4 Maccabees 8 Common English Bible (CEB)
Antiochus confronts the seven brothers
8 By following a philosophy consistent with godly thinking, young boys have held out against even more cruel instruments of torture. 2 When the tyrant was publicly defeated in his first attempt by failing to force an old man to eat polluting food, he was overwhelmed by a violent rage and ordered other Hebrew prisoners to be dragged forward. Anyone who ate the polluting meat would be released, but anyone who refused would be tortured even more severely. 3 After the tyrant had given these instructions, seven brothers together with their mother were brought before him. These young men were handsome, modest, well-born, and charming in every way.
4 The tyrant looked at them as they stood grouped around their mother like a chorus, and was pleased with them. He was struck by their physical appearance and obvious dignified character, and so he smiled at them and invited them to come closer. He said, 5 “Young men, I feel nothing but admiration and favor for each and every one of you, and I have great respect for the size and beauty of your family. Not only would I counsel you not to express the same insanity as that old man who was just tortured, but I would encourage you to obey me now and so enjoy the privileged life[a] I can offer you. 6 I can be generous to those who obey me in the same way as I can punish those who disobey me. 7 Trust me! Abandon your traditional way of life, and I will give you positions in my government. 8 Enjoy your youth by changing your customs and adopting the Greek way of life. 9 However, if you disobey me and make me angry, you will force me to destroy each and every one of you with terrible punishments and tortures. 10 So take pity on yourselves, since I feel sympathy for your youth and handsome appearance even though I am your enemy. 11 Bear in mind that if you disobey, you have nothing to look forward to except to die on these devices of torture!”
12 As he said these things, he gave orders for the instruments to be brought forward in order to frighten them into eating the polluting food. 13 The guards laid out the instruments in front of them: wheels and machines for pulling joints apart, racks, clubs, and instruments for applying heavy tension, grills and extremely large frying pans, tools to crush fingers, iron claws, wedges, and burning coals. The tyrant continued: 14 “Young men, be afraid. Whatever justice you respect will have mercy on you, since you are being forced to break the Law.”
The brothers’ response to the tyrant
15 The brothers heard the promises and saw the terrible instruments, but they weren’t afraid. Instead, they resisted the tyrant’s arguments with their own philosophy and defeated the power of his tyranny through clear thinking. 16 But let’s think about what arguments they might have used if they had been cowardly and unmanly. Wouldn’t they have argued like this? 17 “What pitiful and stupid people we must be! When the king has invited and urged us to accept his favor, 18 why are we happy to make useless resolutions? Why should we dare to disobey when death will be the outcome? 19 Men and brothers, shouldn’t we be afraid of what these instruments can do and carefully consider the threats of torture? We should run away from our useless beliefs and from our pride that will lead to our destruction! 20 Let’s have compassion on our youth, and show pity for our mother’s old age as well. 21 Let’s take seriously the fact that, if we disobey, we are dead men! 22 Divine justice will not blame us because we were afraid of the king and his power over us. 23 So why should we deprive ourselves of this pleasant life and cheat ourselves out of this sweet world? 24 Let’s not fight against fate or take hollow pride in being tortured. 25 The Law itself would have difficulty giving us the death penalty since we sin out of fear of these instruments. 26 Why are we eager to fight a losing battle or so interested in being stubborn when we know it will kill us? We can enjoy a trouble-free life if we just obey the king!”
27 Even though these young men were about to be tortured, they didn’t say or even think about such things. 28 They held their emotions in check and had full control over their pain. 29 Therefore, as soon as the tyrant finished giving them advice about eating the forbidden food, they said together with one voice and with the same mind: