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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Maccabees, the Third Book of

not given in the Romish Vulgate, the Apocrypha of the A. V., nor in Protestant versions generally, but still read in the Greek Church.

I. Title and Position. This book is improperly called the "third of Maccabees," since it does not at all record the exploits of the Maccabaean heroes, but narrates events of an earlier date. It, however, derives its name from the fact that this appellation, which originally belonged to Judas, was afterwards used in the sense of martyrs, and was extended to the Alexandrian Jews who suffered for their faith's sake either immediately before or after the Maccabaean period. In the Synopsis of the Pseudo- Athanasius, it is apparently also called Ptolemaica, from the name of the royal hero (compare Μακκαβα Þ κὰ βιβλια δ Πτολεμα Þ κά, p. 432, ed. Migne, for which Credner, Grimm, etc., suggest that the true reading is Μακκαβαικὰ καὶ Πτολεμα Þ κά , and that this book is to be understood by Πτολεμ Grimm, Comment. p. 220). Properly speaking, this book ought to precede the two former productions, and occupy the first position, since it is prior in time to both the first and second Maccabees. But tradition has assigned to it a third position, because it came into circulation later than the others, and was regarded as being of third-rate importance. Cotton, in his edition of the Five Books of Maccabees, has placed it as "1 Maccabees."

II. Design and Contents. The design of this book is to comfort the Alexandrian Jews in their sufferings for their faith in the God of Abraham, and to encourage them to steadfastness and perseverance by recounting to them the experience of the past, which most unquestionably shows that the theocracy cannot perish; that, though tyrants might. vent their rage on the chosen people, the Lord will not suffer the enemy to triumph over them, but will appear for their deliverance, and avenge himself on their persecutors, as well as put to confusion those of the Israelites who have apostatized from their ancestral religion. To illustrate this, the writer narrates the following incident from the dealings of Providence with his covenant people: Ptolemy IV (Philopator), on returning from his victory over Antiochus the Great (B.C. 217), was waited upon by envoys from Jerusalem to congratulate him on his success, which made him visit the Holy City and offer sacrifices in the Temple; but he was seized with a desire to penetrate into; the Holy of Holies (3 Maccabees 1:1-11), and as the entreaties of the people failed to make the king relinquish his outrageous desire, the high-priest Simon prayed to the King of kings, who immediately chastised this insolent heathen; by throwing him down paralyzed on the ground (3 Maccabees 2:12). Enraged at this, the king wreaked his vengeance, on. his arrival in Egypt, on the Alexandrian Jews, ordering that they should be deprived of their citizenship and be branded with an ivy leaf unless they agreed to be initiated into the orgies of Bacchus (3 Maccabees 2:24-30). (See DIONYSUS).

A few complied, but the bulk of the chosen people refused to apostatize from their ancestral religion (3 Maccabees 2:31-32). Not content with this order, which was thus generally evaded or despised, he commanded all the Jews in the country to be arrested and sent to Alexandria (ch. 3). This was done as well as might be, though the greater part escaped (3 Maccabees 4:18), and the gathered multitudes were confined in the Hippodrome outside the city (comp. Josephus, Ant. 17:6, 5). The resident Jews, who showed sympathy for their countrymen, were imprisoned with them, and the king ordered the names of all to be taken down preparatory to their execution. Here the first marvel happened: the scribes to whom the task was assigned toiled for forty days from morning till evening, till at last reeds and paper failed them, and the king's plan was defeated (ch. 4). However, regardless of this, the king ordered the keeper of his elephants to drug the animals, five hundred in number, with wine and incense, that they might trample the prisoners to death on the morrow. The Jews had no help but in prayer, and here a second marvel happened: the king was overpowered by a deep sleep, and when he awoke the next day it was already time for the banquet which he had ordered to be prepared, so that the execution was deferred. The Jews still prayed for help; but when the dawn came, the multitudes were assembled to witness their destruction, and the elephants stood ready for their bloody work. Then was there another marvel: the king was visited by deep forgetfulness, and chided the keeper of the elephants for the preparations which he had made, and the Jews were again saved. But at the evening banquet the king recalled his purpose, and with terrible threats prepared for its immediate accomplishment at daybreak (ch. 5).

Then Eleazar, an aged priest, earnestly praved for his people (3 Maccabees 6:1-15), and, just as he finished praying, the royal train and the elephants arrived at the Hippodrome, when suddenly two angels appeared in terrible form, visible to all but the Jews, making the affrighted elephants go backwards and crush the soldiers (3 Maccabees 2:16-21). This changed the king's anger into pity, and, with tears in his eyes, he at once "set free the sons of the Almighty, heavenly, living God," and made a great feast for them (3 Maccabees 2:22-30). To commemorate this marvelous interposition of their heavenly Father, the Jews instituted an annual festival, to be celebrated "through all the dwellings of their pilgrimage for after generations" (3 Maccabees 2:31-33). The faithful Jews had not only their mourning turned into joy, and the royal protection for the future, but were permitted by the king to inflict condign punishment on those of their brethren who had forsaken the religion of their fathers in order to escape the temporary sufferings; "thus the most high God worked wonders throughout for their deliverance" (3 Maccabees 7:1-23).

III. Historical Character. Though the parmenetic design of the book made the writer so modify and embellish the facts which he records as to render them most subservient to his object, yet the assertion of Dr. Davidson, that "the narrative appears to be nothing but an absurd Jewish fable" (Introduction to the O.T. 3:454), is far too sweeping. That the groundwork of it is true, as Prideaux rightly remarks (The O. and N. Test. connected, part ii, book ii, anno 216), is attested by collateral history.

1. The account it gives of Ptolemy's expedition to Coele-Syria, and his victory over Antiochus at Raphia (1:1-7), is corroborated both by Polybius (5. 40, 58-71, 79-87) and Justin (30:1).

2. The character which it ascribes to Ptolemy that he was cruel, vicious, and given to the orgies and mysteries of Bacchus is literally confirmed both by Plutarch, who, in his essay How to distinguish Flatterers from Friends, says, "Such praise was the ruin of Egypt, because it called the effeminacy of Ptolemy, his wild extravagances, loud pravers, his marking with an ivy leaf (κρίωνω ), and his drums, piety" (cap. 12; compare also In Cleomene, cap. 33 and 36), and by the author of the Greek Elymologicon, who tells us that Philopator was called Gallus because he was marked with the leaf of an ivy, like the priests called Galli, for in all the Bacchanalian solemnities they were crowned with ivy (Γάλλος φιλοπάτωρ Πτολεμαῖος διὰ τὸ φύλλα κισσοῦ καταστιχθαι ὠς οἱ Γάλλοι, etc.).

3. Josephus's deviating account (Apion, 3:5) of the events here recorded, which shows that he has derived his information from an independent source, proves that something of the sort did actually take place, altlhough at a different time, namely, in the reign of Ptolemy VII (Physcon). "The king," as he says, "exasperated by the opposition which Onias, the Jewish general of the royal army, made to his usurpation, seized all the Jews in Alexandria, with their wives and children, and exposed them to intoxicated elephants. But the animals turned upon the king's friends, and forthwith the king saw a terrible visage which forbade him to injure the Jews. On this he yielded to the prayers of his mistress, and repented of his attempt; and the Alexandrine Jews observed the day of their deliverance as a festival." The essential points of the story are the same as those in the second part of 3 Maccabees, and there can be but little doubt that Josephus has preserved the events which the writer adapted to his narrative.

4. The statement in 6:36, that they instituted an annual festival to commemorate the day of their deliverance, to be celebrated in all future time, the fact that this festival was actually kept in the days of Josephus (comp. ib. 2:5), and the consecration of a pillar and synagogue at Ptolemais (7:20), are utterly unaccountable on the supposition that this deliverance was never wrought. The doubts which De Wette (Einleitung, sec. 305), Ewald (Gesch. d. V. 4:535 sq.), Grimm (Comment. p. 217), and Davidson (Introd. 3:455) raise against the historic groundwork of this narrative, are chiefly based upon the fact that Daniel 11:11, etc., does not allude to it. Those critics, therefore, submit that the book typically portrays Caligula, who commanded that his own statue should be placed in the Temple, under the guise of a current tradition respecting the murderous commands of Ptolemy VII (Physcon) against the Jews, transferred by mistake to Ptolemy Philopator. If it be true that Ptolemy Philopator attempted to enter the Temple at Jerusalem, and was frustrated in his design a supposition which is open to no reasonable objection it is easily conceivable that tradition may have assigned to him the impious design of his successor, or the author of 3 Maccabees may have combined the two events for the sake of effect. The writer, in his zeal to bring out the action of Providence, has colored his history, so that it has lost all semblance of truth. In this respect the book offers an instructive contrast to the book of Esther, with which it is closely connected both in its purpose and in the general character of its incidents. In both a terrible calamity is averted by faithful prayer; royal anger is changed to royal favor, and the punishment designed for the innocent is directed to the guilty. But here the likeness ends. The divine reserve, which is the peculiar characteristic of Esther, is exchanged in 3 Maccabees for rhetorical exaggeration, and once again the words of inspiration stand ennobled by the presence of their later counterpart.

IV. Author, Original Language, Integrity, and Date. It is generally admitted that the author of this book was an Alexandrian Jew, and that he wrote in Greek. This, indeed, is evident from its ornate, pompous, and fluent style, as well as from the copious command of expression which the writer possessed. Though this book resembles 2 Maccabees in the use of certain expressions (e.g. ἀγέρωχος, 3 Maccabees 1:25; 3 Maccabees 2:3, comp. with 2 Maccabees 9:7) in the employment of purely Greek proper names to impart a Greek garb to Jewish things and ideas (3 Maccabees 5:20; 3 Maccabees 5:42; 3 Maccabees 7:5, comp. with 2 Maccabees 4:47), etc., yet the style of the two books is so different that it is impossible to claim for them the same author. The author of this book surpasses 2 Maccabees in offensively seeking after artificial, and hence very frequently obscure phrases (e.g. 3 Maccabees 1:9; 3 Maccabees 1:14; 3 Maccabees 1:17; 3 Maccabees 1:19; 3 Maccabees 2:31; 3 Maccabees 3:2; 3 Maccabees 4:5; 3 Maccabees 4:11; 3 Maccabees 5:17; 3 Maccabees 7:5), in poetic expression and ornamental turns (3 Maccabees 1:8; 3 Maccabees 2:19; 3 Maccabees 2:31; 3 Maccabees 3:15; 3 Maccabees 4:8; 3 Maccabees 5:26; 3 Maccabees 5:31; 3 Maccabees 5:47; 3 Maccabees 6:4; 3 Maccabees 6:8; 3 Maccabees 6:20), in bombastic sentences to designate very simple ideas (e.g. δρόμον συνίστασθαι ῟τρέχειν , 3 Maccabees 1:19; ἐν πρεσβείῳ τὴν ἡλικίαν λελογχώς, 3 Maccabees 6:1), in using rare words or such as occur nowhere else (e.g. 3 Maccabees 1:20; 3 Maccabees 2:29; 3 Maccabees 4:20; 3 Maccabees 5:25; 3 Maccabees 6:4; 3 Maccabees 6:20), or using ordinary words in strange senses (e.g. 3 Maccabees 1:3; 3 Maccabees 1:5; 3 Maccabees 3:14; 3 Maccabees 4:5; 3 Maccabees 7:8; compare Grimm, Comment. p. 214). There is also an abruptness about the book (e.g. its beginning with δὲ Φιλοπάωρ, and its reference, in τῶν προαποδεδειγμένων , 3 Maccabees 2:25, to some passage not contained in the present narrative), which has led to the supposition that it is either a mere fragment of a larger work (Ewald, Davidson, etc.), or that the beginning only has been lost (Grimm, Keil, etc.). Against this, however, Gratz rightly urges that it most thoroughly and in a most complete manner carries through its design.

All the attempts to determine the age of the book are based upon pure conjecture, and entirely depend upon the view entertained about its contents, as may be seen from the two extremes between which its date has been placed. Thus Allin (Judgment of the Jewish Church, p. 67) will have it that "it was written by a Jew of Egypt, under Ptolemy Philopator. i.e. about B.C. 200;" while Grimm places it about A.D. 39 or 40.

V. Canonicity. Like the other Apocrypha, this book was never part of the Jewish canon. In the Apostolic canons, however, which are assigned to the 3d century, it is considered as sacred writing (Can. 85); Theodoret, too (died cir. A.D. 457), quotes it as such (in Daniel 11:7). Still it was never accepted in the Western churches, and formed no part of the Roman Vulgate; it was therefore not received into the canon of the Catholic Church, nor inserted as a rubric in the Apocrypha contained in the translation of the Bible made by the Reformers.

VI. Versions and Literature. The Greek is contained in the Alexandrian and Vatican MSS., and is given in Valpy's edition of the Sept. The oldest version of it is the Syriac, which is very free, and full of mistakes; it is given in the London Polyglot, and has lately been published by De Lagarde, Libri Veteris Testamenti Apocryphi (London, 1861). The first Latin version of it is given in the Complutensian Polyglot; another Latin version, by F. Nobilius, is given in the London Polyglot; the first German translation. as far as we can trace it, is given in the Zurich Bible printed by Froschover (1531); another, by Joachim Ciremberger, appeared in Wittenberg (1554); De Wette, in the first edition of his translation of the Bible, made conjointly with Augusti (1809-14), also gave a version of this book, which is now excluded from his Bible; and another German version is given in Gutmann's translation of the Apocrypha (Altona, 1841). The first English version was put forth by Walter Lynne in 1550, which was appended, with some few alterations, to the Bible printed by John Daye (1551), and reprinted separately in 1563; a new and better version, with some notes, was published by Whiston, Authentick Records (Lond. 1727), 1:162-208; a third version, made by Crutwell, is the Bible with Bp. Wilson's Notes (Bath, 1785); and a fourth version, with brief but useful notes, was made by Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees (Oxford, 1832).

Of exegetical helps we mention Eichhorn, Einleitung in d. apokr. Schrifiten d. A. T. (Leips. 1795), p. 278-289; Ewald, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 4:535 sq.; Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 1:457, etc.; Groitz, Geschichte der Juden (2d edition, Leips. 1863), 3:444, etc.; Gaab, Handbuch zuan philologischen Verstehen der apokryphisccen- Schriften d. A. T. (Tubing. 1818), 2:614 sq.; and especially Grimm, Kurzgefasstes exegetisches slandbuch zu (dena Apokryphen d. A. T. (Leips. 1857), p. 213 sq.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Maccabees, the Third Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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