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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

4 Maccabees - Introduction

Fourth Maccabees is a rhetorical * treatment of the thesis formally stated in 1.1 : “whether devout reason is sovereign over the emotions,” a thesis that the author declares to be “most philosophical.” The opening section of the book, 1.1–3.18 , is a fairly abstract, rhetorical discussion of the nature of reason, the emotions, and the relation between them. Thereafter, the author focuses on the example of the Maccabean martyrs. * The story of the martyrs is told, but the narrative * element is always subordinate to the philosophical issue. The discussion of the martyrs has many characteristics of an encomium * or panegyric, a speech in praise of the dead. Many scholars have accordingly classified the book as a sermon, or as a funeral oration. There is reference to “the present occasion” in 1.10 and 3.19 . These features, however, are conventions of the rhetorical schools of Greek and Roman antiquity. Students were trained to write speeches as if they were for specific occasions. There is a reference to the tomb of the martyrs at 17.8 , and it is possible that the speech was actually delivered as a commemorative oration. It is probably simpler, however, to suppose that it was written in the form of such an oration, as a philosophical and ethical tract. Fourth Maccabees was never canonical, * but it was included in important biblical manuscripts and was often cited by the church fathers. It appealed to Christians because it was an exposition in praise of martyrdom.

Fourth Maccabees was most probably written in the second half of the first century CE. In 4.2 , Cilicia is treated as part of the administrative region of Syria; this was only the case between 20 and 54 CE. Fourth Maccabees can scarcely have been written before this time, but it could have been written later. There is no other indication of the precise date. Neither is there any clear indication of the place of composition. Some scholars tend to ascribe all Jewish works that are written in Greek to Alexandria, which had the most famous and literate Jewish community outside Israel. But there is no specific indication of Alexandrian origin here. Many scholars locate the book in Antioch, because there was a Christian cult of the martyrs there that goes back at least to the fourth century CE. The book could conceivably have been written in Jerusalem, but there is no evidence for any work that presupposes this level of Greek education and was written in the land of Israel. A Diaspora * origin is virtually certain.

The cultural context of 4 Maccabees is highly Hellenized, * to a degree that is paralleled among the Jewish writings from antiquity only in the writings of Philo * and the Wisdom of Solomon. The author must surely have had a good Greek education in the gymnasium. After 50 CE, such an education would have been difficult to obtain in Alexandria. The author is well versed in Greek philosophy and rhetoric. * Nonetheless, he remains a strictly observant Jew. The distinctive character of the book lies in the attempt to defend strict observance of the law within the categories of Greek philosophy.

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