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I, II, and III Meqabyan (Amharic: መቃብያን, which is also transliterated as Makabian ) are three books found only in the Ethiopian Orthodox Old Testament Biblical canon. These books are completely different in content and subject from the more commonly found books of Maccabees in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. They are nevertheless occasionally referred to as Ethiopic Maccabees or Ethiopian Maccabees.[1]

The account of the "Maccabees" described in these sacred texts are not those of the advent of political dealings of the Hasmonean dynasty of Judea, nor are they an account of the "Five Holy Maccabean Martyrs", or the "woman with seven sons", who were also referred to as "Maccabees" and are revered throughout Orthodoxy as the "Holy Maccabean Martyrs".[2] The Maccabees who are referenced do not correspond to known martyrology and their identity is never full clarified by the ancient author. However, they do assume the familiar moniker of being "a Maccabee", the etymological origins of which remain disputed[3] [4].

These three books were likely native to Ethiopia, and composed following the arrival of Byzantine political refugees to the region, best known as the Nine saints. It was originally written in the Ge'ez tongue, although the use a number of words that appear that the author(s) loaned terms from late Koine Greek, Coptic and Aramaic. Its native composition is also assured by its lexical usage of words from neighboring regions, such as the Tigrayans found in 1 EthMac. 1:16.[5]. It's authorship is never specified by the fathers of the Ethiopian Church, nor does the text attribute its composition to any ecclesiastical personage.

Like much of the Ethiopian Biblical Canon, until the 21st century it was only accessible in the Ge'ez or Amharic tongue. There are now three potential translations available into contemporary English that are accessible to the general public. Despite this, there is still currently no significant academic scholarship available on its origins.

Book of First Meqabyan[edit]

The text has 36 chapters in total, and gives the account of two separate revolts against Seleucid rule over Judea. The first account begins by stating that there was an idol-worshiping king of Media and Midian who is devoted to the cult of his idols. Unlike the more familiar narrative found in the books of Maccabees, his name is given as '"Tsirutsaydan". This appears as a folk memory of the historical Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who held court at the Phoenician cities, after he began minting coins with the names "Tyre and Sidon" (Tsur u Tsaydan) stamped in Punic alongside his image.[6]

According to this book, a certain man from the territory of Benjamin called Meqabis had three sons Abya (Abijah), Seela (Shelah), and Pantos (Panthera), who opposed the tyrannical policies of the king and refused to worship his idols. Their account consumes only a short section of the book, spanning chapters 2 through chapter 5. They are noted elsewhere in the hagiographical text of the Ethiopian Synaxarion, and hold a feast day within the Ethiopian Church.

A second group of brothers are later introduced in Chapter 15. They are called: Judas, Meqabis and Mebikyas (Malchiah), and they are said to have lead a successful revolt against the ruthless King Akrandis of Midian. This appears to be a historical allusion to the king Alexander I Balas, who ruled the Seleucid Empire after the death of Antiochius IV, and who supported the legitimacy of the Maccabees cause. However, in this folk rendering of history, Mebikyas enters the king's military camp and decapitates him at his dinnertable, while his food was still in his mouth. The remainder of the book, chapters 16 to 36, have no dealing with the Maccabee revolt and offer no further historical narrative. Their purpose is unknown, as they recount significant events from the Old Testament.

Book of Second Meqabyan[edit]

This volume contains 21 chapters. It begins with the phrase: "After he found the Jews in Syrian Mesopotamia". It recounts that a king of Moab named 'Meqabis' made war against Israel as a punishment for their sins. Later, he repents and is taught the law of the God of Israel. After his death, his successor, Tsirutsaydan, introduces idolatry and burnt the sons of Meqabis.

Book of Third Meqabyan[edit]

The shortest of these books is 3rd Meqabyan, which contains 10 chapters. It begins: "And the islands of Egypt shall rejoice...". It is a diffuse account of salvation and punishment, illustrated from the lives of various Biblical patriarchs, such as Adam, Job, and King David. At times, within the liturgical practices of the Ethiopian Church, the 2nd and 3rd Books of Meqabyan are collapsed to form a single text[7].

Origin of the Books[edit]

The text of all three books is almost certainly indigenous to Ethiopia itself, given its patchwork of lexicon. Additionally, throughout the text there are references to objects that are specific to Ethiopia, or perhaps east Africa, such as a masinko (1 EthMac. 9:5) or the ibexes and hartebeests (1 EthMac. 9:2).

English Translations[edit]

  • Online Edition, albeit in in Iyaric style [8]
  • Selassie, Feqade. Ethiopian Books of Meqabyan 1–3, in Standard English. 2008; Lulu Press Inc, Raleigh, NC
  • Curtin, D.P. Ethiopian Book of 1st Maccabees (forthcoming)


  1. ^ Mertens' Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Mertens' Encyclopedia
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ John Mason Harden, An Introduction to Ethiopic Christian Literature, 1926, p. 38; Ernst Hammerschmidt, Äthiopien: Christliches Reich zwischen gestern und morgen, 1967, p. 105.
  7. ^
  8. ^

External links[edit]