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3 Maccabees 5New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

Execution of the Jews Is Twice Thwarted

Then the king, completely inflexible, was filled with overpowering anger and wrath; so he summoned Hermon, keeper of the elephants, and ordered him on the following day to drug all the elephants—five hundred in number—with large handfuls of frankincense and plenty of unmixed wine, and to drive them in, maddened by the lavish abundance of drink, so that the Jews might meet their doom. When he had given these orders he returned to his feasting, together with those of his Friends and of the army who were especially hostile towards the Jews. And Hermon, keeper of the elephants, proceeded faithfully to carry out the orders. The servants in charge of the Jews[a] went out in the evening and bound the hands of the wretched people and arranged for their continued custody through the night, convinced that the whole nation would experience its final destruction. For to the Gentiles it appeared that the Jews were left without any aid, because in their bonds they were forcibly confined on every side. But with tears and a voice hard to silence they all called upon the Almighty Lord and Ruler of all power, their merciful God and Father, praying that he avert with vengeance the evil plot against them and in a glorious manifestation rescue them from the fate now prepared for them. So their entreaty ascended fervently to heaven.

10 Hermon, however, when he had drugged the pitiless elephants until they had been filled with a great abundance of wine and satiated with frankincense, presented himself at the courtyard early in the morning to report to the king about these preparations. 11 But the Lord[b] sent upon the king a portion of sleep, that beneficence that from the beginning, night and day, is bestowed by him who grants it to whomsoever he wishes. 12 And by the action of the Lord he was overcome by so pleasant and deep a sleep[c] that he quite failed in his lawless purpose and was completely frustrated in his inflexible plan. 13 Then the Jews, since they had escaped the appointed hour, praised their holy God and again implored him who is easily reconciled to show the might of his all-powerful hand to the arrogant Gentiles.

14 But now, since it was nearly the middle of the tenth hour, the person who was in charge of the invitations, seeing that the guests were assembled, approached the king and nudged him. 15 And when he had with difficulty roused him, he pointed out that the hour of the banquet was already slipping by, and he gave him an account of the situation. 16 The king, after considering this, returned to his drinking, and ordered those present for the banquet to recline opposite him. 17 When this was done he urged them to give themselves over to revelry and to make the present[d] portion of the banquet joyful by celebrating all the more. 18 After the party had been going on for some time, the king summoned Hermon and with sharp threats demanded to know why the Jews had been allowed to remain alive through the present day. 19 But when he, with the corroboration of his Friends, pointed out that while it was still night he had carried out completely the order given him, 20 the king,[e] possessed by a savagery worse than that of Phalaris, said that the Jews[f] had benefited by today’s sleep, ‘but’, he added, ‘tomorrow without delay prepare the elephants in the same way for the destruction of the lawless Jews!’ 21 When the king had spoken, all those present readily and joyfully with one accord gave their approval, and all went to their own homes. 22 But they did not so much employ the duration of the night in sleep as in devising all sorts of insults for those they thought to be doomed.

23 Then, as soon as the cock had crowed in the early morning, Hermon, having equipped[g] the animals, began to move them along in the great colonnade. 24 The crowds of the city had been assembled for this most pitiful spectacle and they were eagerly waiting for daybreak. 25 But the Jews, at their last gasp—since the time had run out—stretched their hands towards heaven and with most tearful supplication and mournful dirges implored the supreme God[h] to help them again at once. 26 The rays of the sun were not yet shed abroad, and while the king was receiving his Friends, Hermon arrived and invited him to come out, indicating that what the king desired was ready for action. 27 But he, on receiving the report and being struck by the unusual invitation to come out—since he had been completely overcome by incomprehension—inquired what the matter was for which this had been so zealously completed for him. 28 This was the act of God who rules over all things, for he had implanted in the king’s mind a forgetfulness of the things he had previously devised. 29 Then Hermon and all the king’s Friends[i] pointed out that the animals and the armed forces were ready, ‘O king, according to your eager purpose.’[j] 30 But at these words he was filled with an overpowering wrath, because by the providence of God his whole mind had been deranged concerning these matters; and with a threatening look he said, 31 ‘If your parents or children were present, I would have prepared them to be a rich feast for the savage animals instead of the Jews, who give me no ground for complaint and have exhibited to an extraordinary degree a full and firm loyalty to my ancestors. 32 In fact you would have been deprived of life instead of these, if it were not for an affection arising from our nurture in common and your usefulness.’ 33 So Hermon suffered an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes wavered and his face fell. 34 The king’s Friends one by one sullenly slipped away and dismissed[k] the assembled people to their own occupations. 35 Then the Jews, on hearing what the king had said, praised the manifest Lord God, King of kings, since this also was his aid that they had received.

36 The king, however, reconvened the party in the same manner and urged the guests to return to their celebrating. 37 After summoning Hermon he said in a threatening tone, ‘How many times, you poor wretch, must I give you orders about these things? 38 Equip[l] the elephants now once more for the destruction of the Jews tomorrow!’ 39 But the officials who were at table with him, wondering at his instability of mind, remonstrated as follows: 40 ‘O king, how long will you put us to the test, as though we are idiots, ordering now for a third time that they be destroyed, and again revoking your decree in the matter?[m] 41 As a result the city is in a tumult because of its expectation; it is crowded with masses of people, and also in constant danger of being plundered.’

42 At this the king, a Phalaris in everything and filled with madness, took no account of the changes of mind that had come about within him for the protection of the Jews, and he firmly swore an irrevocable oath that he would send them to death[n] without delay, mangled by the knees and feet of the animals, 43 and would also march against Judea and rapidly level it to the ground with fire and spear, and by burning to the ground the temple inaccessible to him[o] would quickly render it for ever empty of those who offered sacrifices there. 44 Then the Friends and officers departed with great joy, and they confidently posted the armed forces at the places in the city most favourable for keeping guard.

45 Now when the animals had been brought virtually to a state of madness, so to speak, by the very fragrant draughts of wine mixed with frankincense and had been equipped with frightful devices, the elephant-keeper 46 entered at about dawn into the courtyard—the city now being filled with countless masses of people crowding their way into the hippodrome—and urged the king on to the matter at hand. 47 So he, when he had filled his impious mind with a deep rage, rushed out in full force along with the animals, wishing to witness, with invulnerable heart and with his own eyes, the grievous and pitiful destruction of the aforementioned people.

48 When the Jews saw the dust raised by the elephants going out at the gate and by the following armed forces, as well as by the trampling of the crowd, and heard the loud and tumultuous noise, 49 they thought that this was their last moment of life, the end of their most miserable suspense, and giving way to lamentation and groans they kissed each other, embracing relatives and falling into one another’s arms[p]—parents and children, mothers and daughters, and others with babies at their breasts who were drawing their last milk. 50 Not only this, but when they considered the help that they had received before from heaven, they prostrated themselves with one accord on the ground, removing the babies from their breasts, 51 and cried out in a very loud voice, imploring the Ruler over every power to manifest himself and be merciful to them, as they stood now at the gates of death.[q]


  1. 3 Maccabees 5:5 Gk them
  2. 3 Maccabees 5:11 Gk he
  3. 3 Maccabees 5:12 Other ancient authorities add from evening until the ninth hour
  4. 3 Maccabees 5:17 Other ancient authorities read delayed (Gk untimely)
  5. 3 Maccabees 5:20 Gk he
  6. 3 Maccabees 5:20 Gk they
  7. 3 Maccabees 5:23 Or armed
  8. 3 Maccabees 5:25 Gk the greatest God
  9. 3 Maccabees 5:29 Gk all the Friends
  10. 3 Maccabees 5:29 Other ancient authorities read pointed to the beasts and the armed forces, saying, ‘They are ready, O king, according to your eager purpose.’
  11. 3 Maccabees 5:34 Other ancient authorities read he dismissed
  12. 3 Maccabees 5:38 Or Arm
  13. 3 Maccabees 5:40 Other ancient authorities read when the matter is in hand
  14. 3 Maccabees 5:42 Gk Hades
  15. 3 Maccabees 5:43 Gk us
  16. 3 Maccabees 5:49 Gk falling upon their necks
  17. 3 Maccabees 5:51 Gk Hades
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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