The Superscription of the Book of Ezekiel   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART I

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Ezekiel 1:1-3

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In 597 B.C.E., Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian forces invaded Judah.  King Jehoiachin‘s brief reign ended.  His uncle Mattaniah came to the throne as King Zedekiah.  Jehoiachin and many others–members of the Judean elite–became exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The first wave of the Babylonian Exile had begun.

Ezekiel ben Buzi was one of these captives and exiles.  Ezekiel, a priest in the community beside the Chebar Canal (next to the city of Nippur, southeast of the city of Babylon), received his commission as a prophet on the fifth day of Tammuz (on the Gregorian Calendar, in June), 593 B.C.E.  He prophesied until 571 B.C.E.

Robert Alter describes Ezekiel as

surely the strangest of all the prophets

and as

an extreme case.

The Hebrew Bible, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1049

The prophet, whose name meant, “God strengthens,” was, by modern standards, misogynistic, as in Chapters 16 and 23.  He was not unique–certainly not in the company of Biblical authors.  According to Alter, especially in the context of Chapter 16:

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.  The states of disturbance exhibited in his writing led him to a series of remarkable visionary experiences, at least several of which would be deeply inscribed in the Western imagination, engendering profound experiences in later poetry and in mystical literature.  At the same time, there is much in these visions that reminds us of the dangerous dark side of prophecy.  To announce authoritatively that the words one speaks are the words of God is an audacious act.  Inevitably, what is reported as divine speech reaches us through the refracting prism of the prophet’s sensibility and psychology, and the words and images represented as God’s urgent message may be sometimes distorted in eerie ways.

–1051-1052

Biblical scholars from a variety of times, theological orientations, and geographical origins have commented on Ezekiel’s pathological psychology.  The prophet may not have been well-adjusted.  “Touched by the gods” has been an expression for a long time, and for a good reason.

However much one accepts that much or most of the Book of Ezekiel comes from the prophet, a textual difficulty remains.  The book includes evidence of subsequent editing after the Babylonian Exile.  Any given passage, in its final form, may have more to do with Ezra or some other editor than with Ezekiel.  Or that passage may be entirely from Ezeki8el.  Or the editorial touch may be light.

I acknowledge these matters as I commit to my primary purpose in this Hebrew prophetic reading project:  to read these passages in context and to ponder what they say to the world today.  The ancient message, grounded in particular circumstances, continues to speak.

“The hand of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:3) symbolizes divine power.

The Book of Ezekiel breaks down into three sections:

  1. Chapters 1-24, in their original form, date to between the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).  This section divides into two subsections.  Chapters 1-11 contain visions of divine presence and departure.  Chapters 12-24 offer a rationale for and anticipate the destruction of Jerusalem.
  2. Chapters 25-32 contain oracles against the nations.  The arrangement of these oracles is not chronological.  Such a collection of oracles is also a feature of other prophetic writings, as in Amos 1:3-2:3; Isaiah 13:1-23:19; Jeremiah 46:1-51:64.
  3. Chapters 33-48 contain oracles from after the Fall of Jerusalem.  This section breaks down into two subsections.  Chapters 33-39 offer a rationale for and anticipate the transformation of the LORD’s people.  Chapters 40-48 contain visions of the LORD’s return to the Second Temple (not yet built; dedicated in 516 B.C.E.) in a transformed land.

Tova Ganzel wrote, in the introduction to the Book of Ezekiel, in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014):

Because of the central themes of the Temple, acts of leadership, sins of the people, and divine theophanies appear in both the predestruction and postdestruction oracles (1.3, 13-15, 22-24; 8.2-3; 10.11, 22-23; 40.1-2; 43.1-5), Ezekiel’s oracles merit both sequential and topical study.

–1034

I will study the Book of Ezekiel in a combination of sequential and topical organization of posts.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Ezekiel.  The Roman Catholic lectionaries for weekdays, Sundays, and major feast days omit Chapters 3-8, 11, 13-15, 19-23, 25-27, 29-42, 44-46, and 48 entirely. The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) lists the Book of Ezekiel only five times:

  1. 34:11-16, 20-24 for Christ the King Sunday, Year A;
  2. 36:24-27 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C;
  3. 37:1-14 for the Easter Vigil, Years A, B, and C; the Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A; and (as an alternative reading), for the Day of Pentecost, Year B.

I understand the benefits and limitations of lectionaries.  Any lectionary–even a narrow, one-year cycle with two readings and a Psalm each Sunday–is superior to ministers focusing on their favorite passages of scripture Sunday after Sunday.  The orderly reading of scripture in communal worship has virtues.  Lectionaries also help people to read the Bible in conversation with itself.  Nevertheless, the parts of the Book of Ezekiel that even three-year cycles overlook are worth hearing and reading, in private, alone, in a study group, and in the context of worship.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 7:  THE FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AUGUSTUS SEISS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF ALFRED RAMSEY, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HANS ADOLF BRORSON, DANISH LUTHERAN BISHOP, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JOHN SPARROW-SIMPSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

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The Community’s Lament to the Lord   Leave a comment

Above:  $100 Trillion Bank Note, Zimbabwe

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART VI

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Lamentation 5:1-22

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The Book of Lamentations concludes on a thoroughly depressing note.  The prayer for restoration ends without hope.  Hope was for Chapters 3 and 4, not Chapter 5.

So much has gone wrong by Chapter 5:

  1. The family structure has broken down (verses 2-3).
  2. Foreign conquerors have overrun the country (verse 2).
  3. The people were defenseless (verse 3).
  4. The economy was and inflation was rampant (verses 4-5).
  5. The last Assyrian king had fallen from power in 609 B.C.E., but the point that trusting in in foreign powers, not in God, remained valid.
  6. The voice of the community accepted intergenerational guilt and punishment (Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, contra Ezekiel 3:16-21; Ezekiel 14:12-23; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Ezekiel 33:1-20).
  7. Lackeys of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch governed Judah (verse 8).
  8. Food was scarce (verse 9).
  9. The social order had broken down.  Violence, indignity, rape, and abusive labor were rampant (verses 11-14).  Young men performed the work of women, prisoners, slaves, and animals (verse 13).
  10. Old men no longer administered justice at city gates (verse 14), as in Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2, 11).
  11. Temple worship was impossible (verse 15).
  12. The Davidic Dynasty had ended (verse 16).
  13. The covenant relationship with God was broken (verses 21-22).

Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself,

And let us come back;

Renew our days as of old!

–Lamentations 5:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Book of Lamentations concludes without a divine reply to that plea.  It ends without a comforting or easy answer.  It concludes with God present yet hiding.  Sit with that, O reader.  Give the Book of Lamentations its due.

Thank you, O reader, for accompanying me on this journey through the Book of Lamentations.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Ezekiel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Punishment of Zion   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART V

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Lamentation 4:1-22

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The main bright ray of hope in the Book of Lamentations is in Chapter 3.  Theological whiplash continues as the readings revert to…lamentations.  Chapter 4 describes the siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.. as well as the suffering and degradation of the city’s residents at the time.

Some points require explanation:

  1. In verse 1, gems and gold represent people.  They are precious yet discarded.
  2. Jackals (verse 3) had a reputation as despicable scavengers.
  3. Ostriches (verse 3) were supposedly cruel and neglectful parents (Job 39:13-18).
  4. Starving children were too weak to cry in verse 4.  (Ezekiel 3:16; Psalm 137:6; Job 29:10)
  5. The inhabitants of Sodom died quickly (Genesis 19:24-25), but the inhabitants of Jerusalem suffered a long agony.
  6. Coral and sapphire were colors associated with vigor in verses 7-8.  Those colors have disappeared.
  7. Fire represented divine wrath (Lamentations 2:3 and 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 10:17; Jeremiah 17:27).  There was also the literal fire that destroyed Jerusalem, of course.
  8. Contrary to popular belief (Psalms 46 and 48), Mount Zion was not inviolable.  The belief that God would not let Mount Zion fall came from foreigners (Lamentations 4:12).
  9. Shedding blood (verses 13 and 14), in this case, referred to committing idolatry (Ezekiel 22:1-5; Psalm 106:37-40).  The people most closely associated with purity were the most impure.  Those once among the most respected in society had become as impure as lepers (verse 15).
  10. The Poet spoke in verses 1-16 and 21-22.  The Community spoke in verses 17-20.
  11. The tone in verse 21 is ironic.  Edom comes in for condemnation here and in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Obadiah; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.
  12. Verse 22 offers a glimmer of hope.  The Babylonian Exile will end, we read.  Justice will prevail because punishes sins, we read.

I ponder the idea of a world in which justice prevails because God punishes sins.  I think about the world as it is and perceive that it bears little resemblance to God’s ideal world.  The disparity between reality and the ideal is discouraging.  Were I more poetic, and if I had the desire to compose a set of lamentations for the world and United States of America in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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A Collage of Laments   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations 3:10

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART IV

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Lamentation 3:1-66

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Different voices fill Lamentations 3.  A new voice–that of Israel personified as the Man–speaks in verses 1-24, and perhaps through verse 39, as well.  An alternative view holds that the Poet speaks in verses 25-39.  Another new voice–that of the Community–speaks in verses 48-51.  Either Fair Zion or the Man speaks in verses 52-66.

Verses 1-20 depict deportation into exile.  They also depict God as a bad shepherd, in contrast to Psalm 23, Psalm 78, and Ezekiel 34.  Yet, starting with verse 25, we read an expression of hope in God.  Divine loyalty has not ended and divine mercies are not spent, we read.

For the Lord does not

Reject forever,

But first afflicts, then pardons

In His abundant kindness.

–Lamentations 3:31-32, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Comparing translations reveals shades of meaning in the original Hebrew text.  The Revised English Bible (1989) reads:

For rejection by the Lord

does not last forever.

He may punish, yet he will have compassion

in the fullness of his unfailing love….

When we turn to The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011), we read:

For the Lord does not reject forever;

Though he brings grief, he takes pity,

according to the abundance of his mercy….

Much of the material in verses 25-39 sounds like speeches by Job’s alleged friends (Job 4, 8, 11, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25, 32-37):  Suffering is divine punishment for sin, and people should accept this punishment.  In the context of the Book of Job, this is a misplaced theology, not applicable to the titular character’s situation (Job 1:1-2:10; 42:7-9).  Also, the speeches of Job’s alleged friends read like the useless yet conventionally pious babblings they are, in narrative context.

The rest of the Book of Lamentations confesses sins, repents of those sins, begs for divine deliverance, expresses hope in God, and prays for divine judgment on the wicked nations.

I get theological whiplash from Lamentations 3.  The contrast between Lamentations 3 and the rage against God in Lamentations 2 is stark.  And who says that God does not willingly bring grief or affliction?  I recall many passages from Hebrew prophetic books in which God speaks and claims credit for causing grief and affliction.  I do not recall anyone forcing God to do that.  In some passages, however, God speaks of these divine actions as the consequences of human sins.

I approach theodicy cautiously.  I am also an intellectually honest monotheist.  I have no evil god to blame for anything, thereby letting the good god off the hook.  There is simply and solely God, who is ever in the dock, so to speak.   The major problem with human theodicy is that it easily degenerates into idiocy at best and heresy at worst.

Whenever someone professes not to believe in God, one way to handle the situation is to ask that individual to describe the God in whom he or she does not believe.  One may also want to ask how the other person defines belief in God.  In the creedal sense, to believe in God is to trust in God.  Yet many–or most–people probably understand belief in God to mean affirmation of the existence of God.

Idiotic theodicy produces a range of God-concepts abhorrent to me.  I suspect that many–or most–of those professed agnostics and atheists reject at least one of these God-concepts, too.  Many professed agnostics and atheists–a host of them refugees from conventional piety and abusive faith–may be closer to a healthy relationship with the God of the Universe than many conventionally devout Jews and Christians.  This matter lies far outside my purview; it resides in the purview of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Wrath of God and the Ruin of Zion   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations in Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART III

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Lamentation 2:1-22

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Two voices speak in Lamentations 2.  The Poet speaks in verses 1-19, followed by Fair Zion in verses 20-22.

The text requires some explanation:

  1. The Temple is the “majesty of Israel” and the footstool of God in verse 1.  We read that God has made the Temple an abomination because of idolatry.
  2. The imagery of the Temple as God’s footstool occurs also in Isaiah 60:13; Ezekiel 43:7; Psalm 132:7; and 1 Chronicles 28:2.
  3. The “might of Israel” (verse 3) is literally the “horn of Israel.”  It signals power and pride (Jeremiah 48:25; Psalm 75:11; et cetera).
  4. The right hand of God (verse 4) is a symbol of divine power in Exodus 15:6, 12.  We read that God intentionally withheld that right hand, thereby permitting the Fall of Jerusalem and the despoilment of the Temple.
  5. The Temple is the “booth,” “shrine,” “shelter,” or “tabernacle” in verse 6.
  6. We read in vers 8 that God used a plumbline to calculate how to destroy the walls of Jerusalem.  One may recall the imagery of a plumbline in Amos 7:7-9, but for a different purpose.
  7. Cannibalism, an extreme result of famine during a siege, is a topic in verse 20.  It is a punishment for violating the covenant (Deuteronomy 28:53-57).

The disturbing imagery in Lamentations 2 portrays devastation and destruction.  Fair Zion concludes the chapter by begging God to see the terrible state of affairs and to consider it.  This anger at God is understandable.

Those who deny that anger at God has a legitimate place in the faith life of individuals and communities are wrong.  The place of Lamentations 2 in the canon of scripture testifies that such anger has a proper role in faith life.  Honest anger is better than dishonest denial.  Honest anger is faithful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BINGHAM TAPPAN, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ADOLPHUS NELSON, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BERNARD MIZEKI, ANGLICAN CATECHIST AND CONVERT IN SOUTHERN RHODESIA, 1896

THE FEAST OF JOHANN FRANCK, HEINRICH HELD, AND SIMON DACH, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MASSIE, HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Desolation of Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above: Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART II

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Lamentations 1:1-22

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The book of Lamentations was written, not simply to memorialize the tragic destruction of Jerusalem, but to interpret the meaning of God’s rigorous treatment of his people to the end that they would learn the lessons of the past and retain their faith in him in the face of overwhelming disaster.

–Theophile J. Meek, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 6 (1956), 5-6

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The two poetic voices in Lamentations 1 are the Poet (verses 1=10, 17) and Fair Zion (verses 11-16, 18-22).

I unpack the Poet’s section first:

  1. Widows were vulnerable, dependent upon male relatives.  Jerusalem, once like a princess, has become like a widow in verse 1.
  2. The reference to weeping bitterly (or incessantly, depending on translation) in verse 2 indicates intense weeping.
  3. The friends (or lovers, depending on translation) in verse 2 were political allies of Judah who did not come to that kingdom’s aid.  The Hebrew word, literally, “lovers,” indicates idolatry.
  4. Verse 3 compares the Babylonian Exile to slavery in Egypt.  See Genesis 15:13; Exodus 1:11; Deuteronomy 26:6.
  5. Verse 4 overstates the matter; many people remained in Judah after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.
  6. Verse 5 accepts the Deuteronomic theology of divine retribution for sins.
  7. “Fair Zion” verse 6 conveys the sense of “dear little Zion.”  It is “Daughter of Zion,” literally.
  8. The personification of Jerusalem occurs frequently in Hebrew prophetic literature.  Examples include Isaiah 1:8; Isaiah 52:2; Jeremiah 4:31; and Micah 4:8.
  9. Verse 8 reads, in part, “seen her disgraced.”  This is literally, “seen her nakedness,” connoting shame.
  10. Verse 9 uses ritual impurity (regarding menstruation) as a metaphor for moral impurity–idolatry, metaphorically, sexual immorality.
  11. Verse 10 likens the looting of the Temple to rape.

Then Fair Zion speaks:

  1. Verse 12 likens the Fall of Jerusalem to the apocalyptic Day of the LORD.  Other references to the Day of the LORD include Isaiah 13:13; Joel 2:1; Amos 5:8; Obadiah 15.
  2. Jerusalem has nobody to comfort her.  Therefore, she cannot finish mourning.
  3. A line in verse 20 can mean either “I know how wrong I was to disobey” or “How very bitter I am.”
  4. Verse 20 refers to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian army being outside the walls of Jerusalem and plague being inside the city.  (See Ezekiel 7:15.)
  5. Chapter 1 concludes with a prayer for divine retribution against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Maybe Fair Zion will receive some comfort from this divine judgment.  Yet God is silent.

The Book of Lamentations deals with trauma by telling the truth.  This contrasts with the dominant cultural pattern in my homeland, the United States of America–the “United States of Amnesia,” as the late, great Gore Vidal called it.  Certain Right-Wing politicians and private citizens outlaw or try to outlaw the telling of the truth in public schools, sometimes even in public colleges and universities.  Not telling the difficult truth stands in the way of resolving the germane problems and moving forward together into a better future, one that is more just.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL BARNETT, ANGLICAN CANON OF WESTMINSTER, AND SOCIAL REFORMER; AND HIS WIFE, HENRIETTA BARNETT, SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SAINT SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Introduction to the Book of Lamentations   Leave a comment

Above:  Heading and Opening of Lamentations

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART I

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The tradition that the prophet composed the Book of Lamentations immediately after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and prior to departing involuntarily for Egypt is deeply ingrained in many minds.  That tradition is evident in the brief preface in the Septuagint and the Vulgate:

When Israel had been taken into captivity and Jerusalem had become a wilderness, it happened that the prophet Jeremiah sat down in tears; he uttered this lament over Jerusalem, he said….

–Quoted from a footnote in The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

This tradition has its origin in an interpretation of 2 Chronicles 35:25:

Jeremiah also made a lament for Josiah; and to this day the minstrels, both men and women, commemorate Josiah in their lamentations.  Such laments have become traditional in Israel, and they are found in the written collections.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

King Josiah of Judah died in 609 B.C.E.

The Book of Lamentations laments the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) and never mentions King Josiah.  The language is similar to that in the Books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  Much of the language is sufficiently vague that the laments can apply to many disasters, other than the Fall of Jerusalem.

The text does not answer the question of authorship.  One may perhaps legitimately hypothesize that the prophet Jeremiah contributed to the Book of Lamentations.  The most likely scenario is that the Book of Lamentations is the product of authors.

The Book of Lamentations, completed before the dedication of the Second Temple (516 B.C.E.), embraces the Deuteronomic theology of divine retribution (as in the Book of Jeremiah).  Lamentations also contains material from various sources.  There are four voices–those of the Poet, Fair Zion, the Man (personified Israel), and the Community–in five poems.  Chapters 1-4 are Hebrew acrostic poems.  Chapters 1, 2, 4, and 5 have 22 verses each.  Chapter 3 has 66 verses.

The placement of the Book of Lamentations varies.  The Book of Lamentations, classified as a prophetic book in Christian Bibles, exists in different places, relative to other books, in Christian canons of scripture.  It is between Jeremiah and Baruch in Roman Catholic Bibles, between Jeremiah and Ezekiel in Protestant and Anglican Bibles, between Baruch and Ezekiel in Ethiopian Orthodox Bibles, and between Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah in The Orthodox Study Bible (2008).  The Book of Lamentations, in the Writings (not the Prophets) section of the Hebrew Bible, sits between Ruth and Ecclesiastes.

Major lectionaries ignore most of the Book of Lamentations.  The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) does this:

  1. 1:1-6 is one of two possible First Readings for Proper 22, Year C.  On that Sunday, 3:19-26  is an alternative response.
  2. 3:1-9, 19-24 is a reading for Holy Saturday, Years A, B, and C.  But how many congregations who follow the RCL conduct the Holy Saturday liturgy?

The introduction to the Book of Lamentations in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), acknowledges that the Roman Catholic Church, outside of Holy Week,

has otherwise tended to neglect the book.

–1142

Indeed, the current Roman Catholic Mass lectionaries assign little–yet more than the RCL does–from the Book of Lamentations:

  1. 1:1-6 is the First Reading for Proper 27, Year C.
  2. 2:2, 10-14, 18-19 is the First Reading for Saturday, Week 12, Ordinary Time, Year 2.
  3. 3:1-9, 19-24 is the First Reading on Holy Saturday, Years A, B, and C.
  4. 3:19-26 is the First Reading on Proper 22, Year C.
  5. 3:23-33 is the First Reading on Proper 9, Year B.

The introduction to the Book of Lamentations in The Catholic Study Bible, Third Edition (2016), continues from the quote above:

It is not hard to see why; a more anguished piece of writing is scarcely imaginable….But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same.

–1142-1143

Observant Jews read or hear the Book of Lamentations read liturgically on the ninth day of Av (in July or August), the day of public mourning and fasting in commemoration of the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C.E. and the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  The ninth day of Av is also a day to commemorate other disasters and catastrophes in the Jewish past.  The recitation of the Book of Lamentations occurs in candlelight or dim light, while the reader and the congregation sit on the floor or low benches.

Rereading the Book of Lamentations in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic may help individuals and faith communities express an honest, Biblical faith in a world in which many people, institutions, and societies have lost their minds and gone off the rails, and in which returning to the old normal is impossible.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE BERKELEY, IRISH ANGLICAN BISHOP AND PHILOSOPHER; AND JOSEPH BUTLER, ANGLICAN BISHOP AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN FRANCIS REGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS COUSIN, NORMAN MACLEOD, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RUFUS JONES, U.S. QUAKER THEOLOGIAN AND COFOUNDER OF THE AMERICAN FRIENDS SERVICE COMMITTEE

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HIRAM FOULKES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Divine Judgment Against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXIV

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Jeremiah 50:1-51:64

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Since I started reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order, I have read the material related to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in Isaiah 13:1-14:22; 21:1-10.

Jeremiah 50 and 51 contain two oracles (50:1-46; 51:1-58) and an account of the the transportation of the scroll of the prophecy against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire to Babylon, followed by the enactment of the curse against that empire (51:59-64).  Chapters 50 and 51 also contain material from different periods.  The copies I read are translations of the final draft, from after the Babylonian Exile.

The contents of the two oracles contain familiar, repeated themes:

  1. Babylon will fail.
  2. The empire will end.
  3. Jews will return to God and to their homeland.
  4. God is sovereign.
  5. Idolatry, hubris, and arrogance will be the downfall of the empire.

Jeremiah 51:59 provides a year for the events of 51:59-64.  That year is 593 B.C.E., the fourth year of the reign of King Zedekiah of Judah.  The reference to King Zedekiah’s official delegation to Babylon fits historically.

Tying a stone around the scroll and sinking that scroll into the Euphrates River was a prophetic symbolic action.  Seraiah ben Neriah, brother of Baruch ben Neriah, performed that task on Jeremiah’s behalf.  That symbolic action enacted the curse that Babylon would sink and never rise again.

Babylon remained a major city, within the Persian Empire, for centuries.  In the Hellenistic Era, however, Babylon declined.  By the early Christian era, Babylon had become a village.  The site, abandoned by 1000 C.E., became a source for bricks.

Above:  Ruins of Babylon, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-13231

Thus for the words of Jeremiah.

–Jeremiah 51:64b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

So ends the Book of Jeremiah, except for Chapter 52, mostly copied and pasted from 2 Kings 24:18-25:30.

I have already covered Jeremiah 52 (as Jeremiah 52) here and (as 2 Kings 24 and 25) here and here.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Jeremiah.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Lamentations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Divine Judgment Against Elam   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXIII

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Jeremiah 49:34-39

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Elam (capital = Susa) was east of the Tigris River.  The name of the country derived from one of the children of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Ezra 4:9 mentioned the “men of Susa.”  The Assyrian Empire sacked Susa in 646 B.C.E., and Elamite archers participated in Assyrian attacks on Judah (Isaiah 21:2; 22:6).  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire expelled Elamite invaders into the Tigris region circa 596 B.C.E.

This oracle provides a date, of a sort.  The oracle originates from very early in the reign (597-586 B.C.E.) of King Zedekiah of Judah.

This oracle, like some others in this set of oracles, concludes on a hopeful note.

Elam passed into the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire then into the Persian Empire, but long remained a rebellious province.  Finally, in 521 B.C.E., King Darius I of the Persian Empire (r. 522-486 B.C.E.) established his winter palace in Susa.

Some of the people in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost were Elamites (Acts 2:9).

The oracle does not list any sin Elamites may have committed.

After the massive devastation, Yahweh will restore the fortune of Elam.  God’s ultimate resolve is the well-being even of Elam.  That well-being can only happen, however, when Yahweh’s throne is firm in the land and all other claimants to the throne have been eliminated.

–Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah:  Exile and Homecoming (1998), 461

After all, God is sovereign.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Divine Judgment Against Arabia: Kedar and Hazor   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXII

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Jeremiah 49:28-33

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For thus my LORD has said to me:  “In another year, fixed like the years of a hired laborer, all the multitude of of Kedar shall vanish; the remaining bows of Kedar’s warriors shall be few in number; for the LORD, the God of Israel, has spoken.

–Isaiah 21:16-17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Kedar was a northern Arabian tribe known for their military prowess.  Yet the Assyrian King Sennacherib (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) conquered that tribe in 689 B.C.E.  Hazor (location in Arabia uncertain) was near or in the area the tribe of Kedar roamed, apparently.

The oracle refers to Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian campaigns against northern Arabian tribes in 599 B.C.E.

The sin in this oracle, as in other oracles in this set, may have been complacency.  We read in verse 31 that the people dwelt secure, without barred gates.  We read that God commanded the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians to attack, and the people of Kedar and Hazor to flee.

And I will scatter to every quarter 

Those who have their hair clipped….

–Jeremiah 49:32b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Similar language also occurs in Jeremiah 9:26, in the context of uncircumcised nations.  In TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), these desert dwellers

have the hair of their temples clipped.

And, in Jeremiah 25:23, we read about:

Dedan, Tema, and Buz, and all those who have their hair clipped….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

These are some of those who will become

a desolate ruin, an object of hissing and a curse.

–Jeremiah  25:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Cutting the hair in this manner was a religious rite for Arabian desert dwellers; the great historian Herodotus wrote about it.  Many foreigners emulated this practice, forbidden in Leviticus 19:27:

You shall not round off the side growth of your head, or destroy the side growth of your beard.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Cutting one’s hair or the hair of a corpse in that manner was apparently, for some, at least, an expression of extreme mourning and grief (Deuteronomy 14:1-2).  It was also one of a set of

idolatrous and superstitious practices

and

probably in origin an attempt to make oneself unrecognizable in face of the dangers emanating from the “soul” of a dead person.

–Martin Noth, Leviticus:  A Commentary (1965), 143

As I emerge from the rabbit hole down which I have gone, I recall one of my favorite quotes:

Superstition is cowardice in face of the divine.

–Theophrastus (c. 371-287 B.C.E.)

Homo sapiens sapiens may be inherently inclined toward superstition, a collection of vain attempts to assert human control where none exists.  From a Judeo-Christian perspective, YHWH is in control, and even the most powerful people are bit players in divine plans.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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