I suggested, in my list of things to do for the Year of Faith, at least dipping into each of the books of the Bible in the course of the year.
If you want to follow the suggested plan I'm using, right now you should be taking a look at I Maccabees (I'm linking to the excellent New Advent online Bible, since it gives you the Latin, Greek and English in parallel text form).
And for a Gospel book for the quarter, I'm reading St John (I plan to develop my Greek reading skills this time around, and it seems to be the easiest of the four from a language point of view!). And to go with it, the commentary of St Thomas Aquinas.
The struggle against tyranny
Maccabees is worth a look for a number of reasons: firstly because of its references to the clash between Greek and Jewish cultures, as it deals with the fallout from Alexander the Great's conquest of the known world of the time; and secondly because they challenge assorted Protestant beliefs, hence Luther's decision to exclude them from the Old Testament canon!
Written around 100 BC, I Maccabees was originally written in Hebrew, but only survives now in Greek.
I Maccabees basically tells the story of the struggle of Matathias (who was both a priest and military leader) and his sons, especially Judas Maccabeus, one of the great soldier-heroes of the Old Testament, fight to free Israel from Greek occupation in the period 175 to 134BC.
The book opens with a discussion of the split of Alexander the Great's Empire following his death in 323 BC. A period of Hellenization ensued, and in 175 Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power and launched a campaign to outlaw Judaism altogether. The Maccabees resisted his persecution of practising Jews and profanation of the Temple, fighting a guerrilla war against this successor of Alexander the Great.
By 165 BC they had recaptured Jerusalem and purified and rededicated the Temple, and the Jewish feast of Hanukkah celebrates this. By 134 BC they were in control of most of Palestine.
God's providential guidance of history
The book highlights the idea that those faithful to the Covenant and the purity of Temple worship will be granted victory, as well as stressing the importance of Jerusalem and the Temple.
The book has sixteen chapters, and the reading plan has us start 2 Maccabees on 16 October, so the key chapters to read if you are just dipping in, are chapter 1 (to get the political and religious setting), and 3-9 (covering Judas Maccabeus).
Useful Catholic commentaries to consult as you read include: