The Suppression of Judaism
1Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their ancestors and no longer to live by the laws of God;2also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and to call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Gerizim the temple of Zeus-the-Friend-of-Strangers, as did the people who lived in that place.3Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil.4For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with prostitutes and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit.5The altar was covered with abominable offerings that were forbidden by the laws.6People could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the festivals of their ancestors, nor so much as confess themselves to be Jews.7On the monthly celebration of the king's birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreathes of ivy and to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus.8At the suggestion of the people of Ptolemais a decree was issued to the neighboring Greek cities that they should adopt the same policy toward the Jews and make them partake of the sacrifices,9and should kill those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them.10For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. They publicly paraded them around the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then hurled them down headlong from the wall.11Others who had assembled in the caves nearby, in order to observe the seventh day secretly, were betrayed to Philip and were all burned together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of their regard for that most holy day.Providential Significance of the Persecution
12Now I urge those who read this book not to be depressed by such calamities, but to recognize that these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people.13In fact, it is a sign of great kindness not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately.14For in the case of the other nations the Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have reached the full measure of their sins; but he does not deal in this way with us,15in order that he may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height.16Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us. Although he disciplines us with calamities, he does not forsake his own people.17Let what we have said serve as a reminder; we must go on briefly with the story.The Martyrdom of Eleazar
18Eleazar, one of the scribes in high position, a man now advanced in age and of noble presence, was being forced to open his mouth to eat swine's flesh.19But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life with pollution, went up to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh,20as all ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.21Those who were in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring meat of his own providing, proper for him to use, and to pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal that had been commanded by the king,22so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them.23But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs that he had reached with distinction and his excellent life even from childhood, and moreover according to the holy God-given law, he declared himself quickly, telling them to send him to Hades.24“Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life,” he said, “for many of the young might suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year had gone over to an alien religion,25and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they would be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age.26Even if for the present I would avoid the punishment of mortals, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty.27Therefore, by bravely giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age28and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”
When he had said this, he went at once to the rack.29Those who a little before had acted toward him with goodwill now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness.30When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.”31So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
Chapter 7The Martyrdom of Seven Brothers
1It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and thongs, to partake of unlawful swine's flesh.2One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”3The king fell into a rage, and gave orders to have pans and caldrons heated.4These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on.5When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying,6“The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song that bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’ ”7After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?”8He replied in the language of his ancestors and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done.9And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.”10After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands,11and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”12As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man's spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing.13After he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way.14When he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of mortals and to cherish the hope God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”15Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him.16But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among mortals, though you also are mortal, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people.17Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”18After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened.19But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!”20The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Although she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord.21She encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors. Filled with a noble spirit, she reinforced her woman's reasoning with a man's courage, and said to them,22“I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you.23Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of humankind and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”24Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his ancestors, and that he would take him for his Friend and entrust him with public affairs.25Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself.26After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son.27But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native language as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you.28I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. And in the same way the human race came into being.29Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God's mercy I may get you back again along with your brothers.”30While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses.31But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God.32For we are suffering because of our own sins.33And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants.34But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all mortals, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven.35You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God.36For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of ever-flowing life, under God's covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance.37I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God,38and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation.”39The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn.40So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord.41Last of all, the mother died, after her sons.42Let this be enough, then, about the eating of sacrifices and the extreme tortures.