Introduction: This little treatise claims to be a philosophical discussion of “pious reason” (1:1). The following selection is one of the author’s examples of the way that this “pious reason” has triumphed in Israel’s history. It is clear from the story that “pious reason” also means faith, and loyalty to the Jewish way of life. We include it to illustrate the Jewish belief that a righteous man’s death could serve as a vicarious sacrifice to atone for the sins of the less faithful. The setting is during the Maccabean revolt, 166–162 B.C. Antiochus Epiphanes IV, the Seleucid tyrant of Palestine, is portrayed as the villain who is trying to force the Jews to renounce their faith.
5.1. The tyrant Antiochus, with his court, sat upon a certain high place, and, with his fully armed troops around him, 2. he commanded his personal guards to drag in each one of the Jews, and he ordered the Jews to eat pig’s meat and foods offered to idols. 3. If any should refuse to eat the abominable meats, they were to be tortured and killed. 4. After many had been forcibly seized, one of the first of the group, an old man named Eleazar who was a priest and trained in the Law’s knowledge, who was also well known to many in Antiochus’ court because of the high esteem in which he was held by his own people, was brought before Antiochus.
5–38. Antiochus asks Eleazar to save his own life by eating the pig’s meat
because the meat is a gift of Nature, and one should not reject Nature’s gifts.
Besides, God will forgive such a sin done under duress. Eleazar refuses to eat
the profane flesh and challenges Antiochus to do his worst.
6.1.… The guards dragged Eleazar roughly to the torturing place. 2. First, they stripped the old man, so that he was dressed only in the honorable clothes of piety. 3. Then, binding both his arms, they whipped him. 4. “Obey the king’s commands!” cried a herald standing by. 5. But the confident and noble man, truly an Eleazar,1 was no more shaken than if he were being tortured in a dream. 6. The old man kept his eyes raised up to Heaven, as his flesh was tom by the lashes until he was dripping blood and his sides were gashed. 7. When he fell to the ground because his body could not stand the pain, he still kept his reason unbowed and upright. 8. One of the cruel guards kicked
1. In Hebrew, the name means “God is my helper.”