Archive for the ‘2 Maccabees 9’ 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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Second Maccabees: Two Letters   Leave a comment

Above:  Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART II

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2 Maccabees 1:1-2:18

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The Second Book of the Maccabees is, according to scholarly consensus, inferior to the First Book of the Maccabees.  1 Maccabees, like any legitimate work of history, has a thesis.  History, by definition, is interpretation of the past, based on written sources.  1 Maccabees, therefore, is not objective.  It is, however, a legitimate work of history.  Its thesis is that the Hasmonean Dynasty was, by right, the ruling family of Judea.

The Second Book of the Maccabees also has a thesis:  Egyptian Jews ought to celebrate Hanukkah, the feast of the rededication of the Temple on Kislev 25 (December 14), 164 B.C.E..  The author of 2 Maccabees is anonymous.  Scholars refer to him as the Epitomist.  In contemporary analogy, 2 Maccabees is the Reader’s Digest condensed book form (from circa 124 B.C.E.) of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene.  The longer, original work is lost, unfortunately.  x

I wonder if the condensation is the major reason for problems with 2 Maccabees.  Perhaps the following analogy is crass, but it is the best one I can muster.  Consider, O reader, one of the three Flash Gordon serials:  Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).  Neither one is Shakespeare, obviously, but each one is, within the context of its complete run, intelligible.  Then consider, in contrast, the condensed version of one of those serials.  The pacing makes no sense.  Plot threads dangle.  Certain scenes make no sense, given the editing.  This is not the optimum way to watch the story; one should watch the full serial.

As in 1 Maccabees, the dates are according to the Hellenistic/Seleucid calendar.  Therefore, the year 169 equals 143 B.C.E.  As an attentive student of history should know, the C.E/A.D.-B.C.E./B.C. scale did not exist until our 500s C.E./A.D.

Today’s portion of 2 Maccabees consists of two prefatory letters from the Epitomist.  The first one, in order, spans 1:1-10a, and dates to the year 188 (124 B.C.E.).  This letter refers to events from the year 169 (143 B.C.E.).  In the first reign of King Demetrius II Nicator (145-139/138 B.C.E.) of the Seleucid Empire, “we Jews” had written of previous perfidious acts by the High Priest Jason (2 Maccabees 4:7-22; 5:1-14).  Jason had led his followers in rebellion against the covenant (therefore God) and the Seleucid Empire.  Jason was also responsible for a fire at the Temple and the slaughter of his own followers.  The first letter mistakes Hanukkah (in Kislev–that is, November-December) for the Feast of the Tabernacles (in Tishrit–that is, September-October).  This error makes sense, for the length of Hanukkah is, on purpose, the length of the Feast of Tabernacles.

The theology of the first letter is clear:  God is faithful.  Be reconciled to God.

The second letter (1:10b-2:18) predates the first one.  The second letter dates to 164 B.C.E.  This letter, also addressed to Egyptian Jews, also encourages these Jews of the Diaspora to celebrate Hanukkah, then a new feast.  Hanukkah was so new that the very old Torah did not command keeping it.  But the victory of Judas Maccabeus was for all Jews, even Jews of the Diaspora.

This second letter contains references that require explanation.

  1. “King Antiochus” was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) of the Seleucid Empire.  He was an extremely bad man.
  2. “King Ptolemy” was Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 80-145 B.C.E.) of the Ptolemaic Empire.
  3. Aristobolus was a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt, and a teacher of Ptolemy VI Philometor.
  4. Nanaea, also known as Aniatis, was an Elamite goddess equivalent to and associated with Diana/Artemis.
  5. “Friend of the King” was an official position.  There were, in fact, four ranks of the “Friends of the King.”  Those ranks were:  Friend, Honored Friend, First Friend, and Preferred Friend.
  6. Antiochus IV Epiphanes seemed to enjoy invading and defiling temples of various religions.  He did not die (Sorry, 2 Maccabees 1:16), just yet–not until 2 Maccabees 9.

In the second letter, we read a summary of part of Ezra-Nehemiah, followed by a story (2 Maccabees 1:18-36) absent from Ezra-Nehemiah.  The point of this account is to emphasize the continuity of worship from one Temple to the next one.

The story in 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 is false at worst and unlikely at best.  (See Jeremiah 3:16.)  Besides, 2 Maccabees 2:7 contradicts Deuteronomy 32:49, where the place was known.

Jews of the Diaspora were family of the Jews of Judea.  Jews of the Diaspora were insiders, not outsiders, despite their distance from Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

That inclusive attitude is admirable.  It is one to emulate.

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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The Battle of Raphia, with King Ptolemy IV Philopator in Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART I

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3 Maccabees 1:1-2:24

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King Ptolemy IV Philapator of the Ptolemaic Empire (Reigned 221-204 B.C.E.)

High Priest Simon II “the Just” (In Office 219-196 B.C.E.)

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The Third Book of the Maccabees is a misnomer.  Not only does it have no Maccabees, but it also plays out prior to the events of the First, Second, and Fourth Books of the Maccabees.

3 Maccabees, canonical in Orthodoxy, is apocryphal in the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches.

3 Maccabees, composed in Alexandria, Egypt, close to 100 B.C.E., most likely, bears similarities to Greek romances.  The introduction to this book in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (2003) mentions 

purple prose and bombastic details that seem designed to elicit an emotional response, rather than to accurately and straightforwardly report history.

–1661

The introduction to 3 Maccabees in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version (1977) is less generous:

The author often exaggerates, and when in descriptions he attempts to introduce purple passages of rhetoric, he succeeds only in producing bombast and bathos.

–Apocrypha 294

The theology of 3 Maccabees is orthodox and Deuteronomistic:  God, who is faithful, rewards those who are faithful and punishes those who are faithless and evil.  This is a hope to which to cling during times of turmoil and oppression.

Apart from the sources I have quoted, I have two other guides through 3 Maccabees:

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version (1991); and
  2. The Orthodox Study Bible, the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint and the New King James Version (2008).

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3 Maccabees opens abruptly.  The supposition that an introduction has not survived seems reasonable.

King Ptolemy IV Philopator was the Hellenistic ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire, a successor to the expansive Macedonian Empire of King Alexander III “the Great” (reigned 336-323 B.C.E.).  Ptolemy IV, keeping a dynastic custom that dated to King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (circa 275 B.C.E.), married his sister, Arsinoe, in October 217 B.C.E.  (Ptolemy IV also ordered the murder of Arsinoe.)  Ptolemy IV was a weak ruler; a minister, Sosibius, dominated the monarch.  Ptolemy IV and Seleucid King Antiochus III “the Great” (reigned 223-187 B.C.E.) waged the Fourth Syrian War (221-217 B.C.E.).  During this conflict, Ptolemy IV lost much of the Syrian coast to Antiochus III.  Then, at the Battle of Raphia (217 B.C.E)., Ptolemy IV regained control of much of that coast and of Palestine.

The story of Dositheus, absent from other accounts of that battle, introduces a motif into 3 Maccabees.  That motif–intervention and reversal–runs throughout the book.  

Ptolemy IV survived an assassination attempt because of the intervention of Dositheus, an apostate Jew.  The victorious Ptolemy IV, an admirer of architecture, visited Jerusalem.  While there, he offered a sacrifice to YHWH.  This was easy for the pagan king to do.  As far as Ptolemy IV knew, YHWH was just another deity.  The king’s attempt to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple was a step too far.  Only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies; he did this one day per year (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:2, 11-12, 15, 34; Hebrews 9:7).

The reaction of many Jews in Jerusalem was strong.  High Priest Simon II “the Just” prayed.  His prayer contained certain theological hallmarks–the faithfulness of God, the arrogance of kings, the impiety of many people, the divine punishment of the wicked, and the divine deliverance of the faithful.

Then God prevented Ptolemy IV from entering the Holy of Holies.  He fell to the floor and could not speak.  Courtiers had to remove Ptolemy IV, unable to move on his own, from the Temple.  The king remained arrogant and unrepentant.  Ptolemy IV stood in contrast to Heliodorus (2 Maccabees 3:35-39) and even Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2 Maccabees 9:11-17), who repented immediately after God struck them.  The original audience of 3 Maccabees understood those references and awaited the repentance of Ptolemy IV (3 Maccabees 6:22-7:23).

Ptolemy IV prepared to take his revenge on Jews in Egypt.

The Bible contains stories of arrogant and dangerous kings and queens, some of whom were also weak rulers.  Queen Jezebel of Israel dominated King Ahab of Israel.  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was a historical figure.  Yet he functioned as a fictionalized symbol of power run amok in the Books of Daniel and Judith.  The fictional King Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther was a weak monarch who deposed Queen Vashti for refusing to display herself naked to his guests.  Ahasuerus was also willing to sign off onto a genocide of Jews.  At the end of the Book of Esther, the situation was positive because Mordecai and Queen Esther were running the Persian Empire in the king’s name.  Meanwhile, Ahasuerus partied.

Arrogant, impious potentates continue to afflict people, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT RADEGUNDA, THURINGIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRINCESS, DEACONESS, AND NUN; AND SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PONTIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRED D. GEALY, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALDRICH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, COMPOSER, THEOLOGIAN, MATHEMATICIAN, AND ARCHITECT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND CARMELITE FRIAR

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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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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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