Fourth Maccabees, written by an unknown author, is a philosophical treatise intertwined with graphic portrayals of persecution, torture, and death. The premise is that devout reason is superior to emotion and should therefore rule. The resolute suffering of the people profiled in 4 Maccabees shows how their reasoned faith in God allows them to overcome the threat of extreme, physical pain and imminent death.
Antiochus, set on annihilating the Jews, rounds them up and forces them to eat pork, an action abhorrent to their faith. Those who eat the forbidden food are freed. Those who don’t face extreme torture and death.
First martyred is Eleazar an elderly, respected priest. Though his persecutors beg him to eat the meat and save himself from pain and death, he refuses. The shorter account of his martyrdom is also found in 2 Maccabees 6:18-31.
Next is the eldest of seven sons. He is tortured and killed as his brothers and mother are forced to watch. In turn all seven brothers die a horrific death and finally their mother. All face their fate with resolute confidence. Their story is also told, in abbreviated form, in 2 Maccabees 7.
Fourth Maccabees is not found in all versions of the Bible or even all versions of the Apocrypha. However, the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Bibles include 4 Maccabees. The Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures, which was widely used in Jesus’s day, also contains 4 Maccabees, as does the various versions of the RSV (Revised Standard Version) and the CEB (Common English Bible).
For more information, see why “Christians Should Consider the Entire Bible.”
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