The last two historical works of the Old Testament are called 1 and 2 Maccabees. They are not a part of the Jewish Canon, but they are used as part of the history of their people. These books are not a continuous story.
They cover somewhat the same years and the same basic topics, but 2 Maccabees covers fewer years. The period is the Hellenistic period in the last centuries before the coming of the Christian Era. Both books deal with the Jewish struggle for independence during the Seleucid period from about 175 to 134 B.C. They are written by a Palestinian Jew after 134 B.C. but before 63 B.C., and the capture of Jerusalem by Pompey.
The theme of both books is the struggle between the Jews who wanted to remain loyal to their faith in Yahweh and the Hellenists who were bent on bringing all things into harmony with the Greek ideas and ideals.
The title of these books comes from a nickname that was given to one of the military leaders. One man, named Mattathias, had five sons. The dad rose up in open rebellion against the Greeks. His sons and a few others joined forces with him. One of his sons was given the nickname, “Maqqabah” the Hebrew word for “Hammer.” The name was given because of his prowess in battle against all odds. Gradually the whole family came to be known as the Maccabee Boys and the period in history was called the Maccabean Period.
The writer is very careful to point out that this is not a war for material supremacy. The Greeks can call themselves the masters of the world, or the master race, or whatever they like. However, they are not to absorb the Jewish people in this process or attempt to impose their fertility cults and gods on the followers of Yahweh. The struggles that flow from this adamant stand form the center of the whole story.
Second Maccabees, chapter 7, tells the story of a mother and her seven sons who were all put to death for their faith. This is frequently, but erroneously, called the martyrdom of the seven Maccabee boys. The story appears in the history of the Maccabees but no name is given to the family in the incident.
The mother and her seven sons were arrested at the order of the King. The captors tried to force them to eat pork - a forbidden food. The boys were physically whipped and tortured but to no avail. The King was so angry and frustrated that he decided to kill them one at a time with the mother looking on. As the boys were led up to execution, the mother encouraged them to be brave and remain loyal to their family, their faith and their God.
When the executioners came to the last son, the King felt he was being mocked. He turned to the mother and asked her to talk some sense into his head. The mother went up and encouraged him to follow the example of his brothers. The seventh boy was martyred and then the mother herself was put to death for her faith. It is an outstanding story of love, faith, courage and fidelity in the face of death itself.
Second Maccabees 7:29 is a clear statement of belief in a resurrection to life after death. In 2 Maccabees 12:44, the author says that it is a holy and devout thought to pray for the dead, and offer sacrifices for the dead in order to cleanse their souls of sin (selfishness) and help them to their eternal reward.
On that note, we close the books of the Old Testament Historical Story. The Book of Wisdom will be written a few years later to draw the full lesson of wisdom to be found in the history of mankind and especially the Chosen People, up to the coming of Jesus Christ.