First Book of Ethiopian Maccabees

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First Book of Ethiopian Maccabees  (2018) 
by Frumentius, translated by D. P. Curtin

Also known as the First Book of Meqabyan. It authorship is uncertain, but it does appear to date to the mid-4th century and might possibly be from the hand of St. Frumentius or one of his immediate disciples. The first chapter of this text is released as public domain, as it is an excerpt from the full publication.

Chapter 1

1:1 A certain man named Tseerutsaydan1 loved his sin. He would often boast of the great profusion of his troops and of the great armies which he held governance over.

1:2 He had countless priests who served the false gods which he worshiped, and [he would often] bow to them and make sacrifices by night and day.

1:3 In the sightlessness of his own heart, he believed that they granted him power and strength.

1:4 He believed that they gave him sovereignty over the nations.

1:5 And as his sway over the nations progressed, he believed that [these false gods] granted him the right to supremacy.

1:6 [The King] would offer sacrifices to them by night and day,

1:7 appointing priests to serve these idols.

1:8 These priests ate from the unclean sacrifices, all the while telling the king that the idols had consumed what was offered.

1:9 They sought to proselytize among the people, so that they might make greater sacrifices to be consumed.

1:10 The king trusted in these idols, which can grant no favors, nor yield any merit to his welfare.

1:11 At the time, when his heart was blind to the truth, [the king] believed that they had given him to fate, by placing him with a diadem. It would appear to him that [these idols] had created him, for Satan2 blocked him from knowledge of the true God, who alone grants eternal life. Rather, [Satan] sought to bring him away from life, into the fire of Gehenna3 forever, for he believed the idols to be gods,

1:12 but since they do not truly live, they cannot give life.

1:13 It was Satan’s tyranny that mislead them, which was found within their idolatry. He gave of them false speech, and said he would reveal great truths to them, and for this he was loved. [Therefore, Satan] cast the people’s discernment upon the false gods and those that believe in them, and among all the children of Adam, whose prayers had become like that of the dust.

1:14 They gazed upon [the idols] in solemn reverence, and [Satan] filled their mind with their own desires. And the people complied, offering as sacrifice their young girls and young boys, children of their own blood. They spilled the innocent blood of their children.

1:15 This did not concern [the king], for Satan had savored the sacrifices he made to his gods in order to complete his malicious designs. [Satan sought to] bring him down into Gehenna, where he dwells, and where there is no respite for all eternity, and where all will receive chastisement.

1:16 This king, Tseerutsaydan, was full of conceit; for he had fifty idols made of false gods, and twenty idols of false goddesses.

1:17 He would often boast about his idolatry, and offered glorification and praise to the idols while he made his daily sacrifices.

1:18 He commanded the people, that they too might make sacrifices to these idols. [The king] would eat from these unclean sacrifices, and ordered that the people do the same, to spread the evil which he created.

1:19 Now, [the king] had five workshops which were under his command, where he forged the idols out of iron, brass and lead.

1:20 The king had then adorned in silver and in gold, and had veiled curtains around his palaces for them, each hidden in a tabernacle.

1:21 He appointed guardians for their care, and would make offerings of meat to these idols from forty creatures- ten fattened oxen and ten fatted ewes, ten barren calves and ten barren goats, along with winged birds of the air.

1:22 It appeared to [the king] that these idols ate and drank, consuming fifty bunches of grapes and fifty dishes of bread kneaded with oil.

1:23 The king said to the priests, “Take this, give it to them. Let my gods consume the meat that has been slaughtered on their account. Make them drink from of the wine I have given to them. If this is not enough to quench their desire, I will give them more.”

1:24 [The king] then ordered that everyone should eat and drink from that defiling sacrifice.

1:25 He then, in his corruption, sent out his armies to march on all the nations of his realm4, to find one who would neither make sacrifices, nor prostrate themselves [before the idols], so that they could be brought before him. He sought to punish them by fire and by sword, [for he feared that the gods] might seize his wealth and burn his palaces. [The king] lived in terror that they might remove his great fortune and destroy him.

1:26 “My gods are generous and great, and out of their benevolence I have forged them. Therefore, I will give chastisement on him that does not worship my gods and make sacrifices to them.

1:27 I will show punish punishment and retribution! For they have created the heavens and the earth, the great wide sea, the moon and sun, the rains and the wind, and all that abide in this world.

1:28 Those who will not worship shall be punished under the penalty of law, and I shall have no mercy.

[1] This name is a curiosity, as ordinarily the Maccabee revolt is associated with the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanius, who is otherwise unmentioned in this text. The meaning of this name is a subject of debate. It has been suggested that this name appears to represent the folk memory of the aforementioned tyrant. Some coinage from his reign give his dual capital cities, and are noted with the inscription “Tyre and Sidon”, which appears to constitute the transliteration of this name into Ge’ez, and later Amharic. This would also account for the pairing of these two Punic cities later in the text. Alternatively, since the Ethiopian Synaxarion calls that nation of Syria ‘Saranin’ (Tahisas 29), This name could also be a cognate for the ‘King of Syria’.

[2] This characterization of Satan, as a misleader, trickster and rival to God, is distinctive part of Christian theology, particularly as it appears in the works of the Church Fathers starting in the 3rd century. If the section of the text that tell of the sojourn of the brothers Is of Jewish origin, then this is a later addition.

[3] The usage of the term “Gehenna” early in this text offers a potential clue to its dating, as this is a term that is found in the Hebrew Scriptures, but it not used in this association. Rabbinical literature and the Greek New Testament do utilize this word in association with a state of suffer required for final atonement following death. It’s use in the Greek New Testament is extensive (Matt. 5:22, 29-30, 10;28, 18:9, 23:22; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; Jam. 3:6), and linked to more familiar notions of Hell.

[4] See Dan. 3:4-5

Chapters 2-36 not in the public domain

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