Appendix Part 2.
The incredulous insist on a greater difficulty which they have unearthed, and pretend to be convincing. The two books, they say, are at variance with regard t0 the death of Antiochus Epiphanes. It is related in the sixth chapter of the First Book that having been repulsed from the Persian city of Elymais he came to Babylon and died there of a broken heart on hearing of the destruction of his army in Judea. " He was struck with fear," the sacred text says, "and fell sick for grief," and he perished " with great grief in a strange land." But, on the other hand, in the first chapter of the Second Book he is said to have been stoned to death in the temple of Nanea (a Persian goddess taken by some for Diana, by others for Venus) which was in Persia: "He fell in the temple of Nanea." A little farther on in the sixteenth verse it is detailed how when Antiochus entered the temple " they cast stones and slew the leader and them that were with him, and hewed them to pieces, and cutting off their heads they threw them forth." These statements cannot be reconciled with each other. Antiochus could not have died in different places. The writer of one book contradicts the writer of the other. Furthermore, even the writer of the Second Book contradicts himself. As we have just seen, he states that Antiochus, with his followers, was cut in pieces in the temple of Nanea. Nevertheless, in the ninth chapter, unmindful or re gardless of what he had written before, he relates that -Antiochus was shamefully driven out of Persepolis (otherwise called Elymais), and put to flight, and then learning, when near Ecbatana, the defeat of his army in Judea, he was moved to anger against the Jews; ascended his chariot to proceed against them; fell from it, and died soon after. Now it could not be that the king died in two different places. He could not have died in the temple of Nanea, in Persia, and "in the mountains about Ecbatana," which was the metropolis of Media.
The incredulous have relied very much on the above-quoted passages as offering sufficient reason to upset the authority of the Machabees. But in this they deceive themselves, for there is no contradiction in these texts. These can be easily reconciled. Antiochus, on attempting to plunder the temple of Nanea in Persepolis, or as it was likewise called, Elymais, was repulsed by the inhabitants of that city, but escaped with his life. Then seeking safety he turned towards Media. It was in this country, and, as the sacred text says, "about Ecbatana," which is supposed to be the modern Casbisa, that he heard of the defeat of his generals, Nicanor and Timotheus, and the ruin and slaughter of his army in Judea. On receiving this disagree able news he got into a rage, meditated revenge against the Jews, and instantly mounting his chariot to go to slaughter them in turn, he fell from it; the anger of God overtook him : worms swarmed out of his body, his flesh fell off, and he met with a miser able death. The sacred writer expresses it thus; " Then swelling with anger . . . without stop ping in his journey, the judgment of heaven urging him forward ... it happened as he was going with violence that he fell from his chariot." This wicked king died soon after.
They press their objection still further against us, and say, that if Antiochus were stoned and " hewed in pieces" in the temple of Nanea, he could neither return to Persepolis, in which stood the temple, nor hasten towards Judea. Yet in the first chapter of the Second Book Antiochus is said to have lost his life in that temple. In the thirteenth verse we read as follows: "When the leader (Antiochus) himself was in Persia ... he fell in the temple of Nanea, being deceived by the counsel of the priests of Nanea." The sixteenth verse says: " When Antiochus was come in : and opening a secret entrance of the temple, they cast stones and slew the leader, and them that were with him, and hewed them in pieces."
The first answer to be given to this is, that what is said in these verses is to be understood in a moral sense as including all those who entered the temple, with, however, a few exceptions. Thus nearly all who entered the temple were overwhelmed with stones and lost their lives. Among the few who escaped, however, was Antiochus. It is no obstacle to this interpretation, that the sacred text says he fell in the temple. It is not unusual with the Scripture to say that one fell, not only when he has perished but even when he has been routed and vanquished. In the fourteenth chapter and tenth verse of Genesis it is said that " The king of Sodom and the king of Gomorrha fell there." Still a little farther on, in the seventeenth verse, it is stated that "The king of Sodom went out to meet him" (Abraham). This shows he had not lost his life when the Scripture said of him that he fell there. Such is the answer to the objection, given by such writers as Natalis Alexander and Estius, to pass over so many others.
Another answer is supplied by others who hold that the Antiochus who fell in the temple of Nanea was not Antiochus Epiphanes, but Antiochus the son of Demetrius, who, as we read in the fifteenth chapter of the first book, though at first friendly to wards the Jews afterwards broke his covenant with them, and "was exceeding angry," and made war upon them.
There is another and a very simple way of getting over the difficulty. It is this: that it is not the inspired writer, the author of the first chapter of the Second Book, but the Jews of Jerusalem who speak and deliver their sentiment in the letter which they wrote to their brethren in Egypt. There is a parallel case in the discourse of Judith to Holofernes.
The language attributed to her in sacred writ was really addressed to Holofernes, but it does not follow that it is on that account the language of the Holy Ghost. The same is the case with the present letter which was written immediately after the cleansing or purification of the temple of Jerusalem. Hence it was written as soon as the first tidings of the death of Antiochus had reached Judea. By the report they received the Jews were misinformed as to the real circumstances of his death. It was bruited that he had been slain in the temple of Nanea at Elymais. In a short time the true circumstances of his death became known. It was then ascertained that he had escaped from that city and had been obliged to fly for his life ; that he had fallen sick at Ecbatana or somewhere else among the mountains near it, and that he had died there. Now all these circumstances were well known to the author of the Second Book of Machabees, for he has left them written with his pen. Still as he wished to give a faithful copy of the letter of the Jews, as it was, he did not like to change their account of the death of Antiochus. This he reserved for a future page of his history where he gives us a more exact account of the unhappy death of that monarch. What does all this prove ? It proves not the unscrupulousness or ignorance, but rather the scrupulous fidelity of the historian.
Perhaps we may observe in passing that the cruel persecution practised by Antiochus on the Jews was foretold by the prophet Daniel more than two centuries before. This prediction has been so literally and clearly verified that the faithless have been forced to say that the prophecies of Daniel were not written till after the reign of Antiochus. The rationalist and the infidel, however, can never upset the incontestable arguments by which the date of the book of Daniel is proved beyond the shadow of doubt.
Another objection raised against this history of the Machabees is that it contains some things that are opposed to the moral law.
1st. It would follow from it that we should pray for those who die in mortal sin.
2nd. It praises the act of Razias in committing suicide, whose example as we learn from St. Augustine (Lib. i. Contra Gaudontium, cap. 31.) was availed of by the Donatists and other heretics to excuse their homicides.
We answer by denying that it contains anything opposed to the moral law, at least in the sense of approving or applauding it. The Jews who fell on the occasion 1. to which reference is made, under whose coats were found the prohibited donaries of the idols of Jamnia, were either not guilty of mortal sin, or if they were, they repented for it before drawing their last breath. They may be excused from mortal sin through ignorance of the law which forbade them the donaries of idols, although this ignorance may have been attended by some negligence, not however grave, or through a certain cupidity of enriching themselves which may be no more than a venial sin. But if they knew the law prohibiting donaries and were consequently guilty of mortal sin, they may have repented for this at the last moment when they felt the avenging hand of God upon them. It would be a pious thing of Judas Machabeus to presume on their repentance and to have sacrifice offered up for their souls.
As to the second point regarding the conduct of Razias in depriving himself of life, authorities differ in opinion. St. Augustine, St. Thomas, Estius, Natalis Alexander, and many others, condemn the act of Razias as immoral. St. Augustine (Epist. 204, or 61 ad Dulcitium.) in particular says of it; "Although the man himself may be praised in the Book of Machabees, his act (in committing suicide), however, is related, not praised, and to be condemned (Judicandum) rather than imitated. ... It is written that he wished to die nobly and manfully, but whether was it therefore wisely ? . . .
These (to die nobly and manfully) are great things ; however they are not good. For all that is great is not good, since there are even evil things that are great. God said, 'Thou shalt not kill the innocent and the just.' If, therefore, this man was not innocent, why is he held up to us for imitation ? But if he was innocent and just, why is the slayer of the innocent and just, that is, of Razias himself, thought to be moreover worthy of praise ? " You will observe that this great doctor says that Razias is " not praised" in the Book of Machabees, and that he is " to be condemned rather than imitated." Hence evidently he is of the same opinion as those who condemn the act of Razias as suicidal. Though the Book of Machabees may seem to approve of self-destruction, the inspired author of that book did not intend to laud the deed of Razias, who struck himself with his sword, precipitated himself from the wall of his house, and tore out his own intestines, that he should not fall into the hands of the wicked and suffer abuses unbecoming his noble birth. The author in tended only to relate the fact as it happened and to note the opinion of the people, who in their way of thinking considered that this noble Israelite had acted with manly courage and devoted patriotism.
There are some who, although they look on the act of Razias as sinful in itself, excuse him from formal or imputable sin by reason of his in-culpable ignorance. They think that he acted bona fide, believing that it was lawful for him under the circumstances to take away his own life.
There are others who applaud his deed, because they are of opinion that he acted under the special inspiration of heaven. This inspiration is certain in the case of Samson, who, when he was brought to make sport for the Philistine lords, seized two pillars of the temple of Dagon as if to sustain himself, and pulled down the building, burying himself and three thousand Philistines in the ruins. St. Augustine (2 Lib. I, de Civit. Dei, cap. 21 and 25.) himself acknowledges that some virgins "who, to avoid the enemies of their chastity, cast themselves into the river or the fire," acted thus through divine impulse or inspiration. They who hold the same in the case of Razias are influenced by the following reasons:—
1. The sacred Scripture seems to praise, and even to applaud his act. The Book of Judges does not pass such eulogy on Samson, whose action no one attributes to any other influence than that of the Holy Ghost, as the author of the Machabees be stows on Razias. He is said to have died nobly and manfully ; but there would be nothing noble or manly in his conduct unless he were moved by the divine Spirit. For not only Augustine and Lactantius and all Christian writers of any note, but even pagan authors such as Aristotle, Euripides, and Virgil, consider suicide as a sign, not of a noble or manly, but of a weak and pusillanimous mind.
2. They who follow St. Augustine think that when it is said Razias died nobly and manfully, he is so praised, not according to the mind of the inspired writer, but according to the estimation of the people or of Razias himself. But they who hold that this man was inspired by God to act as he did, say that the construction of the text is adverse to the opinion of St. Augustine and those who follow him, and in favour of their own. There is no doubt that the wording of the text would induce one to agree with this assertion.
3. The good and holy life of Razias is another reason to show that he was inspired from above to turn his sword upon himself. He was a man of remarkable virtue and of great repute, " of good report, who, for his affection, was called the father of the Jews." The sacred writer continues his encomium on him thus: "This man for a long lime had held fast his purpose of keeping himself pure in the Jews' religion, and was ready to expose his body and life that he might persevere therein." One would be inclined to believe that such a worthy and pious man would not lay deadly hands upon himself unless he were inspired by Providence so to do.
4. They who are of this opinion say that the pious intention of Raziasin this deed would lead us to believe that he was impelled to it by God. His intention was, not" to fall into the hands of the wicked." He was afraid lest by blandishment, deception, threat, or torment he may be induced to do or say anything opposed to God or to the good of the people. 5. Finally, the pious prayer which he uttered with his dying breath favours the presumption that he was actuated by the inspiration of the Spirit of God. He died "calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to restore 'his bowels' to him again," and thus proclaiming his faith in the future resurrection of the body.
Thus far the diverse construction put upon the conduct of Razias by the various authorities who have written on or alluded to the subject. In such diversity of opinion it is not easy, nay, it is impossible to arrive at a certain judgment as to the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the deed. Calmet, the learned French Benedictine—a great authority in interpreting the sacred Scripture—says that he adheres to the opinion of SS. Augustine and Thomas ; and while he would not entirely dare to condemn Razias, he would neither dare to vindicate him.
They also advance against the authority of this history that it is uncertain who the author of it was. Even they go so far as to say that the primary author of the second book was a pagan, for it seems to be an epitome of five books that were written by a Cyrenean whose name was Jason. This person, ac cording to them, must be a Gentile, for his country, Cyrene, where no Jews dwelt, would indicate that.
To this objection we say that we have already granted that it is not certain who was the author of the history. But this should raise no more objection to its authority than the uncertainty as to who were the authors of the books of Judith, Esther, and Job, raises against their authority. In the Scripture we do not attend to the identification of the writer or to his dignity; we attend to the divine assistance and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It is this assistance and this inspiration that moved those whom God chose as amanuenses to write whatsoever he wished. But to find fault with the books of Machabees because they may contain some things that were taken from profane works, would be to find fault with many parts of the Old and New Testaments which contain citations from Gentile writers. Hence does St. Jerome ask (Epist. ad Magnum.) : "Who does not know that both in Moses and the volumes of the prophets some things have been taken from the books of Gentiles ? " He proceeds : "But even Paul the Apostle has used a short verse of the poet Epimenides in writing to Titus: 'The Cretians are always liars, ("Cretenses semper mendaces.") &c. In another epistle also he lays down a senary of Menander: ' For evil conversations corrupt good manners,' ("Corrumpunt enim bonos mores colloquia prava.") and disputing among the Athenians in the Court of Mars he calls Aratus as a witness: ' For we are also his offspring.' ("Ipsius enim et genus sumus.") It is not against the authority of the Machabees any more than other books of Scripture that they may contain some things which were taken from profane authors; for a profane author could write some things which were true, and the Holy Ghost could impress on these the seal of His authority. Apart from this it may be observed, that although Jason may be a native or an inhabitant of Cyrene, there is no evidence that he was a Gentile and not a Jew. In fact, so far from there being any evidence in that direction, the presumption is altogether in favour of his being a Jew. What interest could a Gentile, who was naturally hostile to the Jews, have in writing five volumes in praise of their heroic deeds ? Besides this it is noted that there were many cities called Cyrene. There was a Cyrene in the island of Cyprus and another in Lybia. It is very likely that Jason, who described the heroism and bravery of the Machabees—from whose account of them some things in the Second Book seem to be taken—was from the Cyrene in Lybia. The Jews had a greater facility of travelling to this Cyrene than to the other, and had vastly more intercourse with it.
Hence it is that we read (The Acts of the Apostles, c. ii.) that on the sacred day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was seen to descend upon the Apostles, among the witnesses of His miraculous effects on them—witnesses comprising representatives " of every nation under heaven " —were some persons from " the parts of Lybia, about Cyrene" During the heartless persecution to which they were subjected by the cruel Antiochus, many of the Jews were carried off to Libya. Jason may be sprung from one of these, whose place of exile was in the vicinity of, or, as Holy Writ has it, " about" Cyrene.
Another objection they raise is that the history of the Machabees disagrees with all the histories of the Greeks. In the first chapter and seventh verse of the First Book it is said that Alexander " called his servants the nobles that were brought up with him from his youth; and he divided his kingdom among them while he was yet alive" Yet Q. Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justinus tell us that it was after his death that his kingdom was divided. This objection can be easily answered. There is no difficulty in reconciling the sacred writers with the profane ones.
1. "They found under the coats of the slain some of the donaries of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbiddeth to the Jews : so that all plainly saw that for this cause they were slain." n. Mach. xii. 40. The donaries were the votive offerings that were made to the idols and hung up in their temples. The Jews who were slain had taken away some of these donaries when they burnt the port of Jamnia. But this was contrary to the prohibition of the law, for it is expressly said in Deuteronomy: " Their graven things thou shalt burn with fire: thou shalt not covet the silver and gold of which they are made, neither shalt thou take to thee anything thereof, lest thou offend, because it is an abomination to the Lord thy God." VII. 25.