Not long after this, the king sent out *
an old man of Athens to compel the Jews to depart from the laws of their fathers and not to live by the laws of God, 2
and also to pollute the sanctuary in Jerusalem and to call it by the name of Olympian Zeus, and to call the sanctuary in Gerizim by the name of Zeus the Protector of foreigners, even as the people who lived in that place did.
The visitation of this evil was harsh and utterly grievous. 4
For the temple was filled with debauchery and revelling by the heathen, who †
dallied with prostitutes, and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and moreover brought inside things that were not appropriate. 5
The altar was filled with those abominable things which had been prohibited by the laws. 6
A man could neither keep the Sabbath, nor observe the feasts of their ancestors, nor so much as confess himself to be a Jew.
7 On the day of the king’s birth every month, they were led along with bitter constraint to eat of the sacrifices. When the feast of Dionysia came, they were compelled to go in procession in honour of Dionysus, wearing wreaths of ivy. 8 A decree went out to the neighbouring Greek cities, by the suggestion of Ptolemy, that they should observe the same conduct against the Jews, and should make them eat of the sacrifices, 9 and that they should kill those who didn’t choose to go over to the Greek rites. So the present misery was for all to see. 10 For example, two women were brought in for having circumcised their children. These, when they had led them publicly around the city with the babes hung from their breasts, they threw down headlong from the wall. 11 Others who had run together into the caves nearby to keep the seventh day secretly, were betrayed to Philip and were all burnt together, because their piety kept them from defending themselves, in view of the honour of that most solemn day.
I urge those who read this book to not be discouraged because of the calamities, but recognise that these punishments were not for the destruction, but for the chastening of our race. 13
For indeed it is a sign of great kindness that those who act impiously are not let alone for a long time, but immediately meet with retribution. 14
For in the case of the other nations, the Sovereign Lord waits patiently to punish them until they have attained to the full measure of their sins; but not with us, 15
that he may not take vengeance on us afterward,‡
when we have come to the§
height of our sins. 16
Therefore he never withdraws his mercy from us; but though he chastens with calamity, he doesn’t forsake his own people. 17
However let this that we have spoken suffice to remind you; but after a few words, we must come to the narrative.
18 Eleazar, one of the principal scribes, a man already well advanced in years, and of a noble countenance, was compelled to open his mouth to eat swine’s flesh. 19 But he, welcoming death with honour rather than life with defilement, advanced of his own accord to the instrument of torture, but first spat out the flesh, 20 as men ought to come who are resolute to repel such things as not even for the natural love of life is it lawful to taste.
But those who had the charge of that forbidden sacrificial feast took the man aside, for the acquaintance which of old times they had with him, and privately implored him to bring flesh of his own providing, such as was proper for him to use, and to make as if he did eat of the flesh from the sacrifice, as had been commanded by the king; 22
that by so doing he might be delivered from death, and so his ancient friendship with them might be treated kindly. 23
But he, having formed a high resolve, and one that became his years, the dignity of old age, and the grey hairs**
which he had reached with honour, and his excellent††
education from a child, or rather the holy laws‡‡
of God’s ordaining, declared his mind accordingly, bidding them to quickly send him to Hades.
“For it doesn’t become our years to dissemble,” he said, “that many of the young should suppose that Eleazar, the man of ninety years, had gone over to an alien religion; 25
and so they, by reason of my deception, and for the sake of this brief and momentary life, would be led astray because of me, and I defile and disgrace myself in my old age. 26
For even if for the present time I would remove from me the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die, I wouldn’t escape the hands of the Almighty. 27
Therefore, by bravely parting with my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age, 28
leave behind a noble example to the young to die willingly and nobly a glorious death for the revered and holy laws.”
When he had said these words, he went immediately to the instrument of torture. 29 ***
When they changed the good will they bore towards him a little before into ill will because these words of his were, as they thought, sheer madness, 30
and when he was at the point to die with the†††
blows, he groaned aloud and said, “To the Lord, who has the holy knowledge, it is manifest that, while I might have been delivered from death, I endure severe pains in my body by being scourged; but in soul I gladly suffer these things because of my fear of him.”
31 So this man also died like this, leaving his death for an example of nobleness and a memorial of virtue, not only to the young but also to the great body of his nation.