Maccabees, Books Of, 3-5

Continued from MACCABEES, BOOKS OF, 1-2.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

III. 3 Maccabees.

1. Name:

The name 3 Maccabees, though occurring in the oldest manuscripts and VSS, is quite unsuitable, because the book refers to events which antedate the Maccabean age by about half a century, and also to events in which the Maccabees took no part. But this book tells of sufferings and triumphs on the part of loyal Jews comparable to those of the Maccabean period. Perhaps the term Maccabees was generalized so as to denote all who suffered for their faith. Some hold that the book was written originally as a kind of introduction to the Books of Maccabees, which it precedes as Book I in Cotton's Five Books of Maccabees. But the contents of the book do not agree with this view. Perhaps the title is due to a mistake on the part of a copyist.

2. Canonicity:

The book has never been reckoned as canonical by the Western church, as is shown by the fact that it exists in no edition of the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and was not included in the Canon by the Council of Trent. It is for the latter reason absent from the Protestant versions of the Apocrypha which contain but the Books of Maccabees (1 and 2). But 3 Maccabees has a place in two uncials of the Septuagint (A and V) and also in the ancient (Peshitta) Syriac version of the Scriptures, and it is given canonical rank in the Apostolical Constitutions (canon 85). The book must therefore have been held in high esteem in the early church.

3. Contents:

3 Maccabees is a historical novel in which there is much more romance than history, and more silly and superficial writing than either. It professes to narrate occurrences in the history of the Jews which took place at Jerusalem and at Alexandria in which the Jews were persecuted but in various ways delivered.

(1) 3 Maccabees 1:1 through 2:24:

After conquering at Raphia Antiochus III, the great king of Syria (224-187 BC), Ptolemy IV Philopator, king of Egypt (221-204 BC), resolved to visit Jerusalem and to enter the sanctum ("holy of holies," naos) of the temple to which by the Jewish law access was allowed only to the high priest, and even to him but once a year (Day of Atonement (1:11)). The Jews, priests and people, were in a paroxysm of grief and earnestly entreated him to desist, but he persisted in his plan. They then through Simon, the high priest, 219-199 BC, prayed that God might intervene and avert this desecration. The prayer is answered, the king being paralyzed before realizing his purpose.

(2) 3 Maccabees 2:25-30:

Returned to Alexandria, Ptolemy is exasperated at the failure of his long-cherished project and resolves to wreak his vengeance upon the Jews of Egypt. He issues a decree that all Jews in Alexandria who refused to bend the knee to Bacchus should be deprived of all their rights as citizens.

(3) 3 Maccabees 2:31 through 4:21:

A goodly number of Alexandrian Jews refuse to obey the royal mandate, whereupon Ptolemy issues an edict that all the Jews of Egypt, men, women and children, shall be brought in chains to Alexandria and confined in the race-course (hippodrome), with a view to their wholesale massacre. Prior to the massacre there is to be a complete register taken of the names of the assembled Jews. Before the list is complete the writing materials give way and the huge slaughter is averted.

(4) 3 Maccabees 4:22 through 6:21:

The king, still thirsting for the blood of this people, hits upon a different method of compassing their ruin. Five hundred elephants are intoxicated with wine and incense and let loose upon the Jews in the race-course. Here we have the principal plot of the book, and we reach the climax in the various providential expedients, childish in their character, of preventing the execution of the king's purpose. The lesson of it all seems to be that God will deliver those who put their trust in Him.

(5) 3 Maccabees 6:22 through 7:23:

At length the king undergoes a change of heart. He releases the Jews and restores them to all their lost rights and honors. In response to their request, he gives them permission to slay their brother-Jews who, in the hour of trial, had given up their faith. They put to death 300, "esteeming this destruction of the wicked a season of joy" (7:15).

3 Maccabees is made up of a number of incredible tales, the details of which are absurd and contradictory. The beginning of the book has evidently been lost, as appears from the opening words, "Now when Philopator" (ho de Philopator), and also from the references to an earlier part of the narrative now lost, e.g.: 1:1 ("from those who came back"); 1:2 ("the plot afore mentioned"); 2:25 ("the aforenamed boon companions"), etc.

4. Historicity:

The book contains very little that is true history, notwithstanding what Israel Abrahams (see "Literature" to this section), depending largely on Mahaffy (The Empire of the Ptolemies), says to the contrary. It is much more manifest than even in the case of 2 Maccabees that the writer's aim was to convey certain impressions and not to write history (see III , 5).

The improbabilities of the book are innumerable (see Bissell, The Apocrypha of the Old Testament, 616 f), and it is evident that we have to do here with a combination of legends and fables worked up in feeble fashion with a view to making prominent certain ideas which the author wishes his readers to keep in mind. Yet behind the fiction of the book there are certain facts which prompted much of what the writer says.

(1) That Ptolemy IV bore the character of cruelty and capriciousness and effeminacy is borne out by Polybius (204-121 BC) in his History and by Plutarch in his Life of Cleomenes.

(2) The brief outline of the war between Ptolemy IV and Antiochus III, the latter being conquered at Raphia (chapters 1 f), agrees in a general way with what has been written by Polybius, Livy and Justin.

(3)In this book, by the command of Ptolemy, 500 intoxicated elephants are let loose upon the Jews brought bound to the race-course of Alexandria. Josephus (Apion, II, v) tells us that Ptolemy VII Physcon, king of Egypt, 145-117 BC, had the Jews of Alexandria, men, women and children, brought bound and naked to an enclosed space and that he had let loose on them a herd of elephants, which, however, turned instead upon his own men, killing a large number of them. The cause of the king's action was that the Jewish residents of Alexandria sided with his foes. In 3 Maccabees the cause of the action of Ptolemy IV was the failure of his project to enter the sanctum of the Jerusalem temple; this last perhaps a reflection of 2 Macc 3:9 ff, where it is related that Heliodorus was hindered from entering the temple by a ghostly apparition. Now these two incidents, in both of which Jews are attacked by intoxicated elephants, must rest upon a common tradition and have probably a nucleus of fact. Perhaps, as Israel Abrahams holds, the tradition arose from the action of the elephants of Ptolemy in the Battle of Raphia. Most writers think that the reference is to something that occurred in the reign of Ptolemy VII.

(4) The shutting-up of the Jews in the racecourse at Alexandria was not improbably suggested by a similar incident in which Herod the Great was the principal agent.

(5) In the opinion of Grimm (Comm., 216) we have in the two festivals (3 Macc 6:36; 7:19) and in the existence of the synagogue at Ptolemais an implied reference to some great deliverance vouchsafed to the Jews.

5. Aim and Teaching:

3 Maccabees was probably written by an Alexandrian Jew at a time when the Jews in and around Alexandria were sorely persecuted on account of their religion. The purpose of the author seems to have been to comfort those suffering for the faith by giving examples showing how God stands by His people, helping in all their trials and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies. Note further the following points: (1) The book, unlike 2 Maccabees, is silent as to a bodily resurrection and a future life, though this may be due to pure accident. Hades (Haides) in 3 Macc 4:8; 5:42; 6:31, etc., appears to stand only for death, regarded as the end of all human life. (2) Yet the belief in angelic beings is clearly implied (see 6:18 ff). (3) The author has much confidence in the power of prayer (see 2:10; 2:21-24; 5:6-10,13,50 f; 6:1-15, etc.). (4) The book lays stress upon the doctrine that God is on the side of His people (4:21, etc.), and even though they transgress His commandments He will forgive and save them (2:13; 4:13, etc.).

6. Authorship and Date:

From the character of the Greek, the interest shown in Alexandrian Judaism, and the acquaintance displayed with Egyptian affairs (see I. Abrahams, op. cit., 39 ff), it may be inferred with confidence that the author was a Jew residing in Alexandria. The superior limit (terminus a quo) for the date is some time in the last century BC. Since the existence of the additions to Dan is implied (see Da 6:6), the inferior limit (terminus ad quem) is some time before 70 AD. If the temple had been destroyed, the continuance of the temple services could not have been implied (see 3 Macc 1:8 ff). As the book seems written to comfort and encourage Alexandrian Jews at a time when they were persecuted, Ewald, Hausrath, Reuss and others thought it was written during the reign of the emperor Caligula (37-41 AD), when such a persecution took place. But if Ptolemy is intended to represent Caligula, it is strange, as Schurer (GJV4, III, 491) remarks, that the writer does not make Ptolemy claim Divine honors, a claim actually made by Caligula.

Though Josephus (died 95 AD) could not have known the book, since his version of the same incidents differs so much, yet it must have been written some 30 years before his death, i.e. before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 71 AD.

7. Original Language:

That 3 Maccabees was composed in Greek is the opinion of all scholars and is proved by the free, idiomatic and rather bombastic character of the language in the Septuagint.

8. Text and Versions:

(1) Greek.

This book occurs in the two unicals Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Venetus (not in Codex Vaticanus or Codex Sinaiticus), in most cursives and also in nearly all editions of the Septuagint.

(2) Syriac.

The Syriac version (Peshitta) reproduced in the Paris and London Polyglot and by Lagarde, Lib. Apocrypha. Vet. Test. It is not a good translation.

(3) Latin.

The earliest Latin translation is that made for the Complutensian Polyglot.

(4) English.

The earliest in English is that of Walter Lynne (1650).


Besides the commentaries by Grimm (the best), Bissell (Lange), Kautzsch and Emmet (Oxford Apocrypha), and the articles in HDB (Fairweather, excellent), Encyclopedia Biblica (Torrey, good), GJV4 (Schurer), III, 489-92; HJP, II, iii, 216-19, let the following be noted: A. Hausrath, A History of New Testament Times, 1895, II, 70 ff; Wibrich, Juden u. Griechen; Abrahams, "The Third Book of the Mace," JQR, IX, 1897, 39-58; A. Buchler, Die Tobiaden u. die Oniaden, 1899, 172-212. Both Abrahams and Buchler defend the historicity of some parts of 3 Maccabees; Wibrich, "Der historische Kern des III Makk," Hermes, Bd. 39, 1904, 244-58. For English translation see (1) Henry Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees (Cotton calls it First Book of Maccabees); (2) W.R. Churton, The Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scriptures, and (3) Baxter, The Apocrypha, Greek and English

IV. 4 Maccabees.

1. Name:

4 Maccabees is a philosophical treatise or discourse on the supremacy of pious reason ( = religious principle) in the virtuous man. The oldest title of the book, 4 Maccabees (Makkabaion d, (4)), occurs in the earliest extant manuscripts of the Septuagint (Codices Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, etc.), in the list of the Codex Claromontanus (3rd century?), the Catalogue of the Sixty Canonical Books (5th century?) and the Synopsis of Athanasius (9th century). It obtained this name from the fact that it illustrates and enforces its thesis by examples from the history of the Maccabees. Some early Christian writers, believing 4 Maccabees to be the work of Josephus (see IV , 5), gave it a corresponding title. Eusebius and Jerome, who ascribe the book to Josephus, speak of it under the name of: A Discourse concerning the Supreme Power of Reason.

2. Canonicity:

Though absent from the Vulgate, and therefore from the Romanist Canon and from Protestant versions of its Apocrypha, 4 Maccabees occurs in the principal manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, etc.) and editions (Fritzsche, Swete, not Tischendorf) of the Septuagint, showing it was highly esteemed and perhaps considered canonical by at least some early Christian Fathers.

3. Contents:

This book is a philosophical disquisition in the form of a sermon on the question "Whether pious reason is absolute master of the passions" (4 Macc 1:1).

(1) 4 Maccabees 1:1-12:

First of all, the writer states his theme and the method in which he intends to treat it.

(2) 4 Maccabees 1:13 through 3:18:

He defines his terms and endeavors from general principles to show that pious reason does of right rule the passions.

(3) 4 Maccabees 3:19 to End of Book:

He tries to prove the same proposition from the lives of the Maccabean martyrs. These historical illustrations are based on 2 Macc 6:18 through 7:42 (compare 3 Macc 6).

Because the book is written as a discourse or sermon and is largely addressed to an apparent audience (4 Macc 1:17; 2:14; 13:10; 18:4), Freudenthal and others think we have here an example of a Jewish sermon delivered as here written. But Jewish preachers based their discourses on Scripture texts and their sermons were more concise and arresting than this book.

4. Teaching:

The author's philosophical standpoint is that of Stoicism, namely, that in the virtuous man reason dominates passion. His doctrine of four cardinal virtues (phronesis, dikaiosune, andreia, sophrosune, "Providence," "Justice" "Fortitude," "Temperance" (4 Macc 1:18)), is also derived from Stoicism. Though, however, he sets out as if he were a true Stoic, he proceeds to work out his discourses in orthodox Jewish fashion. His all-dominating reason is that which is guided by the Divinely revealed law, that law for the faithful observing of which the martyrs died. The four cardinal virtues are but forms of that true wisdom which is to be obtained only through the Mosaic law (4 Macc 7:15-18). Moreover, the passions are not, as Stoicism taught, to be annihilated, but regulated (4 Macc 1:61; 3:5), since God has planted them (4 Macc 2:21).

The author's views approach those of Pharisaism. (1) He extols the self-sacrificing devotion to the law exhibited by the Maccabean martyrs mentioned in 4 Macc 3:9 to the end of the book. (2) He believes in a resurrection from the dead. The souls of the righteous will enjoy hereafter ceaseless fellowship with God (9:8; 15:2; 18:5), but the wicked will endure the torment of fire forever and ever (10:11,15; 12:12; 13:14). Nothing, however, is said of the Pharisees' doctrine of a bodily resurrection which 2 Maccabees, a Pharisaic document (see II , 6, (6) above), clearly teaches. (3) The martyrdom of the faithful atones for the sins of the people (4 Macc 6:24; 17:19-21; compare Ro 3:25).

5. Authorship and Date:

According to Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica, III, 6), Jerome (De Viris Illust., xiii; C Peleg, ii.6), Suidas (Lex Iosepos) and other early writers, Josephus is the author of this book, and in Greek editions of his works it constitutes the last chapter with the heading: Phlab. Iosepou eis Makkabaions logos, e peri autokratoros logismou, "The Discourse of Flavius Josephus: or concerning the Supreme Power of Reason" (so Niese, Bekker, Dindorf, etc.). But this tradition is negated by the style and thought, which differ completely from those found in the genuine writings of that Jewish historian. Besides this, the author of the book makes large use of 2 Maccabees, of which Josephus was ignorant. Moreover, there are traditions equally ancient of a contrary kind.

The author must have been a Jew and he probably belonged to the Pharisee party (see IV , 7). He was also a Hellenist, for he reveals the influence of Greek thought more than any other apocryphal writer. He was also, it would appear, a resident of Alexandria, for the earliest notices of it occur in literature having an Alexandrian origin, and the author makes considerable use of 2 Maccabees, which emanated from Alexandria.

It is impossible definitely to fix the date of the book. But it was certainly written before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and after the composition of 2 Maccabees, on which it largely depends. A date in the first half of the 1st century of our era would suit all the requirements of the case.

6. Original Language:

The book was certainly written in Greek, as all scholars agree. It employs many of the terms of Greek philosophy and it bears the general characteristics of the Greek spoken and written at Alexandria at the commencement of the Christian era.

7. Text and Versions:

(1) Greek.

This book occurs in the principal manuscripts (Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, Venetus, etc.) and printed editions (Grabe, Breitinger, Apel, Fritzsche, Swete (Codex Alexandrinus with variants of Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Venetus) and Baxter, The Apocrypha, Greek and English), also in various Josephus manuscripts and most editions of Josephus, including Naber, but not Niese.

(2) Latin.

No Old Latin version has come down to us.

(3) Syriac.

The Peshitta text is printed in Codex Ambros. (Ceriani) and by Bensley from a manuscript in The Fourth Book of Maccabees and Kindred Documents in Syriac (agrees mostly with Codex Alexandrinus). Sixtus Senensis (Bibliotheca Sancta, 1566, I, 39) speaks of having seen another 4 Maccabees. But this was probably "simply a reproduction of Josephus" (Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, II, iii, 14).


Besides the literature mentioned under the other books of Maccabees, under APOCRYPHA, and in the course of the present article, note the following: The commentaries of Grimm (excellent; the only one on the complete book) and Deissmann (in Kautzsch, A pok des Altes Testament, brief but up to date and good); the valuable monograph by Freudenthal: Die Flavius Josephus beigelegte Schrift uber die Herrschafft der Vernunft (IV. Makkabaerbuch) Untersucht, 1869. See, besides the articles in HDB (Fairweather); Encyclopedia Biblica (Torrey); Gfrorer, Philo, etc., II, 1831, 173-200; Dahne, Gesch. Darstellung der jud.-alex. Religions Philosophie, II, 1834, 190-99; and the History of Ewald, IV, 632 ff. There are English translations in Cotton, The Five Books of Maccabees, Oxford, 1832; W.R. Churton, The Uncanonical and Apocryphal Scripture; Baxter, The Apocrypha, Greek and English.

V. 5 Maccabees.

1. Name:

The designation 5 Maccabees was first given to the book (now commonly so called) by Cotton (The Five Books of Maccabees English, 1832), and it has been perpetuated by Dr. Samuel Davidson (Introduction to the Old Testament, III, 465); Ginsburg (Kitto's Cycyclopedia of Biblical Literature); Bissell (Apocrypha of the Old Testament) and others. It has been called the Arabic 2 Maccabees (so in the Paris and London Polyglot), and the Arabic Maccabees. The 5 Maccabees in the Translatio Syra Peshitto, edited by Ceriani, is really nothing more than a Syriac version of the 6th book of Josephus, The Wars of the Jews.

2. Canonicity:

This book has never been recognized as canonical by either Jews or Christians.

3. Contents:

The book is ostensibly a history of the Jews from the attempt of Heliodorus to plunder the temple (186 BC) to about 6 BC. It is really nothing more than a clumsy compilation from 1 and 2 Maccabees and Josephus (except 5 Macc 12, which is the only original part, and this teems with errors of various kinds); a note at the end of 5 Macc 16 says 1:1 through 16:26 is called The Second Book of Maccabees according to the Translation of the Heb 1:1; 5:1-14 Macc 19 closes with the events narrated at the end of 1 Maccabees. The rest of the book (5 Macc 20 through 59) follows Josephus (BJ, I f) closely. Perhaps the original work ended with 5 Macc 19. Ginsburg (op. cit., III., 17), Bissell (Apocrypha, 639) and Wellhausen (Der arab. Josippus) give useful tables showing the dependence of the various parts of 5 Maccabees on the sources used.

4. Historicity:

In so far as this book repeats the contents of 1 and 2 Maccabees and Josephus, it has the historical value of the sources used. But in itself the book has no historical worth. The author calls Roman and Egyptian soldiers "Macedonians," Mt. Gerizim, "Jezebel," Samaria "Sebaste," Shechem "Neapolis" or "Naploris." Herod and Pilate exchange names. Some of the mistakes may of course be traceable to the translation.

5. Original Language:

The original work was almost certainly composed in Hebrew, though we have no trace of a Hebrew text (so Ginsburg, op. cit., and Bissell). This conclusion is supported by the numerous Hebraisms which show themselves even in a double translation. The Pentateuch is called the "Torah," the Hebrew Scriptures are spoken of as "the twenty-four books," the temple is "the house of God" or "the holy house," Judea is "the land of the holy house" and Jerusalem is "the city of the holy house." These and like examples make it probable that the writer was a Jew and that the language he used was Hebrew. Zunz (Die gottesdienstlichen Vortrage, 1832, 146 ff), Graetz (Geschichte, V, 281) and Dr. S. Davidson (op. cit., 465) say the book was written in Arabic from Hebrew memoirs. According to Zunz (loc. cit.) and Graetz (loc. cit.) the Jewish history of Joseph ben Gorion (Josippon), the "pseudo-Josephus" (10th century), is but a Hebrew recension of 5 Maccabees (the Arabic 2 Maccabees). On the contrary, Wellhausen (op. cit.) and Schurer (GJV4, I, 159 f) maintain that the shorter narrative in 5 Maccabees represents the extent of the original composition far more correctly than the Hebrew history of Josippon (which ranges from Adam to 70 AD), and than other recensions of the same history.

6. Aim and Teaching:

The book was compiled for the purpose of consoling the Jews in their sufferings and encouraging them to be stedfast in their devotion to the Mosaic law. The same end was contemplated in 2, 3 and 4 Maccabees and in a lesser degree in 1 Maccabees, but the author or compiler of the present treatise wished to produce a work which would appeal in the first instance and chiefly to Hebrew (or Arabic?) readers. The author believes in a resurrection of the body, in a future life and a final judgment (5 Macc 5:13,43 f). The righteous will dwell in future glory, the wicked will be hereafter punished (5 Macc 5:49,50 f; 59:14).

7. Authorship and Date:

We have no means of ascertaining who the author was, but he must have been a Jew and he lived some time after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (see 5 Macc 9:5; 21:30; 22:9; 53:8, though Ginsburg regards these passages as late additions and fixes the date of the original work at about 6BC , when the history ends). The author makes large use of Josephus (died 95 AD), which also favors the lower date.

8. Text and Versions:

The Arabic text of the book and a Latin translation by Gabriel Sionita is printed in the Paris and London Polyglots. No other ancient text has come down to us. cotton (op. cit., xxx) errs in saying that there is a Syriac version of the book.


The most important literature has been mentioned in the course of the article. The English and earlier German editions of Schurer, GJ V, do not help. The only English translation is that by Cotton made directly from the Latin of Gabriel Sionita. Bissell says that a French version appears as an appendix in the Bible of de Sacy; not, however, in the Nouvelle Edition (1837) in the possession of the present writer.

T. Witton Davies

Bible Verses by Topic Nave's Bible Concordance McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online Bible KJV Dictionary

Scripture reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.