4 Maccabees

Chapters 1-5

1-5 6-10 11-15 16-18

[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.
[2] 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.
[3] If, then, it is evident that reason rules over those emotions that hinder self-control, namely, gluttony and lust,
[4] 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.
[5] Some might perhaps ask, "If reason rules the emotions, why is it not sovereign over forgetfulness and ignorance?" Their attempt at argument is ridiculous!
[6] 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.
[7] I could prove to you from many and various examples that reason is dominant over the emotions,
[8] 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.
[9] All of these, by despising sufferings that bring death, demonstrated that reason controls the emotions.
[10] 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.
[11] 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 through them.
[12] 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 God.
[13] Our inquiry, accordingly, is whether reason is sovereign over the emotions.
[14] 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.
[15] Now reason is the mind that with sound logic prefers the life of wisdom.
[16] Wisdom, next, is the knowledge of divine and human matters and the causes of these.
[17] This, in turn, is education in the law, by which we learn divine matters reverently and human affairs to our advantage.
[18] Now the kinds of wisdom are rational judgment, justice, courage, and self-control.
[19] Rational judgment is supreme over all of these, since by means of it reason rules over the emotions.
[20] 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.
[21] The emotions of both pleasure and pain have many consequences.
[22] Thus desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it.
[23] Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after.
[24] Anger, as a man will see if he reflects on this experience, is an emotion embracing pleasure and pain.
[25] In pleasure there exists even a malevolent tendency, which is the most complex of all the emotions.
[26] In the soul it is boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice;
[27] in 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,
[29] 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.
[30] 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 of self-control.
[31] Self-control, then, is dominance over the desires.
[32] Some desires are mental, others are physical, and reason obviously rules over both.
[33] 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.
[34] 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.
[35] For the emotions of the appetites are restrained, checked by the temperate mind, and all the impulses of the body are bridled by reason.
[1] And why is it amazing that the desires of the mind for the enjoyment of beauty are rendered powerless?
[2] It is for this reason, certainly, that the temperate Joseph is praised, because by mental effort he overcame sexual desire.
[3] For when he was young and in his prime for intercourse, by his reason he nullified the frenzy of the passions.
[4] Not only is reason proved to rule over the frenzied urge of sexual desire, but also over every desire.
[5] Thus the law says, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife...or anything that is your neighbor's."
[6] 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 desires. Just so it is with the emotions that hinder one from justice.
[7] 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?
[8] 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.
[9] 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.
[10] For the law prevails even over affection for parents, so that virtue is not abandoned for their sakes.
[11] It is superior to love for one's wife, so that one rebukes her when she breaks the law.
[12] It takes precedence over love for children, so that one punishes them for misdeeds.
[13] It is sovereign over the relationship of friends, so that one rebukes friends when they act wickedly.
[14] 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.
[15] It is evident that reason rules even the more violent emotions: lust for power, vainglory, boasting, arrogance, and malice.
[16] For the temperate mind repels all these malicious emotions, just as it repels anger -- for it is sovereign over even this.
[17] When Moses was angry with Dathan and Abiram he did nothing against them in anger, but controlled his anger by reason.
[18] For, as I have said, the temperate mind is able to get the better of the emotions, to correct some, and to render others powerless.
[19] 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 their anger"?
[20] For if reason could not control anger, he would not have spoken thus.
[21] Now when God fashioned man, he planted in him emotions and inclinations,
[22] but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them all.
[23] To 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?
[1] This notion is entirely ridiculous; for it is evident that reason rules not over its own emotions, but over those of the body.
[2] No one of us can eradicate that kind of desire, but reason can provide a way for us not to be enslaved by desire.
[3] No one of us can eradicate anger from the mind, but reason can help to deal with anger.
[4] No one of us can eradicate malice, but reason can fight at our side so that we are not overcome by malice.
[5] For reason does not uproot the emotions but is their antagonist.
[6] Now this can be explained more clearly by the story of King David's thirst.
[7] David had been attacking the Philistines all day long, and together with the soldiers of his nation had slain many of them.
[8] Then when evening fell, he came, sweating and quite exhausted, to the royal tent, around which the whole army of our ancestors had encamped.
[9] Now all the rest were at supper,
[10] but the king was extremely thirsty, and although springs were plentiful there, he could not satisfy his thirst from them.
[11] But a certain irrational desire for the water in the enemy's territory tormented and inflamed him, undid and consumed him.
[12] 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.
[13] Eluding the sentinels at the gates, they went searching throughout the enemy camp
[14] and found the spring, and from it boldly brought the king a drink.
[15] 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.
[16] Therefore, opposing reason to desire, he poured out the drink as an offering to God.
[17] For the temperate mind can conquer the drives of the emotions and quench the flames of frenzied desires;
[18] it can overthrow bodily agonies even when they are extreme, and by nobility of reason spurn all domination by the emotions.
[19] The present occasion now invites us to a narrative demonstration of temperate reason.
[20] 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 --
[21] just at that time certain men attempted a revolution against the public harmony and caused many and various disasters.
[1] 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.
[2] So 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."
[4] 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.
[5] 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.
[6] He said that he had come with the king's authority to seize the private funds in the treasury.
[7] 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.
[8] But, uttering threats, Apollonius went on to the temple.
[9] 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,
[10] 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.
[11] 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.
[12] 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.
[13] 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.
[14] So Apollonius, having been preserved beyond all expectations, went away to report to the king what had happened to him.
[15] When King Seleucus died, his son Antiochus Epiphanes succeeded to the throne, an arrogant and terrible man,
[16] who removed Onias from the priesthood and appointed Onias's brother Jason as high priest.
[17] Jason agreed that if the office were conferred upon him he would pay the king three thousand six hundred and sixty talents annually.
[18] So the king appointed him high priest and ruler of the nation.
[19] Jason changed the nation's way of life and altered its form of government in complete violation of the law,
[20] so that not only was a gymnasium constructed at the very citadel of our native land, but also the temple service was abolished.
[21] The divine justice was angered by these acts and caused Antiochus himself to make war on them.
[22] 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 them,
[23] 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.
[24] 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,
[25] 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 this --
[26] 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.
[1] The tyrant Antiochus, sitting in state with his counselors on a certain high place, and with his armed soldiers standing about him,
[2] ordered the guards to seize each and every Hebrew and to compel them to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols.
[3] If any were not willing to eat defiling food, they were to be broken on the wheel and killed.
[4] 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 philosophy.
[5] 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,
[7] 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.
[8] Why, when nature has granted it to us, should you abhor eating the very excellent meat of this animal?
[9] It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature.
[10] 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.
[11] 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,
[12] and have compassion on your old age by honoring my humane advice?
[13] 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."
[14] When the tyrant urged him in this fashion to eat meat unlawfully, Eleazar asked to have a word.
[15] When 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.
[17] Therefore we consider that we should not transgress it in any respect.
[18] 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.
[19] Therefore do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiling food;
[20] to transgress the law in matters either small or great is of equal seriousness,
[21] for in either case the law is equally despised.
[22] You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational,
[23] 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;
[24] 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.
[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 toward us.
[26] 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.
[27] 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 to us.
[28] But you shall have no such occasion to laugh at me,
[29] nor will I transgress the sacred oaths of my ancestors concerning the keeping of the law,
[30] not even if you gouge out my eyes and burn my entrails.
[31] I am not so old and cowardly as not to be young in reason on behalf of piety.
[32] Therefore get your torture wheels ready and fan the fire more vehemently!
[33] I do not so pity my old age as to break the ancestral law by my own act.
[34] I will not play false to you, O law that trained me, nor will I renounce you, beloved self-control.
[35] I will not put you to shame, philosophical reason, nor will I reject you, honored priesthood and knowledge of the law.
[36] You, O king, shall not stain the honorable mouth of my old age, nor my long life lived lawfully.
[37] The fathers will receive me as pure, as one who does not fear your violence even to death.
[38] You may tyrannize the ungodly, but you shall not dominate my religious principles either by word or by deed."