Damien F. Mackey
“An official named Antiochus denounced them to the emperor Hadrian … who ordered that they be brought to Rome. Realizing that they would be taken before the emperor, the holy virgins prayed fervently to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking that He give them the strength not to fear torture and death. When the holy virgins and their mother came before the emperor, everyone present was amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival, rather than to torture”.
This story bears remarkable parallels to that of the widow-martyr, Hannah, in 2 Maccabees, especially in my revised context according to which Antiochus IV ‘Epiphanes’ was Hadrian:
Antiochus ‘Epiphanes’ and Emperor Hadrian. Part One: “… a mirror image”
For one, an “Antiochus” denounces the mother and her daughters to the emperor Hadrian.
In 2 Maccabees 7 it is Antiochus ‘Epiphanes’ who tortures the victims, but who is named in Jewish legends, “Hadrian”.
In the Christian tale the mother has only daughters.
In the Maccabean account the mother has only sons.
St. Sophia is, as Hannah is (according to Jewish tradition), a widow.
In both tales the children remain composed even whilst being tortured.
In both tales the pious mother, who encourages her children, outlives them all, but soon dies (St. Sophia 3 days later).
Here is my account of the Jewish widow-martyr, according to my revised history, with the Herodian and Maccabean ages now contemporary, and Hannah tentatively suggested as the New Testament widow, Anna the prophetess:
A New Timetable for the Nativity of Jesus Christ
Anna was a widow – and, appropriately, the woman-martyr in Maccabees has no husband with her but only sons. Soon we shall read that she was, according to rabbinic tradition, “a widow”.
And she was indeed very wise and prophetic, as would befit an Anna the prophetess.
Moreover, Anna had had the inestimable privilege of witnessing the future hope of Israel and she accordingly “gave thanks to God and spoke about the Child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
If Anna were also the woman of Maccabees, then her experience of meeting the Holy Family would have greatly fortified her in her worthy task of urging her seven sons not to apostatise. Her hope had become their hope.
And so the youngest of the sons can hopefully proclaim to the king (2 Maccabees 7:32-35):
‘It is true that our living Lord is angry with us and is making us suffer because of our sins, in order to correct and discipline us. But this will last only a short while, for we are still his servants, and he will forgive us. But you are the cruelest and most disgusting thing that ever lived. So don’t fool yourself with illusions of greatness while you punish God’s people. There is no way for you to escape punishment at the hands of the almighty and all-seeing God’.
The wise mother also manages to ‘shatter the theory of evolution’ with her ex nihilo remark (7:28): ‘God did not make them out of existing things’: http://www.usccb.org/bible/2mc/7 “that is, all things were made solely by God’s omnipotent will and creative word; cf. Heb 11:3. This statement has often been taken as a basis for “creation out of nothing” (Latin creatio ex nihilo)”.
Hannah’s (Anna’s) martyrdom, along with her seven sons, we estimate to have occurred very soon after the Presentation. The Holy Family was now safe from “the king”, in Egypt.
Now, a traditional Jewish interpretation of this dramatic account of martyrdom may have great import for our revised Maccabean-Herodian history and for the ‘shaving off’ of Romans.
Very early in this article we followed up our question about the relationship of Antiochus to Herod with: And who is Caesar Augustus?
… whilst Antiochus ‘Epiphanes’ was the king present during the martyrdom of the woman and her seven sons, there are accounts in the Jewish Talmud and Midrash according to which the king in the story was “Caesar” (e.g. Talmud, Gittin 57b and Midrash Eicha Rabba 1:50). Even more shockingly (in standard historical terms) the cruel king overseeing the martyrdom is sometimes named “Hadrian”. Stephen D. Moore, in The Bible in Theory: Critical and Postcritical Essays, p. 196, when discussing the famous incident in the Maccabees of the mother and her seven martyred sons, adds this intriguing footnote (51) according to which Antiochus was replaced in rabbinic tradition by Hadrian:
Nameless in 4 Maccabees, the mother is dubbed … Hannah … in the rabbinic tradition …. The tyrant in the rabbinic versions, however, is not Antiochus Epiphanes but Hadrian: “Hadrian came and seized upon a widow …” (S. Eliyahu Rab. 30); “In the days of the shemad [the Hadrianic persecutions]…” (Pesiq. R. 43). ….
As said, this is ‘shocking’ in a conventional context which would have Antiochus (c. 170 BC) separated in time from the reign of the emperor Hadrian (c. 117-138 AD) by some three centuries. But it accords perfectly with the descriptions of Hadrian as “a second Antiochus” and “a mirror-image of Antiochus”.
[End of quote]
Now, here is the story of the Christian saint and her daughters – all so marvellously named:
Martyr Love with her mother and sisters at Rome
The Holy Martyrs Saint Sophia and her Daughters Faith, Hope and Love were born in Italy. Their mother was a pious Christian widow who named her daughters for the three Christian virtues. Faith was twelve, Hope was ten, and Love was nine. Saint Sophia raised them in the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Sophia and her daughters did not hide their faith in Christ, but openly confessed it before everyone.
An official named Antiochus denounced them to the emperor Hadrian … who ordered that they be brought to Rome. Realizing that they would be taken before the emperor, the holy virgins prayed fervently to the Lord Jesus Christ, asking that He give them the strength not to fear torture and death. When the holy virgins and their mother came before the emperor, everyone present was amazed at their composure. They looked as though they had been brought to some happy festival, rather than to torture. Summoning each of the sisters in turn, Hadrian urged them to offer sacrifice to the goddess Artemis. The young girls remained unyielding.
Then the emperor ordered them to be tortured. They burned the holy virgins over an iron grating, then threw them into a red-hot oven, and finally into a cauldron with boiling tar, but the Lord preserved them.
The youngest child, Love, was tied to a wheel and they beat her with rods until her body was covered all over with bloody welts. After undergoing unspeakable torments, the holy virgins glorified their Heavenly Bridegroom and remained steadfast in the Faith.
They subjected Saint Sophia to another grievous torture: the mother was forced to watch the suffering of her daughters. She displayed adamant courage, and urged her daughters to endure their torments for the sake of the Heavenly Bridegroom. All three maidens were beheaded, and joyfully bent their necks beneath the sword.
In order to intensify Saint Sophia’s inner suffering, the emperor permitted her to take the bodies of her daughters. She placed their remains in coffins and loaded them on a wagon. She drove beyond the city limits and reverently buried them on a high hill. Saint Sophia sat there by the graves of her daughters for three days, and finally she gave up her soul to the Lord. Even though she did not suffer for Christ in the flesh, she was not deprived of a martyr’s crown. Instead, she suffered in her heart. Believers buried her body there beside her daughters.
The relics of the holy martyrs have rested at El’zasa, in the church of Esho since the year 777.