61Not long after that, the king sent an elderly Athenian6.1 elderly Athenian; or an elder of Athens, or Athenaios the elder, or Geron an Athenian; some manuscripts have an elderly Antiochean, or an elder of Antioch. to force the Jews to abandon their religion and the customs of their ancestors. 2He was also to defile their Temple by dedicating it to the Olympian god Zeus.6.2 zeus: The supreme god of the Greeks; Mount Olympus was thought to be his home. The temple on Mount Gerizim was to be officially named “Temple of Zeus the God of Hospitality,” as the people who lived there had requested.
3The oppression was harsh and almost intolerable. 4Gentiles filled the Temple with drinking parties and all sorts of immorality. They even had intercourse with prostitutes there. Forbidden objects were brought into the Temple, 5and the altar was covered with detestable sacrifices prohibited by our Law. 6It was impossible to observe the Sabbath, to celebrate any of the traditional festivals, or even so much as to admit to being a Jew. 7Each month when the king's birthday was celebrated, the Jews were compelled by brute force to eat the intestines of sacrificial animals. Then, during the festival in honour of the wine god Dionysus, they were required to wear ivy wreaths on their heads and march in procession. 8On the advice of Ptolemy,6.8 Ptolemy (see 4.45); some manuscripts have the people of Ptolemais. the neighbouring Greek cities were also instructed to require Jews to eat the sacrifices; 9they were told to put to death every Jew who refused to adopt the Greek way of life. It was easy to see that hard times were ahead. 10
For example, two women were arrested for having their babies circumcised. They were paraded round the city with their babies hung from their breasts; then they were thrown down from the city wall. 11
On another occasion, Philip was told that some Jews had gathered in a nearby cave to observe the Sabbath in secret. Philip attacked and burnt them all alive. They had such respect for the Sabbath that they would not fight to defend themselves.
12I beg you not to become discouraged as you read about the terrible things that happened. Consider that this was the Lord's way of punishing his people, not of destroying them. 13In fact, it is a sign of kindness to punish a person immediately for his sins, rather than to wait a long time. 14The Lord does not treat us as he does other nations; he waits patiently until they have become deeply involved in sin before he punishes them, 15but he punishes us before we have sinned too much. 16So the Lord is always merciful to us, his own people. Although he punishes us with disasters, he never abandons us. 17I have made these few observations by way of reminder. We will now get on with the story.
There was an elderly and highly respected teacher of the Law by the name of Eleazar, whose mouth was being forced open to make him eat pork. 19-20But he preferred an honourable death rather than a life of disgrace. So he spat out the meat and went willingly to the place of torture, showing how people should have courage to refuse unclean food, even if it costs them their lives. 21-22Those in charge of the sacrifice had been friends of Eleazar for a long time, and because of this friendship they told him privately to bring meat that was lawful for him to eat. He need only pretend to eat the pork, they said, and in this way he would not be put to death.
23But Eleazar made a decision worthy of his grey hair and advanced age. All his life he had lived in perfect obedience to God's holy laws, so he replied, “Kill me, here and now. 24Such deception is not worthy of a man of my years. Many young people would think that I had denied my faith after I was ninety years old. 25If I pretended to eat this meat, just to live a little while longer, it would bring shame and disgrace on me and lead many young people astray. 26For the present I might be able to escape what you could do to me, but whether I live or die, I cannot escape Almighty God. 27If I die bravely now, it will show that I deserved my long life. 28It will also show a good example of the way young people should be willing and glad to die for our sacred and respected laws.”
As soon as he said these things, he went6.28 went; some manuscripts have was dragged. off to be tortured, 29and the very people who had treated him kindly a few minutes before, now turned against him, because they thought he had spoken like a madman. 30When they had beaten him almost to the point of death, he groaned and said, “The Lord possesses all holy knowledge. He knows I could have escaped these terrible sufferings and death, yet he also knows that I gladly suffer these things, because I fear him.”
31So Eleazar died. But his courageous death was remembered as a glorious example, not only by young people, but by the entire nation as well.