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Noah Hacham

The short book of 3 Maccabees, written in Egypt in the Hellenistic or Roman period and almost unknown in antiquity, records king Ptolemy Philopator’s (221–204 bce) two failures to harm the Jews: In the first he failed to enter the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, and in the second the God of Israel thwarted the king’s three attempts to annihilate all Egyptian Jews with intoxicated elephants. The Jews instituted a holiday commemorating this rescue.

While the book’s historical credibility regarding these events is dubious, it should be seen as an important historical source for the life of Egyptian Jewry and the challenges that it faced during the Hellenistic-Roman period. The book has a discernible four-faceted agenda: (a) Jews are loyal both to their God and to the king, although they cannot be confident of the king’s goodwill toward them; (b) the God of Israel is the Jews’ protector and savior; (c) He also revealed Himself in the Diaspora, far away from the Jerusalemite Temple. The book is also (d) an anti-Dionysiac polemic.


Ptolemaeus of Mende, a priest, wrote on the Egyptian kings in three books. He wrote before Apion (first half of the 1st cent. bce), who refers to him. He attributes the Hebrew Exodus under Moses to the time of king Amosis (founder of the 18th dynasty).