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.”

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