4 Maccabees


by Susannah Patricia White

[Susannah White is a undergraduate at Vassar College and is spending a semester of her junior year at the University of St. Andrews.–JRD]

In my paper on 4 Maccabees I attempt to demonstrate that the anonymous author, undoubtedly a devout Diaspora Jew influenced by Hellenistic literary and philosophical tradition, is heedful of the pervasive political influence of the Greco-Roman world. Claiming that a virtuous Jew adhering to the Law and the Torah warrants praise–as exemplified by Eleazar, the seven brethren and their mother–the author’s message has a significant religious predilection. From this religious tendency, which venerates Jewish custom and the Law, the author insinuates that the sanctity of Judaism within this place and time could conceivably have been threatened.

From the stylistic genre of the text itself, hypotheses concerning the date and place of origin, as well as the author’s intended message, the audience, and the political climate surrounding them both can be surmised. Stemming from 2 Maccabees, specifically chapter seven, 4 Maccabees’ embellishment of the historical account is justified because the author’s central aim is to promote religious loyalty (Moses Hadas,, _The Third and Fourth Book of Maccabees_ Ktav: New York, 1976. p. 94). The first three chapters of the text mirror a diatribe, or philosophical discourse, in which the author plainly states his or her thesis. That is, “devout reason is absolute master of the passions” (4 Maccabees 1:1). The remainder of the text is a narrative, implementing the martyrdom of Eleazar, the mother and her seven sons as exemplars of this philosophy of mastery over emotions. The genre of this document has also been compared to the nationalistic tendencies of a Greek epitaph.

Scholarly consensus suggests that this piece was delivered orally, though the circumstances under which it was delivered remain disputed. The work most likely derives from Antioch, a Hellenized city with a large Jewish population, sometime between 63 BCE and 38 CE, and its message appears to be directed to a Diaspora Jewish population confronting Greco-Roman influences.

(c) 1999
Reproduction beyond fair use only on permission of the author.

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