It is not so very long since the Apocrypha was found in almost every copy of the English Bible, but in the present day it is seldom printed with it, and very seldom indeed read. One or two of the writings included under this name are trivial and even absurd; but, on the whole, the Apocryphal books deserve far more attention than they receive. Among the foremost, in point of interest and value, must be placed the First Book of Maccabees. Written within fifty years of the events which it records, at a time, it must be remembered, that was singularly barren of historical literature, it is a careful, sober, and consistent narrative. It is our principal, not unfrequently our sole, authority for the incidents of a very important period, a period that was in the highest degree critical in the history of the Jewish nation and of the world which that nation has so largely influenced. It is commonly said that the great visitation of the Captivity finally destroyed in the Hebrew mind the tendency to [pg vi]idolatry. But the denunciations of Ezekiel prove to us that the exiles carried into the land of their captivity the evil which they had cherished in the land of their birth, and it is no less certain that they brought it back with them on their return. It grew to its height in the early part of the Second Century B.C., along with the increasing influence of Greek civilization in Western Asia. The feeble Jewish Commonwealth was more and more dominated by the powerful kingdoms which had been established on the ruins of the empire of Alexander, and the national religion was attacked by an enemy at least as dangerous as the Phœnician Baal-worship had been in earlier days, an enemy which may be briefly described by the word Hellenism. The story of how Judas and his brothers led the movement which rescued the Jewish faith from this peril is the story which we have endeavoured to tell in this volume. Our plan has been to follow strictly the lines of the First Book of Maccabees, going to the Second, a far less trustworthy document, only for some picturesque incidents. The subsidiary characters are fictitious, but the narrative is, we believe, apart from casual errors, historically correct.
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I have added to the Story of the Seven Chiefs against Thebes the description of the single combat between Eteocles and Polynices, which occurs in the Phoenissæ of Euripides. Some changes have been made in the Story of Ion to make it more suitable for the purpose of this book. Throughout the Stories compression and omission have been freely used. I…
We have to acknowledge special obligations to Captain Conder’s “Judas Maccabæus,” a volume of the series entitled “The New Plutarch.” We also owe much to Canon Rawlinson’s notes in the “Speaker’s Commentary on the Bible,” to Canon [pg vii]Westcott’s articles in the “Dictionary of the Bible,” and to Dean Stanley’s“Lectures on the Jewish Church.”
If any reader should be curious as to the literary partnership announced on the title-page—a partnership that has grown, so to speak, out of another of many years’ standing, shared by the writers as author and publisher—he may be informed that the plan of the story and a detailed outline of it have been contributed by Richmond Seeley, and the story itself written for the most part by Alfred Church.
Sept. 3, 1889.