Damien F. Mackey
1. Saint Sophia
“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’.
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. ….
2. Saint Symphorosa
This story, too, bears remarkable parallels to that of the widow-martyr in 2 Maccabees.
Now, here is the story of the Christian saint, Symphorosa, her seven sons, and Hadrian:
TRAJAN’S persecution in some degree continued during the first year of Adrian’s [Hadrian’s] reign …..
This God was pleased to permit, that his afflicted Church might enjoy some respite. It was, however, again involved in the disgrace which the Jews (with whom the Pagans at these times in some degree confounded the Christians) drew upon themselves by their rebellion, which gave occasion to the last entire destruction of Jerusalem in 134 [sic]. Then, as St. Paulinus informs us … Adrian caused a statue of Jupiter to be erected on the place where Christ rose from the dead, and a marble Venus on the place of his crucifixion; and at Bethlehem … a grotto consecrated in honour of Adonis or Thammuz, to whom he also dedicated the cave where Christ was born. This prince towards the end of his reign abandoned himself more than ever to acts of cruelty, and being awakened by a fit of superstition he again drew his sword against the innocent flock of Christ. He built a magnificent country palace at Tibur, now Tivoli, sixteen miles from Rome, upon the most agreeable banks of the river Anio, now called Teverone. Here he placed whatever could be procured most curious out of all the provinces. Having finished the building he intended to dedicate it by heathenish ceremonies which he began by offering sacrifices, in order to induce the idols to deliver their oracles. The demons answered: “The widow Symphorosa and her seven sons daily torment us by invoking their God; if they sacrifice, we promise to be favourable to your vows.”
This lady lived with her seven sons upon a plentiful estate which they enjoyed at Tivoli, and she liberally expended her treasures in assisting the poor, especially in relieving the Christians who suffered for the faith. She was widow of St. Getulius or Zoticus, who had been crowned with martyrdom with his brother Amantius. They were both tribunes of legions or colonels in the army, and are honoured among the martyrs on the 10th of June. Symphorosa had buried their bodies in her own farm, and sighing to see her sons and herself united with them in immortal bliss, she prepared herself to follow them by the most fervent exercise of all good works.
3. Saint Felicity
The story of the widow-martyr Saint Felicity, and her seven martyred sons, also bears an uncanny resemblance to that of the widow-martyr, Hannah, in 2 Maccabees.
Here is the story of this Christian saint and her seven sons:
Saint Felicity and her Seven Sons
Saint Felicity was a noble Roman matron, distinguished above all for her virtue. This mother of seven children raised her sons in the fear of the Lord, and after the death of her husband, served God in continence, concerning herself only with good works. Her good examples and those of her children brought a number of pagans to renounce their superstitions, and also encouraged the Christians to show themselves worthy of their vocation. The pagan priests, furious at seeing their gods abandoned, denounced her. She appeared with her pious sons before the prefect of Rome, who exhorted her to sacrifice to idols, but in reply heard a generous confession of faith.
Wretched woman, he said to her, how can you be so barbarous as to expose your children to torments and death? Have pity on these tender creatures, who are in the flower of their age and can aspire to the highest positions in the Empire! Felicity replied, My children will live eternally with Jesus Christ, if they are faithful; they will have only eternal torments to await, if they sacrifice to idols. Your apparent pity is but a cruel impiety. Then, turning to her children, she said: Look towards heaven, where Jesus Christ is waiting for you with His Saints! Be faithful in His love, and fight courageously for your souls.
The Judge, taking the children one by one, tried to overcome their constancy. He began with Januarius, but received for his answer: What you advise me to do is contrary to reason; Jesus, the Saviour, will preserve me, I hope, from such impiety. Felix, the second, was then brought in. When they urged him to sacrifice, he answered: There is only one God, and it is to Him that we must offer the sacrifice of our hearts. Use all artifices, every refinement of cruelty, you will not make us betray our faith! The other brothers, when questioned, answered with the same firmness. Martial, the youngest, who spoke last, said: All those who do not confess that Jesus Christ is the true God, will be cast into a fire which will never be extinguished.
When the interrogation was finished, the Saints underwent the penalty of the lash and then were taken to prison. Soon they completed their sacrifice in various ways: Januarius was beaten until he died by leather straps capped with lead; Felix and Philip were killed with bludgeons; Sylvanus was thrown headfirst from a cliff; Alexander, Vitalis and Martial were beheaded. Felicity, the mother of these new Maccabees, was the last to suffer martyrdom.