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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Theological Points of Interest.

1.

The author of 4 Maccabees uses philosophy to further his arguments. If philosophical Jewish texts of this period were graded on a line of philosophical sophistication with Philo Judaeus at one end and the Wisdom of Solomon at the other, 4 Maccabees would sit half-way along. Whilst much of the theology of 4 Maccabees is inextricably bound up with its philosophy, certain areas remain untouched. These are the classical theological areas of eschatology, salvation, and atonement, the latter being the linchpin for the whole narrative. Atonement in ancient Jewish and Christian literature is occasionally dominated by the debate between propitiation and expiation, and 4 Maccabees has much to offer in this area. Three short texts in 4 Maccabees provide the best way to understand the theology of the author as a whole.

2. ( 4:10–14 ) A Case of Gentile Propitiation.

This passage is essentially derived from 2 Macc 3:22–34 . The starkest change is that the account in 4 Maccabees is considerably shorter and concerns Apollonius, not Heliodorus. Despite this, the eschatological element is still present and this is essential to the episode as a whole for it ushers in the manifestation of God's power to earth in order to confront Israel's enemy. Apollonius is all but dead at the hands of the heavenly host when he begs ‘the Hebrews to pray for him and propitiate the wrath of the heavenly army’ (v. 11 ). The idea of propitiation expressed here is important for the theology of 4 Maccabees. Of primary significance is the Greek word used to describe this form of atonement: exeumenisōntai, from the verb eumenizō (cf. the Eumenides, Latin Furies). This form of the verb is in the third person plural (to agree with the plural Hebrews) aorist subjunctive. With hopōs, it is clearly a purpose clause, but the voice used is middle. It is apparent from the narrative that in the process of propitiation, Apollonius can play no part but must ask the Hebrews to propitiate the wrath of their God on his behalf. In the author's view, the Gentiles have no means of contact with the Jewish God, but rather any petition must come from the Jews. By using exeumenisōntai the author is diverging from the mother passage in 2 Macc 3:33 where the common word hilasmos is used. 4 Macc reserves the concept of hilastērion for 17:22 (see 4 MACC E.4). Here is a distinct dichotomy between Jew and Gentile in the mind of the author; these two groups are respectively represented by expiation and propitiation. It is clear that in Jewish thought the word hilastērion was not synonymous with exeumenisōntai. The author of 4 Maccabees is making a distinction between propitiation that pertains to Gentiles, and expiation that is reserved for Jews. Another observation on this passage reveals that in comparison to 2 Macc 3:32 , Onias does not sacrifice but prays for the life of the Greek. This points towards practice in the Diaspora rather than the homeland.

3. ( 6:27–9 ) Eleazar's Atonement for the Nation.

In this death-scene of Eleazar, attention is drawn to the salvific nature of the shedding of blood. This is reminiscent of the sacrificial language found throughout the HB where blood played such an important part (Isa 52:13–53:12; Lev 23:27–8 ). The portrayal of the martyrdom of Eleazar was intended as a vicarious sacrifice along the lines of the Day of Atonement ritual. Eleazar says, ‘make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs’ (v. 29 ). It is the shedding of blood that seems to be the guarantee of the Jews' purification and expiation.

4. ( 17:20–2 ) Martyrdom and Expiation.

As in 6:29 antipsychon is used in v. 21 to express the idea of ‘ransom’. The blood motif reappears here in connection with ‘their death as an atoning (hilastērion) sacrifice’ (v. 22 ). Through their deaths the martyrs were able to pardon the sins of all Israel as well as themselves. They achieved this by not compromising their faith, but instead living their lives according to the law and by reasoning through divine wisdom. Encapsulated in these three verses is the kernel of the author's earlier assertion: ‘reason is sovereign over the emotions’ ( 1:1b ). These verses, with 6:27–9 , also express the three essential tenets of Judaism: the Jewish belief in God, their election, and their partaking of the covenant. While they are elect, Apollonius must ask the Jews to intercede for him. Even when they do intervene he does not receive the full pardon of God, but merely a temporary reprieve. The Jews propitiated the wrath of God for Apollonius, but they themselves were able to effect expiation through these acts of vicarious suffering.

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