3 Maccabees 1-7
Common English Bible
Battle of Raphia
1 Now Ptolemy Philopator learned from those who had returned that Antiochus had captured some of Ptolemy’s territory. Ptolemy gave orders to all his forces, foot soldiers and mounted soldiers, to break camp. Along with all his forces, and accompanied by his sister Arsinoë, he set out for the region of Raphia where Antiochus’ troops had set up camp.
2 Now a certain Theodotus made up his mind to carry out a plot to kill Ptolemy. He took the best of the weapons that had been assigned to him from Ptolemy’s own arsenal. He crossed over by night to Ptolemy’s tent, intending to put an end to the war by killing him single-handedly. 3 But Dositheus, known as Drimylus’ son, had led Ptolemy away and arranged for an unimportant person to sleep in the king’s tent. This person then met the fate intended for Ptolemy. (Now this Dositheus was a Jew by birth, but he had changed his mind about their customs and had turned away from the teachings of his ancestors.)
4 When a fierce battle arose, and things were going rather well for Antiochus, Arsinoë went out to Ptolemy’s army with pathetic cries and with her hair all in disarray. She urged them to rescue themselves and their children and wives, and bravely promised to give to each man two manehs of gold if they won the battle. 5 And so it turned out that the enemies were destroyed in hand-to-hand combat, and many were taken prisoner. 6 After overcoming the plot, Ptolemy decided to visit the neighboring cities to encourage them. 7 By doing this and by distributing gifts for their sacred shrines, he reassured his subjects.
Ptolemy Philopator at the temple
8 The Jews had sent elders and members of the council to greet him, to bring gifts of friendship, and to congratulate him on recent events. As a result he was even more eager to come to them as soon as possible. 9 So he traveled to Jerusalem, sacrificed to the supreme God, made thank offerings, and did what was appropriate for the temple. As he entered the temple, he was struck with amazement at its brilliance and beauty. 10 And as he admired the orderly arrangement of the temple, he conceived a notion to enter into the holy place. 11 But they said that it wasn’t right to do this since even those of their own nation weren’t permitted to enter it. Not even all the priests were allowed, but only the chief priest, who was in charge over all, and he could do so only once a year. But Philopator wasn’t at all persuaded. 12 Even after the law was read to him, he continued to claim that it was necessary for him to enter, saying, “Even if those persons are denied this honor, I shouldn’t be.” 13 He asked why, when he was entering every other sacred place, none of those present prevented him. 14 And someone said (without thinking) that he was wrong to speak of this as a sign. 15 “But even if for some reason this were true,” Philopator replied, “why should I, of all people, not enter, whether they are willing or not?”
The Jews’ reaction
16 But the priests fell to the ground, still in their sacred robes. They filled the temple with crying and tears, praying to the supreme God to help them and to change the mind of the one who was wrongly imposing himself. 17 Those who were left in the city were troubled and hurried out, thinking something mysterious was happening. 18 The young girls who had been kept secluded at home rushed out with their mothers. They sprinkled their hair with dust and began to fill the streets with weeping and groaning. 19 Even the young women who had just been adorned for their weddings left the bridal bedrooms that had been prepared for the marriage night. Neglecting all proper modesty, they came together in the city in a wild rush. 20 Mothers and nurses left newborn children here and there, some in houses, some in the streets, and crowded together into the most high temple without looking back. 21 The people who assembled offered all kinds of prayers on account of the evil plot of the king. 22 Some of the bolder citizens weren’t going to put up with his intended plan or fulfill what he had in mind. 23 They rallied each other to attack with weapons and to die courageously for the sake of the law of their ancestors, creating a great uproar in the holy place. The old men and the elders were barely able to restrain them, but turned them at last to the same stance of prayer.
24 Now the crowd in front of the temple was occupied in praying, 25 but the elders standing near the king tried in many ways to turn his arrogant mind from the scheme that he had conceived. 26 But he, being made bold and ignoring all their arguments, began to make his approach, determined to carry out his plan. 27 So when those who were near him saw this, they turned together with the people to appeal to the one who was fully able to come to their aid and not to overlook this insolent transgression. 28 An immense roar went up from the intensity and passion of the crowd’s concerted shouting. 29 Indeed it seemed that not only the people but also the walls and the entire land were echoing, because at that time all were prepared to accept death instead of making the holy place impure.
Prayer of Simon
2 [a] Then the high priest Simon knelt in front of the temple, extended his hands, and offered this prayer in a dignified manner:
2 “Lord, Lord, king of the heavens and master of all creation, holy among the holy ones, only ruler, almighty: Pay attention to us. We are being crushed by an evil and impure man, caught up in his own arrogance and power. 3 You are the creator of all things and the just master who rules over all. You judge those who act with violence and arrogance. 4 You destroyed those who did evil in the past, even giants. The giants trusted in their bodily strength and boldness, but you destroyed them in a great flood. 5 The people of Sodom acted arrogantly and were notorious for their wicked deeds.[b] You destroyed them with fire and sulfur, making them an example to others for all time. 6 When the arrogant ruler of Egypt enslaved your holy people Israel, you tested him with many, varied punishments. You made your power known; indeed, you made known your great strength. 7 When the ruler of Egypt pursued Israel with chariots and a multitude of people, you overwhelmed him with the depth of the sea. But those who trusted in you, the one who holds power over all creation—these people you brought safely through the sea. 8 And when they saw your powerful work, they praised you, the almighty.
9 “Although you, King, created the whole wide earth, you chose this city and set this place apart for your name, though you don’t need anything. You made it wonderful, giving it a splendid appearance, and established its order for the reputation of your great and honored name. 10 Because you love the house of Israel, you promised that you would hear our prayer if we came to this holy place and prayed whenever we experienced a setback or were overwhelmed with distress. 11 Indeed, you are faithful and true. 12 Whenever our ancestors were hard-pressed or humiliated, you helped them and rescued them from great hardships. 13 See now, Holy King, how we are being afflicted and have been subjected to our enemies and are weakened to the point of helplessness because of our many and great sins. 14 But in the midst of our calamity this arrogant and unholy man is determined to insult the holy place dedicated on earth to your glorious name. 15 For human beings can’t enter your dwelling place, the heaven of heavens. 16 But since you were pleased for your glory to rest among your people Israel, you set this place apart. 17 Don’t take vengeance on us because of the impurity of these people. Don’t call us to account because of their pollution, so that the lawless don’t boast in their hearts or rejoice in the arrogance of their tongues, saying, 18 “We trampled the house of holiness just as the houses of idols are trampled.” 19 Wipe away our sins and scatter our faults to the winds, and reveal your compassion in this hour. 20 Let your mercies quickly overtake us. Put praises in the mouths of those who are downcast and crushed in their spirits, granting us peace.
Punishment of Ptolemy Philopator
21 Then the God who watches over all things, the first father of all, holy among the holy ones, heard this lawful prayer and scourged the one who had claimed too much for himself in his violence and arrogance. 22 God shook him this way and that as a reed is shaken by the wind, with the result that he lay helpless on the ground. His limbs were paralyzed, and he was unable to speak, since he was struck by a just judgment. 23 His friends and bodyguards saw that the punishment that had seized him was severe. Fearing that even his life might fail, they quickly dragged him out, since they were terror-stricken. 24 After a while, the king recovered, and even though he had been punished, he didn’t change his heart and mind at all, but went away issuing bitter threats.
Ptolemy Philopator and the Alexandrian Jews
25 When he had returned to Egypt, he added to his evil deeds with the assistance of his drinking companions and friends, who were strangers to everything just. 26 He wasn’t satisfied with his innumerable indecent acts, but he also advanced to such a degree of impudence that he circulated false reports in the various districts. Many of his friends took note of the king’s purpose and followed his lead. 27 He proposed to spread blame publicly against the Jewish nation. He set up a stone near the tower in the courtyard with the following inscription carved upon it:
28 None who refuse to sacrifice are to enter into their sanctuaries. In addition all the Jews are to be registered and their property cataloged. Those who object are to be taken by force and put to death. 29 Those who are registered are to be branded on the body by fire with the ivy leaf sign of Dionysus and are also to be assigned to their former, limited civic status.
30 But so as not to seem hateful to all, he added:
But if any of them should prefer to join those who have been initiated into the mysteries, these are to enjoy political rights equal to the Alexandrians.
31 Now some Jews, while pretending to detest the steps to be undertaken for the city’s religion, readily surrendered themselves to share in great fame through the association they would have with the king. 32 But the honorable majority were strong and didn’t depart from their religion. They bravely tried to save themselves from being registered by resorting to bribes in exchange for their lives. 33 They remained hopeful of obtaining help, and they looked with contempt on those Jews who had deserted them. They considered those who gave in to be enemies of the Jewish nation, and no longer associated with them or offered them assistance.
Genocide, slander, and neighborly advocates
3 When the godless Philopator learned of this, he became so enraged that not only was he angry at those Jews in Alexandria but he also was very bitterly opposed to those living in the countryside. He gave an order that they should all be gathered together at once into one place and killed by the most brutal means possible. 2 While these plans were being put into action, some people plotted to injure the Jewish nation by circulating a hostile report against them on the pretext that the Jews were hindering others from practicing their own customs. 3 But the Jews were maintaining goodwill and unswerving loyalty toward the royal house. 4 While they worshipped God and conducted their lives according to God’s Law, they kept themselves separate in the matter of foods. For this reason they appeared hostile to some people. 5 But they had established a good reputation with everyone through their lifestyle of doing the right thing. 6 Now even though the Jews’ good deeds on behalf of the nation were commonly talked about by everyone, those of other races didn’t take these into account. 7 Instead, they kept harping on the differences in worship and diet, and claimed that the Jewish people were loyal neither to the king nor to the authorities, but were hostile and strongly opposed to the royal administration. And so they placed significant blame on the Jews.
8 But the Greeks in the city, who hadn’t been injured in any way, saw the unexpected turmoil surrounding these people and the purposeless mobs that were forming. Although they didn’t have the power to offer assistance, for they lived under tyranny, they tried to encourage the Jews. They were grieved and assumed that these circumstances would change for the better, 9 because so great a community shouldn’t be left to its fate in this way, since it had done nothing wrong. 10 Already some neighbors and friends and business associates secretly drew them aside and promised that they would fight by their side and make every effort to assist them.
Ptolemy Philopator’s decree
11 But the king took pride in his present success and disregarded the authority of the supreme God. Assuming that he would continue in the same plan without hindrance, he wrote this letter against the Jews:
12 King Ptolemy Philopator to his generals and soldiers in Egypt and in every place. Greetings and good health.
13 Both I myself and our affairs prosper. 14 After our campaign against Asia Minor came to a successful conclusion, as you yourselves are aware, with the gods fighting alongside us, 15 we thought that we should care for the nations inhabiting Coele-Syria and Phoenicia, not with the violence of the spear but with fairness and much kindness, eagerly treating them well. 16 After we had distributed generous funds to the temples in every city, we proceeded also to Jerusalem. We went up to honor the temple of those wretched people who never cease from their folly. 17 They spoke as if they welcomed our presence, but in fact they acted in a way that was dishonest. When we wanted to enter their sanctuary and to honor it with the most extraordinary and beautiful gifts, 18 they were carried away by their traditional arrogance and prevented us from entering. They were spared a display of our power because of the kindness that we have toward all people. 19 But they made clear their ill will toward us, as the only one of the nations showing such stiff-necked defiance to kings and to their own benefactors. They aren’t willing to receive anything as sincere.
20 But we showed indulgence toward the folly of these people and returned to Egypt in triumph. We treated all the nations in a kindly way and acted in a manner that was proper. 21 Among other things, we made known to everyone our policy of amnesty toward their fellow Jews here because of our alliance with them and the countless matters sincerely entrusted to them from the beginning. We bravely decided to make a change, to consider them worthy of Alexandrian citizenship and to make them partners in the regular religious rites.[c] 22 But they received it in a disagreeable manner and rejected what is good in line with their natural, spiteful character. Turning continually to what is worthless, 23 they not only rejected the priceless offer of citizenship but also showed their contempt, by what they said and by their silence, for those few Jews among them who favored us with honor. In every case they suspected, in keeping with their most shameful way of life, that we would swiftly reverse the policy. 24 We were fully persuaded indeed by such proofs that these people were ill-disposed toward us in every way.
Therefore, we took care so that, if a sudden rebellion should arise against us later, we won’t find that we have these evil people at our backs as traitors and uncivilized enemies. 25 We have given an order that as soon as this letter arrives, you are immediately to send to us those Jews who live among you, together with their wives and children, to suffer a certain and shameful death appropriate for enemies. Treat them harshly and abusively, and bind them on all sides in iron chains. 26 We are sure that, when these people have all been punished, the affairs of our state will be established more securely and in a more excellent condition for the future. 27 But whoever shelters any of the Jews, from an elderly person to a child to nursing infants, will be tortured, household and all, with the most horrible punishments. 28 But the one who is willing to give information will receive the property of the person falling under judgment. They will also be given two thousand drachmen[d] from the royal treasury, and will be rewarded with their freedom. 29 But every place, without exception, where a Jew is discovered to be sheltered, will be laid waste and burned with fire. It will become utterly useless to every living creature for all time.
30 And so the form of the letter was committed to writing.
Rounding up the Jews
4 Wherever this decree was read, a feast was arranged for the Gentiles at public expense with shouts of joy. Their deep, long-standing hatred was now openly being revealed. 2 But among the Jews, there were constant grief, lament, and crying. Everywhere their hearts were on fire as they groaned and bewailed the unexpected destruction that the king had suddenly inflicted on them. 3 What district or city, or what inhabited place of any kind, or what streets weren’t filled with grieving and weeping for them? 4 They were being sent off together by the generals in every city in a merciless and cruel manner. At the sight of these unusual punishments, even some of the Jews’ enemies wept over their most miserable expulsion, for they saw their pitiable state and reflected on the uncertain outcome of life. 5 A multitude of gray-haired, elderly men were being led away, bent over with age, their feet plodding along under the distress of a forced, swift march, with no consideration given to their age. 6 Young women, who had just entered the bridal bedroom for the sharing of life, exchanged joy for weeping and sprinkled dust on their hair that was still wet with perfume. They were led away with their heads bare and began to sing a funeral song together in place of a wedding song, as they were roughly handled by the cruel treatment of a foreign nation.[e] 7 These captives were violently dragged away in public view to be put on board ship. 8 Their husbands, in the prime of their youth, had ropes tied around their necks instead of festive garlands. They spent the remaining days of their wedding festivities weeping rather than celebrating and enjoying youthful amusements, seeing the grave already yawning at their feet. 9 They were driven like animals, constrained by the power of iron chains. Some were fastened by the neck to the ship’s benches; some were secured by their feet with unbreakable shackles. 10 Moreover, they were plunged into total darkness due to thick planks positioned above them so that they would receive the treatment due traitors throughout the entire voyage.
11 When these people had been brought to the place called Schedia, and the voyage was finished, just as the king had decreed, Ptolemy ordered the captives to be encamped on the outskirts of the city in the racecourse. This stadium had been built with an immense perimeter and was very well placed for providing a public spectacle to all those returning home to the city and to those setting out from the city into the country for a trip abroad. The captives had no communication at all with the king’s forces, nor were they considered worthy of the protection of the city wall. 12 When this was done, the king heard that their fellow Jews were frequently going forth from the city in secret to express sympathy for the shameful misery of their kindred. 13 He became very angry and gave an order to deal with these people in exactly the same thorough fashion as the others, not leaving out any part of their punishment. 14 The entire tribe was to be registered by name—no longer for the service of hard labor described earlier, but to be tortured with the prescribed punishments and, in the end, to be killed within a single day. 15 So the process of drawing up a list of these people was carried out with cruel eagerness and intense diligence from the rising of the sun until its setting, coming to an end, though still incomplete, after forty days.
16 Filled with constant joy, the king organized banquets at the sites of all his idols. With a mind that had strayed far from the truth and with a polluted mouth, he praised objects that were deaf and unable to speak or give aid, but he spoke improper words against the supreme God. 17 At the end of the forty days, the clerks reported to the king that they were no longer able to complete the task of drawing up a list of all the Jews because of their countless number. 18 Though the majority were still in the country, some still in their homes, and some even on-site,[f] the job had become impossible for all the generals in Egypt. 19 After the king had threatened the clerks severely, claiming that they had accepted money to arrange a plan of escape, he came to be convinced 20 when they explained and offered proof that both the paper supply and the reed pens that they were using had already run out. 21 But this happened by the invincible providence of the one who was giving the Jews help from heaven.
Sleep foils the king’s plan
5 Then the king, completely stubborn and filled with extreme rage and bitterness, called for Hermon the elephant keeper. 2 He ordered him to drug all the elephants—five hundred in number—with heaping handfuls of frankincense and much unmixed wine on the following day. When the abundant quantity of drink had driven them wild, Hermon was to bring them in so that the Jews might meet their doom. 3 When Ptolemy had given these commands, he went back to his partying, having gathered those of his friends and of the army who were especially hostile toward the Jews. 4 But Hermon the elephant keeper promptly began to carry out the orders. 5 The servants in charge of the Jews went out in the evening, bound the hands of those enduring this distress, and arranged for their continued custody through the night. They expected that the entire race would come to a ruinous end. 6 To the Gentiles it seemed that the Jews were entirely without refuge, since in their chains, distress surrounded them on every side. 7 But with persistent cries and tears they all called upon their almighty Lord and merciful God and father, who rules over every power. They continued to pray 8 that he would turn away the evil plot against them and rescue them with a glorious display of power from their impending fate. 9 So their prayer rose earnestly to heaven.
10 Now when Hermon had made the savage elephants drunk so that they were full of a great quantity of wine and drugged with frankincense, he came to the palace courtyard early in the morning to report to the king. 11 But God sent to the king a portion of sleep, the precious creation from before recorded time, granted night and day by the one who gives it generously to whomever he wishes. 12 By the Lord’s doing, the king was overcome by a most pleasant and deep sleep,[g] such that he utterly failed in his unlawful purpose and was completely cheated out of his stubborn plan. 13 And the Jews, having escaped the announced hour, praised their holy God and again prayed that the one who is quickly reconciled to his people would show the might of his exceedingly strong hand to the arrogant Gentiles.
14 When it was almost the middle of the tenth hour, the person in charge of the invitations, seeing that the guests were gathered, approached the king and nudged him 15 After waking him with some difficulty, he informed him that the time of the banquet was already slipping by, and gave him an account concerning the matter. 16 The king, after considering this, returned to his drinking and commanded those who were present at the banquet to recline across from him. 17 When this had been done, he urged the guests to give themselves over to feasting and to make up for the lost time by celebrating all the more now. 18 After the party had been going on for some time, the king called Hermon in and asked him, with angry threats, why the Jews had been permitted to remain alive through the present day. 19 But Hermon pointed out that he had fully carried out the orders at night, and his friends confirmed his story. 20 So the king, with a savagery worse than the tyrant Phalaris, said that the Jews could be grateful for today’s sleep, but “Tomorrow,” he said, “without delay, prepare the elephants in the same way for the destruction of the unseemly Jews.” 21 So the king spoke, and when all those present gave their unanimous approval readily and joyfully, they all departed for their own homes. 22 But they didn’t spend their night sleeping so much as devising all kinds of insults for those who seemed to be doomed.
Forgetfulness foils the king’s plan
23 By dawn, when the roosters began to crow, Hermon had outfitted the beasts and started them moving along in the great colonnade. 24 Crowds of people from throughout the city gathered for the most sorry spectacle and were eagerly awaiting the early morning. 25 The Jews were at their last gasp, since time was short. With tearful prayer and mournful sounds, they stretched out their hands to heaven and begged the supreme God to help them again quickly. 26 Before the rays of the sun were scattered across the sky, while the king was receiving his friends, Hermon approached him and invited him to come out, indicating that the king’s desire was ready to be put into action. 27 When he heard this, the king was surprised at the unusual invitation to come out from the palace. He was completely overcome by confusion, and he asked what it was that they had worked so hard to prepare for him. 28 Now this was God’s doing, the God who is Lord over all things, who had placed in the king’s mind forgetfulness of the schemes that he had previously devised. 29 Hermon and all the king’s friends pointed out, “The beasts and the forces have been prepared, Your Majesty, according to your careful plan.”
30 But at these words the king was filled with extreme wrath because the providence of God had scattered every thought of his concerning these matters. He glared threateningly at Hermon and said, 31 “If your parents or children were here, I would have them prepared[h] as a lavish meal for wild animals instead of the Jews. They are blameless as far as I’m concerned, and have demonstrated constant loyalty above all others toward my ancestors. 32 Indeed, if it weren’t for the affection of our common upbringing and your service, you would’ve been deprived of life instead of them.” 33 So Hermon endured an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes and face showed his dismay. 34 One by one the king’s friends slipped away sullenly, and the guests were dismissed, each to his own business. 35 Now when the Jews heard about what the king had said, they praised God, the Lord, the king of kings, who had made his power apparent in giving them this assistance.
36 Now the king resumed the entire banquet, according to the same rules, and began inviting the guests to return to their celebration. 37 He summoned Hermon and said with a threat, “How often, you sorry creature, must I command you concerning these same matters? 38 Equip the elephants yet again for the destruction of the Jews tomorrow.” 39 But the king’s officials, who were reclining at the table with him, were taken aback by his unstable mind and began to protest as follows: 40 “Your Majesty, how long will you test us, as though we were fools, giving an order a third time to destroy the Jews and again reversing your decisions? 41 As a result, the city is in an uproar because of its expectation. It is already swarming with mobs and is very much at risk of being plundered.” 42 At that point the king, a Phalaris in every way, was filled with madness and gave no thought at all to the change of heart that had come about in him concerning the punishment of the Jews. He firmly swore an irrevocable pledge that he would send these people to the grave[i] without delay, mangled by the knees and feet of the beasts. 43 He swore he would march against Judea and swiftly burn it to the ground with fire and spear. Their temple, which he hadn’t been allowed to enter, he would level with fire, ridding it forever of those who performed sacrifices there. 44 Then the friends and officials departed with joy and confidently assigned the armed forces to the places in the city that were best for keeping watch.
Horror at the racecourse
45 Now the elephant keeper drove the beasts almost to a state of madness with the most fragrant drinks, namely, wine mixed with incense, and he equipped them with frightful trappings. 46 Around dawn, when the city was already filled with countless crowds moving toward the racecourse, he entered the palace and urged the king on to the matter at hand. 47 So the king, filled with rage, rushed out with all fierceness to join the beasts. He wanted to witness with steely heart and with his own eyes the painful and miserable destruction of the previously mentioned people. 48 The Jews saw the dust cloud created by the elephants going out at the gate, the armed force following them, and the marching of the crowd, and they heard the noisy ruckus. 49 Thinking that this was their final moment of life, the fulfillment of their most wretched fear, they gave themselves over to pitiful wailing and weeping. They began to kiss each other, embracing their families and throwing themselves upon each other’s shoulders, parents to children and mothers to daughters. Other women had their newborn infants at their breasts drawing their last milk. 50 Nevertheless, when they took into consideration the assistance that they had previously received from heaven, they took their infants away from their breasts and all together bowed down. 51 They cried out with a very loud voice, pleading with the Lord of all power to have mercy on them by intervening, since they now stood at the gates of death.
Prayer of Eleazar
6 Now a certain Eleazar was a distinguished person among the priests from the country. He had attained an advanced age, and throughout his life he had displayed every virtue. He restrained the elders around him from calling on the holy God, while he prayed as follows:
2 Dear King, mighty in power, almighty God Most High, you govern the whole creation with mercy. 3 Look upon the descendants of Abraham, upon the children of sacred Jacob, father, a people set apart as your inheritance, who are strangers perishing in a strange land. 4 Pharaoh, the former ruler of this land of Egypt, with his multitude of chariots, showed great presumption with his arrogant actions and proud boasts. But you destroyed him along with his arrogant army. You drowned them in the sea and showed forth the light of your mercy to your people Israel. 5 Sennacherib, the cruel king of the Assyrians, prided himself in his innumerable forces and had already subdued the entire earth by the spear. He rose up against your holy city, speaking fierce words with arrogant boasting, and you, Lord, shattered him, displaying your power openly to many nations. 6 Daniel’s three friends in Babylon voluntarily gave their lives to the fire in order not to serve worthless things. You rescued them, sprinkling the fiery furnace with dew, such that not a hair on their heads was harmed, while you sent the flames forth upon all their enemies. 7 Because Daniel was envied and slandered, he was thrown down into the earth to lions as food for the beasts. But you led him back up into the light unhurt. 8 And you, Father, looked upon Jonah, when he was wasting away in the belly of a sea monster from the depths, and you restored him unharmed to all his family.
9 So you who hate arrogance, most merciful defender of all things, reveal yourself quickly to those of the people of Israel who are being spitefully mistreated by vile and lawless Gentiles. 10 If we’ve gotten tangled up in sins during our exile, rescue us from the hand of our enemies, Lord, and destroy us by whatever fate you choose. 11 Don’t let these empty-headed people praise their empty gods for the destruction of your dearly loved people, saying, “Not even their God rescued them!” 12 But you, who have all might and all power, eternal one, look upon us now. Have mercy on us who, by the senseless arrogance of lawless people, are being deprived of life as if we were traitors. 13 Let the Gentiles tremble in fear today at your matchless power, honored one, you who possess the power to rescue the people of Jacob. 14 The entire multitude of infants and their parents is begging you with tears. 15 Let it be shown to all the Gentiles that you are with us, Lord, and you haven’t turned your face away from us. But just as you have said, “Not even when they were in the land of their enemies did I neglect them,”[j] so bring it to pass, Lord.
God delivers the Jews
16 Now as Eleazar was concluding his prayer, the king arrived at the racecourse with the beasts and all the arrogance of his power. 17 When the Jews saw this, they cried out to heaven so loudly that even the nearby valleys echoed, putting the army into a panic. 18 Then the most glorious, almighty, and true God showed forth his holy face and opened the heavenly gates. Two glorified angels of frightful appearance descended, visible to all except the Jews. 19 They opposed the power of the enemies, filled them with confusion and dread, and made them freeze in their tracks as with shackles. 20 Even the body of the king gave a slight shudder, and he forgot his sullen arrogance. 21 The elephants turned back on the armed forces that were following them, and they began to trample and destroy them.
22 The king’s anger was changed into pity and tears because of the schemes that he had previously devised. 23 When he heard the loud cry and saw the Jews all lying on the ground awaiting destruction, he wept and violently threatened his friends, saying, 24 “You have used your power badly and acted more savagely than tyrants. You are now attempting to rob even me, your benefactor, of my rule and my life. Secretly you devise things that are of no advantage to the kingdom. 25 Who has driven from their homes those who have faithfully commanded the fortresses of our country? Who has senselessly gathered them all in this place? 26 Who has so unjustly rewarded those who from the beginning differed from all the nations in their goodwill toward us in every way, and who often have taken upon themselves the worst human dangers by mistreating them on every side? 27 Release them from those undeserved chains! Send them in peace back to their homes, and seek forgiveness for the deeds that have been done. 28 Free the children of the almighty, living God of heaven, who from the days of our ancestors until now has given our kingdom constant and notable stability.” 29 So the king said these things, and the Jews, who were released immediately, praised their holy God and savior, since they had just now escaped death.
Celebration of deliverance
30 Then the king went back into the city and called for the official in charge of the treasury. He ordered him to supply the Jews with wines and everything else needed for a seven-day festival. The king decided that the Jews should celebrate their rescue with all joy in the same place where they thought they would meet destruction. 31 So the people who previously had been disgraced and stood near death—at its very brink!—prepared for a festival of deliverance instead of a bitter and most mournful fate. The place that had been prepared for their ruin and burial was joyfully divided up among people in celebration. 32 They stopped singing their sad songs of lament and took up an ancient hymn in praise of their rescuer, the wonder-working God.[k] They threw aside all weeping and wailing and instead sang songs in organized groups as a sign of peaceful joy. 33 The king also assembled a huge banquet because of these events. He kept giving generous praise to heaven for the remarkable rescue that he[l] had experienced. 34 Those who had previously believed that the Jews would be destroyed and would become food for the birds, and who had drawn up the lists of their names and goods with delight, now groaned. For they were clothed with shame, and the fire of their boldness had been thoroughly doused.
35 The Jews, as we said before, organized singing groups and spent their time in celebration with cheerful thanksgiving psalms. 36 They decided that this would be a holiday to be observed for generations to come by the Jewish community living in exile there. The festival would be kept in a spirit of celebration, not as an excuse for overeating and getting drunk but because of the rescue that God had accomplished for them. 37 They appealed to the king, asking for his permission to return to their homes.
38 The drawing up of the lists of names was conducted from the twenty-fifth of Pachon[m] to the fourth of Epiphi,[n] over a period of forty days; and their destruction was planned for the fifth of Epiphi until the seventh, a period of three days. 39 But also during those days the Lord of all gloriously displayed his mercy and brought them through without harm, each and every one. 40 So being well supplied by the king, they feasted until the fourteenth day, on which day they made the petition concerning their return.
Ptolemy Philopator’s letter
41 The king granted it to them and wrote the following letter on their behalf to the generals in every city, generously stating his deep concern:
7 King Ptolemy Philopator to the generals throughout Egypt and to all those put in charge of affairs. Greetings and good health.
2 We ourselves and our children also enjoy good health since the great God guides our affairs, as is our desire. 3 Certain of our friends, by frequently urging us out of spite, persuaded us to gather the Jews from throughout the kingdom together in one place and to torment them with unusual punishments as traitors. 4 They insisted that our government would never be stable until this was accomplished, due to the hostility that these people were said to have toward all the nations. 5 These friends also drove them along in chains, treating them harshly as slaves, or rather, as traitors. Without any investigation or trial they attempted to destroy them, displaying a cruelty more savage than the barbarians from Scythia. 6 Now we threatened them sternly for these actions, but we granted them their lives (but just barely!) in keeping with the patience that we show toward all people. Because we have learned that the heavenly God surely shields the Jews and fights alongside them as a father for his children, 7 and because we have considered the constant goodwill that they have shown toward us and our ancestors, we rightly hold them innocent of every charge of whatever kind.
8 We have ordered them all to return, each and every one, to their homes. No one anywhere is to harm them at all, or cast any blame on them regarding these senseless events. 9 You should be aware that, if we ever devise any evil against these people or trouble them in any way, we won’t have a human being as our enemy but rather the Most High God, who is Lord over every power. It is he who will enforce the punishment for our actions in every way, and from him there is no escape. Farewell.
Punishment of Jewish lawbreakers
10 When the Jews received this letter, they didn’t rush to depart. Instead, they petitioned the king that they might carry out the punishment deserved by those Jews who had voluntarily turned aside from the holy God and God’s Law. 11 They insisted that those who had broken divine laws for the sake of the belly would never be reliable subjects under the king’s government either. 12 The king recognized and agreed that they were speaking the truth. So he gave them a free hand to utterly destroy those who had violated God’s Law in every place within his kingdom, and to do so with confidence and without needing royal approval or supervision. 13 Then they applauded him, as was fitting, and their priests and all the crowd shouted the Hallelujah joyously and departed. 14 On their way they punished and killed any fellow Jews they came upon who had polluted themselves, making a public example of them. 15 On that day they killed more than three hundred persons, a day that they also observed as a joyous festival since they had subdued the renegades. 16 But those who had held fast to God to the point of death, having obtained the complete reward of deliverance, set out from the city crowned with all kinds of the most fragrant flowers, celebrating and shouting, giving thanks with praises and beautiful hymns to the God of their ancestors, the eternal savior of Israel.
The Jews return home
17 The Jews arrived at Ptolemais, named “Rose-bearing” because of a distinctive feature of the place, where the fleet waited for them for seven days in line with their common desire. 18 There they toasted their rescue, since the king had generously supplied them, each and every one, with all things they needed until their arrival at their own homes. 19 When they had reached their land in peace, there too, in like manner with appropriate expressions of thanks, they decided to observe these days as a festival for as long as they lived in Egypt. 20 They inscribed the record of these events on a pillar and dedicated a place of prayer at the site of the festival. Then they departed unharmed, free, and overjoyed, being safely returned by land, sea, and river to their own homes, by the king’s command. 21 They gained more influence among their enemies than they had had previously, and were held in honor and awe. No one at all kept back their possessions from them. 22 The Jews recovered all their property in keeping with the lists that had been previously drawn up, with the result that those who held anything of theirs returned it to them with the greatest deference, for the supreme God had perfectly performed mighty deeds for their salvation. 23 Bless the rescuer of Israel from now to eternity! Amen.
- 3 Maccabees 2:1 Some manuscripts lack 2:1.
- 3 Maccabees 2:5 Some manuscripts read secretive in their wicked deeds.
- 3 Maccabees 3:21 Other manuscripts read partners with the regular priests.
- 3 Maccabees 3:28 A drachme was equivalent to a typical day’s wage.
- 3 Maccabees 4:6 Some manuscripts read as though torn asunder by the lion’s whelps of a foreign nation.
- 3 Maccabees 4:18 Other manuscripts have on the way.
- 3 Maccabees 5:12 Some manuscripts read deep sleep from evening until the ninth hour.
- 3 Maccabees 5:31 Some manuscripts read they would have prepared or you would have prepared.
- 3 Maccabees 5:42 Gk Hades
- 3 Maccabees 6:15 Lev 26:44
- 3 Maccabees 6:32 Some manuscripts read praising Israel and the wonder-working God.
- 3 Maccabees 6:33 Some manuscripts read they had experienced.
- 3 Maccabees 6:38 Possibly May, Egyptian calendar
- 3 Maccabees 6:38 Possibly June, Egyptian calendar