n Journal for Semitics - Pain, endurance and gender in 4 Maccabees

Volume 17, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1013-8471


Symbolic opposition to a dominant culture, associated with remembered times of crisis, can be an obvious part of the way in which a minority culture constructs and maintains its identity. 4 Maccabees uses the events of persecution and martyrdom that occurred during the Hellenization crisis in the Jewish homeland from 175-164 BCE as a setting for the articulation of cultural and religious self-definition and the symbolic resistance against Roman and cultural imperialism. The author affirms and demonstrates that devotion to the One God and observance of the ancestral laws can never and need never be compromised. As the audience (Diaspora Judaism) is surrounded by the values, ideas and practices of the dominant Hellenistic culture and Roman imperial power - a situation that can easily lead to dissonance and tension - the author urges them to follow the example of the martyrs and remain steadfast in their adherence to the Jewish way of life. Exhibiting an advanced degree of Hellenization himself, the author nevertheless counterbalances this with a vehement and non-negotiable defence of Torah-observance which he considers on a par with, if not exceeding, Hellenistic ethical teaching toward the perfection of the virtues. This article firstly demonstrates how the dialectic of assimilation and religious separatism is at work in the author's utilisation of the dominant culture's framework of popular moral philosophy and its context of the arena. These two tools assist the author in speaking credibly and persuasively about the superiority of devout reason as an agency for the control of the passions, especially the passion of excruciating bodily pain. Secondly, this article looks at how in a remarkable absence of cultural antagonism the martyr-mother's gender is constructed in accordance with the standards of both Jewish piety and Hellenistic virtue.

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