Heliodorus’ Arrival in Jerusalem. 1While the holy city lived in perfect peace and the laws were strictly observed because of the piety of the high priest Onias* and his hatred of evil,a 2the kings themselves honored the place and glorified the temple with the most magnificent gifts. 3Thus Seleucus,* king of Asia, defrayed from his own revenues all the expenses necessary for the liturgy of sacrifice.
4But a certain Simon, of the priestly clan of Bilgah,* who had been appointed superintendent of the temple, had a quarrel with the high priest about the administration of the city market.b 5Since he could not prevail against Onias, he went to Apollonius of Tarsus, who at that time was governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, 6and reported to him that the treasury in Jerusalem was full of such untold riches that the sum total of the assets was past counting and that since they did not belong to the account of the sacrifices, it would be possible for them to fall under the authority of the king.
7When Apollonius had an audience with the king, he informed him about the riches that had been reported to him. The king chose his chief minister Heliodorus and sent him with instructions to seize those riches. 8So Heliodorus immediately set out on his journey, ostensibly to visit the cities of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, but in reality to carry out the king’s purpose.
9When he arrived in Jerusalem and had been graciously received by the high priest of the city, he told him about the information that had been given, and explained the reason for his presence, and he inquired if these things were really true. 10The high priest explained that there were deposits for widows and orphans,c 11and some was the property of Hyrcanus, son of Tobias,* a man who occupied a very high position. Contrary to the misrepresentations of the impious Simon, the total amounted only to four hundred talents of silver and two hundred of gold. 12It was utterly unthinkable to defraud those who had placed their trust in the sanctity of the place and in the sacred inviolability of a temple venerated all over the world.
Heliodorus’ Plan to Rob the Temple. 13But Heliodorus, because of the orders he had from the king, said that in any case this money must be confiscated for the royal treasury. 14So on the day he had set he went in to take an inventory of the funds. There was no little anguish throughout the city. 15Priests prostrated themselves before the altar in their priestly robes, and called toward heaven for the one who had given the law about deposits to keep the deposits safe for those who had made them.d 16Whoever saw the appearance of the high priest was pierced to the heart, for the changed complexion of his face revealed his mental anguish. 17The terror and bodily trembling that had come over the man clearly showed those who saw him the pain that lodged in his heart. 18People rushed out of their houses and crowded together making common supplication, because the place was in danger of being profaned. 19Women, girded with sackcloth below their breasts, filled the streets. Young women secluded indoors all ran, some to the gates, some to the walls, others peered through the windows— 20all of them with hands raised toward heaven, making supplication. 21It was pitiful to see the populace prostrate everywhere and the high priest full of dread and anguish. 22While they were imploring the almighty Lord to keep the deposits safe and secure for those who had placed them in trust, 23Heliodorus went on with his plan.
God Protects the Temple. 24But just as Heliodorus was arriving at the treasury with his bodyguards, the Lord of spirits and all authority produced an apparition so great that those who had been bold enough to accompany Heliodorus were panic-stricken at God’s power and fainted away in terror. 25There appeared to them a richly caparisoned horse, mounted by a fearsome rider. Charging furiously, the horse attacked Heliodorus with its front hooves. The rider was seen wearing golden armor. 26Then two other young men, remarkably strong, strikingly handsome, and splendidly attired, appeared before him. Standing on each side of him, they flogged him unceasingly, inflicting innumerable blows. 27Suddenly he fell to the ground, enveloped in great darkness. His men picked him up and laid him on a stretcher. 28They carried away helpless the man who a moment before had entered that treasury under arms with a great retinue and his whole bodyguard. They clearly recognized the sovereign power of God.
The Restoration and Testimony of Heliodorus. 29As Heliodorus lay speechless because of God’s action and deprived of any hope of recovery, 30the people praised the Lord who had marvelously glorified his own place; and the temple, charged so shortly before with fear and commotion, was filled with joy and gladness, now that the almighty Lord had appeared. 31Quickly some of the companions of Heliodorus begged Onias to call upon the Most High to spare the life of one who was about to breathe his last. 32The high priest, suspecting that the king might think that Heliodorus had suffered some foul play at the hands of the Jews, offered a sacrifice for the man’s recovery. 33While the high priest was offering the sacrifice of atonement, the same young men dressed in the same clothing again appeared and stood before Heliodorus. “Be very grateful to the high priest Onias,” they told him. “It is for his sake that the Lord has spared your life. 34Since you have been scourged by Heaven, proclaim to all God’s great power.” When they had said this, they disappeared.
35After Heliodorus had offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made most solemn vows to the one who had spared his life, he bade Onias farewell, and returned with his soldiers to the king. 36Before all he gave witness to the deeds of the most high God that he had seen with his own eyes. 37When the king asked Heliodorus what sort of person would be suitable to be sent to Jerusalem next, he answered: 38“If you have an enemy or one who is plotting against the government, send him there, and you will get him back with a flogging, if indeed he survives at all; for there is certainly some divine power about the place. 39The one whose dwelling is in heaven watches over that place and protects it, and strikes down and destroys those who come to harm it.” 40This was how the matter concerning Heliodorus and the preservation of the treasury turned out.
* [3:1–40] This legendary episode about Heliodorus is recounted here for the purpose of stressing the inviolability of the Temple of Jerusalem; its later profanation was interpreted as owing to the sins of the people; cf. 5:17–18.
* [3:1] Onias: Onias III was high priest from 196 to 175 B.C. and died in 171 B.C. He was the son of Simon, whose praises are sung in Sir 50:1–21.
* [3:3] Seleucus: Seleucus IV Philopator, who reigned from 187 to 175 B.C.
* [3:4] Bilgah: a priestly family mentioned in 1 Chr 24:14; Neh 12:5, 18.
* [3:11] Hyrcanus, son of Tobias: a member of the Tobiad family of Transjordan (Neh 2:10; 6:17–19; 13:4–8). Hyrcanus’ father was Joseph, whose mother was the sister of the high priest Onias II.