The tyrant Antiochus, therefore, sitting in public state with his assessors upon a certain lofty place, with his armed troops standing in a circle around him,
commanded his spearbearers to seize every one of the Hebrews, and to compel them to taste swine's flesh, and things offered to idols.
And should any of them be unwilling to eat the accursed food, they were to be tortured on the wheel, and so killed.
And when many had been seized, a foremost man of the assembly, a Hebrew, by name Eleazar, a priest by family, by profession a lawyer, and advanced in years, and for this reason known to many of the king's followers, was brought near to him.
And Antiochus seeing him, said,
I would counsel thee, old man, before thy tortures begin, to taste the swine's flesh, and save your life; for I feel respect for your age and hoary head, which since you have had so long, you appear to me to be no philosopher in retaining the superstition of the Jews.
For wherefore, since nature has conferred upon you the most excellent flesh of this animal, do you loathe it?
It seems senseless not to enjoy what is pleasant, yet not disgraceful; and from notions of sinfulness, to reject the boons of nature.
And you will be acting, I think, still more senselessly, if you follow vain conceits about the truth.
And you will, moreover, be despising me to your own punishment.
Will you not awake from your trifling philosophy? and give up the folly of your notions; and, regaining understanding worthy of your age, search into the truth of an expedient course?
and, reverencing my kindly admonition, have pity upon your own years?
For, bear in mind, that if there be any power which watches over this religion of yours, it will pardon you for all transgressions of the law which you commit through compulsion.
While the tyrant incited him in this manner to the unlawful eating of flesh, Eleazar begged permission to speak.
And having received power to speak, he began thus to deliver himself:
We, O Antiochus, who are persuaded that we live under a divine law, consider no compulsion to be so forcible as obedience to that law;
wherefore we consider that we ought not in any point to transgress the law.
And indeed, were our law (as you suppose) not truly divine, and if we wrongly think it divine, we should have no right even in that case to destroy our sense of religion.
think not eating the unclean, then, a trifling offense.
For transgression of the law, whether in small or great matters, is of equal moment;
for in either case the law is equally slighted.
But thou deridest our philosophy, as though we lived irrationally in it.
Yet it instructs us in temperance, so that we are superior to all pleasures and lusts; and it exercises us in manliness, so that we cheerfully undergo every grievance.
And it instructs us in justice, so that in all our dealings we render what is due; and it teaches us piety, so that we worship the one only God becomingly.
Wherefore it is that we eat not the unclean; for believing that the law was established by God, we are convinced that the Creator of the world, in giving his laws, sympathises with our nature.
Those things which are convenient to our souls, he has directed us to eat; but those which are repugnant to them, he has interdicted.
But, tyrant-like, thou not only forcest us to break the law, but also to eat, that thou mayest ridicule us as we thus profanely eat:
but thou shalt not have this cause of laughter against me;
nor will I transgress the sacred oaths of my forefathers to keep the law.
No, not if you pluck out my eyes, and consume my entrails.
I am not so old, and void of manliness, but that my rational powers are youthful in defence of my religion.
Now then; prepare your wheels, and kindle a fiercer flame.
I will not so compassionate my old age, as on my account to break the law of my country.
I will not belie thee, O law, my instructor! or forsake thee, O beloved self-control!
I will not put thee to shame, O philosopher Reason; or deny thee, O honoured priesthood, and science of the law.
Mouth! thou shalt not pollute my old age, nor the full stature of a perfect life.
My fathers shall receive me pure, not having quailed before your compulsion, though unto death.
For over the ungodly thou shalt tyrannize; but thou shalt not lord it over my thoughts about religion, either by thine arguments, or through deeds.