Reading 158/341, 2 Maccabees 7.20-9.18a

[A] The Jewish martyrs are distinct from the Christian martyrs a few centuries later in that there is no sense of forgiveness. It took Jesus and his forgiveness from the Cross to make that possible.
[B] The title Friend is used here as it often is in the Old Testament to signify a cabinet level position in the government. This title appears in the New Testament when the Jews accuse Pilate of not being a "Friend of Caesar" which was his highest career goal, and when Jesus calls the Apostles "Friends", thereby signifying that he was placing them in charge of his Church.

...2 Maccabees...

But the mother was marvelous above all, and worthy of honorable memory, for when she saw her seven sons slain within the space of one day, she bore it with good courage, because of the hope that she had in the Lord. Indeed, she exhorted each of them in her own language, filled with courageous spirits, and stirring up her feminine thoughts with a manly stomach, she said to them, “I cannot tell how you came into my womb, for I neither gave you breath nor life, nor was it I who formed the limbs of each of you, but, without a doubt, the Creator of the world, who formed human reproduction, and found out the beginning of all things, will also of his own mercy give you breath and life again, as you do not now regard your own selves for his laws' sake.” Now Antiochus, thinking himself despised, and suspecting it to be a reproachful speech, while the youngest was yet alive, did not only exhort him by words, but also assured him with oaths, that he would make him both a rich and a happy man, if only he would turn from the laws of his fathers, and that also he would take him for his Friend, and trust him with his affairs. But when the young man would in no way hearken to him, the king called his mother, and exhorted her to counsel the young man to save his life, and when he had exhorted her with many words, she promised him that she would counsel her son. But she, bowing herself toward him, laughing the cruel tyrant to scorn, spoke in her native language in this manner: “O my son, have pity upon me who bore you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and nourished you, and brought you up to this age, and endured the troubles of education. I beseech you, my son, look at heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not, and so was mankind made likewise. Fear not this tormentor, but, being worthy of your brothers, accept your death that I may receive you again in mercy with your brothers.” While she was yet speaking these words, the young man said, “Whom are you waiting for? I will not obey the king's commandment, but I will obey the commandment of the law that was given unto our fathers by Moses. And you, who have been the author of all mischief against the Hebrews, shall not escape the hands of God. For we suffer because of our sins. And though the living Lord is angry with us for a little while toward our chastening and correction, yet he shall be at one again with his servants. But you, O godless man, and of all other most wicked, be not lifted up without a cause, nor puffed up with uncertain hopes, lifting up your hand against the servants of God, for you have not yet escaped the judgment of Almighty God, who sees all things. For our brothers, who now have suffered a short pain, are dead under God's covenant of everlasting life, but you, through the judgment of God, shall receive just punishment for your pride. But I, like my brothers, offer up my body and life for the laws of our fathers, beseeching God that he would speedily be merciful unto our nation, and that you by torments and diseases may confess that he alone is God, and that with me and my brothers the wrath of the Almighty, which is justly brought upon our nation, may cease.” Than the king, being in a rage, handed him over to worse than all the rest, and took it grievously that he was mocked. So this man died undefiled, and put his whole trust in the Lord. Last of all after the sons the mother died. Let this be enough now to have spoken concerning the idolatrous feasts, and the extreme tortures.

Then Judas Maccabeus, and those who were with him, went secretly into the towns, and called their kinsfolk together, and took with them all those who continued in the Jewish religion, and assembled about 6000 men. And they called upon the Lord, that he would look upon the people who were trodden down by all, and also pity the temple profaned by ungodly men, that he would have compassion upon the city, badly defaced, and ready to be razed to the ground, and hear the blood that cried out to him, and remember the wicked slaughter of harmless infants, and the blasphemies committed against his name, and that he would show his hatred for evil. Now when Maccabeus had his company with him, he could not be withstood by the heathen, for the wrath of the Lord was turned to mercy. Therefore he came at them unaware, and burnt up towns and cities, and put into his hands the best places, and overcame and put to flight no small number of his enemies. He especially took advantage of the night for such secret attempts, so much so that the rumor of his virtue was spread everywhere.

So when Philip saw that this man increased by little and little, and that things prospered with him still more and more, he wrote to Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, to yield more aid to the king's affairs. Then right away he chose Nicanor, the son of Patroclus, one of his Special Friends. He sent him with no fewer than 20,000 from all nations under him, to wipe out the whole nation of the Jews, and with him he joined also Gorgias a captain, who in matters of war had great experience. Nicanor planned to make enough money from the captive Jews to defray the tribute of 2000 talents, which the king had to pay to the Romans. Therefore, he immediately sent messages to the cities on the sea coast, proclaiming a sale of the captive Jews, and promising that they would have 90 bodies for 1 talent, not expecting the vengeance that was to follow upon him from the Almighty God. Now when word was brought to Judas of Nicanor's coming, and he had shared with those who were with him that the army was at hand, those who were fearful, and distrusted the justice of God, fled, and got themselves away. The others sold all that they had left, and sought the Lord to deliver them, sold by the wicked Nicanor before they met together, if not for their own sakes, yet for the covenants he had made with their fathers, and for his holy and glorious name's sake, by which they were called. So Maccabeus called his men together numbering 6000, and exhorted them not to be stricken with terror of the enemy, nor to fear the great multitude of the heathen, who came wrongly against them, but to fight manfully, and to set before their eyes the injury that they had unjustly done to the holy place, and the cruel handling of the city, of which they made a mockery, and also the taking away of the government of their forefathers. “For they”, said he, “trust in their weapons and boldness, but our confidence is in the Almighty who at a finger movement can cast down both those who come against us, and also the whole world.” Moreover, he recounted to them what helps their forefathers had found, and how they were delivered, when under Sennacherib 185,000 perished. And he told them of the battle that they had in Babylon with the Galatians, how they were but 8000 in all at the battle, with 4000 Macedonians, and that the Macedonians being afraid, the 8000 destroyed 120,000 because of the help that they had from heaven, and so received a great booty. Thus when he had made them bold with these words, and ready to die for the law and the country, he divided his army into four parts, and joined with himself his own brothers, leaders of each band, namely Simon, and Joseph, and Jonathan, giving each one 1500 men. Also he appointed Eleazar to read the holy book, and when he had given them this watchword, “The help of God”, with he himself leading the first band, by the help of the Almighty, they slew more than 9000 of their enemies, and wounded and maimed the greater part of Nicanor's army, and so put all to flight, and took the money from those who came to buy them, and pursued them far, but lacking time they returned, for it was the day before the Sabbath, and therefore they would no longer pursue them.

So when they had gathered their armor together, and spoiled their enemies, they occupied themselves about the Sabbath, yielding exceeding praise and thanks to the Lord, who had preserved them that day, which was the beginning of mercy distilling upon them. And after the Sabbath, when they had given part of the spoils to the maimed, and the widows, and orphans, what remained they divided among themselves and their servants. When this was done, and they had made a common supplication, they sought the merciful Lord to be reconciled with his servants forever. Moreover, of those who were with Timotheus and Bacchides, who fought against them, they slew more than 20,000, and very easily got high places and strongholds, and divided among themselves many spoils more, and made the maimed, orphans, widows, and the aged too, equal in spoils with themselves. And when they had gathered their armor together, they laid them up all carefully in convenient places, and the remnant of the spoils they brought to Jerusalem. They slew also Philarches, that wicked person, who was with Timotheus, and had abused the Jews in many ways. Furthermore, at such time as they kept the feast for the victory in their country they burnt Callisthenes, that had set the holy gates on fire, who had fled into a little house, and so he received a reward fitting for his wickedness. As for that most ungracious Nicanor, who had brought a 1000 merchants to buy the Jews, he was, through the help of the Lord, brought down by them of whom he had had little respect, and taking off his glorious apparel, and discharging his company, he came like a fugitive servant through the midland to Antioch having very great dishonor, since his army was destroyed. Thus he, who had planned to make pay to the Romans their tribute by means of captives in Jerusalem, told abroad, that the Jews had God to fight for them, and therefore they could not be hurt, because they followed the laws that he gave them.

About that time, Antiochus came with dishonor out of the country of Persia, for he had entered the city called Persepolis, and went to rob the temple, and to hold the city, at which the multitude ran to defend themselves with their weapons and put them to flight, and so it happened, that Antiochus being put to flight by the inhabitants, returned with shame. Now when he came to Ecbatane, news was brought him what had happened to Nicanor and Timotheus. Then swelling with anger, he intended to take revenge on the Jews for the disgrace done to him by those who made him flee. Therefore, he commanded his chariot driver to drive without ceasing, and to complete the journey, the judgment of God now following him. For he had spoken proudly in this way: that he would come to Jerusalem and make it a common burying place of the Jews. But the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, smote him with an incurable and invisible disease; as soon as he had spoken these words, a pain of the bowels that was remediless came upon him, and awful torments of the inner parts, and that most justly, for he had tormented other men's bowels with many and strange torments. Nevertheless, he did not at all cease from his bragging, but still was filled with pride, breathing out fire in his rage against the Jews, and commanding to hasten the journey, but it came to pass that he fell down from his chariot, falling violently, so that having a serious fall, all the members of his body were in great pain. And thus he who a little before thought he might command the waves of the sea, (so proud was he beyond the condition of man) and weigh the high mountains in a balance, was now cast on the ground, and carried on a horse-stretcher, showing forth to all the manifest power of God. So that the worms rose up out of the body of this wicked man, and while he yet lived in sorrow and pain, his flesh fell away, and the filth of his smell was bothersome to his whole army. And the man, who had thought a little before that he could reach to the stars of heaven, no man could endure to carry for his intolerable stench. Here therefore, being diseased, he began to abandon his great pride, and to come to the knowledge of himself by the scourge of God, his pain increasing every moment. And when he himself could not abide his own smell, he said these words, “It is fitting to be subject to God, and that a man who is mortal should not proudly think of himself if he were God.” This wicked person even vowed to the Lord, who now no longer would have mercy upon him, saying that the holy city, to the which he was going in haste to lay it to the ground, and to make it a common graveyard, he would set at liberty, and as concerned the Jews, whom he had judged not worthy enough to be buried, but to be cast out with their children to be devoured by the fowls and wild beasts, he would make them all equals to the citizens of Athens, and the holy temple, which before he had spoiled, he would garnish with goodly gifts, and restore all the holy vessels with many more, and out of his own revenue defray the charges belonging to the sacrifices, indeed, and that also he would become a Jew himself, and go through all the world that was inhabited, and declare the power of God. But for all this his pains would not cease, for the just judgment of God had come upon him.

Reading 157/341, 2 Maccabees 5-7.19

The story of the Jewish martyrs that begins in this reading and continues tomorrow is probably the most memorable part of this book and perhaps among the most in the Old Testament.

...2 Maccabees...

About the same time, Antiochus prepared his second expedition into Egypt, and then it happened, that through all the city, for the space of almost forty days, there were seen horsemen running in the air, in cloth of gold, and armed with lances, like a band of soldiers, and troops of horsemen in array, encountering and running one against another, with shaking of shields, and multitude of pikes, and drawing of swords, and casting of darts, and glittering of golden ornaments, and harness of all sorts. Therefore everyone prayed that this apparition might turn to good. Now when a false rumor had gone forth that Antiochus was dead, Jason took at least a thousand men, and suddenly made an assault upon the city, and those who were upon the walls were pushed back, and the city at length taken, Menelaus fled into the tower, but Jason killed his own citizens without mercy, not considering that to triumph over his own nation would be a calamity for him, but thinking they had been his enemies, and not his countrymen, whom he conquered. For all this, he did not obtain the office, but at last received shame as a reward for his treason, and fled again into the country of the Ammonites. He had an unhappy end therefore, being accused before Aretas the king of the Arabians, fleeing from city to city, pursued by all men, hated as a forsaker of the laws, and being held in abomination as an open enemy of his country and countrymen, he was cast out into Egypt. Thus he who had driven so many from their country, perished in a strange land, retiring to the Lacedaemonians, and thinking there to find help by reason of his kindred. He who had cast out many unburied, had no one to mourn for him, nor any solemn funerals at all, nor sepulcher with his fathers.

Now when what was done came to the king's ear, he thought that Judah had revolted, so, leaving Egypt with a furious mind, he took the city by force of arms, and commanded his men of war not to spare anyone they met, and to slay those who went into houses. Thus there was killing of young and old, a taking away of men, women, and children, slaying of virgins and infants. And there were destroyed within the space of three whole days 80,000, of which forty thousand were slain in the conflict, and no fewer sold than slain. Yet was he not content with this, but presumed to go into the Most Holy Temple of all the world. Menelaus, that traitor to the laws, and to his own country, was his guide, and he took the holy vessels with polluted hands, and with profane hands pulled down the things that were dedicated by other kings to the augmentation and glory and honor of the place. And so haughty was Antiochus in mind that he did not understand that the Lord was angry for a while because of the sins of those who dwelt in the city, and therefore his eye was not upon the place. For had they not been formerly covered in many sins, this man, as soon as he had come, would have been quickly scourged and put back from his presumption, as Heliodorus was, whom Seleucus the king sent to view the treasury. Nevertheless, God did not choose the people for the place's sake, but the place for the people's sake, and therefore the place itself was partaker with them of the adversity that happened to the nation, and did afterward share in the benefits sent from the Lord, and as it was forsaken in the wrath of the Almighty, so again, the great Lord being reconciled, it was set up with all glory.

So when Antiochus had carried out of the temple 1800 talents, he departed in all haste to Antioch, plotting in his pride to make the land navigable by ship, and the sea passable by foot, such was the haughtiness of his mind. And he left governors to vex the nation, at Jerusalem: Philip, by country a Phrygian, and by manners more barbarous than the one who set him there, and at Garizim, Andronicus, and besides them, Menelaus, who, worse than all the rest, bore a heavy hand over the citizens, having a malicious mind against his countrymen the Jews. He also sent that detestable ringleader Apollonius with an army of 22,000, commanding him to slay all those who were in their best age, and to sell the women and the younger sort. Coming to Jerusalem, and pretending peace, he waited until the holy day of the Sabbath, when with the Jews keeping the holy day, he commanded his men to arm themselves. And so he killed all those that had come to watch, and running through the city with weapons, they killed great crowds. But Judas Maccabeus with nine others, or thereabout, withdrew himself into the desert, and lived in the mountains after the manner of beasts, with his group, who fed on herbs continually, lest they should be partakers of the pollution.

Not long after this the king sent an old man of Athens to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers, and not to live after the laws of God, and to pollute the temple in Jerusalem, and to call it the temple of Zeus of Olympus, and that in Garizim, after Zeus the Host of Strangers, as those who dwelt there were. This evil was grievous and intolerable to the people, for the temple was filled with riot and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots, and joined with women within the walls of the holy places, and besides that brought in things that were not lawful. The altar also was filled with profane things, which the law forbids. Nor was it lawful for a man to keep Sabbath days or ancient fasts, or to profess himself at all to be a Jew. And in the day of the king's birth every month they were brought by bitter constraint to eat of the sacrifices, and when the fast of Dionysius was kept, the Jews were compelled to go in procession to Dionysius, carrying ivy. Moreover there went out a decree to the neighbor cities of the heathen, by the suggestion of those of Ptolemais, against the Jews, that they should observe the same fashions, and be partakers of their sacrifices, And whoever would not conform themselves to the manners of the Gentiles would be put to death.

Then a person could have seen the obvious misery. For two women were brought, who had circumcised their sons. When they had openly paraded them around the city, with the babies hanging at their breasts, they cast them down headlong from the wall. And others, who had run together into caves nearby, to keep the Sabbath day secretly, being discovered by Philip, were all burnt together, because they decided in conscience to not defend themselves against the honor of the most sacred day. Now I beseech those that read this book, lest they be discouraged for these calamities, lest they judge those punishments to be for destruction, rather than a chastening of our nation. For it is a token of his great goodness, when wicked doers are not put up with for a long time, but quickly punished. For not as with other nations, whom the Lord patiently forbears to punish, until they have come to the fullness of their sins, so deals he with us, lest, having come to the height of sin, afterwards he should take vengeance upon us. And therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us, and though he punishes us with adversity, yet he never forsakes his people. But let what we have said be a warning for us. And now we will come to the telling of the matter in a few words.

Eleazar, one of the principal scribes, an aged man, and of a favored appearance, was constrained to open his mouth, and to eat swine's flesh. But he, choosing rather to die gloriously, than to live stained with such an abomination, spit it out, and came of his own accord to the torment, as it behooved them to come, who are resolute to stand against such things, which are not lawful for love of life to be tasted. But those who had the charge of that wicked feast, for the old acquaintance they had with the man, taking him aside, besought him to bring flesh of his own provision, such as was lawful for him to eat, and make as if he did eat of the flesh taken from the sacrifice commanded by the king; that in so doing he might be delivered from death, and for the old friendship with them find favor. But he began to consider carefully, and as became his age, and the excellence of his ancient years, and the honor of his gray head, and his most honest education from childhood, and above this the holy law made and given by God, he answered accordingly, and willed them send him straight to the grave. “For it becomes not our age”, said he, “in any way to lie, whereby many young people might think that Eleazar, being 90 years old, had now gone to a strange religion, and so they through my hypocrisy and desire to live a little time and a moment longer, should be deceived by me, and I receive a stain on my old age, and make it abominable. For though for the present time I should be delivered from the punishment of men, yet I would not escape the hand of the Almighty, neither alive, nor dead. Therefore now, manfully changing this life, I will show myself such a one as my age requires, and leave a notable example to the young to die willingly and courageously for the honorable and holy laws.” And when he had said these words, immediately he went to the torment. Those who led him changing the goodwill they bore him a little before into hatred, because of the speeches which proceeded, as they thought, from a desperate mind. But when he was ready to die with stripes, he groaned, and said, “It is manifest to the Lord, who has the holy knowledge, that whereas I might have been delivered from death, I now endure horrible pains in body by being beaten, but in soul am well content to suffer these things, because I fear him.” And thus this man died, leaving his death for an example of noble courage, and a memorial of virtue, not only for young men, but to all his nation.

It came to pass also, that seven brothers with their mother were taken, and compelled by the king against the law to taste pork, and were tormented with scourges and whips. But one of those who spoke first said, “What would you ask or learn of us? We are ready to die rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers.” Then the king, being in a rage, commanded pans and caldrons be made hot. While they were being heated, he commanded them to cut out the tongue of him who spoke first, and to cut off the extremities of his body, the rest of his brothers and his mother looking on. Now when he was thus maimed in all his members, he commanded him being yet alive to be brought to the fire, and to be fried in the pan, and as the smoke of the pan was for a good space dispersed, they exhorted one another with the mother to die manfully, saying thus, “The Lord God looks upon us, and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses in his song, who openly bore witness, declared, saying, ‘And he shall have compassion on his servants.’” So when the first was dead after this manner, they brought the second to mock him, and when they had pulled the skin off of his head with the hair, they asked him, “Will you eat, before you are punished throughout every member of your body?” But he answered in his own language, and said, “No.” Wherefore he also received the next torment in order, as the former did. And when he was at the last gasp, he said, “You like a fury take us out of this present life, but the King of the world shall raise us up, who have died for his laws, unto everlasting life.” After him was the third was mocked, and when he was required, he put out his tongue, right away, holding forth his hands manfully, and said courageously, “These I have from heaven, and for his laws I despise them, and from him I hope to receive them again.” Insomuch that the king, and those who were with him, marveled at the young man's courage, that he regarded the pains in no way. Now when this man was dead also, they tormented and mangled the fourth in like manner. So when he was ready to die he said thus, “It is good, being put to death by men, to look for hope from God to be raised up again by him. As for you, you shall have no resurrection to life.” Afterward they brought the fifth also, and mangled him. Then looked he to the king, and said, “You have power over men. You are mortal. You do what you will, yet think not that our nation is forsaken by God, but abide awhile, and behold his great power, how he will torment you and your seed.” After him also they brought the sixth, who being ready to die said, “Be not deceived without cause, for we suffer these things for ourselves, having sinned against our God. Therefore marvelous things are done unto us. But think not you, who takes it in hand to strive against God, shall escape unpunished.”