Statement of the thesis.
The role of reason in controlling the passions was brilliantly expressed by Plato in the “Phaedrus” through the image of a charioteer with two
horses. Self-control was also very important in Stoic
Rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage constitute one of several formulations of the four cardinal virtues in Platonic and Stoic philosophy.
handbooks encourage orators to use imaginary debate partners to sharpen the discussion. The objection raised here is repeated
. It raises two possible counter-arguments: that reason cannot control the emotions, since it cannot control forgetfulness and ignorance; and that to master the emotions is to eliminate them. The author dismisses both objections out of hand.
The choice of examples.
The focus on the martyrs
seems to be required in part by the supposed occasion of the oration, whether this is an actual commemoration or a literary
The author credits the martyrs with conquering the tyrant (see Rev 12.10–11
) and purifying the land. The emphasis in this book, however, is on the personal virtue of the martyrs.
This definition of wisdom may have originated with the Stoics
but was a philosophical commonplace in antiquity.
The identification of wisdom with the Law of Moses was made in Sir 24
. It would not have been acknowledged by any non-Jewish philosopher.
The kinds of wisdom are the cardinal virtues.
Pleasure is taken to imply desire and delight, while pain implies fear and sorrow.
The author goes on to refine the understanding of the emotions in greater detail than is required by his subsequent argument.
Examples of the power of reason. The examples are drawn from Jewish law and tradition.
Self-control in this passage is often translated as “temperance.”
In Greek tradition, self-control was often exemplified by restraint in eating. Fourth Maccabees finds here a rationale for
the Jewish food laws (Lev 11.1–31; Deut 14.3–21
). Other Hellenistic
Jewish writers had defended these laws by allegorical
(For instance, the Letter of Aristeas* says that birds forbidden by the Jewish food laws symbolize oppression and violence, while animals that chew the cud symbolize
memory, etc.). Fourth Maccabees dispenses with such rationalizations and defends the food laws as exercises in the Greek virtue
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