The Concept of Evil in 4 Maccabees

Stoic Absorption and Adaptation

in The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
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The concept of evil in 4 Maccabees differs from what we find in most ancient Jewish literature, and little attention has been paid to its philosophical background. In this article I submit that the author of 4 Maccabees has absorbed and adapted a Stoic conception of evil into his Jewish philosophy. I trace the concept of evil in Stoicism and in 4 Maccabees using the categories of value theory, natural law, and the emotions. The outcome is an integrative philosophy that embraces vice as the sole evil, yet maintains a belief in the “goodness” of an afterlife; redefines natural law in terms of the Torah, reckoning any deviance from that Law as vicious; and conceives of the emotions as false belief and the cause of evil behavior, while still maintaining their God-given nature.

The Concept of Evil in 4 Maccabees

Stoic Absorption and Adaptation

in The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy




David A. deSilva“The Human Ideal, the Problem of Evil, and Moral Responsibility in 4 Maccabees,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 23 no. 1 (2013): 57–77at 65. See for example 1 En. 6–10 15–16 69 86–88; Jub. 5 10; 1QS 3:13–4:26; 4Q186; Sir 15:11–20; 4 Ezra 3:20–27.


A. Dupont-SommerLe Quatrième Livre des Machabées: Introduction traduction et notes (Paris: Librairie Ancienne Honoré Champion1939) 57–66; Robert Renehan “The Greek Philosophic Background of Fourth Maccabees” Rheinisches Museum für Philologie 115 (1972): 223–238 at 223–226; Klauck 4 Makkabäerbuch 665–666. Klauck notes: “4Makk ist in einem guten bis vorzüglichen Griechisch abgefaßt. Der Autor bemüht sich um eine gewählte Sprache.” Ibid. 665.


Dupont-SommerLe Quatrième Livre des Machabées52–54.


Moses HadasThe Third and Fourth Books of Maccabees (New York: Harper & Brothers1953) 116–117; he writes: “our author drew directly from Plato and not from secondary sources just as he was quite obviously at home with the tragic poets.” Hadas here follows the thesis originally stated by Y. Gutman “The Mother and Her Seven Sons in the Aggadah and in the Second and Fourth Books of Maccabees” in Commentationes Iudaico-Hellenisticae in Memoriam Iohannis Lewy (1901–1945) ed. M. Schwabe and I. Gutman (Jerusalem: Magnes 1949).


Respectively: HadasBooks of Maccabees116 208 215 209; cf. 117 n. 57. Hadas writes that the author of 4 Maccabees “at many points uses Stoic language and echoes Stoic views; but the general opinion that he is himself predominantly Stoic is quite mistaken.” Ibid. 117.


Renehan“Greek Philosophic Background” 237; italics original.


BreitensteinBeobachtungen zu Sprache158–167; he writes: “Die Affektenlehre des Ps-Ios hat sich als ein Gemisch aus stoisierenden und peripatetischen Elementen erwiesen. Auch darüber hinaus gibt es eher Anhaltspunkte für die Ansicht dass Ps-Ios nicht einer speziellen philosophischen Richtung verpflichtet sei.” Ibid. 158–159. Breitenstein also identifies elements of Epicurean Platonic Cynic and Pythagorean philosophy in the work. John J. Collins assesses Breitenstein’s conclusion that the author of 4 Maccabees lacks originality as too severe. Between Athens and Jerusalem: Jewish Identity in the Hellenistic Diaspora 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2000) 205–206. Klauck comments: “Dieser Eklektizismus [of the author] ist sicher nicht das Resultat einer souvernänen Beherrschung des gesamten philosophischen Stoffes.” 4 Makkabäerbuch 666.


Reinhard Weber“Eusebeia und Logismos: Zum philosophischen Hintergrund von 4 Makkabäer,” Journal for the Study of Judaism 22 (1991): 212–234. Weber does not substantially consider a Stoic background. However he does state: “Die stoische Telosformel des όµολογουµένως τῇ φύσει ζῆν / secundum naturam vivere ist also in 4. Makk gleichsam verinnerlichend verwandelt spiritualisiert.” Ibid. 227.




CollinsBetween Athens and Jerusalem208.


Troels Engberg-Pedersen“Setting the Scene: Stoicism and Platonism in the Transitional Period in Ancient Philosophy,” in Stoicism in Early Christianityed. Tuomas Rasimus Troels Engberg-Pedersen and Ismo Dunderberg (Grand Rapids mi: BakerAcademic 2010) 1–14 at 8. On “eclecticism” see John M. Dillon and A. A. Long eds. The Question of Eclecticism: Studies in Later Greek Philosophy (Berkley: University of California Press 1988).


Engberg-Pedersen“The Transitional Period” 8.


John Sellars“The Stoics,” in The History of Evil in Antiquity: 2000 BCE to 450 CE (Routledge: forthcoming) 175–186 at 176. Sellars also traces the Socratic influence on the Stoics regarding the notion that external things such as health and wealth should not be classified among the good. Ibid. 178–179. Many thanks to John Sellars for sharing his work with me prior to its publication.


Sellars“The Stoics” 176–177.


Anthony A. Long“The Stoic Concept of Evil,” Philosophical Quarterly 18 no. 73 (1968): 329–343at 333; cf. A. A. Long and D. N. Sedley The Hellenistic Philosophers 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1987) 1:384–385.


Watson“Natural Law” 217–218.


Tad Brennan“The Old Stoic Theory of Emotions,” in The Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophyed. Juha Sihvola and Troels Engberg-Pedersen nshl 46 (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media1998) 21–70at 22.


Long“Stoic Concept” 335.


PlutarchStoic. rep. 9; English translation ls §60A.


Koester“NOMOS” 528–529; Watson “Natural Law” 222–224.


Michael B. CroweThe Changing Profile of the Natural Law (Leiden: Brill1977) 41–46.




LongHellenistic Philosophy147–150.


Sellars“The Stoics” 176. Cf. Stobaeus Ecl. 5b3 (2.62) 5b8 (2.65) 6e (2.77–78).


F. E. PetersGreek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon (New York: New York University Press1967) 78.


Brennan“Stoic Theory of Emotions” 26.


Brennan“Stoic Theory of Emotions” 30; emphasis mine.




Long and SedleyHellenistic Philosophers1:420.


Viz. Renehan“Greek Philosophic Background” 223–238.


John M. Cooper“Posidonius on Emotions,” in The Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophyed. Juha Sihvola and Troels Engberg-Pedersen nshl 46 (Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht1998) 71–112.


GalenHipp. 5.5.26; Cooper “Posidonius” 85.


Brennan“Stoic Theory of Emotions” 35; cf. 34–39 and 54–57.


Ibid.34. On the technical debate between Chrysippus and Posidonius over the precise origin of vice and its relation to one’s external environment see Long and Sedley Hellenistic Philosophers 1:422–423; cf. Galen Hipp. 5.5.8–26; De Sequela 819–820 in I. G. Kidd Posidonius III: The Translations of the Fragments (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1999) 39; Fragment 169 in L. Edelstein and I. G. Kidd Posidonius I: The Fragments 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1989) 158–162.


Long“Stoic Concept” 337. Cf. G. B. Kerferd “The Origin of Evil in Stoic Thought” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 60 (1978) 482–494. Unfortunately Kerferd who diverges at points from Long’s position does not engage Long’s article on the Stoic concept of evil.


CollinsBetween Athens and Jerusalem207.


DeSilva“The Human Ideal” 71–76.


DeSilva“The Human Ideal” 68. On immortality in 4 Maccabees see ibid. 69–76; Dupont-Sommer 44–48.


DeSilva“The Human Ideal” 68.


4 Macc 12:19; 17:1; HadasBooks of Maccabees209.


HadasBooks of Maccabees170; deSilva 4 Maccabees: Commentary 130.


DeSilva4 Maccabees: Commentary137.


David Winston“Hellenistic Jewish Philosophy,” in The Ancestral Philosophy: Hellenistic Philosophy in Second Temple Judaismed. Gregory E. Sterling (Providence ri: Brown Judaic Studies 2001) 11–34 at 21.


SenecaEp. 45:9; Cicero Tusc. 3.1; Rep. 3.33. Cf. Marcian 1 (svf 3.314) = ls §67R.


Klauck4 Makkabäerbuch712.


BreitensteinBeobachtungen zu Sprache159. Cf. Stobaeus Ecl. 11o (2.113) = ls §59O; Diogenes Laertius Vit. 7.101 120. Renehan corrects Hadas’s view that this passage is not in line with the Stoic doctrine. Renehan “Greek Philosophic Background” 229–232. Hadas notes that the rabbinic tradition believed in a gradation of sins. Books of Maccabees 172–173.


PetersGreek Philosophical Terms140–141; S. G. Pembroke “Oikeiōsis” in Problems in Stoicism ed. A. A. Long (London: Athlone Press 1971) 114–149 at 116; see also Troels Engsberg-Pedersen The Stoic Theory of Okeiosis Studies in Hellenistic Civilization (Denmark: Aarhus University Press 1990); R. Radice Οίκείωσις: Ricerche sul fondamento del pensiero stoico e sulla sua genesi (Milano: Vita e Pensiero 2000).


Cf. CiceroOff. 1.4; 3.5–6; Seneca Ep. 48. Cf. Brad Inwood Reading Seneca: Stoic Philosophy at Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2005) 224–248.


Engsberg-PedersenOkeiosis62. Cf. Daniel Doyle “Preservative Οἰκείωσις: Its Constitution and Consciousness” in Oikeiosis and the Natural Basis of Morality: From Classical Stoicism to Modern Philosophy ed. Alejandro G. Vigo (Zürich: Georg Olms 2012) 37–66 at 53–62.


Laura Corso de Estrada“Οἰκείωσις. Ciceronian Reading and its 13th Century Receptions,” in Oikeiosis and the Natural Basis of Moralityed. Alejandro G. Vigo (Zürich: Georg Olms2012) 67–94at 81.


Ricardo Salles“Οἰκείωσις in Epictetus,” in Oikeiosis and the Natural Basis of Moralityed. Alejandro G. Vigo (Zürich: Georg Olms2012) 95–119at 96; cf. 107–116 for Salles’s explanation of how this view interacts with Stoic axiology which holds that even the death of a loved one is a matter of indifference.


E.g. Dupont-SommerLe Quatrième Livre des Machabées50; Hadas Books of Maccabees 158; deSilva 4 Maccabees: Commentary 77.


Contra e.g. EpictetusDiss. 2.8.22; 4.8.27.


Renehan“Greek Philosophic Background” 223–238.


David Aune“Mastery of the Passions: Philo, 4 Maccabees and Earliest Christianity,” in Hellenization Revisited: Shaping a Christian Response within the Greco-Roman Worlded. Wendy E. Helleman (Lanham md: University Press of America 1994) 125–158 at 136. Contra Breitenstein Beobachtungen zu Sprache 159.


Liddell and ScottGreek-English Lexicon1434. Cf. ls §66B and §67W. On the political theory of Stoicism and the concept of world-citizenship see Long and Sedley Hellenistic Philosophers 1:434–437.


Cf. CiceroTusc. 1.10; 1.27; Seneca Ira 3.


DeSilva“The Human Ideal” 65–66.


Philip S. Alexander“Hellenism and Hellenization as Problematic Historiographical Categories,” in Paul beyond the Judaism/Hellenism Divideed. Troels Engberg-Pedersen (Louisville: Westminster John Knox2001) 63–80at 69.

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