Woman with seven sons
Shortly before the revolt of Judas Maccabeus (2 Maccabees 8), Antiochus IV Epiphanes arrested a mother and her seven sons, and tried to force them to eat pork. When they refused, he tortured and killed the sons one by one. The narrator mentions that the mother "was the most remarkable of all, and deserves to be remembered with special honour. She watched her seven sons die in the space of a single day, yet she bore it bravely because she put her trust in the Lord." Each of the sons makes a speech as he dies, and the last one says that his brothers are "dead under God's covenant of everlasting life". The narrator ends by saying that the mother died, without saying whether she was executed, or died in some other way.
The Talmud tells a similar story, but with refusal to worship an idol replacing refusal to eat pork. Tractate Gittin 57b cites Rabbi Judah saying that "this refers to the woman and her seven sons" and the unnamed king is referred to as the "Emperor" and "Caesar". The woman commits suicide in this rendition of the story: she "also went up on to a roof and threw herself down and was killed".
Various sources have proposed names for this woman. In Lamentations Rabbah she is called Miriam bat Tanhum, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition she is known as Solomonia, while in the Armenian Apostolic Church she is called Shamuna, and in the Syriac Church she is known as Shmuni. She is called "Hannah" (or "Chana") in Josippon, perhaps as a result of connecting her with Hannah in the Book of Samuel, who says that the "barren woman bears seven," (1 Samuel 2:5). Gerson Cohen notes that this occurs only in the longer Spanish version of Josippon (1510), while the shorter Mantuan version (c. 1480) continues to refer to her anonymously.
The woman with seven sons is remembered with high regard for her religious steadfastness, teaching her sons to keep to their faith, even if it meant execution. The Maccabees story reflects a theme of the book, that "the strength of the Jews lies in the fulfillment of the practical mitzvot".
It is probable that Hilary of Poitiers refers to this woman as a prophet. Hilary says "For all things, as the Prophet says, were made out of nothing," and, according to Patrick Henry Reardon, he is quoting 2 Maccabees 7:28.
Roman Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin uses this story to defend the Deuterocanonical books. He examines Hebrews 11:35 ("Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life") and notes that this hope of eternal life after torture is not found anywhere in the Protestant Old Testament, but is found in 2 Maccabees 7.
According to Antiochene Christian tradition, the relics of the mother and sons were interred on the site of a synagogue (later converted into a church) in the Kerateion quarter of Antioch. On the other hand, tombs believed to be those of these martyrs were discovered in San Pietro in Vincoli in 1876. An additional tomb believed to be that of the woman with her seven sons is located in the Jewish cemetery of Safed.
Holy Maccabean Martyrs
|The Holy Maccabees|
Wojciech Stattler's "Machabeusze" ("The Maccabees"), 1844
|Born||2nd century BC
Judea (modern-day Israel)
|Honored in||Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Although they are not the same as the Hasmonean rulers called Maccabees, the woman and her sons, along with the Eleazar described in 2 Maccabees 6, are known as the "Holy Machabees" or "Holy Maccabean Martyrs" in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
The Orthodox Church celebrates the Holy Maccabean Martyrs on August 1. The Roman Catholic Church includes them in its official list of saints, assigning them August 1 as their feast day. From the time of the Tridentine Calendar until 1960, they were mentioned through a commemoration within the feast of St. Peter ad Vincula. When, among other second feasts of a single saint, Pope John XXIII suppressed this feast of Saint Peter, the Maccabees continued only to be commemorated, but this time within the Mass of the feria.
Some continue to use this calendar of John XXIII, or indeed an older one, but the General Roman Calendar officially in force since 1969 has omitted this commemoration. The Holy Maccabees are still recognized as saints and martyrs, and as such may be venerated by all Catholics everywhere on their feast and at other times.
The three Ethiopian books of Meqabyan (canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but distinct works from the other four books of Maccabees) refer to an unrelated group of "Maccabean Martyrs," five brothers including 'Abya, Seela, and Fentos, sons of a Benjamite named Maccabeus, who were captured and martyred for leading a guerilla war against Antiochus Epiphanes.
- Gerson D. Cohen, Hannah and Her Seven Sons at Jewish Virtual Library
- Tal Ilan, "Hannah, Mother of Seven," at the Jewish Women's Archive
- Seven Holy Maccabee Martyrs, at the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America website.
- 2 Maccabees 7:20, New English Bible.
- 2 Maccabees 7:36, Authorised Version. George Bull says of this verse, "I scarce know where to find an instance of greater faith" (in the resurrection and immortality) "and fortitude in any of our Christian martyrologies than here." Sermon VIII, cited in The Old Testament According to the Authorised Version With Brief Commentary by Various Authors. The Apocryphal Books: Esdras to Maccabees (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1902).
- Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Gittin Folio 57.
- Armenian Church Liturgical Calendar July 2008
- The Women's Bible Commentary. Westminster John Knox Press. 1998. p. 324.
- Yehoshua M. Grintz, Maccabees, Second Book of at Jewish Virtual Library
- Hilary of Poitiers. On the Trinity. Book IV, 16.
- Patrick Henry Reardon. Creation and the Patriarchal Histories: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Genesis. Conciliar Press, 2008. pp.34-35.
- James Akin, Defending the Deuterocanonicals
- Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of the Catholic Christianity (Saint John Press, 2009), p. 170.
- Great Synaxaristes: (Greek) Οἱ Ἅγιοι Ἑπτὰ Μακαβαίοι. 1 Αυγούστου. ΜΕΓΑΣ ΣΥΝΑΞΑΡΙΣΤΗΣ.
- 7 Holy Maccabee Martyrs. OCA - Feasts and Saints.
- "Calendarium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vatican, 1969), p. 132
- "Martyrologium Romanum" (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001 ISBN 88-209-7210-7)
- The website of Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Baltimore lists them as "Habim, Antonin, Guriah, Eleazar, Eusebon, Hadim (Halim) and Marcellus." The Seven Holy Maccabean Martyrs
- 1 Meqabyan 2:1-2 and 3:28, Standard English Version: "There was one man birthed from the tribe of Benjamin, whose name is called Maccabeus; he had three children who were handsome, and who were totally warriors ... The two brethren of Seela and Abya and Fentos came, and released them..."
- The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (Fifth edition; 2002) states that the origin of "macabre" perhaps has reference to "a miracle play containing the slaughter of the Maccabees." Volume 1, p. 1659.