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4 Maccabees


The Author’s Definition of His Task

1The 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. 2For 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 judgement. 3If, then, it is evident that reason rules over those emotions that hinder self-control, namely gluttony and lust, 4it 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. 5Some might perhaps ask, ‘If reason rules the emotions, why is it not sovereign over forgetfulness and ignorance?’ Their attempt at argument is ridiculous!* 6For 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, 8but 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. 9All of these, by despising sufferings that bring death, demonstrated that reason controls the emotions. 10On 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 honour in which they are held. 11All people, even their torturers, marvelled 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 through them. 12I 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 God.

The Supremacy of Reason

13 Our inquiry, accordingly, is whether reason is sovereign over the emotions. 14We shall decide just what reason is and what emotion is, how many kinds of emotions there are, and whether reason rules over all of these. 15Now reason is the mind that with sound logic prefers the life of wisdom. 16Wisdom, next, is the knowledge of divine and human matters and the causes of these. 17This, in turn, is education in the law, by which we learn divine matters reverently and human affairs to our advantage. 18Now the kinds of wisdom are rational judgement, justice, courage, and self-control. 19Rational judgement is supreme over all of these, since by means of it reason rules over the emotions. 20The two most comprehensive types* of the emotions are pleasure and pain; and each of these is by nature concerned with both body and soul. 21The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences. 22Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it. 23Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after. 24Anger, as a person will see by reflecting on this experience, is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain. 25In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency, which is the most complex of all the emotions. 26In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honour, rivalry, and malice; 27in the body, indiscriminate eating, gluttony, and solitary gormandizing.

28 Just as pleasure and pain are two plants growing from the body and the soul, so there are many offshoots of these plants,* 29each 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. 30For reason is the guide of the virtues, but over the emotions it is sovereign.

Observe now, first of all, that rational judgement is sovereign over the emotions by virtue of the restraining power of self-control. 31Self-control, then, is dominance over the desires. 32Some desires are mental, others are physical, and reason obviously rules over both. 33Otherwise 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. 34Therefore 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. 35For the emotions of the appetites are restrained, checked by the temperate mind, and all the impulses of the body are bridled by reason.

Compatibility of the Law with Reason

2And why is it amazing that the desires of the mind for the enjoyment of beauty are rendered powerless? 2It is for this reason, certainly, that the temperate Joseph is praised, because by mental effort* he overcame sexual desire. 3For when he was young and in his prime for intercourse, by his reason he nullified the frenzy* of the passions. 4Not only is reason proved to rule over the frenzied urge of sexual desire, but also over every desire.* 5Thus the law says, ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife or anything that is your neighbour’s.’ 6In fact, since the law has told us not to covet, I could prove to you all the more that reason is able to control desires.

Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from justice. 7Otherwise 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? 8Thus, as soon as one adopts a way of life in accordance with the law, even though a lover of money, one is forced to act contrary to natural ways and to lend without interest to the needy and to cancel the debt when the seventh year arrives. 9If one is greedy, one is ruled by the law through reason so that one neither gleans the harvest nor gathers the last grapes from the vineyard.

In all other matters we can recognize that reason rules the emotions. 10For the law prevails even over affection for parents, so that virtue is not abandoned for their sakes. 11It is superior to love for one’s wife, so that one rebukes her when she breaks the law. 12It takes precedence over love for children, so that one punishes them for misdeeds. 13It is sovereign over the relationship of friends, so that one rebukes friends when they act wickedly. 14Do 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 marauders and helps raise up what has fallen.*

15 It is evident that reason rules even* the more violent emotions: lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, and malice. 16For the temperate mind repels all these malicious emotions, just as it repels anger—for it is sovereign over even this. 17When Moses was angry with Dathan and Abiram, he did nothing against them in anger, but controlled his anger by reason. 18For, as I have said, the temperate mind is able to get the better of the emotions, to correct some, and to render others powerless. 19Why 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 their anger’? 20For if reason could not control anger, he would not have spoken thus. 21Now when God fashioned human beings, he planted in them emotions and inclinations, 22but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all. 23To the mind he gave the law; and one who lives subject to this will rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.

24 How is it then, one might say, that if reason is master of the emotions, it does not control forgetfulness and ignorance? 31But this argument is entirely ridiculous; for it is evident that reason rules not over its own emotions, but over those of the body. 2No one of us* can eradicate that kind of desire, but reason can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire. 3No one of us can eradicate anger from the mind, but reason can help to deal with anger. 4No one of us can eradicate malice, but reason can fight at our side so that we are not overcome by malice. 5For reason does not uproot the emotions but is their antagonist.

King David’s Thirst

Now this can be explained more clearly by the story of King David’s thirst. 7David had been attacking the Philistines all day long, and together with the soldiers of his nation had killed many of them. 8Then when evening fell, he* came, sweating and quite exhausted, to the royal tent, around which the whole army of our ancestors had encamped. 9Now all the rest were at supper, 10but the king was extremely thirsty, and though springs were plentiful there, he could not satisfy his thirst from them. 11But a certain irrational desire for the water in the enemy’s territory tormented and inflamed him, undid and consumed him. 12When 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. 13Eluding the sentinels at the gates, they went searching throughout the enemy camp 14and found the spring, and from it boldly brought the king a drink. 15But David,* though he was burning with thirst, considered it an altogether fearful danger to his soul to drink what was regarded as equivalent to blood. 16Therefore, opposing reason to desire, he poured out the drink as an offering to God. 17For the temperate mind can conquer the drives of the emotions and quench the flames of frenzied desires; 18it can overthrow bodily agonies even when they are extreme, and by nobility of reason spurn all domination by the emotions.

An Attempt on the Temple Treasury

19 The present occasion now invites us to a narrative demonstration of temperate reason.

20 At a time when our ancestors 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— 21just at that time certain persons attempted a revolution against the public harmony and caused many and various disasters.

4Now 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. 2So he came to Apollonius, governor of Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia, and said, 3‘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.’ 4When 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. 5On receiving authority to deal with this matter, he proceeded quickly to our country accompanied by the accursed Simon and a very strong military force. 6He said that he had come with the king’s authority to seize the private funds in the treasury. 7The people indignantly protested against 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. 8But, uttering threats, Apollonius went on to the temple. 9While the priests together with women and children were imploring God in the temple to shield the holy place that was being treated so contemptuously, 10and while Apollonius was going up with his armed forces to seize the money, angels mounted on horses with lightning flashing from their weapons appeared from heaven, instilling in them great fear and trembling. 11Then Apollonius fell down half dead in the temple area that was open to all, stretched out his hands towards heaven, and with tears begged the Hebrews to pray for him and propitiate the wrath of the heavenly army. 12For he said that he had committed a sin deserving of death, and that if he were spared he would praise the blessedness of the holy place before all people. 13Moved by these words, the high priest Onias, although otherwise he had scruples about doing so, prayed for him so that King Seleucus would not suppose that Apollonius had been overcome by human treachery and not by divine justice. 14So Apollonius,* having been saved beyond all expectations, went away to report to the king what had happened to him.

Antiochus’ Persecution of the Jews

15 When King Seleucus died, his son Antiochus Epiphanes succeeded to the throne, an arrogant and terrible man, 16who removed Onias from the priesthood and appointed Onias’s* brother Jason as high priest. 17Jason* agreed that if the office were conferred on him he would pay the king three thousand six hundred and sixty talents annually. 18So the king appointed him high priest and ruler of the nation. 19Jason* changed the nation’s way of life and altered its form of government in complete violation of the law, 20so that not only was a gymnasium constructed at the very citadel* of our native land, but also the temple service was abolished. 21The divine justice was angered by these acts and caused Antiochus himself to make war on them. 22For when he was warring against Ptolemy in Egypt, he heard that a rumour of his death had spread and that the people of Jerusalem had rejoiced greatly. He speedily marched against them, 23and after he had plundered them he issued a decree that if any of them were found observing the ancestral law they should die. 24When, 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— 25even to the extent 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 this— 26when, I say, his decrees were despised by the people, he himself tried through torture to compel everyone in the nation to eat defiling foods and to renounce Judaism.

Antiochus’ Encounter with Eleazar

5The tyrant Antiochus, sitting in state with his counsellors on a certain high place, and with his armed soldiers standing around him, 2ordered the guards to seize each and every Hebrew and to compel them to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols. 3If any were not willing to eat defiling food, they were to be broken on the wheel and killed. 4When many people 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 philosophy.*

When Antiochus saw him he said, 6‘Before I begin to torture you, old man, I would advise you to save yourself by eating pork, 7for I respect your age and your grey 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. 8When nature has granted it to us, why should you abhor eating the very excellent meat of this animal? 9It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature. 10It 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. 11Will 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, 12and have compassion on your old age by honouring my humane advice? 13For consider this: if there is some power watching over this religion of yours, it will excuse you from any transgression that arises out of compulsion.’

14 When the tyrant urged him in this fashion to eat meat unlawfully, Eleazar asked to have a word. 15When he had received permission to speak, he began to address the people as follows: 16‘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. 17Therefore we consider that we should not transgress it in any respect. 18Even 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. 19Therefore do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiling food; 20to transgress the law in matters either small or great is of equal seriousness, 21for in either case the law is equally despised. 22You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational, 23but 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; 24it 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 living God.

25 ‘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 towards us. 26He 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. 27It 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 to us. 28But you shall have no such occasion to laugh at me, 29nor will I transgress the sacred oaths of my ancestors concerning the keeping of the law, 30not even if you gouge out my eyes and burn my entrails. 31I am not so old and cowardly as not to be young in reason on behalf of piety. 32Therefore get your torture wheels ready and fan the fire more vehemently! 33I do not so pity my old age as to break the ancestral law by my own act. 34I will not play false to you, O law that trained me, nor will I renounce you, beloved self-control. 35I will not put you to shame, philosophical reason, nor will I reject you, honoured priesthood and knowledge of the law. 36You, O king,* shall not defile the honourable mouth of my old age, nor my long life lived lawfully. 37My ancestors will receive me as pure, as one who does not fear your violence even to death. 38You may tyrannize the ungodly, but you shall not dominate my religious principles, either by words or through deeds.’

Martyrdom of Eleazar

6When 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. 2First they stripped the old man, though he remained adorned with the gracefulness of his piety. 3After they had tied his arms on each side they flogged him, 4while a herald who faced him cried out, ‘Obey the king’s commands!’ 5But the courageous and noble man, like a true Eleazar, was unmoved, as though being tortured in a dream; 6yet 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. 7Although he fell to the ground because his body could not endure the agonies, he kept his reason upright and unswerving. 8One of the cruel guards rushed at him and began to kick him in the side to make him get up again after he fell. 9But he bore the pains and scorned the punishment and endured the tortures. 10Like a noble athlete the old man, while being beaten, was victorious over his torturers; 11in fact, with his face bathed in sweat, and gasping heavily for breath, he amazed even his torturers by his courageous spirit.

12 At that point, partly out of pity for his old age, 13partly 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, 14‘Eleazar, why are you so irrationally destroying yourself through these evil things? 15We will set before you some cooked meat; save yourself by pretending to eat pork.’

16 But Eleazar, as though more bitterly tormented by this counsel, cried out: 17‘Never may we, the children of Abraham,* think so basely that out of cowardice we feign a role unbecoming to us! 18For it would be irrational if, having lived in accordance with truth up to old age and having maintained in accordance with law the reputation of such a life, we should now change our course 19and ourselves become a pattern of impiety to the young by setting them an example in the eating of defiling food. 20It would be shameful if we should survive for a little while and during that time be a laughings-tock to all for our cowardice, 21and be despised by the tyrant as unmanly by not contending even to death for our divine law. 22Therefore, O children of Abraham, die nobly for your religion! 23And you, guards of the tyrant, why do you delay?’

24 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. 25There they burned him with maliciously contrived instruments, threw him down, and poured stinking liquids into his nostrils. 26When he was now burned to his very bones and about to expire, he lifted up his eyes to God and said, 27‘You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. 28Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. 29Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs.’ 30After he said this, the holy man died nobly in his tortures; even in the tortures of death he resisted, by virtue of reason, for the sake of the law.

31 Admittedly, then, devout reason is sovereign over the emotions. 32For if the emotions had prevailed over reason, we would have testified to their domination. 33But now that reason has conquered the emotions, we properly attribute to it the power to govern. 34It is right for us to acknowledge the dominance of reason when it masters even external agonies. It would be ridiculous to deny it.* 35I have proved not only that reason has mastered agonies, but also that it masters pleasures and in no respect yields to them.

An Encomium on Eleazar

7For like a most skilful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, 2and, though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures, 3in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory. 4No 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. 5For in setting his mind firm like a jutting cliff, our father Eleazar broke the maddening waves of the emotions. 6O 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. 7O man in harmony with the law and philosopher of divine life! 8Such should be those who are administrators of the law, shielding it with their own blood and noble sweat in sufferings even to death. 9You, father, strengthened our loyalty to the law through your glorious endurance, and you did not abandon the holiness that you praised, but by your deeds you made your words of divine* philosophy credible. 10O aged man, more powerful than tortures; O elder, fiercer than fire; O supreme king over the passions, Eleazar! 11For just as our father Aaron, armed with the censer, ran through the multitude of the people and conquered the fiery* angel, 12so the descendant of Aaron, Eleazar, though being consumed by the fire, remained unmoved in his reason. 13Most 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 14in spirit through reason; and by reason like that of Isaac he rendered the many-headed rack ineffective. 15O man of blessed age and of venerable grey hair and of law-abiding life, whom the faithful seal of death has perfected!

16 If, therefore, because of piety an aged man despised tortures even to death, most certainly devout reason is governor of the emotions. 17Some perhaps might say, ‘Not all have full command of their emotions, because not all have prudent reason.’ 18But as many as attend to religion with a whole heart, these alone are able to control the passions of the flesh, 19since they believe that they, like our patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live to God. 20No contradiction therefore arises when some persons appear to be dominated by their emotions because of the weakness of their reason. 21What person who lives as a philosopher by the whole rule of philosophy, and trusts in God, 22and knows that it is blessed to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, would not be able to overcome the emotions through godliness? 23For only the wise and courageous are masters of their emotions.

Seven Brothers Defy the Tyrant

8For 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. 2For 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 would be freed after eating, but if any were to refuse, they would 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. 4When the tyrant saw them, grouped about their mother as though a chorus, he was pleased with them. And struck by their appearance and nobility, he smiled at them, and summoned them nearer and said, 5‘Young men, with favourable feelings I admire each and every one of you, 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. 6Just as I am able to punish those who disobey my orders, so I can be a benefactor to those who obey me. 7Trust me, then, and you will have positions of authority in my government if you will renounce the ancestral tradition of your national life. 8Enjoy your youth by adopting the Greek way of life and by changing your manner of living. 9But if by disobedience you arouse my anger, you will compel me to destroy each and every one of you with dreadful punishments through tortures. 10Therefore take pity on yourselves. Even I, your enemy, have compassion for your youth and handsome appearance. 11Will you not consider this, that if you disobey, nothing remains for you but to die on the rack?’

12 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. 13When the guards had placed before them wheels and joint-dislocators, rack and hooks* and catapults* and cauldrons, braziers and thumbscrews and iron claws and wedges and bellows, the tyrant resumed speaking: 14‘Be afraid, young fellows; whatever justice you revere will be merciful to you when you transgress under compulsion.’

15 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 his tyranny. 16Let 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 the following? 17‘O wretches that we are and so senseless! Since the king has summoned and exhorted us to accept kind treatment if we obey him, 18why do we take pleasure in vain resolves and venture upon a disobedience that brings death? 19O 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? 20Let us take pity on our youth and have compassion on our mother’s age; 21and let us seriously consider that if we disobey we are dead! 22Also, divine justice will excuse us for fearing the king when we are under compulsion. 23Why do we banish ourselves from this most pleasant life and deprive ourselves of this delightful world? 24Let us not struggle against compulsion* or take hollow pride in being put to the rack. 25Not even the law itself would arbitrarily put us to death for fearing the instruments of torture. 26Why does such contentiousness excite us and such a fatal stubbornness please us, when we can live in peace if we obey the king?’

27 But the youths, though about to be tortured, neither said any of these things nor even seriously considered them. 28For they were contemptuous of the emotions and sovereign over agonies, 29so that as soon as the tyrant had ceased counselling them to eat defiling food, all with one voice together, as from one mind, said:

9‘Why do you delay, O tyrant? For we are ready to die rather than transgress our ancestral commandments; 2we are obviously putting our forebears to shame unless we practise ready obedience to the law and to Moses* our counsellor. 3Tyrant and counsellor of lawlessness, in your hatred for us do not pity us more than we pity ourselves.* 4For we consider this pity of yours, which ensures our safety through transgression of the law, to be more grievous than death itself. 5You are trying to terrify us by threatening us with death by torture, as though a short time ago you learned nothing from Eleazar. 6And 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. 7Therefore, 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. 8For we, through this severe suffering and endurance, shall have the prize of virtue and shall be with God, on whose account we suffer; 9but you, because of your bloodthirstiness towards us, will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment by fire.’

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