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Chapter 7

Martyrdom of Seven Brothers and Their Mother.[a] It also happened that seven brothers were arrested together with their mother. The king tortured them with whips and scourges in an attempt to force them to eat pork, in violation of the law of God. One of the brothers, acting as a spokesman for the others, said, “What do you expect to achieve by questioning us? We are prepared to die rather than transgress the laws of our ancestors.”

The king became enraged and issued orders to have pans and caldrons heated. After this was done without delay, he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that he be scalped and his hands and feet cut off while the rest of his brothers and his mother looked on. When he had been rendered utterly helpless but still breathing, the king ordered him to be taken to the fire and fried in one of the pans. As the smoke from the pan began to spread, his mother and his brothers encouraged one another to die in a noble manner, with words such as these: “The Lord God is watching, and he cannot fail to have compassion on us, as Moses declared in his canticle when he asserted: ‘He will have compassion on his servants.’ ”[b]

When the first brother had died in this manner, they brought forward the second to be subjected to their cruel sport. After the skin and hair of his head had been stripped off, they asked him: “Will you eat some pork rather than have your body tortured limb by limb?” Replying in the language of his ancestors, he said to them, “Never!” Therefore, he in turn underwent the same torture that the first had endured. With his final breath, he said: “You accursed fiend, you may send us forth from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up[c] to life eternal, since it is because of our obedience to his laws that we are dying.”

10 After him, the third brother bore the brunt of their cruel torture. In response to their demand, he immediately thrust forth his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands 11 as he said: “It was from Heaven[d] that I received these. For the sake of his laws I disdain them. From him I hope to receive them again.” 12 Both the king and his attendants were astounded as they witnessed the courage of this young man and his complete indifference to suffering.

13 After he had died they maltreated and tortured the fourth brother in the same way. 14 When he was at the point of death, he cried out: “It is far better to choose to die at the hands of men and rely on the promise of God of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life.”

15 They next brought forward the fifth brother and tortured him. 16 Directing his gaze at the king, he said: “Even though you yourself are mortal, you have authority over other mortals, and thus you can do as you please. However, do not think that God has abandoned our nation. 17 Just wait and you will see how his mighty power will torment you and your descendants.”

18 After him they brought forward the sixth brother. When he was about to die, he said: “Do not have any vain delusions. We are suffering these torments deservedly because we have sinned against our God and brought these appalling events on ourselves. 19 However, do not think that you will avoid the consequences of having dared to contend with God.”

20 Especially admirable and deserving of everlasting remembrance was the mother. Although she witnessed the deaths of her seven sons within the space of a single day, she endured it courageously because of her hope in the Lord. 21 Filled with a noble spirit that reinforced her womanly thoughts with manly courage, she encouraged each of them in the language of their ancestors: 22 “I do not know how you came to being in my womb. It was not I who endowed you with breath and life, nor did I set in order the elements that established the composition of your being. 23 Therefore, the Creator of the universe who authored the beginning of human life and devised the origin of all things will, in his mercy, restore breath and life to you, since you have placed his law above concern for your own desires.”

24 Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt and suspected that her words were insulting. Since the youngest brother was still alive, the king did not limit himself to an appeal with mere words. Indeed, he promised him on oath that if he would abandon the traditions of his ancestors, he would not only make him rich and happy but also enroll him as his Friend and appoint him to high office. 25 When the young man paid no heed to his proposals, the king made an appeal to his mother, urging her to advise her son to save his life. 26 After a great deal of encouraging on his part, she agreed to try to persuade him.

27 However, she flouted the king’s wishes by saying to her son in their native language as she leaned close to him: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you in my womb for nine months, nursed you for three years, reared you, and provided for your needs up to this point in your life. 28 I beg you, my child, to look at the heavens and the earth and see everything that is in them. Reflect on the fact that God did not create them from things that already existed[e] and that the human race came into being in the same way. 29 Have no fear of this butcher. Prove yourself worthy of your brothers by accepting death, so that through the mercy of God I shall receive you back again along with them.”

30 She had barely finished speaking when the young man said: “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command. I choose rather to obey the ordinance of the law that was given to our ancestors through Moses. 31 However, you, who have devised every kind of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. 32 We are suffering as the result of our own sins, 33 and while our living Lord is angry with us for a brief time as he seeks to correct and discipline us, he will eventually be reconciled with his servants. 34 However, you, perfidious wretch, are the most wicked of all mortal beings. Do not allow yourself to be deluded by vain hopes when you raise your hand against the children of Heaven, 35 for you will not be able to escape from the judgment of the almighty and all-seeing God. 36 My brothers, after enduring a brief period of suffering, have now drunk of the waters of everlasting life in accordance with his covenant, but you, convicted by the judgment of God, will receive a richly warranted punishment for your arrogance.

37 “I too, like my brothers, surrender my body and my life for the laws of our ancestors. I appeal to God not to delay in showing mercy to our nation and by trials and afflictions to cause you to confess that he alone is God. 38 Through me and my brothers may there be an end to the wrath of the Almighty[f] that has justifiably fallen on our entire nation.”

39 On hearing this, the king became enraged and dealt with him even more cruelly than with the others because of his defiance. 40 And so the young man, having placed all his trust in the Lord, died undefiled. 41 The mother was the last to die, after her sons had perished.

42 Let this account be sufficient to relate the facts of the sacrificial meals and the monstrous tortures.


  1. 2 Maccabees 7:1 Together with the story of Eleazar, this celebrated narrative belongs to a new category of writings: the “Acts of the Martyrs.” These were designed to encourage the faithful during persecutions and became very popular in Christian circles. We should not expect too much historical precision. The author wishes to edify by insisting on the atrocity of the tortures and the heroism of those who suffer them. Together with the Book of Daniel (Dan 12:2-3) and the Book of Wisdom (Wis 3:1-5), here for the first time in the Old Testament, faith in the resurrection is affirmed, and this expectation is rooted in a profound conception of the creation of the Covenant (see vv. 18, 22-23, 33).
  2. 2 Maccabees 7:6 Literal citation of Deut 32:36 according to the Greek version (Septuagint).
  3. 2 Maccabees 7:9 The King of the universe will raise us up: belief in the resurrection of the body is clearly stated here and in verses 11, 14, 23, 29, 36 (see also 12:44; 14:46; Dan 12:2).
  4. 2 Maccabees 7:11 Heaven: a circumlocution for God, which is also used in verse 34.
  5. 2 Maccabees 7:28 God did not create them from things that already existed: this is the most precise affirmation of the whole Old Testament concerning the doctrine of the creation out of nothing. God made all things by his almighty will and his creative word (see Heb 11:3).
  6. 2 Maccabees 7:38 An end to the wrath of the Almighty: this was to be achieved by increasing the suffering of Israel to such an extent that God would be moved to intervene for them (see Deut 32:36; Jdg 2:18). The apocryphal Book of 4 Maccabees, on the other hand, attributes this end to the Maccabees atoning for Israel’s sins by their death: “All people, even the torturers [of the Maccabees], marveled at their courage and endurance, and [the Maccabees] became the cause of the downfall of tyranny over their nation. By their endurance they conquered the tyrant, and thus their native land was cleansed through them” (4 Mac 1:11; see also 17:20-22).