Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

3 Maccabees and Esther: Parallels, Intertextuality, and Diaspora Identity

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

3 Maccabees and Esther: Parallels, Intertextuality, and Diaspora Identity

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes Greek characters omitted (or Cyrillic characters omitted.))

This article reconsiders the as-yet-unresolved issue of literary dependence between 3 Maccabees and Esther-both the Hebrew and the Greek versions. An early-twentieth-century treatment appeared in the context of Hugo Willrich's attempt to identify the historical kernel of 3 Maccabees; a century later, this question is still under exploration, for example, in Philip Alexander's article titled "3 Maccabees, Hanukkah and Purim."1 Scholarly opinions range from the contention that 3 Maccabees was written after Greek Esther,2 to the opposing position that Greek Esther postdates 3 Maccabees.3 Yet a third viewpoint distinguishes between the Greek translation of the MT and the Greek Additions to Esther, dating 3 Maccabees earlier than the Greek Additions, in whole, or in part.4 Almost every introduction to 3 Maccabees addresses this question,5 as do introductions or commentaries to the Greek Additions to Esther.6

Taking as its starting point the many thematic-structural parallels noted in the scholarly treatments of this issue, in the first part of the discussion I argue that the comparative methodology identifying parallels between the texts fails to establish direct literary dependence between these two works. In the second part I suggest that the application of philological-linguistic methodology makes a decisive contribution to this question. The unique linguistic, as opposed to the thematicstructural, parallels between the texts allow determination, in my opinion, of direct literary dependence: in this instance, between two units from the Greek Additions to Esther and 3 Maccabees.


The oft-cited correspondences between Esther and 3 Maccabees relate primarily to thematic and structural features. Some of these sweeping parallels-their similar story lines, for example-can even be considered striking: in both works, the king promulgates an edict to destroy the Jews, which is then rescinded; the Jews are saved and a holiday established to commemorate their rescue. Another fundamental aspect shared by these stories of rescue is that they take place in a Diaspora setting.

But scholars identify other, more specific affinities. These include many feasts;7 a Jew foiling a plot to assassinate the king;8 a false accusation regarding Jewish lack of loyalty to the state;9 and ascription of responsibility for the unfortunate episode of persecution of the Jews not to the king himself but to royal officials.10 A further corresponding detail relates to the identical number of people reportedly killed: in Esther the Jews of Shushan kill three hundred of their enemies on the second day (9:15); in 3 Maccabees the rescued Jews kill three hundred renegades whom they encounter on their way home (7:14-15).11

Other parallels have been suggested. Esther distinguishes between Shushan and the other provinces under Ahasuerus's rule (9:15-18), and 3 Maccabees differentiates between the Jews of Alexandria, at first not included in the death edict, and the remaining Jews of Egypt, who were decreed to destruction from the start (4:12-13).12 Female characters also figure in both: in Esther the royal female character plays a focal role in the story; it is she who is responsible for saving the Jews. In 3 Maccabees Arsinoë, the king's wife, plays a central role at the battle of Raphia; it is largely due to her intervention that the Ptolemies achieve victory in this battle (1:4-5).13

Various studies go on to identify additional parallels between the two works. One concerns the king's sleep. Esther states: "that night, sleep deserted the king" (6:1); in 3 Maccabees God sends Philopator sweet and deep sleep (5:11-12) to ensure that he would miss the hour designated for executing the Jews. Note that the LXX of Estiier attributes the king's sleeplessness to divine intervention: "That night the Lord took sleep from the king" (6:1); accordingly, in both works God saves the Jews by manipulating the king's sleep. …

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