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3 Maccabees 3:12–29:12

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, 2and 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. 3When 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. 4And Hermon, keeper of the elephants, proceeded faithfully to carry out the orders. 5The servants in charge of the Jews* 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. 6For to the Gentiles it appeared that the Jews were left without any aid, 7because 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 8that he avert with vengeance the evil plot against them and in a glorious manifestation rescue them from the fate now prepared for them. 9So 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. 11But the Lord* 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. 12And by the action of the Lord he was overcome by so pleasant and deep a sleep* that he quite failed in his lawless purpose and was completely frustrated in his inflexible plan. 13Then 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. 15And 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. 16The king, after considering this, returned to his drinking, and ordered those present for the banquet to recline opposite him. 17When this was done he urged them to give themselves over to revelry and to make the present* portion of the banquet joyful by celebrating all the more. 18After 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. 19But 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, 20the king,* possessed by a savagery worse than that of Phalaris, said that the Jews* 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!’ 21When the king had spoken, all those present readily and joyfully with one accord gave their approval, and all went to their own homes. 22But 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* the animals, began to move them along in the great colonnade. 24The crowds of the city had been assembled for this most pitiful spectacle and they were eagerly waiting for daybreak. 25But 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* to help them again at once. 26The 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. 27But 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. 28This 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. 29Then Hermon and all the king’s Friends* pointed out that the animals and the armed forces were ready, ‘O king, according to your eager purpose.’* 30But 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. 32In 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.’ 33So Hermon suffered an unexpected and dangerous threat, and his eyes wavered and his face fell. 34The king’s Friends one by one sullenly slipped away and dismissed* the assembled people to their own occupations. 35Then 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. 37After summoning Hermon he said in a threatening tone, ‘How many times, you poor wretch, must I give you orders about these things? 38Equip* the elephants now once more for the destruction of the Jews tomorrow!’ 39But 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?* 41As 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* without delay, mangled by the knees and feet of the animals, 43and 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* would quickly render it for ever empty of those who offered sacrifices there. 44Then 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 46entered 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. 47So 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, 49they 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*—parents and children, mothers and daughters, and others with babies at their breasts who were drawing their last milk. 50Not 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, 51and 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.*

The Prayer of Eleazar

6Then a certain Eleazar, famous among the priests of the country, who had attained a ripe old age and throughout his life had been adorned with every virtue, directed the elders around him to stop calling upon the holy God, and he prayed as follows: 2‘King of great power, Almighty God Most High, governing all creation with mercy, 3look upon the descendants of Abraham, O Father, upon the children of the sainted Jacob, a people of your consecrated portion who are perishing as foreigners in a foreign land. 4Pharaoh with his abundance of chariots, the former ruler of this Egypt, exalted with lawless insolence and boastful tongue, you destroyed together with his arrogant army by drowning them in the sea, manifesting the light of your mercy on the nation of Israel. 5Sennacherib exulting in his countless forces, oppressive king of the Assyrians, who had already gained control of the whole world by the spear and was lifted up against your holy city, speaking grievous words with boasting and insolence, you, O Lord, broke in pieces, showing your power to many nations. 6The three companions in Babylon who had voluntarily surrendered their lives to the flames so as not to serve vain things, you rescued unharmed, even to a hair, moistening the fiery furnace with dew and turning the flame against all their enemies. 7Daniel, who through envious slanders was thrown down into the ground to lions as food for wild animals, you brought up to the light unharmed. 8And Jonah, wasting away in the belly of a huge, sea-born monster, you, Father, watched over and restored* unharmed to all his family. 9And now, you who hate insolence, all-merciful and protector of all, reveal yourself quickly to those of the nation of Israel*—who are being outrageously treated by the abominable and lawless Gentiles.

10 ‘Even if our lives have become entangled in impieties in our exile, rescue us from the hand of the enemy, and destroy us, Lord, by whatever fate you choose. 11Let not the vain-minded praise their vanities* at the destruction of your beloved people, saying, “Not even their god has rescued them.” 12But you, O Eternal One, who have all might and all power, watch over us now and have mercy on us who by the senseless insolence of the lawless are being deprived of life in the manner of traitors. 13And let the Gentiles cower today in fear of your invincible might, O honoured One, who have power to save the nation of Jacob. 14The whole throng of infants and their parents entreat you with tears. 15Let it be shown to all the Gentiles that you are with us, O Lord, and have not turned your face from us; but just as you have said, “Not even when they were in the land of their enemies did I neglect them”, so accomplish it, O Lord.’

Two Angels Rescue the Jews

16 Just as Eleazar was ending his prayer, the king arrived at the hippodrome with the animals and all the arrogance of his forces. 17And when the Jews observed this they raised great cries to heaven so that even the nearby valleys resounded with them and brought an uncontrollable terror upon the army. 18Then the most glorious, almighty, and true God revealed his holy face and opened the heavenly gates, from which two glorious angels of fearful aspect descended, visible to all but the Jews. 19They opposed the forces of the enemy and filled them with confusion and terror, binding them with immovable shackles. 20Even the king began to shudder bodily, and he forgot his sullen insolence. 21The animals turned back upon the armed forces following them and began trampling and destroying them.

22 Then the king’s anger was turned to pity and tears because of the things that he had devised beforehand. 23For when he heard the shouting and saw them all fallen headlong to destruction, he wept and angrily threatened his Friends, saying,

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