Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 1:1

When Philopator learned from those who returned that the regions which he had controlled … : The name Philopator was used by King Ptolemy IV of Egypt, who ruled from 221 to 203 B.C. This book uses both names. (“Ptolemy” is found in 3 Macc 1.2, 6; “Philopator” here in 1.1; and “Ptolemy Philopator” in 3.12; 7.1) We suggest that translators choose one of these terms to use in 3 Macc 1.1-2 and 1.6, and use both when both occur. The name Philopator occurs nowhere else in Scripture. “Ptolemy” occurs often in 1–2 Maccabees, although Ptolemy IV is not involved. Translators will have used the name “Ptolemy” in these books (first at 1 Macc 1.18 and 2 Macc 1.10) and may want to use it here. Whichever name is used, a footnote should be included to give the alternative name. When Philopator learned may be rendered “When Philopator found out [or, heard],” or even “When they told Philopator.” In the model below we are suggesting that translators put this initial clause after the regions which he had controlled. Those who returned refers to people coming from the scene of the battle in which Antiochus seized some Egyptian territory. We may render this clause as “some people [or, Egyptian soldiers] who had escaped.”

Had been seized by Antiochus: Antiochus is King Antiochus III, also known as Antiochus the Great, who ruled Syria from 223 to 187 B.C. Contemporary English Version rearranges the first half of this verse in a way that is much easier to follow, saying “When King Philopator ruled Egypt, King Antiochus of Syria invaded and took over much of his territory. Some of the Egyptians escaped and told Philopator what had happened.” However, Contemporary English Version is incorrect when it says that Antiochus had taken over “much” of Philopator’s territory. Since Antiochus had come only as far as Raphia, he could not have taken over very much land. So the translation should be “some territory.” The regions which he had controlled is a bit more accurate than Contemporary English Version‘s “his territory,” since these regions were not in Egypt at all.

We suggest the following model for the first half of this verse:

• When King Philopator ruled Egypt, King Antiochus of Syria invaded and took over [or, captured] some territory which Philopator had controlled. Some of the Egyptians escaped and told Philopator what had happened.

He gave orders to all his forces, both infantry and cavalry: The Greek verb translated gave orders may be rendered “called together” (Contemporary English Version). All his forces means “all his soldiers.” Infantry are soldiers who fight on foot; cavalry are soldiers who fight on horseback. For this clause we would suggest “So he ordered [or, called together] all his soldiers [or, his whole army] to come to him. These included soldiers on horses as well as soldiers on foot.”

Took with him his sister Arsinoë: Arsinoë is otherwise unknown. The mark over the ë indicates that it is a separate syllable: Ar-si-no-e.

And marched out to the region near Raphia: Philopator did not march by himself. So Contemporary English Version is better with “and led the Egyptian troops to the region….” Raphia was a town on the coast of the Philistine plain of Palestine, about 32 kilometers (20 miles) southwest of Gaza.

Where Antiochus’s supporters were encamped: Antiochus’s supporters are his army. But Antiochus was also there. So it is better to render this clause as “where Antiochus and his army [or, soldiers] were encamped [or, had set up their tents].”

Here are two models for the last half of this verse, which arrange the material in a slightly different order:

• He then led them [or, his soldiers] to the region near Raphia, where Antiochus and his army were camped. Philopator took his sister Arsinoë with him.

• He took his sister Arsinoë with him, and led his troops to the region near Raphia, where Antiochus and his army had made camp [or, set up their tents].

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 2:4

You destroyed those who in the past committed injustice: The author recalls that throughout history God had destroyed the enemies of his people. We may alternatively render this clause as “In the past you destroyed people who acted unjustly.” Verses 4b-8 cites specific examples of God’s destruction of unjust people.

Among whom were even giants who trusted in their strength and boldness, whom you destroyed by bringing upon them a boundless flood: The reference here is to the giants of Gen 6.4, who died in the flood of Noah’s time. See also Wis 14.6; Sir 16.7; Bar 3.26. If translators do not have a word for giants in their language, they may say “huge and powerful men.” A Handbook on Genesis gives some other good examples: “men as big as trees,” “very tall men,” “very big men with double strength,” and “unbelievably big strong men.” In this context the words strength and boldness are very similar in meaning and may be combined (see the model below). Boundless flood is literally “boundless water.” Contemporary English Version says “raging flood,” which is a good model.

Here is a possible model for this verse:

• In the past you destroyed people who acted unjustly. At one time there were giants, proud of how strong they were, but you destroyed them in a tremendous flood [or, you used a tremendous flood to destroy them].

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 3:3

The Jews, however, continued to maintain good will and unswerving loyalty to the dynasty: The dynasty is literally “the kings,” and may refer to the line of kings then ruling Egypt (so Revised Standard Version). However, it may be more meaningful to see this verse as a statement that the Jews, wherever they lived, made it a practice to be loyal to the ruling authorities. This understanding will make a problem in verse 5 a bit easier. With a slight adaptation, we may use Contemporary English Version as a model for this verse as follows:

• But in fact, the Jews were always loyal to their rulers and never caused trouble of any kind.

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 4:5

For a multitude of gray-headed old men, sluggish and bent with age, was being led away: The connector For may be omitted by beginning this verse with “There were also many gray-haired old men….” With the phrase sluggish and bent with age, was being led away, the author emphasizes the pathetic sight of feeble old Jewish men being forced to walk to their fate faster than they were really able.

Forced to march at a swift pace by the violence with which they were driven in such a shameful manner: The violence used is not specified, but we may assume the old men were whipped or beaten, and translators may make this explicit by saying “Their captors beat them without shame as they forced them almost to run.” In such a shameful manner means “without feeling shame.”

Here are alternative models for this verse:

• There were also many gray-haired old men, slow, and bent over with age. They were forced almost to run as their captors beat them without shame to make them go faster.

• … Their captors showed no shame as they beat them to make them go faster.

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 5:18

After the party had been going on for some time may be rendered “When they had all been eating and drinking [wine] for some time [or, quite a long time],” “When the party was well underway,” or even “Some time later” (Contemporary English Version).

The king summoned Hermon and with sharp threats demanded to know why the Jews had been allowed to remain alive through the present day: When Philopator first woke up, he was told what had happened, but by this time he was probably drunk enough not to remember, so he called Hermon and demanded to know why the Jews were still alive. The phrase with sharp threats may be placed at the end of the verse by rendering it “and he threatened him [Hermon] sharply.” In some languages it will be necessary to say what the threats were as follows: “He said to Hermon, ‘I am going to punish you severely for disobeying me.’ ”

Here are alternative models for this verse:

• When the party was well under way, the king called Hermon. He demanded to know why the Jews had not been killed that day, and threatened the man sharply.

• When everyone had drunk a lot of wine, the king called Hermon, and said to him “Why haven’t you killed all the Jews today? [or, Why are all the Jews still alive today?] I am going to punish you severely for disobeying me!”

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 5:50

Not only this, but may be rendered “In spite of this” or “Nevertheless” (Anderson, Hadas).

When they considered the help which they had received before from heaven refers to the two previous times that God had rescued them from the elephants. From heaven means “from God.”

They prostrated themselves with one accord on the ground: Prostrated themselves … on the ground refers to lying face down on the ground in prayer. With one accord implies that everyone did it.

Removing the babies from their breasts simply explains how the nursing mothers could lie flat on the ground; it does not mean all of the Jews were nursing children, as Revised Standard Version seems to imply.

An alternative model for this verse is:

• But still, when they thought how God had rescued [or, helped] them before [or, had already saved them twice], they lay down flat on the ground to pray. Mothers laid their nursing babies aside.

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 6:31

Accordingly those disgracefully treated and near to death, or rather, who stood at its gates … : The demonstrative pronoun those refers to the Jews. Disgracefully treated may be rendered “who had been treated in a disgraceful manner.” Death is literally “Hades” (see the comments on 3 Macc 5.42). Stood at its gates may be translated “were about to die” or “had almost been killed.” Many languages will have suitable idioms describing this situation. For example, English has the idiom “had one foot in the grave,” which Anderson uses in his translation. Another English idiom says “came within a hair of dying.” We may begin this verse with “So these same people [or, Jews] who had been treated in a disgraceful manner and had almost been killed….”

Arranged for a banquet of deliverance instead of a bitter and lamentable death: Here the subject is the Jews. This phrase may be rendered “arranged a feast to celebrate their rescue from dying in a sad and horrible way” or “arranged for a feast to celebrate how God had rescued them from….”

And full of joy they apportioned to celebrants the place which had been prepared for their destruction and burial: Full of joy may be rendered “The Jews were joyful.” The Greek word translated celebrants (klisia), along with the verb rendered apportioned, means the Jews broke up into smaller groups for the festivities (compare the use of the word klisia in Luke 9.14). So they apportioned to celebrants may be translated “Now, however, they divided into groups to enjoy a feast.” We suggest reordering the clauses in this verse, making “The Jews were joyful” the initial clause. This clause can be followed by “They had been treated shamefully and had almost been killed. Now, however, they divided into groups to enjoy a feast. Instead of dying in a sad and horrible way, they would celebrate being rescued….” The place which had been prepared for their destruction and burial presents a problem, since we have not been told earlier anything about a place being prepared to bury the Jews. Probably the two terms destruction (literally “fall”) and burial mean exactly the same thing. Indeed, verse 34 suggests that the king’s officials intended the bodies of the dead Jews to be left in the open as food for birds.

Any translation of this verse involves a lot of guessing, especially the order of the various elements. Here are two approaches:

• The Jews were very joyful. They had been treated shamefully and had almost been killed. Now, however, they divided into groups to enjoy a feast. Instead of dying in a sad and horrible manner, they would now celebrate being rescued, and do it in the area where the king intended for them to meet their end [or, die] and be buried.

• The Jews were very joyful. The Gentiles had treated them shamefully and had almost killed them. Now, however, they divided into groups to enjoy a feast. Instead of dying in a sad and horrible manner, they would celebrate how God had rescued them. They would do this in the area where the king had planned to kill and bury them.

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.

Translation commentary on 3 Maccabees 7:23

Blessed be the Deliverer of Israel through all times! Amen: The language has been ornate throughout much of this book, but this closing praise to God is short and effectively simple by contrast. Many church traditions have borrowed a form of Amen, and if that is the case, translators may wish to use it here. Otherwise, if the receptor culture has an expression indicating formal assent to a statement, that expression may be used here. Possible models for this verse are:

• Praise to God forever! He is Israel’s deliverer [or, protector/savior]! Amen.

• Eternal praise to God, Israel’s savior! Amen.

• God is the protector of Israel! Praise him forever! Let it be so!

Quoted with permission from Bullard, Roger A. and Hatton, Howard A. A Handbook on 3-4 Maccabees. (UBS Helps for Translators). Miami: UBS, 2018. For this and other handbooks for translators see here.