This beatitude is one of the more surprising reversals of conventional expectations in the beatitudes. Most people consider being persecuted for any reason to be a “blessing.” But in first Second Temple Judaism, there was virtue in being persecuted for the essential boundary markers of Judaism.
The stories in the first part of Daniel are examples of Jewish people who face persecution and death because of their commitment to the Jewish God. In each episode Daniel and his companions refuse to obey a particular command of the king and in each case their life is threatened. In chapter 3 and 6 the men are more or less executed for their stand and are only preserved by divine action.
Fourth Maccabees is another example of a Second Temple Jewish text which praises those who lie out their commitment to their Jewish heritage. Seven brothers are willing to die rather than defile…
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