There are many elements in this story that overlap with the subjects present in many of the other noble death stories we have read and talked about in class. This story is obviously meant to be read as a martyr story in which a mother encourages her seven sons “to die nobly” for their God and His laws (2 Macc 7:5). The story seems to focus on the martyrdom of the mother and her martyr characteristics. In 2 Maccabees 7 it is written that “the mother was especially worthy and honorable of memory” lending its self to our discussions about how a martyr is created by how people remember him/her and the narrative that is created after their death. The mother and her seven sons are being “compelled by the king, under torture” to eat pork, an act that would go against the Jewish law (2 Macc 7:1). This issue makes the story a martyrdom because the family would rather die “than transgress the laws of” their religion (2 Macc 7:2). The writer says very little about the actions or characteristics of the sons and chooses to focus on the reasoning that the mother gives her sons for why they should allow themselves to be tortured and eventually killed.
There are a few different power relationships in this narrative that are reminiscent of those discussed in the reading from Foucault. First is that between the king and the family. The king has power over the family and can choose to torture and kill them, or pardon them. In the eyes of the mother, however, he does not hold supreme power. This leads to the second power relationship: that between humans and God. The reason the mother persuades her sons to let themselves be tortured and killed is that she believes that God has supreme power over them and that if they die for “his laws” he will reward them with “an everlasting renewal of life” (2 Macc 7:9). She also believes that God has power over the king and will use his “mighty power” to torture the king and his descendants as punishment for his wrong doings (2 Macc 7:17). The next power relationship is between the mother and her sons. This relationships gives the mother great influence over her children. The final relationship is less obvious and is only brought to light near the end of 4 Maccabees 17 with this sentence: “The tyrant was the antagonist, and the world and the human race were the spectators”. This idea is more symbolic than literal, but it shows that if the world had not seen and remembered these deaths, they would not be important as martyrdoms. This is also reminiscent of the writings of Foucault.
The mother, though female, is portrayed as having “male” characteristics. 4 Maccabees 15 gives some background saying “that mothers are the weaker sex” and, because she had given birth to so many children “and because of the many pains she had suffered with each of them she had sympathy for them” and was much more emotionally devoted to them than any father could have been. This would make it more difficult for her to watch her sons be tortured and killed than it would be for a male figure. Instead of showing feminine characteristics, such as heightened emotions, she is described as having “devout reason, giving her heart a man’s courage” so that she could “disregard, for the time, her parental love” (4 Macc 15:23). She is also described as “more noble than males in steadfastness, and more courageous than men in endurance” (4 Macc 15:30).