Archive for the ‘Ptolemy IV Philopator’ Tag

The Attempt on the Temple Treasury   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of King Seleucus IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART V

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2 Maccabees 3:1-4:6

4 Maccabees 3:19-4:14

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Onias III, High Priest (In Office 196-175 B.C.E.)

Seleucus IV Philopator (Reigned 187-175 B.C.E.)

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Onias III was the son of and successor to High Priest Simon II “the Just” (in office 219-196 B.C.E.).  I read and wrote about Simon II “the Just” when I read the Third Book of the Maccabees (the one with no Maccabees) for this weblog.  The germane passages were 3 Maccabees 2:1-20 and Sirach 50:1-24.  He had to contend with an invasion of the Temple, too.

Now I digress to recall the story of notorious American bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980).  His explanation for why he robbed banks was,

Because that’s where the money is.

Back to the Books of the Maccabees….

Above:  Map Showing the Seleucid Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

The Seleucid treasury was in need of replenishment.  The empire had lost most of Asia Minor after 198 B.C.E.  Furthermore, the Treaty of Apamea (188 B.C.E.) had imposed indemnities on the Seleucid Empire.  The overblown reports of riches in the Temple treasure in Jerusalem attracted the attention of King Seleucus IV Philopator (not Nicator, contrary to 4 Maccabees 3:20.)  King Seleucus I Nicator reigned from 305/304 to 281/280 B.C.E.

2 Maccabees 3:1 overstates the case; Jerusalem did not enjoy “unbroken peace and prosperity” during the tenure of High Priest Onias III.  There was no such peace and prosperity, even apart from the events that Simon the Temple administrator set in motion with his lie.  The city was relatively quiet during the years of Onias III’s tenure, though.  In reality, Onias III, like the rest of his nation, was struck literally and politically, between the Ptolemaic Empire (based in Egypt) and the Seleucid Empire (based in Syria).  The High Priest, initially pro-Seleucid, switched his political allegiances to the Ptolemaic Empire.  Simon the Temple administrator was pro-Seleucid, though.

The story of God repulsing invaders from the Temple fits a motif about the sovereignty of God.  One may recall a similar event in 3 Maccabees 1:8-2:24, complete with divine punishment of King Ptolemy IV Philopator (reigned 221-203 B.C.E.).  One may also notice a similarity to the story of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and a military force invading a pagan temple in 2 Maccabees 1:13-17.  In that account, though the priests defended the temple.  Either way, invading temples was a bad idea.

Onias III was a good and pious man.  Simon the Temple administrator was not.  After the failed raid on the Temple treasury.  Heliodorus turned on his master; he assassinated Seleucus IV Philopator in 175 B.C.E.  Onias III sought to appeal for help to Seleucus IV Philopator, but the High Priest arrived after the assassination.  

The Revised English Bible (1989) expresses the difficult situation immediately prior to the assassination well:

[Onias III] saw that unless the king intervened there could be no peace in the public affairs, nor would Simon be stopped in his mad course.

–2 Maccabees 4:6

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the new king.  That was bad news.  And Onias III lost his job.  Jason, born Joshua, was the new High Priest.  Matters had become worse.

The name of Jason (the High Priest) has come up already.  The Epitomist referred to Jason in 2 Maccabees 1:7-8.

We are about to read the story of that perfidious priest.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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The Deliverance of Egyptian Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART IV

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3 Maccabees 5:1-7:23

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King Ptolemy IV Philopator kept trying to kill Jesus.  God kept intervening.  Twice the plan to trample Jews with elephants failed.  The monarch, whom God put into a deep sleep, eventually awoke and returned to drinking.  The following day, God caused King Ptolemy IV to forget his plan to trample the Jews and returned to his banquet.  Yet King Ptolemy IV resolved once more to kill the Jews of Alexandria and the surrounding countryside.  He also planned to march on Judea.

Eleazar, an elderly Jewish priest of Alexandria, prayed, much as High Priest Simon II “the Just” did in 3 Maccabees 2.  He recalled divine acts of deliverance of the Hebrew people.  God answered the prayer by sending two angels; only the Jews could not see the angels.

Only then did King Ptolemy IV repent.  He released the Jews, ended the persecution of them, and wrote a letter on their behalf.  The Jews praised God and returned home.

3 Maccabees is an enjoyable book to read.  The purple prose enlivens the text, full of rising tension.  3 Maccabees is quite a page-turner.

Nevertheless, 3 Maccabees 7:10-16 contains some disturbing material.  We read of pious Jews, with royal permission, executing those Jews who had, “for the belly’s sake,” violated the Law of Moses–had accepted the royally-mandated brand of Dionysius (3 Maccabees 2:25-33).  Such violence is par for the course in a book with “Maccabees” in the title.  I do not have to approve of such violence, though.

3 Maccabees contains a plethora of references to other books, such as Exodus, Daniel, Jonah, 2 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees.  The two angels (3 Maccabees 6:16f), for example, echo the two angels in 2 Maccabees 3:26.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through 3 Maccabees.  I invite you to join me again as I read through the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE NINETEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY SAYERS, ANGLICAN POET, NOVELIST, PLAYWRIGHT, TRANSLATOR, APOLOGIST, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, WIDOW AND DEACONESS

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The Persecution of Egyptian Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  The Hippodrome of Alexandria, Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART III

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3 Maccabees 2:25-4:21

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Ptolemy IV, the bête-noire of our story, returned to Alexandria after the incident in Jerusalem.  He imposed a poll tax on Jews and punished those who refused to worship Dionysius.  This recalled, in the minds of the original audience of 3 Maccabees, Antiochus IV Epiphanes introducing the worship of Dionysius in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 6:7).

The historicity of the poll tax in 3 Maccabees 2:25-33 is dubious, according to extant ancient records.  The poll tax in 2:25-33 cannot have any relationship to either one of the only two registrations (those of 220-219 B.C.E. and 206-205 B.C.E.) during the reign of Ptolemy IV.  The census in Luke 2:1-7 shares the same historical dubiousness.  I move along to 3 Maccabees 3, for I know better than to expect unvarnished history from a work of theology.

Jews had Gentile allies, fortunately.  King Ptolemy IV lied about the Jews; he cast them as traitors and ordered their executions.  Jews, gathered forcibly at the hippodrome, awaited their deaths.  In the meantime, they performed hard labor.

Nevertheless, Ptolemy IV was experiencing frustrations.  According to the story, God had spared many Jews in the countryside near Alexandria by causing royal scribes’ ink and paper to run out, thereby preventing the completion of much paperwork.

3 Maccabees is a work that emphasizes God’s faithful love for diaspora Jews.  God loves diaspora Jews as much as Jews in the homeland, the book teaches.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE EIGHTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED-GLASS WINDOW MAKER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND, 1940

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WALLACE BRIGGS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARNOLD BLAISDELL, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINCA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

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The Battle of Raphia, with King Ptolemy IV Philopator in Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART I

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3 Maccabees 1:1-2:24

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King Ptolemy IV Philapator of the Ptolemaic Empire (Reigned 221-204 B.C.E.)

High Priest Simon II “the Just” (In Office 219-196 B.C.E.)

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The Third Book of the Maccabees is a misnomer.  Not only does it have no Maccabees, but it also plays out prior to the events of the First, Second, and Fourth Books of the Maccabees.

3 Maccabees, canonical in Orthodoxy, is apocryphal in the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches.

3 Maccabees, composed in Alexandria, Egypt, close to 100 B.C.E., most likely, bears similarities to Greek romances.  The introduction to this book in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (2003) mentions 

purple prose and bombastic details that seem designed to elicit an emotional response, rather than to accurately and straightforwardly report history.

–1661

The introduction to 3 Maccabees in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version (1977) is less generous:

The author often exaggerates, and when in descriptions he attempts to introduce purple passages of rhetoric, he succeeds only in producing bombast and bathos.

–Apocrypha 294

The theology of 3 Maccabees is orthodox and Deuteronomistic:  God, who is faithful, rewards those who are faithful and punishes those who are faithless and evil.  This is a hope to which to cling during times of turmoil and oppression.

Apart from the sources I have quoted, I have two other guides through 3 Maccabees:

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version (1991); and
  2. The Orthodox Study Bible, the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint and the New King James Version (2008).

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3 Maccabees opens abruptly.  The supposition that an introduction has not survived seems reasonable.

King Ptolemy IV Philopator was the Hellenistic ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire, a successor to the expansive Macedonian Empire of King Alexander III “the Great” (reigned 336-323 B.C.E.).  Ptolemy IV, keeping a dynastic custom that dated to King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (circa 275 B.C.E.), married his sister, Arsinoe, in October 217 B.C.E.  (Ptolemy IV also ordered the murder of Arsinoe.)  Ptolemy IV was a weak ruler; a minister, Sosibius, dominated the monarch.  Ptolemy IV and Seleucid King Antiochus III “the Great” (reigned 223-187 B.C.E.) waged the Fourth Syrian War (221-217 B.C.E.).  During this conflict, Ptolemy IV lost much of the Syrian coast to Antiochus III.  Then, at the Battle of Raphia (217 B.C.E)., Ptolemy IV regained control of much of that coast and of Palestine.

The story of Dositheus, absent from other accounts of that battle, introduces a motif into 3 Maccabees.  That motif–intervention and reversal–runs throughout the book.  

Ptolemy IV survived an assassination attempt because of the intervention of Dositheus, an apostate Jew.  The victorious Ptolemy IV, an admirer of architecture, visited Jerusalem.  While there, he offered a sacrifice to YHWH.  This was easy for the pagan king to do.  As far as Ptolemy IV knew, YHWH was just another deity.  The king’s attempt to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple was a step too far.  Only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies; he did this one day per year (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:2, 11-12, 15, 34; Hebrews 9:7).

The reaction of many Jews in Jerusalem was strong.  High Priest Simon II “the Just” prayed.  His prayer contained certain theological hallmarks–the faithfulness of God, the arrogance of kings, the impiety of many people, the divine punishment of the wicked, and the divine deliverance of the faithful.

Then God prevented Ptolemy IV from entering the Holy of Holies.  He fell to the floor and could not speak.  Courtiers had to remove Ptolemy IV, unable to move on his own, from the Temple.  The king remained arrogant and unrepentant.  Ptolemy IV stood in contrast to Heliodorus (2 Maccabees 3:35-39) and even Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2 Maccabees 9:11-17), who repented immediately after God struck them.  The original audience of 3 Maccabees understood those references and awaited the repentance of Ptolemy IV (3 Maccabees 6:22-7:23).

Ptolemy IV prepared to take his revenge on Jews in Egypt.

The Bible contains stories of arrogant and dangerous kings and queens, some of whom were also weak rulers.  Queen Jezebel of Israel dominated King Ahab of Israel.  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was a historical figure.  Yet he functioned as a fictionalized symbol of power run amok in the Books of Daniel and Judith.  The fictional King Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther was a weak monarch who deposed Queen Vashti for refusing to display herself naked to his guests.  Ahasuerus was also willing to sign off onto a genocide of Jews.  At the end of the Book of Esther, the situation was positive because Mordecai and Queen Esther were running the Persian Empire in the king’s name.  Meanwhile, Ahasuerus partied.

Arrogant, impious potentates continue to afflict people, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT RADEGUNDA, THURINGIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRINCESS, DEACONESS, AND NUN; AND SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PONTIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRED D. GEALY, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALDRICH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, COMPOSER, THEOLOGIAN, MATHEMATICIAN, AND ARCHITECT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND CARMELITE FRIAR

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