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Editor’s Note: This series on the Bible is from the book Catholicism & Scripture. Please feel free to use the series for high schoolers or adults. We will continue to welcome your questions for the column as well. Please see the contact information at the end of the column.

Special Course On Catholicism And Scripture (Chapter 15)

After some fifty years of exile in Babylon, under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar, the more benevolent Persians ruled the world and King Cyrus of Persia (538-529) gave freedom to the Israelites to return to their homeland and to rebuild the Temple that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. Only two tribes, those of Judah and Benjamin, and 42,000 Israelites survived the exile; the other ten tribes vanished from history. King Cyrus had been inspired by the Lord “to build him a house in Jerusalem” and he ordered the Persians to assist the Israelites “with free-will offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2-4).
The work of rebuilding the Temple, under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, was delayed by the attacks of the Samaritans and it wasn’t resumed until the reign of King Darius I (521-485). The Temple was completed in 515 BC, and Ezra read to the people from the law of Moses from dawn until midday. He said to them, “Do not be sad, and do not weep…for today is holy to our Lord” (Nehemiah 8:9-10). Ezra the priest was responsible for temple worship and spiritual matters, and the layman Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days.
After returning from a trip to Babylon, Nehemiah discovered that some officials were using the Temple for their own enrichment. He ordered merchants to cease selling their wares on the sabbath, saying that it was “an evil thing that you are doing, profaning the sabbath day” (Nehemiah 13:17). He ordered the doors of the city closed on the sabbath.
World power changed again, with Greek General Alexander the Great ruling the world until his death in 323. The Greek empire then split into two factions, and now the Jews faced a new threat of extinction from Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164). He plundered the Temple, ordered the suppression of Jewish worship, and erected in the Temple an altar of Zeus Olympios, the “horrible abomination” referred to in Daniel 9:27. Opposition to Antiochus was spearheaded by a man named Mattathias of the Maccabee family, along with his three sons, Judas, Jonathan, and Simon. He and his sons refused the king’s order to sacrifice to pagan gods and, shortly before his death, he told his sons to “avenge the wrongs of your people. Pay back the Gentiles what they deserve and observe the precepts of the law” (1 Maccabees 2:67-68).
The leadership of the movement fell to Judas Maccabeus and, after a plea to God for help, he defeated an army of 65,000 with only 10,000 soldiers. He and his brothers returned to Jerusalem, tore down the pagan altar in the Temple, and repaired the sanctuary and interior. When everything was ready, the people offered sacrifices and prayers for eight days, a festival of light that is known today as Hanukkah. Fighting continued off and on for years against different enemies. Judas was killed in a battle against the Romans and was succeeded by his brothers Jonathan and Simon. The warfare didn’t end until Simon’s son John Hyrcanus defeated all enemies and ruled in Judah from 134 B.C. until his death in 104.
The Second Book of Maccabees is not a continuation of the first book, but offers some inspiring stories of heroic martyrs, including the martyrdom of Eleazar, which was described in chapter 10. There is also the incredible story of a mother and her seven sons who suffered brutal torture and death for refusing to eat pork and break the Jewish dietary laws. One by one, the mother watched her sons be burned and scalped, have their tongues cut out and their limbs amputated, as she encouraged them to remain faithful to God. She promised them that God “in his mercy, will give you back both breath and life, because you now disregard yourselves for the sake of his law” (2 Maccabees 7:23). She then suffered her own brutal death.
After one battle fought by Judas, he and his men gathered up the bodies of those who were slain and discovered that some of them were wearing pagan amulets, which was forbidden by Jewish law. He prayed that the sins of his comrades would be forgiven and took up a collection, which he sent to Jerusalem as atonement for their sins. In doing this, says the author of Second Maccabees, he had the resurrection in mind “for if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death….Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from this sin” (12:43-46). The Catholic Church has cited this passage to support her belief in Purgatory. This belief is also supported by Jesus in Matt. 12:31-32 and by St. Paul in First Corinthians 3:13-15.
Written during the terrible persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Book of Daniel contains visions experienced by the main character. It tells of Daniel being saved by God from the lion’s den, of three men — Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego — being saved from a fiery death, and of a vision of four immense beasts emerging from the sea. This vision has been interpreted as representing four kingdoms — the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks — all of which would be eventually destroyed. Daniel also saw “one like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13-14) whose kingdom will never be destroyed. Jesus cited this passage in His trial on Good Friday as referring to him (cf. Mark 14:62).

List of Answers:



  1. The Israelites survived 40 years of exile in ___.
  2. It was the Persian King __ whom God inspired to give Israel freedom.
  3. The priest _ read the law of Moses to the people from dawn to midday.
  4. The layman ___________supervised the construction of the new Temple.
  5. When Greek kings sought to promote pagan worship in the Temple, _ led the Jewish revolt against them.
  6. God helped Mattathias’ son ____________to defeat a much larger army.
  7. The feast recalling the newly rebuilt Temple is today called _.
  8. The Second Book of _ tells of the martyrdom of Eleazar and the bravery of a mother and seven of her sons who died rather than break Jewish dietary laws.
  9. This book also mentions prayers for the dead, which is Catholic belief in __.
  10. Daniel was saved by the Lord when he was thrown into the ___________den.
  11. Daniel had a vision of four ___ representing four kingdoms that persecuted the Jews.
  12. He also had a vision of the coming of the “_,” who is Jesus.
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