “the king” of vv. 36-39.

In my revised system, however, there is no need anymore for a rupture between vv. 32-35 and vv. 36-39. The wicked ruler of the Maccabean era is still the same “the king” of vv. 36-39: namely, Antiochus IV-who-is-my-Herod.

Mauro wrote on this:


We have seen that verses 32-35 have to do (as is generally agreed) with the [H]Asmoneans or Maccabees, verse 35 telling what was to befall them to the time of the end. What, therefore, we would be led to expect next is a reference to that order of things in Israel which followed immediately after the era of the Asmonean princes. And that is exactly what we do find. For there is no need (and no ground) either for the attempt to make the next succeeding verses apply to Antiochus Epiphanes, or to make a sudden and gigantic leap into the far distant future, in order to find a person whose career might conceivably answer to this part of the prophecy. For history, both sacred and profane, sets before us a most notable character, one who appears upon the scene and occupies the centre of the stage in Israel just at “the end” of the Asmonean era, and one who answers to every item of the prophetic description. We have reference to that strange, despotic, ungovernable and unspeakably cruel personage, whom the evangelists designate emphatically as–




–that remarkable character who was a usurper upon the throne of David when Christ, the true King, was born. The proof which enables us to identify “the king” of Daniel 11:36-39 with Herod the Great and his dynasty, is so convincing that we feel warranted in saying that the prophecy could not possibly mean anyone else.


It would be strange indeed if, in an outline which gives prominence to Xerxes, Alexander, the Seleucids, the Ptolemies, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the Maccabees, there were no mention of that remarkable personage who exerted upon Jewish affairs and destinies an influence greater than they all, and who sat upon the throne of Israel when Christ was born.


The words, “the king,” should suffice, in the light of the context, without further description, to identify Herod to those who thoughtfully read their Bibles; for Herod alone is called by that title in the Gospels, and he alone had the rank and authority of “king” in Israel in the days after the captivity, “the latter days.” The text does not speak of a king, but of the king, the emphatic Hebrew article being used. This is in marked contrast with the terms of v. 40, where the original speaks of “a king of the north,” and “a king of the south.”


Mackey’s comment: If one reads 1 and 2 Maccabees, he/she will find various rulers, including Antiochus IV, being designated simply, “the king” (e.g. I Maccabees 6:8).

Mauro continues:


A glance at the context is enough to show that “the king” of v. 36 cannot mean either of the kings of v. 27. Moreover, these are never spoken of as “the king,” but always, both before and after v. 36, as “the king of the north,” or “the king of the south,” as the case may be. Nor does the Scripture speak of any “king” who is to arise at the time of the end of this present age, and who answers at all to the description of the prophecy. The “man of sin,” described in (#2Th 2:3-10), is supposed by some to be “the king” of Daniel 11:36. But he is not called a king, nor described as having kingly rank, but rather as one claiming divine worship in the temple of God, and backing up his pretensions by means of miracles and lying wonders. The “king” of Daniel 11:36 is a very different personage, and achieves his ends in a very different way, as will be clearly seen by all who diligently compare the two passages.


What has caused able commentators to go astray at this point, and in some instances to seek far afield for the interpretation of this passage, is the fact that they were unable to find anyone among the successors of Antiochus who answers at all to the description of “the king.” But they have overlooked two things which, had they heeded them, would have kept them from being so misled. Those things are, first, that the prophecy has not for its subject the kingdoms of Syria or Egypt, but the people of Israel, and hence the expression, “the king,” without other qualification, would mean one who was king over Daniel’s people; and second, that the verses immediately preceding (31-35) relate wholly to the affairs of the Jews under the Asmonean princes, and hence the terms of the prophecy itself lead us to look at this point for the beginning of a new order of things in Israel. And that is just what history certifies to us; for, precisely at this juncture of affairs, the Asmonean dynasty was brought to an end by violence and bloodshed, and it was replaced by that of a “king,” who answers perfectly to the description of the last part of the prophecy.

Moreover, and to this we would specially invite attention, it is said of this king that “he shall prosper until the indignation be accomplished” (or until wrath be completed), in fulfilment of which is the fact that the dynasty of Herod retained, through all the political upheavals of the times, its favour with Rome, and flourished in authority in Palestine, until the destruction of Jerusalem, which is the “wrath,” or “indignation,” or “tribulation,” to which these prophecies of Daniel so frequently refer as “the end” of Jewish nationality. For it was “Herod the king” who sought to compass the death of Christ soon after His birth, and whose successors of his own family put to death John the Baptist (this was done by Herod Antipas) and James the brother of John (by Herod Agrippa I, who also imprisoned Peter, intending to deliver him to the Jews) and finally sent Paul in chains to Rome (which was done by Herod Agrippa II, the last of the dynasty, the man who is best known to the world as he who was “almost persuaded”).

[End of quote]


‘Infancy Narrative’ Traits


So, to begin with, we have in each case a most evil – yet highly cunning and successful – king.

We have also a universal decree issued by a king/emperor that was binding on all of the ruler’s subjects (cf. I Maccabees 1:41 and Luke 2:1).

I am not necessarily saying that this was the one and same decree.

For the (tentative) possibility that my composite Antiochus-Herod could also have been the “Caesar Augustus” of Luke 2:1, see the appropriate reference in my article:


A glimpse of the Magi in Daniel 11:44?



Whilst I can find no reference to an actual “census” in 1 and 2 Maccabees, I had previously, in my article:


Judas the Galilean vitally links Maccabean era to Daniel 2’s “rock cut out of a mountain”. Part One: Judas the Galilean links census to Maccabees



used as a providential connecting link (with both Daniel 2 and 1 and 2 Maccabees) the crucial information supplied by Gamaliel in Acts 5:37 about “Judas the Galilean … in the days of the census”, thereby connecting Judas and his mentor, Matthias, with the Maccabean pairing of Judas and Mattathias (quoted at the beginning of this article) – thereby giving a census to Maccabean times.

Now, the move at the time of Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’ of Mattathias, with his family, “from Jerusalem and settled in Modein” (I Maccabees 2:1), I connected with the Gospel situation in Luke 2:3: “And everyone went to their own town to register”. For, as we shall learn at the time of the death of Jonathan, Modein was the Maccabees’ ancestral town (I Maccabees 13:25).

I also hypothesised that Modein, which so far has not been unequivocally identified, was the Sepphoris in Galilee to where Judas the Galilean is said to have removed himself.

The Holy Family, also living in Galilee, went on this occasion in a different direction (Luke 2:4-5): “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child”.

It was also a time of angelic visitations and preternatural activity.

To give only one example of many from 1 and 2 Maccabees, there is this potentially encouraging one (“a good sign”) (2 Maccabees 5:1-4):


About this time Antiochus the Fourth made a second attack against Egypt. For nearly forty days people all over Jerusalem saw visions of cavalry troops in gold armor charging across the sky. The riders were armed with spears and their swords were drawn. They were lined up in battle against one another, attacking and counterattacking. Shields were clashing, there was a rain of spears, and arrows flew through the air. All the different kinds of armor and the gold bridles on the horses flashed in the sunlight. Everyone in the city prayed that these visions might be a good sign.


Far better to know to most is this one from Luke 2:8-15, “good news” indeed:


And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,


‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests’.


When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about’.


Not long afterwards there occurred the visit of the Magi as recorded in Matthew 2.

In my article “A glimpse of the Magi in Daniel 11:44?” (above) I have suggested, following the view of others, that this was foretold, in an Antiochus-Herod context, in Daniel 11:44.

Herod reacted most violently to the Magian mention of an alternative “king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2). Thus we read in v. 16: “When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi”.

Today we refer to this sad incident as ‘The Slaughter of the Innocents’.

There are various references in 1 and 2 Maccabees to king Antiochus’s slaughtering of innocent babies, including the one from Mattathias above. Both Luke 2:18 and 1 and 2 Maccabees break into laments about such catastrophes for Israel.

Finally, just as the Holy Family will flee to Egypt to escape Herod (Matthew 2:13-15):


When [the Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up’, he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him’.

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son’ [,]


so (2 Maccabees 9:29): “One of [the deceased Antiochus IV’s] close friends, Philip, took his body home; but, because he was afraid of Antiochus’ son, he went on to King Ptolemy Philometor of Egypt”.

A glimpse of the Magi in Daniel 11:44?

Image result for magi matthew



Damien F. Mackey


“But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many”.

 Daniel 11:44





Some commentators take this verse of Daniel as being a reference to the news brought to Herod by the Magi, as recorded in Matthew 2:1-2: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him’.” Philip Mauro was adamant that this must be the case. Accordingly, this is what Mauro wrote in his 1921 book, The Seventy Weeks and the Great Tribulation:




We come now to the last two verses of chapter 11, which read thus:


“But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him; therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end and none shall help him” (#Da 11:44,45).


It is not at first glance apparent who is the antecedent of the pronoun “he” in these verses. But upon close attention to the text it will be seen that we have here a return to the main subject of this part of the prophecy, “the king” of verse 36 ….

…. [Farquharson] adds: “And the correctness of this view of the whole passage is confirmed by the literal manner in which the predictions in this 44th verse, and in the remaining verse of the chapter, were fulfilled by Herod.”


Indeed we do not see how any fulfilment could be more complete and literal than that which is given us in Matthew’s Gospel of the words “But tidings out of the east shall trouble him.” For it is written that “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men FROM THE EAST to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He that is born king of the Jews? for we have seen His star IN THE EAST, and are come to worship Him. When Herod heard these things he was TROUBLED, and all Jerusalem with him” (#Mt 2:1-3). So here we have the exact thing prophesied, namely, “tidings out of the east” which “troubled him.”


Nothing was so well calculated to “trouble” Herod as reports that some one was aspiring to his throne. In this case it is among the most familiar of all facts that Herod, being set at nought by the wise men, from whom he sought to learn the identity of the new born babe, “was EXCEEDING WROTH, and SENT FORTH, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under” (#Mt 2:16). Thus we have almost verbal agreement with the words of the prophecy, “he shall Go FORTH, with GREAT FURY, to destroy and utterly to make away MANY.” ….

[End of quote]



The bigger picture

 The king Herod under consideration here I have expanded to embrace the evil Hellenistic king of the Maccabean age, Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’. One will find this reconstruction in my series:


Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part One: Judas the Jewish Revolutionary


Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Two: Gamaliel’s feeble account of Judas



Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Two (b): Who was Gamaliel’s “Theudas”?



Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Two (c): Was Gamaliel’s ‘Theudas’ John the Baptist?




Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Three: The “King” (i) A summary so far



Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Three: The “King” (ii) A slaughterer of innocent babies


Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Three: The “King” (iii) Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’ merges into Herod



Compare also the “trembled” in I Maccabees 1:28: “All our people were clothed with shame, and our land trembled for them”[,] with Matthew 2:3: “When Herod the king heard it, he trembled, and all Jerusalem with him”.

Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Three: The “King” (iv) Antiochus/Herod merges into Hadrian


Merging Maccabean and Herodian ages. Part Three: The “King” (v) Was the “King” also “Caesar Augustus”?



Now, in my perusal of the two accounts of king Antiochus (my Herod) in 1 and 2 Maccabees, I have not been able to find any instance of that king’s being troubled by any news, tidings, or reports, from either the “east” or the “north”.

The “north” is rather problematical inasmuch as Antiochus himself is designated in Daniel 11 as “the king of the north”. For example we read in verses 15-17 of his warfare, and then alliance, with the king “of the South”, who was the Ptolemaïc (Hellenistic) pharaoh of Egypt/Ethiopia:


Then the king of the North will come and build up siege ramps and will capture a fortified city. The forces of the South will be powerless to resist; even their best troops will not have the strength to stand. The invader will do as he pleases; no one will be able to stand against him. He will establish himself in the Beautiful Land and will have the power to destroy it. He will determine to come with the might of his entire kingdom and will make an alliance with the king of the South. And he will give him a daughter in marriage in order to overthrow the kingdom, but his plans will not succeed or help him.


And the only occasion that I have found in 1 and 2 Maccabees where king Antiochus hears from the east is when, in his last days (I Maccabees 6:1-2):


King Antiochus was going through the upper provinces when he heard that Elymais in Persia was a city famed for its wealth in silver and gold. Its temple was very rich, containing golden shields, breastplates, and weapons left there by Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian king who first reigned over the Greeks.


There is no indication whatsoever anywhere in 1 and 2 Maccabees that this hearing about the east (Persia) either (as according to Daniel 11:44) troubled him, or caused him to go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.

Philip Mauro, following the unreliable Josephus, does attempt to identify some bad news from the “north” in the case of Herod. Mauro greatly stretches things to have Daniel’s “the north” now refer to Rome (op. cit., ibid.):


At about the same time, that is, in the last years of Herod’s life, “tidings out of the north” also came to “trouble” that self-tormenting monarch. For Antipater, his oldest son (a despicable character), then at Rome (which had now become the centre of what is indefinitely called in this prophecy “the north”) conspired to have letters written to his father giving information that two other of his sons, whom he purposed to make his successors, had calumniated their father to Caesar. This caused Herod again to break forth with intense “fury” against his own sons, and their supposed abettors, as related by Josephus at great length (Ant. XVII 4-7; Wars 1:30-33).


In regard to these extraordinary events, Farquharson quotes a passage (which we give below) from the Universal Ancient History, saying he does so the more readily because the authors of the passage had no thought at all of recording a fulfilment of prophecy. They say:


“The reader may remember that we left Herod in the most distracted state that can well be imagined; his conscience stung with the most lively grief for the murder of his beloved and virtuous Mariamne and of her two worthy sons; his life and crown in imminent danger from the rebellious Antipater, and ungrateful Pheroras; his reign stained with rivers of innocent blood; his latter days embittered by the treacherous intrigues of a sister; his person and family hated by the whole Jewish nation; and last of all, his crown and all his glories on the eve of being obscured by the birth of a miraculous Child, who is proclaimed by heaven and earth to be the promised and long expected Messiah and Saviour of the world. To all these plagues we must add some fresh intelligences which came tumbling in upon that wretched monarch; and which by assuring him still more, not only of the treasonable designs of the unnatural Antipater, but also of the bitter complaints which his other two sons, then at the Roman court, vented against them both, rendered him more than ever completely miserable” (Universal History, Vol. X. pp. 492, 493).


Herod’s “great fury” (to use the words of the prophecy) was not confined to the babes of Bethlehem, and to members of his own family. For, says Josephus, “it was also during paroxysms of fury, that, nearly about the same time, he burned alive Matthias and forty young men with him, who had pulled down the golden image of the Roman eagle, which he had placed over the gate of the temple” (Ant. XVII 7). Furthermore Josephus relates the following characteristic action of Herod:


“He came again to Jericho, where he became so choleric, that it brought him to do all things like a madman; and though he was near death, yet he contrived the following wicked designs: He commanded that all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation be called to him. Accordingly there were a great number that came, because * * * death was the penalty of such that should despise the epistles that were sent to call them. And now the king was in a wild rage against them all; * * * and when they were come, he ordered them all to be shut up in the hippodrome, and sent for his sister Salome and her husband Alexas, and spake thus to them: ‘I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; * * * but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such a mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.'” Therefore, in order to insure that the nation should be plunged into mourning, he left an order that, immediately upon his own death, all those leaders of the Jews, whom he had confined in the hippodrome, should be slain. That order, however, was not carried out.

[End of quote]


Daniel’s prophecy about “the east” does appear to fit rather well with the Magian scenario.


As to “the north”, it is possible that this just may give us a further clue to the place of origin of the Magi. They may have come collectively from lands ‘east and north’, and met up – just as Job’s friends, all hailing from different places, “set out from their homes and met together by agreement” (Job 2:11).



Extra note: Philip Mauro thought that he had found another reference to the baby Jesus in Daniel 11:37’s phrase (which some commentators take to refer to the god Tammuz):




Verse 37 reads: “Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god; for he shall magnify himself above all.”


These words call for special comment. The first clause manifestly could not apply to any heathen king like Antiochus. For whether or not a heathen king should change his national gods is a matter of no importance whatever. But with a king of Israel it is a matter of supreme importance. Now Herod, though supposedly of Idumean (i.e. Edomite) origin, was virtually a Jew; for all the remaining Idumeans, who had come into Judea several centuries previous, had been amalgamated with the Jews. In addressing the people Herod habitually used the expression “our fathers” (Ant. Bk. XV Ch. 11, See. 1). So fully was Herod regarded as a Jew, that the Herodians even held him to be the Messiah. Therefore, in introducing the worship of Caesar, Herod conspicuously failed to “regard the God of his fathers.” Moreover, in this connection, it should not be forgotten that Esau was Jacob’s twin brother, and hence that the God of the fathers of the Edomites was the same as the God of the fathers of the Jews.


The words, “nor the desire of women,” are very significant. There can scarcely be any doubt that they refer to Christ, and that Daniel would so understand them. For, of course, the “women” must be understood to be women of Israel; and the ardent “desire” of every one of them was that she might be the mother of Christ. The same word is found in (#Hag 2:7): “And the Desire of all nations shall come.” Evidently then it is Christ who is referred to as “the desire of women”; and if so, then we have a striking fulfilment of these words in Herod’s attempt to murder the infant Messiah. For the record given in (#Mt 2:1-16) makes it quite clear that Herod’s deliberate purpose was to put to death the promised Messiah of Israel. It was for the accomplishment of that purpose that he inquired of the chief priests and scribes as to where Christ should be born. The slaughter of the babes of Bethlehem was an act of atrocity almost without parallel in history. It was, moreover, an event that had been foretold by Jeremiah in the words, “A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children,” etc. (#Jer 31:51, quoted in #Mt 2:17,18). Each one of those murdered infants was “the desire” of his own mother; and thus Herod fulfilled Daniel 11:37 in another sense.


As already explained, I have rejected the traditional picture of Herod as an Idumean (and half-Jew), and have identified him instead as Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’, a Macedonian (Hellenistic) Greek of the Maccabean era.

And I have also completely rejected the chaotic chronology traditionally associated with Herod ‘the Great’.