Search the CEB

  • 2 Maccabees 6

    Judaism is outlawed

    Shortly afterward the king sent out an Athenian elder to force the Jews to turn away from their ancestral laws and stop living according to God’s laws. He was also ordered to defile the temple in Jerusalem and to rename it for Zeus Olympus, and to rename the temple in Mount Gerizim for Zeus, Friend of Strangers, just as the people living there requested. The onslaught of this evil was severe and hard for all to bear. The Gentiles filled the temple with wild partying and sexual indulgence. They were entertaining themselves with prostitutes and having sex with women in the priestly chambers. In addition, they carried in unfit things, and the altar was illegally covered with offerings forbidden by the laws. It was impossible to keep the Sabbath or the ancestral festivals, or even simply to profess to be a Jew. Instead, out of bitter necessity, they had to observe the birthday of the king each month by eating the organs of sacrificial animals. When the Festival of Dionysus arrived, they were forced to take part in a procession honoring Dionysus, holding ivy wreaths. At Ptolemais’ suggestion, a decision was announced to the neighboring Greek cities that they should adopt the same policy against the Jews and that they should be made to eat the sacrificial portions, and that those who refused to change to Greek practices should be slaughtered. At that point it was easy to see the miserable state that had arrived. 10 For instance, they brought forward two women who had circumcised their sons, with their infants hanging from their breasts. They dragged them around the city publicly, then hurled them down from the city wall. 11 Others gathered secretly into caverns nearby to keep the seventh day, but they were betrayed to Philip. They were all burned together because they were reluctant to defend themselves, out of respect for the most sacred day.

    12 So I urge those stumbling upon this scroll not to shrink back because of these misfortunes but to understand that these punishments weren’t for the destruction of our people but for their discipline. 13 It is a sign of great kindness that those Jews who acted immorally weren’t left alone for very long but experienced punishments immediately. 14 With other nations the Lord patiently delays punishment until they fill up the full measure of their sins, but with us he decided to deal differently, and is exacting retribution on us before 15 our sins reach their peak. 16 Therefore, he never withdraws his mercy from us. Although disciplining us with misfortunes, God doesn’t forsake his own people. 17 Only let this be said to us as a reminder. After this brief digression, it is necessary to go on with the narrative.

    Martyrs for the faith

    18 A certain Eleazar, one of the leading scribes, elderly in age and with a most dignified outward appearance, was being compelled to open his mouth and eat pork. 19 But preferring death with honor to life with religious defilement, he proceeded voluntarily to the torture instrument, 20 spitting out the meat. In this he showed how everyone ought to stand fast and reject what isn’t lawful to taste despite the intense desire to live.

    21 But those in charge of the unlawful sacrifice, because they had known the man for a long time, took him aside in private and urged him to bring meat that was lawful, prepared beforehand by himself, and then pretend to eat the meat from the sacrifice that the king commanded. 22 By doing this he might escape death and attain friendly treatment because of his old friendship with them. 23 But adopting a dignified perspective worthy of his seniority, his distinguished old age and the gray hair he had acquired, and worthy of his excellent conduct from childhood, and, moreover, worthy of the holy and God-created laws, he declared to them to send him to the grave immediately: 24 “It’s not worthy of our old age to act out such a role. Otherwise, many of the young would assume wrongly that Eleazar the 90-year-old had changed to a foreign way of life. 25 If I acted out this charade for the sake of living a moment longer, I would mislead them, and I would be defiled and dishonored in my old age. 26 Even if I escaped the punishment of human beings for the moment, I would certainly not escape the hands of the almighty—whether alive or dead. 27 So I give up my life courageously now to show myself worthy of my old age, 28 and to leave a fine example for the young people of how to die a good death with eagerness and dignity for the revered and sacred laws.” After he spoke he immediately approached the torture instrument. 29  Those who had shown goodwill toward him earlier now felt hostility toward him, because the words he had spoken seemed insane to them. 30 When his life was about to end from the beating, he groaned, “It is clear to the Lord with his sacred knowledge that, although I could have been saved from death, I endure in my body harsh pain from this beating, yet in my soul I cheerfully suffer these things because I respect him.” 31 In this manner he died, and his own death left behind a most noble and memorable example of virtue not only for the youth but also for the majority of his nation.