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It is possible the book of 4 Maccabees represents the “fourth philosophy” mentioned by Josephus as a subgroup of Judaism in competition with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. It has been thought that this “fourth philosophy” referred to the Zealots, but this has been challenged by Richard Horsley in his work on first century messianic movements.

Image result for fourth maccabees martyrsThe fourth philosophy had several major teachings. First, a Jew should pay no taxes to Rome at all. Based on their interpretation 2 Sam 24, paying taxes to a foreign power was seen as equivalent to slavery, (cf. Luke 20:20-26, the question concerning paying taxes to Caesar may reflect the teaching of the fourth philosophy).

Second, Israel should be a theocracy and not be ruled by any foreign power. To submit to foreign rule is equivalent to idolatry and is a breach of the first commandment. God will work through faithful people if they actively resist their oppressors.

Third, if Israel actively resists, God will establish his kingdom on Earth. The resistance that the fourth philosophy taught was not armed rebellion (as with the Zealots), but rather a commitment to obedience to the Torah and a willingness to be martyrs. The fourth philosophy was therefore a martyrdom movement.

This description is compatible with the teaching of 4 Maccabees, especially in 10:18-21 (cf., 9:24; 11:3; 11:22-23).

4 Maccabees 10:18–21 (NRSV) But he said, “Even if you remove my organ of speech, God hears also those who are mute. 19 See, here is my tongue; cut it off, for in spite of this you will not make our reason speechless. 20 Gladly, for the sake of God, we let our bodily members be mutilated. 21 God will visit you swiftly, for you are cutting out a tongue that has been melodious with divine hymns.”

That a book like 4 Maccabees would continue to be read by the Christian church is quite understandable since the early church faced the same sorts of persecutions described in the book. The challenge to commitment to the word of God in the face of deadly persecution was attractive to the Christians facing Roman pressure to conform.

 

Bibliography: Richard Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985), 190-237; W. J. Heard, “Revolutionary Movements” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by J. Green, S. McKnight and I. H. Marshall (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 688-698.

In 4 Maccabees the role of the law as nearly equivalent to reason. Although God created humans with emotions and passions, he also “enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over them” (2:21). The mind was given the Law, in order to “rule a kingdom that is temperate, just, good, and courageous.” Temperate (σώφρων) refers to prudent thinking and self-control and is one of the virtues required of elders in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 2:2).

4 Maccabees 7:21-23 What person who lives as a philosopher by the whole rule of philosophy, and trusts in God, and knows that it is blessed to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, would not be able to overcome the emotions through godliness? For only the wise and courageous are masters of their emotions (NRSV)

The “temperate mind” restrains the impulses of the body, what Paul calls “self-control” in Galatians 5:23. That Paul and 4 Maccabees both have a high view of the Law and the virtue of self-control is not necessarily and indication Paul knew the book or vice versa. Likely as not both the author of 4 Maccabees and Paul are drawing on implications of the wisdom literature drawn through the intellectual grid of a first century worldview which includes elements of Stoicism and other Greek philosophical streams.

Image result for self control memeSelf-control was perhaps the most important of the Greek ethical terms. Remarkably, the Greek world valued controlling one’s passions and acting moderately in all things. Any activity could devolve into a vice if it is not practiced with moderation.  For example, eating a proper amount of food is good thing; too much is glutton and too little is starvation. Paul claims here that the one who is walking by the spirit will walk moderately in everything that they do. In fact, Paul points out that the person who belongs to Christ Jesus “crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

This is an important point that should probably be argued at length, but this sort of paper cannot do so. There are a number of works on Paul and the Stoics which make this point, although the probability of direct borrowing is very low. I prefer to think in terms of an intellectual grid made up of the Old Testament and various Jewish writings as a primary database through which Greco-Roman philosophy is drawn, elements which are compatible with the database are retained, others are rejected.

[Note: The recent posts on Third and Fourth Maccabees are reposts; Jim Davilla caught me. I changed the dates to put them in the order of this new series. Apologies.]

4 Maccabees is included in several manuscripts of the LXX, including Vaticanus but was not included in the Vulgate.  The book is therefore not a part of the Apocrypha although it is often included in introductions to the Apocrypha. It is also in manuscripts which contain the works of Josephus.  This led Eusebius and Jerome to suggest Josephus was the author, but this has been universally rejected by modern scholarship.

Image result for fourth maccabees martyrsThe book is related to the Maccabean period but the focus is on the martyrs who died for the Law during those years.  The book was written in Greek by a Jew who appears to be writing before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.  The temple is never described as a thing of the past in the book but rather seems as though it is still active. It also appears to have been written after the invasion of Pompey in 63 B.C.  deSilva argues for the Roman date on the basis of two technical terms (θρησκεία, “religious” and νομικός, “skilled at law), both of which appear only in the literature of the Roman period (deSilva, 355).

The writer reflects an extensive knowledge of Greek philosophy and rhetoric.  He is a man who is devoted to the law of his people and his a theologian “of considerable depth” (OTP 2:533). A few scholars (Dupont-Sommer and Hadas) think the book is an oral address which might have been made as part of a “cult of martyrs” within a synagogue context.  As Anderson notes, this is possible, but the chief objection is that a synagogue speech would have been based on a text from the Hebrew Bible, not stories from the Maccabean period.

deSilva comments that the writer of 4 Maccabees is “thoroughly immersed in Hellenistic environment” and has “more than a passing acquaintance with Stoic and Platonic ethics” (deSilva, 355). The thesis of the book is stated in 1:1 and 1:13.  The writer wishes to discuss if “whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions” (cf. 6:31, 13:1, 16:1, 18:2).  While this sounds very much like Stoicism, the application of the “emotions” in this case is to continue to keep the Law in the face of physical threat and torment which culminates in death.

While the casual reader may be impressed by the faith of the martyred men in the story, the first century reader would have been impressed with the men as examples of living out one’s philosophy consistently, even to the point of death.  The book is therefore aimed at the Jewish community which may face persecution as they have in the past, in order to encourage them to maintain their faithfulness to the Law in the face a dominant culture which is discouraging, and may at times employ persecution and extreme torture (deSilva, 357).

Even though the book is superficially related to 1 Maccabees, there is no mention of the great military victories celebrated by that book in 4 Maccabees.  The great victories in this book come in the form of the martyrdom of men faithful to the Jewish Law.  It is not military might which drove off the armies of Antiochus IV Epiphanies.  God’s wrath was turned away by the death of righteous men (4:19-21, 6:27-29, 17:21-22, cf., deSilva, 369).

Perhaps this is why Christians preserved the book. It was an encouragement to face torture and death rather than compromise with the Empire.

 

Bibliography: David A. deSilva, Introducing the Apocrypha.  Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002.

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