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The book of 4 Maccabees is a homily or philosophic discourse praising the supremacy of pious reason over passion. It is not in the Bible for most churches, but is an appendix to the Greek Bible, and in the canon of the Georgian Bible. It was in the 1688 Romanian Bible where it was called "Iosip" but is not printed in the Orthodox Bible today. It is included as an appendix in the recently published Eastern Orthodox Bible.


The work consists of a prologue and two main sections; the first advances the philosophical thesis while the second illustrates the points made using examples drawn from 2 Maccabees (principally, the martyrdom of Eleazer and the Maccabeean youths) under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The last chapters concern the author's impressions drawn from these martyrdoms. The work thus appears to be an independent composition to 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, merely drawing on their descriptions to support its thesis. It was composed originally in the Greek language, in what Stephen Westerholm of the Eastern / Greek Orthodox Bible calls "very fluently... and in a highly rhetorical and affected Greek style."

Authorship and criticism

According to some scholars, the last chapter shows signs of later addition to the work, though this was disputed by the 19th century authors of the Jewish Encyclopedia. The dispute is based on the weak ending the book would have without the "added" chapter, as well as arguments based on style. The change of direction with chapter 27 supports the view of the work as a homily held before a Greek-speaking audience on the feast of Hanukkah, as advanced by Ewald and Freudenthal, where this would be a rhetorical element to draw the listeners into the discourse. Others hold that a homily would have to be based on scriptural texts, which this work is only loosely.

In style, the book is oratorical, but not so much as 3 Maccabees. A good amount of Stoic philosophy is cited by the author, though there is little original philosophical insight in the text. The writer appears to be an Alexandrianmarker Jew who used the philosophical ideas of the time to clothe his religious ideas. This characterization is practically without parallel in Jewish literature, and it is cited as the best example of syncretism between Jewish and Hellenistic thought. Perhaps the closest match in the New Testament is the (anonymous) Epistle to the Hebrews.

The book is ascribed to Josephus by Eusebius and Jerome, and this opinion was accepted for many years, leading to its inclusion in many editions of Josephus' works. More modern critical scholarship points to great differences of language and style, so that this identification is largely abandoned today. The book is generally dated between the first century BCE and the first century CE, due to its reliance on 2 Maccabees and use by Christians. It was probably written before the persecution of the Jews under Caligula, and certainly before the fall of Jerusalemmarker in 70 CE.

Doctrinal content

The writer believes in the immortality of the soul, but denies the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection of the body. Good souls are said to live forever in happiness with the patriarchs and God, but even the evil souls are held to be immortal. The suffering and martyrdom of the Maccabees is seen by the author to be vicarious for the Jewish nation, and the author portrays martyrdom in general as bringing atonement for the past sins of the Jews.


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