The Holy Bible – Knox Translation
The Second Book of Machabees
Seven brothers there were, that lay under arrest, and their mother with them; these too were tortured at the king’s command, to see if whip and thong would not make them eat swine’s flesh, for all their scruples.
And thus spoke out one of them in the name of the rest: Why dost thou put us to the question? What secret wouldst thou learn? Of this be sure, we had rather die than break the divine law given to our fathers.
The king, in a rage, would have fire-pan heated, and caldron of bronze; heated they were,
and then he passed judgement upon this same spokesman. Tongue of him should be cut out, scalp torn off, hands and feet mutilated, while mother and brethren stood by to see it;
then, so maimed, he was for the fire; they should roast him alive in a caldron. Long time he suffered, and there stood the rest with their mother, each heartening other to die bravely;
God sees true, said they, and will not allow us to go uncomforted. Did not Moses prophesy as much, even in his song of remonstrance, He will comfort his servants?✻
So died the first, and now the second must make sport for them. When the hair was torn from his head and the skin with it, they asked, Would he eat, or must his whole body pay for it, limb by limb?
And he answered in good round Hebrew,✻ eat he would not; whereupon he, in his turn, suffered like the first.
Ay, miscreant, he said with his last breath, of this present life it lies in thy power to rob us; but he, who is ruler of the whole world, he, for whose laws we perish, will raise us up again, and to life everlasting.
And now they had their will with the third, who was no sooner bidden than he put forth tongue and hands very courageously;
Heaven’s gift these be, he said, and for God’s law I make light account of them, well assured he will give them back to me.
Well might they marvel, king and courtiers both, at one so young that recked so little of his sufferings.
Such was the manner of his passing; the fourth, too, when with like tortures they assailed him,
died with these words on his lips: Man’s sentence of death, what matters it, so there be hope in God, that shall raise up the dead? For thee, resurrection to new life shall be none.
And when the fifth was put to the question, he looked Antiochus in the face, thus warning him:
Mortal, at thy own whim free to govern thy fellow men, think not God has abandoned this race of ours!
Wait but a little, and good proof thou shalt have of his sovereign power, such torment thee and thine awaits.
So they came to the sixth, and this was his dying utterance: Never flatter thyself with vain hope; speed we amiss, it was our own doing, that sinned against our God. Strange be his dealings with us,
yet think not thou to defy God unpunished.
And here was the greatest marvel of all, by honest folk ever to be kept in mind, that the mother of seven children should be content to lose them all in one day, for the hope she had in God’s mercy.
What generosity of mind was this, that could temper her womanly feelings with a man’s thoughts! One by one, in the speech of her own country, she put heart into them;
Into this womb you came, she told them, who knows how? Not I quickened, not I the breath of life gave you, nor fashioned the bodies of you one by one!
Man’s birth, and the origin of all things, he devised who is the whole world’s Maker; and shall he not mercifully give the breath of life back to you, that for his law’s sake hold your lives so cheap?
What should Antiochus do? Here was defiance of his authority, here were tones of remonstrance that liked him little. The youngest son lived yet; for him, what encouragement, what royal assurances of wealth and happiness! Would he but leave the law of his fathers, he should be the king’s friend, and have weighty matters entrusted to him.
But yield the boy would not; till at last the king beckoned the mother apart; mother of son should be the saviour yet.
Much ado he had to win her, but she agreed at last, counsel her son she would.
And a fine trick she played on the bloodthirsty tyrant, leaning over her son and counselling him in her own native speech, to this effect: Nine months in the womb I bore thee, three years at the breast fed thee, reared thee to be what thou art;
and now, my son, this boon grant me. Look round at heaven and earth and all they contain; bethink thee that of all this, and mankind too, God made out of nothing.
Of this butcher have thou no fear; claim rightful share among thy brethren in yonder inheritance of death; so shall the divine mercy give me back all my sons at once.
Before ever she had finished speaking, the boy cried out, What dallying is this? To the king’s law I own no allegiance; rule I live by is the law we had through Moses.
Arch-enemy of the Jewish race, thinkest thou to escape from God’s hand?
Grievously if we suffer, grievously we have sinned;
chides he for a little, the Lord our God, he does but school, does but correct us; to us, his worshippers, he will be reconciled again.
But thou, miserable wretch, viler on earth is none, wouldst thou vent thy rage on those worshippers of his, and flatter thyself with vain hopes none the less?
Trust me, thou shalt yet abide his judgement, who is God almighty and all-seeing.
Brief pains, that under his warrant have seised my brethren of eternal life! And shalt not thou, by his sentence, pay the deserved penalty of thy pride?
As my brethren, so I for our country’s laws both soul and body forfeit; my prayer is, God will early relent towards this nation, while thou dost learn, under the lash of his torments, that he alone is God.
And may the divine anger, that has justly fallen on our race, with me and these others be laid to rest!
No wonder if this last, that so baffled the king’s rage, was more barbarously used than all the others;
yet kept he ever his confidence in the Lord, and made a clean end of it.
And at length, when all her sons were gone, it was the mother’s turn to die.
Enough! Of idolatrous sacrifice and inhuman cruelty you shall hear no more.
The Holy Bible