Rounding up the Jews

Wherever this decree was read, a feast was arranged for the Gentiles at public expense with shouts of joy. Their deep, long-standing hatred was now openly being revealed. But among the Jews, there were constant grief, lament, and crying. Everywhere their hearts were on fire as they groaned and bewailed the unexpected destruction that the king had suddenly inflicted on them. What district or city, or what inhabited place of any kind, or what streets weren’t filled with grieving and weeping for them? They were being sent off together by the generals in every city in a merciless and cruel manner. At the sight of these unusual punishments, even some of the Jews’ enemies wept over their most miserable expulsion, for they saw their pitiable state and reflected on the uncertain outcome of life. A multitude of gray-haired, elderly men were being led away, bent over with age, their feet plodding along under the distress of a forced, swift march, with no consideration given to their age. Young women, who had just entered the bridal bedroom for the sharing of life, exchanged joy for weeping and sprinkled dust on their hair that was still wet with perfume. They were led away with their heads bare and began to sing a funeral song together in place of a wedding song, as they were roughly handled by the cruel treatment of a foreign nation.[a] These captives were violently dragged away in public view to be put on board ship. Their husbands, in the prime of their youth, had ropes tied around their necks instead of festive garlands. They spent the remaining days of their wedding festivities weeping rather than celebrating and enjoying youthful amusements, seeing the grave already yawning at their feet. They were driven like animals, constrained by the power of iron chains. Some were fastened by the neck to the ship’s benches; some were secured by their feet with unbreakable shackles. 10 Moreover, they were plunged into total darkness due to thick planks positioned above them so that they would receive the treatment due traitors throughout the entire voyage.

11 When these people had been brought to the place called Schedia, and the voyage was finished, just as the king had decreed, Ptolemy ordered the captives to be encamped on the outskirts of the city in the racecourse. This stadium had been built with an immense perimeter and was very well placed for providing a public spectacle to all those returning home to the city and to those setting out from the city into the country for a trip abroad. The captives had no communication at all with the king’s forces, nor were they considered worthy of the protection of the city wall. 12 When this was done, the king heard that their fellow Jews were frequently going forth from the city in secret to express sympathy for the shameful misery of their kindred. 13 He became very angry and gave an order to deal with these people in exactly the same thorough fashion as the others, not leaving out any part of their punishment. 14 The entire tribe was to be registered by name—no longer for the service of hard labor described earlier, but to be tortured with the prescribed punishments and, in the end, to be killed within a single day. 15 So the process of drawing up a list of these people was carried out with cruel eagerness and intense diligence from the rising of the sun until its setting, coming to an end, though still incomplete, after forty days.

16 Filled with constant joy, the king organized banquets at the sites of all his idols. With a mind that had strayed far from the truth and with a polluted mouth, he praised objects that were deaf and unable to speak or give aid, but he spoke improper words against the supreme God. 17 At the end of the forty days, the clerks reported to the king that they were no longer able to complete the task of drawing up a list of all the Jews because of their countless number. 18 Though the majority were still in the country, some still in their homes, and some even on-site,[b] the job had become impossible for all the generals in Egypt. 19 After the king had threatened the clerks severely, claiming that they had accepted money to arrange a plan of escape, he came to be convinced 20 when they explained and offered proof that both the paper supply and the reed pens that they were using had already run out. 21 But this happened by the invincible providence of the one who was giving the Jews help from heaven.


  1. 3 Maccabees 4:6 Some manuscripts read as though torn asunder by the lion’s whelps of a foreign nation.
  2. 3 Maccabees 4:18 Other manuscripts have on the way.