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An Encomium on Eleazar

For like a most skilful pilot, the reason of our father Elea′zar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmed by the mighty waves of tortures, in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory. No city besieged with many ingenious war machines has ever held out as did that most holy man. Although his sacred life was consumed by tortures and racks, he conquered the besiegers with the shield of his devout reason. For in setting his mind firm like a jutting cliff, our father Elea′zar broke the maddening waves of the emotions. O priest, worthy of the priesthood, you neither defiled your sacred teeth nor profaned your stomach, which had room only for reverence and purity, by eating defiling foods. O man in harmony with the law and philosopher of divine life! Such should be those who are administrators of the law, shielding it with their own blood and noble sweat in sufferings even to death. You, father, strengthened our loyalty to the law through your glorious endurance, and you did not abandon the holiness which you praised, but by your deeds you made your words of divine[a] philosophy credible. 10 O aged man, more powerful than tortures; O elder, fiercer than fire; O supreme king over the passions, Elea′zar! 11 For just as our father Aaron, armed with the censer, ran through the multitude of the people and conquered the fiery[b] angel, 12 so the descendant of Aaron, Elea′zar, though being consumed by the fire, remained unmoved in his reason. 13 Most amazing, indeed, though he was an old man, his body no longer tense and firm,[c] his muscles flabby, his sinews feeble, he became young again 14 in spirit through reason; and by reason like that of Isaac he rendered the many-headed rack ineffective. 15 O man of blessed age and of venerable gray hair and of law-abiding life, whom the faithful seal of death has perfected!

16 If, therefore, because of piety an aged man despised tortures even to death, most certainly devout reason is governor of the emotions. 17 Some perhaps might say, “Not every one has full command of his emotions, because not every one has prudent reason.” 18 But as many as attend to religion with a whole heart, these alone are able to control the passions of the flesh, 19 since they believe that they, like our patriarchs Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, do not die to God, but live in God.[d] 20 No contradiction therefore arises when some persons appear to be dominated by their emotions because of the weakness of their reason. 21 What person who lives as a philosopher by the whole rule of philosophy, and trusts in God, 22 and knows that it is blessed to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, would not be able to overcome the emotions through godliness? 23 For only the wise and courageous man is lord of his emotions.


  1. 4 Maccabees 7:9 Other ancient authorities omit divine
  2. 4 Maccabees 7:11 Other ancient authorities omit fiery
  3. 4 Maccabees 7:13 Gk the tautness of the body already loosed
  4. 4 Maccabees 7:19 Or to God

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