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    What weird and wonderful theories people have. A Jew from Glasgow told me in all seriousness that Judah the Maccabee was a Scotsman, like Macbeth and MacDonald. A Cheder teacher even summoned up the ingenuity to link the Maccabees with the Biblical cave of Machpelah…

    The word Maccabee is not found in the Bible or Talmud; It derives from Greek and comes in the Apocrypha, where I Macc. 2:14 and II Macc. 2:19 refer to “Judah known as Maccabeus”.

    The sages are often reluctant to admit that a word has a foreign origin; they suggest that Maccabee is the initial letters of a Biblical verse (Ex. 18:11) or comes from a Hebrew root that means “to extinguish”.

    There is a theory that it is from Makevet, a hammer, because “hammer” is a metaphor for a strong leader.

    Aaron Kaminka thinks that the name is a corruption of Machbanai, who was one of David’s warriors and embodied lion-like strength, speed and valour (I Chron. 12:13).

    It is not certain that Judah called himself Maccabee; he is more likely to have been simply Yehudah ben Mattityahu. The rabbis preferred to call Judah’s group “Hasmoneans”, from the town of Chashmon (Josh. 15:27).

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