The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus

Peter Paul Rubens, The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus, 1634-1636, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes.

The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus is one half of a diptych painted by the workshop of Rubens that was commissioned for the Tournai Cathedral in 1635. The Freeing of the Souls from Purgatory made up the other half. Why would the bishops of Tournai want these two subjects together? 2Macc 12:39-45 tells the story of how Judas Maccabee had the slain bodies of his men collected from the battlefield for burial. Each of the dead men were found with an amulet they had taken as booty from a pagan temple. Judas and his men prayed that God would forgive these men who had fought with them and also took up a collection to send to Jerusalem for a sacrifice of expiation for sin on behalf of the dead. This story from the Hebrew Bible balances out the New Testament half of the diptych—The Freeing of the Souls from Purgatory—and instructs the viewer that praying for the dead will hasten their release from purgatory.


A charm or ornament worn for magical or spiritual protection.

The practice of atonement, resulting in the removal of sin.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

(n.) One who adheres to traditional or polytheistic religious and spiritual belief and practice systems; sometimes used to refer broadly to anyone who does not adhere to biblical monotheism.

2Macc 12:39-45

39On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in t ... View more

 NEH Logo
Bible Odyssey has been made possible in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor
Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this website, do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.