A Letter to the Jews in Egypt
1“From the Jews of Jerusalem and Judea to those in Egypt, warm greetings.
2“May God be good to you and keep the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his faithful servants. 3May he fill each of you with the desire to worship him and to do his will eagerly with all your heart and soul. 4May he enable you to understand his Law and his commands. May he give you peace, 5answer your prayers, forgive your sins, and never abandon you in times of trouble. 6Here in Judea we are now praying for you.
7“In the year 169,#1.7 the year 169: This corresponds to 143 bc. when Demetrius the Second was king of Syria, we wrote to tell you about the persecution and the hard times that came upon us in the years after Jason revolted against authority in the Holy Land. 8Jason and his men set fire to the Temple gates and slaughtered innocent people. Then we prayed to the Lord and he answered our prayers. So we sacrificed animals, gave offerings of grain, lit the lamps in the Temple, and set out the sacred loaves. 9This is why we urge you to celebrate in the month of Kislev a festival similar to the Festival of Shelters. Written in the year 188.”#1.9 the year 188: This corresponds to 124 bc.
A letter to Aristobulus
The Death of King Antiochus
10“From the Jews of Jerusalem and Judea, the Jewish Senate, and Judas, to Aristobulus, a descendant of priests and the teacher of King Ptolemy, and to the Jews in Egypt, greetings and good health.
11“We thank God because he saved us from great danger. We were like men ready to fight against a king, 12but God drove the enemy from our holy city. 13#1 Macc 6.1–42 Macc 9.1–10When King Antiochus arrived in Persia, his army seemed impossible to defeat, but they were cut to pieces in the temple of the goddess Nanea by an act of treachery on the part of her priests. 14King Antiochus had gone to the temple with some of his most trusted advisers, so that he might marry the goddess and then take away most of the temple treasures as a wedding gift. 15After the priests had laid out the treasure, he and a few of his men went into the temple to collect it. But the priests closed the doors behind him 16and stoned him and his men from trapdoors hidden in the ceiling. Then they cut up the bodies and threw the heads to the people outside. 17Praise God for punishing those evil men! Praise him for everything!
Fire Consumes Nehemiah's Sacrifice
18“On the 25th day of the month of Kislev we will celebrate the Festival of Rededication just as we celebrate the Festival of Shelters. We thought it important to remind you of this, so that you too may celebrate this festival. In this way you will remember how fire appeared when Nehemiah offered sacrifices after he had rebuilt the Temple and the altar. 19At the time when our ancestors were being taken to exile in Persia, a few devout priests took some fire from the altar and secretly hid it in the bottom of a dry cistern. They hid the fire so well that no one ever discovered it. 20Years later, when it pleased God, the Persian emperor sent Nehemiah back to Jerusalem, and Nehemiah told the descendants of those priests to find the fire. They reported to us that they had found no fire but only some oily liquid. Nehemiah then told them to scoop some up and bring it to him. 21When everything for the sacrifice had been placed on the altar, he told the priests to pour the liquid over both the wood and the sacrifice. 22After this was done and some time had passed, the sun appeared from behind the clouds, and suddenly everything on the altar burst into flames. Everyone looked on in amazement. 23Then, while the fire was consuming the sacrifice, Jonathan the High Priest led the people in prayer, and Nehemiah and all the people responded.
24“Nehemiah's prayer went something like this: ‘Lord God, Creator of all things, you are awesome and strong, yet merciful and just. You alone are king. No one but you is kind; 25no one but you is gracious and just. You are almighty and eternal, for ever ready to rescue Israel from trouble. You chose our ancestors to be your own special people. 26Accept this sacrifice which we offer on behalf of all Israel; protect your chosen people and make us holy. 27Free those who are slaves in foreign lands and gather together our scattered people. Have mercy on our people, who are ill-treated and despised, so that all other nations will know that you are our God. 28Punish the brutal and arrogant people who have oppressed us, 29and then establish your people in your holy land, as Moses said you would.’
The Persian Emperor Hears about the Fire
30“Then the priests sang hymns. 31After the sacrifices had been consumed, Nehemiah gave orders for the rest of the liquid to be poured over some large stones. 32Immediately a fire blazed up, but it was extinguished by a flame from the fire on the altar.
33“News of what had happened spread everywhere. The Persian emperor heard that a liquid had been found in the place where the priests had hidden the altar fire, just before they were taken into exile. He also heard that Nehemiah and his friends had used this liquid to burn the sacrifice on the altar. 34When the emperor investigated the matter and found out that this was true, he had the area fenced off and made into a shrine. 35It became a substantial source of income for him, and he used the money for gifts to anyone who was in his good favour. 36Nehemiah and his friends called the liquid nephthar, which means ‘purification,’ but most people call it ‘naphtha.’