plural noun
Mac·​ca·​bees | \ ˈma-kə-(ˌ)bēz How to pronounce Maccabees (audio) \

Definition of Maccabees

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : a priestly family leading a Jewish revolt begun in 168 b.c. against Hellenism and Syrian rule and reigning over Palestine from 142 b.c. to 63 b.c.
2 singular in construction : either of two narrative and historical books included in the Roman Catholic canon of the Old Testament and in the Protestant Apocrypha — see Bible Table


biographical name
Mac·​ca·​bees | \ ˈma-kə-ˌbēz How to pronounce Maccabees (audio) \

Definition of Maccabees (Entry 2 of 2)

Judas or Judah died 161 b.c. surname Maccabaeus \ ˌma-​kə-​ˈbē-​əs How to pronounce Maccabees (audio) \ Jewish patriot

Keep scrolling for more

Other Words from Maccabees

Plural noun

Maccabean \ ˌma-​kə-​ˈbē-​ən How to pronounce Maccabees (audio) \ adjective

Where does the word macabre come from?

We trace the origins of macabre to the name of the Book of Maccabees which is included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox canons of the Old Testament and in the Protestant Apocrypha. Sections of this biblical text address both the deaths of faithful people asked to renounce their religion and the manner in which the dead should be properly commemorated. The latter includes a discussion of praying for the souls of the dead, which was important in the development of the notion of purgatory and a happy afterlife for those persecuted for their religion. In medieval France, representations of these passages were performed as a procession or dance which became known as the “dance of death” or “dance Maccabee,” which was spelled in several different ways, including danse macabre.

In English, macabre was originally used in reference to this “dance of death” and then gradually became used more broadly, referring to anything grim or gruesome. It has come to be used as a synonym of horrible or distressing, always with a connection to the physical aspects of death and suffering.

First Known Use of Maccabees

Plural noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for Maccabees

Plural noun

Greek Makkabaioi, from plural of Makkabaios, surname of Judas Maccabaeus 2nd century b.c. Jewish patriot

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about Maccabees

Time Traveler for Maccabees

Time Traveler

The first known use of Maccabees was in the 15th century

See more words from the same century

Statistics for Maccabees

Cite this Entry

“Maccabees.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 May. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More from Merriam-Webster on Maccabees

Nglish: Translation of Maccabees for Spanish Speakers

Comments on Maccabees

What made you want to look up Maccabees? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


Test Your Vocabulary

Words Used by Nabokov Quiz

  • image1676440788
  • Choose the best definition or synonym for the word in bold: "There are some eructations that sound like cheers—at least, mine did." Lolita
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!


Anagram puzzles meet word search.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!