The Death of the Maccabees
from Fourth Book of Maccabees
The Fourth Book of Maccabees was included in many Greek
Bible manuscripts. It is not considered canonical by the Roman
Catholic Church, nor is it part of the "Apocrypha" in
the Anglican tradition. In Greek Orthodox Bibles it is included
as a an appendix. At one time, but no longer it was assigned to
Josephus and called On the Supremacy of Reason. For the
most part it consists of an account of Judaism in terms of Stoicism.
It dates from some time between 63BCE and 70CE. [see New RSV/Oxford
Anotated Bible, AP 341.]
Chapter 5 and after constitute an account of the martyrdom of
the Maccabees [ see the shorter account in 2 Maccabees 16:12-7:42], with a particular discussion of the attitude of the
mother of the Maccabees [celebrated in Greek churches as St. Solomnis]
in chapters 15-17. This account prefigures in many way later tropes
in Christian hagiography:
- The description of tortures [e.g. in 8:12-13, 10:5-8, 11:17-19]
- The admixture of description and encomium
- The use of the metaphor of the arena, with prizes from God
awaiting [e.g. 9:7-8, and especially 17:11-17]
- The importance of control over the emotions.
The Text that follows is from the old RSV version. I have given
the whole text, but with reduced emphasis for chapters 1-4.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 1
 The subject that I am about to discuss
is most philosophical, that is, whether devout reason is sovereign
over the emotions. So it is right for me to advise you to pay
earnest attention to philosophy.
 For the subject is essential to everyone who is seeking
knowledge, and in addition it includes the praise of the highest
virtue -- I mean, of course, rational judgment.
 If, then, it is evident that reason rules over those
emotions that hinder self-control, namely, gluttony and lust,
 it is also clear that it masters the emotions that
hinder one from justice, such as malice, and those that stand
in the way of courage, namely anger, fear, and pain.
 Some might perhaps ask, "If reason rules the emotions,
why is it not sovereign over forgetfulness and ignorance?"
Their attempt at argument is ridiculous!
 For reason does not rule its own emotions, but those
that are opposed to justice, courage, and self-control; and it
is not for the purpose of destroying them, but so that one may
not give way to them.
I could prove to you from many and various examples
that reason is dominant over the emotions,
 but I can demonstrate it best from the noble bravery
of those who died for the sake of virtue, Eleazar and the seven
brothers and their mother.
 All of these, by despising sufferings that bring death,
demonstrated that reason controls the emotions.
 On this anniversary it is fitting for me to praise
for their virtues those who, with their mother, died for the sake
of nobility and goodness, but I would also call them blessed for
the honor in which they are held.
 For all people, even their torturers, marveled at
their courage and endurance, and they became the cause of the
downfall of tyranny over their nation. By their endurance they
conquered the tyrant, and thus their native land was purified
 I shall shortly have an opportunity to speak of this;
but, as my custom is, I shall begin by stating my main principle,
and then I shall turn to their story, giving glory to the all-wise
Our inquiry, accordingly, is whether reason is sovereign
over the emotions.
 We shall decide just what reason is and what emotion
is, how many kinds of emotions there are, and whether reason rules
over all these.
 Now reason is the mind that with sound logic prefers
the life of wisdom.
 Wisdom, next, is the knowledge of divine and human
matters and the causes of these.
 This, in turn, is education in the law, by which we
learn divine matters reverently and human affairs to our advantage.
 Now the kinds of wisdom are rational judgment, justice,
courage, and self-control.
 Rational judgment is supreme over all of these, since
by means of it reason rules over the emotions.
 The two most comprehensive types of the emotions are
pleasure and pain; and each of these is by nature concerned with
both body and soul.
 The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences.
 Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows
 Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after.
 Anger, as a man will see if he reflects on this experience,
is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain.
 In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency,
which is the most complex of all the emotions.
 In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst
for honor, rivalry, and malice;
 in the body, indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and
Just as pleasure and pain are two plants growing
from the body and the soul, so there are many offshoots of these
 each of which the master cultivator, reason, weeds
and prunes and ties up and waters and thoroughly irrigates, and
so tames the jungle of habits and emotions.
 For reason is the guide of the virtues, but over the
emotions it is sovereign.
Observe now first of all that rational judgment is
sovereign over the emotions by virtue of the restraining power
 Self-control, then, is dominance over the desires.
 Some desires are mental, others are physical, and
reason obviously rules over both.
 Otherwise how is it that when we are attracted to
forbidden foods we abstain from the pleasure to be had from them?
Is it not because reason is able to rule over appetites? I for
one think so.
 Therefore when we crave seafood and fowl and animals
and all sorts of foods that are forbidden to us by the law, we
abstain because of domination by reason.
 For the emotions of the appetites are restrained,
checked by the temperate mind, and all the impulses of the body
are bridled by reason.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 2
And why is it amazing that the desires of the mind
for the enjoyment of beauty are rendered powerless?
 It is for this reason, certainly, that the temperate
Joseph is praised, because by mental effort he overcame sexual
 For when he was young and in his prime for intercourse,
by his reason he nullified the frenzy of the passions.
 Not only is reason proved to rule over the frenzied
urge of sexual desire, but also over every desire.
 Thus the law says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's
wife...or anything that is your neighbor's."
 In fact, since the law has told us not to covet, I
could prove to you all the more that reason is able to control
Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from
 Otherwise how could it be that someone who is habitually
a solitary gormandizer, a glutton, or even a drunkard can learn
a better way, unless reason is clearly lord of the emotions?
 Thus, as soon as a man adopts a way of life in accordance
with the law, even though he is a lover of money, he is forced
to act contrary to his natural ways and to lend without interest
to the needy and to cancel the debt when the seventh year arrives.
 If one is greedy, he is ruled by the law through his
reason so that he neither gleans his harvest nor gathers the last
grapes from the vineyard.
In all other matters we can recognize that reason
rules the emotions.
 For the law prevails even over affection for parents,
so that virtue is not abandoned for their sakes.
 It is superior to love for one's wife, so that one
rebukes her when she breaks the law.
 It takes precedence over love for children, so that
one punishes them for misdeeds.
 It is sovereign over the relationship of friends,
so that one rebukes friends when they act wickedly.
 Do not consider it paradoxical when reason, through
the law, can prevail even over enmity. The fruit trees of the
enemy are not cut down, but one preserves the property of enemies
from the destroyers and helps raise up what has fallen.
It is evident that reason rules even the more violent
emotions: lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, and
 For the temperate mind repels all these malicious
emotions, just as it repels anger -- for it is sovereign over
 When Moses was angry with Dathan and Abiram he did
nothing against them in anger, but controlled his anger by reason.
 For, as I have said, the temperate mind is able to
get the better of the emotions, to correct some, and to render
 Why else did Jacob, our most wise father, censure
the households of Simeon and Levi for their irrational slaughter
of the entire tribe of the Shechemites, saying, "Cursed be
 For if reason could not control anger, he would not
have spoken thus.
 Now when God fashioned man, he planted in him emotions
 but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the
senses as a sacred governor over them all.
 To the mind he gave the law; and one who lives subject
to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and
How is it then, one might say, that if reason is
master of the emotions, it does not control forgetfulness and
4 Maccabees; Chapter 3
 This notion is entirely ridiculous; for
it is evident that reason rules not over its own emotions, but
over those of the body.
 No one of us can eradicate that kind of desire, but
reason can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire.
 No one of us can eradicate anger from the mind, but
reason can help to deal with anger.
 No one of us can eradicate malice, but reason can fight
at our side so that we are not overcome by malice.
 For reason does not uproot the emotions but is their
Now this can be explained more clearly by the story
of King David's thirst.
 David had been attacking the Philistines all day long,
and together with the soldiers of his nation had slain many of
 Then when evening fell, he came, sweating and quite
exhausted, to the royal tent, around which the whole army of our
ancestors had encamped.
 Now all the rest were at supper,
 but the king was extremely thirsty, and although springs
were plentiful there, he could not satisfy his thirst from them.
 But a certain irrational desire for the water in the
enemy's territory tormented and inflamed him, undid and consumed
 When his guards complained bitterly because of the
king's craving, two staunch young soldiers, respecting the king's
desire, armed themselves fully, and taking a pitcher climbed over
the enemy's ramparts.
 Eluding the sentinels at the gates, they went searching
throughout the enemy camp
 and found the spring, and from it boldly brought the
king a drink.
 But David, although he was burning with thirst, considered
it an altogether fearful danger to his soul to drink what was
regarded as equivalent to blood.
 Therefore, opposing reason to desire, he poured out
the drink as an offering to God.
 For the temperate mind can conquer the drives of the
emotions and quench the flames of frenzied desires;
 it can overthrow bodily agonies even when they are
extreme, and by nobility of reason spurn all domination by the
The present occasion now invites us to a narrative
demonstration of temperate reason.
At a time when our fathers were enjoying profound
peace because of their observance of the law and were prospering,
so that even Seleucus Nicanor, king of Asia, had both appropriated
money to them for the temple service and recognized their commonwealth
 just at that time certain men attempted a revolution
against the public harmony and caused many and various disasters.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 4
Now there was a certain Simon, a political opponent
of the noble and good man, Onias, who then held the high priesthood
for life. When despite all manner of slander he was unable to
injure Onias in the eyes of the nation, he fled the country with
the purpose of betraying it.
 So he came to Apollonius, governor of Syria, Phoenicia,
and Cilicia, and said,
 "I have come here because I am loyal to the king's
government, to report that in the Jerusalem treasuries there are
deposited tens of thousands in private funds, which are not the
property of the temple but belong to King Seleucus."
 When Apollonius learned the details of these things,
he praised Simon for his service to the king and went up to Seleucus
to inform him of the rich treasure.
 On receiving authority to deal with this matter, he
proceeded quickly to our country accompanied by the accursed Simon
and a very strong military force.
 He said that he had come with the king's authority
to seize the private funds in the treasury.
 The people indignantly protested his words, considering
it outrageous that those who had committed deposits to the sacred
treasury should be deprived of them, and did all that they could
to prevent it.
 But, uttering threats, Apollonius went on to the temple.
 While the priests together with women and children
were imploring God in the temple to shield the holy place that
was being treated so contemptuously,
 and while Apollonius was going up with his armed forces
to seize the money, angels on horseback with lightning flashing
from their weapons appeared from heaven, instilling in them great
fear and trembling.
 Then Apollonius fell down half dead in the temple
area that was open to all, stretched out his hands toward heaven,
and with tears besought the Hebrews to pray for him and propitiate
the wrath of the heavenly army.
 For he said that he had committed a sin deserving
of death, and that if he were delivered he would praise the blessedness
of the holy place before all people.
 Moved by these words, Onias the high priest, although
otherwise he had scruples about doing so, prayed for him lest
King Seleucus suppose that Apollonius had been overcome by human
treachery and not by divine justice.
 So Apollonius, having been preserved beyond all expectations,
went away to report to the king what had happened to him.
When King Seleucus died, his son Antiochus Epiphanes
succeeded to the throne, an arrogant and terrible man,
 who removed Onias from the priesthood and appointed
Onias's brother Jason as high priest.
 Jason agreed that if the office were conferred upon
him he would pay the king three thousand six hundred and sixty
 So the king appointed him high priest and ruler of
 Jason changed the nation's way of life and altered
its form of government in complete violation of the law,
 so that not only was a gymnasium constructed at the
very citadel of our native land, but also the temple service was
 The divine justice was angered by these acts and caused
Antiochus himself to make war on them.
 For when he was warring against Ptolemy in Egypt,
he heard that a rumor of his death had spread and that the people
of Jerusalem had rejoiced greatly. He speedily marched against
 and after he had plundered them he issued a decree
that if any of them should be found observing the ancestral law
they should die.
 When, by means of his decrees, he had not been able
in any way to put an end to the people's observance of the law,
but saw that all his threats and punishments were being disregarded,
 even to the point that women, because they had circumcised
their sons, were thrown headlong from heights along with their
infants, though they had known beforehand that they would suffer
 when, then, his decrees were despised by the people,
he himself, through torture, tried to compel everyone in the nation
to eat defiling foods and to renounce Judaism.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 5
The tyrant Antiochus, sitting in state with his counselors on
a certain high place, and with his armed soldiers standing about
 ordered the guards to seize each and every Hebrew and
to compel them to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols.
 If any were not willing to eat defiling food, they
were to be broken on the wheel and killed.
 And when many persons had been rounded up, one man,
Eleazar by name, leader of the flock, was brought before the king.
He was a man of priestly family, learned in the law, advanced
in age, and known to many in the tyrant's court because of his
When Antiochus saw him he said,
 "Before I begin to torture you, old man, I would
advise you to save yourself by eating pork,
 for I respect your age and your gray hairs. Although
you have had them for so long a time, it does not seem to me that
you are a philosopher when you observe the religion of the Jews.
 Why, when nature has granted it to us, should you abhor
eating the very excellent meat of this animal?
 It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that
are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature.
 It seems to me that you will do something even more
senseless if, by holding a vain opinion concerning the truth,
you continue to despise me to your own hurt.
 Will you not awaken from your foolish philosophy,
dispel your futile reasonings, adopt a mind appropriate to your
years, philosophize according to the truth of what is beneficial,
 and have compassion on your old age by honoring my
 For consider this, that if there is some power watching
over this religion of yours, it will excuse you from any transgression
that arises out of compulsion."
When the tyrant urged him in this fashion to eat meat unlawfully,
Eleazar asked to have a word.
 When he had received permission to speak, he began
to address the people as follows:
 "We, O Antiochus, who have been persuaded to
govern our lives by the divine law, think that there is no compulsion
more powerful than our obedience to the law.
 Therefore we consider that we should not transgress
it in any respect.
 Even if, as you suppose, our law were not truly divine
and we had wrongly held it to be divine, not even so would it
be right for us to invalidate our reputation for piety.
 Therefore do not suppose that it would be a petty
sin if we were to eat defiling food;
 to transgress the law in matters either small or great
is of equal seriousness,
 for in either case the law is equally despised.
 You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it
 but it teaches us self-control, so that we master
all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so
that we endure any suffering willingly;
 it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings
we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper
reverence we worship the only real God.
"Therefore we do not eat defiling food; for since we believe
that the law was established by God, we know that in the nature
of things the Creator of the world in giving us the law has shown
sympathy toward us.
 He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable
for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would
be contrary to this.
 It would be tyrannical for you to compel us not only
to transgress the law, but also to eat in such a way that you
may deride us for eating defiling foods, which are most hateful
 But you shall have no such occasion to laugh at me,
 nor will I transgress the sacred oaths of my ancestors
concerning the keeping of the law,
 not even if you gouge out my eyes and burn my entrails.
 I am not so old and cowardly as not to be young in
reason on behalf of piety.
 Therefore get your torture wheels ready and fan the
fire more vehemently!
 I do not so pity my old age as to break the ancestral
law by my own act.
 I will not play false to you, O law that trained me,
nor will I renounce you, beloved self-control.
 I will not put you to shame, philosophical reason,
nor will I reject you, honored priesthood and knowledge of the
 You, O king, shall not stain the honorable mouth of
my old age, nor my long life lived lawfully.
 The fathers will receive me as pure, as one who does
not fear your violence even to death.
 You may tyrannize the ungodly, but you shall not dominate
my religious principles either by word or by deed."
4 Maccabees; Chapter 6
When Eleazar in this manner had made eloquent response to the
exhortations of the tyrant, the guards who were standing by dragged
him violently to the instruments of torture.
 First they stripped the old man, who remained adorned
with the gracefulness of his piety.
 And after they had tied his arms on each side they
 while a herald opposite him cried out, "Obey the
 But the courageous and noble man, as a true Eleazar,
was unmoved, as though being tortured in a dream;
 yet while the old man's eyes were raised to heaven,
his flesh was being torn by scourges, his blood flowing, and his
sides were being cut to pieces.
 And though he fell to the ground because his body could
not endure the agonies, he kept his reason upright and unswerving.
 One of the cruel guards rushed at him and began to
kick him in the side to make him get up again after he fell.
 But he bore the pains and scorned the punishment and
endured the tortures.
 And like a noble athlete the old man, while being
beaten, was victorious over his torturers;
 in fact, with his face bathed in sweat, and gasping
heavily for breath, he amazed even his torturers by his courageous
At that point, partly out of pity for his old age,
 partly out of sympathy from their acquaintance with
him, partly out of admiration for his endurance, some of the king's
retinue came to him and said,
 "Eleazar, why are you so irrationally destroying
yourself through these evil things?
 We will set before you some cooked meat; save yourself
by pretending to eat pork."
But Eleazar, as though more bitterly tormented by this counsel,
 "May we, the children of Abraham, never think
so basely that out of cowardice we feign a role unbecoming to
 For it would be irrational if we, who have lived in
accordance with truth to old age and have maintained in accordance
with law the reputation of such a life, should now change our
 become a pattern of impiety to the young, in becoming
an example of the eating of defiling food.
 It would be shameful if we should survive for a little
while and during that time be a laughing stock to all for our
 and if we should be despised by the tyrant as unmanly,
and not protect our divine law even to death.
 Therefore, O children of Abraham, die nobly for your
 And you, guards of the tyrant, why do you delay?"
When they saw that he was so courageous in the face of the afflictions,
and that he had not been changed by their compassion, the guards
brought him to the fire.
 There they burned him with maliciously contrived instruments,
threw him down, and poured stinking liquids into his nostrils.
 When he was now burned to his very bones and about
to expire, he lifted up his eyes to God and said,
 "You know, O God, that though I might have saved
myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law.
 Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment
suffice for them.
 Make my blood their purification, and take my life
in exchange for theirs."
 And after he said this, the holy man died nobly in
his tortures, and by reason he resisted even to the very tortures
of death for the sake of the law.
Admittedly, then, devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.
 For if the emotions had prevailed over reason, we
would have testified to their domination.
 But now that reason has conquered the emotions, we
properly attribute to it the power to govern.
 And it is right for us to acknowledge the dominance
of reason when it masters even external agonies. It would be ridiculous
to deny it.
 And I have proved not only that reason has mastered
agonies, but also that it masters pleasures and in no respect
yields to them.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 7
For like a most skilful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar
steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions,
 and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant
and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures,
 in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until
he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.
 No city besieged with many ingenious war machines has
ever held out as did that most holy man. Although his sacred life
was consumed by tortures and racks, he conquered the besiegers
with the shield of his devout reason.
 For in setting his mind firm like a jutting cliff,
our father Eleazar broke the maddening waves of the emotions.
 O priest, worthy of the priesthood, you neither defiled
your sacred teeth nor profaned your stomach, which had room only
for reverence and purity, by eating defiling foods.
 O man in harmony with the law and philosopher of divine
 Such should be those who are administrators of the
law, shielding it with their own blood and noble sweat in sufferings
even to death.
 You, father, strengthened our loyalty to the law through
your glorious endurance, and you did not abandon the holiness
which you praised, but by your deeds you made your words of divine
 O aged man, more powerful than tortures; O elder,
fiercer than fire; O supreme king over the passions, Eleazar!
 For just as our father Aaron, armed with the censer,
ran through the multitude of the people and conquered the fiery
 so the descendant of Aaron, Eleazar, though being
consumed by the fire, remained unmoved in his reason.
 Most amazing, indeed, though he was an old man, his
body no longer tense and firm, his muscles flabby, his sinews
feeble, he became young again
 in spirit through reason; and by reason like that
of Isaac he rendered the many-headed rack ineffective.
 O man of blessed age and of venerable gray hair and
of law-abiding life, whom the faithful seal of death has perfected!
If, therefore, because of piety an aged man despised tortures
even to death, most certainly devout reason is governor of the
 Some perhaps might say, "Not every one has full
command of his emotions, because not every one has prudent reason."
 But as many as attend to religion with a whole heart,
these alone are able to control the passions of the flesh,
 since they believe that they, like our patriarchs
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live in God.
 No contradiction therefore arises when some persons
appear to be dominated by their emotions because of the weakness
of their reason.
 What person who lives as a philosopher by the whole
rule of philosophy, and trusts in God,
 and knows that it is blessed to endure any suffering
for the sake of virtue, would not be able to overcome the emotions
 For only the wise and courageous man is lord of his
4 Maccabees; Chapter 8
For this is why even the very young, by following a philosophy
in accordance with devout reason, have prevailed over the most
painful instruments of torture.
 For when the tyrant was conspicuously defeated in his
first attempt, being unable to compel an aged man to eat defiling
foods, then in violent rage he commanded that others of the Hebrew
captives be brought, and that any who ate defiling food should
be freed after eating, but if any were to refuse, these should
be tortured even more cruelly.
When the tyrant had given these orders, seven brothers -- handsome,
modest, noble, and accomplished in every way -- were brought before
him along with their aged mother.
 When the tyrant saw them, grouped about their mother
as if in a chorus, he was pleased with them. And struck by their
appearance and nobility, he smiled at them, and summoned them
nearer and said,
 "Young men, I admire each and every one of you
in a kindly manner, and greatly respect the beauty and the number
of such brothers. Not only do I advise you not to display the
same madness as that of the old man who has just been tortured,
but I also exhort you to yield to me and enjoy my friendship.
 Just as I am able to punish those who disobey my orders,
so I can be a benefactor to those who obey me.
 Trust me, then, and you will have positions of authority
in my government if you will renounce the ancestral tradition
of your national life.
 And enjoy your youth by adopting the Greek way of life
and by changing your manner of living.
 But if by disobedience you rouse my anger, you will
compel me to destroy each and every one of you with dreadful punishments
 Therefore take pity on yourselves. Even I, your enemy,
have compassion for your youth and handsome appearance.
 Will you not consider this, that if you disobey, nothing
remains for you but to die on the rack?"
When he had said these things, he ordered the instruments of torture
to be brought forward so as to persuade them out of fear to eat
the defiling food.
 And when the guards had placed before them wheels
and joint-dislocators, rack and hooks and catapults and caldrons,
braziers and thumbscrews and iron claws and wedges and bellows,
the tyrant resumed speaking:
 "Be afraid, young fellows, and whatever justice
you revere will be merciful to you when you transgress under compulsion."
But when they had heard the inducements and saw the dreadful devices,
not only were they not afraid, but they also opposed the tyrant
with their own philosophy, and by their right reasoning nullified
 Let us consider, on the other hand, what arguments
might have been used if some of them had been cowardly and unmanly.
Would they not have been these?
 "O wretches that we are and so senseless! Since
the king has summoned and exhorted us to accept kind treatment
if we obey him,
 why do we take pleasure in vain resolves and venture
upon a disobedience that brings death?
 O men and brothers, should we not fear the instruments
of torture and consider the threats of torments, and give up this
vain opinion and this arrogance that threatens to destroy us?
 Let us take pity on our youth and have compassion
on our mother's age;
 and let us seriously consider that if we disobey we
 Also, divine justice will excuse us for fearing the
king when we are under compulsion.
 Why do we banish ourselves from this most pleasant
life and deprive ourselves of this delightful world?
 Let us not struggle against compulsion nor take hollow
pride in being put to the rack.
 Not even the law itself would arbitrarily slay us
for fearing the instruments of torture.
 Why does such contentiousness excite us and such a
fatal stubbornness please us, when we can live in peace if we
obey the king?"
But the youths, though about to be tortured, neither said any
of these things nor even seriously considered them.
 For they were contemptuous of the emotions and sovereign
 so that as soon as the tyrant had ceased counseling
them to eat defiling food, all with one voice together, as from
one mind, said:
4 Maccabees; Chapter 9
"Why do you delay, O tyrant? For we are ready to die rather
than transgress our ancestral commandments;
 we are obviously putting our forefathers to shame unless
we should practice ready obedience to the law and to Moses our
 Tyrant and counselor of lawlessness, in your hatred
for us do not pity us more than we pity ourselves.
 For we consider this pity of yours which insures our
safety through transgression of the law to be more grievous than
 You are trying to terrify us by threatening us with
death by torture, as though a short time ago you learned nothing
 And if the aged men of the Hebrews because of their
religion lived piously while enduring torture, it would be even
more fitting that we young men should die despising your coercive
tortures, which our aged instructor also overcame.
 Therefore, tyrant, put us to the test; and if you take
our lives because of our religion, do not suppose that you can
injure us by torturing us.
 For we, through this severe suffering and endurance,
shall have the prize of virtue and shall be with God, for whom
 but you, because of your bloodthirstiness toward us,
will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment
When they had said these things the tyrant not only was angry,
as at those who are disobedient, but also was enraged, as at those
who are ungrateful.
 Then at his command the guards brought forward the
eldest, and having torn off his tunic, they bound his hands and
arms with thongs on each side.
 When they had worn themselves out beating him with
scourges, without accomplishing anything, they placed him upon
 When the noble youth was stretched out around this,
his limbs were dislocated,
 and though broken in every member he denounced the
 "Most abominable tyrant, enemy of heavenly justice,
savage of mind, you are mangling me in this manner, not because
I am a murderer, or as one who acts impiously, but because I protect
the divine law."
 And when the guards said, "Agree to eat so that
you may be released from the tortures,"
 he replied, "You abominable lackeys, your wheel
is not so powerful as to strangle my reason. Cut my limbs, burn
my flesh, and twist my joints.
 Through all these tortures I will convince you that
sons of the Hebrews alone are invincible where virtue is concerned."
 While he was saying these things, they spread fire
under him, and while fanning the flames they tightened the wheel
 The wheel was completely smeared with blood, and the
heap of coals was being quenched by the drippings of gore, and
pieces of flesh were falling off the axles of the machine.
 Although the ligaments joining his bones were already
severed, the courageous youth, worthy of Abraham, did not groan,
 but as though transformed by fire into immortality
he nobly endured the rackings.
 "Imitate me, brothers," he said. "Do
not leave your post in my struggle or renounce our courageous
 Fight the sacred and noble battle for religion. Thereby
the just Providence of our ancestors may become merciful to our
nation and take vengeance on the accursed tyrant."
 When he had said this, the saintly youth broke the
thread of life.
While all were marveling at his courageous spirit, the guards
brought in the next eldest, and after fitting themselves with
iron gauntlets having sharp hooks, they bound him to the torture
machine and catapult.
 Before torturing him, they inquired if he were willing
to eat, and they heard this noble decision.
 These leopard-like beasts tore out his sinews with
the iron hands, flayed all his flesh up to his chin, and tore
away his scalp. But he steadfastly endured this agony and said,
 "How sweet is any kind of death for the religion
of our fathers!"
 To the tyrant he said, "Do you not think, you
most savage tyrant, that you are being tortured more than I, as
you see the arrogant design of your tyranny being defeated by
our endurance for the sake of religion?
 I lighten my pain by the joys that come from virtue,
 but you suffer torture by the threats that come from
impiety. You will not escape, most abominable tyrant, the judgments
of the divine wrath."
4 Maccabees; Chapter 10
When he too had endured a glorious death, the third was led in,
and many repeatedly urged him to save himself by tasting the meat.
 But he shouted, "Do you not know that the same
father begot me and those who died, and the same mother bore me,
and that I was brought up on the same teachings?
 I do not renounce the noble kinship that binds me to
 Enraged by the man's boldness, they disjointed his
hands and feet with their instruments, dismembering him by prying
his limbs from their sockets,
 and breaking his fingers and arms and legs and elbows.
 Since they were not able in any way to break his spirit,
they abandoned the instruments and scalped him with their fingernails
in a Scythian fashion.
 They immediately brought him to the wheel, and while
his vertebrae were being dislocated upon it he saw his own flesh
torn all around and drops of blood flowing from his entrails.
 When he was about to die, he said,
 "We, most abominable tyrant, are suffering because
of our godly training and virtue,
 but you, because of your impiety and bloodthirstiness,
will undergo unceasing torments."
When he also had died in a manner worthy of his brothers, they
dragged in the fourth, saying,
 "As for you, do not give way to the same insanity
as your brothers, but obey the king and save yourself."
 But he said to them, "You do not have a fire
hot enough to make me play the coward.
 No, by the blessed death of my brothers, by the eternal
destruction of the tyrant, and by the everlasting life of the
pious, I will not renounce our noble brotherhood.
 Contrive tortures, tyrant, so that you may learn from
them that I am a brother to those who have just been tortured."
 When he heard this, the bloodthirsty, murderous, and
utterly abominable Antiochus gave orders to cut out his tongue.
 But he said, "Even if you remove my organ of
speech, God hears also those who are mute.
 See, here is my tongue; cut it off, for in spite of
this you will not make our reason speechless.
 Gladly, for the sake of God, we let our bodily members
 God will visit you swiftly, for you are cutting out
a tongue that has been melodious with divine hymns."
4 Maccabees; Chapter 11
When this one died also, after being cruelly tortured, the fifth
leaped up, saying,
 "I will not refuse, tyrant, to be tortured for
the sake of virtue.
 I have come of my own accord, so that by murdering
me you will incur punishment from the heavenly justice for even
 Hater of virtue, hater of mankind, for what act of
ours are you destroying us in this way?
 Is it because we revere the Creator of all things and
live according to his virtuous law?
 But these deeds deserve honors, not tortures."
 While he was saying these things, the guards bound
him and dragged him to the catapult;
 they tied him to it on his knees, and fitting iron
clamps on them, they twisted his back around the wedge on the
wheel, so that he was completely curled back like a scorpion,
and all his members were disjointed.
 In this condition, gasping for breath and in anguish
 he said, "Tyrant, they are splendid favors that
you grant us against your will, because through these noble sufferings
you give us an opportunity to show our endurance for the law."
After he too had died, the sixth, a mere boy, was led in. When
the tyrant inquired whether he was willing to eat and be released,
 "I am younger in age than my brothers, but I
am their equal in mind.
 Since to this end we were born and bred, we ought
likewise to die for the same principles.
 So if you intend to torture me for not eating defiling
foods, go on torturing!"
 When he had said this, they led him to the wheel.
 He was carefully stretched tight upon it, his back
was broken, and he was roasted from underneath.
 To his back they applied sharp spits that had been
heated in the fire, and pierced his ribs so that his entrails
were burned through.
 While being tortured he said, "O contest befitting
holiness, in which so many of us brothers have been summoned to
an arena of sufferings for religion, and in which we have not
 For religious knowledge, O tyrant, is invincible.
 I also, equipped with nobility, will die with my brothers,
 and I myself will bring a great avenger upon you,
you inventor of tortures and enemy of those who are truly devout.
 We six boys have paralyzed your tyranny!
 Since you have not been able to persuade us to change
our mind or to force us to eat defiling foods, is not this your
 Your fire is cold to us, and the catapults painless,
and your violence powerless.
 For it is not the guards of the tyrant but those of
the divine law that are set over us; therefore, unconquered, we
hold fast to reason."
4 Maccabees; Chapter 12
When he also, thrown into the caldron, had died a blessed death,
the seventh and youngest of all came forward.
 Even though the tyrant had been fearfully reproached
by the brothers, he felt strong compassion for this child when
he saw that he was already in fetters. He summoned him to come
nearer and tried to console him, saying,
 "You see the result of your brothers' stupidity,
for they died in torments because of their disobedience.
 You too, if you do not obey, will be miserably tortured
and die before your time,
 but if you yield to persuasion you will be my friend
and a leader in the government of the kingdom."
 When he had so pleaded, he sent for the boy's mother
to show compassion on her who had been bereaved of so many sons
and to influence her to persuade the surviving son to obey and
 But when his mother had exhorted him in the Hebrew
language, as we shall tell a little later,
 he said, "Let me loose, let me speak to the king
and to all his friends that are with him."
 Extremely pleased by the boy's declaration, they freed
him at once.
 Running to the nearest of the braziers,
 he said, "You profane tyrant, most impious of
all the wicked, since you have received good things and also your
kingdom from God, were you not ashamed to murder his servants
and torture on the wheel those who practice religion?
 Because of this, justice has laid up for you intense
and eternal fire and tortures, and these throughout all time will
never let you go.
 As a man, were you not ashamed, you most savage beast,
to cut out the tongues of men who have feelings like yours and
are made of the same elements as you, and to maltreat and torture
them in this way?
 Surely they by dying nobly fulfilled their service
to God, but you will wail bitterly for having slain without cause
the contestants for virtue."
 Then because he too was about to die, he said,
 "I do not desert the excellent example of my
 and I call on the God of our fathers to be merciful
to our nation;
 but on you he will take vengeance both in this present
life and when you are dead."
 After he had uttered these imprecations, he flung
himself into the braziers and so ended his life.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 13
Since, then, the seven brothers despised sufferings even unto
death, everyone must concede that devout reason is sovereign over
 For if they had been slaves to their emotions and had
eaten defiling food, we would say that they had been conquered
by these emotions.
 But in fact it was not so. Instead, by reason, which
is praised before God, they prevailed over their emotions.
 The supremacy of the mind over these cannot be overlooked,
for the brothers mastered both emotions and pains.
 How then can one fail to confess the sovereignty of
right reason over emotion in those who were not turned back by
 For just as towers jutting out over harbors hold back
the threatening waves and make it calm for those who sail into
the inner basin,
 so the seven-towered right reason of the youths, by
fortifying the harbor of religion, conquered the tempest of the
 For they constituted a holy chorus of religion and
encouraged one another, saying,
 "Brothers, let us die like brothers for the sake
of the law; let us imitate the three youths in Assyria who despised
the same ordeal of the furnace.
 Let us not be cowardly in the demonstration of our
 While one said, "Courage, brother," another
said, "Bear up nobly,"
 and another reminded them, "Remember whence you
came, and the father by whose hand Isaac would have submitted
to being slain for the sake of religion."
 Each of them and all of them together looking at one
another, cheerful and undaunted, said, "Let us with all our
hearts consecrate ourselves to God, who gave us our lives, and
let us use our bodies as a bulwark for the law.
 Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us,
 for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger
of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment
 Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control,
which is divine reason.
 For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will
welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us."
 Those who were left behind said to each of the brothers
who were being dragged away, "Do not put us to shame, brother,
or betray the brothers who have died before us."
You are not ignorant of the affection of brotherhood, which the
divine and all-wise Providence has bequeathed through the fathers
to their descendants and which was implanted in the mother's womb.
 There each of the brothers dwelt the same length of
time and was shaped during the same period of time; and growing
from the same blood and through the same life, they were brought
to the light of day.
 When they were born after an equal time of gestation,
they drank milk from the same fountains. For such embraces brotherly-loving
souls are nourished;
 and they grow stronger from this common nurture and
daily companionship, and from both general education and our discipline
in the law of God.
Therefore, when sympathy and brotherly affection had been so established,
the brothers were the more sympathetic to one another.
 Since they had been educated by the same law and trained
in the same virtues and brought up in right living, they loved
one another all the more.
 A common zeal for nobility expanded their goodwill
and harmony toward one another,
 because, with the aid of their religion, they rendered
their brotherly love more fervent.
 But although nature and companionship and virtuous
habits had augmented the affection of brotherhood, those who were
left endured for the sake of religion, while watching their brothers
being maltreated and tortured to death.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 14
 Furthermore, they encouraged them to face the torture,
so that they not only despised their agonies, but also mastered
the emotions of brotherly love.
O reason, more royal than kings and freer than the free!
 O sacred and harmonious concord of the seven brothers
on behalf of religion!
 None of the seven youths proved coward or shrank from
 but all of them, as though running the course toward
immortality, hastened to death by torture.
 Just as the hands and feet are moved in harmony with
the guidance of the mind, so those holy youths, as though moved
by an immortal spirit of devotion, agreed to go to death for its
 O most holy seven, brothers in harmony! For just as
the seven days of creation move in choral dance around religion,
 so these youths, forming a chorus, encircled the sevenfold
fear of tortures and dissolved it.
 Even now, we ourselves shudder as we hear of the tribulations
of these young men; they not only saw what was happening, yes,
not only heard the direct word of threat, but also bore the sufferings
patiently, and in agonies of fire at that.
 What could be more excruciatingly painful than this?
For the power of fire is intense and swift, and it consumed their
Do not consider it amazing that reason had full command over these
men in their tortures, since the mind of woman despised even more
 for the mother of the seven young men bore up under
the rackings of each one of her children.
Observe how complex is a mother's love for her children, which
draws everything toward an emotion felt in her inmost parts.
 Even unreasoning animals, like mankind, have a sympathy
and parental love for their offspring.
 For example, among birds, the ones that are tame protect
their young by building on the housetops,
 and the others, by building in precipitous chasms
and in holes and tops of trees, hatch the nestlings and ward off
 If they are not able to keep him away, they do what
they can to help their young by flying in circles around them
in the anguish of love, warning them with their own calls.
 And why is it necessary to demonstrate sympathy for
children by the example of unreasoning animals,
 since even bees at the time for making honeycombs
defend themselves against intruders as though with an iron dart
sting those who approach their hive and defend it even to the
 But sympathy for her children did not sway the mother
of the young men; she was of the same mind as Abraham.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 15
O reason of the children, tyrant over the emotions! O religion,
more desirable to the mother than her children!
 Two courses were open to this mother, that of religion,
and that of preserving her seven sons for a time, as the tyrant
 She loved religion more, religion that preserves them
for eternal life according to God's promise.
 In what manner might I express the emotions of parents
who love their children? We impress upon the character of a small
child a wondrous likeness both of mind and of form. Especially
is this true of mothers, who because of their birthpangs have
a deeper sympathy toward their offspring than do the fathers.
 Considering that mothers are the weaker sex and give
birth to many, they are more devoted to their children.
 The mother of the seven boys, more than any other mother,
loved her children. In seven pregnancies she had implanted in
herself tender love toward them,
 and because of the many pains she suffered with each
of them she had sympathy for them;
 yet because of the fear of God she disdained the temporary
safety of her children.
 Not only so, but also because of the nobility of her
sons and their ready obedience to the law she felt a greater tenderness
 For they were righteous and self-controlled and brave
and magnanimous, and loved their brothers and their mother, so
that they obeyed her even to death in keeping the ordinances.
 Nevertheless, though so many factors influenced the
mother to suffer with them out of love for her children, in the
case of none of them were the various tortures strong enough to
pervert her reason.
 Instead, the mother urged them on, each child singly
and all together, to death for the sake of religion.
 O sacred nature and affection of parental love, yearning
of parents toward offspring, nurture and indomitable suffering
 This mother, who saw them tortured and burned one
by one, because of religion did not change her attitude.
 She watched the flesh of her children consumed by
fire, their toes and fingers scattered on the ground, and the
flesh of the head to the chin exposed like masks.
 O mother, tried now by more bitter pains than even
the birth-pangs you suffered for them!
 O woman, who alone gave birth to such complete devotion!
 When the first-born breathed his last it did not turn
you aside, nor when the second in torments looked at you piteously
nor when the third expired;
 nor did you weep when you looked at the eyes of each
one in his tortures gazing boldly at the same agonies, and saw
in their nostrils the signs of the approach of death.
 When you saw the flesh of children burned upon the
flesh of other children, severed hands upon hands, scalped heads
upon heads, and corpses fallen on other corpses and when you saw
the place filled with many spectators of the torturings, you did
not shed tears.
 Neither the melodies of sirens nor the songs of swans
attract the attention of their hearers as did the voices of the
children in torture calling to their mother.
 How great and how many torments the mother then suffered
as her sons were tortured on the wheel and with the hot irons!
 But devout reason, giving her heart a man's courage
in the very midst of her emotions, strengthened her to disregard
her temporal love for her children.
Although she witnessed the destruction of seven children and the
ingenious and various rackings, this noble mother disregarded
all these because of faith in God.
 For as in the council chamber of her own soul she
saw mighty advocates -- nature, family, parental love, and the
rackings of her children --
 this mother held two ballots, one bearing death and
the other deliverance for her children.
 She did not approve the deliverance which would preserve
the seven sons for a short time,
 but as the daughter of God-fearing Abraham she remembered
O mother of the nation, vindicator of the law and champion of
religion, who carried away the prize of the contest in your heart!
 O more noble than males in steadfastness, and more
manly than men in endurance!
 Just as Noah's ark, carrying the world in the universal
flood, stoutly endured the waves,
 so you, O guardian of the law, overwhelmed from every
side by the flood of your emotions and the violent winds, the
torture of your sons, endured nobly and withstood the wintry storms
that assail religion.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 16
If, then, a woman, advanced in years and mother of seven sons,
endured seeing her children tortured to death, it must be admitted
that devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.
 Thus I have demonstrated not only that men have ruled
over the emotions, but also that a woman has despised the fiercest
 The lions surrounding Daniel were not so savage, nor
was the raging fiery furnace of Mishael so intensely hot, as was
her innate parental love, inflamed as she saw her seven sons tortured
in such varied ways.
 But the mother quenched so many and such great emotions
by devout reason.
Consider this also. If this woman, though a mother, had been fainthearted,
she would have mourned over them and perhaps spoken as follows:
 "O how wretched am I and many times unhappy! After
bearing seven children, I am now the mother of none!
 O seven childbirths all in vain, seven profitless pregnancies,
fruitless nurturings and wretched nursings!
 In vain, my sons, I endured many birth-pangs for you,
and the more grievous anxieties of your upbringing.
 Alas for my children, some unmarried, others married
and without offspring. I shall not see your children or have the
happiness of being called grandmother.
 Alas, I who had so many and beautiful children am
a widow and alone, with many sorrows.
 Nor when I die, shall I have any of my sons to bury
Yet the sacred and God-fearing mother did not wail with such a
lament for any of them, nor did she dissuade any of them from
dying, nor did she grieve as they were dying,
 but, as though having a mind like adamant and giving
rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored
them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion.
 O mother, soldier of God in the cause of religion,
elder and woman! By steadfastness you have conquered even a tyrant,
and in word and deed you have proved more powerful than a man.
 For when you and your sons were arrested together,
you stood and watched Eleazar being tortured, and said to your
sons in the Hebrew language,
 "My sons, noble is the contest to which you are
called to bear witness for the nation. Fight zealously for our
 For it would be shameful if, while an aged man endures
such agonies for the sake of religion, you young men were to be
terrified by tortures.
 Remember that it is through God that you have had
a share in the world and have enjoyed life,
 and therefore you ought to endure any suffering for
the sake of God.
 For his sake also our father Abraham was zealous to
sacrifice his son Isaac, the ancestor of our nation; and when
Isaac saw his father's hand wielding a sword and descending upon
him, he did not cower.
 And Daniel the righteous was thrown to the lions,
and Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael were hurled into the fiery
furnace and endured it for the sake of God.
 You too must have the same faith in God and not be
 It is unreasonable for people who have religious knowledge
not to withstand pain."
By these words the mother of the seven encouraged and persuaded
each of her sons to die rather than violate God's commandment.
 They knew also that those who die for the sake of
God live in God, as do Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the
4 Maccabees; Chapter 17
Some of the guards said that when she also was about to be seized
and put to death she threw herself into the flames so that no
one might touch her body.
O mother, who with your seven sons nullified the violence of the
tyrant, frustrated his evil designs, and showed the courage of
 Nobly set like a roof on the pillars of your sons,
you held firm and unswerving against the earthquake of the tortures.
 Take courage, therefore, O holy-minded mother, maintaining
firm an enduring hope in God.
 The moon in heaven, with the stars, does not stand
so august as you, who, after lighting the way of your star-like
seven sons to piety, stand in honor before God and are firmly
set in heaven with them.
 For your children were true descendants of father Abraham.
If it were possible for us to paint the history of your piety
as an artist might, would not those who first beheld it have shuddered
as they saw the mother of the seven children enduring their varied
tortures to death for the sake of religion?
 Indeed it would be proper to inscribe upon their tomb
these words as a reminder to the people of our nation:
"Here lie buried an aged priest and an aged woman and seven
sons, because of the violence of the tyrant who wished to destroy
the way of life of the Hebrews.
 They vindicated their nation, looking to God and enduring
torture even to death."
Truly the contest in which they were engaged was divine,
 for on that day virtue gave the awards and tested
them for their endurance. The prize was immortality in endless
 Eleazar was the first contestant, the mother of the
seven sons entered the competition, and the brothers contended.
 The tyrant was the antagonist, and the world and the
human race were the spectators.
 Reverence for God was victor and gave the crown to
its own athletes.
 Who did not admire the athletes of the divine legislation?
Who were not amazed?
The tyrant himself and all his council marveled at their endurance,
 because of which they now stand before the divine
throne and live through blessed eternity.
 For Moses says, "All who are consecrated are
under your hands."
 These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake
of God, are honored, not only with this honor, but also by the
fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation,
 the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified
-- they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our
 And through the blood of those devout ones and their
death as an expiation, divine Providence preserved Israel that
previously had been afflicted.
For the tyrant Antiochus, when he saw the courage of their virtue
and their endurance under the tortures, proclaimed them to his
soldiers as an example for their own endurance,
 and this made them brave and courageous for infantry
battle and siege, and he ravaged and conquered all his enemies.
4 Maccabees; Chapter 18
O Israelite children, offspring of the seed of Abraham, obey this
law and exercise piety in every way,
 knowing that devout reason is master of all emotions,
not only of sufferings from within, but also of those from without.
Therefore those who gave over their bodies in suffering for the
sake of religion were not only admired by men, but also were deemed
worthy to share in a divine inheritance.
 Because of them the nation gained peace, and by reviving
observance of the law in the homeland they ravaged the enemy.
 The tyrant Antiochus was both punished on earth and
is being chastised after his death. Since in no way whatever was
he able to compel the Israelites to become pagans and to abandon
their ancestral customs, he left Jerusalem and marched against
The mother of seven sons expressed also these principles to her
 "I was a pure virgin and did not go outside my
father's house; but I guarded the rib from which woman was made.
 No seducer corrupted me on a desert plain, nor did
the destroyer, the deceitful serpent, defile the purity of my
 In the time of my maturity I remained with my husband,
and when these sons had grown up their father died. A happy man
was he, who lived out his life with good children, and did not
have the grief of bereavement.
 While he was still with you, he taught you the law
and the prophets.
 He read to you about Abel slain by Cain, and Isaac
who was offered as a burnt offering, and of Joseph in prison.
 He told you of the zeal of Phineas, and he taught
you about Hananiah, Azariah, and Mishael in the fire.
 He praised Daniel in the den of the lions and blessed
 He reminded you of the scripture of Isaiah, which
says, `Even though you go through the fire, the flame shall not
 He sang to you songs of the psalmist David, who said,
`Many are the afflictions of the righteous.'
 He recounted to you Solomon's proverb, `There is a
tree of life for those who do his will.'
 He confirmed the saying of Ezekiel, `Shall these dry
 For he did not forget to teach you the song that Moses
taught, which says,
 `I kill and I make alive: this is your life and the
length of your days.'"
O bitter was that day -- and yet not bitter -- when that bitter
tyrant of the Greeks quenched fire with fire in his cruel caldrons,
and in his burning rage brought those seven sons of the daughter
of Abraham to the catapult and back again to more tortures,
 pierced the pupils of their eyes and cut out their
tongues, and put them to death with various tortures.
 For these crimes divine justice pursued and will pursue
the accursed tyrant.
 But the sons of Abraham with their victorious mother
are gathered together into the chorus of the fathers, and have
received pure and immortal souls from God,
 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book.
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Paul Halsall May 1997