4 Maccabees

Chapters 6-10

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

[1] 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.
[2] First they stripped the old man, who remained adorned with the gracefulness of his piety.
[3] And after they had tied his arms on each side they scourged him,
[4] while a herald opposite him cried out, "Obey the king's commands!"
[5] But the courageous and noble man, as a true Eleazar, was unmoved, as though being tortured in a dream;
[6] 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.
[7] And though he fell to the ground because his body could not endure the agonies, he kept his reason upright and unswerving.
[8] 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.
[9] But he bore the pains and scorned the punishment and endured the tortures.
[10] And like a noble athlete the old man, while being beaten, was victorious over his torturers;
[11] in 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,
[13] 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,
[14] "Eleazar, why are you so irrationally destroying yourself through these evil things?
[15] We 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] "May we, the children of Abraham, never think so basely that out of cowardice we feign a role unbecoming to us!
[18] 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 course
[19] become a pattern of impiety to the young, in becoming an example of the eating of defiling food.
[20] It would be shameful if we should survive for a little while and during that time be a laughing stock to all for our cowardice,
[21] and if we should be despised by the tyrant as unmanly, and not protect our divine law even to death.
[22] Therefore, O children of Abraham, die nobly for your religion!
[23] And 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.
[25] There they burned him with maliciously contrived instruments, threw him down, and poured stinking liquids into his nostrils.
[26] When 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.
[28] Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them.
[29] Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs."
[30] 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.
[31] Admittedly, then, devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.
[32] For if the emotions had prevailed over reason, we would have testified to their domination.
[33] But now that reason has conquered the emotions, we properly attribute to it the power to govern.
[34] 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.
[35] And I have proved not only that reason has mastered agonies, but also that it masters pleasures and in no respect yields to them.
[1] For like a most skilful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions,
[2] and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures,
[3] in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.
[4] 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.
[5] For in setting his mind firm like a jutting cliff, our father Eleazar broke the maddening waves of the emotions.
[6] 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.
[7] O man in harmony with the law and philosopher of divine life!
[8] Such should be those who are administrators of the law, shielding it with their own blood and noble sweat in sufferings even to death.
[9] 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 philosophy credible.
[10] O aged man, more powerful than tortures; O elder, fiercer than fire; O supreme king over the passions, Eleazar!
[11] For just as our father Aaron, armed with the censer, ran through the multitude of the people and conquered the fiery angel,
[12] so the descendant of Aaron, Eleazar, though being consumed by the fire, remained unmoved in his reason.
[13] 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
[14] in spirit through reason; and by reason like that of Isaac he rendered the many-headed rack ineffective.
[15] O man of blessed age and of venerable gray 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.
[17] Some perhaps might say, "Not every one has full command of his emotions, because not every one has prudent reason."
[18] But as many as attend to religion with a whole heart, these alone are able to control the passions of the flesh,
[19] since they believe that they, like our patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live in God.
[20] No contradiction therefore arises when some persons appear to be dominated by their emotions because of the weakness of their reason.
[21] What person who lives as a philosopher by the whole rule of philosophy, and trusts in God,
[22] and knows that it is blessed to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, would not be able to overcome the emotions through godliness?
[23] For only the wise and courageous man is lord of his emotions.
[1] 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.
[2] 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.
[3] 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.
[4] 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,
[5] "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.
[6] Just as I am able to punish those who disobey my orders, so I can be a benefactor to those who obey me.
[7] Trust me, then, and you will have positions of authority in my government if you will renounce the ancestral tradition of your national life.
[8] And enjoy your youth by adopting the Greek way of life and by changing your manner of living.
[9] But if by disobedience you rouse my anger, you will compel me to destroy each and every one of you with dreadful punishments through tortures.
[10] Therefore take pity on yourselves. Even I, your enemy, have compassion for your youth and handsome appearance.
[11] Will 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.
[13] 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:
[14] "Be afraid, young fellows, and 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.
[16] 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?
[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,
[18] why do we take pleasure in vain resolves and venture upon a disobedience that brings death?
[19] 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?
[20] Let us take pity on our youth and have compassion on our mother's age;
[21] and let us seriously consider that if we disobey we are dead!
[22] Also, divine justice will excuse us for fearing the king when we are under compulsion.
[23] Why do we banish ourselves from this most pleasant life and deprive ourselves of this delightful world?
[24] Let us not struggle against compulsion nor take hollow pride in being put to the rack.
[25] Not even the law itself would arbitrarily slay us for fearing the instruments of torture.
[26] Why 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.
[28] For they were contemptuous of the emotions and sovereign over agonies,
[29] 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:
[1] "Why do you delay, O tyrant? For we are ready to die rather than transgress our ancestral commandments;
[2] we are obviously putting our forefathers to shame unless we should practice ready obedience to the law and to Moses our counselor.
[3] Tyrant and counselor of lawlessness, in your hatred for us do not pity us more than we pity ourselves.
[4] For we consider this pity of yours which insures our safety through transgression of the law to be more grievous than death itself.
[5] You are trying to terrify us by threatening us with death by torture, as though a short time ago you learned nothing from Eleazar.
[6] 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.
[7] 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.
[8] For we, through this severe suffering and endurance, shall have the prize of virtue and shall be with God, for whom we suffer;
[9] but you, because of your bloodthirstiness toward us, will deservedly undergo from the divine justice eternal torment by fire."
[10] 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.
[11] 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.
[12] When they had worn themselves out beating him with scourges, without accomplishing anything, they placed him upon the wheel.
[13] When the noble youth was stretched out around this, his limbs were dislocated,
[14] and though broken in every member he denounced the tyrant, saying,
[15] "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."
[16] And when the guards said, "Agree to eat so that you may be released from the tortures,"
[17] 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.
[18] Through all these tortures I will convince you that sons of the Hebrews alone are invincible where virtue is concerned."
[19] While he was saying these things, they spread fire under him, and while fanning the flames they tightened the wheel further.
[20] 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.
[21] Although the ligaments joining his bones were already severed, the courageous youth, worthy of Abraham, did not groan,
[22] but as though transformed by fire into immortality he nobly endured the rackings.
[23] "Imitate me, brothers," he said. "Do not leave your post in my struggle or renounce our courageous brotherhood.
[24] 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."
[25] When he had said this, the saintly youth broke the thread of life.
[26] 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.
[27] Before torturing him, they inquired if he were willing to eat, and they heard this noble decision.
[28] 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,
[29] "How sweet is any kind of death for the religion of our fathers!"
[30] 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?
[31] I lighten my pain by the joys that come from virtue,
[32] but you suffer torture by the threats that come from impiety. You will not escape, most abominable tyrant, the judgments of the divine wrath."
[1] 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.
[2] 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?
[3] I do not renounce the noble kinship that binds me to my brothers."
[5] Enraged by the man's boldness, they disjointed his hands and feet with their instruments, dismembering him by prying his limbs from their sockets,
[6] and breaking his fingers and arms and legs and elbows.
[7] 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.
[8] 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.
[9] When he was about to die, he said,
[10] "We, most abominable tyrant, are suffering because of our godly training and virtue,
[11] but you, because of your impiety and bloodthirstiness, will undergo unceasing torments."
[12] When he also had died in a manner worthy of his brothers, they dragged in the fourth, saying,
[13] "As for you, do not give way to the same insanity as your brothers, but obey the king and save yourself."
[14] But he said to them, "You do not have a fire hot enough to make me play the coward.
[15] 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.
[16] Contrive tortures, tyrant, so that you may learn from them that I am a brother to those who have just been tortured."
[17] When he heard this, the bloodthirsty, murderous, and utterly abominable Antiochus gave orders to cut out his tongue.
[18] But he said, "Even if you remove my organ of speech, God hears also those who are mute.
[19] See, here is my tongue; cut it off, for in spite of this you will not make our reason speechless.
[20] Gladly, for the sake of God, we let our bodily members be mutilated.
[21] God will visit you swiftly, for you are cutting out a tongue that has been melodious with divine hymns."