Archive for February 2021

False Significance and True Significance   Leave a comment

THE QUEST FOR FALSE SIGNIFICANCE IS A FORM OF IDOLATRY.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, “Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and take you in; or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to see you?”  “In solemn truth I tell you,” the King will answer them, “that inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you had done it unto me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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And lo, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

–Luke 13:30, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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The ethics and morals of Jesus of Nazareth shape my ethics and morals.  I am a professing Christian, after all.  

The increase in political extremism defined by hatred, xenophobia, nativism, and conspiracy theories concerns me deeply.  This is a global problem.  As one hears in this video clip, the “quest for significance” is one of the “pillars of radicalization.”  

We are dealing with idolatry.  Sin, in Augustinian terms, is disordered love.  God deserves the most love.  Many people, activities, ideas, et cetera, deserve lesser amounts of love.  Others deserve no love.  To love that which one should not love or to love someone or something more than one ought to do is to deny some love to God.  One bears the image of God.  One is, therefore, worthy of much love.  In fact, Judaism and Christianity teach that one has a moral obligation to love others as one loves oneself, assuming that one loves oneself as one should (Leviticus 19:18; Tobit 4:15; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 31:15; Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).  After all, the other human beings also bear the image of God.  Judaism and Christianity also teach people to love God fully, and link love of God and love of other people (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:36-40).  Therefore, true significance comes from loving God fully and loving God, as God is present in human beings, especially the “least of these.”

Two stories from 1 Maccabees pertain to my theme.  

In 1 Maccabees 5:55-64, two Hasmonean military commanders named Zechariah and Azariah sought to make a name for themselves.  They succeeded; they caused military defeat and won ignominy to define their names.  However, in 1 Maccabees 6:42-47, Eleazar Avaran acted selflessly, in defense of his oppressed people and the Law of Moses.  He died and won an honored name from his people.  Those who sought honor earned disgrace.  He who sacrificed himself gained honor.

I could quote or mention a plethora of Biblical verses and passages about the folly of seeking false significance.  The Bible has so many of them because of the constancy of human nature.  I could quote or mention more verses and passages, but to do so would be triply redundant.

Simply, true human significance comes from God, compared to whom we are all insignificant.  That significance comes from bearing the image of God.  The sooner more of us accept that truth, the better off the rest of us will be.  The social, societal, economic, and political costs of the quest for false significance to extremely high.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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The Vibes of Translations: A Case Study Invoking John 1:14a   Leave a comment

Above:  The Hebrew Tabernacle in the Wilderness

Image in the Public Domain

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A Biblical translation has its vibe.

Years ago, at the Episcopal Center at The University of Georgia, I was participating in a Bible study one night.  The passage was the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12).  The study method was the African Bible study, by which the group heard the same passage read aloud three times, each time in a different version, and asked a different question each time.  After Carrie read from The Living Bible (New Testament, 1969), all of us present sang,

I’d like to teach the world to sing

in perfect harmony.

I’d like to buy the world a Coke

and keep it company.

The Living Bible is of its time.  That is the most polite evaluation I can offer of it.  My opinion of The Living Bible is so low as to be subterranean.  If I were to represent my opinion of that version numerically, I would use a negative number on a scale.  But I would still rate The Living Bible higher than The Message.

To my main point now….

The Prologue (1:1-18) of the Gospel of John is one of the most profound sections in the Bible.  That Prologue is theologically rich, like the rest of that Gospel.  And John 1:1-18 is one of the portions of scripture I read when evaluating a translation.  If a translation botches the Prologue to the Gospel of John, I read no more in that version.  Literary quality and theological subtlety are standards I apply to that evaluation.

The Revised Standard Version (New Testament, 1946; plus Old Testament, 1952; Second Edition, 1971) provides the standard English translation of John 1:14a:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth….

Two translation choices stand out in my mind.  First, “dwelt” is literal from the Greek, according to commentaries I have read.  Second, the Greek text reads, literally, “in,” not “among.”

Other versions offer similar readings.  For example, The Revised English Bible (1989) tells us:

So the Word became flesh; he made his home among us,….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) reads:

And the Word became flesh

and made his dwelling among us,….

And The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) tells us:

The Word became flesh,

he lived among us,….

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861-1934) hit the proverbial nail on the head in her Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924):

And the Word became flesh and tented with us…

William Barclay (1907-1978) also translated John 1:14a well:

So the word of God became a person, and took up his abode in our being….

Barclay picked up on the literal meaning of a particular Greek word meaning “in,” not “among.”  He also tied John 1:14a to the theme of indwelling that runs throughout the Fourth Gospel.  Jesus dwelt in YHWH, YHWH dwelt in Jesus, and followers of Jesus dwelt in him, and, therefore, in YHWH.

The reference to dwelling or tenting is to the tent of the Tabernacle, as in Exodus 25:8d.  Literally, in John 1:14, the Logos of God pitched a tent.   The Greek verb meaning “to tent” resembles the Hebrew root for “to dwell” and the Hebrew word from which the noun shekinah (divine presence) derives.

The meaning pertains to Realized Eschatology in the Johannine Gospel:  God was fully present among human beings in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Father Raymond E. Brown‘s extensive and extremely detailed and verbose commentary (1966) on the Gospel of John makes the connection between John 1:14 and Revelation 21:3:

“Behold the dwelling of God is with men….”

Revised Standard Version

According to Father Brown:

Thus, in dwelling among men, the Word anticipates the divine presence which according to Revelation will be visible to men in the last days.

The Gospel According to John (I-XII) (1966), 33

However extremely few merits Eugene Peterson’s The Message (2002) may have, literary grace is not one of them.  Consider this rendering of John 1:14a, O reader:

The Word became flesh and blood

and moved into the neighborhood.

Now I return to the question of the vibe of a translation.  “…Moved into the neighborhood,” in my North American context, carries a certain connotation.  I hear that phrasing and think of a scenario in which a prosperous, professional Latino or African-American family has moved into a conservative White suburb, and the White bigots have started fretting about the possibility of declining property values.  Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a leads my mind far away from what is really happening in that verse in the Fourth Gospel.  The unfortunate wording in The Message makes me think of White upper-class bigots bemoaning,

“There goes the neighborhood!”

Furthermore, Peterson’s translation of John 1:14a functions as another example of my main criticism of that version:  It commits the sin of being kitschy.  No Biblical translation should be kitschy.

I have decided to read Helen Barrett Montgomery’s Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924).  She had the Word pitching a tent, consistent with the meaning of the Greek text.  I like the vibe of her translation.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HANS SCHOLL, SOPHIE SCHOLL, AND CHRISTOPH PROBST, ANTI-NAZI MARTYRS AT MUNICH, GERMANY, 1943

THE FEAST OF BERNHARDT SEVERIN INGEMANN, DANISH LUTHERAN AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HOPPER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGARET OF CORTONA, PENITENT AND FOUNDRESS OF THE POOR ONES

THE FEAST OF SAINT PRAETEXTATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ROUEN

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The Death of Simon, the Accession of John Hyrcanus I, and the Rest of the Story   1 comment

Above:  Judea Under the Hasmoneans

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXXI

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1 Maccabees 16:11-24

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THE DEATH OF SIMON AND THE ACCESSION OF JOHN HYRCANUS I

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Above:  John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

The First Book of the Maccabees is primarily the story of the leadership of Mattathias and three of his five sons:  Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan, and Simon.

The Hasmonean Dynasty was not immune to the darker side of human nature.  Simon had appointed his son-in-law Ptolemeus son of Abubus the commander of the plain of Jericho.  Ptolemeus, greedy for wealth and power, plotted to kill Simon and Simon’s sons Mattathias and Judas, drunk, at a banquet.  Ptolemeus killed those men, but he did not succeed Simon.  Ptolemeus did notify King Antiochus VII Sidetes and request assistance in a coup d’état.  Ptolemeus also sent men to execute John Hyrcanus I and seize control of Jerusalem.  John Hyrcanus I, warned, escaped, had the would-be-executioners killed, and succeeded his father as the High Priest.

Shortly after John Hyrcanus I died in 104 B.C.E., the anonymous author of 1 Maccabees wrote.  The work ended as it began:  stife and infighting.  1 Maccabees, a riveting story (and a good read, especially in The Revised English Bible, 1989), is a cautionary tale.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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THE REST OF THE STORY

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For the full version of the rest of the story, consult Flavius Josephus, O reader.

John Hyrcanus I conquered Moab and Samaria.  He also ordered the destruction of the temple at Gerazim.  He died of natural causes.

Above:  Aristobolus I

Image in the Public Domain

Aristobolus I (reigned 104-103 B.C.E.) succeeded his father and assumed the title of king.  King Aristobolus I had his brother and mother killed.

Above:  Alexander Jannaeus

Image in the Public Domain

Alexander Jannaeus (reigned 103-76 B.C.E.), another son of John Hyrcanus I, succeeded Aristobolus as the High Priest and the king.  Alexander Jannaeus married Salome Alexandra.  During his reign, strife between Pharisees and Sadducees divided the kingdom.

Above:  Salome Alexandra

Image in the Public Domain

Salome Alexandra (reigned 76-67 B.C.E.) succeeded as the queen.  During these years, Hyrcanus II, son of Alexander Jannaeus and Alexandra, served as the High Priest.

Above:  Hyrcanus II

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Hyrcanus II briefly reigned as king (67 B.C.E.) after the death of Salome Alexandra.

Above:  Aristobolus II

Image in the Public Domain

Aristooolus II (reigned 67-33 B.C.E.) had struggled with his brother Hyrcanus II for years.  The two brothers continued their struggle, transformed into a civil war, after Aristobolus took over.  The Roman Republic intervened in the civil war, first on the side of Aristobolus II.  Then the Romans deposed Aristobolus II and removed him to Rome in 63 B.C.E.  Roman General Pompey installed Hyrcanus II as the High Priest.  Yet the real ruler of Judea, was minister Antipater, who worked for the Roman Republic.  Judean independence had ended.

Rebellions ensued.  Hyrcanus II and Antipater worked for the Roman Republic.  Julius Caesar appointed Hyrcanus II an ethnarch (47-41 B.C.E.).  Antipater died of poisoning in 43 B.C.E.

Above:  Antigonus II Mattathias

Image in the Public Domain

Herod the Great, son of Antipater, entered the picture.  Herod and his brother Phasael served as Roman tetrarchs in 41-40 B.C.E. Then the Parthians installed Antigonus II Mattathias, brother of Hyrcanus II, as the Judean king and the High Priest.  Phasael committed suicide.  Herod fled to Rome.  High Priest Hyrcanus II became a mutilated (no ears) captive in the Parthian Empire.  The struggle between Herod the Great and Antigonus II Mattathias ended in 37 B.C.E.  Herod reigned as a Roman client king until he died in 4 B.C.E.

Above:  Mariamne I

Image in the Public Domain

Herod the Great married into the Hasmonean Dynasty, merging that family with his.  He married Mariamne I, granddaughter of Aristobolus II and Hyrcanus II, in 37 B.C.E.  Then Herod the great began to execute Hasmoneans:

  1. High Priest Aristobolus III (d. 35 B.C.E.)
  2. Hyrcanus II (d. 30 B.C.E.)
  3. Mariamne I (d. 29 B.C.E.)
  4. Alexandra, mother of Mariamne I (d. 28 B.C.E.)
  5. Alexander, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne I (d. 7 B.C.E.)
  6. Aristobolus, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne I (d. 7 B.C.E.)

Consider the account of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18), O reader.  It is consistent with the character of Herod the Great.

Herod the Great, at the end of his life, had terminated the male line of the Hasmonean Dynasty.  Yet the Hasmonean genetic heritage continued.  The three daughters of Herod the Great and Mariamne continued to live.  Furthermore, Aristobolus, the strangled son of Herod the Great and Mariamne I, had a daughter, Herodias.  She had a daughters, Salome.  Herodias persuaded Salome to request the head of St. John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12).  Herod Agrippa I was a client king of the Roman Empire from 37 to 44 B.C.E.  He persecuted Christians, and died in Acts 12:22-23.  His son, Herod Agrippa II, ruled as a Roman client king (50-100 B.C.E.).  He died childless.  With him the Herodian Dynasty ended.

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EVALUATION

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So, as we–you, O reader, and I–stand at the end of this series and ponder the Hasmoneans and their legacy, we ask, what was their legacy?  Robert Doran’s answer may prove useful.

…the author also acknowledges that the Maccabees had been the family through whom God had wrought deliverance in Israel.  He emphasizes that God does act faithfully to the people if they attempt to follow God’s commandments.  Torah faithfulness, a longing to serve God at the Temple and at the place God has chosen, vibrates throughout [1 Maccabees].  One may question whether today one should follow the same war tactics as Judas and his brothers did; one may be dismayed at the open acceptance of ethnic cleansing as a means to follow God’s commandments.  But one cannot question whether the Maccabees fought according to their own convictions to keep alive the worship of the God of Israel.  For that, their name will be remembered.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), 178

Doran wrote at the end of 1 Maccabees, when, as he put it:

The heady days of the opening revolt against the Seleucids have been replaced by Hasmonean institutionalization.

–178

Hasmonean institutionalization watered the seeds of destruction the sons of the old priest Mattathias had planted.  Good intentions paved the road to hell.  And Herod the Great brought down the final curtain upon the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the First, Second, and Fourth Books of the Maccabees.  It has been an intellectually and spiritually rewarding project for me.  (There is seldom a line separating the spiritual and the intellectual for me, actually.)  I pray that this reading project has had a similar benefit for you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIPP MENANCTHON, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND SCRIBE OF THE REFORMATION

THE FEAST OF CHARLES TODD QUINTARD, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF TENNESSEE

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FREDERICK MARTIN, SR., AND CHARLES AUGUSTUS ZOEBISCH, GERMAN-AMERICAN INSTRUMENT MAKERS

THE FEAST OF LOUIS (LEWIS) F. KAMPMANN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX BISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

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A Dangerous Game, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Antiochus VII Sidetes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXX

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1 Maccabees 15:1-16:10

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Demetrius II Nicator (Reigned 145-139/138  and 129/128-125 B.C.E.)

Antiochus VII Sidetes (Reigned 139/138-129/128 B.C.E.)

Trypho (Reigned 142-138 B.C.E.)

Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Physycon (Reigned 145-116 B.C.E.)

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King Antiochus VII Sidetes was a son of King Demetrius I Soter (reigned 162-150 B.C.E.) and a brother of King Demetrius II Nicator.  King Antiochus VII Sidetes’s reference to “certain rebels” (15:3) meant King, Alexander Balas (sometimes spelled Balus), King Trypho, and King Antiochus VI Epiphanes.  King Antiochus VII Sidetes wanted to assert his claim to his kingdom, minus Judea.  King Trypho fled, and King Antiochus VII Sidetes settled into power.  Eventually, his forces captured and executed King Trypho.

Meanwhile, the Roman treaty (1 Maccabees 8 and 14) kicked in.  The Roman Republic warned King Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II Physycon of Egypt not to give sanctuary to enemies of the Jewish nation.

On the other hand, King Antiochus VII Sidetes became hostile toward Simon and rescinded the positive news of 15:3-9.  Once again, a Seleucid king double-crossed the Jews and their leader.  King Antiochus VII Sidetes demanded that Simon return “Seleucid” cities and the Jerusalem citadel Jewish forces were allegedly occupying.  Simon refused.  John Hyrcanus I led Hasmonean soldiers into victorious forces against a Seleucid army.

Judea remained vulnerable to its more powerful neighbors.  Judea, stuck between the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Empires, needed the Roman alliance.  The Roman Republic gained a foothold in the Near East.  In the short and medium terms, the Roman alliance benefited both Judea and the Roman Republic.  Yet that alliance opened the door for the Roman Republic to annex Judea in 63 B.C.E.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIPP MENANCTHON, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND SCRIBE OF THE REFORMATION

THE FEAST OF CHARLES TODD QUINTARD, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF TENNESSEE

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FREDERICK MARTIN, SR., AND CHARLES AUGUSTUS ZOEBISCH, GERMAN-AMERICAN INSTRUMENT MAKERS

THE FEAST OF LOUIS (LEWIS) F. KAMPMANN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX BISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

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Judean Independence, International Diplomacy, and the Capture of King Demetrius II Nicator   5 comments

Above:  Palestine Under the Hasmoneans

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXIX

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1 Maccabees 13:31-14:29

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Demetrius II Nicator (Reigned 145-139/138  and 129/128-125 B.C.E.)

Antiochus VI Epiphanes (Reigned 145-142 B.C.E.)

Trypho (Reigned 142-138 B.C.E.)

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In the year 170, Israel was released from the gentile yoke; the people began to write on their contracts and agreements:  “In the first year of Simon, the great high priest, general, and leader of the Jews.”

–1 Maccabees 13:41-42, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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On our calendar, that year was 142 B.C.E., O reader.  Thus, Judea became an independent country when King Demetrius II Nicator granted that status.  Independence had been a long time coming; the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 587/586 B.C.E.

1 Maccabees 13:53 is the first mention of John Hyrcanus I (High Priest and Jewish leader, 134-104 B.C.E.), son of Simon.  

The first reign of King Demetrius II Nicator ended with his capture in the Parthian Empire in 139/138 B.C.E.  Upon his release in 129/128 B.C.E, King Demetrius II Nicator began his second reign.  That ended via his murder in 125 B.C.E.  King Antiochus VII Sidetes (reigned 139/138-129/128 B.C.E.) ruled in the interim period.

1 Maccabees 14 depicts Simon as a capable and just ruler who gave his people peace, stability, and economic justice.  Not surprisingly, praise of Simon also includes that he

fulfilled the demands of the law [of Moses]….

–14b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Simon renewed alliances with Sparta and the Roman Republic, too.

How just did the Gentiles of Gazara consider their expulsion to be (1 Maccabees 13:43-48)?  Simon did not kill them or have them executed, at least.  Yet forced relocation has long been devastating to populations.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIPP MENANCTHON, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND SCRIBE OF THE REFORMATION

THE FEAST OF CHARLES TODD QUINTARD, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF TENNESSEE

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FREDERICK MARTIN, SR., AND CHARLES AUGUSTUS ZOEBISCH, GERMAN-AMERICAN INSTRUMENT MAKERS

THE FEAST OF LOUIS (LEWIS) F. KAMPMANN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX BISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

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A Dangerous Game, Part III: The Capture and Death of Jonathan   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of Trypho

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXVIII

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1 Maccabees 12:1-13:30

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Demetrius II Nicator (Reigned 145-139/138  and 129/128-125 B.C.E.)

Antiochus VI Epiphanes (Reigned 145-142 B.C.E.)

Trypho (Reigned 142-138 B.C.E.)

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Geopolitics are essential to understanding the diplomatic maneuvering in 1 Maccabees.  Know then, O reader, that the Roman Republic’s defeat of the Achean League in 146 B.C.E. increased the prominence of Sparta in Greece.  Recall also, O reader, the Roman treaty (from 160 B.C.E.), contained in 1 Maccabees 8.

In 144 B.C.E., the Roman treaty remained just a piece of parchment.  Jonathan, realizing how precarious his position (and that of the Jewish nation) was, renewed the alliance with the Roman Republic and established an alliance with Sparta.  With the forces loyal to King Demetrius II Soter continuing to threaten the Jewish nation, alliances and Jonathan’s military acumen were essential.  Yet Jonathan was not invincible.  He also had a serious lapse in judgment.  Trypho, the power behind King Antiochus VI Epiphanes, captured Jonathan in 143 B.C.E.  The Jewish nation’s crisis deepened.

Simon, the sole surviving son of Mattathias, became the Jewish leader and the High Priest in 143 B.C.E.  Trypho failed to capture Jerusalem.  He succeeded in having Jonathan executed, though.

The Hasmonean cause was greater than one leader.  Three leaders had fallen.  The fourth leader carried the fight forward.

Jonathan was greedy for power.  His ambition brought about his downfall and placed his nation at risk.  Yet he did much to improve the position of his people relative to the powers around them.

Great (not as in wonderful, but in the historical sense of “greatness”) leaders frequently contain such duality.  One, looking back with historical perspective, must decide whether a particular leader’s faults or virtues dominate his or her legacy.  Tyrants and would-be dictators may have mixed legacies.  If one is honest, one must admit that they accomplished some good.  Yet the negative outweighs the positive.  Likewise, leaders not on the spectrum of tyranny may have mostly positive legacies with prominent moral stains.

Honesty and the recognition of objective reality are the way forward in evaluating leaders.

The attitude of the anonymous author of 1 Maccabees is evident.  Jonathan’s name is conspicuously absent from the list of the sons of Mattathias in 2:65-66.  There is a hymn of praise for Judas Maccabeus (3:3-9).  There is also a hymn of praise for Simon (14:4-15).  Yet there is no hymn of praise for Jonathan.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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A Dangerous Game, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of Demetrius II Nicator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXVII

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1 Maccabees 11:1-74

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Alexander Epiphanes (Balas) (Reigned 150-145 B.C.E.)

Ptolemy VI Philometor (Reigned 180-145 B.C.E.)

Demetrius II Nicator (Reigned 145-139/138  and 129/128-125 B.C.E.)

Antiochus VI Epiphanes (Reigned 145-142 B.C.E.)

Trypho (Reigned 142-138 B.C.E.)

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King Alexander Balas (sometimes spelled Balus), son-in-law of King Ptolemy VI Philometor of the Ptolemaic Empire, found himself stuck between King Ptolemy VI Philometor and King Demetrius II Nicator.  King Ptolemy VI Philometor was reasserting the traditional Egyptian control of Judea, in the borderlands with the Seleucid Empire.  Jonathan, as the High Priest and the leader of Judean Jews, was in the middle, geographically, metaphorically, and politically.  With the deaths of King Alexander Balas and King Ptolemy VI Philometor, Jonathan had to deal with King Demetrius II Nicator after 145 B.C.E.  The High Priest also had to contend with Jewish renegades.

Jonathan, a former ally of Alexander Balas, joined the ranks of the Friends of King Demetrius II Nicator.  The new Seleucid monarch was an adolescent.  He had the title, but one Lasthenes (named in 11:32) was the power behind the throne.  Jonathan got a sweet deal:  three more districts added to his territory, plus taxes (formerly paid to King Demetrius II Nicator) paid instead to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Yet the Seleucid Empire remained politically unstable.  Lasthenes and King Demetrius II Nicator faced another challenge.  Trypho was a former partisan of King Alexander Balas.  Trypho exploited widespread discontent in military ranks to prop up King Alexander VI Epiphanes, son of Alexander Balas.  This political instability affected Jonathan and the Jewish people, of course.

Jonathan’s forces rescued the young King Demetrius II Nicator in Antioch, the royal capital city.  The monarch–or rather–Lasthenes, more likely–reneged on the promises to Jonathan.  The High Priest, therefore, transferred his loyalty to the young King Antiochus VI.  So did many soldiers of the Seleucid Empire.

King Antiochus VI Epiphanes–or Trypho, rather–lavished privileges upon Jonathan and confirmed his appointment as the High Priest.  Yet King Demetrius II Nicator and Lasthenes were still active.  And they were working to frustrate Jonathan’s plans.

Jonathan, a shrewd political operator, was also pious.  After he prayed (11:71), his forces won a battle they had been losing.  The anonymous author of 1 Maccabees attributed that victory to God.  That author had Joshua 7:6-9 in mind.  Jonathan came across like Joshua son of Nun.

Jonathan took hostages in 11:62. He acted as Bacchides had done.  The High Priest also paid a moral price for functioning as a Seleucid lackey.  Nevertheless, he was stuck between competing claimants to the Seleucid throne.  (Let us never forget that, O reader.)  Jonathan contended with a quandary many leaders have faced:  How dirty must one get to commit the most good?  And how dirty can one get before one is just dirty and too far gone?  How many compromises are too many compromises?  And which compromises must one never make?

I detect another disturbing motif in 1 Maccabees, especially in Chapter 11:  older men were manipulating minors, claimants to the throne.  This theme also occurred in the cases of Lysias and King Antiochus V Eupator (1 Maccabees 5:1-68; 1 Maccabees 6:17-63; 1 Maccabees 7:1-25; 2 Maccabees 10:10-13:26; and 2 Maccabees 14:1-14).  These older men, manipulating minors, acted in the names of their wards.  But did those boys and young men ever stand a chance, given that they were pawns?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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A Dangerous Game, Part I   2 comments

Above:  Coin of Alexander Balas

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXVI

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1 Maccabees 10:1-89

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

Alexander Epiphanes (Balas) (Reigned 150-145 B.C.E.)

Ptolemy VI Philometor (Reigned 180-145 B.C.E.)

Demetrius II Nicator (Reigned 145-139/138  and 129/128-125 B.C.E.)

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As the Biblical texts and historical records established, and as I have written in this series, the Seleucid Empire became politically unstable during the time of the Hasmonean Rebellion.  There were years of relative stability, though.

Then, in 152 B.C.E. (160 on the Seleucid/Hellenistic calendar), Alexander Epiphanes (Balas; sometimes spelled Balus) landed and established himself as a claimant to the throne King Demetrius I Soter occupied.  Alexander claimed to be a son of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164/163 B.C.E.) and a brother of King Antiochus V Eupator (reigned 164/163 B.C.E.).  King Demetrius I Soter and Alexander Balas competed in a bidding war, with Jonathan as the central figure. 

  1. King Demetrius I Soter declared the Hasmonean leader an ally, authorized the release of hostages in the Jerusalem citadel, and gave him the authority to raise an army.
  2. Alexander Balas, in turn, appointed Jonathan the High Priest and made him a Friend of the King.  Jonathan began his duties at the High Priest in 152 B.C.E.
  3. Then King Demetrius I Soter exempted Jews from paying tribute and other taxes, vowed to free all Jewish prisoners of war, and granted the High Priest (not specifically named as Jonathan) authority over the citadel in Jerusalem.  King Demetrius I Soter also recognized Jerusalem as a holy city, vowed to subsidize the Temple, and promised funds for rebuilding Jerusalem.
  4. Jonathan supported Alexander Balas.

Father Daniel J. Harrington, S. J., writing in The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), suggested that King Demetrius I Soter’s counter-offer may have been an attempt to lure Jews away from Jonathan with promises too good to be true.

Meanwhile, the armies of King Demetrius I Soter and Alexander Balas fought each other.  Alexander Balas defeated and killed King Demetrius I Soter in combat in 150 B.C.E.

Next, King Alexander Balas cemented an alliance with the Ptolemaic Empire.  In 150 B.C.E., he married Cleopatra Thea, daughter of King Ptolemy VI Philometor.  Jonathan attended the wedding ceremony, met both monarchs, and won their favor.  Jonathan, enrolled in the highest rank of Friends of the King, became a general and a governor, serving under King Alexander Balas.

Meanwhile, the future King Demetrius II Nicator, son of King Demetrius I Soter, began a rebellion against King Alexander Balas in 147 B.C.E. (165 on the Seleucid/Hellenistic calendar).  Jonathan answered a challenge to lead his army into combat against seemingly overwhelming odds.  Apollonius, the governor of Coele-Syria (thereby Jonathan’s superior)  and an ally of Demetrius II Nicator, came to regret having issued that challenge.  The Hasmonean army triumphed.  That army also showed no mercy to certain villages, burned a pagan temple, and killed 8,000 people.  King Alexander Balas, impressed, granted Jonathan Ekron and the environs.  The monarch also promoted Jonathan to the rank of the King’s Kinsman.

Robert Doran, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), noted that Jonathan played both ends against the middle, and thereby played a dangerous game.  Doran also asked what role moral issues should play in international politics.  Furthermore, Doran wrote:

Thinking only of one’s own national gain in such circumstances as Jonathan found himself in can bring short-term benefits, but long-term loss.  When one of the parties wins control, then the victor may not look so kindly on promises extracted under duress.

–131

History books tell me that King Demetrius II Nicator defeated King Alexander Balas in 145 B.C.E.  Oops!

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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Jonathan, Successor of Judas Maccabeus   4 comments

Above:  Jonathan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXV

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1 Maccabees 9:23-73

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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Jonathan, son of Mattathias and brother of Judas Maccabeus, led the Hasmonean Rebellion, starting in 160 B.C.E.

His story will occupy blog posts in this series through 1 Maccabees 13:30.

Times were perilous.  Bacchides, as governor, was victorious.  The Hasmoneans were on the run.  A severe famine affected the land.  After the abduction and murder of a brother (John Gaddi), Jonathan led a raid and avenged John Gaddi’s death.  And again (see 1 Maccabees 2:29-41), Hasmoneans had to defend themselves on a Sabbath (1 Maccabees 9:43f).  In the Seleucid/Hellenstic year 153 (159 B.C.E.), Alcimus died in agony (1 Maccabees 9:54-57).  The theme of retribution, prominent in 2 Maccabees (see 4:38, 5:8-10, 13:3-8, and 15:28-36), played out in 1 Maccabees, too.

While Jonathan and his brother Simon worked together to rebuild fortifications, Bacchides continued to fight back.  Yet the Hasmoneans were regaining momentum.  Bacchides returned his prisoners of war and left Judea.

Taking up residence in Michmash, Jonathan began to govern the people and root the apostates out of Israel.

–1 Maccabees 9:73, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Nevertheless, King Demetrius I Soter remained on the Seleucid throne, at least for a little while longer.  The Hasmonean Rebellion had not ended.

In purely human terms, Seleucid efforts against Jonathan failed because of the lack of effective Seleucid leadership.  Conversely, Jonathan succeeded against the odds because, in part, he offered effective leadership.  Also, Jonathan won enough popular support for the Hasmonean Rebellion.  Well-armed military forces have failed throughout the past to control sufficiently mobilized populations.  Populations that have made themselves ungovernable have triumphed over those–not always foreigners–who would govern them.

The anonymous author of 1 Maccabees added another point:  God was on the side of the Hasmoneans.  God may have been on their side.  Assuming that was true, that point did not nullify or contradict my points in the previous paragraph.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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The Death of Judas Maccabeus   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of Judas Maccabeus

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXIV

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1 Maccabees 9:1-22

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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Back in 1 Maccabees 7 and 2 Maccabees 15, Nicanor (one of the Nicanors, anyway) died in combat against Hasmonean forces under the command of Judas Maccabeus.  Nicanor’s severed head hung from the citadel of Jeusalem, and his severed tongue became food for birds.

Seleucid King Demetrius I Soter reacted to that news about as well as you, O reader, may have guessed.  He sent governor Bacchides and High Priest Alcimus into action again in the Seleucid/Hellenistic year 152 (160 B.C.E.)  The war between the Hasmoneans and the Seleucid Empire continued.  The overwhelming numbers of the Seleucid army inspired fear in Hasmonean ranks.  Judas Maccabeus’s relatively small army became smaller via desertion.

Judas Maccabeus remembered what you, O reader, may also recall:  the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare earlier in the narrative.  That was then.  Judas Maccabeus died in combat.

The Hasmonean Rebellion continued, however.

1 Maccabees 9:21 reads:

How is our champion fallen,

the saviour of Israel.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

This draws from two other verses.  One is 2 Samuel 1:25a, part of David’s lament for the Jonathan and King Saul:

How are the warriors fallen on the field of battle!

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The other verse is Judges 3:9:

Then the Israelites cried to the LORD for help, and to deliver them he raised up Othniel son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, and he set them free.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

Robert Doran, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), asked a germane question:

What had Judas actually accomplished?

-111

Seleucid forces controlled Jerusalem.  Furthermore, Judas Maccabeus had died as a guerrilla seeking to avoid capture.  He died a failure.  So did King Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-13; 1 Chronicles 10:1-10), who perished while fighting to liberate the Hebrews from Philistine oppression.

Doran proposed that Judas Maccabeus became a hero postmortem because his family eventually won the struggle and founded a dynasty:

Judas’s was a movement that could not fail, for it depended not on him alone but on the vision that his father had sparked in many minds.

–Robert Doran, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), 111

Jonathan, brother of Judas Maccabeus, took on the mantle of leadership and continued the struggle.  In contrast, David, rival of King Saul, eventually won freedom for his people from Philistine oppression.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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