The Fourth Book of the Maccabees

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Introduction

This book is like a fearful peal of thunder echoing out of the dim horrors of ancient tyranny. It is a chapter based on persecution by Antiochus, the tyranny of Syria, whom some called Epiphanes. The Madman. Roman history of the first centuries records two such tyrants—the other, Caligula, the Second Brilliant Madman.

Persecution by Antiochus, the tyranny of Syria

The form of this writing is that of an oration. So carefully timed are the risings and fallings of the speech; so devastating are its arguments; so unfaltering is its logic; so deep its thrusts; so cool its reasoning—that establishes its place as a sample of the sheerest eloquence.

The keynote is—courage. The writer begins with an impassioned statement of the Philosophy of Inspired Reason. We like to think of this twentieth Century as the Age of Reason and contrast it with the Age of Myths—yet a writing such as this is a challenge to such an assumption. We find a writer who probably belonged to the first century before the Christian Era stating a clear-cut philosophy of Reason that is just as potent today as it was two thousand years ago.

The setting of the observations in the torture chambers is unrelenting. On our modern ears attuned to gentler things, it strikes appallingly. The details of the successive tortures (suggesting the instruments of the Spanish Inquisition centuries later) are elaborated in a way shocking to our taste. Even the emergence of the stoical characters of ‘the old man, the t brothers, and the mother, does nothing to soften the ferocity with which this orator conjures courage. 

The Biblical story of the Maccabees occurs in the 2nd century BCE. It’s an account about how some traditionalist Hebrews revolted against the upper middle-class Hebrews who persecuted them for being unwilling to assimilate into the Greek culture. Hellenistic Hebrews, as they were called, stopped the Hebraic rites of circumcision, restored the foreskins from previous circumcisions and repudiated the holy covenant, by changing to the Greek belief system that adheres to a principal of salvation by faith and divine grace which asserted that the saved were not bound to follow the moral laws written in the Ten Commandments. 

The revolt was provoked by the persecution of Hebrew traditionalist who observed the Torah, had their children circumcised and refused to eat pork. What began as a civil war between the traditionalist and Hellenistic Hebrews took on the character of an invasion when the Hellenistic kingdom of Syria sided with the Hellenistic Hebrews. According to 1 Maccabees, Antiochus banned many traditional Hebrew and Samaritan religious practices, including the observance of weekly sabbaths and the Hebrew set-apart feast days. He made possession of the Torah a capital offense and outlawed circumcision, and issued a decree to kill mothers who circumcised their babies, along with their families. In 168 BC, Antiochus desecrated the Hebrew Temple by establishing rites of pagan observance in the Temple, such as sacrificing an unclean animal on the altar in the Holy of Holies. He also required Hebrew leaders to sacrifice to the pagan Greek idols. 

After Antiochus issued his decrees forbidding Hebraic religious practices, a rural Hebrew priest named Mattathias Maccabi sparked the revolt, known as the Maccabean Revolt, against the Seleucid Empire by refusing to worship the Greek gods when he killed a Hellenist Hebrew who offered a sacrifice to an idol in the Temple. He and his sons fled to the wilderness of Yehuda (Judah). After Mattathias’ death about one year later, in 166 BCE, his son Yehuda Maccabi (Judah Maccabee) led an army of Hebrew dissidents to victory over the Seleucid dynasty.

The ancient Hebrew considered this book as a work of high moral value and teaching. 

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