[Note: The recent posts on Third and Fourth Maccabees are reposts; Jim Davilla caught me. I changed the dates to put them in the order of this new series. Apologies.]

4 Maccabees is included in several manuscripts of the LXX, including Vaticanus but was not included in the Vulgate.  The book is therefore not a part of the Apocrypha although it is often included in introductions to the Apocrypha. It is also in manuscripts which contain the works of Josephus.  This led Eusebius and Jerome to suggest Josephus was the author, but this has been universally rejected by modern scholarship.

Image result for fourth maccabees martyrsThe book is related to the Maccabean period but the focus is on the martyrs who died for the Law during those years.  The book was written in Greek by a Jew who appears to be writing before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  The temple is never described as a thing of the past in the book but rather seems as though it is still active. It also appears to have been written after the invasion of Pompey in 63 B.C.  deSilva argues for the Roman date on the basis of two technical terms (θρησκεία, “religious” and νομικός, “skilled at law), both of which appear only in the literature of the Roman period (deSilva, 355).

The writer reflects an extensive knowledge of Greek philosophy and rhetoric.  He is a man who is devoted to the law of his people and his a theologian “of considerable depth” (OTP 2:533). A few scholars (Dupont-Sommer and Hadas) think the book is an oral address which might have been made as part of a “cult of martyrs” within a synagogue context.  As Anderson notes, this is possible, but the chief objection is that a synagogue speech would have been based on a text from the Hebrew Bible, not stories from the Maccabean period.

deSilva comments that the writer of 4 Maccabees is “thoroughly immersed in Hellenistic environment” and has “more than a passing acquaintance with Stoic and Platonic ethics” (deSilva, 355). The thesis of the book is stated in 1:1 and 1:13.  The writer wishes to discuss if “whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions” (cf. 6:31, 13:1, 16:1, 18:2).  While this sounds very much like Stoicism, the application of the “emotions” in this case is to continue to keep the Law in the face of physical threat and torment which culminates in death.

While the casual reader may be impressed by the faith of the martyred men in the story, the first century reader would have been impressed with the men as examples of living out one’s philosophy consistently, even to the point of death.  The book is therefore aimed at the Jewish community which may face persecution as they have in the past, in order to encourage them to maintain their faithfulness to the Law in the face a dominant culture which is discouraging, and may at times employ persecution and extreme torture (deSilva, 357).

Even though the book is superficially related to 1 Maccabees, there is no mention of the great military victories celebrated by that book in 4 Maccabees.  The great victories in this book come in the form of the martyrdom of men faithful to the Jewish Law.  It is not military might which drove off the armies of Antiochus IV Epiphanies.  God’s wrath was turned away by the death of righteous men (4:19-21, 6:27-29, 17:21-22, cf., deSilva, 369).

Perhaps this is why Christians preserved the book. It was an encouragement to face torture and death rather than compromise with the Empire.

 

Bibliography: David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.

Logos Bible Software is offering Roland Murphy’s Word Biblical Commentary on Ecclesiastes (1992) for free during the month of June, and you can add John Durham’s Exodus commentary (1087) for $1.99 and G. R. Beasley Murray’s John (Second Edition, 1999) for $9.99. This means for a mere $12 you can add three major commentaries to you Logos library (well over $100 if purchased at Amazon, although much less for the savvy shopper who knows how to navigate a used bookstore).

Murphy was the George Washington Ivey Professor of Biblical Studies at Duke University for many years and was  co-editor of both the Jerome Biblical Commentary and the (New) Jerome Biblical Commentary. His Ecclesiastes commentary is excellent and will be a fine addition to a Logos library.

The Word Biblical Commentary series are serious exegetical commentaries. Each unit begins with a short bibliography including monographs and peer-reviewed journals (including German and French sources). These are often a great place for students to start a research project, although they are only complete up to the publication of the volume. The authors focus on the original languages and deal with technical details of translation and technical variations via footnotes on a new translation of each section.  Following the translation is a section entitled Form/Structure/Setting. In some of the the earlier commentaries this section included something like source or form criticism, but usually the literary structure of the Hebrew or Greek is in view. Following this section is the commentary proper, proceeding verse by verse with attention to the original text (which is included without transliteration). Each unit concludes with a brief section entitled explanation, although the content of this unit varies from volume to volume.

The Word Biblical Commentary series was originally published by Word Books (Waco, Texas) in 1983. The first few volumes are all still very valuable: Trent Butler on Joshua; Ralph Klein on 1 Samuel; Leslie Allen on Psalms; Gerald F. Hawthorne on Philippians; Richard J. Bauckham (2 Peter & Jude. The series was purchased by Thomas Nelson, but after HarperCollins acquired both Thomas Nelson and Zondervan, the series was moved to Zondervan. The series is nearly complete, with Steven J. Walton’s Acts commentary and Andrew D. Clarke on 1 Corinthians still listed as “forthcoming.”

As typically happens with an aging commentary series, Zondervan is revising or replacing some earlier volumes. Ralph Martin’s Second Corinthians commentary was revised by a few of his students by adding a few additional sections (conveniently marked with gray pages; see my review here); Trent Butler completely revised his Joshua commentary, adding a second volume with extremely detailed geographical notes on the second half of Joshua. You can read my review here, originally published in Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament 5.1 (2016).

One serious advantage to the Logos format of this commentary is that all the Logos features are available. This includes searching English, Hebrew and Greek words, fuzzy searches, etc. By right-clicking a Hebrew word, the user can open their Hebrew lexicon of choice, right-clicking an English word opens up many options, including searching the user’s entire library, or limiting that search to a preferred Bible dictionary. A used can hover over abbreviations and a popup will identify the source, if it is a resource in the Logos library then it is clickable. References to other parts of the commentary are hyperlinks (so, “see notes” will go right to the section to which the author refers. All scripture reference are links as well, so the user can hover over the link and read the verse, to click to go to the preferred translation. Perhaps the most useful tool is how Logos cites sources. If the used copies a chuck of text and pastes it into a word processor, Logos will create a footnote citing the source in the user’s preferred format. I usually paste as plain text then edit the citation myself so it conforms to the format I prefer. What is important here is these digital books have real page numbers so they can be cited as if you have the real book in your desk. To me, this is a critically important feature. Nothing is more frustrating than students trying to cite a Kindle book in a research paper (in fact, just don’t try, find a real copy of the book and cite it properly).

As with most Logos resources, all resources are available on any Logos platform. I usually work with Logos on my desktop computer, but I can also read the books using my iPad and the Logos Bible App. All notes and highlights are synced with the user’s Faithlife account so I can read, make a few notes on a book, then pick up those notes on my desktop when I return to the office and incorporate them into whatever document I am working on at the time. If the user downloads the book to their device, footnotes appear at the bottom of the page (like a real book). Unfortunately, Logos removed the real page numbers from the iOS app, this is a major step backward (although I hear the page numbers will be restored in the future).

Logos usually does a giveaway with these free and almost free books, so this month they are giving away the Zondervan Theology Collection (7 volumes, $155.99 value).

Be sure to get these books before the end of June 2018 when the offer expires.

Third Maccabees book opens rather abruptly with the news of Philopater IVs victory over Antiochus III at the battle of Raphia (1:1-5). Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-203) was a weak and indecisive king, initially not defending his territory until the Antiochus III was in Egypt.  When he did act, he was relentless.  When the two armies met at Raphia in 217 B.C.  Antiochus III had 62,000 men, 6000 cavalry and 102 elephants; Ptolemy had a nearly equal force of 70,000 men, 5000 cavalry, and 73 elephants (Polybuis, Histories, 5.79). Antiochus lost 17,000 men in this battle and Ptolemy annexed Palestine.

Maccabees

The Leiden First Maccabees manuscript (Codex Per F 17)

The peace Ptolemy made with Antiochus III turned out to be a mistake since Antiochus would recover and shift the balance of power in favor of the Seleucid dynasty. Ptolemy IV escaped an assassination plot when a Jew named Dositheos replaced the king with an “insignificant man” who was killed instead of the king.

What is interesting is the description of Dositheos as a Jewish person who later “changed his religion and apostatized from the ancestral traditions” (μεταβαλὼν τὰ νόμιμα καὶ τῶν πατρίων δογμάτων). The noun νόμιμος refers to a statute or law (LXX Lev 3:17, for example) rather than the Torah itself. It is the word used 1 Maccabees when the Seleucids suppress traditional Jewish practices (1:14, 42, 44), similar to 3 Maccabees 3:2. These are ancestral traditions since they come from the “decrees of the fathers.”

Dositheos alienates himself from these ancestral traditions using ἀπαλλοτριόω. This word has the sense of being an outsider or a stranger. It is used in LXX Hosea 9:10 to describe the Israelites who shamefully worshiped the gods of Baal-peor and became detestable like the thing they loved.” This may be a significant intertext since the response to the apostasy at Baal-peor was the zealous action of Phineas, a model for Matthias at the beginning of the Maccabean revolt (1 Macc 2:26, 54). The verb also appears in LXX Jeremiah 19:4 with reference to profaning the sanctuary. In LXX Ezekiel 14:5-7 the house of Israel has become estranged from God because they worshiped idols.

Although it is unlikely Paul has this particular text in mind, he does use the same sort of language to describe Gentiles in Ephesians. Gentiles were alienated from God (4:18) and the “commonwealth of Israel” (2:12), separated by the law of commandments (τὸν νόμον τῶν ἐντολῶν) and decrees (ἐν δόγμασιν). As a Second Temple period Jewish writer, Paul describes the Gentiles in the same way the writer of 3 Maccabees describes Dositheos.

By giving up ancestral practices which set him apart as a Jew, Dositheos has made himself a stranger and an outsider both to Israel and to God. His estrangement is demonstrated by preserving the life of Philopater, who will defile the Temple and outlaw ancestral traditions (3 Macc 3:2).

The warning to the reader in this opening paragraph that to apostatize from the ancestral traditions has far reaching implications. In the case of Dositheos, he preserved the life of a man who will defile the Temple. He becomes a stranger and an alien to his God and his people as a result.

How would this warning be understood by Diaspora Jews in the Roman world?

Image result for third maccabees elephantsThird Maccabees is perhaps best remembered for God’s dramatic actions rescuing the Jews from Ptolemy IV Philopater (221-205 B.C.). Josephus narrates a similar story, but dates it to the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon (169-116 B.C., Contra Apion, 2.52-55). The story narrated by 3 Maccabees is fanciful, but as Livia Capponi comments, the intention of the author was “to offer a testimony to the courage and firmness of the Egyptian Jews even in the face of death” (293).

Although he Jews maintain a respectful attitude toward the king, Philopater is enraged when the Jews refuse to obey his demands (3 Macc 3:1-10). Philopater commands that Jews be rounded up and arrested.  The Jews are not honest, Philopater argues, because “they accepted our presence by word, but insincerely by deed, because when we proposed to enter their inner temple and honor it with magnificent and most beautiful offerings, they 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 toward all” (3:17-18, NRSV).

The decree was read “to the heathens” at public feasts, but the Jews reacted with great mourning.  Jews are “dragged away” in iron bonds to Alexandria.  The chapter is filled with tragic descriptions of old men led off in chains and virgin brides are taken away from their bridal chambers. They are taken to Alexandria and brought to the hippodrome to be made a public example for those who might defy the king.

The king intends to kill the Jews he has taken captive by charging five hundred elephants (5:1-51).  He ordered the elephants to be driven into a frenzy with a mixture of wine and frankincense, but when the appointed hour came, God caused the king to fall asleep so that he never gave the order to kill the Jews. Philopater is enraged and intends to kill the Jews the next day. Again, the whole town turns out for the spectacle, but when the time comes for the king to give the order, the Lord made his mind go blank and he threatens to toss his friends to the elephants instead.  Finally the king himself drives the crazed elephants toward the Jews, who are praying, weeping and embracing one another in full expectation of their deaths.

At this moment, a priest named Eleazar prays to God, asking God’s will to be done (6:1-15).  If that means dying, then let it be, but God ought to act for his own glory and “let the Gentiles cower today in fear of your invincible might, O honored One, who have power to save the nation of Jacob” (verse 13, NRSV). As Eleazar finished his prayer the heavens open and two angels descend, visible to all but the Jews (6:16-29). So awesome was their appearance the king began to shudder and he repented of his plans to destroy the Jews.  He commands the guards to “release the children of the almighty and living God of heaven, who from the time of our ancestors until now has granted an unimpeded and notable stability to our government.”

These dramatic events are narrated as a kind of theological drama. The hand of the Lord is against Philopater and he cannot harm the Jews as he once intended. But like the three young men in Daniel 3, the Jews gathered in the hippodrome are more than willing to die rather than obey the orders of the king. Eleazar’s speech alludes to both the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 and Daniel’s refusal to pray to Darius in Daniel 6 (3 Macc 6:6-7). He also refers to God’s rescue of Jerusalem from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:35) and God’s rescue of Jonah. In all four biblical cases, there is no human way for the person to be saved. They are only rescued by the “most high, all conquering God who governs all creation” (3 Macc 6:2).

As I suggested in a previous post, this book was written after Rome took control of Judea. The story of a large number of Jews resisting the king’s demand to give up their ancestral traditions may have encouraged those who sought to upset Roman rule in the years leading up to the first Jewish rebellion.

 

Bibliography. Livia Capponi, “‘Martyrs and Apostates: 3 Maccabees and the Temple of Leontopolis’”, in Hellenistic Judaism: Historical Aspects, Henoch 29.2 (2007), 288-306.

Typical Bloggers getting ready for the Carnival

Tim Bulkeley hosted the carnival on his 5 Minute Bible podcast page. Tim featured biblical and theological podcasts, although his hope bloggers would all convert to podcasts for the month (or at least once) did not materialize. Jim West explained How I Became Me… A Horrifying Video and time interviewed Bob MacDonald on his fascination with biblical languages and music. So head over to Tim’s 5 Minute Bible and check out his Biblical Studies Carnival. As most postcasters and youtubers say, be sure to click subscribe.

In other blogging news, Brian Small posted a few Hebrews Highlights on POLUMEROS KAI POLUTROPOS for May. If you use FlipBoard to read blogs, consider following my Biblical Studies magazine. The Web-based version is good, but FlipBoard is an essential app for your iOS device. I use it on my iPad for news and other special interests (including biblioblogs). If you are looking for a more wild biblical studies experience, stop in at r/AcademicBiblical or  r/AskBibleScholars at Reddit. Reddit can be a scary place, but these two subreddits are often quite good for academic discussions (trolls are quickly moderated out of existence).

I do not have a host for June (due July 1) or August (due Sept 1). I plan on covering June unless someone steps up, but I would really like to cover August and October through the end of the year. Karen R. Keen (@Keen_KR) is hosting the July 2018 (Due August 1) carnival. She is taking a little time away from finishing her doctoral dissertation on Israelite ethics and violence in the Old Testament at at Marquette University.

October through December 2018 is still still open, so feel free to volunteer for the fall months as well.  PLEASE email me  (plong42 at gmail.com) or direct message on Twitter (@plong42) to volunteer. You can also leave a comment here with your contact info and I will get back to you. Do not make me beg….

You can also review older carnivals by browsing this tag. Follow me on twitter (@plong42) if you are into that sort of thing.

Philopater IV

Gold octadrachm issued by Ptolemy IV Philopator, British Museum

When Philopater visits Jerusalem wants to offer sacrifices at the temple in order to make his new subjects “feel secure” (1:6-16). He is greatly impressed by the Temple and wants to enter the Holy of Holies. But the priests explain this is forbidden even for the Jews. Philopater insists that as king he is above this law. The priests cry out and tear their cloths and pray that Almighty God would stop Philopater from this plan. The whole city joins in the mourning for the plan of the king, praying to God to stop the king from his “sacrilegious plan.” He refuses to be persuaded and the chaos grows in intensity (1:17-29).

The High Priest Simon makes an impassioned prayer asking God to stop this “wicked and corrupt man” who is “reckless in his effrontery” (2:1-20). He believes God is testing the people as he has done in the past and the priest is determined that the people will not fail this time. Simon’s prayer recalls other times when the wicked were destroyed (the giants, Sodom, Pharaoh). The High Priest begs the Lord not to punish the Jews for this defilement (v. 17). The Lord responds to this prayer by severely thrashing Philopater and paralyzing him (2:21-33).  His bodyguards were amazed at this and pull his body out of the Temple.

Philopater recovered but was not humbled by this punishment: “he by no means repented, but went away uttering bitter threats” (v. 24). He returned to Egypt where he was “even more extravagant in his wickedness.” He sought ways to bring shame on the nation of Israel.  He required the Jews to sacrifice to Dionysus and even to tattoo themselves with an ivy leaf over their hearts to show devotion to Dionysus. The Jews are to be taxed heavily and reduced to the level of slavery.

While there were some Jews who gave into these demands in order to advance themselves in society, “The majority acted firmly with a courageous spirit and did not abandon their religion; and by paying money in exchange for life they confidently attempted to save themselves from the registration” (3: 32, NRSV). The latter half of this verse is an indication there were some Jews who did attempt to capitulate to the Ptolemies.

There is very little in these events which is historical. The writer has combined elements of the abominations of Antiochus IV with Pompey’s entry into the Temple in 63 B.C. The writer created a biblical prayer and placed in the mouth of the last of the great High Priests, Simon. Although it is impossible to connect these events to any one actual event, the writer tells his generation that God will act as he has done in the past to deal with the current empire, Rome.

There are several indications the writer has Rome in mind in this text. First, it was Pompey who entered the Holy of Holies in 63 B.C. The author of 3 Maccabees pushes this sacrilege back more than a hindered years.

Second, during the Roman period Jews in Egypt were required to register in a census (λαογραφία, laographía). This tax was first introduced by Augustus, required the men of Alexandria aged 14 to 62. Those who were Greek citizens and “members of the gymnasium” were exempt. Some Jews could be considered Greek citizens by virtue of their education and were considered “Greek” for purposes of this taxation. This registration and marking (2:28-29) may be in the background of the Mark of the Beast in Revelation 13.

Third, when Simon lists other times the Lord has defeated the enemies of God’s people, he begins with “giants who trusted in their strength” (2:24). The word translated “strength” is a rare word in the LXX, ῥώμη, which is a homophone for Rome.

The writer of 3 Maccabees is therefore creating a theologically driven story to encourage readers struggling against another oppressive Empire. Just as God has acted in the past to rescue his people (whether this is Antiochus or Pompey or the present evil emperor), so too will he act again to rescue those who are “those who are downcast and broken in spirit” (2:20).

Wenham, David. From Good News to Gospels: What Did the First Christians Say about Jesus? Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2018. 124 pp. Pb; $16.   Link to Eerdmans

This new book by David Wenham is an attempt to address the forty years between Jesus and the writing of the canonical gospels. What was the content of the message the earliest Christians preached during this period? Since we only have access to reports written a generation after the fact, scholars have suggested a collection of Jesus’s sayings developed and used as a source for the three Synoptic gospels. This two-source hypothesis has dominated scholarly discussion of the origin of the written gospels, but in recent years it has been attacked, modified and sometimes dismissed as an adequate origin for the various material which eventually became the canonical gospels. The reason for this in part is a growing interest in oral tradition as a source for the Gospel writers. Both James Dunn (The Oral Gospel Tradition, Eerdmans 2013) and Francis Watson (Gospel Writing, Eerdmans 2013) have made significant contributions to a better understanding of how Oral Tradition functioned in the period between the ministry of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels.

The main problem with oral tradition is a modern prejudice against oral sources (or the modern preference for written sources). When Form Critics described the growth of oral tradition they often assumed early Christians were convinced that Jesus was going to return very soon and establish his kingdom, thus there is no need to write books. They simply told stories about Jesus, and as Christians began to understand Jesus as in some sense divine, they began to embellish the sayings and stories in order to enhance the status of Jesus as well as to address particular problems in their own community. Someone passing along an oral tradition about Jesus was not particularly concerned with accuracy (in the modern sense).

Based on a better understanding of how oral tradition works in ancient cultures, Wenham’s main thesis in the book is that oral tradition was carefully preserved by the earliest Christians. He also demonstrates that this oral tradition is far more substantial than often assumed, freeing New Testament scholarship from the “hazardous hypothetical document” Q (p. 99).

In order to support this thesis, Wenham examines the evidence for an oral tradition in the book of Luke-Acts (chapter 2), the evidence in Mark, Matthew, and John (chapter 3) and in Paul’s letters (chapter 4). Wenham argues for the accuracy of Luke-Acts as a witness to the preaching and teaching of the early church. This resonates with the Synoptic Gospels description of the as invited to follow Jesus and to “be with him” (p. 29-30). Those who followed Jesus were commanded to pass along to the nations everything Jesus had instructed them (Matt 28:16-20).

Wenham finds confirmation of this passing of tradition in the Pauline letters. In this chapter Wenham follows the same trajectory as Jerry L. Sumney in his recent Steward of God’s Mysteries (Eerdmans, 2016). Beginning with 1 Corinthians 15:1-3, Wenham identifies a series of traditions embedded in the Pauline letters. Wenham answers the objection that “Paul knows nothing of the life of Jesus” by pointing to several examples where Jesus tradition is assumed. Since letters are occasional literature, there is no need for Paul to outline the life of Jesus before alluding to the Sermon on the Mount or the Olivet Discourse.

Chapters 5-6 trace the evidence for an oral tradition in the Gospels.

Wenham offers two examples where an appeal to oral tradition provides a more satisfying solution than literary dependence. First, Matthew 10:11/Luke 10:7 is usually considered a Q passage. The phrase “the laborer deserves his wages” appears in Luke 10:7 and 1 Timothy 5:18. There are allusions to this same idea in 1 Corinthians 9 as well.

His second example is Paul’s allusions to the Olivet Discourse in 1 Thessalonians 5. The parable of the Thief, followed by five foolish virgins who fall asleep, much the way Paul’s thief sayings in 5:2 and 5:4 are followed by a an admonition not to sleep “as the others do.” Wenham argues 1 Thessalonians 5 is evidence Paul knew an oral tradition later incorporated into Matthew 25. That Paul seems to know material from all potential literary traditions (Mark, Q, M and L is evidence Paul has extensive knowledge of Jesus’s teaching in an oral form.

At this point Wenham needs to address two potential objections to his view that oral tradition better explains Paul’s use of Jesus tradition than a literary theory involving some sort of written source like Q. First, it is almost certain Paul knew the material eventually included in Matthew 24-25 (although the influence on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 is less obvious than for 1 Thessalonians 5:1-9). Although it is entirely possible Paul knew this material via an oral tradition handed down to him by Jesus’s disciples, it is equally possible Paul did have written notes of the things Jesus said, something like a Q document. That Paul may allude to as many as four pools of literary sources (Mark, Q, M, L) seems to favor Wenham’s thesis, but since the allusions are all from an eschatological discourse, it is at least possible he had a written collection.

A second objection is the possibility Paul alludes to another source than the oral tradition standing behind the Gospels or a literary tradition like Q. For the laborer saying, Jesus and Paul may both allude to Leviticus 19:13, Deuteronomy 24:15, or similar rabbinic interpretations of these texts (b. Bek. 29a: “Just as you received it [Torah] without payment, so teach it without payment”). The same could be said for 1 Thessalonians 4-5 since non-canonical apocalyptic literature describes the end of the age as labor pains. Does Paul’s phrase “peace and security” in 5:3 refer to Jesus’s words in Matthew 24:36-39 (the “days of Noah”) or is he parodying the claims of the Empire to bring “peace and safety” to the world.

Overall I am in agreement that there was an extensive oral tradition which the first generation actively passed on and guarded tenaciously. As Wenham said, the oral tradition was the “story of Jesus, not just pithy creedal statements or disconnected stories” (p. 94). He is certainly correct to say the earliest Christians told and retold the story of Jesus as accurately depicted in the book of Acts (p. 100). But is this an issue of either oral or written sources?

Despite these caveats, Wenham’s book is good entry point into a sometimes contentious debate on the status of an oral tradition in the earliest church. Wenham properly calls attention to the pervasive use of oral sources in the earliest written documents as well as the trustworthiness of the oral tradition used by Paul and the Gospel writers.

 

 

NB: Thanks to Eerdmans for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

This “historical romance” was written in Greek sometime after the battle of Raphia (217 B.C.) and before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The book seems to know the additions to Daniel and possible the Letter of Aristeas as well, so it is probable the book was written in the first century B.C. The book may also have used 2 Maccabees, there are parallels in vocabulary and style. The book is often included in texts on the Apocrypha. The book is misnamed, since it does not contain a history of the Maccabean period, nor is it a continuation of the other two Maccabean books.  The book concerns an incident unrelated to the Maccabean family, and is titled Ptolemaica in some manuscripts (deSilva, 306).

Image result for third maccabeesSome scholars date the book to the reign of Caligula because of his desire to place an image of himself in the temple in A.D. 40. This sort of fictional “reaction” to Caligula is told in the guise of a similar crisis of the not-too-distant past. The problem with this view is there nothing explicit in the text which points to Rome or Caligula as the real point of the book.

A third possibility is the book was written in response to the shift from Egyptian to Roman control of Egypt in 24 B.C. The civic status of the Jew in Egypt was in question at that time, therefore the author creates a story as a comment on the beginning of Roman rule in Egypt. The evidence for this is a hint in 2:28 to a Roman poll tax.

This is a very thin argument and cannot serve as a final proof of the date of the book either. As Anderson says in his introduction, the real problem with each of these theories is that the book does not read like a “crisis document.” It lacks nearly every important characteristic of the apocalyptic response to a crisis (judgment, retribution, overthrow of the present age by God himself).

3 Maccabees may have been written as a defense of Diaspora Jews written to a Judean Jewish audience (Williams, 17). Since they live outside the land, they are considered to be “still in exile” and are therefore still under God’s judgment. The book demonstrates that God hears the prayers of the Diaspora Jewish community and preserves them in persecution, as he did during the Jewish community in Judea during the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanies. It is possible the Jews in Jerusalem looked down on the Jews living outside the land.  The Jew of the Diaspora has as close of a connection to God as of the Jewish living in the land.

The book certainly addresses the problem of apostasy in the Diaspora since the Jews who have renounced their faith in the book are judged harshly. A major theme of the book is the boundary between the Jew and the Gentile. When Gentiles appear in the story, they are prejudiced, lawless and abominable. Even in Egypt Jews are warned to keep their distance from Gentiles and to avoid apostasy at all cost.

The context of the Caligula decree seems to make the most sense, but there does not seem to be enough time for a book like this to be written and circulated to make much of a difference in that situation. It is possible the author has in mind “generic” persecution, since a number of Greek and Roman generals sought to enter the temple. Pompey did in fact enter the Holy of Holies without any judgment. It is possible the book was written after Pompey as a sort of “what should have happened” story.

The study of this book is valuable to the student of the New Testament because it describes the Jews as unwilling to compromise their faith even in the Diaspora. When Ptolemy threatens to enter the sanctuary the whole population of Jerusalem join in the protest, but it is a protest to God to step into the situation and stop Ptolemy himself.  God is “the God, who oversees all things, the first Father of all, holy among the holy ones” (NRSV), therefore he can act and do what he needs to in order to defend himself.

Paul’s encounters with Jews in Asia Minor, for example, indicate that most Jews were keeping the law and not particularly interested Paul’s encouragement of Gentiles to “convert” partially by believing Jesus is the Messiah and not keep the Law. Here in this book those Jews who chose to “following their own bellies” and reject the Law in order to gain favor with the King are killed in the climax of the story. It is little wonder Paul’s gospel of freedom from the Law often resulted in riots and physical abuse (2 Cor 12).

 

Bibliography: David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 304-322; David Williams, “3 Maccabees: A Defense of Diaspora Judaism,” Journal for the Study of Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995), 17-29.

 

Ahiqar is “one of the best-known and most widely disseminated tales in the ancient modern world” (Lindenberger, OTP 2:480). The text is quite old, probably dating from the fifth or sixth century B.C. The book likely had an influence on several Apocryphal books, such as Tobit 1:41 (Charles APOT 1:296 lists parallels between Ahiqar and Sirach) and was popular well into the Christian Era. The book is considerably different than any surveyed thus far because it is a part of the context of Mesopotamia rather than the Old Testament. While this is certainly wisdom literature, it may not be Hebrew wisdom literature, at least in its most basic form. OTP 2:483-484 discusses the possibility of an historical Ahiqar based on cuneiform tablets discovered at Uruk.

The name of the book appears and there are several other superficial parallels. The genre of Ahiqar is a “court tale,” so often a parallel is made to Daniel (Goldingay, Daniel, 6), although it is possible also to see an affinity to Esther as well in that Ahiqar saved a man’s life, then later that man has power over him. The value of the book for New Testament studies is primarily in the “sayings” section. There are many sayings which have parallels to Old Testament wisdom and therefore may be present in the New Testament as well. Likely as not the New Testament stands on the foundation of the Old rather than on a book like Ahiqar. The book does serve to show the sort of proverbial wisdom which was current in the centuries before Christ and an interesting study could be done tracing the trajectory from Old Testament wisdom to Ahiqar then to Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, then into Christian wisdom like material.

The “plot” of the book concerns the retirement of Ahiqar after the death of Sennacherib. Ahiqar requests that his adopted son Nadin take his role as advisor and scribe for the new king, Esarhaddon. Nadin spreads a rumor that Ahiqar has devised a “wicked plot” against Esarhaddon, so the king orders him killed. The guard sent to capture and execute Ahiqar was once involved in a court intrigue himself and Ahiqar spared his life. This guard proposes to kill a eunuch slave and tell people it was Ahiqar in order to spare his life. They do this, and Ahiqar hides himself while everyone thinks he is dead.

The story breaks off at that point, but Lindenberger summarizes the rest of the story as reconstructed from later versions: The king of Egypt contacts Esarhaddon and asks for the wisest man in Assyria to come and supervise the building of a temple between heaven and earth. No one can meet the challenge of the king’s riddles and Esarhaddon rues killing Ahiqar. The guard realizes the time is right, so he brings Ahiqar out of hiding and the king rejoices. After the king apologizes, Ahiqar asks to punish Nadin (which involves being chained up and beaten while Ahiqar lectures him).

The Sayings of Ahiqar amount to several pages of proverbial wisdom. Many are nearly identical to Proverbs (line 82, for example, “spare the rod and spoil the child” cf. Prov. 23:13). Some are obscure and difficult to understand the point. For example, line 117 says “there is no lion in the sea, therefore the sea-snake is called labbu.” Other proverbs invoke the name of various gods (Shamash the Sun-God, Baal Shamayn, “The Merciful” in line 107).

There are a few lines which are reminiscent of New Testament verses. Line 100, for example, describes the king’s word as sharper than a double-edged sword (cf., Heb. 4:12, the word of the Lord is sharper than a double-edged sword). The parallel is superficial, but may indicate the figure of speech was part of common speech in the first century. Other parallels are thematic, such as line 137 which condemns amassing great wealth, a common theme in both the Old and New Testament (1 Tim. 6:10, for example).

This biblical expansion is only preserved in a single line of only four words at that in the Vision of Hermes 2.3.4, The line reads “’The Lord is near to those who turn to him’” as it is written (in the book of) Eldad and Modad who prophesied in the desert. James Charlesworth thinks that Targum Pseudo-Jonathan also quotes from this source (ABD 2:43)1. There are a number of other un-attributed statements in the writings of the earliest church which have been attributed to Eldad and Modad, but none of these can be proven to be from an actual book. The Stichometry of Nicephorus (ninth century) lists Eldad and Modad as having 400 lines.

In Numbers 11 Moses orders the seventy elders to the tent of meeting after the people complain about food in the desert. Eldad and Modad (Medad in the MT, NRSV and most literature on this apocryphal text) are two of the elders of Israel who did not go to the tent of Meeting (Numbers 11:26-27). When the spirit of God comes upon them and they begin to prophesy, Joshua tells Moses to stop them since they had been to the tent. Moses refuses since the Lord who put his spirit in these men and he would not stop it. Like Enoch, who generated significant apocryphal literature, there is nothing in Numbers to indicate what they prophesied. For Martin, the two were “were insignificant tribal prophets” E. G. Martin, “Eldad and Modad,” OTP 2:465).

The text from Targum Pseudo-Jonathan indicates the two prophets predicted Gog and Magog would attack on Jerusalem at “the end of days.” A “royal Messiah” would defeat these evil forces (Martin, OTP 2:464). The pair are mentioned a few times in the Talmud. For example, Eldad and Medad said, ‘We are not worthy of that high position’” (b. Sanh. 1:1, XXX.3.A; cf. b. Ros. Has. 2:8b, III.1.D where they are simply mentioned as elders). But there is nothing on the content of their prophecy.

James Davila addressed the problem of “quotation fragments” in a lecture entitled “A Worst-Case Scenario (Eldad and Modad)” (29 April, 1997, University of St. Andrews). The purpose of the paper was to “propose some common-sense guidelines for dealing with quotation fragments.” The first of these proposals is to “know your author,” something of a problem of Eldad and Modad. Although the Shepherd of Hermas is a well-known text, “Visions 1-4 is a redactional unit that was probably written half a century or so earlier” and the text itself is not particularly well preserved.

The fragment represents a tantalizing glimpse into a short biblical expansion lost to modern scholarship.

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