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Apollonias attacked the defenceless Jews on a Sabbathday, when they offered no resistance, and slew large numbers of them. He fortified Zion with a new wall and high towers, to serve as a well-garrisoned and well-stored Syrian stronghold against the Jewish people. And now followed religious persecutions unsurpassed in frenzy and bloodshed even during the darkest times of fanaticism; and atrocities were practised unknown in the days of Assyrian and Babylonian supremacy. It was the avowed object of Antiochus to compel the Jews to abandon the customs and the faith of their ancestors. The Books of the Law were rent and burnt. The Temple of Jerusalem was called the temple of Jupiter Olympius, and that on Gerizim the temple of Zeus Xenios, the defender of strangers, and in both of them were placed statues of the heathen gods. The precincts of the Temple were polluted by unholy revelries, and the altars defiled by unclean meat, especially swine's flesh, and by detestable images of idolatry, in honour of which the first victims were slain on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month (Kislev) in the
No sacrifices were permitted in accordance with the Law of Moses. Altars and temples of idols were erected in every street; and offerings were presented and incense rose before every house in honour of Hermes, Apollo, and Dionysus. Circumcision was rigidly forbidden, and mothers who had acted against this decree were hurled down the high wall, with their infants tied round their necks, while their houses were plundered, and those that had performed the rite punished with death. The people were forbidden to keep the Sabbath or any of their festivals; they were even warned not to call themselves Jews. On the other hand, they were forced to take part in the pagan sacrifices, and, wreathed with garlands of ivy, to accompany the wild processions in honour of Bacchus. These acts of violence were extended to the Jews who
were living in any of the Greek cities or islands. The towns of Judea were visited and searched by Syrian officers appointed to enforce the faithful execution of the king's edicts. Many Jews submitted, and sacrificed to the Syrian idols set up in every town. But those who refused to do so, or in whose possession was found a copy of the Law, were massacred. Large numbers fled from Jerusalem, and soon the town was almost deserted by its native inhabitants. Many who had taken refuge in neighbouring caves, for the sake of keeping the Sabbath according to the Law, were surrounded and mercilessly burnt. Loud was the cry of despair which rang through the towns and provinces of Judah.
Yet oppression only strengthened in the hearts of many the firm determination to abide by their time-honoured observances, and to cling the more devotedly to their sacred faith. History has preserved to us some instances of heroic resistance, which will ever be admired and extolled. Eleazar, one of the principal scribes, an aged man, was to be forced to eat swine's flesh. But he refused, and boldly went to the torture. Even his persecutors felt pity, and they tried to persuade him, secretly to bring meat of his own choosing, and to substitute it for the swine's flesh. But he rejected the proposal. It becomes not our age,' said he, in any wise to dissemble, whereby many young persons might think that Eleazar, being fourscore years old and ten, had now turned to a strange religion. . . . Wherefore now manfully changing this life, I will show myself such a one as my age requires, and leave a notable example to those who are young, to die willingly and courageously for our honoured and holy laws.' He then bravely submitted to the stripes, and died with these words : I now endure sore pains in body by being beaten, but in soul I am well content to suffer these things, because I fear God.'
Even more remarkable is the account of a mother and her seven sons who were to be compelled to taste unlawful meat. They were punished with scourges and whips. Then the eldest son exclaimed, What wouldest thou ask or learn of us? We are ready to die, rather than to transgress the laws of our fathers. The enraged king ordered his tongue, his hands, and his feet to be cut off before the eyes of his mother and his brothers, and himself to be thrown alive into a red-hot cauldron. He died with the praise of God on his lips, while his relations exhorted each other to firmness, and prayed to the Lord for courage in their impending trial. Five of the brothers were next subjected to tortures varied with fiendish cruelty, and then, upheld in their last moments of agony by their heroic mother, they suffered the death of martyrdom with equal resignation and in unshaken hope of a future reward. And now the youngest son alone remained. Antiochus, thinking it a disgrace to be so completely baffled, promised the youth honour and riches if he would forswear the Jewish faith; and then he bade the mother counsel her son to yield to his persuasion. But the lion-hearted woman laughed the tyrant to scorn, and bursting forth in her own Hebrew tongue, said to her son, 'Fear not this tormentor, but being worthy of thy brothers, take thy death that I may receive thee again in mercy. The youth needed no admonition; turning to the Syrians, he cried, 'Whom do you wait for? I will not obey the king's command, but I will obey the commandment of the Law that was given to our fathers by Moses.' And then predicting a fearful fate to the wicked king, he died undefiled, putting his whole trust in the Lord.' Bereft of her children, the mother, last of all, suffered death for her faith without a murmur. But in this darkest hour of gloom and distress help was at hand.
162. MATTATHIAS (167).
[1 Macc. II. ; 2 Macc. VIII.] There lived in Modin, a small town of Judah, a man of the name of Mattathias, faithful to the Law, and ready to sacrifice his life in its cause. He was of priestly descent and belonged to the family of the Asmoneans. He had five sons worthy of his own patriotism-Joannan, surnamed Kaddis (the Pious); Simon, called Tassi (the Counsellor); Judas or Maccabæus (the Hammer); Eleazar or Avaran (the Wall-breaker); and Jonathan or Apphus (the Cunning). Mattathias was overwhelmed with grief by the acts of the Syrian tyrant, and he broke forth in a bitter lament: “Woe is me! Wherefore was I born to see this misery of my people and of the holy city, and to dwell there, when it was delivered into the hand of the enemy, and the Sanctuary into the hand of strangers ? The Temple is become as a man without glory, the holy vessels are carried away into captivity, the infants are slain in the streets, the young men with the sword of the enemy. What nation has not had a part in the kingdom, and taken of its spoils ? ... Of a free woman it is become a bondslave.
. . To what end therefore shall we live any longer ?'
He rent his garments and put on sackcloth, and his sons and friends mourned with him. About this time the king's commissioners, in their progress through the land, came to Modin, erected an altar, and ordered the people to sacrifice to the Syrian gods. They specially requested Mattathias, who stood in high respect among the people, to give the example, which they hoped would then be followed by others. The aged priest refused, and disdainfully declined all offers of wealth and distinction. Seeing one of the Jews about to sacrifice, he rushed upon him, burning with anger, and slew him with his own hands. He then killed the
king's principal messenger, and pulled down the altar, esclaiming in a loud voice, “Whoever is zealous of the Law and maintains the Covenant, let him follow me!' This was the signal for revolt. Mattathias escaped from the city with his sons and a small number of his countrymen, and like David of old, they fled for refuge to the deserts of Judah: they went with their wives and their children, their flocks and their herds. But they were soon pursued by the king's soldiers, who attacked them on a Sabbath. Unwilling to fight on the sacred day of rest, they said, 'Let us die all in our innocence; heaven and earth shall testify for us that you put us to death wrongfully. A large number of them were slain on that day. Then they resolved in future to oppose the enemy, if necessary, on the Sabbath also, lest they be all destroyed. And so they did when they were attacked again, and they gained a great victory. Many Jews now came flocking round the standard of Mattathias. He traversed the country at the head of his valiant band, encouraged the wavering, destroyed the heathen altars, and restored the old laws and institutions. When he felt that his death was approaching, he spoke to his sons words of inspiriting heroism : Now, my sons, be zealous for the Law, and give your lives for the Covenant of your fathers. Call to remembrance what acts our fathers did in their time; so shall you receive great honour and an everlasting name. . . Fear not, then, the words of a sinful man; for his glory shall be dung and worms. To-day he shall be lifted up, and to-morrow he shall not be found, because he is returned to his dust, and his thought is come to nothing. . . . And, behold, I know that your brother Simon is a man of counsel ; give ear to him always : he shall be a father to you. But as for Judas Maccabæus, he has been mighty and strong, even from his youth up: let him be your captain and fight the battle of the people. Then Mattathias blessed his sons and died