First and Second Maccabees are the two books of the Bible that cover the rebellion of Mattathias and his five sons, and especially the feats of Judas Maccabeus, the mightiest of his family and the most successful. The two books are not continuous, but focus on different aspects of the same story, using different styles.
First Maccabees relates the history of the Jews from the arrival of the pagan king Antiochus Epiphanes to the deaths of the three greatest Maccabees. Antiochus Epiphanes, a successor of a portion of Alexander the Great’s divided empire, conquered Jerusalem, raided and violated the Temple, and occupied the city. He began a fierce persecution of the Jews, torturing them and executing them for practicing their faith and for not participating in heathen worship. An elderly man named Mathathias and his sons rebelled and gathered an army of faithful Jews. Mathathias, and his sons who succeeded him, began a reconquest of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. First Maccabees contains many beautiful religious themes and poems, and the account greatly emphasizes the purifying and reconsecration of the temple. However, it is written as a historical narrative with the poems and lamentations interspersed, very different from the book of Second Maccabees.
Second Maccabees covers a much smaller time period of the Maccabean wars, focusing solely on the first seven chapters of First Maccabees. It is written with a much more religious tone, often explaining the religious themes and motives that were behind the action’s key characters. It goes into greater detail of the terrible persecutions of the king and the inspiring actions of those loyal to God under torture, and it is written in the form of a story with lessons to be learned from it, as opposed to a historical narrative. Second Maccabees does not contain much of the Jewish poetry contained in First Maccabees, but it does contain certain Jewish doctrine and explanations of it that became highly controversial in later times. These descriptions of unwanted doctrine caused it to be removed from late Jewish Protestant Bibles.
This is greatly to their loss, as these books are extremely valuable. First and Second Maccabees relate the magnificent history of the Maccabean family, and include fine poetry and lucid explanations of doctrine, which greatly enhance the value of these books. The two complement each other by emphasizing different portions of the same story, adding a unique perspective while relating an important portion of salvation history.