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E02742: John Chrysostom delivers two homilies on a feast of the *Maccabean Martyrs (pre-Christian Jewish martyrs of Antioch, S00303) held in Antioch (Syria) in 386 or shortly after; he refers to the relics of the saints, and recounts aspects of their story. Written in Greek at Antioch.

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posted on 2017-04-27, 00:00 authored by erizos
John Chrysostom, Two Homilies on the Maccabees (CPG 4354; BHG 1008, 1009)

Homily 1 (BHG 1008)

Καὶ εἰς τὴν μητέρα αὐτῶν.
Ὁμιλία αʹ.

αʹ. Ὡς φαιδρὰ καὶ περιχαρὴς ἡμῖν ἡ πόλις, καὶ τοῦ παντὸς ἐνιαυτοῦ λαμπροτέρα ἡ σήμερον ἡμέρα, οὐ τοῦ ἡλίου φανερωτέραν ἀκτῖνα τῆς εἰωθυίας πρὸς τὴν γῆν ἀφιέντος σήμερον, ἀλλὰ τοῦ φωτὸς τῶν ἁγίων μαρτύρων ὑπὲρ ἀστραπὴν ἅπασαν τὴν πόλιν ἡμῖν καταυγάσαντος· μυρίων γὰρ ἡλίων οὗτοι λαμπρότεροι, καὶ τῶν μεγάλων φωστήρων φανότεροι. Διὰ τούτους σεμνοτέρα τοῦ οὐρανοῦ σήμερον ἡ γῆ. Μὴ γάρ μοι τὴν κόνιν εἴπῃς, μηδὲ τὴν τέφραν λογίζου, μηδὲ τὰ χρόνῳ δαπανηθέντα ὀστᾶ, ἀλλ’ ἄνοιξον τῆς πίστεως τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς, καὶ βλέπε παρακαθημένην αὐτοῖς τοῦ Θεοῦ τὴν δύναμιν, περιβεβλημένην αὐτοῖς τοῦ Πνεύματος τὴν χάριν, περιστέλλουσαν αὐτοὺς τοῦ οὐρανίου φωτὸς τὴν δόξαν. Οὐ τοιαῦται ἐξ ἡλιακοῦ κύκλου πρὸς τὴν γῆν ἀκτῖνες ἀφίενται, οἷαι μαρμαρυγαὶ καὶ λαμπηδόνες ἐκ τῶν σωμάτων ἐξαλλόμεναι τούτων αὐτὰς ἀποτυφλοῦσι τοῦ διαβόλου τὰς ὄψεις. Καθάπερ γὰρ λῄσταρχοι καὶ τυμβωρύχοι ἐπειδὰν ἴδωσιν ὅπλα που κείμενα βασιλικὰ, θώρακα, καὶ ἀσπίδα, καὶ κράνος, χρυσῷ πάντα καταλαμπόμενα, ἀποπηδῶσιν εὐθέως, καὶ οὐδὲ προσελθεῖν, οὐδὲ ἅψασθαι τολμῶσι μέγαν ὑφορώμενοι κίνδυνον, εἴ τι τοιοῦτον τολμήσαιεν· οὕτω δὴ καὶ οἱ δαίμονες οἱ ἀληθινοὶ λῄσταρχοι, ὅπουπερ ἂν ἴδωσι μαρτύρων σώματα κείμενα, δραπετεύουσι, καὶ ἀποπηδῶσιν εὐθέως. ……

‘On the Holy Maccabees and their mother. Homily 1

How bright and joyful is our city, and how much more brilliant is this day than the rest of the year – not because the sun is sending today its rays clearer than usual to the earth, but because the light of the holy martyrs has enlightened our entire city more than a lightning flash. For they are more resplendent than a myriad of suns, and clearer than the brightest of luminaries. For their sake, earth is today more magnificent than heaven. And, I pray, speak not of their dust, think not of their ash, nor of their bones which have been consumed by time, but open the eyes of your faith, and see the power of God residing by them, the grace of the Spirit enshrouding them, the glory of the heavenly light encompassing them. No rays are sent from the solar orbit to the earth as are the flashes and glitters leaping from these bodies, which blind the very eyes of the Devil. For, just as chief bandits and tomb-raiders immediately jump away, whenever they see somewhere royal weapons resting – a cuirass and shield and helmet, all resplendent with gold – and they dare neither to approach nor touch them, fearing the danger of daring such a thing, even so do also the demons, these true bandits, flee and jump away immediately, wherever they see bodies of martyrs resting (….)’

The bodies of the martyrs are precious because they have been sanctified not by an angel, but by Christ himself. The presidents of athletic games strive to recruit young and vigourous men for the pleasure of their spectators. Christ, however, places before our eyes seven young boys, their elderly mother, and the old man Eleazar, to contest in the most dreadful of matches. The martyrs are weak in their bodies, but strong in their faith, and strengthened by the grace of Christ. They prevail easily over the Devil. Especially admirable is the martyrdom of the elderly mother, who was taken first to the contest by the Devil, but was left to witness the deaths of all her sons before dying herself. The faithful must keep her as an example in their struggles against their own passions.

Homily 2 (BHG 1009)

The author implies that this homily was given on the second day of the feast. Now he focuses on the seven brothers, and especially on one of them, even though references to their mother are again necessary. The author intends to conclude his homily quickly in order to pass the word on to the bishop. The mother of the Maccabees must be kept as an exemplar by fathers and mothers, and especially by ascetics. Everyone, monastics and married people alike, should take the Maccabees, their mother, and Eleazar as intercessors in their prayers.

Text: Migne 1862, 617-626.
Summary and translation: E. Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Maccabean Brothers, 2nd-century BC Jewish martyrs in Antioch : S00303

Type of Evidence

Literary - Sermons/Homilies Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom


  • Greek

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Antioch on the Orontes

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Antioch on the Orontes Thabbora Thabbora

Major author/Major anonymous work

John Chrysostom

Cult activities - Liturgical Activity

  • Service for the Saint

Cult activities - Festivals

  • Saint’s feast

Cult activities - Places

Burial site of a saint - unspecified

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Ecclesiastics - bishops Ecclesiastics - lesser clergy Women Ecclesiastics - monks/nuns/hermits

Cult Activities - Relics

Bodily relic - unspecified


John of Antioch, bishop of Constantinople, who came to be known as Chrysostom (the Golden Mouth), was born in 344/354 in Antioch on the Orontes where he studied under Libanius. He joined the Nicene Christian community of Antioch, led by bishop Meletios of Antioch, and was ordained priest by Meletios’ successor, Flavianos in 386. Acquiring a great reputation as a preacher, John was appointed as bishop of Constantinople in 397. Clashing with the bishop of Alexandria Theophilos and the empress Eudoxia in 403/404, Chrysostom was deposed and banished to Cucusus in Cappadocia and died in Comana of Pontus in 407. Homily 1 On the Maccabees (BHG 1008) survives in 32 Manuscripts, 20 of which include homily 2 (BHG 1009): In some of the manuscripts, these homilies are connected with a third homily on the Maccabees (BHG 1010; see E02742), which is not related to them in origin and is probably not a genuine work of Chrysostom.


The two sermons are preserved together in the manuscript tradition and seem to have been delivered on two consecutive days of the same festival. Their interrelation is also suggested by the second homily which seems to be referring to the first, stating that it was given after an earlier homily which had focused on the mother of the Maccabean brothers. The collation of sermons originating from sequels of services in festivals and other occasions is not uncommon in the manuscript tradition of Chrysostom. Consequently, it is safe to conclude that these two sermons belong together. It is clear that these homilies belong to Chrysostom’s Antiochene period, since the second of them is concluded summarily, in order to pass the word on to the bishop. We are, therefore, at Antioch, during John’s presbyterate under bishop Flavianos, in 386/397. The opening part of the text provides some indirect information about the feast of the Maccabean martyrs: it falls in the sunniest part of the year, which most probably refers to the Antiochene feast of 1 August – recorded by both the Syriac and Hieronymian Martyrologies. The festival apparently had the form known from other Christian festivals of martyrs, lasting for two days, and including several sermons by the lower clergy and the bishop. Elsewhere, Chrysostom reports that the festival was very popular among the Syriac speaking population of the countryside, which used to come to Antioch for the feast (E02567). Chrysostom’s words suggest that the cult centred on the veneration of bodily relics or a tomb which performed the typical prodigies of Christian shrines, mainly driving demons away. His emphasis on the figure of the mother (whose name he never mentions) suggests that she had a special prominence in the group. All these features agree with the testimony of the roughly contemporary or slightly later Syriac Martyrology which reports that the 1 August feast of the Maccabees took place at their tomb shrine in the Antiochene quarter of Kerateion. The same source is the first to mention the mother by her traditional name: Šamūnī (E01526). The mother is not mentioned in the biblical text of the two books, but it seems that she came to be traditionally known as the Hasmonean Lady. Aramaic and Greek variants of this title (Ashmunit, Shmuni, Salomone, Solomone, Solomonis) came to be established as her name in the Greek tradition. Accompanied by the inscription ἡ ἁγία Σολομωνή, she appears as the main figure of the mid 7th century mural depiction of the Maccabean Martyrs in Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome. John Malalas also confirms that their shrine was in the Kerateion, recording the legendary claim that it was founded at a synagogue by Judas Maccabaeus who had acquired the relics from Demetrius I Soter (161-150 BC). Malalas reports that the shrine stood on a foothill of the ‘weeping mountain’, namely Mount Silpius, opposite a shrine of Zeus Kasios (Malal. 8.23 [ed. Thurn 2000, p. 156-157]). A 13th century Arabic description of Antioch, possibly based on a 7th century source, describes the shrine as a large structure with an underground chamber containing the tombs of Eleazar, the Seven Brothers and their mother, Shmuni or Ashmunit. The same source reports that the shrine was formerly a Jewish site of worship. It is debated whether the shrine mentioned by the Arabic author and by Malalas was indeed that of Kerateion or rather the cave shrine of Matrona in Daphne (on which see Ziadé 2007, 116-123; Mayer and Allen 2012, 90-94; Vinson 1994, 180-186). The latter appears unlikely. In his first sermon Against the Jews (E02541), probably preached in 386, Chrysostom reveals that the shrine of Matrona was then still in the hands of the Jews, even though it was popular among the Christians who practised incubation at it. Chrysostom condemns these visits and describes the shrine as a dwelling of demons. Besides, we do not know what the object of veneration in the cave of Matrona was and whether it included a tomb. The Christianisation of the cult of the Maccabean Martyrs found its theological justification in the view that all deaths on account of the true religion, featuring in the Old Testament, were offered to Christ. Gregory of Nazianzus and Chrysostom set forth this thesis in an extensive way in sermons which they preached in Constantinople in the late 390s (see E01043; E02697). There the cult of the Maccabees, most probably introduced from Antioch, was confronted with scepticism, as people were dismayed by the idea of honouring as martyrs people that died before Christ. None of those objections can be seen in our Antiochene texts. Chrysostom recounts the story of the Maccabees just like that of any Christian martyr, referring to Christ as the invisible recipient of their sacrifice. The Christian character of the cult is taken as self-evident, requiring no further justification.


Text: Migne, J.-P., Patrologia Graeca 50 (Paris: Imprimerie Catholique, 1862), 617-626. Translations: Mayer, W., St John Chrysostom, The Cult of the Saints: Select Homilies and Letters Introduced, Translated, and Annotated (Popular Patristics Series; New York: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2006), 135-153. Ziadé, R. Les Martyrs Maccabées: De l’histoire juive au culte chrétien. Les homélies de Grégoire de Nazianze et de Jean Chrysostome (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 80; Leiden: Brill, 2007), 313-329. (French translation) Further Reading: Berger, A., "The Cult of the Maccabees in the Eastern Orthodox Church," in: G. Signori (ed.), Dying for the Faith, Killing for the Faith: Old-Testament Faith-Warriors (1 and 2 Maccabees) in Historical Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 105-23. Delehaye, H., Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1921). Downey, G., Ancient Antioch (Princeton, 1961). Drobner, H.R., The Fathers of the Church: A Comprehensive Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 327-337, esp. 334-335. Hahn, J., "The Veneration of the Maccabean Brothers in Fourth Century Antioch: Religious Competition, Martyrdom, and Innovation," in: G. Signori (ed.), Dying for the Faith, Killing for the Faith : Old-Testament Faith-Warriors (1 and 2 Maccabees) in Historical Perspective (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 79-104. Janin, R., La Géographie ecclésiastique de l'empire Byzantin. I 3: Les églises et les monastères de la ville de Constantinople. 2nd ed. (Paris, 1969). Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, D., Christian Memories of the Maccabean Martyrs (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Kelly, J.N.D., Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom. Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995). Mayer, W., The Homilies of St John Chrysostom, Provenance: Reshaping the Foundations (Rome: Pontificio Istituto Orientale, 2005). Schneider, A.B., "Makkabäische Märtyrer," in: Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum 23 (Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 2010), 1234-51. Van Henten, J.W., "The Christianisation of the Maccabean Martyrs: The Case of Origen," in: J. Leemans (ed.), Martyrdom and Persecution in Late Antique Christianity: Festschrift Boudewijn Dehandschutter (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium; Leuven: Peeters, 2010), 333-351. Vinson, M. "Gregory Nazianzen's Homily 15 and the Genesis of the Christian Cult of Maccabean Martyrs," Byzantion 64 (1994), 165-92. Ziadé, R. Les Martyrs Maccabées: De l’histoire juive au culte chrétien. Les homélies de Grégoire de Nazianze et de Jean Chrysostome (Supplements to Vigiliae Christianae 80; Leiden: Brill, 2007).

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