Reading 155/341, 2 Maccabees 1-3.18

2 Maccabees...

The brethren, the Jews who are in Jerusalem and in the land of Judea, wish to the brethren, the Jews who are throughout Egypt, health and peace. God be gracious unto you and remember his covenant which he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his faithful servants. May he give you all a heart to serve him, and to do his will, with good courage and a willing mind; and open your hearts to his law and commandments, and send you peace, and hear your prayers, and be at one with you, and never forsake you in time of trouble. Now, we here are praying for you. At the time when Demetrius reigned, in the year 169 [143 BC], we Jews wrote to you in the extremity of trouble that came upon us in those years, when Jason and his company revolted from the holy land and kingdom, and burned the gatehouse, and shed innocent blood. Then we prayed to the Lord, and were heard. We also offered sacrifices and fine flour, and lit the lamps, and set out the loaves. See to it that you keep the Feast of Tabernacles in the month of Kislev. In the year 188 [124 BC].

The people that were at Jerusalem and in Judea, and the council, and Judas, sent greeting and health to Aristobulus, teacher of King Ptolemy, and member of the family of the anointed priests, and to the Jews in Egypt. Insomuch as God has delivered us from great perils, we thank him greatly, as having been in battle against a king. For he cast out those who fought within the holy city. For when the leader had come into Persia, and the army with him that seemed invincible, they were slain in the temple of Nanea by the deceit of Nanea's priests. For Antiochus, as though he would marry the goddess, came into the place, and his friends that were with him, to receive money as a dowry. Which when the priests of Nanea had set out, and he had entered with a small company into the precincts of the temple, they shut the temple as soon as he went in. Opening a secret door on the roof, they threw stones like thunderbolts, and struck down the captain, hewed them in pieces, smote off their heads and cast them to those who were outside. Blessed be our God in all things, who has delivered up the ungodly.

Therefore, whereas we are now purposed to keep the purification of the temple upon the 25th day of the month of Kislev, we thought it necessary to inform you, that you also might keep the Feast of the Tabernacles, and of the fire, which was given us when Nehemiah offered sacrifice, after he had built the temple and the altar. For when our fathers were led into Persia, the priests that were then devout took the fire of the altar secretly, and hid it in the hollow place of a pit without water, where they kept it going, so that the place was unknown to all men. Now after many years, when it pleased God, Nehemiah, being sent by the king of Persia, sent the posterity of those priests who had hid the fire to look for it, but when they told us that they found no fire, but only thick liquid, he then commanded them to draw it up, and to bring it, and when the sacrifices were laid on, Nehemiah commanded the priests to sprinkle the wood and the things laid thereupon with the liquid. When this was done, and the time came that the sun shone, which before was hidden by a cloud, a great fire was kindled, so that every man marveled. And the priests made a prayer while the sacrifice was being consumed, both the priests, and all the rest, Jonathan beginning, and the rest answering him, as Nehemiah did. And the prayer went like this: O Lord, Lord God, Creator of all things, who are fearful and strong, and righteous, and merciful, and the only and gracious King, the only giver of all things, the only just, almighty, and everlasting, you who delivers Israel from all trouble, and did choose their fathers, and sanctify them, receive the sacrifice for your whole people Israel, and preserve your own portion, and sanctify it. Gather those together who are scattered from us, deliver those who serve among the heathens, look upon them who are despised and abhorred, and let the heathen know that you are our God. Punish those who oppress us and with pride do us wrong. Plant your people again in your holy place, as Moses has spoken.” And the priests sung psalms of thanksgiving. Now when the sacrifice was consumed, Nehemiah commanded the liquid that was left to be poured on the great stones. When this was done, a flame was kindled, but it was consumed by the light that shone from the altar. So when this matter was known, it was told to the king of Persia, that in the place, where the priests that were led away had hid the fire, there appeared liquid, and that Nehemiah had purified the sacrifices with it. Then the king, enclosing the place, made it sacred, after he had verified the matter. And the king took many gifts, and bestowed them on those whom he pleased. And Nehemiah called this liquid “nephthar”, which is to say, “a cleansing”, but many men call it naphtha.

It is also found in the records, that Jeremiah the prophet commanded those who were carried away to take from the fire, as has been signified, and that that the prophet, having given them the law, charged them not to forget the commandments of the Lord, and that they should not err in their minds when they see images of silver and gold, with their adornments. With other such speeches, he exhorted them, that the law should not depart from their hearts. It was also contained in the same writing, that the prophet, being warned by God, commanded the tabernacle and the ark to go with him, as he went forth onto the mountain, where Moses climbed up and saw the heritage of God. And when Jeremiah came there, he found a hollow cave, in which he laid the tabernacle, and the ark, and the altar of incense, and then sealed the door. And some of those who followed him came to mark the path, but they could not find it. When Jeremiah perceived this, he reproved them, saying, “As for that place, it shall be unknown until the time when God gather his people together again, and shows them mercy. Then the Lord shal show them these things, and the glory of the Lord shall appear, and the cloud also, as it was shown under Moses, and as when Solomon desired that the place might be honorably sanctified. It was also declared that Solomon, being wise, offered the sacrifice of dedication and of the completion of the temple. As when Moses prayed to the Lord, and the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the sacrifices, so Solomon prayed also, and the fire came down from heaven, and consumed the burnt offerings. Moses said, “Because the sin offering was not to be eaten, it was consumed by fire.” So Solomon kept those eight days. The same things also were reported in the writings and commentaries of Nehemiah, and how he founding a library gathered together of the acts of the kings, and the prophets, and of David, and the epistles of the kings concerning the votive offerings. In like manner also, Judas gathered together all those things that were lost by reason of the war we had, and they remain with us. Therefore, if you have need of them, send someone to fetch them for you. As we then are about to celebrate the purification, we have written to you, and you shall do well, if you keep the same days. We hope also that the God who delivered all his people and gave them all a heritage, and the kingdom, and the priesthood, and the sanctuary, as he promised in the law, will shortly have mercy upon us, and gather us together out of every land under heaven into the holy place, for he has delivered us out of great troubles, and has purified the place.

Now as concerns Judas Maccabeus, and his brethren, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, and the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes, and Eupator his son, and the manifestations from heaven to those who acted manfully to their honor for Judaism, so that, being but a few, they overcame the whole country, and chased barbarian hordes, and recovered again the temple renowned all the world over, and freed the city, and upheld the laws which were falling down, the Lord being gracious unto them with all favor. All these things being declared by Jason of Cyrene in five books, we will attempt to abridge in one volume. For considering the infinite number, and the difficulties encountered by those who desire to look into the narrations of the story, for the variety of the matter, We have been careful, that those who read may have delight, and that those who desire to commit to memory might have ease, and that all into whose hands it comes might have profit. For us who have taken upon ourselves this painful labor of abridging, it was not easy, but a matter of sweat and late nights, as it is no ease to him who prepares a banquet and seeks the benefit of others, yet for the pleasure of many, we will undertake gladly these great pains, leaving to the historian the exact handling of every detail, and laboring to follow the rules of a summary. For as the master builder of a new house must care for the whole building, but he that undertakes to decorate and paint it, must seek out fitting things for the adornment thereof, so I think it is with us. To stand upon every point, and go over things at length, and to be curious about details, belongs to the historian, but to use brevity, and avoid much laboring of the work is granted to those who will make an abridgment. Here then we will begin the story, only adding this much to what has been said: that it is a foolish thing to make a long prologue, and to be short in the story itself.

Now when the holy city was inhabited with all peace, and the laws were kept very well, because of the godliness of Onias the high priest, and his hatred of wickedness, it came to pass that the kings themselves honored the place, and magnified the temple with their best gifts, inasmuch as Seleucus of Asia, of his own revenues bore the whole cost of the service of the sacrifices. But a certain Simon of the tribe of Benjamin, who was made governor of the temple, fell out with the high priest about the order of the city. And when he could not overcome Onias, he went to Apollonius of Tarsus, who was then governor of Celosyria and Phoenicia, and told him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of untold sums of money, so that the multitude of their riches, which did not pertain to the account of the sacrifices, was innumerable, and that it was possible to bring all into the king's hand. Now when Apollonius came to the king, and had told him of the money of which he had been told, the king chose Heliodorus his treasurer and sent him with a commandment to bring him the aforementioned money. So Heliodorus set out on his journey, under pretense of visiting the cities of Celosyria and Phoenicia, but in actuality to fulfill the king's purpose. When he had come to Jerusalem, and had been courteously received by the high priest of the city, he told him what was understood of the money, and declared why he came, and asked if these things were so indeed. Then the high priest told him that there was money laid up for the relief of widows and fatherless children, And that some of it belonged to Hircanus, son of Tobias, a man of great dignity, and not as that wicked Simon had misinformed, the sum of it was in all four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold,and that it was altogether impossible that such wrongs should be done to those who had committed it to the holiness of the place, and to the majesty and inviolable sanctity of the temple, honored over all the world. But Heliodorus, because of the king's commandment given to him, said that, regardless, it must be brought into the king's treasury. So on the day which he appointed he entered in to count the money, there was no small anxiety throughout the whole city. But the priests, prostrating themselves before the altar in their priests' vestments, called to heaven upon him who made a law concerning things given to be kept, that they should safely be preserved for those who had deposited them. Then whoever had looked the high priest in the face, would have wounded his heart, for his countenance and the changing of his color declared the inward agony of his mind. For the man was so compassed with fear and trembling of the body, that it was manifest to those who looked upon him what sorrow he had now in his heart. Others ran out of their houses to a common supplication, because the place was in danger of being profaned.

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