Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 4

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glorified in Hebrew literature were Daniel and his companions,
who, in order to remain faithful to Jewish law, braved the terrors
of the lions’ den and the horrors of the fiery furnace.
Leopold Zunz, “Father of the Science of Judaism” and the
first modern chronicler of Jewish suffering in the Middle Ages,
pointed out that many post-exilic Psalms are, in fact, “martyr-
ologies” in which the individual woe is suffused and identified
with the heroic martyrdom of the Jewish people as a whole.
Last, but not least, there is the
Scroll of Esther
, which is the
most perfect specimen of biblical “martyrology” with the accent
on the heroic element.
Among the apocryphical writings, the books of
and the
two books of the
exemplify Jewish heroic martyrdom
at its best. There is no need to recount the contents of these
early narratives of Jewish heroism, especially the stories recording
the bravery of the women —■Judith, who slew the enemy of her
people, and Hannah, “Mother of the Seven Sons,” who urged
them to die rather than become unfaithful to their religion.
Josephus, who witnessed the Roman assault on Judea and the
Second Destruction, is our chief source for the record of Jewish
heroic martyrdom at the hands of the Roman legions under Ves-
pasian and Titus. In his
History of the Jewish War
, Josephus
records numerous instances of the type of Jewish valor and courage
which have been unjustly subsumed under “Martyrdom” rather
than being assigned to a special rubric, “Heroism.” In his militant
Against Apion
, Josephus ventured a rather interesting
psychological theory of the cause of the Gentiles’ eagerness to
force the Jews to adopt their modes of worship. Writes Josephus:
“ I believe that our conquerors have subjected us to such torture-
some deaths not because they hated us so bitterly after having
defeated us, but rather out of their desire to witness the surprising
phenomenon that there are men who believe that no evil is greater
than to be compelled to do or to speak anything contrary to their
own laws.”
The Talmud and Midrashic literature contain numerous ac-
counts of Jewish heroic martyrdom, especially of the time of the
Hadrianic persecutions when the study of the Torah was pro.