“Like Phalaris in Every Way”: 3 Maccabees and Its Portrait of Tyranny

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism

Abstract

This article examines 3 Maccabees’ use of the sixth-century BCE tyrant Phalaris in its portrayal of its antagonist, King Ptolemy IV Philopator. Twice in the narrative (3 Macc 5:20, 42) the author explicitly compares Philopator to Phalaris. The author does not describe the earlier figure but assumes that the audience shares knowledge of his reputation and legendary deeds. After tracing the ancient literary evidence of Phalaris’ legacy, the article then argues that 3 Maccabees incorporates that legacy in more implicit ways in the narrative. This contributes to the author’s overall portrait of Philopator’s tyranny. It also helps explain some of the features of the text—specifically, the choice of Philopator’s execution device and the peril of newborn infants found in the narrative.

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