Ptolemy abruptly forgets his anger with the Jews and honours them with various immunities and a banquet, with several dates being established as commemorative festivals. The Jews request and receive permission to return home and to kill all the Jews who chose to abandon their faith in order to be spared. The book includes a letter, ostensibly by Ptolemy, to this effect. Finally, the Jews return home.

Critics agree that the author of this book was an Alexandrian Jew who wrote in Greek.

Although some parts of the story, such as the names of the Jews taking up all the paper in Egypt, are clearly fictional, parts of the story cannot be definitively proven or disproven and many scholars are only willing to accept the first section (which tells of the actions of Ptolemy Philopator) as possibly having an historical basis. Josephus notes that many (but certainly not all) Jews were put to death in Alexandria under the reign of Ptolemy VIII Physcon (146–117 BC) due to their support for Cleopatra II, and this execution was indeed carried out by intoxicated elephants. This may be the historical center of the relation in 3 Maccabees and the author has transferred it to an earlier time period and added an ahistorical connection to Jerusalem if this theory is correct.