Profile: Eleazar

WE HEAR the phrase “culture wars” often enough. To us it means agreement over moral values, like the life of the unborn, authentic marriage, or respect for conscience.

In the time of the Maccabees, the conflict was even more acute: it was a conflict between the sophisticated and elegant culture of the Greeks and the humble religious observance of the Jews.

The Greek culture, which gloried in its literature, philosophy, art, and sport, was very attractive to the Jews, and many Jews yielded and adapted. Under the tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews were brutally forced to abandon the practice of the law.

Circumcision and the observance of the Sabbath were prohibited, and those who disobeyed were executed. Jews were forced to sacrifice to Zeus and to eat pork.

Among those who resisted the Greeks was the ninety-year-old scribe Eleazar. The Greeks urged him to eat one mouthful of pork, or even to pretend to; they would give him acceptable meat. But he refused even the semblance of apostasy, of accommodation to the Greek culture.

A moment came when faith in God’s law had to say, “No!” Eleazar balanced a few more years of life against loyalty to God’s law, and remained faithful to that law. His dreadful death bore witness to the beauty of unwavering faith.

– Father Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J.

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