The tyrant Antiochus, sitting in state with his counselors on a certain high place, and with his armed soldiers standing about him, ordered the guards to seize each and every Hebrew and to compel them to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols. If any were not willing to eat defiling food, they were to be broken on the wheel and killed. And when many persons had been rounded up, one man, Eleazar by name, leader of the flock, was brought before the king. He was a man of priestly family, learned in the law, advanced in age, and known to many in the tyrant's court because of his philosophy.
When Antiochus saw him he said, "Before I begin to torture you, old man, I would advise you to save yourself by eating pork, for I respect your age and your gray hairs. Although you have had them for so long a time, it does not seem to me that you are a philosopher when you observe the religion of the Jews. Why, when nature has granted it to us, should you abhor eating the very excellent meat of this animal? It is senseless not to enjoy delicious things that are not shameful, and wrong to spurn the gifts of nature. It seems to me that you will do something even more senseless if, by holding a vain opinion concerning the truth, you continue to despise me to your own hurt. Will you not awaken from your foolish philosophy, dispel your futile reasonings, adopt a mind appropriate to your years, philosophize according to the truth of what is beneficial, and have compassion on your old age by honoring my humane advice? For consider this, that if there is some power watching over this religion of yours, it will excuse you from any transgression that arises out of compulsion."
When the tyrant urged him in this fashion to eat meat unlawfully, Eleazar asked to have a word. When he had received permission to speak, he began to address the people as follows: "We, O Antiochus, who have been persuaded to govern our lives by the divine law, think that there is no compulsion more powerful than our obedience to the law. Therefore we consider that we should not transgress it in any respect. Even if, as you suppose, our law were not truly divine and we had wrongly held it to be divine, not even so would it be right for us to invalidate our reputation for piety. Therefore do not suppose that it would be a petty sin if we were to eat defiling food; to transgress the law in matters either small or great is of equal seriousness, for in either case the law is equally despised. You scoff at our philosophy as though living by it were irrational, but it teaches us self-control, so that we master all pleasures and desires, and it also trains us in courage, so that we endure any suffering willingly; it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we act impartially, and it teaches us piety, so that with proper reverence we worship the only real God.
"Therefore we do not eat defiling food; for since we believe that the law was established by God, we know that in the nature of things the Creator of the world in giving us the law has shown sympathy toward us. He has permitted us to eat what will be most suitable for our lives, but he has forbidden us to eat meats that would be contrary to this. It would be tyrannical for you to compel us not only to transgress the law, but also to eat in such a way that you may deride us for eating defiling foods, which are most hateful to us. But you shall have no such occasion to laugh at me, nor will I transgress the sacred oaths of my ancestors concerning the keeping of the law, not even if you gouge out my eyes and burn my entrails. I am not so old and cowardly as not to be young in reason on behalf of piety. Therefore get your torture wheels ready and fan the fire more vehemently! I do not so pity my old age as to break the ancestral law by my own act. I will not play false to you, O law that trained me, nor will I renounce you, beloved self-control. I will not put you to shame, philosophical reason, nor will I reject you, honored priesthood and knowledge of the law. You, O king, shall not stain the honorable mouth of my old age, nor my long life lived lawfully. The fathers will receive me as pure, as one who does not fear your violence even to death. You may tyrannize the ungodly, but you shall not dominate my religious principles either by word or by deed."
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