Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
April 28th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Eleazar Avaran

Antonio Ciseri's Martyrdom of the Seven Maccab...

Antonio Ciseri’s Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees (1863), depicting the woman with her dead sons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not done. Just notes. And notes make good blog posts.

As we will see below, the Maccabean books provides the early Christians with a great wealth of material for theological reflection as well as understanding the role of martyrdom. The first self-inflicted death in this series of books occurs when Eleazar rushes into a crowd of elephants to assassinate king Antiochus V (1 Maccabees 6.43–44): “καὶ εἶδεν Ἐλεαζὰρ ὁ Σαυαρὰν ἓν τῶν θηρίων τεθωρακισμένον θώραξιν βασιλικοῖς, καὶ ἦν ὑπεράγον πάντα τὰ θηρία, καὶ ὤφθη ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεύς. καὶ ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιποιῆσαι αὑτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον.”[1] In a less-than-ironic twist, the rather short episode accomplishes exactly what Eleazar meant to do, which is to preserve his name although we know that the sacrifice did nothing for his people.[2] But, the story does not end there. In 4 Maccabees 1.7–10, Eleazar is held up as the example of a virtuous martyr. This may be in response to 3 Maccabees wherein the author recounts the story of Eleazar, but in a gander cosmic sense. In 3 Maccabees 6.16–19, Eleazar is pictured as piously recounting God’s promises — specifically the promise to never abandon Israel — just before the attack.[3] Only instead of the quick dash by the Jew, the battled is enjoined by God and the heavenly host (3 Macc. 6.18). The story moves from a suicide for an unsuccessful but valiant reason (something like a noble death) to part of a rather dramatic cosmic battle of the gods (a martyrdom) (see figure 3.1 below).[4]

3.1

καὶ εἶδεν Ἐλεαζὰρ ὁ Σαυαρὰν ἓν τῶν θηρίων τεθωρακισμένον θώραξιν βασιλικοῖς, καὶ ἦν ὑπεράγον πάντα τὰ θηρία, καὶ ὤφθη ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεύς. καὶ ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιποιῆσαι αὑτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον. (1 Maccabees 6.43–44)
Τοῦ δὲ Ελεαζαρου λήγοντος ἄρτι τῆς προσευχῆς ὁ βασιλεὺς σὺν τοῖς θηρίοις καὶ παντὶ τῷ τῆς δυνάμεως φρυάγματι κατὰ τὸν ἱππόδρομον παρῆγεν. καὶ θεωρήσαντες οἱ Ιουδαῖοι μέγα εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀνέκραξαν ὥστε καὶ τοὺς παρακειμένους αὐλῶνας συνηχήσαντας ἀκατάσχετον πτόην ποιῆσαι παντὶ τῷ στρατοπέδῳ. τότε ὁ μεγαλόδοξος παντοκράτωρ καὶ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς ἐπιφάνας τὸ ἅγιον αὐτοῦ πρόσωπον ἠνέῳξεν τὰς οὐρανίους πύλας, ἐξ ὧν δεδοξασμένοι δύο φοβεροειδεῖς ἄγγελοι κατέβησαν φανεροὶ πᾶσιν πλὴν τοῖς Ιουδαίοις καὶ ἀντέστησαν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τῶν ὑπεναντίων ἐπλήρωσαν ταραχῆς καὶ δειλίας καὶ ἀκινήτοις ἔδησαν πέδαις. (3 Maccabees 6.16–19)
πολλαχόθεν μὲν οὖν καὶ ἀλλαχόθεν ἔχοιμ ἂν ὑμῖν ἐπιδεῖξαι ὅτι αὐτοκράτωρ ἐστὶν τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός, πολὺ δὲ πλέον τοῦτο ἀποδείξαιμι ἀπὸ τῆς ἀνδραγαθίας τῶν ὑπὲρ ἀρετῆς ἀποθανόντων, Ελεαζαρου τε καὶ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀδελφῶν καὶ τῆς τούτων μητρός. ἅπαντες γὰρ οὗτοι τοὺς ἕως θανάτου πόνους ὑπεριδόντες ἐπεδείξαντο ὅτι περικρατεῖ τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός. τῶν μὲν οὖν ἀρετῶν ἔπεστί μοι ἐπαινεῖν τοὺς κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν καιρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς καλοκἀγαθίας ἀποθανόντας μετὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἄνδρας, τῶν δὲ τιμῶν μακαρίσαιμ ἄν. (4 Maccabees 1.7–10)

 

[1] The phrase “ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν” used in here is similar to Galatians 1.4 (“δόντος ἑαυτὸν”) and Titus 2.14 (“ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν”), but used where Jesus is the object.

[2] He is mentioned in Greg. Great, Mor. 19.21.34, in regards to the morality of historical figures. Gregory sees his example as a positive one.

[3] δειχθήτω πᾶσιν ἔθνεσιν ὅτι μεθ’ ἡμῶν εἶ, κύριε, καὶ οὐκ ἀπέστρεψας τὸ πρόσωπόν σου ἀφ’ ἡμῶν, ἀλλὰ καθὼς εἶπας ὅτι Οὐδὲ ἐν τῇ γῇ τῶν ἐχθρῶν αὐτῶν ὄντων ὑπερεῖδον αὐτούς, οὕτως ἐπιτέλεσον, κύριε.(3 Macc. 6.15)

[4] Eleazar’s death can passively be seen in 3 Maccabees 6.23.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

2 Responses to “Eleazar Avaran”
  1. Know More Than I Should says

    There were also the confessors — those willing to die. Both martyrs and confessors served as witness and testimony to the faith of early Christians..

  2. I’ve used this before, but any deep study of Maccabees must include this:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=95b1zk3qhSM
    If only The Hammer had a few with the Greeks? Hey, what’s a few statues among buddies? Happy hour little weenies in BBQ sauce isn’t worth martyrdom.

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