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2 Maccabees 6

6Shortly after this the king sent an old Athenian to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers, and to cease living by the laws of God; further, the sanctuary in Jerusalem was to be polluted and called after Zeus Olympius, while the sanctuary at Gerizim was also to be called after Zeus Xenius, in keeping with the hospitable character of the inhabitants. Now this proved a sore and altogether crushing visitation of evil. For the heathen filled the temple with riot and revelling, dallying with harlots and lying with women inside the sacred precincts, besides bringing in what was forbidden, while the altar was filled with abominable sacrifices which the law prohibited. And a man could neither keep the sabbath, nor celebrate the feasts of the fathers, nor so much as confess himself to be a Jew. On the king’s birthday every month they were taken—bitter was the necessity—to share in the sacrifice, and when the festival of the Dionysia came round they were compelled to wear ivy wreaths for the procession in honour of Dionysus. On the suggestion of Ptolemy, an edict was also issued to the neighbouring Greek cities, ordering them to treat the Jews in the same way and force them to share in the sacrifices, slaying any who refused to adopt Greek ways. 10 Thus any one could see the distressful state of affairs. Two women, for example, were brought up for having circumcised their children; they were paraded round the city, with their babies hanging at their breasts, and then flung from the top of the wall. 11 Some others, who had taken refuge in the adjoining caves in order to keep the seventh day secretly, were betrayed to Philip and all burnt together, since they scrupled to defend themselves, out of regard to the honour of that most solemn day.

12 Now I beseech the readers of this book not to be discouraged by such calamities, but to reflect that our people were being punished by way of chastening and not for their destruction. 13 For indeed it is a mark of great kindness when the impious are not let alone for a long time, but punished at once. 14 In the case of other nations, the Sovereign Lord in his forbearance refrains from punishing them till they have filled up their sins to the full, but in our case he has determined otherwise, 15 that his vengeance may not fall on us in after-days when our sins have reached their height. 16 Wherefore he never withdraweth his mercy from us; and though he chasteneth his own people with calamity, he forsaketh them not. 17 So much by way of a reminder to ourselves; after these few words we must come back to our story.

18 Eleazar, one of the principal scribes, a man already well stricken in years and of a noble countenance, was compelled to eat swine’s flesh. 19 But he, welcoming death with renown rather than life with pollution, 20 advanced of his own accord to the instrument of torture, affording an example of how men should come forward who have the courage to put from them food which, even for the natural love of life, they dare not taste. 21 Now those in charge of that forbidden sacrificial feast took the man aside, for the sake of old acquaintance, and privately urged him to bring some flesh of his own providing, such as he was lawfully allowed to use, and to pretend he was really eating of the sacrifice which the king had ordered, 22 so that in this way he might escape death and be kindly treated for the sake of their old friendship. 23 But he with a high resolve, worthy of his years and of the dignity of his descent and of his grey hair reached with honour and of his noble life from childhood and, still more, of the holy laws divinely ordained, spoke his mind accordingly, telling them to dispatch him to Hades at once. 24 ‘It ill becomes our years to dissemble,’ said he, ‘and thus lead many younger persons to imagine that Eleazar in his ninetieth year has gone over to a heathenish religion. 25 I should lead them astray by my dissimulation, for the mere sake of enjoying this brief and momentary life, and I should bring stain and foul disgrace on my own old age. 26 Even were I for the moment to evade the punishment of men, I should not escape the hands of the Almighty in life or in death. 27 Wherefore, by manfully parting with my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age, 28 and leave behind me a noble example to the young of how to die willingly and nobly on behalf of our reverend and holy laws. 29 With these words he stepped forward at once to the instrument of torture, while those who a moment before had been friendly turned against him, deeming his language to be that of a sheer madman. 30 Now, just as he was expiring under the strokes of torture, he groaned out, The Lord, who hath holy knowledge, understandeth that, although I might have been freed from death, I endure cruel pains in my body from scourging and suffer this gladly in my soul, because I fear him.’ 31 Thus he too died, leaving his death as an example of nobility and a memorial of virtue, not only to the young but also to the great body of his nation.

7:1–42. Martyrdom of seven brothers and their mother.

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