August 1: The Holy Maccabees, Memorial

Stattler, 1844

Today's feast celebrates a group of pre-Christian martyrs, the Holy Maccabees.

The setting is the Jewish rebellion against the Sellucid Empire (which had formed after the death of Alexander the Great) from 166 BC. 

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to put a political, non-Levite, appointee in as Chief Priest in Jerusalem.  Following the ensuing riots and turmoil, he pillaged the Temple, took away prisoners, and banned Jewish religious practice, setting up altars to pagan gods in the Temple.  This prompted the revolt led by Judas Maccabeus chronicled in (canonical) 1&2 Maccabees.  The rebellion eventually succeeded, allowing the Temple to be rededicated (celebrated in the Jewish feast of Hannukah), and the resulting Hasmonean dynasty controlled Judea from 164 to 63 BC.

The particular martyrs we honour today are the women and her seven sons described in 2 Maccabees 7-8.  Arrested shortly before the revolt, King Antiochus attempted to force them to eat pork.  When they refused, he tortured them and killed them one by one, watched over by their mother who died thereafter, each giving a speech holding fast to their faith as they died.

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