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4 Maccabees 13New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

Reason’s Sovereignty in the Seven

13 Since, then, the seven brothers despised sufferings even unto death, everyone must concede that devout reason is sovereign over the emotions. For if they had been slaves to their emotions and had eaten defiling food, we would say that they had been conquered by these emotions. But in fact it was not so. Instead, by reason, which is praised before God, they prevailed over their emotions. The supremacy of the mind over these cannot be overlooked, for the brothers[a] mastered both emotions and pains. How then can one fail to confess the sovereignty of right reason over emotion in those who were not turned back by fiery agonies? For just as towers jutting out over harbours hold back the threatening waves and make it calm for those who sail into the inner basin, so the seven-towered right reason of the youths, by fortifying the harbour of religion, conquered the tempest of the emotions. For they constituted a holy chorus of religion and encouraged one another, saying, ‘Brothers, let us die like brothers for the sake of the law; let us imitate the three youths in Assyria who despised the same ordeal of the furnace. 10 Let us not be cowardly in the demonstration of our piety.’ 11 While one said, ‘Courage, brother’, another said, ‘Bear up nobly’, 12 and another reminded them, ‘Remember whence you came, and the father by whose hand Isaac would have submitted to being slain for the sake of religion.’ 13 Each of them and all of them together looking at one another, cheerful and undaunted, said, ‘Let us with all our hearts consecrate ourselves to God, who gave us our lives,[b] and let us use our bodies as a bulwark for the law. 14 Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, 15 for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God. 16 Therefore let us put on the full armour of self-control, which is divine reason. 17 For if we so die,[c] Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us.’ 18 Those who were left behind said to each of the brothers who were being dragged away, ‘Do not put us to shame, brother, or betray the brothers who have died before us.’

19 You are not ignorant of the affection of family ties, which the divine and all-wise Providence has bequeathed through the fathers to their descendants and which was implanted in the mother’s womb. 20 There each of the brothers spent the same length of time and was shaped during the same period of time; and growing from the same blood and through the same life, they were brought to the light of day. 21 When they were born after an equal time of gestation, they drank milk from the same fountains. From such embraces brotherly-loving souls are nourished; 22 and they grow stronger from this common nurture and daily companionship, and from both general education and our discipline in the law of God.

23 Therefore, when sympathy and brotherly affection had been so established, the brothers were the more sympathetic to one another. 24 Since they had been educated by the same law and trained in the same virtues and brought up in right living, they loved one another all the more. 25 A common zeal for nobility strengthened their goodwill towards one another, and their concord, 26 because they could make their brotherly love more fervent with the aid of their religion. 27 But although nature and companionship and virtuous habits had augmented the affection of family ties, those who were left endured for the sake of religion, while watching their brothers being maltreated and tortured to death.


  1. 4 Maccabees 13:4 Gk they
  2. 4 Maccabees 13:13 Or souls
  3. 4 Maccabees 13:17 Other ancient authorities read suffer
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)

New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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