Martyrdom in Judaism
|This article may need to be rewritten entirely to comply with Wikipedia's quality standards. (January 2012)|
Book of Maccabees
The conquests of Alexander the Great in the late 4th century BC spread Greek culture and colonization – a process of cultural change called Hellenization – over non-Greek lands, including the Levant. This gave rise to the Hellenistic age, which sought to create a common or universal culture in the Alexandrian empire based on that of 5th and 4th century BCE Athens (see also Age of Pericles), along with a fusion of Near Eastern cultures. The period is characterized by a new wave of Greek colonization which established Greek cities and Kingdoms in Asia and Africa, the most famous being Alexandria in Egypt. New cities were established composed of colonists who came from different parts of the Greek world, and not from a specific "mother city" (literally metropolis, see also metropolis) as before.
There was a general deterioration in relations between Hellenized Jews and other Jews, leading the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes to ban certain Jewish religious rites and traditions. Consequently, the orthodox Jews revolted against the Greek ruler leading to the formation of an independent Jewish kingdom, known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty, which lasted from 165 BCE to 63 BCE. The Hasmonean Dynasty eventually disintegrated in a civil war. The people, who did not want to continue to be governed by a Hellenized dynasty, appealed to Rome for intervention, leading to a total Roman conquest and annexation of the country, see Iudaea province.
Nevertheless, the cultural issues remained unresolved. The main issue separating the Hellenistic and orthodox Jews was the application of biblical laws in a Hellenistic culture. 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees recount numerous martyrdoms suffered by Jews resisting Hellenization, being executed for such crimes as observing the Sabbath, circumcising their children or refusing to eat pork or meat sacrificed to foreign gods.
First and Second Maccabees arose from the Pharisaic tradition, from which Christianity later emerged. The accounts of martyrs in these books influenced early Christianity's understanding of the laws of their fathers and their God:
- And to defile the temple that was in Jerusalem, and to call it the temple of Jupiter Olympius: and that in Gazarim of Jupiter Hospitalis, according as they were that inhabited the place.
- And very bad was this invasion of evils and grievous to all.
- For the temple was full of the riot and revellings of the Gentiles: and of men lying with lewd women. And women thrust themselves of their accord into the holy places, and brought in things that were not lawful.
- The altar also was filled with unlawful things, which were forbidden by the laws.
- And neither were the sabbaths kept, nor the solemn days of the fathers observed, neither did any man plainly profess himself to be a Jew.
- But they were led by bitter constraint on the king's birthday to the sacrifices: and when the feast of Bacchus was kept, they were compelled to go about crowned with ivy in honour of Bacchus.
- And there went out a decree into the neighbouring cities of the Gentiles, by the suggestion of the Ptolemeans, that they also should act in like manner against the Jews, to oblige them to sacrifice:
- And whosoever would not conform themselves to the ways of the Gentiles, should be put to death: then was misery to be seen.
- For two women were accused to have circumcised their children: whom, when they had openly led about through the city with the infants hanging at their breasts, they threw down headlong from the walls.
- And others that had met together in caves that were near, and were keeping the sabbath day privately, being discovered by Philip, were burnt with fire, because they made a conscience to help themselves with their hands, by reason of the religious observance of the day.
A historical Ephraim ben Yaakov (1132 - AD. 1200) describes Crusaders' massacres of Jews, including the massacre at Blois, where approximately forty Jews were killed following an accusation of ritual murder:
- "As they were led forth, they were told, 'You can save your lives if you will leave your religion and accept ours.' The Jews refused. They were beaten and tortured to make them accept the Christian religion, but still they refused. Rather, they encouraged each other to remain steadfast and die for the sanctification of God's Name." 
During the Spanish Inquisition, many of those executed were Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. Specifically, they were crypto-Jews, who had pretended to adopt Christianity in an attempt to avoid persecution.
- Roy M. MacLeod, The Library Of Alexandria: Centre Of Learning In The Ancient World
- Ulrich Wilcken, Griechische Geschichte im Rahmen der Alterumsgeschichte.
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Hellenism: "Post-exilic Judaism was largely recruited from those returned exiles who regarded it as their chief task to preserve their religion uncontaminated, a task that required the strict separation of the congregation both from all foreign peoples (Ezra x. 11; Neh. ix. 2) and from the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine who did not strictly observe the Law (Ezra vi. 22; Neh. x. 29)."