Above: A Map Showing the Seleucid Empire
Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada. I invite you to follow it with me.
1 Maccabees 6:1-17 (Revised English Bible):
As King Antiochus made his way through the upper provinces heard there was a city, Elymais, famous for its wealth in silver and gold. Its temple was very rich, full of gold shields, coats of mail, and weapons left there by Philip’s son Alexander, king of Macedon and the first to be king over the Greeks. Antiochus came to that city, but in his attempt to take and plunder it he was unsuccessful because his plan had become known to the citizens. They gave battle and drove him off; in bitter resentment he withdrew towards Babylon.
In Persia a messenger brought him the news that the armies which had invaded Judaea had suffered defeat, and that Lysias, who had marched up with an exceptionally strong force, had been flung back into open battle. Further, the strength of the Jews had increased through the capture of weapons, equipment, and spoil in plenty from the armies they destroyed; they had pulled down the abomination built by him on the altar in Jerusalem and surrounded their temple with high walls as before; they had even fortified Bethsura, his city.
The king was dismayed and so sorely shaken by this report that he took to his bed, ill with grief at the miscarriage of his plans. There he lay for many days, overcome again and again by bitter grief, and he realized that he was dying. He summoned all his Friends and said:
Sleep has summoned me; the weight of care has broken my heart. At first I asked myself: Why am I engulfed in this sea of troubles, I who was kind and well loved in the day of my power? But now I recall the wrong I did in Jerusalem: I carried off all the vessels of silver and gold that were there, and with no justification sent armies to wipe out the inhabitants of Judaea. I know that is why these misfortunes have come upon me; and here I am, dying of bitter grief in a foreign land.
He summoned Philip, one of his Friends, and appointed him regent over his whole empire, giving him the crown, his royal robe, and the signet ring, with authority to bring up his son Antiochus and train him for the throne. King Antiochus died in Persia in the year 149 [163 B.C.E.].
When Lysias learnt that the king was dead, he placed on the throne in succession to his father the young Antiochus, whom he had trained from boyhood, and he gave him the name Eupator.
Psalm 124 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):
1 If the LORD had not been on our side,
let Israel now say,
2 If the LORD had not been on our side,
when enemies rose up against us;
3 Then they would have swallowed us up alive
in their fierce anger toward us;
4 Then would the waters have overwhelmed us
and the torrent gone over us;
5 Then would the raging waters
have gone right over us.
6 Blessed be the LORD!
he has not given us over to be a prey for their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler;
the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the Name of the LORD,
the maker of heaven and earth.
Luke 20:27-40 (Revised English Bible):
Then some Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and asked:
Teacher, Moses, laid it down for us that if there are brothers, and one dies leaving a wife but not child, then the next should marry the widow and provide an heir for his brother. Now there seven brothers: the first took a wife and died childless, then the second married her, then the third. In this way the seven of them died leaving no children. Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection, whose wife is she to be, since all seven had married her?
Jesus said to them,
The men and women of this world marry; but those who have been judged who have been judged worthy of a place in the other world, and of the resurrection from the dead, do not marry, for they are no longer subject to death. They are like angels; they are children of God, because they share in his resurrection. That the dead are raised to life again is shown by Moses himself in the story of the burning bush, when he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” God is not the God of the living; in his sight all are alive.
At this some of the scribes said,
Well spoken, Teacher.
And nobody dared put any further question to him.
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Related Post:
Mark 12 (Parallel to Luke 20):
I have a few comments about the reading from Luke 20 before I move along to my main point. Levirate marriage was part of the Law of Moses. By this practice a childless widow was supposed to find economic security in a deeply patriarchal society; there would be a man to take care of her. Finding ultimate economic security, for her, meant giving birth to at least one son who would grow up and care for her in time. Some Sadducees seized on this matter to ask Jesus an insincere questions. I wonder if our Lord thought to himself something like,
Why do they keep asking me questions like this?
Indeed, it would have been better to ask him a sincere query. The Sadducees were wasting his time; may we not follow in their footsteps.
Now, for the main idea….
Being the history geek I am, I opened up an old edition of the New Oxford Annotated Bible (a Revised Standard Version edition from 1977, no less) and found the chronological and genealogical table of Seleucid kings in the back. Seleucus II Callinicus (reigned 246-225 B.C.E.) died. His immediate successor was an elder son, Seleucus III Soter Ceraunos (reigned 225-223 B.C.E.). Seleucus III, dying childless, was succeeded by his younger brother, Antiochus III the Great (reigned 223-187 B.C.E.), who had two sons who became kings after him. The elder son became Seleucus IV Philopater (reigned 187-175 B.C.E.). Seleucus IV did have a son before he died. That son Demetrius, the rightful heir. But Demetrius was a hostage in Rome when his father died, and his uncle, the younger son Antiochus III, usurped the throne to become Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.).
Antiochus IV Epiphanes was an ambitious man. There is nothing wrong with having ambition; indeed, I distrust a person who lacks it. Ambition drives people to bigger and better goals when one harnesses it properly. But does one harness one’s ambition or does one’s ambition harness one? Ambition and foolishness compelled Antiochus IV to break with precedent and try to suppress non-Hellenistic cultures within his empire, and thus inspired opposition. Jews, for example rebelled. This rebellion weakened the empire and contributed to king’s bad health and therefore his death. Indeed, the medical link between high levels of stress and increased susceptibility to diseases is well-documented.
And so Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in 164 B.C.E. His immediate successor was another usurper, his son, Antiochus V Eupator, a boy who met a bad end in 162 B.C.E. Demetrius, the rightful heir since 175 B.C.E., finally escaped from Rome and returned home that year, when he became Demetrius I Soter, reigning until 150 B.C.E.). He met a bad end, too, when Alexander Balas, a son Antiochus IV Epiphanes, killed him and reigned for five years.
That seems like a great deal of trouble to go through for not much reward, does it not? Why struggle to become king, only to have to struggle to keep the throne and lose it anyway? The rewards seemed to have been short-term only and the miseries long-term.
There is, however, a better way, which is to seek those riches which are intangible, and therefore do not rust or decay and which no earthly thief can take away. To find one’s identity in God is to locate position in which one will find fulfillment and from which nobody can oust one. The Seleucid Empire has dwelt in the dustbin of history for over two thousand years; where is the glory of its kings now? Yet, each year, faithful Jews celebrate Hanukkah and recall the rededication of the Temple by the Hasmoneans. The fatal ambition of Antiochus IV Epiphanes brought on the necessity to rededicate the Temple and started a Jewish war for independence from the Seleucid Empire. I know who won and who lost this case.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
MAY 29, 2011 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE FIRST U.S. PRESBYTERIAN BOOK OF CONFESSIONS, 1967
THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF SAINTS LUKE KIRBY, THOMAS COTTAM, WILLIAM FILBY, AND LAURENCE RICHARDSON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS
Adapted from this post: