2 Maccabees, CHAPTER 1
Letter 1: 124 B.C.
The Jews in Jerusalem and in the land of Judea send greetings to their kindred, the Jews in Egypt, and wish them true peace!
May God do good to you and remember his covenant with his faithful servants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
give to all of you a heart to worship him and to do his will wholeheartedly and with a willing spirit,
open your heart to his law and commandments and grant you peace,
hear your prayers, and be reconciled to you, and never forsake you in time of adversity.
Even now we are praying for you here.
In the reign of Demetrius, the one hundred and sixty-ninth year, we Jews wrote to you during the height of the distress that overtook us in those years after Jason and his followers revolted against the holy land and the kingdom,
set fire to the gatehouse and shed innocent blood. But we prayed to the Lord, and our prayer was heard; we offered sacrifices and fine flour; we lighted the lamps and set out the loaves of bread.
We are now reminding you to celebrate the feast of Booths in the month of Kislev.
Dated in the one hundred and eighty-eighth year.
Letter 2: 164 B.C.
The people of Jerusalem and Judea, the senate, and Judas send greetings and good wishes to Aristobulus, teacher of King Ptolemy and member of the family of the anointed priests, and to the Jews in Egypt.
Since we have been saved by God from grave dangers, we give him great thanks as befits those who fought against the king;
for it was God who drove out those who fought against the holy city.
When their leader arrived in Persia with his seemingly irresistible army, they were cut to pieces in the temple of the goddess Nanea through a deceitful stratagem employed by Nanea’s priests.
On the pretext of marrying the goddess, Antiochus with his Friends had come to the place to get its great treasures as a dowry.
When the priests of Nanea’s temple had displayed the treasures and Antiochus with a few attendants had come inside the wall of the temple precincts, the priests locked the temple as soon as he entered.
Then they opened a hidden trapdoor in the ceiling, and hurling stones at the leader and his companions, struck them down. They dismembered the bodies, cut off their heads and tossed them to the people outside.
Forever blessed be our God, who has thus punished the impious!
Since we shall be celebrating the purification of the temple on the twenty-fifth day of the month Kislev, we thought it right to inform you, that you too may celebrate the feast of Booths and of the fire that appeared when Nehemiah, the rebuilder of the temple and the altar, offered sacrifices.
For when our ancestors were being led into captivity in Persia, devout priests at the time took some of the fire from the altar and hid it secretly in the hollow of a dry cistern, making sure that the place would be unknown to anyone.
Many years later, when it so pleased God, Nehemiah, commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to look for it.
When they informed us that they could not find any fire, but only a thick liquid, he ordered them to scoop some out and bring it. After the material for the sacrifices had been prepared, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the wood and what lay on it with the liquid.
This was done, and when at length the sun, which had been clouded over, began to shine, a great fire blazed up, so that everyone marveled.
While the sacrifice was being burned, the priests recited a prayer, and all present joined in with them. Jonathan led and the rest responded with Nehemiah.
The prayer was as follows: “Lord, Lord God, creator of all things, awesome and strong, just and merciful, the only king and benefactor,
who alone are gracious, just, almighty, and eternal, Israel’s savior from all evil, who chose our ancestors and sanctified them:
accept this sacrifice on behalf of all your people Israel and guard and sanctify your portion.
Gather together our scattered people, free those who are slaves among the Gentiles, look kindly on those who are despised and detested, and let the Gentiles know that you are our God.
Punish those who lord it over us and in their arrogance oppress us.
Plant your people in your holy place, as Moses said.”
Then the priests sang hymns.
After the sacrifice was consumed, Nehemiah ordered the rest of the liquid to be poured upon large stones.
As soon as this was done, a flame blazed up, but its light was lost in the brilliance coming from the altar.
When the event became known and the king of the Persians was told that, in the very place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire, a liquid was found with which Nehemiah and his people had burned the sacrifices,
the king, after verifying the fact, fenced the place off and declared it sacred.
To those whom the king favored, he distributed many benefits he received.
Nehemiah and his companions called the liquid nephthar, meaning purification, but most people named it naphtha.