2 Maccabees tells the story of a mother whose seven sons are killed before her eyes because they refuse to violate Jewish mores. The mother recalls the woman of seven sons and her bereft counterpart found in Hannah’s prayer (1 Samuel 2), and perhaps also the mother in Jerusalem described in Jeremiah 15, but offers a new theological twist on Jewish suffering: the promise of resurrection. (2 Macc 6: 7-7:42)
One of the first ancient texts that relate to the story of Chanukah is known as 2 Maccabees. This book survives as a condensed and reworked version of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene, a Hellenistic Jew who lived in the 2nd century BCE. It recalls the historical events that led to the uprising of Judah Maccabee and his brothers against the Syrian Greek king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, culminating in Judah Maccabee’s defeat of General Nicanor, and it condemns the Hellenistic cultural influences that were enticing the Judean population at this time.
Although parts of this work recall mundane historical events, 2 Maccabees also inserts miraculous details, prayers, soliloquies, and anecdotes which all underscore the author’s belief that the Hasmonean victory was entirely orchestrated by God. These details help to dramatize the story and no doubt made it memorable for the generations of Jews who read the book and kept it in circulation.
Perhaps the best-known story recorded in 2 Maccabees recounts the tale of a mother who witnessed the martyrdom of her seven sons before Antiochus IV Epiphanes, following their refusal to violate their ancestral tradition. Each of the brothers undergoes terrible tortures and are ultimately killed at the hands of Antiochus IV when he demands that they bow down to idols or consume non-kosher meat. The unnamed mother in this story, who only in the medieval period (in Josippon, 16th cent.) was identified by Jewish writers as a woman named Hannah, is depicted as so pious and noble that she encourages her own sons to stay fast to their ancestral traditions even if it means guaranteeing their own deaths.
Shortly after 2 Maccabees was written, the mother and her sons became the subject of the second half of an entire book, 4 Maccabees, written by another (unknown) Hellenistic Jew. The legend of a mother of seven sons who was martyred is also preserved in a number of rabbinic texts. All of these traditions were no doubt influenced by some version—either a written or oral—of the 2 Maccabees 7 story, which was passed down through the generations.
Only faith in God and daunting courage could guarantee such a heroic act. This woman represents the many women in history who inspire children and citizens to right living. For the sake of violating the law of God, she was prepared to inspire her children to martyrdom. She did not just inspire them, but she watched them die. Our blessed Lady equally demonstrated such courage when she had to watch Jesus, hang on the cross. For the three hours our Lord Jesus hung on the cross, the blessed Mother was right there by his side.
For the faithful of the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, it has been some gruesome weeks of agony and sorrow, with the abduction of Fr Keke and the killing of Fr Bello. Words are still inadequate to measure the deep wounds in our hearts. For the entire country, it is simply breathtaking to see what is unfolding daily in our very eyes. How bandits attack communities unchecked and without any fight by our security agents. In a speech given by former President Olusegun Obasanjo during a book launch on Thursday, June 3rd in his honour, titled: The man, the leader and the President. Obasanjo said, “Nigeria is a country that is supposed to be flowing with milk and honey, but right now it is dripping with bitterness and sadness”. This statement is more than true. We have never seen a level of bitterness and sadness across the country like this time around. Over a hundred persons were killed between the borders of Benue and Ebony states on the 2nd of June 2021, with no word from the president. This attack and killing is just one of the many attacks that have happened on the same day across the country because there are dozens of others.
As we gathered last week Monday and Tuesday (31st May and 1st June) at our Lady of Apostles Catholic Church, Independence way in Kaduna to bid farewell to our brother, Fr Alphonsus, Bello Yashim, many were wondering, how his mother would comport herself, knowing the gruesome way, her son the priest was killed. Rather she turned out to be the comforter of the afflicted mourners; she became a wounded healer. Mrs Yashim has buried four persons including her husband in the last 24 months. When she came out to address the worshipping community and to say thank you. She began by singing, a beautiful song in Hausa, which simply says: “What shall I say unto the Lord, all I have to say is thank you, Lord, the Lord has given and the Lord has taken, blessed be the name of the Lord” at this point many people broke down in tears. But Mrs Yashim was sounding very strong and articulate. She forgave the killers of her son, and she said “I accept the sacrifice my son has made on behalf of all of us, let him be sacrificed so that Nigeria can have peace”
This woman demonstrated an unprecedented amount of courage, we only pray that God will truly console her. However, there are many communities and persons that are inconsolable, last week Sunday, bandits attacked Karrenbana community in Kebbi State, few kilometres away from Zuru town. Before the attack in Karrrenbana, there were many families that ran there for safety from the neighbouring villages. Bandits still followed them to Karrenbana killed five and abducted many. How will such people find consolation and courage to forge ahead? In the words of the Psalmist “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 34:21). These simple words cost nothing. It will certainly make a difference if only our president could offer them to the victims of all these tragedies. Finally, St Paul said, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:20). May all Christians in Nigeria and elsewhere in the world be inspired by the courage and faith of Mrs Bello Yashim.
By Stephen Ojapah MSP
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow