The Holy See
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2002 11 11
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Chapter 3


1 2 While 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,


the kings themselves honored the Place and glorified the temple with the most magnificent gifts.


3 Thus Seleucus, king of Asia, defrayed from his own revenues all the expenses necessary for the sacrificial services.


4 But a certain Simon, of the priestly course of Bilgah, who had been appointed superintendent of the temple, had a quarrel with the high priest about the supervision of the city market.


Since he could not prevail against Onias, he went to Apollonius of Tarsus, who at that time was governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia,


and reported to him that the treasury in Jerusalem was so full of untold riches that the total sum of money was incalculable and out of all proportion to the cost of the sacrifices, and that it would be possible to bring it all under the control of the king.


When Apollonius had an audience with the king, he informed him about the riches that had been reported to him. The king chose his minister Heliodorus and sent him with instructions to expropriate the aforesaid wealth.


So 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.


When 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 asked if these things were really true.


The high priest explained that part of the money was a care fund for widows and orphans,


5 and a part was the property of Hyrcanus, son of Tobias, a man who occupied a very high position. Contrary to the calumnies of the impious Simon, the total amounted to four hundred talents of silver and two hundred of gold.


He added that it 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.


But because of the orders he had from the king, Heliodorus said that in any case the money must be confiscated for the royal treasury.


So on the day he had set he went in to take an inventory of the funds. There was great distress throughout the city.


Priests prostrated themselves in their priestly robes before the altar, and loudly begged him in heaven who had given the law about deposits to keep the deposits safe for those who had made them.


Whoever saw the appearance of the high priest was pierced to the heart, for the changed color of his face manifested the anguish of his soul.


The terror and bodily trembling that had come over the man clearly showed those who saw him the pain that lodged in his heart.


People rushed out of their houses in crowds to make public supplication, because the Place was in danger of being profaned.


Women, girded with sackcloth below their breasts, filled the streets; maidens secluded indoors ran together, some to the gates, some to the walls, others peered through the windows,


all of them with hands raised toward heaven, making supplication.


It was pitiful to see the populace variously prostrated in prayer and the high priest full of dread and anguish.


While they were imploring the almighty Lord to keep the deposits safe and secure for those who had placed them in trust,


Heliodorus went on with his plan.


But just as he was approaching the treasury with his bodyguards, the Lord of spirits who holds all power manifested himself in so striking a way that those who had been bold enough to follow Heliodorus were panic-stricken at God's power and fainted away in terror.


There appeared to them a richly caparisoned horse, mounted by a dreadful rider. Charging furiously, the horse attacked Heliodorus with its front hoofs. The rider was seen to be wearing golden armor.


Then two other young men, remarkably strong, strikingly beautiful, and splendidly attired, appeared before him. Standing on each side of him, they flogged him unceasingly until they had given him innumerable blows.


Suddenly he fell to the ground, enveloped in great darkness. Men picked him up and laid him on a stretcher.


The man who a moment before had entered that treasury with a great retinue and his whole bodyguard was carried away helpless, having clearly experienced the sovereign power of God.


While he lay speechless and deprived of all hope of aid, due to an act of God's power,


the Jews praised the Lord who had marvelously glorified his holy Place; and the temple, charged so shortly before with fear and commotion, was filled with joy and gladness, now that the almighty Lord had manifested himself.


Soon some of the companions of Heliodorus begged Onias to invoke the Most High, praying that the life of the man who was about to expire might be spared.


Fearing that the king might think that Heliodorus had suffered some foul play at the hands of the Jews, the high priest offered a sacrifice for the man's recovery.


While the high priest was offering the sacrifice of atonement, the same young men 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.


Since you have been scourged by Heaven, proclaim to all men the majesty of God's power." When they had said this, they disappeared.


After Heliodorus had offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made most solemn vows to him who had spared his life, he bade Onias farewell, and returned with his soldiers to the king.


Before all men he gave witness to the deeds of the most high God that he had seen with his own eyes.


When the king asked Heliodorus who would be a suitable man to be sent to Jerusalem next, he answered:


"If you have an enemy or a plotter against the government, send him there, and you will receive him back well-flogged, if indeed he survives at all; for there is certainly some special divine power about the Place.


He who has his dwelling in heaven watches over that Place and protects it, and he strikes down and destroys those who come to harm it."


This was how the matter concerning Heliodorus and the preservation of the treasury turned out.



1 [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 allowed by God because of the people's sins; cf 2 Macc 5:17-18.

2 [1] The high priest Onias: Onias III, who 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 Sirach 50:1-21.

3 [3] Seleucus: Seleucus IV Philopator, who reigned from 187 to 175 B.C.

4 [4] Bilgah: a priestly family mentioned in Nehemiah 12:5, 18.

5 [11] Son of Tobias: a member of the Tobiad family of Transjordan ( Nehemiah 2:10; 6:17-19; 13:4-8). Hyrcanus' father was Joseph, whose mother was the sister of the high priest Onias II.

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