From Bible Encyclopedia
The book of 4 Maccabees is a homily or philosophic discourse praising the supremacy of pious reason over the passions. While once accepted as a deuterocanonical book by the Orthodox, it is increasingly relegated to an appendix of apocryphal works, possibly due to its use of pagan thought, but more to be due to the differences between the dialogue of the martyrs that it portrays and the one in 2 Maccabees. Amongst churches other than the orthodox, it has always been regarded as completely apocryphal.
The work consists of a prologue and two main sections; the first advances the philosophical thesis while the second illustrates the points made using examples drawn from 2 Maccabees (principally, the martyrdom of Eleazer and the Maccabeean youths) under Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The last chapters concern the author's impressions drawn from these martyrdoms. The work thus appears to be an independent composition to 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, merely drawing on their descriptions to support its thesis.
Authorship and criticism
According to some scholars, the last chapter shows signs of later addition to the work, though this was disputed by the 19th century authors of the Jewish Encyclopedia. The dispute is based on the weak ending the book would have without the "added" chapter, as well as arguments based on style. The change of direction with chapter 27 supports the view of the work as a homily held before a Greek-speaking audience on the feast of Hanukkah, as advanced by Ewald and Freudenthal, where this would be a rhetorical element to draw the listeners into the discourse. Others hold that a homily would have to be based on scriptural texts, which this work is only loosely.
In style, the book is oratorical, but not so much as 3 Maccabees. A good amount of Stoic philosophy is cited by the author, though there is little original philosophical insight in the text. The writer appears to be an Alexandrian Jew who used the philosophical ideas of the time to clothe his religious ideas. This characterization is practically without parallel in Jewish literature, and it is cited as the best example of syncretism between Jewish and Hellenistic thought. Perhaps the closest match in the New Testament is the (anonymous) Epistle to the Hebrews.
The book is ascribed to Josephus by Eusebius and Jerome, and this opinion was accepted for many years, leading to its inclusion in many editions of Josephus' works. More modern critical scholarship points to great differences of language and style, so that this identification is largely abandoned today. The book is generally dated between the first century BC and the first century AD, due to its reliance on 2 Maccabees and use by Christians. It was probably written before the persecution of the Jews under Caligula, and certainly before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.
The writer believes in the immortality of the soul, but denies the Pharisaic belief in the resurrection of the body. Good souls are said to live forever in happiness with the patriarchs and God, but even the evil souls are held to be immortal. The suffering and martyrdom of the Macabees is seen by the author to be vicarious for the Jewish nation, and the author portrays martyrdom in general as bringing atonement for the past sins of the Jews.