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2 Maccabees 6
The sixth chapter of 2
Maccabees is offered here in the Revised Standard version; the first
chapter can be found here.
Judaism forbiddenNot long after this, the king [Antiochus IV Epiphanes] sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and 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 dwelt in that place.
Harsh and utterly grievous was the onslaught of evil. For the temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit. The altar was covered with abominable offerings which were forbidden by the laws. A man could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the feasts of his fathers, nor so much as confess himself to be a Jew. On the monthly celebration of the king's birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when the feast of Dionysus came, they were compelled to walk in the procession in honor of Dionysus, wearing wreaths of ivy.
the suggestion of Ptolemy [the governor or Coelesyria]
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, and
should slay those who did not choose to change over to Greek customs. One
could see, therefore, the misery that had come upon them. For
example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children.
These women they publicly paraded about the city, with their babies hung
at their breasts, then hurled them down headlong from the wall. Others
who had assembled in the caves near by, 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
A comment by the authorNow 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. In fact, not to let the impious alone for long, but to punish them immediately, is a sign of great kindness. For 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, in order that He may not take vengeance on us afterward when our sins have reached their height. Therefore He never withdraws his mercy from us. Though He disciplines us with calamities, He does not forsake his own people. Let what we have said serve as a reminder; we must go on briefly with the story.
Execution of EleazarEleazar, 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. But he, welcoming death with honor rather than life with pollution, went up to the the rack of his own accord, spitting out the flesh, as men ought to go who have the courage to refuse things that it is not right to taste, even for the natural love of life.
Those 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 pretend that he was eating the flesh of the sacrificial meal which had been commanded by the king, so that by doing this he might be saved from death, and be treated kindly on account of his old friendship with them.
But making a high resolve, worthy of his years and the dignity of his old age and the gray hairs which 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. "Such pretense is not worthy of our time of life," he said, "lest many of the young should suppose that Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to an alien religion, and through my pretense, for the sake of living a brief moment longer, they should be led astray because of me, while I defile and disgrace my old age. For even if for the present I should avoid the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and 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.
And those who a little before had acted toward him with good will now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When 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."
So 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.
The apology and the execution story are parallels to the apology and death of Socrates.
Latest revision: 6 December 2006