2 Maccabees 6 and 7

How should we view the books of the Apocrypha?

“Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35b.)

2 Maccabees 6:1 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 . . .

2 Maccabees 6:18 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.

2 Maccabees 7:1 It also happened that seven brothers were arrested with their mother. The king tried to force them to taste some pork, which the Law forbids, by torturing them with whips and scourges. 2 One of them, acting as spokesman for the others, said, ‘What are you trying to find out from us? We are prepared to die rather than break the laws of our ancestors.’ 3 The king, in a fury, ordered pans and cauldrons to be heated over a fire. 4 As soon as these were red–hot, he commanded that their spokesman should have his tongue cut out, his head scalped and his extremities cut off, while the other brothers and his mother looked on. 5 When he had been rendered completely helpless, the king gave orders for him to be brought, still breathing, to the fire and fried alive in a pan. As the smoke from the pan drifted about, his mother and the rest encouraged one another to die nobly, with such words as these, 6 ‘The Lord God is watching and certainly feels sorry for us, as Moses declared in his song, which clearly states that “he will take pity on his servants.”’ 7 When the first had left the world in this way, they brought the second forward to be tortured. After stripping the skin from his head, hair and all, they asked him, ‘Will you eat some pork, before your body is tortured limb by limb?’ 8 Replying in his ancestral tongue, he said, ‘No!’ So he too was put to the torture in his turn. 9 With his last breath he exclaimed, ‘Cruel brute, you may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since we die for his laws, to live again for ever.’ 10 After him, they tortured the third, who on being asked for his tongue promptly thrust it out and boldly held out his hands, 11 courageously saying, ‘Heaven gave me these limbs; for the sake of his laws I have no concern for them; from him I hope to receive them again.’ 12 The king and his attendants were astounded at the young man’s courage and his utter indifference to suffering. 13 When this one was dead they subjected the fourth to the same torments and tortures. 14 When he neared his end he cried, ‘Ours is the better choice, to meet death at men’s hands, yet relying on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by him; whereas for you there can be no resurrection to new life.’ 15 Next they brought forward the fifth and began torturing him. 16 But he looked at the king and said, ‘You have power over human beings, mortal as you are, and can act as you please. But do not think that our race has been deserted by God. 17 Only wait, and you will see in your turn how his mighty power will torment you and your descendants.’ 18 After him, they led out the sixth, and his dying words were these, ‘Do not delude yourself: we are suffering like this through our own fault, having sinned against our own God; hence, appalling things have befallen us— 19 but do not think you yourself will go unpunished for attempting to make war on God.’ 20 But the mother was especially admirable and worthy of honourable remembrance, for she watched the death of seven sons in the course of a single day, and bravely endured it because of her hopes in the Lord. 21 Indeed she encouraged each of them in their ancestral tongue; filled with noble conviction, she reinforced her womanly argument with manly courage, saying to them, 22 ‘I do not know how you appeared in my womb; it was not I who endowed you with breath and life, I had not the shaping of your every part. 23 And hence, the Creator of the world, who made everyone and ordained the origin of all things, will in his mercy give you back breath and life, since for the sake of his laws you have no concern for yourselves.’ 24 Antiochus thought he was being ridiculed, suspecting insult in the tone of her voice; and as the youngest was still alive he appealed to him not with mere words but with promises on oath to make him both rich and happy if he would abandon the traditions of his ancestors; he would make him his Friend and entrust him with public office. 25 The young man took no notice at all, and so the king then appealed to the mother, urging her to advise the youth to save his life. 26 After a great deal of urging on his part she agreed to try persuasion on her son. 27 Bending over him, she fooled the cruel tyrant with these words, uttered in their ancestral tongue, ‘My son, have pity on me; I carried you nine months in my womb and suckled you three years, fed you and reared you to the age you are now, and provided for you. 28 I implore you, my child, look at the earth and sky and everything in them, and consider how God made them out of what did not exist, and that human beings come into being in the same way. 29 Do not fear this executioner, but prove yourself worthy of your brothers and accept death, so that I may receive you back with them in the day of mercy.’ 30 She had hardly finished, when the young man said, ‘What are you all waiting for? I will not comply with the king’s ordinance; I obey the ordinance of the Law given to our ancestors through Moses. 31 As for you, who have contrived every kind of evil against the Hebrews, you will certainly not escape the hands of God. 32 We are suffering for our own sins; 33 and if, to punish and discipline us, our living Lord is briefly angry with us, he will be reconciled with us in due course. 34 But you, unholy wretch and wickedest of villains, what cause have you for pride, nourishing vain hopes and raising your hand against his servants?— 35 for you have not yet escaped the judgment of God the almighty, the all–seeing. 36 Our brothers, having endured brief pain, for the sake of ever–flowing life have died for the covenant of God, while you, by God’s judgment, will have to pay the just penalty for your arrogance. 37 I too, like my brothers, surrender my body and life for the laws of my ancestors, begging God quickly to take pity on our nation, and by trials and afflictions to bring you to confess that he alone is God, 38 so that with my brothers and myself there may be an end to the wrath of the Almighty, rightly let loose on our whole nation.’ 39 The king fell into a rage and treated this one more cruelly than the others, for he was himself smarting from the young man’s scorn. 40 And so the last brother met his end undefiled and with perfect trust in the Lord. 41 The mother was the last to die, after her sons. 42 But let this be sufficient account of the ritual meals and monstrous tortures.