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.
On another occasion a Jewish mother and her seven sons were arrested. The king was having them beaten to force them to eat pork. 2Then one of the young men said, “What do you hope to gain by doing this? We would rather die than abandon the traditions of our ancestors.”
3This made the king so furious that he gave orders for huge pans and cauldrons to be heated red-hot, 4and it was done immediately. Then he told his men to cut off the tongue of the one who had spoken and to scalp him and chop off his hands and feet, while his mother and six brothers looked on. 5After the young man had been reduced to a helpless mass of breathing flesh, the king gave orders for him to be carried over and thrown into one of the pans. As a cloud of smoke streamed up from the pan, the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die bravely, saying, 6
“The Lord God is looking on and understands our suffering. Moses made this clear when he wrote a song condemning those who had abandoned the Lord. He said, ‘The Lord will have mercy on those who serve him.’ ”
7After the first brother had died in this way, the soldiers started amusing themselves with the second one by tearing the hair and skin from his head. Then they asked him, “Now will you eat this pork, or do you want us to chop off your hands and feet one by one?”
8He replied in his native language, “I will never eat it!” So the soldiers tortured him, just as they had the first one, 9but with his dying breath he cried out to the king, “You butcher! You may kill us, but the King of the universe will raise us from the dead and give us eternal life, because we have obeyed his laws.”
10The soldiers began entertaining themselves with the third brother. When he was ordered to stick out his tongue, he quickly did so. Then he bravely held out his hands 11and courageously said, “God gave these to me. But his laws mean more to me than my hands, and I know God will give them back to me again.” 12The king and those with him were amazed at his courage and at his willingness to suffer.
13After he had died, the soldiers tortured the fourth one in the same cruel way, 14but his final words were, “I am glad to die at your hands, because we have the assurance that God will raise us from death. But there will be no resurrection to life for you, Antiochus!”
15When the soldiers took the fifth boy and began torturing him, 16he looked the king squarely in the eye and said, “You have the power to do whatever you want with us, even though you also are mortal. But do not think that God has abandoned our people. 17Just wait. God will use his great power to torture you and your descendants.”
18Then the soldiers took the sixth boy, and just before he died he said, “Make no mistake. We are suffering what we deserve, because we have sinned against our God. That's why all these terrible things are happening to us. 19But don't think for a minute that you will avoid being punished for fighting against God.”
20The mother was the most amazing one of them all, and she deserves a special place in our memory. Although she saw her seven sons die in a single day, she endured it with great courage because she trusted in the Lord. 21She combined womanly emotion with manly courage and spoke words of encouragement to each of her sons in their native language. 22“I do not know how your life began in my womb,” she would say. “I was not the one who gave you life and breath and put together each part of your body. 23It was God who did it, God who created the universe, the human race, and all that exists. He is merciful and he will give you back life and breath again, because you love his laws more than you love yourself.”
24Antiochus was sure that the mother was mocking him, so he did his best to persuade her youngest son to abandon the traditions of his ancestors. He promised not only to make the boy rich and famous, but to place him in a position of authority and to give him the title “Friend of the King.” 25But the boy paid no attention to him, so Antiochus tried to persuade the boy's mother to talk him into saving his life, 26and after much persuasion she agreed to do so. 27Leaning over her son, she fooled the cruel tyrant by saying in her native language, “My son, have pity on me. Remember that I carried you in my womb for nine months and nursed you for three years. I have taken care of you and looked after all your needs up to the present day. 28So I urge you, my child, to look at the sky and the earth. Consider everything you see there, and realize that God made it all from nothing, just as he made the human race. 29Don't be afraid of this butcher. Give up your life willingly and prove yourself worthy of your brothers, so that by God's mercy I may receive you back with them at the resurrection.”
30Before she could finish speaking, the boy said, “King Antiochus, what are you waiting for? I refuse to obey your orders. I only obey the commands in the Law which Moses gave to our ancestors. 31You have thought up all kinds of cruel things to do to our people, but you won't escape the punishment that God has in store for you. 32-33It is true that our living Lord is angry with us and is making us suffer because of our sins, in order to correct and discipline us. But this will last only a short while, for we are still his servants, and he will forgive us. 34But you are the cruellest and most disgusting thing that ever lived. So don't fool yourself with illusions of greatness while you punish God's people. 35There is no way for you to escape punishment at the hands of the almighty and all-seeing God. 36My brothers suffered briefly because of our faithfulness to God's covenant, but now they have entered eternal life.7.36 briefly… life; or briefly, but know they have entered eternal life because of our covenant with God. But you will fall under God's judgement and be punished as you deserve for your arrogance. 37I now give up my body and my life for the laws of our ancestors, just as my brothers did. But I also beg God to show mercy to his people quickly and to torture you until you are forced to acknowledge that he alone is God. 38May my brothers and I be the last to suffer the anger of Almighty God, which he has justly brought upon our entire nation.”
39These words of ridicule made Antiochus so furious that he had the boy tortured even more cruelly than his brothers. 40And so the boy died, with absolute trust in the Lord, never unfaithful for a minute.
41Last of all, the mother was put to death.
42But I have said enough about the Jews being tortured and being forced to eat the intestines of sacrificial animals.
81Judas Maccabaeus and his friends went secretly from village to village until they had gathered a force of about 6,000 Jewish men who had remained faithful to their religion. 2They begged the Lord to help his people, now trampled under foot by all nations, to take pity on the Temple, now defiled by pagans, 3and to have mercy on Jerusalem, now destroyed and almost levelled to the ground. 4They also asked the Lord to show his hatred of evil by taking revenge on those who were murdering his people, mercilessly slaughtering innocent children, and saying evil things against the Lord.
5When Judas had finally organized his forces, the Gentiles were unable to stand against him, because the Lord's anger against Israel had now turned to mercy. 6-7Judas would make sudden attacks on towns and villages and burn them. He captured strategic positions and routed many enemy troops, finding that he was most successful at night. People everywhere spoke of his bravery.
8When Philip, governor of Jerusalem, realized that Judas was gaining ground little by little and that his victories were becoming more and more frequent, he wrote a letter to Ptolemy, governor of Greater Syria, requesting his help in defending the royal interests. 9Ptolemy immediately appointed Nicanor son of Patroclus, who was also in the closest circle of the King's Friends, and sent him with more than 20,000 troops of various nationalities to wipe out the entire Jewish race. Ptolemy also appointed Gorgias, a general of wide military experience, to go with him. 10King Antiochus owed the Romans 68 tonnes of silver; Nicanor planned to pay off the debt by selling Jewish prisoners of war as slaves. 11So he at once sent word to the towns along the coast, informing them that he would be selling Jews for less than a kilogramme of silver each. But he did not know of the judgement that Almighty God had in store for him.
12Judas learnt that Nicanor was advancing with his army towards Judea, so he informed his men. 13Some were cowardly and did not believe in the justice of God, and they ran away as fast as they could. 14But others sold all their remaining possessions so that the Lord would consider them worthy to be saved from the godless Nicanor, who had sold them as slaves even before the battle had taken place. 15They prayed that if God was not willing to do this for their sake alone, he might be willing to rescue them because of the covenants he had made with their ancestors, and because he, the great and wonderful God, had called them to be his people. 16Judas brought together all 6,000 of his men and encouraged them not to be frightened or to flee in panic at the sight of the large number of Gentile troops who were marching against them without cause. Instead they should fight bravely, 17never forgetting the crimes the Gentiles had committed against the Temple, and how they had made Jerusalem suffer terribly and had done away with Jewish traditions. 18“They rely on their weapons and their daring,” Judas said, “but we trust in Almighty God, who is able to destroy not only these troops, but, if necessary, the entire world, with a mere nod of his head.”
19Then Judas went on to remind them of the ways God had helped their ancestors: during the time of Sennacherib 185,000 of the enemy had been destroyed; 20and once in Babylonia 8,000 Jews came to the aid of 4,000 Macedonians, defeating 120,000 Galatians and taking a great deal of loot, all because of God's help.
21Judas' words encouraged his men and made them willing to die for their religion and their country. He then divided his army into four divisions 22of about 1,500 men each, with himself and his brothers Simon, Joseph, and Jonathan each in charge of a division. 23
After ordering Eleazar to read aloud8.23 Probable text After… aloud; Greek unclear. from the holy book, he gave his men the battle-cry: “God will help us,” and personally led the attack against Nicanor.
24Almighty God fought on their side, and they killed more than 9,000 of the enemy. They wounded many others and put the entire army to flight. 25They seized the money from the people who had come to buy them as slaves. Then they pursued the enemy a long way, until they had to return, 26because it was almost time for the Sabbath to begin. 27When they had collected the enemy's weapons and looted the dead, they celebrated the Sabbath, praising the Lord and giving thanks to him, because he had brought them safely to that day and had given them the first sign of his mercy. 28When the Sabbath was over, they gave some of the loot to the victims of persecution and to the widows and orphans; then they divided the rest among their own families. 29Afterwards they joined together in prayer to the merciful Lord, asking him to look favourably upon his servants.
30The Jews later fought against the forces of Timothy and Bacchides and killed more than 20,000 of them. They captured some very high fortresses and took a lot of loot, which they divided equally among themselves and the widows, orphans, old men, and the victims of persecution. 31They carefully collected all the enemy's weapons and stored them in strategic places, but the rest of the loot was taken to Jerusalem. 32They executed the commanding officer of Timothy's forces, a godless man who had caused the Jews much suffering. 33While celebrating their victory in the city of their ancestors, they burnt alive those men who had set fire to the Temple gates. The dead included Callisthenes, who had hidden in a small house; and so he received the punishment he deserved for his evil deeds.
34In this way, the evil Nicanor, who had brought a thousand merchants to buy the Jews, 35was defeated with the help of the Lord by the very people he despised so much. He threw off his splendid uniform and fled all alone like a runaway slave, until he reached Antioch. He had succeeded only in destroying his entire army. 36This man, who had tried to pay a debt to Rome by selling the people of Jerusalem, showed that the Jews could not be defeated. God was their mighty defender, because they obeyed the laws he had given them.