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2 Maccabees - Chapter 6

2 Maccabees Chapters

1 Shortly afterwards, the king sent Gerontes the Athenian to force the Jews to violate their ancestral customs and live no longer by the laws of God;

2 and to profane the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus, and the one on Mount Gerizim to Zeus, Patron of Strangers, as the inhabitants of the latter place had requested.

3 The advent of these evils was painfully hard for all the people to bear.

4 The Temple was filled with revelling and debauchery by the gentiles, who took their pleasure with prostitutes and had intercourse with women in the sacred precincts, introducing other indecencies besides.

5 The altar of sacrifice was loaded with victims proscribed by the law as profane.

6 No one might either keep the Sabbath or observe the traditional feasts, or so much as admit to being a Jew.

7 People were driven by harsh compulsion to take part in the monthly ritual meal commemorating the king's birthday; and when a feast of Dionysus occurred, they were forced to wear ivy wreaths and walk in the Dionysiac procession.

8 A decree was issued at the instance of the people of Ptolemais for the neighbouring Greek cities, enforcing the same conduct on the Jews there, obliging them to share in the sacrificial meals,

9 and ordering the execution of those who would not voluntarily conform to Greek customs. So it became clear that disaster was imminent.

10 For example, two women were charged with having circumcised their children. They were paraded publicly round the town, with their babies hung at their breasts, and then hurled over the city wall.

11 Other people, who had assembled in some near-by caves to keep the seventh day without attracting attention, were denounced to Philip, and were then all burnt to death together, since their consciences would not allow them to defend themselves, out of respect for the holiness of the day.

12 Now, I urge anyone who may read this book not to be dismayed at these calamities, but to reflect that such visitations are intended not to destroy our race but to discipline it.

13 Indeed, when evil-doers are not left for long to their own devices but incur swift retribution, it is a sign of great benevolence.

14 In the case of other nations, the Master waits patiently for them to attain the full measure of their sins before he punishes them, but with us he has decided to deal differently,

15 rather than have to punish us later, when our sins come to full measure.

16 And so he never entirely withdraws his mercy from us; he may discipline us by some disaster, but he does not desert his own people.

17 Let this be said simply by way of reminder; we must return to our story without more ado.

18 Eleazar, one of the foremost teachers of the Law, a man already advanced in years and of most noble appearance, had his mouth forced open, to make him eat a piece of pork.

19 But he, resolving to die with honour rather than to live disgraced, walked of his own accord to the torture of the wheel,

20 having spat the stuff out, as befits those with the courage to reject what is not lawful to taste, rather than live.

21 The people supervising the ritual meal, forbidden by the Law, because of the length of time for which they had known him, took him aside and privately urged him to have meat brought of a kind he could properly use, prepared by himself, and only pretend to eat the portions of sacrificial meat as prescribed by the king;

22 this action would enable him to escape death, by availing himself of an act of kindness prompted by their long friendship.

23 But having taken a noble decision worthy of his years and the dignity of his great age and the well-earned distinction of his grey hairs, worthy too of his impeccable conduct from boyhood, and above all of the holy legislation established by God himself, he answered accordingly, telling them to send him at once to Hades.

24 'Pretence', he said, 'does not befit our time of life; many young people would suppose that Eleazar at the age of ninety had conformed to the foreigners' way of life

25 and, because I had played this part for the sake of a paltry brief spell of life, might themselves be led astray on my account; I should only bring defilement and disgrace on my old age.

26 Even though for the moment I avoid execution by man, I can never, living or dead, elude the grasp of the Almighty.

27 Therefore if I am man enough to quit this life here and now, I shall prove myself worthy of my old age,

28 and I shall have left the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.' So saying, he walked straight to the wheel,

29 while those who were escorting him, recently so well disposed towards him, turned against him after this declaration, which they regarded as sheer madness.

30 He for his part, just before he died under the blows, gave a sigh and said, 'The Lord whose knowledge is holy sees clearly that, though I might have escaped death, from awe of him I gladly endure these agonies of body under the lash, and that in my soul I am glad to suffer.'

31 This was how he died, leaving his death as an example of nobility and a record of virtue not only for the young but for the greater part of the nation.


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