The Seven Holy Maccabbees

August 1 is the Feast of the Precious and Life-Giving Wood of the Cross, but also the feast of the martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees. Since Protestant Christians do not include the books of First and Second Maccabees in their canon, they will be unfamiliar with this historically accurate and Godly tale of the courage of these holy martyrs from the Old Testament. In their honor I share the story of their martyrdom. I should add that their death was preceded by their teacher, Eleazar, who, at age 90, refused an easy ruse offered to him to spare his life, fearing that the young might misconstrue him and believe that he had yielded to the wicked King (who was trying to force him to eat unclean meat). Thus he taught us that the appearance of righteousness can be as important as the letter of the Law. The mother of the seven brothers, Salome, also gave her noble life as a martyr.



2 Maccabees 7:1-42  It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.” The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, `And he will have compassion on his servants.’”

After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?” He replied in the language of his fathers, and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.” After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing. When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”

Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him. But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among men, mortal though you are, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people. Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”

After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened.

But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!” The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his fathers, and that he would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs.

Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native tongue as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”

While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our fathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all men, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of everflowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn. So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord. Last of all, the mother died, after her sons. Let this be enough, then, about the eating of sacrifices and the extreme tortures.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.






15 responses to “The Seven Holy Maccabbees”

  1. Joseph Hromy Avatar
    Joseph Hromy

    What a far way we are from these holy saints.

  2. Dawid S Avatar
    Dawid S

    … others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.’ Hebrews 11:35 (NIV)

  3. Shevaberakhot Avatar

    Thanks Dawid.

    “It was by faith that he (Moses) left Egypt without fear of the king’s anger; he held to his purpose like someone who could see the Invisible” Hebrews 11:27 (NJB)

  4. AR Avatar

    So they did believe in resurrection at this point…

    I think one of the most important things these “missing books” have done for me is to demonstrate how the streams of Christian thought really did flow withing the course of the Hebrew religion. When you end at Micah, you get the idea that the Jewish religion was established, finished, and then three hundred years later an upstart shows up and claims to be changing everything. And whether you believe his claim or not determines your eternal destiny. It sounds a little too much like Mohamed or Joseph Smith for comfort.

    Actually, however, the in-between books foreshadow ever more and more strongly the coming of Christ and the nature of his religion. And when the book of Hebrews says that Christ is the pinnacle of revelation, the fact that after the N.T. the writing of Hebrew scriptures cease for the first time is a towering witness to this doctrine.

    Thank you, Father.

  5. AR Avatar

    Sorry that should have been “end at Malachi” not ‘Micha.’

  6. AR Avatar

    Micah…dang, my brain is bloephicious this morning. I think I will take a day off of blogging.

  7. d.burns Avatar


    I would debate with you that scripture writting has ceseased. It continues to be written by holy men, the church fathers, and in the lives of the saints. We read the of thier witness for their faith and of the miricles of God up to the present day. It’s only the cannon that has been closed.

  8. shevaberakhot Avatar

    Great point AR. In truth, some things can only be known through direct experience.

    In the book of Tobit for instance, the distinction between Raphael the man and Rapha’ El (“God is our healer”) the angel is not that clear cut, (possibly because the actual author of the book of Tobit was neither Tobit son of Tobiel, nor Tobias son of Tobit, but a religious scribe).

    No matter. What comes out very clearly in this beautiful book, is the fact that Tobit was deemed righteous in the eyes of the living God, giving first fruits, tithes and offerings, and all for the right reasons. So, being justified, he was healed by Him, in a roundabout, though we can assume perfect, way:

    “Raphael was sent to bring remedy to them both. He was to take the white spots from the eyes of Tobit, so that he might see God’s light with his own eyes; and he was to give Sarah the daughter of Raguel as bride to Tobias son of Tobit” (Tobit 3:17 NJB)

    We know too that later, by the time Stephen was preaching in Jerusalem to those who saw scandal in Jesus who bore the name of “Adonai”, many had moved away from the faith of Moses.

    God has never abrogated a single word from the law. It’s just that in Jesus Christ, we find ourselves on the right side.

  9. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    d. burns, this is quite true in the sense that the Tradition ever lives in the Church. (I think also of 2 Corinthians 3:2-3). Likely AR meant her comments in the sense of the Canon. When I became Orthodox and began attending the Divine Liturgy, it felt like going from reading the Bible as the authoritative guide and rule for life, often seeing myself and some of my experiences within its narratives in ways sometimes encouraging, most times convicting, to living within its pages, experiencing as an everflowing current the living reality of which it speaks!

    Fr. Stephen, would that I could have the heart of this Holy Mother!

  10. Lucy Avatar

    I just read this for the first time the other night! I’ve had my OSB for a while, but have just started reading these “missing” books. It’s been amazing! Thank you for posting this story. Their faith is, well, humbling, to say the least.

  11. Mary Gail Avatar
    Mary Gail

    After reading this, going vegetarian on Wednesdays and Fridays doesn’t seem so tough! 🙂

  12. roamingcatholic Avatar

    Thanks for posting this! This book is too often skimmed over. (And I agree with Mary Gail, yikes)

  13. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for posting this. I am especially touched by what the mother said and the great faith she exhibited. I am sure that God was with her and strengthened her and He will probably strengthen all “us mothers,” but it is so difficult to put such trust in Him, imagine being able to say, “He put life and breath into you and will do it again”! Being reminded that He created our children is a great Comfort!

  14. Eric Avatar

    These martyrs should not be confused with the heroes of 1 Maccabees, the sons of Mattathias Maccabeus, Judas, Jonathan, and Simeon who led a revolt against Antiochus IV and his successors. The Seven Martyrs are not featured in 1 Maccabees, originally written in Hebrew, which tells of the revolt and the careers of the Maccabean brothers, nor are they related. They are referred to as “Maccabean” because their martyrdom is given in 2 Maccabees.

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