Based on [2 Maccabees 12:39-45, NRSV] we learn Judas Maccabeus believed the souls of dead idolaters were never fully atoned for through their own physical deaths (shedding of their blood) in contrast to [Leviticus 17:11].

[2 Maccabees 12, NRSV] - [v.39] On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. [v.40] Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. [v.41] So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; [v.42] and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. [v.43] He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. [v.44] For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. [v.45] But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.

Why did Pharisaic Jews think additional posthumus monetary sacrifices (on behalf of the dead idolaters) in the form of silver drachmas could purify souls of the dead before their resurrection could occur - Instead of recognizing the removed Blood of the fallen sinners had already atoned for their sins (based on Leviticus 17:11)?

[Vayiqra | Leviticus 17:11] "For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have therefore given it to you [to be placed] upon the altar, to atone for your souls. For it is the blood that atones for the soul." (כִּי־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר֘ בַּדָּ֣ם הִוא֒ וַֽאֲנִ֞י נְתַתִּ֤יו לָכֶם֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ לְכַפֵּ֖ר עַל־נַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־הַדָּ֥ם ה֖וּא בַּנֶּ֥פֶשׁ יְכַפֵּֽר)

When did posthumus money to the 2nd Temple become a greater atonement for a soul's sin rather than one's own death?

  • 1
    Jews do not sacrifice human beings on their altar(s), which is what Leviticus (17:11) is about.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 11:28
  • 1
    Right, human sacrifice is not part of the Mosaic Law. The blood of animals is being spoken of. A martyrdom is not a feature of the Mosaic Law. Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:05

5 Answers 5


The timeline of the question is a bit off, because there were no pharisees at this time. The Pharisees were one of the various splinter groups from the Hasidim (not to be confused with the group started in 18th Century Poland).

The goal of the Hasidim was to fight Hellenization and the Maccabeans came from this group. Thus it was a group with roots shortly after the Hellenization program in Palestine enacted by the Seleucid Empire (~4th-3rd Century BC). When the Hasidim disintegrated after the collapse of the Hasmonean dynasty, the Sadduccees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots emerged from the remnants and inherited much of the religious power vaccuum left by the Hasidim (~1 Century BC), but this was after the book of Maccabees was already written (~late 2nd Century BC). Already during the end stage of the Hasmonean period, there was constant infighting and even fratricidal killings as various groups began to splinter off from them. In fact, it was to resolve infighting between two rival factions for High Priest that Pompey was invited into Jerusalem to settle the dispute, leading to Roman conquest of Palestine and the destruction of the Hasidim.

Moreover the Hasidim, while pious, were not as exacting in following either the law or tradition as the Pharisees would be, given they endowed the office of High Priest and King in the same person, whereas historically they were to be held by different people. And the high priest/king was neither of the line of David nor of the line of Zadok (which was one of the reasons why the Sadduccees defected from this group).

Therefore don't be surprised if the beliefs of the Hasidim as recorded in Maccabees differ from Pharisaic teachings.


The law does not state the sins of sinners get atonement by their own death. The blood sacrifice (of animals) could only atone for the sins if the person repents and turn away from the transgressions. The sages interpreted that the blood of righteous (not sinner) men also atones. In this case, these soldiers were found guilty of honoring the pagan gods, thus we cannot assume their sins were atoned and forgiven. The law allowed flour offering for the poor, who could not offer animal sacrifice. Some Pharisees may have introduced money offering as atonement for their sins, as they were very creative in inventing traditions of taking money to absolve from the commandments, such as mentioned in Mark 10:19. They were exchanging the need of commands like paying for the needs of the parents with money given to the Priests. Similar to what many Christians do in the name of grace, by turning it into a license to sin.

Even today some anti-Christian Jews argue that money can be used for atonement, using Exodus 30:15-16. However, it is not a valid argument to use it as substitution for blood sacrifice. To quote from oneforisrael:

The atonement money was intended to provide protection, and there is no connection with the forgiveness of anyone’s sins. When Rashi discussed the meaning of Exodus 30:15, he said: “”To atone for your souls” so that you will not be smitten with a plague because of the census.”” In other words, the word “atone” has no connection to atonement for sin. In ‘Siftei Chachamim’, a rabbinical collection of Rashi’s interpretations, Rashi’s meaning was explained:“and not to atone for your sins, as in other atonements in the Law.” Similarly, in Gur Aryeh’s interpretation to Rashi, it says: “this is in regards to three different money offerings, one of them pays for the animal sacrifice, and by that clarifies that the sacrifices are the atoning ones.”

Still, it is not unlikely that the Jews had some tradition of paying money to lessen the purgatory punishment of the grave, as the Roman Church has. These traditions seem to have the same source of greed to fill up the pockets of the religious establishment, rather than fulfilling the requirement of the law. The Roman Catholic indulgence is such an example:

By a plenary indulgence is meant the remission of the entire temporal punishment due to sin so that no further expiation is required in Purgatory. A partial indulgence commutes only a certain portion of the penalty; and this portion is determined in accordance with the penitential discipline of the early Church. To say that an indulgence of so many days or years is granted means that it cancels an amount of purgatorial punishment equivalent to that which would have been remitted, in the sight of God, by the performance of so many days or years of the ancient canonical penance. Here, evidently, the reckoning makes no claim to absolute exactness; it has only a relative value.

God alone knows what penalty remains to be paid and what its precise amount is in severity and duration. Finally, some indulgences are granted in behalf of the living only, while others may be applied in behalf of the souls departed. It should be noted, however, that the application has not the same significance in both cases. The Church in granting an indulgence to the living exercises her jurisdiction; over the dead she has no jurisdiction and therefore makes the indulgence available for them by way of suffrage (per modum suffragii), i.e. she petitions God to accept these works of satisfaction and in consideration thereof to mitigate or shorten the sufferings of the souls in Purgatory. (Newadvent: Indulgences)

A similar practice was taken by Muhammad, copying from the Jews, of paying Zakat, the compulsory charity even for the sake of dead.


2 Maccabees is not a canonical book and not inspired, therefore it cannot be used as authority for christian belief. Maybe used as historical reference, as Josephus but that is all.

  • Your statement is more of a comment and does not really answer the OP question.
    – agarza
    Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 18:55
  • It's in the Catholic and Orthodox and every other Bible which predates the Protestant Bible, so it's definitely a valid question for "Biblical Hermeneutics" which even includes quasi-Biblical books and topics. Commented Sep 30, 2021 at 19:03

There are two mistaken premises in this question.

  1. The atonement wasn't the giving of the money. The money was used to purchase a sin-offering:

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering.

The sin-offering was sacrificed and burned on the Alter. It was the sin-offering that was meant to atone, not the money.

  1. As others have noted, Leviticus is not referring to the blood of men but the blood of animals:

given it to you [to be placed] upon the altar

Nevertheless there is a tradition in the Talmud that death atones for sins. But this requires repentence prior to death--which presumably did not occur here.


Leviticus 17:11 deals with the sin of consuming animal blood. It does not deal with idolatry:

As for anyone, whether of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing among them, who consumes any blood, I will set myself against that individual and will cut that person off from among the people, 11 since the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement on the altar for yourselves, because it is the blood as life that makes atonement.

Also, the OP seems to understand the phrase "I have given it (blood) to you to make atonement on the altar" as referring to human life. That is not the case. It is speaking of animal blood. Earlier in the same chapter it says:

Such sacrifices as they used to offer in the open field the Israelites shall henceforth bring to the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, to the priest, and sacrifice them there as communion sacrifices to the Lord. 6 The priest will splash the blood on the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting and burn the fat for an odor pleasing to the Lord.

Judah Maccabee collected money for a "sin offering" on behalf of fallen Jews who bodies were found to hold tokens of idolatry. Although offering sacrifices on behalf of the dead in not mentioned in the Jewish Bible, this action was not in contradiction to Leviticus 17.

It may also be noted that 2 Maccabees is not authoritative as Jewish scripture. So it is disputed that the historical Judah would have done as reported. Neither the OT itself nor later rabbinic Judaism endorsed the practice of offering sacrifices for the dead.. Some commentators consider Judah's collection of silver to have been on behalf of the community's sin, as opposed to being for the individual soldiers (Lev. 4:13-21).

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.