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Martyrdom of Eleazar

When Eleazar in this manner had made eloquent response to the exhortations of the tyrant, the guards who were standing by dragged him violently to the instruments of torture. First they stripped the old man, though he remained adorned with the gracefulness of his piety. After they had tied his arms on each side they flogged him, while a herald who faced him cried out, “Obey the king’s commands!” But the courageous and noble man, like a true Eleazar, was unmoved, as though being tortured in a dream; yet while the old man’s eyes were raised to heaven, his flesh was being torn by scourges, his blood flowing, and his sides were being cut to pieces. Although he fell to the ground because his body could not endure the agonies, he kept his reason upright and unswerving. One of the cruel guards rushed at him and began to kick him in the side to make him get up again after he fell. But he bore the pains and scorned the punishment and endured the tortures. 10 Like a noble athlete the old man, while being beaten, was victorious over his torturers; 11 in fact, with his face bathed in sweat, and gasping heavily for breath, he amazed even his torturers by his courageous spirit.

12 At that point, partly out of pity for his old age, 13 partly out of sympathy from their acquaintance with him, partly out of admiration for his endurance, some of the king’s retinue came to him and said, 14 “Eleazar, why are you so irrationally destroying yourself through these evil things? 15 We will set before you some cooked meat; save yourself by pretending to eat pork.”

16 But Eleazar, as though more bitterly tormented by this counsel, cried out: 17 “Never may we, the children of Abraham,[a] think so basely that out of cowardice we feign a role unbecoming to us! 18 For it would be irrational if having lived in accordance with truth up to old age and having maintained in accordance with law the reputation of such a life, we should now change our course 19 and ourselves become a pattern of impiety to the young by setting them an example in the eating of defiling food. 20 It would be shameful if we should survive for a little while and during that time be a laughingstock to all for our cowardice, 21 and be despised by the tyrant as unmanly by not contending even to death for our divine law. 22 Therefore, O children of Abraham, die nobly for your religion! 23 And you, guards of the tyrant, why do you delay?”

24 When they saw that he was so courageous in the face of the afflictions, and that he had not been changed by their compassion, the guards brought him to the fire. 25 There they burned him with maliciously contrived instruments, threw him down, and poured stinking liquids into his nostrils. 26 When he was now burned to his very bones and about to expire, he lifted up his eyes to God and said, 27 “You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. 28 Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. 29 Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs.” 30 After he said this, the holy man died nobly in his tortures; even in the tortures of death he resisted, by virtue of reason, for the sake of the law.

31 Admittedly, then, devout reason is sovereign over the emotions. 32 For if the emotions had prevailed over reason, we would have testified to their domination. 33 But now that reason has conquered the emotions, we properly attribute to it the power to govern. 34 It is right for us to acknowledge the dominance of reason when it masters even external agonies. It would be ridiculous to deny it.[b] 35 I have proved not only that reason has mastered agonies, but also that it masters pleasures and in no respect yields to them.


  1. 4 Maccabees 6:17 Or O children of Abraham
  2. 4 Maccabees 6:34 Syr: Meaning of Gk uncertain