3 Maccabees

3 Maccabees

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The book of the 3 Maccabees is found in most Orthodox
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church and commonly referred to as the Eastern Orthodox Church, is the second largest Christian denomination in the world, with an estimated 300 million adherents mainly in the countries of Belarus, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Georgia, Greece,...

 Bibles as a part of the Anagignoskomena, while Protestant
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

s and Catholic
Catholic
The word catholic comes from the Greek phrase , meaning "on the whole," "according to the whole" or "in general", and is a combination of the Greek words meaning "about" and meaning "whole"...

s consider it non-canonical, except the Moravian Brethren who included it in the Apocrypha
Apocrypha
The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including "hidden", "esoteric", "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", ancient Chinese "revealed texts and objects" and "Christian texts that are not canonical"....

 of the Czech Kralicka Bible
Bible of Kralice
The Bible of Kralice was the first complete translation of the Bible from the original languages into the Czech language. Translated by the Unity of the Brethren and printed in the town of Kralice nad Oslavou, the first edition had six volumes and was published between the years 1579 and 1593...

. It is also included in the Armenian
Armenian Apostolic Church
The Armenian Apostolic Church is the world's oldest National Church, is part of Oriental Orthodoxy, and is one of the most ancient Christian communities. Armenia was the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion in 301 AD, in establishing this church...

 Bible.

The book actually has nothing to do with the Maccabees
Maccabees
The Maccabees were a Jewish rebel army who took control of Judea, which had been a client state of the Seleucid Empire. They founded the Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled from 164 BCE to 63 BCE, reasserting the Jewish religion, expanding the boundaries of the Land of Israel and reducing the influence...

 or their revolt against the Seleucid Empire, as described in 1 Maccabees
1 Maccabees
The First book of Maccabees is a book written in Hebrew by a Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom, about the latter part of the 2nd century BC. The original Hebrew is lost and the most important surviving version is the Greek translation contained in the Septuagint...

 and 2 Maccabees
2 Maccabees
2 Maccabees is a deuterocanonical book of the Bible, which focuses on the Jews' revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes and concludes with the defeat of the Syrian general Nicanor in 161 BC by Judas Maccabeus, the hero of the work....

. Instead it tells the story of persecution of the Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopator (222-205 BC), some decades before the Maccabee uprising. The name of the book apparently comes from the similarities between this book and the stories of the martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

dom of Eleazar
Eleazar (2 Maccabees)
Eleazar is a Jewish martyr portrayed in 2 Maccabees 6. Verse 18 describes him as "one of the leading teachers of the law," and "of distinguished bearing." We learn from verse 24 that he was ninety at the time of his death. Under a persecution instigated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Eleazar was forced...

 and the Maccabeean youths
Woman with seven sons
The woman with seven sons was a Jewish martyr described in 2 Maccabees 7 and other sources. Although unnamed in 2 Maccabees, she is known variously as Hannah, Miriam and Solomonia.-2 Maccabees:...

 in 2 Maccabees; the High Priest Shimon is also mentioned.

Synopsis


The contents of the book have a legendary character, which scholars have not been able to tie to proven historical events, and it has all the appearances of a romance
Romance (genre)
As a literary genre of high culture, romance or chivalric romance is a style of heroic prose and verse narrative that was popular in the aristocratic circles of High Medieval and Early Modern Europe. They were fantastic stories about marvel-filled adventures, often of a knight errant portrayed as...

. According to the book, after Ptolemy's defeat of Antiochus III in 217 BC at the battle of Raphia
Battle of Raphia
The Battle of Raphia, also known as the Battle of Gaza, was a battle fought on 22 June 217 BC near modern Rafah between the forces of Ptolemy IV Philopator, king of Egypt and Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid kingdom during the Syrian Wars...

, he visited Jerusalem and the Second Temple
Second Temple
The Jewish Second Temple was an important shrine which stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem between 516 BCE and 70 CE. It replaced the First Temple which was destroyed in 586 BCE, when the Jewish nation was exiled to Babylon...

. However, he was miraculously prevented from entering the building. This led him to hate the Jews and upon his return to Alexandria
Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, he rounded up the Jewish community there to put them to death in his hippodrome
Hippodrome
A hippodrome was a Greek stadium for horse racing and chariot racing. The name is derived from the Greek words "hippos and "dromos"...

. However, Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian law required that the names of all those put to death be written down, and all the paper
Paper
Paper is a thin material mainly used for writing upon, printing upon, drawing or for packaging. It is produced by pressing together moist fibers, typically cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses, and drying them into flexible sheets....

 in Egypt was exhausted in attempting to do this, so that the Jews were able to escape. Ptolemy then attempted to have the Jews killed by crushing by elephant
Crushing by elephant
Execution by elephant was a common method of capital punishment in South and Southeast Asia, and particularly in India. Asian Elephants were used to crush, dismember, or torture captives in public executions. The animals were trained and versatile, both able to kill victims immediately or to...

; however, due to various interventions by God
God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, the Jews escaped this fate, despite the fact that the 500 elephants had been specially intoxicated to enrage them. Finally, the king was converted and bestowed favor upon the Jews, with this date being set as a festival of deliverance.

Authorship and historicity


Critics agree that the author of this book was an Alexandrian Jew who wrote in Greek. In style, the author is prone to rhetorical constructs and a somewhat bombastic style, and the themes of the book are very similar to those of the Epistle of Aristeas. The work begins somewhat abruptly, leading many to think that it is actually a fragment of a (now-lost) longer work.

Although some parts of the story, such as the names of the Jews taking up all the paper in Egypt, are clearly fictional, parts of the story cannot be definitively proven or disproven and many scholars are only willing to accept the first section (which tells of the actions of Ptolemy Philopator) as possibly having a historical basis. Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 notes that many (but certainly not all) Jews were put to death in Alexandria under the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon (146-117 BC) due to their support for Cleopatra II
Cleopatra II of Egypt
Cleopatra II was a queen of Ptolemaic Egypt.-Family:Cleopatra II was the daughter of Ptolemy V and likely Cleopatra I. She was the sister of Ptolemy VI and Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Tryphon. She would eventually marry both of her brothers.Her first marriage was with her brother Ptolemy VI in ca....

, and this execution was indeed carried out by intoxicated elephants. This may be the historical center of the relation in 3 Maccabees and the author has transferred it to an earlier time period and added an ahistorical connection to Jerusalem if this theory is correct.

Another theory about the historical basis of the book was advanced by Adolf Büchler
Adolf Büchler
Adolf Büchler was a Hungarian-Austrian rabbi, historian and theologian....

 in 1899. He held that the book describes the persecution of the Jews in the Fayum region of Egypt. It is certain that the Jews abruptly changed allegiance from Egypt to Syria in 200 BC. This author presumes that the change must have been due to persecution in Egypt.

The book was written at some point after 2 Maccabees, since that book is cited in the text. This sets the date of composition to the end of the first century BC and its use in the Orthodox Church also might suggest its composition being before the first century AD. It may be a product of very late Judaism or very early Christianity. One theory, advanced by Ewald and Willrich, holds that the relation is a polemic against Caligula
Caligula
Caligula , also known as Gaius, was Roman Emperor from 37 AD to 41 AD. Caligula was a member of the house of rulers conventionally known as the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Caligula's father Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Emperor Tiberius, was a very successful general and one of Rome's most...

, thus dating from around AD 40, but this theory has been rejected by more recent authors, because Ptolemy in the book does not claim divine honors as Caligula did.

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