4 Maccabees

Chapters 11-15

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

[1] When this one died also, after being cruelly tortured, the fifth leaped up, saying,
[2] "I will not refuse, tyrant, to be tortured for the sake of virtue.
[3] I have come of my own accord, so that by murdering me you will incur punishment from the heavenly justice for even more crimes.
[4] Hater of virtue, hater of mankind, for what act of ours are you destroying us in this way?
[5] Is it because we revere the Creator of all things and live according to his virtuous law?
[6] But these deeds deserve honors, not tortures."
[9] While he was saying these things, the guards bound him and dragged him to the catapult;
[10] they tied him to it on his knees, and fitting iron clamps on them, they twisted his back around the wedge on the wheel, so that he was completely curled back like a scorpion, and all his members were disjointed.
[11] In this condition, gasping for breath and in anguish of body,
[12] he said, "Tyrant, they are splendid favors that you grant us against your will, because through these noble sufferings you give us an opportunity to show our endurance for the law."
[13] After he too had died, the sixth, a mere boy, was led in. When the tyrant inquired whether he was willing to eat and be released, he said,
[14] "I am younger in age than my brothers, but I am their equal in mind.
[15] Since to this end we were born and bred, we ought likewise to die for the same principles.
[16] So if you intend to torture me for not eating defiling foods, go on torturing!"
[17] When he had said this, they led him to the wheel.
[18] He was carefully stretched tight upon it, his back was broken, and he was roasted from underneath.
[19] To his back they applied sharp spits that had been heated in the fire, and pierced his ribs so that his entrails were burned through.
[20] While being tortured he said, "O contest befitting holiness, in which so many of us brothers have been summoned to an arena of sufferings for religion, and in which we have not been defeated!
[21] For religious knowledge, O tyrant, is invincible.
[22] I also, equipped with nobility, will die with my brothers,
[23] and I myself will bring a great avenger upon you, you inventor of tortures and enemy of those who are truly devout.
[24] We six boys have paralyzed your tyranny!
[25] Since you have not been able to persuade us to change our mind or to force us to eat defiling foods, is not this your downfall?
[26] Your fire is cold to us, and the catapults painless, and your violence powerless.
[27] For it is not the guards of the tyrant but those of the divine law that are set over us; therefore, unconquered, we hold fast to reason."
[1] When he also, thrown into the caldron, had died a blessed death, the seventh and youngest of all came forward.
[2] Even though the tyrant had been fearfully reproached by the brothers, he felt strong compassion for this child when he saw that he was already in fetters. He summoned him to come nearer and tried to console him, saying,
[3] "You see the result of your brothers' stupidity, for they died in torments because of their disobedience.
[4] You too, if you do not obey, will be miserably tortured and die before your time,
[5] but if you yield to persuasion you will be my friend and a leader in the government of the kingdom."
[6] When he had so pleaded, he sent for the boy's mother to show compassion on her who had been bereaved of so many sons and to influence her to persuade the surviving son to obey and save himself.
[7] But when his mother had exhorted him in the Hebrew language, as we shall tell a little later,
[8] he said, "Let me loose, let me speak to the king and to all his friends that are with him."
[9] Extremely pleased by the boy's declaration, they freed him at once.
[10] Running to the nearest of the braziers,
[11] he said, "You profane tyrant, most impious of all the wicked, since you have received good things and also your kingdom from God, were you not ashamed to murder his servants and torture on the wheel those who practice religion?
[12] Because of this, justice has laid up for you intense and eternal fire and tortures, and these throughout all time will never let you go.
[13] As a man, were you not ashamed, you most savage beast, to cut out the tongues of men who have feelings like yours and are made of the same elements as you, and to maltreat and torture them in this way?
[14] Surely they by dying nobly fulfilled their service to God, but you will wail bitterly for having slain without cause the contestants for virtue."
[15] Then because he too was about to die, he said,
[16] "I do not desert the excellent example of my brothers,
[17] and I call on the God of our fathers to be merciful to our nation;
[18] but on you he will take vengeance both in this present life and when you are dead."
[19] After he had uttered these imprecations, he flung himself into the braziers and so ended his life.
[1] Since, then, the seven brothers despised sufferings even unto death, everyone must concede that devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.
[2] For if they had been slaves to their emotions and had eaten defiling food, we would say that they had been conquered by these emotions.
[3] But in fact it was not so. Instead, by reason, which is praised before God, they prevailed over their emotions.
[4] The supremacy of the mind over these cannot be overlooked, for the brothers mastered both emotions and pains.
[5] How then can one fail to confess the sovereignty of right reason over emotion in those who were not turned back by fiery agonies?
[6] For just as towers jutting out over harbors hold back the threatening waves and make it calm for those who sail into the inner basin,
[7] so the seven-towered right reason of the youths, by fortifying the harbor of religion, conquered the tempest of the emotions.
[8] For they constituted a holy chorus of religion and encouraged one another, saying,
[9] "Brothers, let us die like brothers for the sake of the law; let us imitate the three youths in Assyria who despised the same ordeal of the furnace.
[10] Let us not be cowardly in the demonstration of our piety."
[11] While one said, "Courage, brother," another said, "Bear up nobly,"
[12] and another reminded them, "Remember whence you came, and the father by whose hand Isaac would have submitted to being slain for the sake of religion."
[13] Each of them and all of them together looking at one another, cheerful and undaunted, said, "Let us with all our hearts consecrate ourselves to God, who gave us our lives, and let us use our bodies as a bulwark for the law.
[14] Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us,
[15] for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God.
[16] Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control, which is divine reason.
[17] For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us."
[18] Those who were left behind said to each of the brothers who were being dragged away, "Do not put us to shame, brother, or betray the brothers who have died before us."
[19] You are not ignorant of the affection of brotherhood, which the divine and all-wise Providence has bequeathed through the fathers to their descendants and which was implanted in the mother's womb.
[20] There each of the brothers dwelt the same length of time and was shaped during the same period of time; and growing from the same blood and through the same life, they were brought to the light of day.
[21] When they were born after an equal time of gestation, they drank milk from the same fountains. For such embraces brotherly-loving souls are nourished;
[22] and they grow stronger from this common nurture and daily companionship, and from both general education and our discipline in the law of God.
[23] Therefore, when sympathy and brotherly affection had been so established, the brothers were the more sympathetic to one another.
[24] Since they had been educated by the same law and trained in the same virtues and brought up in right living, they loved one another all the more.
[25] A common zeal for nobility expanded their goodwill and harmony toward one another,
[26] because, with the aid of their religion, they rendered their brotherly love more fervent.
[27] But although nature and companionship and virtuous habits had augmented the affection of brotherhood, those who were left endured for the sake of religion, while watching their brothers being maltreated and tortured to death.
[1] Furthermore, they encouraged them to face the torture, so that they not only despised their agonies, but also mastered the emotions of brotherly love.
[2] O reason, more royal than kings and freer than the free!
[3] O sacred and harmonious concord of the seven brothers on behalf of religion!
[4] None of the seven youths proved coward or shrank from death,
[5] but all of them, as though running the course toward immortality, hastened to death by torture.
[6] Just as the hands and feet are moved in harmony with the guidance of the mind, so those holy youths, as though moved by an immortal spirit of devotion, agreed to go to death for its sake.
[7] O most holy seven, brothers in harmony! For just as the seven days of creation move in choral dance around religion,
[8] so these youths, forming a chorus, encircled the sevenfold fear of tortures and dissolved it.
[9] Even now, we ourselves shudder as we hear of the tribulations of these young men; they not only saw what was happening, yes, not only heard the direct word of threat, but also bore the sufferings patiently, and in agonies of fire at that.
[10] What could be more excruciatingly painful than this? For the power of fire is intense and swift, and it consumed their bodies quickly.
[11] Do not consider it amazing that reason had full command over these men in their tortures, since the mind of woman despised even more diverse agonies,
[12] for the mother of the seven young men bore up under the rackings of each one of her children.
[13] Observe how complex is a mother's love for her children, which draws everything toward an emotion felt in her inmost parts.
[14] Even unreasoning animals, like mankind, have a sympathy and parental love for their offspring.
[15] For example, among birds, the ones that are tame protect their young by building on the housetops,
[16] and the others, by building in precipitous chasms and in holes and tops of trees, hatch the nestlings and ward off the intruder.
[17] If they are not able to keep him away, they do what they can to help their young by flying in circles around them in the anguish of love, warning them with their own calls.
[18] And why is it necessary to demonstrate sympathy for children by the example of unreasoning animals,
[19] since even bees at the time for making honeycombs defend themselves against intruders as though with an iron dart sting those who approach their hive and defend it even to the death?
[20] But sympathy for her children did not sway the mother of the young men; she was of the same mind as Abraham.
[1] O reason of the children, tyrant over the emotions! O religion, more desirable to the mother than her children!
[2] Two courses were open to this mother, that of religion, and that of preserving her seven sons for a time, as the tyrant had promised.
[3] She loved religion more, religion that preserves them for eternal life according to God's promise.
[4] In what manner might I express the emotions of parents who love their children? We impress upon the character of a small child a wondrous likeness both of mind and of form. Especially is this true of mothers, who because of their birthpangs have a deeper sympathy toward their offspring than do the fathers.
[5] Considering that mothers are the weaker sex and give birth to many, they are more devoted to their children.
[6] The mother of the seven boys, more than any other mother, loved her children. In seven pregnancies she had implanted in herself tender love toward them,
[7] and because of the many pains she suffered with each of them she had sympathy for them;
[8] yet because of the fear of God she disdained the temporary safety of her children.
[9] Not only so, but also because of the nobility of her sons and their ready obedience to the law she felt a greater tenderness toward them.
[10] For they were righteous and self-controlled and brave and magnanimous, and loved their brothers and their mother, so that they obeyed her even to death in keeping the ordinances.
[11] Nevertheless, though so many factors influenced the mother to suffer with them out of love for her children, in the case of none of them were the various tortures strong enough to pervert her reason.
[12] Instead, the mother urged them on, each child singly and all together, to death for the sake of religion.
[13] O sacred nature and affection of parental love, yearning of parents toward offspring, nurture and indomitable suffering by mothers!
[14] This mother, who saw them tortured and burned one by one, because of religion did not change her attitude.
[15] She watched the flesh of her children consumed by fire, their toes and fingers scattered on the ground, and the flesh of the head to the chin exposed like masks.
[16] O mother, tried now by more bitter pains than even the birth-pangs you suffered for them!
[17] O woman, who alone gave birth to such complete devotion!
[18] When the first-born breathed his last it did not turn you aside, nor when the second in torments looked at you piteously nor when the third expired;
[19] nor did you weep when you looked at the eyes of each one in his tortures gazing boldly at the same agonies, and saw in their nostrils the signs of the approach of death.
[20] When you saw the flesh of children burned upon the flesh of other children, severed hands upon hands, scalped heads upon heads, and corpses fallen on other corpses and when you saw the place filled with many spectators of the torturings, you did not shed tears.
[21] Neither the melodies of sirens nor the songs of swans attract the attention of their hearers as did the voices of the children in torture calling to their mother.
[22] How great and how many torments the mother then suffered as her sons were tortured on the wheel and with the hot irons!
[23] But devout reason, giving her heart a man's courage in the very midst of her emotions, strengthened her to disregard her temporal love for her children.
[24] Although she witnessed the destruction of seven children and the ingenious and various rackings, this noble mother disregarded all these because of faith in God.
[25] For as in the council chamber of her own soul she saw mighty advocates -- nature, family, parental love, and the rackings of her children --
[26] this mother held two ballots, one bearing death and the other deliverance for her children.
[27] She did not approve the deliverance which would preserve the seven sons for a short time,
[28] but as the daughter of God-fearing Abraham she remembered his fortitude.
[29] O mother of the nation, vindicator of the law and champion of religion, who carried away the prize of the contest in your heart!
[30] O more noble than males in steadfastness, and more manly than men in endurance!
[31] Just as Noah's ark, carrying the world in the universal flood, stoutly endured the waves,
[32] so you, O guardian of the law, overwhelmed from every side by the flood of your emotions and the violent winds, the torture of your sons, endured nobly and withstood the wintry storms that assail religion.