The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Second Book of Machabees
Time was, the holy city was a home of content; ever the laws of it were well kept; such a high priest they had, Onias, a devout man, and one that hated evil.
In those days, king and chieftain held the place much in reverence, and with rich gifts endowed the temple;
did not Seleucus, king of Asia, defray all the cost of maintaining its sacrifices?
Yet one citizen there was, Simon the Benjamite, the temple governor, that had lawless schemes afoot, do the high priest what he would to gainsay him.
And at last, when overcome Onias he might not, what did he? To Apollonius he betook himself, the son of Tharseas, that was then in charge of Coelesyria and Phoenice,
and gave him great news indeed; here was the treasury at Jerusalem stocked with treasures innumerable, here was vast public wealth, unclaimed by the needs of the altar, and nothing prevented but it should fall into the king’s hands.
No sooner did Apollonius find himself in the royal presence than he told the story of the rumoured treasure; and at that, the king sent for Heliodorus, that had charge of his affairs, and despatched him with orders to fetch the said money away.
This Heliodorus set out on his journey without more ado, under colour of making a progress through the towns of Coelesyria and Phoenice, but with the king’s business still in mind.
And when he reached Jerusalem, and there received a gracious welcome from the high priest, he made no secret of the information he possessed, or of his errand, and he would know the truth about these moneys.
A plain account the high priest gave him; some were moneys deposited on trust, for the maintenance of widows and orphans;
there were some, too, belonging to Hyrcanus son of Tobias, a man of repute. The information was maliciously laid, nor did the whole sum amount to more than four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold.
Men had reposed their confidence in a city and a temple renowned throughout the world, for the high opinion they had of its sanctity; and should he play them false? It was not to be thought of.
But Heliodorus stood upon the terms of his commission; delivered to the king the money must be, there was no other way of it.
So the appointed day came, when he would visit the temple and take order in the matter; what a stir there was then in the city!
Priests, in their sacred vesture, cast themselves down before the altar, and cried out upon heaven; would not he, whose law enjoined safe-keeping, keep property safe for its rightful owners?
And for the high priest himself, the very aspect of him was heart-rending; such a change of look and colour betrayed his inward feelings;
grief and horror were stamped on his features, and to all that saw him he seemed a broken man.
Folk streamed out of their houses in droves, to make public intercession over the affront that should be put on the holy place;
sackcloth about their waists, the women thronged the streets, and maids that might not go abroad must yet run to the housetops, or peer out at windows, to see Onias pass.
Heavenward they raised their hands, each one of them, in prayer;
and pity it was to see how common folk about him were sharing the high priest’s agony of suspense.
Here, then, was a whole city praying Almighty God, no loss might befall the men who had trusted them;
and here was Heliodorus carrying out his design, already arrived at the treasury with his body-guard in attendance.
All at once the spirit of God, the omnipotent, gave signal proof of its presence; daunted by the divine power they trembled and stood irresolute, these ministers of wrong.
What saw they? A horse, royally caparisoned, that charged upon Heliodorus and struck him down with its fore-feet; terrible of aspect its rider was, and his armour seemed all of gold.
Two other warriors they saw, how strong of limb, how dazzling of mien, how bravely clad! These stood about Heliodorus and fell to scourging him, this side and that, blow after blow, without respite.
With the suddenness of his fall to the ground, darkness had closed about him; hastily they caught him up and carried him out in his litter;
a helpless burden now, that entered yonder treasury with such a rabble of tipstaves and halberdiers! Here was proof of God’s power most manifest.
There he lay, by heaven’s decree speechless and beyond hope of recovery;
and all around men were praising the Lord, for thus vindicating the honour of his sanctuary. In the temple, where all had been anxiety and turmoil until heaven showed its almighty power, all was rejoicing and contentment now.
It was not long before friends of Heliodorus were entreating Onias to call down mercy from the most High, on one that was now at death’s door.
This was anxious news for the high priest; what if the king should suspect the Jews of foul play? Offer sacrifice he did for the man’s recovery, and with good effect.
He was yet at his prayers, when those two warriors, in the same brave attire, stood by Heliodorus again; Thanks thou owest, they said, to the high priest Onias; at his instance, the Lord grants thee life;
God’s scourge thou hast felt, God’s wondrous power be ever on thy lips. And with that, they were seen no more.
Be sure this Heliodorus offered God sacrifice; ay, and made vows a many for his preservation, and thanked Onias besides; then he marched his army back to the king.
Everywhere he testified how great a God was this, what strange things his own eyes had witnessed;
and when the king himself asked what manner of emissary he should next send to Jerusalem,
Why, said he, some enemy of thine, some rebel that plots against the kingdom. Escape he with his life, I warrant he will come back to thee soundly beaten. Past doubt, there is some divine influence haunts yonder place;
watch and ward he keeps over it, that has his dwelling in heaven, to be the plague and the undoing of all who come that way upon an errand of mischief.
Such is the tale of Heliodorus, and of the treasury’s preserving.
The Holy Bible