The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Second Book of Machabees
Not long after, the king despatched one of the senators at Antioch, with orders he should compel the Jewish people, custom of their fathers and law of their God to forsake.
The temple at Jerusalem must be profaned, and dedicated now to Jupiter Olympius; as for the temple on Garizim, the Samaritans were to call it, as well they might,✻ after Jupiter the god of strangers.
What a storm of troubles broke then upon the commonwealth, most grievous to be borne!
All riot and revelry the temple became, once the Gentiles had it; here was dallying with harlots, and women making their way into the sacred precincts, and bringing in of things abominable;
with forbidden meats, to the law’s injury, the very altar groaned.
Sabbath none would observe, nor keep holiday his fathers kept; even the name of Jew was disclaimed.
Instead, they went to sacrifice on the king’s birthday, though it were ruefully and under duress; and when the feast of Liber came round, make procession they must in Liber’s honour, garlanded with ivy each one.
And now, among all the neighbouring cities, a decree went out, wherein the Ptolemies✻ were the prime movers; all alike should constrain the Jews to do sacrifice,
and those that would not fall in with Gentile ways, with their lives must pay for it.
Here were sights to be seen most pitiable.
Here were sights to be seen most pitiable.
Two mothers there were, denounced for the circumcision of their own sons; what, think you, befell them? Both must be driven through the streets, with the children hung about their breasts, and cast headlong from the battlements!
At another time, Philip had information that certain Jews were meeting in caves near at hand, to keep the sabbath there without remark. Not one of these would lift a hand to help himself, so great care they had of the day’s observance, and all were burned to death.
Reader, by these tales of ill fortune be not too much dismayed; bethink thee, all this came about for the punishment of our race, not for its undoing.
A mark of signal favour it is, when the Lord is quick to chastise, nor lets the sinner sin on unreproved.
See how he deals with other nations, waiting patiently to take full toll when the hour comes for judgement!
Not so with us; for our guilt he will not delay reckoning, and claim strict vengeance at last.
Towards us, his mercy is inalienable; chastise us he will with adversity, but forsake us never.
So much, reader, for thy warning; and now go we back to our history.
Here was Eleazar, one of the chief scribes, a man of great age and of noble features, being required to eat swine’s flesh; but though they held his mouth open they could not force him to eat.
He would rather die gloriously than live defiled; on he went, of his own accord, to the place of torture,
scanning every step of the path that lay before him. He must endure all in patience, rather than taste, for love of life, the forbidden meat.
Old friends among the bystanders, out of misplaced kindness, took him aside and urged him to let meat of some other kind be brought, which he could taste without scruple; he could pretend to have obeyed the king’s will by eating the sacrilegious food,
and his life should no longer be forfeit. Such kind offices old friendship claimed;
but he thought rather of the reverence that was due to his great age, of his venerable grey hairs, of a life blamelessly lived from childhood onwards. True to the precepts of God’s holy law, he answered that they would do better to send him to his grave and have done with it.
It does not suit my time of life, said he, to play a part. What of many that stand here, younger than myself, who would think that Eleazar, at the age of ninety, had turned Gentile?
To gain a brief hour of this perishable life, shall I play a trick on them, shall I disgrace this hoary head of mine and bring down a curse on it?
Man’s sentence here I may avoid if I will, but God’s almighty hand, living or dead, escape I may not.
Let me take leave of life with a good grace, as best suits my years,
bequeathing to men younger than myself an example of courage; meeting, with ready resolve, an honourable death, for the sake of laws holy and august as ours are. And so without more ado he was led away to his torturing;
his executioners were in a rage, that but now had been gentle with him; pride, they would have it, spoke here.
And this was the last sigh he uttered, as he lay there dying under the lash, Lord, in thy holy wisdom this thou well knowest; I might have had life if I would, yet never a cruel pang my body endures, but my soul suffers it gladly for thy reverence.
Thus he died, not only to those younger men he spoke of, but to our whole race, leaving the pattern of a brave and honourable death.
The Holy Bible