The battle of Raphia.
Raphia was in Palestine, near Gaza, and was the scene of a battle between Ptolemy IV Philopator and Antiochus III (the Great) in
217 BCE. The Greek historian Polybius reports a plot to assassinate Ptolemy, but says nothing of Dositheus. The name Dositheus is a Greek equivalent of Nathaniel (both meaning “God has provided”), and is a typically Jewish name. The name occurs in
a papyrus from around this time as that of a priest of the cult of Alexander, a very high position in Hellenistic
Egypt. The role of Dositheus here is very like that of Mordecai in Esth 2.21–23
. It would seem that the author took a well-known Jewish name of this era and gave him a role in the story of Philopator similar
to that of Mordecai in the story of Esther. The abruptness of this narrative
suggests that the author adapted it from a historical source. It shows the loyalty of the Jews to the king. It is ironic,
however, that an act of loyalty sets in motion the chain of events that leads to persecution.
In the Persian and Hellenistic
periods the God of the Jews is often venerated by gentiles
as the supreme God, or God Most High. The Jewish historian Josephus claims that Alexander the Great similarly visited Jerusalem and offered sacrifice.
The king's desire to enter the sanctuary arises from his interest in architecture. Heliodorus, in 2 Macc 3
, wanted to seize the temple treasure. The Roman general Pompey actually entered the holy of holies in 63 BCE.
Only the high priest was allowed to enter; see Ex 30.10; Heb 9.7
The reaction of the priests is similar in 2 Macc 3
. Similar incidents are reported by Josephus from the first century CE, when Pilate introduced standards into Jerusalem and when Caligula ordered the erection of his statue in the Temple.
On the confinement of virgins, see 2 Macc 3.19
The question of taking up arms is raised only to show the restraint of the Jewish elders. In fact, such a division of opinion was not unusual in the various
crises that threatened the Jewish community.
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