A chapter of horror and torture revealing ancient tyranny at its utmost savagery. Verse 26 is profound truth.
AND thus no sooner did the tyrant conclude his urging of them to eat unclean meat than all with one voice together, and as with one soul, said to him:
2 'Why dost thou delay, O tyrant? We are ready to die rather than transgress the commandments of our fathers.
3 For we should be putting our ancestors also to shame, if we did not walk in obedience to the Law and take Moses as our counsellor.
4 O tyrant that counsellest us to transgress the Law, do not, hating us, pity us beyond ourselves.
5 For we esteem thy mercy, giving. us our life in return for a breach of the Law, a thing harder to bear than death itself.
6 Thou wouldst terrify us with thy threats of death under torture, as if a little while ago thou hadst learned nothing from Eleazar.
7 But if the old men of the Hebrews endured the tortures for righteousness' sake, yea, until they died, more befittingly will we young men die despising the torments of thy compulsion, over which he our aged teacher also triumphed.
8 Make trial therefore, O tyrant. And if thou takest our lives for the sake of righteousness, think not that thou hurtest us with thy tortures.
9 For we through this our evil entreatment and our endurance of it shall win the prize of virtue; but thou for our cruel murder shalt suffer at the hands of divine justice sufficient torment by fire for ever.'
10 These words of the youths redoubled the wrath of the tyrant, not at their disobedience only but at what he considered their ingratitude.
11 So by his orders the scourgers brought forward the eldest of them and stripped him of his garment and bound his hands and arms on either side with thongs.
12 But when they had scourged him till they were weary, and gained nothing thereby, they cast him upon the wheel.
13 And on it the noble youth was racked till his bones were out of joint. And as joint after joint gave way, he denounced the tyrant in these words:
14 'O thou most abominable tyrant, thou enemy of the justice of heaven and bloody-minded, thou dost torment me in this fashion not for manslaying nor for impiety but for defending the Law of God.'
15 And when the guards said to him, 'Consent to eat, that so you may be released from your tortures,' he said to them, 'Your method, O miserable minions, is not strong enough to lead captive my Reason. Cut off my limbs, and burn my flesh, and twist my joints; through all the torments I will show you that in behalf of virtue the sons of the Hebrews alone are unconquerable.'
16 As he thus spake they set hot coals upon him besides, and intensifying the torture strained him yet tighter on the wheel.
17 And all the wheel was besmeared with his blood, and the heaped coals were quenched by the humours of his body dropping down, and the rent flesh ran round the axles of the machine.
18 And with his bodily frame already in dissolution this great-souled youth, like a true son of Abraham, groaned not at all; but as if he were suffering a change by fire to incorruption, he nobly endured the torment, saying:
19 'Follow my example, O brothers. Do not for ever desert me, and forswear not our brotherhood in nobility of soul.
20 War a holy and honourable warfare on behalf of righteousness, through which may the just Providence that watched over our fathers become merciful unto his people and take
vengeance on the accursed tyrant.'
21 And with these words the holy youth yielded up the ghost.
22 But while all were wondering at his constancy of soul, the guards brought forward the second in age of the. sons, and grappling him with sharp-clawed hands of iron they fastened him to the engines and the catapult.
23 But when they heard his noble resolve in answer to their question, 'Would he eat rather than he tortured?' these panther-like beasts tore at his sinews with claws of iron, and rent away all the flesh from his cheeks, and tore off the skin from his head.
24 But he steadfastly enduring this agony said, 'How sweet is every form of death for the sake of the righteousness of our fathers!'
25 And to the tyrant he said, 'O most ruthless of tyrants, doth not it seem to thee that at this moment thou thyself sufferest tortures worse than mine in seeing thy tyranny's arrogant intention overcome by my endurance for righteousness' sake?
26 For I am supported under pain by the joys that come through virtue, whereas thou art in torment whilst glorying in thy impiety; neither shalt thou escape, O most abominable tyrant, the penalties of the divine wrath.'
27 And when he had bravely met his glorious death, the third son was brought forward and was earnestly entreated by many to taste and so to save himself.
28 But he answered in a loud voice, 'Are ye ignorant that the same father begat me and my brothers that are dead, and the same mother gave us birth, and in the same doctrines was I brought up?
29 I do not forswear the noble bond of brotherhood.
30 Therefore if ye have any engine of torment, apply it to this body of mine; for my soul ye cannot reach, not if ye would.'
31 But they were greatly angered at the bold speech of the man, and they dislocated his hands and his feet with their dislocating engines, and wrenched his limbs out of their sockets, and unstrung them; and they twisted round his fingers, and his arms, and his legs, and his elbow-joints.
32 And in no wise being able to strangle his spirit they stripped off his skin, taking the points of the fingers with it, and tore in Scythian fashion the scalp from his head, and straightway brought him to the wheel.
33 And on this they twisted his spine till he saw his own flesh hanging in strips and great gouts of blood pouring down from his entrails.
34 And at the point of death he said, 'We, O most abominable tyrant, suffer thus for our upbringing and our virtue that are of God; but thou for thy impiety and thy cruelty shall endure torments without end.'
35 And when' this man had died worthily of his brothers, they brought up the fourth, and said to him, 'Be not thou also mad with the same madness as thy brethren, but obey the king and save thyself.'
36 But he said unto them, 'For me ye have no fire so exceeding hot as to make me a coward.
37 By the blessed death of my brethren, by the eternal doom of the tyrant, and by the glorious life of the righteous, I will not deny my noble brotherhood.
38 Invent tortures, O tyrant, in order that thou mayest learn thereby that I am brother of those who have been already tortured.'
39 When he heard this the bloodthirsty, murderous, and
utterly abominable Antiochus bade them cut out his tongue.
40 But he said, 'Even if thou dost remove my organ of speech, God is a hearer also of the speechless.
41 Lo, I put out my tongue ready: cut it out, for thou shalt not thereby silence my Reason.
42 Gladly do we give our bodily members to be mutilated for the cause of God.
43 But God will speedily pursue after thee; for thou cuttest out the tongue that sang songs of praise unto him.'
44 But when this man also was put to a death of agony with the tortures, the fifth sprang forward saying, 'I shrink not, O tyrant, from demanding the torture for virtue's sake.
45 Yea, of myself I come forward, in order that, slaying me also, thou mayest by yet more misdeeds increase the penalty thou owest to the justice of Heaven.
46 O enemy of virtue and enemy of man, for what crime dost thou destroy us in this way?
47 Doth it seem evil to thee that we worship the Creator of all and live according to his virtuous Law?
48 But these things are worthy of honours not of tortures, if thou didst understand human aspirations and hadst hope of salvation before God.
49 Lo, now thou art God's enemy and makest war on those that worship God.'
50 As he spake thus the guards bound him and brought him before the catapult; and they tied him thereto on his knees, and, fastening them there with iron clamps, they wrenched his loins over the rolling 'wedge' so that he was completely curled back like a scorpion and every joint was disjointed.
51 And thus in grievous strait for breath and anguish of body he exclaimed, 'Glorious, O tyrant, glorious against thy will are the boons that thou bestowest on me, enabling me to show my fidelity to the Law through yet more honourable tortures.'
52 And when this man also was dead, the sixth was brought, a mere boy, who in answer to the tyrant's inquiry whether he was willing to eat and be released, said:
53 'I am not so old in years as my brethren, but I am as old in mind. For we were born and reared for the same purpose and are equally bound also to die for the same cause; so if thou chooseth to torture us for not eating unclean meat, torture.'
54 As he spake these words they brought him to the wheel, and with care they stretched him out and dislocated the bones of his back and set fire under him.
55 And they made sharp skewers red-hot and ran them into his back, and piercing through his sides they burned away his entrails also.
56 But he in the midst of his tortures exclaimed, 'O contest worthy of saints, wherein so many of us brethren, in the cause of righteousness, have been entered for a competition in torments, and have not been conquered!
57 For the righteous understanding, O tyrant, is unconquerable.
58 In the armour of virtue I go to join my brothers in death, and to add in myself one strong avenger more to punish thee, O deviser of the tortures and enemy of the truly righteous.
59 We six youths have overthrown thy tyranny. 'For is not thine impotence to alter our Reason or force us to eat unclean meat an overthrow for thee?
60 Thy fire is cool for us, thy engines of torture torment not, and thy violence is impotent.
61 For the guards have been officers for us, not of a tyrant, but of the Divine Law; and therefore have we our Reason yet unconquered.'