‘Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?’
– Jeremiah 23:29
The word Maccabee means Hammer in the Hebrew Language.
Origins of the Word ‘Maccabee’
(Hoi Makkabaioi in Greek, Machabei in Latin, most probably from Aramaic word Maqqaba =“hammer”)
The name Machabee (Maccabee) was originally the surname of Judas, the third son of Mathathias, but was later extended to all the descendants of Mathathias, and even to all who took part in the rebellion. It is also given to the martyrs mentioned in II Maccabees 7, 18:8. Of the various explanations of the word the one given above is the most probable. Machabee would accordingly mean “hammerer” or “hammer-like”, and would have been given to Judas because of his valour in combating the enemies of Israel.
– The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)
Origins of the word Maccabee
As just mentioned above, the word ‘Maccabee’ most likely originated with the third son of the initial Maccabee rebel leader and Temple priest known as Mattathias the Hasmonen. The most convincing legends and ancient sources clearly indicate that young Judas, the son of Mattathias, who was also considered a Hasmonean, became nicknamed Maccabee or Maccabaeus due to his superior military skills and personal combat ferocity. It seems quite probable that those Jews who fought beside him quickly noticed the way he would, quite literally, hammer the enemy into submission and eventual retreat.
It could also be possible that, because of the extensive collection of Pagan Greek statues and idolatrous shrines that had sprouted up throughout Judea and the surrounding area, Judas may have also been dubbed the ‘Hammer’ due to his propensity to smash any idol or statue which he encountered into as many pieces as possible. It is most likely that he would order any troops under his command to do the same. Not only that, the Books of the Maccabees clearly state that Judas and his fellow Maccabees immediately put a stop to the abominable Pagan sacrifices of swine and forcibly circumcised all the males residing in Judea in accordance to the ancient Laws of God.
Either way, Judas, the son of Mattathias the Hasmonean, quickly became the scourge of the Greek Empire and, in time, a world-renowned Jewish hero and military genius commonly known to everyone as Judas Maccabaeus, the Hammer of the LORD.
May the LORD God bless you in the name of St. Judas Maccabaeus.