The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The First Book of Machabees
In those days it was that Mattathias came forward, son of John, son of Simeon, a priest of Joarib’s family; he was for Jerusalem no more, but would take up his dwelling on the hill-side at Modin.
Five sons he had, John, that was also called Gaddis,
Simon (or Thasi),
Judas (or Machabaeus),
Eleazar (or Abaron), and Jonathan (or Apphus)
and these saw well what foul things were a-doing in Juda’s country and the city of Jerusalem.
Alas, what needed it, cried Mattathias, I should have been born into such an age as this? To see my people and the holy city alike brought to ruin, to sit by while the enemy overcame her,
and in her very sanctuary the alien had his will? Temple of hers like a churl’s lot disregarded,
rare treasure of hers into exile carried away; young and old, in the open streets of her, put to the sword!
Never a race in heathendom but may parcel out her domains, grow rich with the spoil of her!
Gone, all her fair adornment; the mistress is turned maid;
laid waste, yonder sanctuary, that was our prize and pride, by Gentile feet dishonoured!
And would we live yet?
With that, they tore their garments about them, Mattathias and his sons, and went clad in sackcloth, mourning right bitterly.
And now the pursuivants of king Antiochus came to Modin; take refuge there who might, he must do sacrifice none the less, and burn incense, and leave the following of God’s law.
Out went the folk of Israel to meet them, some complaisantly enough, but Mattathias and his sons firm in their resolve.
And they singled out Mattathias from the rest; A man of mark, said they, and a great chieftain thou; brethren and sons thou hast a many.
Wilt thou not be the first to come forward and do the king’s bidding, with the whole world, and the men of Juda everywhere, and what is left of Jerusalem? To be the king’s friend, thou and thy sons with thee, gold and silver and much else for thy reward!
Loud rang the answer of Mattathias: What though king Antiochus have the whole world for his vassals? Obey the edict who will, forsaking the custom his fathers lived by,
both I and son of mine, both I and clansman of mine, will obey the law handed down to us.
Mercy of God! What needs it we should leave his will undone, his claims unhonoured?
To deaf ears king Antiochus proclaims the sacrifice; we swerve not from the law’s path, right or left.
Before he had done speaking, a Jew came to offer the false gods sacrifice, there in full view of all, before the altar at Modin, as the king bade.
Mattathias took fire at the sight of it; one heave of anger his heart gave, and his zeal for the law could contain itself no longer; there on the altar the sacrificer was slain.
Nor spared he the pursuivant of king Antiochus that enjoined it; the altar, too, he pulled down.
Not Phinees himself struck a better blow for the law, when he slew Zamri, the son of Salom!✻
And now Mattathias raised a cry in the city, Who loves the law? Who keeps the covenant unbroken? Out with you, and follow me!
So fled he with his sons into the hill-country, leaving his possessions behind, there in the city.
Many there were that went out into the desert at this time, for love of truth and right;
took children and women-folk and cattle with them, and settled down there, castaways in a flood of misfortune.
But news of it reached Jerusalem, and the king’s men that were in David’s Keep; here were rebels lurking in the waste country, and drawing many over to their side.
So they went out in pursuit, and offered battle; on a sabbath day, as it chanced.✻
What, still stubborn? cried they. Come out, and yield yourselves to the king’s pleasure; your lives shall be spared.
But the Jews’ answer was, come out and yield to the king’s pleasure they might not; law of the sabbath rest forbade it.
So the attack began in good earnest;
but the Jews made no resistance, never a stone flew, never a hiding-place of theirs was put in a state of defence;
Die we all, they said, innocent men, and let heaven and earth bear witness, it was for no fault of ours we died.
Thus, because it was a sabbath day when the attack was made, these men perished, and their wives and children and cattle with them; a thousand human lives lost.
Great grief it was to Mattathias and his company when they heard what had befallen them;
and now there was high debate raised: Do we as our brethren did, forbear we to give battle for our lives and loyalties, and they will soon make an end of us!
Then and there it was resolved, if any should attack them on the sabbath day, to engage him, else they should be put to death all of them, like those brethren of theirs in the covert of the hills.
Now it was that the Assidaeans rallied to their side, a party that was of great consequence in Israel, lovers of the law one and all;
and all who would escape from the evils of the time made common cause with them, and came to their assistance.
So, mustering their forces, they wrought indignant vengeance upon sinners that were false to the law, till they were fain to take refuge among the heathen;
wherever they went, Mattathias and his company, they threw the altars down,
and whatever children they found uncircumcised, from one end of Israel to the other, they circumcised by right of conquest.✻
Ere long, they drove the tyrant’s minions before them, and to such good purpose
that Gentile was none, king though he were, could restrain the law’s observance; against their onslaught the powers of evil could not make head.
Meanwhile, the life of Mattathias was drawing to an end. And this charge he gave to his sons: Here be days when tyrant and blasphemer have their will, when all is calamity and bitter retribution.
The more reason, my sons, why you should be jealous lovers of the law, ready to give your lives for that covenant your fathers knew.
Your fathers, what deeds they did in their time! Great glory would you win, and a deathless name, let these be your models.
See how Abraham was tested, and how trustfulness of his was counted virtue in him;
see how Joseph in ill fortune was true to the commandment still, and came to be ruler of all Egypt.
Here was Phinees, our own father, that grew hot in God’s cause, and earned the right of priesthood inalienable;
and Josue, that for his loyalty was given command of Israel;
and Caleb, that spoke out in the assembly, what broad acres were his!
David, for the tender heart of him, left a dynasty that fails not;
for Elias heaven opened, that was champion of the law;
by faith Ananias, Azarias and Misael overcame the furnace,
nor Daniel’s innocence might ravening lions devour.
No generation but proves it; want they never for strength that trust in God.
What, would you fear the tyrant’s threats? In dung and worms his glory shall end;
all royal state to-day, and to-morrow there shall be no news of him; gone back to the dust he came from, and all his designs brought to nothing!
Nay, my sons, take courage; in the law’s cause rally you, in the law’s annals you shall win renown.
Here is your brother Simon, trust me, a man of prudence; to him ever give heed, he is your father now.
And here is Judas Machabaeus, from boyhood’s days a warrior; let him be your leader, and fight Israel’s battles.
All lovers of the law make free of your fellowship; bring your country redress,
and pay the Gentiles what they have earned; yet heeding ever what the law enjoins.
With that, he gave them his blessing, and became part of his race.
He was a hundred and forty-six years old when he died; his sons buried him where his fathers were buried, at Modin, and great lament all Israel made for the loss of him.
The Holy Bible