4 Maccabees (Jewish Encyclopedia)

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, so called, is a semiphilosophic discourse, or sermon, on the "supremacy of the pious reason" (ch. i. 1). It consists of a prologue (i. 1-12) and of two principal parts. The first of these (i. 13-iii. 18) is devoted to the elucidation of the author's philosophical thesis, and the second (iii. 19-xviii. 24) to the illustration of the thesis by examples drawn from II Maccabees. In the latter portion of the work there is, first (iii. 19-iv. 26), a brief review of the sufferings of the Jews under Seleucus and his son(?) Antiochus Epiphanes; the conquering power of reason is illustrated (v. 1-vii. 23) by the example of Eleazar, drawn from II Macc. v. 18-31; by that of the seven brethren (vii. 24-xiv. 10), drawn from II Macc. vii. 1-23; and by that of their mother (xiv. 11-xvi. 25), taken from II Macc. vii. 25 et seq. In ch. xvii. and xviii. the author expresses his impressions with reference to these martyrdoms.

It appears, therefore, that the only connection this work has with the Maccabees is in the fact that the author's illustrations are drawn from the Second Book of the Maccabees.

Integrity and Character.

Ch. xviii. 3-24 has been thought by several scholars to be the work of a later hand, but the opinion does not appear to be well founded. Ch. xvii. 2 would form a weak ending to the book, while xviii. 20-24 suits well the style of the author of the earlier parts, and the apparent incongruity of xviii. 6-19 would seem to be designed in this hortatory composition to make a strong impression on its hearers. This latter view is strengthened if it be remembered that the work is throughout a discourse addressed directly to listeners (comp. i. 1, 7; ii. 13; xiii. 19; xviii. 1). Ewald and Freudenthal called it a sermon and held that it is an example of Alexandrian synagogue preaching, but this view is now abandoned, for even in the Diaspora the sermon of the synagogue was usually founded on a passage from the Bible. This discourse, also, is too abstruse for an ordinary congregation; it is an address to a more select circle.

Its style is oratorical and ornate, though not so extravagant as that of III Maccabees. It contains a large philosophic element of the Stoic type, though its author possessed a taste for philosophy rather than real philosophical insight. It contains also a core of Judaism. The writer was a Jew who could clothe his religion in a philosophic garb in accordance with the tendency of the times. The Hellenic and the Jewish elements in his work both appear at their best and in a combination almost without a parallel; the nearest example is the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews.

Author and Date.

It is probable, therefore, that the author of IV Maccabees was an Alexandrian Jew. Eusebius ("Hist. Eccl." iii. 10) and Jerome ("De Viris Illustribus," xiii.) ascribe the work to Josephus—an opinion which was for a long time followed, and which has caused the text of IV Maccabees to be included in many editions of the works of Josephus. But the language and style of the work differ so radically from those of the writings of Josephus that it is clear that this is a mistaken opinion. Of some of its historical combinations, as in iv. 5 and v. 1, Josephus could hardly have been guilty. The writer of IV Maccabees had certainly come under the influence of the culture of Alexandria, even if he lived and wrote in some other city. As to the time when the book was written, the data for an opinion are the same as in the case of III Maccabees: it was written probably at the close of the last century B.C. or during the first century C.E., and before the time of Caligula, for the Jews seem to have been at peace at the time.


The writer is a strong believer in immortality, but he has abandoned the Pharisaic standpoint of II Maccabees, which recognizes a bodily resurrection, and holds to the view that all souls exist forever, the good being together in a state of happiness (xvii. 18), with the Patriarchs (v. 37) and with God (ix. 8 and xvii. 18). These views are the more striking as they are entwined with the same narratives which in II Maccabees express the more materialistic view. The writer holds, also, that the suffering of the martyrs was vicarious; by it they wrought deliverance for their nation (comp. i. 11, xvii. 19-23, xviii. 24).

Jewish Standpoint

The beautiful work known as IV Maccabees is a homily, not a history. As Freudenthal was the first to show, it is a sermon addressed to a Greekspeaking audience, and delivered probably on Ḥanukkah ("Die Flavius Josephus Beigelegte Schrift über die Herrschaft der Vernunft [IV Makkabäerbuch]," Breslau, 1869), the thesis being that, reason (religion) can control the passions; the author illustrates this from many examples, especially from the story of the Maccabean martyrdoms as related in II Macc. vi., vii. A very noble level of eloquence is reached by the writer, and the book is in many ways one of the best products of the syncretism of Hebraic and Greek thought.

The authorship of IV Maccabees was at one time ascribed (as by Eusebius, Jerome, and other authorities) to Josephus, but this is clearly wrong. Nothing can with definiteness be asserted as to the date of the book; it belongs probably to the period shortly before the fall of Jerusalem. In its present form it contains possibly some Christian interpolations (e.g., vii. 19, xiii. 17, xvi. 25), but they are certainly very few and insignificant. Later on, Christian homilists used the same topic, the martyrdoms, as the theme for sermons; the Church maintained a Maccabean feast (though not on the same date as the Jews) for at least four centuries. Homilies by Gregory Nazienzen and Chrysostom for the festival of Aug. 1 (the "Birthday of the Maccabees") are extant on this subject. On the "Maccabees as Christian Saints" see Maas in "Monatsschrift," xliv. 145 et seq.

Bibliography: For the Greek text of IV Maccabees, as well as of the other books, see Swete, The Old Testament in Greek, vol. iii., 1894; for the translation, see Kautzsch, Apokryphen, ii. 152 et seq.; for introductions, see Bissell in Lange's Commentary, and Schürer, History of the Jewish People; see also Bensly, The Fourth Book of Maccabees in Syriac, 1895.

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