Leonhard Rost writes: "The author's purpose is to examine a 'wholly philosophical question'can religious reason of her own accord become mistress over the passions? At the same time, he counsels men for their own benefit to hold fast to philosophy. He brings all the forces of rhetoric to bear on the question. In chapters 1-3, he takes up particular ethical problems and illustrates the power of reason through examples taken from the conduct of Jacob, Joseph, and David. Then he moves on to the history of the recent past, recounting the intrigues of Simon, who envied Onias the office of high priest, telling of the attempt of Apollodorus to enter the Temple (instigated by the order of Antiochus Epiphanes), of the replacement of Simon with Jason (3:19-4:26), and of the persecution of the Jews by Antiochus, using the examples of Eleazar (cf. II Macc. 6:18-31) and of the mother and her seven sons (cf. II Macc. 7). In spite of torture and threatened execution, reason led these faithful souls to maintain their fear of God and thus remain superior to the threats of the king; at the same time, they became models for the people (5:1-17:6). The striking conclusion begins with an imaginary memorial inscription ascribing the deliverance of the nation to the death of these sacrificial victims; there follows a call to emulate them. Then the mother addresses her sons, pointing out to them how careful she had been to observe the Law and the traditional customs of the fathers. The book ends with a hymn in praise of God, who took vengeance on Antiochus for the execution of the victims but received the victims of his tyranny into 'the company of the fathers once they had received pure and immortal souls' (17:7-18:24; following A. Deissmann in Kautzsch, p. 177)." (Outside the Hebrew Canon, pp. 108-109)
Raymond F. Surburg writes: "In a brief introductory paragraph, the author indicated the scope of the question which he proposes to discuss (1:1-11) and the method he will use in the course of his presentation. The book has two main divisions: 1) A philosophical discussion on the main proposition (1:13-3:18); 2) The story of the martyrs and the lessons to be learned from it (3:19-to the end). Chapters 3-7 of 2 Maccabees furnishes the basic material for the second part of the book." (Introduction to the Intertstamental Period, pp. 149-150)
Martin McNamara writes: "4 Maccabees is a philosophical treatise that could be entitled: 'On the Supremacy of Reason over the Emotions.' It opens with the words: 'The subject that I am about to discuss is most philosophical, that is, whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions.' First there is a philosophical introduction (1:1-3:18) in which the author tells us that he is about to demonstrate his point best 'from the noble bravery of those who died for the sake of virtue, Eleazar and the seven brothers and their mother' (1:8). The author of this work belongs to the Stoic tradition, combining its principles with those of Judaism. He then moves on to the story of the Maccabean martyrs, referring to the High Priest Onias III, 'that noble and good man', and to Apollonius' attempt on the treasury of the temple (3:9-4:14). After this there follows (5:1-7:23) a detailed account of the martyrdom of Eleazar, 'leader of the flock . . ., of priestly family, learned in the law, advanced in age' (5:4) after which is narrated the martyrdom of the seven brothers (8:1-12:19). The author then gives a philosophical interpretation of the events (13:1-14:10), followed by an account of the martyrdom of the mother of the seven (14:11-17:1) and the author's panegyric of her (17:2-18). To this brave woman, the real heroine of the story, the author reserves the closing oration, one in which she expatiates on the principles that guided her life. Her words are addressed to her children, by which all God-fearing Jews, not merely the seven martyrs are intended." (Intertestamental Literature, pp. 233-234)
James Charlesworth writes: "The composition is a diatribe (see J. C. H. Lebram, no. 1101) with Stoic influences by a Jew who had mastered Greek thought and language. The theme is clarified in the prologue (1:1-12): inspired reason is the supreme ruler over passions (pleasures and pains). After a definition of reason and passion, Joseph, Moses, Jacob, and David are chosen as examples of how reason can rule the passions (1:13-3:19). Following an historical note regarding the cultural and religious innovations by Antiochus Epiphanes and Jason (3:20-4:26), 'the demonstration of the story of the self-controlled reason' (ten apodeixin tes historiae tou sophronos logismou, 3:19), the heart of the book, unfolds with an account of the courageous words and actions of Eleazar (cf. 2Mac 6:18-31), and of the seven young men and their mother (cf. 2Mac 7:1-52), with appropriate concluding summaries (5:1-17:24). The work ends with an exhortation to the Israelites to obey the Law, be righteous, and recognize 'that inspired reason is lord over passion' (hoti ton pathon setin despotes ho eusebes logismos, 18:2), and with a speech by the mother (18:1-24). There are tensions and inconsistencies, since the motive for martyrdom is not reason but obedience to Torah (cf. 5:16, 9:1-8, 16:17-22)." (The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research, pp. 151-152)
Emil Schürer writes: "Josephus is named by Eusebius and other Church writers as the author of this book. This view however has only the value of a hypothesis. For the book still appears in many manuscripts anonymously, and was therefore certainly at first issued without the name of the author. The entirely different style, and the circumstance, that Josephus in his Antiquities nowhere makes use of the second Book of Maccabees and thus seems not to know it, while the work in question is entirely based upon it, speak against his authorship. The first century after Christ is generally accepted as the date of composition, chiefly because the book must have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. though the latter cannot be proved, this view must be pretty nearly correct, since a more recent book would no longer have been accepted by the Christian Church." (The Literature of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus, p. 246)
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