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3 Maccabees 1:1–5:1


The Battle of Raphia

1When Philopator learned from those who returned that the regions that he had controlled had been seized by Antiochus, he gave orders to all his forces, both infantry and cavalry, took with him his sister Arsinoe4, and marched out to the region near Raphia, where the army of Antiochus was encamped. 2But a certain Theodotus, determined to carry out the plot he had devised, took with him the best of the Ptolemaic arms that had been previously issued to him,* and crossed over by night to the tent of Ptolemy, intending single-handed to kill him and thereby end the war. 3But Dositheus, known as the son of Drimylus, a Jew by birth who later changed his religion and apostatized from the ancestral traditions, had led the king away and arranged that a certain insignificant man should sleep in the tent; and so it turned out that this man incurred the vengeance meant for the king.* 4When a bitter fight resulted, and matters were turning out rather in favour of Antiochus, Arsinoe4 went to the troops with wailing and tears, her locks all dishevelled, and exhorted them to defend themselves and their children and wives bravely, promising to give them each two minas of gold if they won the battle. 5And so it came about that the enemy was routed in the action, and many captives also were taken. 6Now that he had foiled the plot, Ptolemy* decided to visit the neighbouring cities and encourage them. 7By doing this, and by endowing their sacred enclosures with gifts, he strengthened the morale of his subjects.

Philopator Attempts to Enter the Sanctuary

8 Since the Jews had sent some of their council and elders to greet him, to bring him gifts of welcome, and to congratulate him on what had happened, he was all the more eager to visit them as soon as possible. 9After he had arrived in Jerusalem, he offered sacrifice to the supreme God* and made thank-offerings and did what was fitting for the holy place.* Then, upon entering the place and being impressed by its excellence and its beauty, 10he marvelled at the good order of the temple, and conceived a desire to enter the sanctuary. 11When they said that this was not permitted, because not even members of their own nation were allowed to enter, not even all of the priests, but only the high priest who was pre-eminent over all—and he only once a year—the king was by no means persuaded. 12Even after the law had been read to him, he did not cease to maintain that he ought to enter, saying, ‘Even if those men are deprived of this honour, I ought not to be.’ 13And he inquired why, when he entered every other temple,* no one there had stopped him. 14And someone answered thoughtlessly that it was wrong to take that as a portent.* 15‘But since this has happened’, the king* said, ‘why should not I at least enter, whether they wish it or not?’

Jewish Resistance to Ptolemy

16 Then the priests in all their vestments prostrated themselves and entreated the supreme God* to aid in the present situation and to avert the violence of this evil design, and they filled the temple with cries and tears; 17those who remained behind in the city were agitated and hurried out, supposing that something mysterious was occurring. 18Young women who had been secluded in their chambers rushed out with their mothers, sprinkled their hair with dust,* and filled the streets with groans and lamentations. 19Those women who had recently been arrayed for marriage abandoned the bridal chambers* prepared for wedded union, and, neglecting proper modesty, in a disorderly rush flocked together in the city. 20Mothers and nurses abandoned even newborn children here and there, some in houses and some in the streets, and without a backward look they crowded together at the most high temple. 21Various were the supplications of those gathered there because of what the king was profanely plotting. 22In addition, the bolder of the citizens would not tolerate the completion of his plans or the fulfilment of his intended purpose. 23They shouted to their compatriots to take arms and die courageously for the ancestral law, and created a considerable disturbance in the holy place;* and being barely restrained by the old men and the elders,* they resorted to the same posture of supplication as the others. 24Meanwhile the crowd, as before, was engaged in prayer, 25while the elders near the king tried in various ways to change his arrogant mind from the plan that he had conceived. 26But he, in his arrogance, took heed of nothing, and began now to approach, determined to bring the aforesaid plan to a conclusion. 27When those who were around him observed this, they turned, together with our people, to call upon him who has all power to defend them in the present trouble and not to overlook this unlawful and haughty deed. 28The continuous, vehement, and concerted cry of the crowds* resulted in an immense uproar; 29for it seemed that not only the people but also the walls and the whole earth around echoed, because indeed all at that time* preferred death to the profanation of the place.

The Prayer of the High Priest Simon

2Then the high priest Simon, facing the sanctuary, bending his knees and extending his hands with calm dignity, prayed as follows:* 2‘Lord, Lord, king of the heavens, and sovereign of all creation, holy among the holy ones, the only ruler, almighty, give attention to us who are suffering grievously from an impious and profane man, puffed up in his audacity and power. 3For you, the creator of all things and the governor of all, are a just Ruler, and you judge those who have done anything in insolence and arrogance. 4You destroyed those who in the past committed injustice, among whom were even giants who trusted in their strength and boldness, whom you destroyed by bringing on them a boundless flood. 5You consumed with fire and sulphur the people of Sodom who acted arrogantly, who were notorious for their vices;* and you made them an example to those who should come afterwards. 6You made known your mighty power by inflicting many and varied punishments on the audacious Pharaoh who had enslaved your holy people Israel. 7And when he pursued them with chariots and a mass of troops, you overwhelmed him in the depths of the sea, but carried through safely those who had put their confidence in you, the Ruler over the whole creation. 8And when they had seen works of your hands, they praised you, the Almighty. 9You, O King, when you had created the boundless and immeasurable earth, chose this city and sanctified this place for your name, though you have no need of anything; and when you had glorified it by your magnificent manifestation,* you made it a firm foundation for the glory of your great and honoured name. 10And because you love the house of Israel, you promised that if we should have reverses, and tribulation should overtake us, you would listen to our petition when we come to this place and pray. 11And indeed you are faithful and true. 12And because oftentimes when our fathers were oppressed you helped them in their humiliation, and rescued them from great evils, 13see now, O holy King, that because of our many and great sins we are crushed with suffering, subjected to our enemies, and overtaken by helplessness. 14In our downfall this audacious and profane man undertakes to violate the holy place on earth dedicated to your glorious name. 15For your dwelling is the heaven of heavens, unapproachable by human beings. 16But because you graciously bestowed your glory on your people Israel, you sanctified this place. 17Do not punish us for the defilement committed by these men, or call us to account for this profanation, otherwise the transgressors will boast in their wrath and exult in the arrogance of their tongue, saying, 18“We have trampled down the house of the sanctuary as the houses of the abominations are trampled down.” 19Wipe away our sins and disperse our errors, and reveal your mercy at this hour. 20Speedily let your mercies overtake us, and put praises in the mouth of those who are downcast and broken in spirit, and give us peace.’

God’s Punishment of Ptolemy

21 Thereupon God, who oversees all things, the first Father of all, holy among the holy ones, having heard the lawful supplication, scourged him who had exalted himself in insolence and audacity. 22He shook him on this side and that as a reed is shaken by the wind, so that he lay helpless on the ground and, besides being paralysed in his limbs, was unable even to speak, since he was smitten* by a righteous judgement. 23Then both friends and bodyguards, seeing the severe punishment that had overtaken him, and fearing that he would lose his life, quickly dragged him out, panic-stricken in their exceedingly great fear. 24After a while he recovered, and though he had been punished, he by no means repented, but went away uttering bitter threats.

Hostile Measures against the Jews

25 When he arrived in Egypt, he increased in his deeds of malice, abetted by the previously mentioned drinking companions and comrades, who were strangers to everything just. 26He was not content with his uncounted licentious deeds, but even continued with such audacity that he framed evil reports in the various localities; and many of his friends, intently observing the king’s purpose, themselves also followed his will. 27He proposed to inflict public disgrace on the Jewish community,* and he set up a stone* on the tower in the courtyard with this inscription: 28‘None of those who do not sacrifice shall enter their sanctuaries, and all Jews shall be subjected to a registration involving poll tax and to the status of slaves. Those who object to this are to be taken by force and put to death; 29those who are registered are also to be branded on their bodies by fire with the ivy-leaf symbol of Dionysus, and they shall also be reduced to their former limited status.’ 30In order that he might not appear to be an enemy of all, he inscribed below: ‘But if any of them prefer to join those who have been initiated into the mysteries, they shall have equal citizenship with the Alexandrians.’

31 Now some, however, with an obvious abhorrence of the price to be exacted for maintaining the religion of their city,* readily gave themselves up, since they expected to enhance their reputation by their future association with the king. 32But the majority acted firmly with a courageous spirit and did not abandon their religion; and by paying money in exchange for life they confidently attempted to save themselves from the registration. 33They remained resolutely hopeful of obtaining help, and they abhorred those who separated themselves from them, considering them to be enemies of the Jewish nation,* and depriving them of companionship and mutual help.

The Jews and Their Neighbours

3When the impious king comprehended this situation, he became so infuriated that not only was he enraged against those Jews who lived in Alexandria, but was still more bitterly hostile towards those in the countryside; and he ordered that all should promptly be gathered into one place, and put to death by the most cruel means. 2While these matters were being arranged, a hostile rumour was circulated against the Jewish nation by some who conspired to do them ill, a pretext being given by a report that they hindered others* from the observance of their customs. 3The Jews, however, continued to maintain goodwill and unswerving loyalty towards the dynasty; 4but because they worshipped God and conducted themselves by his law, they kept their separateness with respect to foods. For this reason they appeared hateful to some; 5but since they adorned their style of life with the good deeds of upright people, they were established in good repute with everyone. 6Nevertheless, those of other races paid no heed to their good service to their nation, which was common talk among all; 7instead they gossiped about the differences in worship and foods, alleging that these people were loyal neither to the king nor to his authorities, but were hostile and greatly opposed to his government. So they attached no ordinary reproach to them.

8 The Greeks in the city, though wronged in no way, when they saw an unexpected tumult around these people and the crowds that suddenly were forming, were not strong enough to help them, for they lived under tyranny. They did try to console them, being grieved at the situation, and expected that matters would change; 9for such a great community ought not to be left to its fate when it had committed no offence. 10And already some of their neighbours and friends and business associates had taken some of them aside privately and were pledging to protect them and to exert more earnest efforts for their assistance.

Ptolemy’s Decree That All Jews Be Arrested

11 Then the king, boastful of his present good fortune, and not considering the might of the supreme God,* but assuming that he would persevere constantly in his same purpose, wrote this letter against them:

12 ‘King Ptolemy Philopator to his generals and soldiers in Egypt and all its districts, greetings and good health:

13 ‘I myself and our government are faring well. 14When our expedition took place in Asia, as you yourselves know, it was brought to conclusion, according to plan, by the gods’ deliberate alliance with us in battle, 15and we considered that we should not rule the nations inhabiting Coelesyria and Phoenicia by the power of the spear, but should cherish them with clemency and great benevolence, gladly treating them well. 16And when we had granted very great revenues to the temples in the cities, we came on to Jerusalem also, and went up to honour the temple of those wicked people, who never cease from their folly. 17They accepted our presence by word, but insincerely by deed, because when we proposed to enter their inner temple and honour it with magnificent and most beautiful offerings, 18they were carried away by their traditional arrogance, and excluded us from entering; but they were spared the exercise of our power because of the benevolence that we have towards all. 19By maintaining their manifest ill will towards us, they become the only people among all nations who hold their heads high in defiance of kings and their own benefactors, and are unwilling to regard any action as sincere.

20 ‘But we, when we arrived in Egypt victorious, accommodated ourselves to their folly and did as was proper, since we treat all nations with benevolence. 21Among other things, we made known to all our amnesty towards their compatriots here, both because of their alliance with us and the myriad affairs liberally entrusted to them from the beginning; and we ventured to make a change, by deciding both to deem them worthy of Alexandrian citizenship and to make them participants in our regular religious rites.* 22But in their innate malice they took this in a contrary spirit, and disdained what is good. Since they incline constantly to evil, 23they not only spurn the priceless citizenship, but also both by speech and by silence they abominate those few among them who are sincerely disposed towards us; in every situation, in accordance with their infamous way of life, they secretly suspect that we may soon alter our policy. 24Therefore, fully convinced by these indications that they are ill disposed towards us in every way, we have taken precautions so that, if a sudden disorder later arises against us, we shall not have these impious people behind our backs as traitors and barbarous enemies. 25Therefore we have given orders that, as soon as this letter arrives, you are to send to us those who live among you, together with their wives and children, with insulting and harsh treatment, and bound securely with iron fetters, to suffer the sure and shameful death that befits enemies. 26For when all of these have been punished, we are sure that for the remaining time the government will be established for ourselves in good order and in the best state. 27But those who shelter any of the Jews, whether old people or children or even infants, will be tortured to death with the most hateful torments, together with their families. 28Any who are willing to give information will receive the property of those who incur the punishment, and also two thousand drachmas from the royal treasury, and will be awarded their freedom.* 29Every place detected sheltering a Jew is to be made unapproachable and burned with fire, and shall become useless for all time to any mortal creature.’ 30The letter was written in the above form.

The Jews Deported to Alexandria

4In every place, then, where this decree arrived, a feast at public expense was arranged for the Gentiles with shouts and gladness, for the inveterate enmity that had long ago been in their minds was now made evident and explicit. 2But among the Jews there was incessant mourning, lamentation, and tearful cries; everywhere their hearts were burning, and they groaned because of the unexpected destruction that had suddenly been decreed for them. 3What district or city, or what habitable place at all, or what streets were not filled with mourning and wailing for them? 4For with such a harsh and ruthless spirit were they being sent off, all together, by the generals in the several cities, that at the sight of their unusual punishments, even some of their enemies, perceiving the common object of pity before their eyes, reflected on the uncertainty of life and shed tears at the most miserable expulsion of these people. 5For a multitude of grey-headed old men, sluggish and bent with age, was being led away, forced to march at a swift pace by the violence with which they were driven in such a shameful manner. 6And young women who had just entered the bridal chamber* to share married life exchanged joy for wailing, their myrrh-perfumed hair sprinkled with ashes, and were carried away unveiled, all together raising a lament instead of a wedding-song, as they were torn by the harsh treatment of the heathen.* 7In bonds and in public view they were violently dragged along as far as the place of embarkation. 8Their husbands, in the prime of youth, their necks encircled with ropes instead of garlands, spent the remaining days of their marriage festival in lamentations instead of good cheer and youthful revelry, seeing death immediately before them.* 9They were brought on board like wild animals, driven under the constraint of iron bonds; some were fastened by the neck to the benches of the boats, others had their feet secured by unbreakable fetters, 10and in addition they were confined under a solid deck, so that, with their eyes in total darkness, they would undergo treatment befitting traitors during the whole voyage.

The Jews Imprisoned at Schedia

11 When these people had been brought to the place called Schedia, and the voyage was concluded as the king had decreed, he commanded that they should be enclosed in the hippodrome that had been built with a monstrous perimeter wall in front of the city, and that was well suited to make them an obvious spectacle to all coming back into the city and to those from the city* going out into the country, so that they could neither communicate with the king’s forces nor in any way claim to be inside the circuit of the city.* 12And when this had happened, the king, hearing that the Jews’ compatriots from the city frequently went out in secret to lament bitterly the ignoble misfortune of their kindred, 13ordered in his rage that these people be dealt with in precisely the same fashion as the others, not omitting any detail of their punishment. 14The entire race was to be registered individually, not for the hard labour that has been briefly mentioned before, but to be tortured with the outrages that he had ordered, and at the end to be destroyed in the space of a single day. 15The registration of these people was therefore conducted with bitter haste and zealous intensity from the rising of the sun until its setting, coming to an end after forty days but still uncompleted.

16 The king was greatly and continually filled with joy, organizing feasts in honour of all his idols, with a mind alienated from truth and with a profane mouth, praising speechless things that are not able even to communicate or to come to one’s help, and uttering improper words against the supreme God.* 17But after the previously mentioned interval of time the scribes declared to the king that they were no longer able to take the census of the Jews because of their immense number, 18though most of them were still in the country, some still residing in their homes, and some at the place;* the task was impossible for all the generals in Egypt. 19After he had threatened them severely, charging that they had been bribed to contrive a means of escape, he was clearly convinced about the matter 20when they said and proved that both the paper* and the pens they used for writing had already given out. 21But this was an act of the invincible providence of him who was aiding the Jews from heaven.

Execution of the Jews Is Twice Thwarted

5Then the king, completely inflexible, was filled with overpowering anger and wrath; so he summoned Hermon, keeper of the elephants,


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