Although we do not have any full Hebrew manuscripts of I Maccabees, have we found any fragments of manuscripts at all? If not, why wouldn't any trace exist at all?

  • Welcome to the group. Please be aware that questions are usually required to contain a specific biblical text, or they may be closed as off-topic. Personally I think an exception should be made in a case such as this. Please see the tour and help pages (below, left) for an orientation. Dec 5, 2023 at 1:09
  • I added the "manuscript" tag to help establish that your question may not require a specific passage to pass muster. Dec 5, 2023 at 1:15

2 Answers 2


The OP's question appears to be predicated on the assumption that 1 Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew. While this is not certain, it is still considered likely true. Here is a quote from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1_Maccabees

The book was probably originally written in Hebrew. Both Origen and Jerome claim to have seen a Hebrew text of 1 Maccabees. The surviving Greek script has Hebraisms and Hebrew idioms. It also seems to have been written in Judea where knowledge of Hebrew was more widespread. If it really was originally written in Greek, then the author was intentionally imitating Hebrew style in Greek. The book is not written in colloquial "common" Koine Greek of the 2nd century BC, but rather a more archaic style of Greek consciously imitative of the style of older scriptures. It frequently imitates biblical phraseology and directly cites biblical precedents. The English equivalent would be writing new books in the style of the King James Version of the Bible. It also uses anachronistic terms at times to make explicit parallels between the exploits of the Hasmoneans and earlier Jewish heroes; for example, it refers to the coastal region of Palestine as the land of the Philistines, although the Philistines were no longer a relevant cultural grouping in the era.

Just why no trace of the Hebrew original (if it ever existed!) has not been found, may be minor evidence that no Hebrew original ever existed. However, the answer to the question is still remains a mystery.

  • Is the fact of Hebraisms in the Greek text adequate evidence for it being written in Hebrew? Wherever the Jews went in their various diasporas, they adopted Hebraisms into their the local languages. Moreover, isn't there evidence from latter works that imitating an archaic scriptural style was not unusual? (not making an argument here, just asking.) Dec 5, 2023 at 0:59
  • @DanFefferman - there are plenty of Hebraisms in the Greek text of most of the NT. Almost no one argues for the original text of the NT in Hebrew. However, some will argue that for the case of Matthew.
    – Dottard
    Dec 5, 2023 at 2:17

Why is there no trace of ancient Hebrew versions of 1 Maccabees? I would suggest that the primary reason has to do with the unpopularity of the Hasmonean dynasty in the centuries following the Maccabean Revolt among the groups who might have preserved these texts. This dynasty, which the Revolt ushered in, combined the office of king and high priest, a tradition deeply offensive to both the Pharisees and the Essenes.

The Essenes, whose raison d'être had to do with purging the corrupt Hasmonean priesthood, would understandably not consider 1 Maccabees as scripture. This would explain why neither Hebrew nor Greek fragments of the work were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Pharisees, meanwhile, were famous for upholding the Law and must have been aware of the tradition that only descendants of the high priest Zadok (Ezekiel 40:46) should be high priests. Their rabbinical successors, who eventually determined which books would be included in the Hebrew Bible, would likewise not be interested in preserving a work that glorified the origins of the Hasmonean dynasty. There are also indications that, even if the book was originally written in Hebrew, the rabbis by this time did not think so.

Any popularity of 1 Maccabees would diminish dramatically in the runup to the Jewish Revolt of 66 c.e. as the Hasmoneans and their Sadducee allies grew to be seen more and more as traitorous Roman puppets. Copies may even have been destroyed intentionally, even as the popularity of the Hanukkah story increased.

Conclusion: although this hypothesis is somewhat speculative, the increasing unpopularity of the Hasmonean dynasty does help explain why no Hebrew copies of 1 Maccabees, or even fragments of it, have survived.

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