Archive for the ‘1 Maccabees 1’ Category

The Rededication and Purification of the Temple: The First Hanukkah   1 comment

Above:  A Menorah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XIX

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1 Maccabees 4:36-61

2 Maccabees 10:1-9

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God, the pagans have invaded your heritage,

they have defiled your holy temple,

they have laid Jerusalem in ruins,

they have left the corpses of your servants as food for the birds of the air,

the bodies of your faithful for the wild beasts.

Around Jerusalem they have shed blood like water,

leaving no one to bury them.

We are the scorn of our neighbours,

the butt and laughing-stock of those around us.

How long will you be angry, Yahweh?  For ever?

Is your jealousy  to go on smouldering like a fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations who do not acknowledge you,

and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name;

for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his home.

Do not count against us the guilt of forever generations,

in your tenderness come quickly to meet us,

for we are utterly weakened;

help us, God our Saviour,

for the glory of your name;

Yahweh, wipe away our sins,

rescue us for the sake of your name.

Why should the nations ask,

“Where is their God?”

Let us see the nations suffer vengeance

for shedding your servants’ blood.

May the groans of the captive reach you,

by your great strength save those who are condemned to death!

Repay our neighbours sevenfold

for the insults they have levelled at you, Lord.

And we, your people, the flock that you pasture,

will thank you for ever,

will recite your praises from age to age.

–Psalm 79, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Psalm 79 is a text from the Babylonian Exile.  One can easily imagine Judas Maccabeus and company reciting it or parts of it, at least mentally, at the first Hanukkah, on Kislev 25 (December 14), 164 B.C.E.  Many of the themes fit.  

My cultural patrimony includes the Scientific Revolution and the ensuing Enlightenment.  I, therefore, have the intellectual category “laws of nature.”  My default understanding of a miracle is a violation of or an exception to at least one law of nature.  That definition does not apply to the Bible, though.  Its authors, who lived and died long prior to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, lacked the intellectual category “laws of nature.”  We moderns need to be careful not to misread the Bible anachronistically.

In Biblical times, people did have a category I call, for lack of a better label, “We don’t see that every day.”  They recognized the extraordinary.  The traditional Hanukkah miracle (absent from 1 and 2 Maccabees yet mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud) of the oil lasting as long as it did was extraordinary.  The miracles in 1 and 2 Maccabees were that proper Temple worship resumed and that the Temple was suitable for such worship again.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had profaned the Temple about three years prior, in 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:1-27.  King Antiochus IV had died about the time of the first Hanukkah–either before (2 Maccabees 9:1-29) or after (1 Maccabees 6:17).  As Father Daniel J. Harrington, S. J.. wrote in The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), news of the king’s death may have reached Jerusalem after the rededication and purification of the Temple.

The Jewish war for independence had not ended.  King Antiochus V Eupator, just seven years old, was the new Seleucid monarch, with Lysias as the regent.  And Judas Maccabeus was no fool.  He ordered Mount Zion and Beth-zur fortified.

The Hasmonean Rebellion began as a fight against the Seleucid imperial policy of forced Hellenization.  The rebellion became a war for national independence.  The Hasmonean Rebellion was always a struggle to maintain Jewish communal life, which was under a great and terrible threat.

Communal life is a relatively low priority in a culture that preaches rugged individualism.  Yet communal life is one of the moral pillars of the Law of Moses, which the Hasmoneans guarded and obeyed.  And communal life was a pillar of the moral teachings of Hebrew prophets.  Furthermore, communal life was a moral pillar of the teachings of Jesus and the epistles of St. Paul the Apostle.

Robert Doran, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), asks,

But how are we to keep a sense of community when we are not under attack?

–258

He proposes taking the answer from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.  The answer is love:

Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In other words, in ecclesiastical-theological terms, Donatism is not an option.  One of my favorite cartoons (probably under copyright protection) depicts a group of people holding really big pencils and drawing lines on the floor.  That single-cell cartoon also depicts Jesus standing among those line-drawers.  He is holding his really big pencil upside-down and erasing lines, though.

Love, in the context of communal life, eschews Donatism and self-aggrandizement.  Love, in the context of communal life, seeks only what is good for the community.  Love, in the context of communal life, embraces mutuality.  We are all responsible to and for each other other.  We all depend upon each other.  We all depend upon each other.  And we all depend entirely on God.  Whatever one does to harm anyone else also damages that one.  Whatever one does to or for anyone else, one does to or for oneself.

If my culture were to recognize these truths and act on them, that would be a miracle.  It would not constitute a violation of or an exception to any law of nature.  It would, however, be extraordinary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ONESIMUS, BISHOP OF BYZANTIUM

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The Death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  The Punishment of Antiochus, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XVIII

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1 Maccabees 6:1-17

2 Maccabees 9:1-29

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Retribution is a theme in 2 Maccabees.  Enemies of pious Jews died ignominiously in that book.  Consider:

  1. Andronicus, who had killed High Priest Onias III (4:34), died via execution (4:38).  “The Lord thus repaid him with the punishment he deserved.”–4:39, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
  2. High Priest Jason “met a miserable end” (5:8, RSV II).  He, shunned, died in exile in Egypt.  Nobody mourned him after he died.  Jason had no funeral (5:9-10).
  3. High Priest Menelaus died via execution.  He, pushed off a tower about 73 feet high, died in a pit full of ashes.  Nobody held a funeral for Menelaus (13:3-8).
  4. Nicanor, who had commanded the siege of Jerusalem, died in combat.  This his severed head hung from the citadel of Jerusalem.  Furthermore, birds ate his severed tongue (15:28-36).

Is this not wonderful mealtime reading?

Then we come to King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, an infamous blasphemer, “a sinful root” (1 Maccabees 1:10), and “a little horn” (Daniel 7:8) who made “war with the saints” (Daniel 7:21).

When we left off in the narrative, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, short on funds, was traveling in the eastern part of the Seleucid Empire and raising money to finance the struggle against Judas Maccabeus and his forces (1 Maccabees 3:27-37).  At the beginning of 1 Maccabees 6 and 2 Maccabees 9, the blasphemous monarch was in the area of Susa, in the region of Elam.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was engaging in one of his favorite fund-raising tactics–trying to plunder a temple full of valuable treasures.  (Read 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:15f, O reader.)  He failed this time.  News of the developments in Judea reached the king, whose world was collapsing around him.  He died, allegedly penitent, in the year 164/163 B.C.E. (149 on the Seleucid/Hellenistic calendar).

2 Maccabees elaborates on the account in 1 Maccabees.  2 Maccabees describes vividly the pain in the monarch’s bowels (9:5f), the infestation of worms (9:9), his rotting flesh (9:9), and his body’s stench (9:9).

So the murderer and blasphemer, having endured the most intense suffering, such as he had inflicted on others, came to the end of his life by a most pitiable fate, among the mountains of a strange land.

–2 Maccabees 9:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had appointed Philip the regent and the guardian of the new king, Antiochus V Eupator (reigned 164/163 B.C.E.).  There were two major problems, however:

  1. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had previously appointed Lysias to both positions (1 Maccabees 3:32-33), and
  2. Lysias had custody of the young (minor) heir to the throne.

Philip attempted a coup d’état and failed (1 Maccabees 6:55-56).  Meanwhile, Lysias had installed the seven-year-old King Antiochus V Eupator on the Seleucid throne.  Philip, in mortal danger from Regent Lysias, fled to the protection of King Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 180-145 B.C.E.) in Egypt.  

1 and 2 Maccabees differ on the timing of the death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes relative to the Temple in Jerusalem–the first Hanukkah.  1 Maccabees places the king’s death after the purification of the Temple.  2 Maccabees, however, places the death of the blasphemous monarch prior to the first Hanukkah.  Father Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., writing in The New Collegeville Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 832, favors the relative dating in 2 Maccabees.  Harrington also proposes that news of the death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes may have reached Jerusalem after the first Hanukkah.  That analysis is feasible and perhaps probable.

I agree with the evaluation of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 2 Maccabees.  I agree that his repentance was insincere and self-serving.  The monarch was like a criminal who regretted getting arrested and sentenced, not having committed a crime.

An interesting connection to the New Testament deserves comments here.  I start with the Wisdom of Solomon 4:17-20:

These [wicked] people [who look on, uncomprehending] see the wise man’s ending

without understanding what the Lord has in store for him

or why he has taken him to safety;

they look on and sneer,

but the Lord will laugh at them.

Soon they will be corpses without honour,

objects of scorn among the dead for ever.

The Lord will dash them down headlong, dumb.

He will tear them from their foundations,

they will be utterly laid waste,

anguish will be theirs,

and their memory shall perish.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

This is the reference in the Lukan account of the death of Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-20).  That account differs from the version in Matthew 27:3-10 (suicide by hanging, without his entrails bursting out), like that of Ahitophel (2 Samuel 17:23), during Absalom’s rebellion against King David.  (Ahitophel had betrayed King David.)  Both Acts 1:15-20 and 2 Maccabees 9:5-29 echo aspects of the Wisdom of Solomon 4:17-20.  The Lukan account of the death of Judas Iscariot purposefully evokes the memory of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

Obviously, one part of the Wisdom of Solomon 4:17-20 does not apply to King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and Judas Iscariot.  We know their names.

The evil that men do lives after them;

the good is oft interred with their bones.

–William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

(I memorized that in high school, which was more years ago then I like to admit some days.)

In reality, we may know the names of evildoers in greater quantity than those of the righteous.  Think about it, O reader.  How many gangsters, serial killers, Nazis, Nazi collaborators, terrorists, dictators, would-be dictators, and genocidal dictators can you name?  And how many saints, humanitarians, and other kind-hearted people can you name?  Which category–evildoers or good people–has more names in it?

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had started down his destructive path by seeking to impose cultural uniformity–Hellenism–on his culturally diverse empire.  He was neither the first nor the last ruler to commit some variation of the error of enforced cultural homogenization.  He learned that defining unity as enforced cultural homogeneity increased disunity by inspiring rebellion.

Cultural diversity adds spice to communal life.  The world would be boring if we were all homogenous.  Mutual respect, toleration, acceptance, and tolerance maintains unity in the midst of cultural diversity.  When acceptance is a bridge too far, tolerance may suffice.  However, there are limits, even to cultural diversity.  Tolerance is a generally good idea.  A good idea, carried too far, becomes a bad idea.  Correctly placing the boundaries of tolerance amid cultural diversity is both necessary and wise.  On the left (where I dwell), the temptation is to draw the circle too wide.  On the right, the temptation is to draw the circle too small.

I am a student of history.  My reading tells me that many rulers of culturally-diverse realms have succeed in maintaining unity.  They have done so by practicing respect for diversity in matters of culture and religion, although not absolutely.  But these rulers have not insisted that everyone fellow a monoculture.  Therefore, very different people have peaceably found their places in those societies.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SCHOLASTICA, ABBESS OF PLOMBARIOLA; AND HER TWIN BROTHER, SAINT BENEDICT OF NURSIA, ABBOT OF MONTE CASSINO AND FATHER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT OF ANIANE, RESTORER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM; AND SAINT ARDO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF JULIA WILLIAMS GARNET, AFRICAN-AMERICAN ABOLITIONIST AND EDUCATOR; HER HUSBAND, HENRY HIGHLAND GARNET, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; HIS SECOND WIFE, SARAH J. SMITH TOMPKINS GARNET, AFRICAN-AMERICAN SUFFRAGETTE AND EDUCATOR; HER SISTER, SUSAN MARIA SMITH MCKINNEY STEWARD, AFRICAN-AMERICAN PHYSICIAN; AND HER SECOND HUSBAND, THEOPHILUS GOULD STEWARD, U.S. AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL MINISTER, ARMY CHAPLAIN, AND PROFESSOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT NORBERT OF XANTEN, FOUNDER OF THE PREMONSTRATENSIANS; SAINT HUGH OF FOSSES, SECOND FOUNDER OF THE PREMONSTRATENSIANS; AND SAINT EVERMOD, BISHOP OF RATZEBURG

THE FEAST OF PHILIP ARMES, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST

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The Beginning of the Hasmonean Rebellion   1 comment

Above:  Mattathias and the Apostate, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XV

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1 Maccabees 2:1-70

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How much is too much to tolerate?  When must one, in good conscience, resist authority?  The First and Second Books of the Maccabees are books about resistance to tyranny and about the political restoration of Israel (Judea).  These are not books that teach submission to all human governmental authority, no matter what.  The heroes include men who killed imperial officials, as well as Jews who ate pork–

death over a ham sandwich,

as a student of mine said years ago.

Mattathias was a Jewish priest zealous for the Law of Moses.  He and his five sons started the Hasmonean Rebellion after the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.E.  Mattathias, having refused an offer to become on the Friends of the King, launched the rebellion.  (Friend of the King was an official position.  Also, there were four ranks of Friends:  Friends (entry-level), Honored Friends, First Friends, and Preferred Friends.)  The sons of Mattathias were:

  1. John Gaddi–“fortunate,” literally;
  2. Simon Thassis–“burning,” literally;
  3. Judas Maccabeus–“designated by Yahweh” or “the hammerer,” literally;
  4. Eleazar Avaran–“awake,” literally; and
  5. Jonathan Apphus–“favorite,” literally.

The rebellion, under Mattathias, was against Hellenism.  Under Judas Maccabeus, the rebellion became a war for independence.

Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E.

The farewell speech in 2:49-70 contains references to the the following parts of the Hebrew Bible:

  1. Genesis 22 (Abraham; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 44:19-21, also);
  2. Genesis 39 (Joseph);
  3. Numbers 25 (Phinehas; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 45:23-26, also);
  4. Joshua 1 (Joshua; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:1-10, also); 
  5. Numbers 13 and 14 (Caleb; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:7-10, also);
  6. 2 Samuel 7 (David; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:2-12, also);
  7. 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 2 (Elijah; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:25-12, also); 
  8. Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego); and
  9. Daniel 6 (Daniel).

The point is to remain faithful to God during difficult times.  I support that.  On the other hand, killing some people and forcibly circumcising others is wrong.  If I condemn Hellenists for committing violence, I must also condemn Hasmoneans for doing the same.

The text intends for us, the readers, to contrast the death of Mattathias with the death of Alexander the Great (1:5-6).  We read:

[Alexander’s] generals took over the government, each in his own province, and, when Alexander died, they all assumed royal crowns, and for many years the succession passed to their descendants.  They brought untold miseries on the world.

–1 Maccabees 1:8-9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The agenda of 1 Maccabees includes the belief that renewal of Jewish traditions followed the death of Mattathias , however.

I have a habit of arguing with scripture, off-and-on.  I may recognize a text as being canonical yet disagree with part of it.  Arguing with God is part of my patrimony, inherited from Judaism.  Sometimes I seek to adore and thank God.  Arguing with God (as in Judaism) contrasts with submitting to God (as in Islam).  Perhaps the combination of my Protestant upbringing and my inherent rebelliousness keeps showing itself.  If so, so be it; I offer no apology in this matter.

As much as I engage in 1 and 2 Maccabees and find them interesting, even canonical–Deuterocanonical, actually–they disturb me.  Violence in the name of God appalls me, regardless of whether an army, a mob, or a lone civilian commits it.  I may recognize a given cause as being just.  I may, objectively, recognize the historical importance of certain violent acts, including those of certain violent acts, including those of rebellious slaves and of John Brown.  I may admit, objectively, that such violence may have been the only feasible option sometimes, given the circumstances oppressors had created or maintained.   Yet, deep down in my soul, I wish I could be a pacifist.

So, the sacred violence in 1 and 2 Maccabees disturbs me.  I understand the distinction between civilians and combatants.  The violence against civilians in 1 and 2 Maccabees really offends me morally.  These two books are not the only places in the Old Testament I read of violence against civilians.  It is present in much of the Hebrew Bible proper, too.  I object to such violence there, also.

Jennifer Wright Knust, a seminary professor and an an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, wrote Unprotected Texts:  The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (2011).  She said in an interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio that she has detected a disturbing pattern in many of her students.  Knust has said that many of her pupils think they must hold positions they would otherwise regard as morally repugnant.  They believe this, she has explained, because they interpret the Bible as supporting these positions.

As Mark Noll (a historian, a University of Notre Dame professor, and a conservative Presbyterian) has written, the U.S. Civil War was a theological crisis.  The authority of scripture was a major part of proslavery arguments that quoted the Bible, chapter and verse.  The counterargument was, therefore, allegedly heretical.  That argument rested mainly on a few verses–the Golden Rule, mainly.  And the abolitionist argument was morally superior.

I encourage you, O reader, to go all-in on the Golden Rule.  Questions of orthodoxy or heresy be damned.  Just follow the Golden Rule.  Leave the rest to God.  Do not twist the authority of scripture into an obstacle to obeying the Golden Rule.  I do not believe that God will ever condemn any of us for doing to others as would have them to do to us.

I offer one other thought from this chapter.  Read verses 29-38, O reader.  Notice that even those zealous for keeping the Law of Moses fought a battle on the Sabbath, instead of resting on the day of rest.  Know that, if they had rested, they may have lost the battle.  Know, also, that relativizing commandments within the Law of Moses was a Jewish practice.  (Remember that, so not to stereotype Judaism, as in stories in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath then faced criticism for having done so.)  Ideals clash with reality sometimes.

To return to Knust’s point, one need not believe something one would otherwise consider repugnant.  One need not do so, even if one interprets the Bible to support that repugnant belief.  The recognition of the reality on the ground takes one out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the practical.  May we–you, O reader, and I–properly balance the moral demands (real or imagined) of the theoretical with those (also real or imagined) of the practical.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DANNY THOMAS, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC ENTERTAINER AND HUMANITARIAN; FOUNDER OF SAINT JUDE’S CHILDREN’S RESEARCH HOSPITAL

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTO TO ALTOMUNSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF BRUCE M. METZGER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN TIETJEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORFIRIO, MARTYR, 203

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The Beginning of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s Persecution of the Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  Mina of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VII

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1 Maccabees 1:20-64

2 Maccabees 5:1-6:17

4 Maccabees 4:15-26

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Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.)

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The First Book of the Maccabees establishes two years, according to the Hellenistic/Seleucid calendar:  143 (a.k.a. 169 B.C.E.) and 145 (a.k.a. 167 B.C.E.).

The account in 1 Maccabees differs from those in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.  The version in 1 Maccabees does not mention Jason, the former High Priest.  Also, the account in 4 Maccabees mistakes Antiochus IV Epiphanes for the son of the late King Seleucus IV Philopator.  Historical accounts tell us they were brothers.

Anyhow, Jason, who had bought the High Priesthood, had lost that office to Menelaus, who had outbid him.  Jason tried, by violent means, to get his old job back.  He failed to become the High Priest yet succeeded in causing many people to die.

As one reads the account of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes entering and profaning the Temple in Jerusalem, one may legitimately ask a certain question:  How could he succeed?  Read 3 Maccabees 1:8-2:24; 2 Maccabees 1:13-17; and 2 Maccabees 3:22-28, O reader.  How could King Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeed in 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:15f?  I offer no answers, for I have none.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, having converted the westernmost hill of Jerusalem into a citadel that held from 167 to 141 B.C.E. (see 1 Maccabees 13:49-50), imposed Hellenism–on pain of death–upon the land.  This was his way of trying to create unity in the Seleucid Empire.  If ever there were a reason no to submit to human authority, such oppression was it.

Yet many in Israel found strength to resist, taking a determined stand against the eating of any unclean food.  They welcomed death and died rather than defile themselves and profane the holy covenant.  Israel lay under a reign of terror.

–1 Maccabees 1:62-64, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Keeping the covenant was crucial to pious Jews.  Their salvation came via grace–birth into chosen people.  Their duty was to obey the Law of Moses.  That was how they retained their place in the covenant.  Those who impiously and repetitively ignored the ethical and moral obligations of the Law of Moses dropped out of the covenant.  I have summarized Covenantal Nomism for you, O reader.  Covenantal Nomism was a characteristic of Second Temple Judaism.

How seriously do you, O reader, take your obligations to God and your fellow human beings?

Next, I will write about early martyrdoms, described in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF JAPAN, 1597-1639

THE FEAST OF SAINT AVITUS OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAMES NICHOLAS JOUBERT AND MARIE ELIZABETH LANGE, FOUNDERS OF THE OBLATE SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JANE (JOAN) OF VALOIS, COFOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF THE ANNUNCIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILEAS AND PHILOROMUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 304

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From Alexander the Great to Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing Asia Minor, the Seleucid Empire, and the Ptolemaic Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART I

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1 Maccabees 1:1-19

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Reading the Bible in more than one translation is a positive spiritual and literary practice.  One may decide that a particular translation is best for reading a certain book or certain books of the Bible.  For example, I propose that Job reads best in The Jerusalem Bible (1966), that the Song of Songs reads best in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), and that First Maccabees reads best in The Revised English Bible (1989).

I am an Episcopalian with strong Roman Catholic and Lutheran tendencies.  I am an also an Episcopalian who grew up a Low Church Protestant and a preacher’s kid–Southern Baptist for my first seven years, followed by United Methodist for the next eleven years.   I tell you, O reader, this so that you will appreciate the significance of my affirmation of the Roman Catholic definition of the canon of scripture.  The first two books of the Maccabees are Deuterocanonical, not Apocryphal.

First Maccabees probably dates to about 100 B.C.E.  The anonymous author’s composition is contemporary with Tobit, Judith, and most of Daniel.  The agenda of 1 Maccabees is the affirmation of the Hasmonean Dynasty.  After all, why were members of the Davidic Dynasty not on the throne of independent Judea?  That was the question of political legitimacy the author of 1 Maccabees addressed.

1 Maccabees 1:1-19 establishes the historical and cultural context:  Hellenism.  The passage names Alexander the Great (d. 323 B.C.E.) then moves along quickly to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.), King of the Seleucid Empire, one of the successors to Alexander’s expansive Macedonian Empire.  One may or may not recall the references to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11.  One may or may not also remember the allusion to the notorious monarch in 3 Maccabees 2-4.

The struggle against imposed Hellenism formed the backdrop of the Hasmonean Rebellion.  To make matters worse, some Jews turned apostate.

1 Maccabees 1:16-19 lays down another historical marker.  It mentions the successful Seleucid invasion of the Ptolemaic Empire during the reign (180-145 B.C.E.) of King Ptolemy VI Philometor in 169 B.C.E.  The reader who may be unfamiliar with this part of ancient history ought to know that the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires, successors to the sprawling Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, fought each other.  Such a reader should also understand that ancient Palestine kept changing imperial masters, depending on the most germane military victory.  

Palestinian Jews still lived under occupation  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was an especially cruel imperial master.

How could Jews, even those dwelling in their ancestral homeland, live faithfully under the Seleucid Empire?

I clue you, O reader, in on a recurring motif in 1 Maccabees.  Keeping the divine covenant and the Law of Moses is essential, as the book teaches.  So is being pragmatic in faithful communal life.  But when does pragmatism cross the line over into the territory of unjust and faithless compromise?  This is a timeless question and a quandary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Divine and Human Authority   Leave a comment

Above:  Conscientious Objectors at Camp Lewis, Washington, United States of America, November 18, 1918

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Twenty-Third Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Absolve, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy people from their offenses;

that from the bonds of our sins which, by reason of our frailty,

we have brought upon us, we may be delivered by thy bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever One God, world without end  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 228

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Isaiah 32:1-8

Psalm 146

Romans 13:1-7

Luke 13:23-30

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Don’t get me started about submission to government authority (Romans 13:1-7).  Okay, now that I have started, I am off to the proverbial races.

The Bible is inconsistent regarding submission to and resistance to civil authority.  Romans 13:1-7 represents one strain.  One may think of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:15-22), who let newborn Hebrew boys live, in violation of a royal order.  One may also recall the Book of Daniel, with more than one instance of remaining faithful to God by violating a royal decree.  Perhaps one recalls 1, 2, and 4 Maccabees, in which fidelity to the Law of Moses required disobedience to Seleucid kings, such as Antiochus IV Epiphanes and other  (1 Maccabees 1:15-9:73; 2 Maccabees 6:1-15:37; 4 Maccabees 4:15-18:24) .  I would be remiss to forget about Tobit, who violated a royal order yet obeyed the Law of Moses by burying corpses (Tobit 1:16-20).  Finally, the Revelation of John portrays the government of the Roman Empire as being in service to Satan.  In this strain, Christians should resist agents of Satan.

When one turns to Christian history, one finds a long tradition of civil disobedience within Christianity.  Accounts of Quakers, Anabaptists, and other pacifists suffering at the hands of governments for refusing to fight in wars properly arouse moral outrage against those governments.  The Third Reich presents a stark example that evokes apocalyptic depictions of Satanic government.  Anti-Nazi heroes included Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a plethora of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant martyrs, among others.

Furthermore, the Third Reich has continued to inform a strain of German Christian theology since the 1930s.  When to obey and when to resist authority has remained especially prominent in German circles, for obvious reasons.

Governments come and go.  God remains forever.  Wrong is wrong, regardless of whether one commits it independently or as part of one’s official duties.

Isaiah 32:1-8 depicts an ideal government at the end of days.  In Christian terms, this text describes the fully realized Kingdom of God.  That is not our reality.

Psalm 146 reminds us:

Put no trust in princes

or in any mortal, for they have no power to save.

When they breathe their last breath,

they return to the dust;

and on that day their plans come to nothing.

–Verses 3-4, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The bottom line, O reader, is this:  Love God fully.  Keep divine commandments.  Live according to the Golden Rule.  If doing so is legal, you are fortunate.  If doing so is illegal, love God fully, keep divine commandments, and live according to the Golden Rule anyway.  God remains forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LYDIA, DORCAS, AND PHOEBE, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Humility Before People and God, Part I   1 comment

Belshazzar's Feast

Above:   Belshazzar’s Feast, by Mattia Preti

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Holy God, our righteous judge, daily your mercy

surprises us with everlasting forgiveness.

Strengthen our hope in you, and grant that all the

peoples  of the earth may find their glory in you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Monday)

Daniel 5:1-12 (Tuesday)

Daniel 5:13-31 (Wednesday)

Psalm 84:8-12 (All Days)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (Monday)

1 Peter 5:1-11 (Tuesday)

Matthew 21:28-32 (Wednesday)

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O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

–Psalm 84:12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Do not be arrogant, the readings for these three days tell us.  Trust in God instead, we read.  Daniel 5 tells us of Belshazzar, viceroy under this father, King Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 B.C.E.) of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  God, the story tells us, found Belshazzar wanting.  Furthermore, we read, God delivered the empire to the Persians and the Medes, and the Babylonian Exile ended shortly thereafter.

Cease your proud boasting,

let no word of arrogance pass your lips,

for the LORD is a God who knows;

he governs what mortals do.

Strong men stand in mute dismay,

but those who faltered put on new strength.

Those who had plenty sell themselves for a crust,

and the hungry grow strong again.

The barren woman bears seven children,

and the mother of many sons is left to languish?

–1 Samuel 2:3-5, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That is a timeless lesson.  We read of Jesus telling certain professional religious people that penitent tax collectors and the prostitutes will precede them in the Kingdom of God.  Later in 1 Peter, we read of the imperative to clothe ourselves in humility, when dealing with each other and God.  As Proverbs 3:34-35 tells us,

Toward the scorners he [God] is scornful,

but to the humble he shows favor.

The wise will inherit honor,

but stubborn fools, disgrace.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Persecution might come, but one must remain faithful.  That is a recurring message in the Bible, from Jeremiah to the Books of the Maccabees to the Gospels to 1 Peter to Hebrews to the Revelation of John.  It can also be a difficult lesson on which to act, as many chapters in the history of Christianity attest.  Fortunately, God is merciful than generations of Donatists (regardless of their formal designations) have been.  That lack of mercy flows from, among  other sources, pride–the pride which says,

I persevered.  Why did you not do likewise?  I must be spiritually superior to you.

We all need to acknowledge, confess, and repent of our sins.  We all need to change our minds and turn around spiritually.  We all need to be humble before God and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-25-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Clinging to God   1 comment

St. Michael the Archangel Icon--Andrei Rublev

Above:  Icon of St. Michael the Archangel, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 12:1-4

Psalm 63:1-8

Revelation 3:1-6

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My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

–Psalm 63:8, The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995)

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The reading from Daniel 12 follows from chapter 11, the contents of which are crucial to grasp if one is to understand the assigned reading.  The narrative, an apocalypse, concerns the end of the reign and life of the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.), the bete noire of 1 Maccabees 1-6, 2 Maccabees 4-9, and the entirety of 4 Maccabees.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was also the despoiler of the Second Temple and the man who ordered the martyrdom of many observant Jews.  In Daniel 11 the monarch, the notorious blasphemer, dies.  After that, in chapter 12, St. Michael the Archangel appears and the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment ensue.  There will be justice for the martyrs after all, the text says.

The issue of God’s justice for the persecuted faithful occupies much of the Revelation to John.  Today’s reading from that apocalypse is the message to the church at Sardis, a congregation whose actual spiritual state belies its reputation for being alive.  Repent and return to a vibrant life of righteousness, the message says.  That sounds much like a message applicable to some congregations I have known, especially during my childhood.

Clinging to God can be difficult.  During the best of times doing so might injure one’s pride, especially if one imagines oneself to be self-sufficient.  And during the worst of times one might blame God for one’s predicament.  During the other times mere spiritual laziness might be another impediment.  Nevertheless, God calls us constantly to lives–individually and collectively–of vibrant righteousness.  May we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  May we help others the best ways we can.  May we heed the Hebrew prophetic call to work for social justice.  May we, by grace, leave our communities, friends, acquaintances, families, and world better than we found them.  Whenever we do so, we do it for Jesus, whom we follow.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2015 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/devotion-for-friday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Glory of God, Filling the Earth, Part I   1 comment

Blue Marble Apollo 17

Above:  Blue Marble, December 17, 1972

Image Source = NASA

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The Collect:

Almighty God, you gave us your only Son

to take on our human nature and to illumine the world with your light.

By your grace adopt us as your children and enlighten us with your Spirit,

through Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 2:1-19 (Thursday)

Daniel 2:24-49 (Friday)

Psalm 72 (Both Days)

Ephesians 4:17-5:1 (Thursday)

Ephesians 5:15-20 (Friday)

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Thanks be to the Lord GOD, the God of Israel,

for he alone does marvellous things.

Thanks be to the glorious name of God for ever,

his glory fills the earth.

Amen and amen.

–Psalm 72:18-19, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989), by Harry Mowvley

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The prophecy of Daniel 2:44 seems problematic:

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

“The days of those kings” refers to the era of the successors of the empire of Alexander the Great.  The conqueror had died after a brief reign.

So his officers took over his kingdom, each in his own territory, and after his death they all put on diadems, and so did their sons after them for many years, multiplying evils on the earth.

–1 Maccabees 1:8-9, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The last of those successor empires, the Ptolomaic Empire, based in Egypt, had ended in 30 B.C.E., becoming a province of the Roman Republic, which was transforming into the Roman Empire.  What, then, could the divine kingdom of Daniel 2:44 be?  Ancient Jewish speculations offered two possibilities–the Messiah and the people of Israel.  Christian interpretations have included the Messiah and the Church.  The latter is possible if one includes the Roman Empire as a successor kingdom to the empire of Alexander the Great, for Rome did spread Hellenism, the cultural legacy of Alexander, far and wide.

I cannot forget, however, a lament of the excommunicated Roman Catholic theologian Alfred Fermin Loisy (1857-1940).  Jesus promised us the Kingdom of God, Loisy wrote, and all we got was the Church.  If we understand the Kingdom of God as having been present on the Earth in a partially evident way for a long time Loisy’s lament becomes less potent yet remains relevant.  Christian history contains much that brings no glory to God–the Crusades, bigotry, discrimination, slavery, misogyny, legalism, anti-intellectualism, a suspicion of science, et cetera.  Much of that litany of shame exists in the category of current events.  Nevertheless, much of Christian history (as well as the Christian present day) is also positive, in the style of the readings from Ephesians, where we find the theme of imitating Christ.  Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the incarcerated and the hospitalized, welcoming the stranger, et cetera–in short, recognizing the image of God in others then acting accordingly–bring glory to God.  In those and other deeds the partially unveiled Kingdom of God becomes visible and God’s glory fills the Earth.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 20–THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF NELSON WESLEY TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN U.S. BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2015/09/20/devotion-for-january-7-and-8-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Faithfulness and Faithlessness, Part I   1 comment

Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Above:  Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty God, your sovereign purpose bring salvation to birth.

Give us faith amid the tumults of this world,

trusting that your kingdom comes and your will is done

through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 8:1-14 (Monday)

Daniel 8:15-27 (Tuesday)

Psalm 13 (Both Days)

Hebrews 10:26-31 (Monday)

Hebrews 10:32-39 (Tuesday)

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How long, O LORD?

Will you forget me forever?

how long will you hide your face from me?

How long shall I have perplexity of mind,

and grief in my heart, day after day?

how long shall my enemy triumph over me?

Look upon me and answer me, O LORD my God;

give light to my eyes, lest I sleep in death;

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed,”

and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.

But I trust in your mercy;

my heart is joyful because of your saving help.

I will sing to you, O LORD,

for you have dealt with me richly;

I will praise the name of the Lord Most High.

–Psalm 13, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Hebrews 10:26-39 cautions against committing apostasy, that is, falling away from God.  The consequences will be dire, the pericope tells us.

Daniel 8, dating from the second century B.C.E., contains references to the Hasmonean rebellion in Judea and to the evil Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.).  Antiochus IV took the name “Epiphanes,” meaning “God manifest.”  The author of 1 Maccabees referred to him as “a sinful root” (1:10).  The author of 2 Maccabees wrote of Antiochus IV’s indolence and arrogance in Chapter 9 and called him “the ungodly man” (9:9) and “the murderer and blasphemer” (9:28).  The monarch had, after all, desecrated the Temple at Jerusalem and presided over a bloody persecution of Jews.  Certainly many faithful Jews prayed the text of Psalm 13, wondering how long the persecution would continue while anticipating its end.  Antiochus IV died amid disappointment over military defeat (1 Maccabees 6:1-13 and 2 Maccabees 9:1-29).  The author of 2 Maccabees, unlike the writer of 1 Maccabees, mentioned details about how physically repulsive the king had become at the end (2 Maccabees 9:9-12).

By his cunning, he will use deceit successfully.  He will make great pans, will destroy many, taking them unawares, and will rise up against the chief of chiefs, but will be broken, not by [human] hands.

–Daniel 8:25, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The “chief of chiefs” was God, and, according to 2 Maccabees 9, God struck down Antiochus IV.  The monarch, who never fell away from God because he never followed God, faced dire circumstances.

I acknowledge the existence of judgment and mercy in God while admitting ignorance of the location of the boundary separating them.  That is a matter too great for me, so I file it under the heading “divine mystery.”  Hebrews 10:31 tells us that

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Yet, if we endure faithfully, as many Jews did during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and the author of the Letter to the Hebrews encouraged Jewish Christians to do, God will remain faithful to us.  Many Christians have endured violent persecutions and political imprisonments with that hope keeping them spiritually alive.  Many still do.  Many Christians have become martyrs, never letting go of that hope.  Today tyrants and their servants continue to make martyrs out of faithful people.  May we, who are fortunate not to have to endure such suffering for the sake of righteousness, not lose faith either.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 10, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF GEORG NEUMARK, GERMAN LUTHERAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN HINES, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/10/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-proper-28-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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This is post #1350 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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