Archive for the ‘1-2 Enoch’ Category

“For He Must Reign.”   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XIV

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Revelation 20:1-15

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TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

In Revelation, 1000 symbolizes a large, uncountable quantity.

Interpretations of the millennium vary.

  1. Premillennialism flourishes during unsettled, difficult times, such as 1914f.
  2. Postmillennialism is more popular during good, relatively peaceful times.  My great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), was a minister in the old Methodist Episcopal Church, South (extant 1845-1939), then Methodist Church (extant 1939-1968).  He came of age during La Belle Epoque, which World War I terminated.  My great-grandfather was a Postmillennialist.
  3. Amillennialism interprets the millennium allegorically, understanding “1000” to be symbolic in Revelation 20.
  4. John Nelson Darby’s Dispensationalism, one of the pillars of C. I. Scofield’s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” is rank heresy, as is fundamentalism.  The rapture is absent from historic Christianity.  The rapture also entails two Second Comings of Jesus.  Would not the second Second Coming be the Third Coming?

I am an Amillennialist.  The only number in Revelation I take literally in Revelation occurs in the first three chapters; I count messages to seven (more than six and fewer than eight) congregations.  After chapter 3, all numbers are symbolic, and seven indicates perfection.   Anyhow, Amillennialism holds that the present time is the “Millennium.”  One may notice that the “Millennium” has been in progress for longer than 1000 years.

In Revelation 20, God, having temporarily subdued evil, finally vanquishes it.  In the meantime, the martyrs reign.

Revelation 20 refers to the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine unambiguously present in Judaism since at least the first century B.C.E. (Daniel 12).  This doctrine, imported from Zoroastrianism, exists in other ancient Jewish and Christian texts, both canonical and otherwise.  Examples include:

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:50;
  2. 2 Baruch 49-51;
  3. 1 Enoch 5:1; 61:5; 62:15-16; and
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 7:32.

Revelation 20 is both similar to and different from certain Pseudepigraphal texts.  The Messiah, sitting on the throne, judges in 1 Enoch 45:3; 69:27-29; and 2 Baruch 72:2-6.  Yet God sits on the throne and judges in Revelation 20:13.

SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

I have always been religiously calm.  The fires of revivalism have never appealed to me.  No, I have immersed myself in scripture, ecclesiastical tradition, proper liturgy, and intellectualism.  The Presbyterian motto,

decently and in order,

is “my song,” so to speak.  (Yet I have defined “order” to include The Book of Common Prayer.)  My dominant spiritual path has been that of intellectual discipleship–Thomism.  I have always been “cool,” not “hot,” in particular connotations of these words.  I have frequently been an outlier, relative to religious subcultures around me.

I am a product of my personality and milieu.  My experiences shape me, but do does a path that fits me naturally.  I hope you, O reader, interpret what follows in the manner in which I intend it:

I know too much to hold certain beliefs.  Also, certain experiences turn me off from some doctrines.

Regarding details of divine judgment and mercy, as well as the divine conquest of evil (the sooner the better, I say), I assert that these reside entirely within the purview of God.  I am content to leave them there.

I stand within Western Christianity.  I also critique my tradition.  One of the characteristics of Western Christianity that frustrates me is the tendency to explain too much.  I prefer the Eastern Christian practice of leaving mysteries mysterious.  God is in charge.  I can relax about many matters, given this.  God knows x, y, and z; that much suffices.  God has done a, b, and c.  So be it.  Why should I want to explain how God did it?

As I age, this intellectual is turning into something of a mystic.  Life is replete with surprises.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF NORTH AMERICA, 1642-1649

THE FEAST OF CLAUDIA FRANCES IBOTSON HERNAMAN, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JERZY POPIELUSZKO, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1984

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAUL OF THE CROSS, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF DISCALED CLERKS OF THE MOST HOLY CROSS AND PASSION

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The Woman, the Red Dragon, and the Two Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of the Dragon, by Evelyn de Morgan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) was notorious.  He persecuted Jews and became the chief boogeyman of First, Second, and Fourth Maccabees.  The Daniel apocalypse (chapters 7-12), composed in the first century B.C.E., referred to him.  Revelation added more references to le roi terrible.  For example, the three and a half years (forty-two months) before the fall of “Babylon” (Rome) called back to the time King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews.

Revelation 12 and 13 unfold during those symbolic forty-two months.  The vivid accounts, replete with symbolism drawn from regional mythology, the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, 1 and 2 Enoch, and 2 Baruch, among other sources.  For example, the following sources are germane to Revelation 12-15:

  1. 1 Enoch 40:7; 54:6
  2. 2 Enoch 7; 18; 29:5
  3. The Ascension of Isaiah 7:9; 10:29
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 6:49-42; 12:22-25
  5. The Sybilline Oracles 4:119-127, 137-139; and
  6. 2 Baruch 29:4.

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

Revelation 12:7-9 reflects a relatively late development in the theology of Satan.  Careful study of the evolution of Jewish and Christian theology reveals that, until the Persian period, “the Satan”–“the Adversary”–worked for God, usually as a loyalty tester.  Satan as a free agent is an idea imported from Zoroastrianism, in which Ahriman is the chief evil force, and the opposite number of Ahura-Mazda.  One may conclude that Jewish and Christian theology finally arrived at the correct theology of Satan.  Regardless of what one decides regarding this theological matter, the historical record remains objectively accurate and not subject to dispute.

HIGH TREASON

If the Roman censors had understood Revelation, they would have correctly identified chapters 12-15 as treasonous.  The woman (12:1-6), resembling the goddess Isis, is the Church.  The great, red dragon, with dominion in the known world, is Satan.  The dragon pursues the woman, but she survives.  The Archangel Michael defeats the dragon in Heaven and casts him down to the Earth.  That is bad news for the Earth.  Horns represented power.  Ten horns represented complete power.  So, in Revelation 13, the beast rising out of the sea had complete power.  The horns were Emperors of Rome.

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

One emperor–Nero (d. 68)–received special attention in 13:3.  He had supposedly not died–not really.  He would supposedly return to life and lead an army out of Parthia and ravage the Roman Empire.  Nero was the original figure of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13 labels the Roman Empire a force of evil.  When civil authority becomes an expression of evil, the only proper Christian response, in Revelation, is to disobey it and to obey God.

666

The number “666” is symbolic.  Seven is the number of perfection.  Six, therefore, is less than perfect; it represents evil.  “666” represents ultimate evil.  “666” is, as Donald Richardson said:

godless political power allied with godless religion.

–Quoted in Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 75

Stoffel offered:

There is also a warning here for Christians and for any who would speak in the name of God.  Any church or religion that allows itself to overlook injustice may have the number of the beast.  This speaks to me as an individual Christian.  In order to prosper I might be tempted to condone or overlook injustice, and so be wearing the “number” myself.

–76

We read in Revelation 14 that all who followed God in Christ will find redemption and that all who worshiped the Roman Empire and its value system will find damnation.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Those damnable values include exploitation and militarism.  These have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Revelation 15 includes praise of God.  The chapter concludes by setting up the next few chapters with seven bowls of judgment.

What are our contemporary Roman Empires?  To what extend to we buy into their erroneous value systems?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 24:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BIRGITTE KATERINE BOYE, DANISH LUTHERAN POET, PLAYWRIGHT, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BOWRING, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MCSORLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, PROFESSOR, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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The Sounding of the Seven Trumpets   Leave a comment

Above:  The Locusts of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XI

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Revelation 8:1-11:9

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Symbolism is going full-throttle in Revelation 8-11.  I choose not to decode every symbol, but do opt to make some textual and historical sense of these chapters.

THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS

Revelation 8:1-6 depicts the opening of the seventh seal, which sets the stage for the sounding of the seven trumpets.

The first four trumpets round out Revelation 8.  The natural disasters–depicted as divine judgment–relate to human sins.  Actions have consequences.

Let us be careful, O reader.  May we not blame victims.  Those who live in Kansas will have to deal with tornadoes because tornadoes occur in Kansas.  Hurricanes and tropical storms strike the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  Earthquakes occur at fault lines.  Some events occur for natural reasons.  But sometimes collective human actions make matters worse.  Industrial pollution of a certain variety leads to acid rain.  Global warming/climate change makes weather more extreme, and severe storms more frequent.  Actions have consequences.

Revelation 8:8-9 contains echoes of Exodus 7:14-25, 1 Enoch, and the Sybilline Oracles.  In 1 Enoch 18:13, seven stars like great, burning mountains fall into the sea.  These are fallen angels (1 Enoch 21:3-10).  The Sybilline Oracles refer to stars (swords, figuratively) that will fall into the sea (3:672-684), as well as to a great star that will fall into the sea (5:158-161).  The great star will destroy Rome and Italy for Roman persecution of Jews.  In Revelation 8:8-9, the burning mountain represents a fallen angel expelled from Heaven to wreak destruction on the world.

THE DEMONIC LOCUSTS

The demonic locusts (Revelation 9;1-12) represent the Roman Empire, historically.  Echoes of the plagues on Egypt continue.  One may also detect allusions to Joel 1 and 2.

Revelation 9:1 depicts evil as functioning in the service of divine will.  This is not evil’s intention.  Yet the sovereignty of God makes evil work for good.

Members of each generation may identify contemporary demonic locusts.  Locusts come and go; the motif repeats.

ROMAN IMPERIAL PERSECUTION

The historical reference in Revelation 9:13-21 is the Roman Empire, persecuting Christians.  Recall, O reader, that “Babylon” is code for Rome in Revelation.  Again, the motif repeats with variations in the evil power of the time.

Also, the failure to learn lessons that history should have made abundantly clear is, depressingly, predictable.  Never underestimate human obliviousness, O reader.

EATING THE SCROLL OF DOOM

John of Patmos eating the scroll of doom ought to remind a serious student of the Bible of Ezekiel 1-3.

Revelation 10:1-11 contains many allusions to the Hebrew Bible.

SYMBOLISM AND NUMEROLOGY

Symbolism and numerology drench Revelation 11:1-14.  Imagine, O reader, being a Roman censor reading these verses.  You would experience confusion.  Cracking the code requires understanding parts of the Hebrew Bible.  Having a grasp of 1 Enoch 61:1-5 also helps.  In that text, angels with cords measure the righteous and the faithful, for protection against spiritual dangers.

Without getting lost in the proverbial weeds (easy to do), the time God will permit the Roman Empire to continue to rule will be like the time Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews (Daniel 9:27; 12:7).  Three and a half years–forty-two months–is a mystical and symbolic timeframe.  Emperor Domitian is like King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Revelation says.  Evil’s days of governing are numbered.

The Church will outlive its oppressors.  The Church–the seemingly dead two witnesses–will triumph.  God will destroy the oppressive powers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALBERT E. R. BRAUER, AUSTRALIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTINE THEVARPARAMPIL, INDIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND “GOOD SHEPHERD OF THE DALITS”

THE FEAST OF GASPAR CONTARINI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CARDINGAL AND AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT HEDWIG OF ANDECHS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRINCESS AND NUN; AND HER DAUGHTER, SAINT GERTRUDE OF TRZEBNICA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOZEF JANKOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941

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The Opening of the Seven Seals   Leave a comment

Above:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART X

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Revelation 6:1-7:17

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Without getting lost in the tall weeds of symbolism and numerology, one can consult books that explain the historical background and theological significance of Revelation 6:1-7:17.

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

We begin with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They are, in order:

  1. Jesus, who rides alone, in opposition to the other three;
  2. War,
  3. Famine, and
  4. Death.

The progression of famine and death makes sense.  War is, after all, one of the leading causes of famine.

Emperor Domitian issued an unpopular edict in 92 C.E.  He forbade the laying of new vineyards in Asia Minor and ordered the conversion of half of the vineyards into agricultural land.  The backlash forced Domitian to rescind this edict.  This incident inspired 6:6:

But do not harm the oil and the wine!

In context, the wage in 6:6 was a starvation wage–the price of wheat was sixteen times what it should have been, and the cost of barley was exorbitant, too.  The level of inflation was consistent with wartime scarcity.  Greed frustrated that artificial scarcity and accompanying famine.

Sadly, war, famine, and death have remained ubiquitous since antiquity.  Human nature has not changed.

THE MARTYRS IN HEAVEN

The question of the martyrs in Heaven (6:9-11) is understandable.  Even in Heaven, they are impatient and not entirely happy.  These are the ones whose bodies became sacrifices on the Earth and whose souls became sacrifices in Heaven.  This scene is similar to some scenes in Pseudepigraphal literature.  The prayers of the persecuted righteous, seeking revenge and justice, ascend to Heaven in 1 Enoch 47:1-2; 99:3; and 104:3.  God will answer these prayers in the affirmative, we read there.

What do you intend to do, you sinners,

whither will you flee on that day of judgment,

when you hear the sound of the prayer of the righteous ones?

–1 Enoch 97:3, translated by E. Isaac

2 Baruch 21:19-25 echoes that theme.  That passage begins:

How long will corruption remain, and until when will the time of mortals be happy, and until when will those who pass away be polluted by the great wickedness in this world?

–21:19, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

That is a fair question.

That passage concludes:

And now, show your glory soon and do not postpone that which was promised by you.

–2:25

Revelation 6:9-11 inspired part of a great hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation,” by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900):

…yet saints their watch are keeping,

their cry goes up, “How long?”

and soon the night of weeping 

shall be the morn of song.

In the meantime, Revelation 6:11 tells us, the martyrdoms will continue.

DIVINE JUDGMENT AND MERCY

Revelation 6:12-17, drawing on images from Hebrew prophets and the Assumption/Testament of Moses 10:4-6, presents a vivid depiction of divine wrath.  Divine deliverance of the oppressed may be catastrophic for the oppressors.  How can it be otherwise?

Part of the good news, in the Assumption/Testament of Moses, is:

Then his kingdom will appear throughout his whole creation.

Then the devil will have an end.

Yea, sorrow will be led away with him.

–10:1, translated by J. Priest

I am getting ahead of the story, though.

THE SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD

Revelation 7:1-8 borrows from Babylonian cosmology, in which the planet was a square, with an angelic watcher of one of the four winds stationed in a corner.  Daniel 7:2-3 also uses this cosmology and describes the winds as destructive agents of God.  This understanding also informs the Syriac Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of Pseudo-John (chapter 5), and the Questions of Bartholomew (4:31-34).

The sealing (for the preservation) of the servants of God (Revelation 7:3) is similar to a scene in 2 Baruch 6:4-8:1.  The sealed do not receive protection from earthly harm and martyrdom.  They do go to God after they die, though.  The number 144,000 is a fine example of numerology.  One may recall that there were 12 tribes of Israel and that 1000 indicated a large, uncountable quantity.  In context, the meaning is that a vast, uncountable throng of Christians from every people and nation must join the ranks of martyrs before the condition of Revelation 6:11 is fulfilled.

That is not encouraging news, is it?  Yet the news that these martyrs are in Heaven does encourage.

Forces of evil have the power to kill bodies.  Then they have corpses.  These forces can do nothing more to harm these martyrs.

The Gospel of John 16:33b depicts Jesus as telling his apostles:

In the world you will have trouble,

but be brave:

I have conquered the world.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those words occur in the context of the night Jesus was about to become a prisoner.

Let that sink in, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

THE FEAST OF GABRIEL RICHARD, FRENCH-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST IN DETROIT, MICHIGAN

THE FEAST OF OBADIAH HOLMES, ENGLISH BAPTIST MNISTER AND CHAMPION OF RELIGIOUS LIBERTY IN NEW ENGLAND

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To the Church in Sardis   Leave a comment

Above:  Gymnasium and Roman Baths, Ancient Sardis

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING REVELATION, PART VI

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Revelation 3:1-6

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Sardis, the former capital of the ancient Kingdom of Lydia, was a center of the imperial cult.  An earthquake had severely damaged the city in 17 C.E., but the empire had invested in the city’s recovery.  This recovery had been rapid.  A temple dedicated to Emperor Tiberius was prominent in Sardis.

The church in Sardis may have been prosperous, but it was spiritually dead.  Yet some of its members were faithful.  They had the metaphorical white robes.

White robes, a prominent motif in Revelation, were an image borrowed from other literature, especially the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.  In 1 Enoch 12:15-16, the righteous and elect ones on the day of judgment wore “garments of glory” that never wore out.  These garments were symbols of immortality and righteousness.  In the Ascension of Isaiah 9:9, the saints, in the seventh heaven, received new garments and were like angels in glory.  2 Baruch 51:5 made a similar point.  In the canon of scripture, the faithful would put on a “second garment” (2 Corinthians 5:4) and put on immortality and imperishability (1 Corinthians 15:53-54).

I have been around a few spiritually dead congregations.  Maybe you, O reader, have been around some, too.

The spiritual death of congregations is sad.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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False Teachers, Part III   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART XII

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Jude

2 Peter 2:1-22

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The second chapter of Second Peter expands on the Epistle of Jude.  Almost all of the points in Jude exist in 2 Peter 2.

One may recognize the thematic relationship of 2 Peter 1 to Jude and 2 Peter 2.  False teachers, evil desires, and spiritually undisciplined lives provide the connective tissue.

We also read another repetition of the Biblical motif that divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In other words, we will reap what we have sown.  Grace is free, not cheap; it mandates a faithful response.  Yes, God imposes mandates.  Freedom is a gift to use properly, not to abuse and misuse.

References to the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha abound in Jude and 2 Peter 2.  I choose to explain the references:

  1. Jude 5 refers to Numbers 14 and 26:64-65.  Apostasy is possible, and carries with it the loss of salvation.
  2. Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4 refer to Genesis 6:1-4.  An elaborate version of the story of the “watchers” exists in 1 Enoch 6-19 (especially chapter 10).
  3. Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 refer to Genesis 19:1-25, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The “unnatural vice” is rape, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and of a person or an angel.  Jude 7 and 2 Peter 2:6-7 present the scenario opposite of Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4, in which angels lusted after human women.
  4. The combination of the preceding two points indicates the grave consequences of violating God’s intended order for creation.
  5. Jude 9, drawing on Exodus 2:11-12, indicates familiarity with the Assumption/Testament of Moses, a text from the first century C.E.  Between one-third and one-half of that text is missing.  The lost portion includes the section depicting St. Michael the Archangel disputing with Satan over the body of Moses and quoting Zechariah 3:2:  “May the Lord rebuke you!”  Even angels do not rebuke Satan in Zechariah 3:2, Jude 9, and the Assumption/Testament of Moses.  The lesson in Jude 9 is that, if we mere mortals revile angels, we sin.
  6. Jude 11 refers to Cain (Genesis 4:8-16), Balaam (Numbers 16:1-25), and Korah (Numbers 31:16).  2 Peter 2:15-16 refers to Balaam and his talking donkey (Numbers 22:28-33).  Rebellion against God leads to punishment and reproof.
  7. 2 Peter 2:5 refers to Genesis 6:17.
  8. Jude 14-15 refers to 1 Enoch 1:9.

These false teachers did more than teach falsehoods; they behaved scandalously at agape meals (Jude 12, 2 Peter 2:13-14).  These false teachers doomed themselves and disrupted faith community.

I approach Jude and 2 Peter 2 from a particular background.  I grew up feeling like the resident heretic.  My heresies were asking “too many” questions, being an intellectual, accepting science and history, harboring Roman Catholic tendencies, and not being a Biblical literalist.  Some in my family regard me as a Hell-bound heretic.  I embrace the label “heretic.”  I even own a t-shirt that reads,

HERETIC.

I approach the label “false teacher” cautiously.  One ought to make accusations with great caution, and based on evidence.  False teachers abound.  I am not shy about naming them and their heresies.  These include the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, Prosperity Theology, and the excesses of Evangelicalism.  The list is long.  The standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are as simple and difficult as the Incarnation, crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus; the Atonement; and the Golden Rule.  Proper love–in mutuality–builds up.  It does not tear people down.  Proper orthodoxy maintains divine standards and is generous, not stingy.  It is loving, not hateful.  And it leads to humility before God and human beings.

I affirm that I am doctrinally correct about some matters and wrong regarding others.  I also affirm that I do not know when I am wrong and when I am right.  The life of Christian discipleship is about trust in God, not about certainty.  The quest for certainty, when faith–trust–in God is called for is an idolatrous and psychologically comforting effort.  Proper Christian confidence–grounded in Christ alone–says:

I may be wrong, but I act as if I am right.  I can neither prove nor disprove this article of faith, but I act as if I am right.

May you, O reader, and I trust in the faithfulness of God.  May we walk humbly with God and live with our fellow human beings in loving, respectful mutuality.  We can do all of the above only via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 30, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT HONORIUS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOANNA P. MOORE, U.S. BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF MARY RAMABAI, PROPHETIC WITNESS AND EVANGELIST IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD CHALLONER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, RELIGIOUS WRITER, TRANSLATOR, CONTROVERSIALIST, PRIEST, AND TITULAR BISHOP OF DOBERUS

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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Restoration and Revelation   Leave a comment

Above:  The Healing of Tobit, by Bernardo Strozzi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART IX

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Tobit 11:7-12:22

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Tobit had the money he needed.  He also had a new daughter-in-law (Sarah) and the restoration of his eyesight.  He did not expect these blessings.  Tobit, being pious, praised God at the top of his voice.  He, prepared to die, had new, better life.  Even Ahikar (1:21-22; 2:10) joined the celebration (11:18).

Tobias, assuming that his guide was a mere mortal, paid “Azarias” handsomely and attributed the success of the journey to him.  “Azarias,” really the archangel Raphael, gave all the credit to God then revealed his identity and departed.  I guess the dog did, too.  If the canine was also an angel in disguise, why not?

Anyway, the last mention of the dog occurs in 11:4.  The dog may indeed be a remnant from folklore.  The author of the Book of Tobit seems to have had little interest in the canine.

According to Judeo-Christian angelology, there are seven archangels (Tobit 12:15; 1 Enoch 20:1-8).  We have the names of all of them:

  1. Raphael (Tobit 3:16-17/18, depending on versification; Tobit 5-4-8:3); Tobit 9:1-6; Tobit 11:1-12:22; 1 Enoch 20:3);
  2. Gabriel (Daniel 8:16; Daniel 9:21; 1 Enoch 20:7; Luke 1:19, 26);
  3. Michael (Daniel 10:13, 21; Daniel 12:1; 1 Enoch 20:5; Jude 9; Revelation 12:7);
  4. Uriel (2 Esdras 4:1; 2 Esdras 5:20; 2 Esdras 10:28);
  5. Raguel (1 Enoch 20:4);
  6. Saraqael (1 Enoch 20:6); and
  7. Suruel (1 Enoch 20:2).

A Greek fragment of 1 Enoch adds another name:  Remiel, perhaps an alternative name for Uriel, and definitely not an alternative name for any of the other six archangels.

In the story, Raphael insisted that he was merely performing God’s bidding, so God deserved all the praise and glory.  The angel, who could not exist apart from God, was an agent of God.

May we also be agents of God, by grace.  And may we glorify God, not ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARUTHAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MAYPHERKAT AND MISSIONARY TO PERSIA

THE FEAST OF AMILIE JULIANE, COUNTESS OF SCHWARZBURG-RUDOLSTADT, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL TAIT, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TO THE FAR EAST

THE FEAST OF SOPHIE KOULOMZIN, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR

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This is post #2400 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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The Vision of the Four Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Vision of the Four Beasts

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART VII

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Daniel 7:1-28

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The section of apocalyptic visions (Chapters 7-12) in the Book of Daniel begins here.

I remind you, O reader, what I have written in previous posts.  The last Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch was Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 B.C.E.).  His son, Crown Prince Belshazzar, served as viceroy and regent (553-543 B.C.E.) while Nabonidus was on the Arabian peninsula for a decade.  Belshazzar was never a king.

Daniel 7 has much in common with Chapter 2.  Two competing lists of the four kingdoms mentioned in the two chapters exist.  One list is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Median Empire of “Darius the Mede;”
  3. the Persian Empire; and
  4. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great.”

According to this list, the blasphemous horn is the notorious King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.).  This identification makes sense to me, for it provides a clue regarding the period of composition.

The competing list is:

  1. the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire;
  2. the Persian Empire;
  3. the Macedonian Empire of Alexander III “the Great;” and
  4. the Roman Empire.

According to this list, the blasphemous horn is the antichrist.

The vision concludes with the descent of 

one like a human being,

or, literally,

one like a son of man.

This was originally a reference to St. Michael the Archangel.

Son of man

has more than one meaning in the Hebrew Bible.  Usually, it means a human being, as in Ezekiel 2:1 and Job 25:6.  The term also means angel, as in Daniel 8:17, a reference to St. Gabriel the Archangel.  The term clearly refers to a heavenly figure in Daniel 7:13.  Christian tradition identifies the heavenly figure as Jesus. 

Son of Man,

in relation to Jesus, is an apocalyptic label in the New Testament.  This association of the label with a future messianic figure also exists in 1 Enoch 46:1 and 48:10, as well as in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 13.

The establishment of the Kingdom of God in its fullness on Earth at the end of the visions of Daniel 2 and 7 expresses hope for a just world.  This is the concept of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Gospel of Matthew.  (See Jonathan Pennington.)  This is the dream that remains unfulfilled thousands of years later.

I have read what many Biblical scholars have written about the Kingdom of God.  I can, for example, quote C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) on Realized Eschatology at the drop of a hat.  As logical as I find his case in The Founder of Christianity (1970) to be, I conclude that it feels like cold comfort on certain days.  On those days, I agree and sympathize with Alfred Loisy, an excommunicated Roman Catholic theologian who complained,

Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God and what came was the Church.

As Bishop N. T. Wright wrote in Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), the response of many of the faithful to the Kingdom of God not arriving at the expected times has been to continue to hope for it.  Hope persists.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF HUNGARY, PRINCESS OF HUNGARY, AND HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND PIANO BUILDER; AND HIS SON, JACOB CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN PIANO BUILDER

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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