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What are the books of 3 and 4 Maccabees?

3 and 4 Maccabees

The books of 3 and 4 Maccabees are ancient Jewish writings included in various lists of the Orthodox Church canon. The canon of Orthodox deuterocanonical books and the Armenian Bible list 3 Maccabees, while 4 Maccabees is listed in the canon of the Georgian Orthodox Bible.

The book of 3 Maccabees tells the story of persecution of the Jews under Ptolemy IV Philopator (222–205 BC) prior to the Maccabean uprising. Various scholars have dated the writing of 3 Maccabees as sometime between 100 BC and AD 30, though the exact date and author are uncertain. In contrast with its title, the book does not describe the actions of the Maccabees.

The book of 4 Maccabees is a philosophic discourse extoling the supremacy of pious reason over passion. After the prologue, the first section of 4 Maccabees sets forth the philosophical thesis, and the second section illustrates the points made using examples drawn from the Maccabees (principally, the martyrdom of Eleazer and the Maccabean youths) under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

The early church historian Eusebius attributed 4 Maccabees to the Jewish historian Josephus. However, many critics have since disputed Josephus’ authorship, though scholars generally agree 4 Maccabees was written before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

Much more well-known than 3 and 4 Maccabees are 1 and 2 Maccabees. There is also a 5 Maccabees. The books of 1 and 2 Maccabees are included in the deuterocanonical books used by the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Anglican Church. The book of 5 Maccabees is also known as the Arabic 2 Maccabees and was written much later in history.

The writers of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, placed the books of the Maccabees (though not 5 Maccabees, which was written much later) in the category of “useful writings” rather than inspired Scripture. Neither 3 Maccabees nor 4 Maccabees is included among the 66 books of the Bible. Though 3 and 4 Maccabees may include some useful historical information, they should not be considered inspired writings from God alongside Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16–17).

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What are the books of 3 and 4 Maccabees?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022