The Apocrypha’s “Second Book of Maccabees”: A Failed Attempt to Re-imagine Maccabees

In 2012, in the Sanctuary of Mercy Church near the Spanish city of Zaragoza, a fresco of Jesus (titled “Behold the Man”) had deteriorated, and, given how prized this work of art was, a number of officials wanted it restored. Enter Cecilia Gimenez, in her 80s, who, apparently empowered by a priest, took to the task. Let’s just say that the result was less than successful. Her finished product is painful to look at, seeing just how thoroughly she butchered the original. botched FrescoYou’ll find better work watching a drag queen attempt to sing a Whitney Houston song.

When I see “Second” in a title, I assume I’m about to read a continuation of the first; however, The Apocrypha’s “Second Book of Maccabees,” is not a sequel. This excised Bible book is actual an attempt by the author to make “The First Book of Maccabees” “more attractive and useful” (443). And if you’ve read the First book and then this, you can tell easily that the author has created a work that is neither.

The First book of Maccabees focuses on the military campaigns and political maneuvering during the Jewish War of Independence against Antiochus Epiphanes, and it’s an interesting read. This book, however, reads more like a propaganda piece, and makes little to no attempt to hide its purpose. The author even front loads his Book by telling his reader how hard it was to consolidate the history in Maccabees (1:26-27).

When not jumping around with facts and dates, the author tells the reader to not over think your power (9:10-11); avoid foreign influence (6), don’t break the Lord’s laws (by eating pork, for example), for the Lord will know (6:26), and avoid godless people—for they will destroy everything (6:13).

The author also creates (or dramatically embellishes) details not in the First Book of Maccabees, such as the story of the Seven Brothers and their mother, who, after being tortured one by one, hold fast in their faith, refusing to renounce God, and, amazingly, are still able to talk well after they have their tongues removed (7).

A lot of these details would work within the larger context of the First Book of Maccabees, but outside of that context, they create a confusing narrative that robs the story of its shape and its coherence—you can’t tell where or when you are in this history, which makes learning from or appreciating it difficult. Perhaps this is why, to close this book, the author apologizes for the work if it is mediocre (which it is), for he did the best he could (15:39).

Sometimes a person’s best effort is enough, for who among us is perfect? But if the effort is exerted over something important—like a Bible book—perhaps you should know enough about your skill set in order to avoid damaging a work of art that a different person could, in fact, do justice to. Perhaps the real issue is who allows access to make the changes in the first place.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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