First letter to the Jews in Egypt
1 Greetings to our brothers, the Jews in Egypt, from their brothers, the Jews in Jerusalem and in the region of Judea ¨C may you have peace and happiness.
2 May God fill you with every good and remember his covenant with Abra ham, Isaac and Jacob, his faithful servants.
3 May he give you all a heart to worship him and to ful fill his will with generosity and a well- disposed spirit.
4 May he incline your hearts to listen to his law and precepts, and give you peace.
5 May he hear your prayers and be reconciled with you, and not abandon you in time of misfortune.
6 This is what we now pray for you.
7 In the year one hundred and seventy-nine, when Demetrius was king, we Jews wrote to you during the most critical moment of trials that we had to endure during those years. And we said to you: ¡°Jason and his associates have betrayed the cause of the Holy Land and of the Kingdom.
8 They have burned the Temple gateway and shed innocent blood. But we prayed to the Lord and were heard. And now we have just offered a sacrifice with wheat flour, lighted the lamps again and set out the loaves of bread.
9 So we write to you again that you may celebrate the Feast of Tents in the month of Chislev in this year one hundred and eighty-eight.
Second letter to the Jews in Egypt
10 The inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea, their senators and Judas, to Aristobulus, teacher of King Ptolemy, belonging to the family of the anointed priests, and to the Jews in Egypt: greetings and prosperity.
11 Having been saved by God from great dangers, we give him thanks be cause he came to our help against the king himself.
12 God drove out those who fought against the Holy City;
13 their leader left for Persia with a seemingly invincible army, but the priests of the goddess Nanea laid a trap for them and killed them in her temple.
14 Antiochus and his friends came to that place under the pretext of marrying the goddess, but in reality they wanted to seize its great treasures as a dowry.
15 The priests of Nanea had set out the treasures and Antiochus entered the sacred enclosure with a few men. But as soon as An tio chus had entered, they closed the temple
16 and opened a secret door in the ceiling. Then they threw stones down and crushed the leader and his men. They then dismembered the bodies, cut off their heads and threw them to those outside.
17 In all these things, may our God be blessed for he has handed over the impious to death.
18 As we are about to celebrate the purification of the Temple on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev, it seems good to us to inform you, so that you, too, may celebrate the Feast of Tents and remember the fire that appeared when Nehemiah, who built the Temple and the altar, offered sacrifices.
19 For when our ancestors were deported to Persia, the devout priests of the time took some of the fire from the altar and hid it secretly in the hollow of a dry well, with such caution that the place remained unknown to everyone.
20 Many years had passed, when in God¡¯s own time Nehemiah, who was commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to look for it.
21 But they reported to us that they did not find the fire but instead a thick liquid. So Nehe miah ordered them to draw it out and bring it to him. When the sacrifice had been prepared on the altar, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and the victims placed on it.
22 They did so and after some time the sun which had previously been clouded over, shone. At once such a great fire blazed up that all were astonished.
23 While the sacrifice was being consumed, the priests together with all those present prayed. Jonathan led while Nehe miah and the rest responded.
24 This was their prayer:
¡°Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, dread ful and strong, just and merciful, you alone are good and are King,
25 you alone are generous, just, all-powerful and eternal. You who save Israel from many evils, who chose our ancestors and sanctified them,
26 accept this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel. Protect your heritage and sanctify it.
27 Gather our scattered people together, set free those held in slavery among the nations, turn your eyes on those who are despised and crushed; so the pagans may know that you are our God.
28 Afflict those who oppress us, who insult and treat us with contempt.
29 Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses said.¡±
30 The priests sang the hymns,
31 and when the sacrifice was all consumed, Ne he miah or dered that the remaining liquid be poured over some large stones.
32 This was done, and a flame flared up but it was outshone by the fire from the altar.
33 This matter became known, and it was reported to the king of the Persians that the liquid with which Nehemiah and his companions had burned the sacrifice was found in the place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire.
34 So, after verifying the facts, the king ordered that a fence be built to en close the place and decreed that it be a sacred place.
35 The king gave some of that liquid to those who enjoyed his favor, and they gave him gifts in return.
36 Nehe miah and his companions called the place ¡°Neph tar¡± which means ¡°purification¡± but afterwards, many called it ¡°Naphtha.¡±
Comments 2 Maccabees, Chapter 1
• 1.1 This part of the first letter could be a model for wishing someone a ¡°Happy New Year.¡±
The Jews of Palestine write this letter after having overcome their oppressors. When they are about to celebrate the Purification of the Tem ple which has been retrieved from the enemy forces, they inform the Jewish communities dispersed in Egypt about it.
The letter deals with several themes. We single out the legend according to which the Ark (which had in fact been destroyed in the fall of Jerusalem in 587) had been saved and hidden. This was to express the great faith of the people; nothing that God had done in the time of their ancestors could be lost.
Note 2:13-15. This fact, not totally reliable, completes what we read in 1 Chr 29:29-30; 2 Chr 9:29; 16:11¡ Ezra 7:25-26; Ne 8; regarding the formation of the nucleus of the Bible, a task which was achieved not by Nehemiah, but rather by Ezra.