Archive for the ‘4 Maccabees’ Category

Prayer That Does Not Work   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART X

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Jeremiah 14:1-15:9

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The title for this post comes from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (2001).

God, we read, will not listen to intercessions for the people of the Kingdom of Judah any longer.  That is why certain prayers do not work in Jeremiah 14:1-15:9.  We return to a theme from earlier in the Hebrew prophetic tradition:  repentance is no longer an option.  The Book of Jeremiah, like other Hebrew prophetic books, is inconsistent about whether repentance is no longer an option.  I, having finished rereading the Book of Jeremiah and having read earlier Hebrew prophetic books as of the time I type these words, make that statement with authority and without fear of being objectively inaccurate.

Some aspects of this block of scripture beg for explanation.

Translations of 14:18 vary, for the Hebrew text is difficult.  The priest and the prophet

roam the land,

They do not know where,

in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985).  However, the priest and the prophet

ply their trade in a land they do not know,

in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011).  In The Revised English Bible (1989), they

wander without rest in the land.

Other translations offer variations on those renderings.

15:4 tells us:

I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, on account of King Manasseh son of Hezekiah of Judah, and of what he did in Jerusalem.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

King Manasseh of Judah (r. 698/687-642 B.C.E.) was one of the monarchs certain Biblical authors loved to despise.  2 Kings 21:1-18 unloaded on the idolatrous monarch.  2 Chronicles 33:1-20 softened that blow by adding material about the monarch’s supposed repentance.  2 Kings 21:1-18 knew nothing about this alleged repentance, however.  Later, an anonymous author, drawing from 2 Chronicles 33:1-20, composed The Prayer of Manasseh, an apocryphal text which enriches The Book of Common Prayer (1979).

Idolatry offers the theological clue to the interpretation of the drought in Jeremiah 14:1-15:9.  The author wants people to recall the famine and drought in 1 Kings 17:1-18:46, meant to prove the ineffectiveness of Baal Peor, the Canaanite storm and fertility god.

The promise (15:8) that:

Their widows shall be more numerous 

Than the sands of the seas.”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

calls back ironically to the divine promise regarding the number of descendants of Abraham (Genesis 22:17) and Jacob (Genesis 32:13; cf. 1 Kings 4:20; Isaiah 10:22; Hosea 2:1).

She who bore seven is forlorn,

Utterly disconsolate;

Her sun has set while it is still day,

She is shamed and humiliated.

The remnant of them I will deliver to the sword,

To the power of their enemies

–declares the LORD.

–Jeremiah 15:9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This forlorn, disconsolate mother is Jerusalem personified.  Themes, being what they are, occur in different and subsequent contexts, though.  The stories of the mother and her seven sons, all martyrs during the Seleucid period, fill 2 Maccabees 7 and 4 Maccabees 8-18.

One should read scripture in various contexts, including literary genres and the historical record.  Another context in which to read scripture is other scripture.  We who have read the Bible know the rest of the story with regard to the final years of the Kingdom of the Judah.  We know that matters got worse before they improved.  We know that repentance was still an option.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF NISIBIS, BISHOP; AND SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, “THE HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK C. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, ROBERT M. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS OF GETULIUS, AMANTIUS, CAERAELIS, AND PRIMITIVUS, MARTYRS AT TIVOLI, 120; AND SAINT SYMPHROSA OF TIVOLI, MARTYR, 120

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOR MARTIN JOHNSON, U.S. MORAVIAN CONDUCTOR AND MUSIC DIRECTOR

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Military Campaigns During the Reign of King Antiochus V Eupator   5 comments

Above:  Eleazar’s Exploit, by Bernard Picart

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XX

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1 Maccabees 5:1-68; 6:17-63

2 Maccabees 10:10-13:26

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Antiochus V Eupator (Reigned 164/163-162 B.C.E.)

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

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I prefer to remain grounded in objective reality, O reader.  Here, therefore, are a few facts regarding the past:

  1. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had died while campaigning against Parthians, on the eastern frontier of the Seleucid Empire, in 164/163 B.C.E.
  2. His son, with Lysias as the regent, succeeded and became King Antiochus V Eupator.
  3. King Antiochus V’s first cousin, King Demetrius I Soter returned from Rome in 162 B.C.E.  King Demetrius I had King Antiochus V executed.

When I left off in the previous post in this series, the Hasmonean forces, under the command of Judas Maccabeus, were winning battles and had just rededicated and purified the Temple in Jerusalem.  The war continued.

One may detect a chronological hiccup in 1 and 2 Maccabees, relative to each other.  When did King Antiochus IV Epiphanes died, in relation to the rededication and purification of the Temple in Jerusalem?  I wrote about that matter in the previous post in this series.

Judas Maccabeus rescued Jews in danger.  He also continued to fight Lysias, who conducted another campaign in Judea.  These sections of 1 and 2 Maccabees contain two stories on which I choose to comment.

Read 1 Maccabees 5:55-64 and 2 Maccabees 12:39-45, O reader.  These are accounts of the Battle of Jamnia.  1 Maccabees explains the Hasmonean defeat there by writing that two commanders, Josephus and Azarias, disobeyed orders.  They had sought to make a name for themselves.  2 Maccabees, however, offers a different explanation:  soldiers had violated the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 7:25-26, to be precise), by wearing idols.  That is not the most interesting part of the account from 2 Maccabees, though.

2 Maccabees 12:39-45 is one of the major texts the Roman Catholic Church cites to justify Purgatory.  This is a doctrine many non-Roman Catholics both condemn and misunderstand.  My understanding of Purgatory comes from a Roman Catholic catechist, who described it as

God’s mud room.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1994), paragraph 1030, reads:

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

I, as an Episcopalian, pray for the repose of souls.  I do so because I affirm that my prayer may have a positive effect.  Also, I do not know and do not pretend to understand what transpires between God and any particular person after death.  Human theology offers some ideas, some of which are correct.  Yet how much we mere mortals can grasp regarding the afterlife is limited.  That which awaits us exceeds our imaginations.  Our understandings of Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell owe much to what we can know via divine revelation, but the full reality is beyond our comprehension.  I am prepared, therefore, to read certain doctrines and certain passages of scripture as theological poetry, and to trust God.  Besides, I enjoy having some mystery in my faith and religion.  And praying for the dead cannot hurt, anyway.

The other story (1 Maccabees 6:42-47) is that of Eleazar Avaran, one of the five sons of Mattathias.  Eleazar the Scribe is in 2 Maccabees 6:18-31 and 4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23. 

Eleazar Avaran was a warrior.  Both Eleazars were martyrs.  Eleazar Avaran gave his life to save his people.  In the process, he died when a Seleucid war elephant crushed him.  Eleazar Avaran acted selflessly.  In so doing, he won a good name for himself.  His example contrasted with that of Josephus and Azarias, who selflessly sought to win names for themselves.  They succeeded; they won ignominious names for themselves.

Biblical authors justifiably frowned upon attempts at self-glorification.  We mere mortals have a divine mandate to glorify God, not ourselves.  We have a mission to be faithful.  As the Westminster Larger Catechism tells us:

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

If God chooses to give any of us a good name, so be it.  But most of us will fade into anonymity that comes with the passage of time.  So be it.  The Roman Catholic Church, with its densely populated calendar of saints, has a raft of men and women canonized pre-Congregation.  Of many of the saints Holy Mother Church knows little more than or nothing except a name and an appropriate date of martyrdom.  So be it.

Not to us, O LORD, not to us

but to Your name bring glory

for the sake of Your love and Your faithfulness.

Psalm 115:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ABSALOM JONES, RICHARD ALLEN, AND JARENA LEE, EVANGELISTS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN SCHMOLCK, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FREER ANDREWS, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS BAKER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMNAL EDITOR, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL WEISSE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR; AND JAN ROH, BOHEMIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

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The Martyrdom of the Seven Brothers’ Mother   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XIV

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2 Maccabees 7:41-42

4 Maccabees 14:11-18:19

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The account in 2 Maccabees is extremely concise:

Last of all, after her sons, the mother died.  This then must conclude our account of the eating of the entrails and the monstrous tortures.

–2 Maccabees 7:41-42, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The death of the mother is, however, the florid climax of the oration we call 4 Maccabees.  I doubt, however, that women are the weaker sex (14:5).  Childbirth is not for the weak or the weaker, or so I hear.

The Fourth Book of the Maccabees depicts the nine martyrdoms (Eleazar the scribe, the seven brothers, and the mother) as being redemptive for the people of Israel.  These holy martyrs, by remaining faithful to death, 

nullified the violence of the tyrant, frustrated his evil designs, and showed the courage of [their] faith.

–4 Maccabees 17:2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

These deaths also purified the homeland, we read in 4 Maccabees 17:21.  Eleazar the scribe, the seven brothers, and their mother became,

as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation.  And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an expiation,, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been afflicted.

–4 Maccabees 17:21b-22, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the position in 4 Maccabees.

I close with a crucial point.  In 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees, Eleazar the scribe, the seven brothers, and their mother did not seek martyrdom.  No, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes placed them in a predicament in which fidelity to God led to martyrdom.  These nine martyrs did not have a death wish.  Neither were they willing to live as apostates.

You, O reader, and I, have a mandate from God to live faithfully.  Governments come and go.  Tyrants rise and fall.  God, however, lasts forever.  We may be fortunate enough not to have to choose between an apostate life and a faithful death.  If so, may we thank God for that fact.  Many Christians around the world are as fortunate, though.  And the blood of the martyrs waters the church.

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 Mother, and the Martyrdom of the Youngest Brother   Leave a comment

Above:  The Courage of a Mother, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XIII

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2 Maccabees 7:20-40

4 Maccabees 12:1-19

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Certain themes and theological points of which I have already written are present in these assigned readings.  I choose not to respect myself in this post.  For my thoughts about those themes and theological points, O reader, I refer you to previous posts in this series.  Before I get to my new material, I do, however, refer you to 2 Maccabees 7:12-16 for a succinct summary of that book’s theology of suffering.  My comments in the previous post in this series stand.

The mother in 2 Maccabees 7:28 affirmed creation of the world from nothing.  Judaism has never been a monolithic religion.  According to a Jewish study Bible I own, God created order from chaos, not something from nothing, in Genesis 1:1.

The depiction of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes are interesting.  He was a cruel bastard who ordered and witnessed torture.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a blasphemous tyrant who imposed Hellenism violently.  Yet he–even he–felt compassion for the youngest son (4 Maccabees 12:2).  Then the monarch ordered the boy’s torture and execution.  And, according to 2 Maccabees 7:14, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes reacted very badly to insults.

2 Maccabees 7:21 tells us that, in the words of The Revised English Bible (1989), the mother had “noble resolution” and that a “manly spirit” “fired” “her woman’s spirit.”  That was high praise in a patriarchal culture.  I leave the matter at that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEROME EMILIARI, FOUNDER OF THE COMPANY OF THE SERVANTS OF THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF MATHA AND FELIX OF VALOIS, FOUNDERS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINA GABRIELLA BONINO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF MITCHELL J. DAHOOD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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The Martyrdom of the Fifth and Sixth Brothers   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XII

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2 Maccabees 7:15-19

4 Maccabees 11:1-27

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As usual, 2 Maccabees focuses on theology and is succinct.  Also as usual, 4 Maccabees gives up philosophy, theology, and graphic descriptions of torture.

A few main points stand out in my mind:

  1. Again, brothers about to die told King Antiochus IV Epiphanes he would suffer in the afterlife (2 Maccabees 7:17, 19; 4 Maccabees 11:3).
  2. Descendants of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes were also going to suffer divine punishment (2 Maccabees 7:17).  Is this an echo of intergenerational reward and punishment (Exodus 20:5-6)?  (Ezekiel 18 argues for individual responsibility before God and against intergenerational reward and punishment, by the way.)  Or were those descendants going to suffer for their sins?
  3. God has not abandoned the persecuted Jews (2 Maccabees 7:16).
  4. 2 Maccabees (in 6:12-17; 7:18)  teaches that this persecution was a form of divine punishment of Israel for sins.  I chose not to write about this point when I covered 2 Maccabees 6, for I was focusing on other matters.

Let us–you, O reader, and I–unpack this last theological point.  Who (plural) sinned to bring on this punishment, allegedly?  Were pious Jews, especially the ones who willingly suffered and died rather than violate kosher food laws in the Law of Moses–suffering because of the sins of impious Jews.  Or were these pious Jews suffering because of the perfidy of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and those who did his bidding?

Rabbi HIillel quoted Rabbi Jose son of Rabbi Judah:

Precious are chastisements, for the name of God rests upon him to whom chastisements come.

The Wisdom of Solomon, a book roughly contemporary with 2 Maccabees, disagrees somewhat with the interpretation of the suffering of pious Jews in 2 Maccabees:

By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people

how the virtuous man must be kind to his fellow men,

and you have given your sons the good hope

that after sin you will grant repentance.

If with such care and such indulgence you have punished

the enemies of your children,

when death was what they deserved,

and given them time and room to rid themselves of wickedness,

with what attention have you not judged your sons,

to whose ancestors you made such fair promises by oaths and covenants.

Thus, while you correct us, you flog our enemies ten thousand times harder,

to teach us when we judge, to reflect on your kindness

and when we are judged, to look for mercy.

–Wisdom of Solomon 12:19-22, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Furthermore, according to the Wisdom of Solomon 11:1-14, the righteous receive benefits through punishments.  Adding the Wisdom of Solomon 12:9-10 to the mix, we read that God permits pagan nations time to repent.  However, according to the Wisdom of Solomon 12:23-27, divine mercy follows divine judgment.  And as Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 5:4-9 warns us, do not assume divine indulgence to be an entitlement.

I recognize Deuteronomic theology of collective suffering when I read it.  That theology exists in 2 Maccabees and the Wisdom of Solomon.  That theology is the Hebrew Biblical party line regarding the causation of the Babylonian Exile.  And that theology may not apply in all circumstances.

We who identify as devout have a responsibility to be careful in how we think, speak, and write about God.  On one hand, we ought never to try to domesticate God.  On the other hand, we must refrain from depicting God as a monstrous figure worthy of our dread and unworthy of praise and adoration.  We have an obligation not to depict God as being abusive.  How can we draw people to the sole deity if we present that deity as an abuser?  Theodicy, poorly executed, quickly devolves into idiocy.

Perhaps the Jews suffered under King Antiochus IV Epiphanes because he was a bastard intolerant of cultural diversity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEROME EMILIARI, FOUNDER OF THE COMPANY OF THE SERVANTS OF THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF MATHA AND FELIX OF VALOIS, FOUNDERS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINA GABRIELLA BONINO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF MITCHELL J. DAHOOD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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The Martyrdom of the Third and Fourth Brothers   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XI

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2 Maccabees 7:10-14

4 Maccabees 10:1-21

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But the ungodly will be punished

as their reasoning deserves,

who disregarded the righteous man

and rebelled against the Lord;

for whoever despises wisdom and instruction is miserable.

–Wisdom of Solomon 3:10-11a, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

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My most vivid memory of reading the Fourth Book of the Maccabees years ago is of passages such as 10:8:

They immediately brought him to the wheel, and while his vertebrae were being dislocated upon it he saw his own flesh torn all around and drops of blood flowing from his entrails.

Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

This is not dinnertime reading, is it?  But imagine the response or reaction of a crown listening to an orator speaking, delivering that sentence on Hanukkah one year in the first century of the Common Era.

Gore and hagiography aside, there is theology in the assigned readings.  As I have already noted in this series, the resurrection of the dead is a doctrine these texts affirm.  These passages also affirm punishment and reward in the afterlife.

The biggest kicker, however, comes from 2 Maccabees 7:14.  The fourth brother was addressing King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

At the point of death, he uttered these words:  “Better to be killed by men and to cherish God’s promise to raise us again!  But for you there will be no resurrection.”

The Revised English Bible (1989)

That was bold.

In 4 Maccabees 10:9-11, the third brother also condemned that monarch.

When he was about to die, he said, “We, most abominable tyrant, are suffering because of our godly training and virtue, but you, because of your impiety and blood thirstiness, will undergo unceasing torments.”

Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That was bold, too.

Speaking truth to power can prove difficult at the best of times.  Doing so during the worst of times requires more courage.  Confronting evildoers and telling them that they are evildoers is a moral imperative, however.  This is the work of prophets of God, most of whom have been ordinary people with other jobs.  Eleazar the scribe, the seven brothers, and their mother were prophets.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF HELDER CAMARA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF OLINDA AND RECIFE

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADALBERT NIERYCHLEWSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF DANIEL J. HARRINGTON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MOSES, APOSTLE TO THE SARACENS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BOYCE AND JOHN ALCOCK, ANGLICAN COMPOSERS

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The Martyrdom of the Eldest and Second Brothers   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART X

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2 Maccabees 7:3-9

4 Maccabees 9:10-31

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King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a bastard.  His parents may have been married when they conceived him, but he was still a bastard.  2 Maccabees provides sufficient and horrific details of the mutilation, dehumanization, and execution of the eldest two brothers, pious Jews who merely refused to eat pork.  4 Maccabees, of course, provides other details.  These details contradict those in 2 Maccabees 7:3-9.  That is a minor quibble, though.

As a spiritual mentor of mine liked to ask when reading scripture, 

What is really going on here?

Here are some answers:

  1. Reason is triumphing over emotion.  Read 4 Maccabees 9:16, O reader:  “You abominable lackey, your wheel is not so powerful as to strangle my reason.”–Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)
  2. The reference to YHWH as the “king of the universe” (2 Maccabees 7:9) points to the limited power of tyrants, namely King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
  3. Personal resurrection of the dead is a doctrine in 2 Maccabees 7:9.  Personal resurrection of the dead is also a doctrine in Daniel 12:2, also of relatively late composition, relative to the Common Era.
  4. The refusal to speak Greek in 2 Maccabees 7:8 indicates defiance of the tyrant.
  5. 4 Maccabees 9:22 speaks of reward and punishment in the afterlife.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCUS AURELIUS CLEMENS PRUDENTIUS, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MATEO CORREA-MAGALLANES AND MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF ORANGE SCOTT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, ABOLITIONIST, AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WESLEYAN MEXICAN CONNECTION

THE FEAST OF SAINT VEDAST (VAAST), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI

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Posted February 6, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 2 Maccabees 7, 4 Maccabees

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The Defiance of the Seven Brothers   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IX

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2 Maccabees 7:1-2

4 Maccabees 8:1-9:9

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Strap yourselves in, O reader.  We are plunging into the core of the Fourth Book of the Maccabees, complete with improbable speeches placed in the mouths of victims of torture.  We will also read vivid descriptions of those tortures.

I have read every book of the Russian Orthodox canon of scripture.  I read some of them–including 4 Maccabees–so long that they seem now to me when I reread them.  Rediscovering the purple prose of 4 Maccabees is a literary delight.

For like a most skillful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmingly by the mighty waves of tortures, in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.

–4 Maccabees 7:1-3, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Wow!  Just, wow!

Seven brothers and their mother insisted on keeping kosher.  They arrested, willingly faced torture and martyrdom.

2 Maccabees covers that material in two verses.  4 Maccabees uses thirty-eight verses for the same purpose.  One of the brothers comes across as a verbose Stoic philosopher in 4 Maccabees 9:1-9.  In 9:7-8, for example, we read a reference to the Stoic principle that suffering cannot affect the essential nature of the wise.

In this post, I choose to focus on another point:  the clash of civilizations, with a dose of imperialism.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a committed Hellenist.  That would not have been a problem for pious Jews had he been tolerant.  But, no!  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, believing he had the superior form of civilization, imposed it on diverse populations.  Thus, those who refused to eat pork became enemies of the state.

I disagree with many people.  I consider their political ideas to be misguided and sometimes dangerous.  I may differ with their theology or lack thereof.  I am open about calling superstition what it is.  But I never support torturing any of these people.  Furthermore, as a matter of history, rulers who pursue policies of religious toleration decrease the probability of rebellion.

Also, why should any ruler care if Jews refuse to eat non-kosher food?  Why not respect that religious conviction and keep the peace?  When I was a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, one of my professors was Dr. John Steinberg.  One of his male ancestors had been a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The army did not respect kosher food laws.  Therefore, that ancestor, a pious Jew, evaded the military draft and came to the United States of America.

I understand.  Jesus said it best:

Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

–Matthew 22:21b, The New American Bible (1991)

The state has no right to impose certain demands on the people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCUS AURELIUS CLEMENS PRUDENTIUS, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MATEO CORREA-MAGALLANES AND MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF ORANGE SCOTT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, ABOLITIONIST, AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WESLEYAN MEXICAN CONNECTION

THE FEAST OF SAINT VEDAST (VAAST), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI

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The Martyrdom of Eleazar the Scribe   1 comment

Above:  Eleazar Forced to Eat Swine’s Flesh, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VIII

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2 Maccabees 6:18-31

4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23

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Before I delve into the material, O reader, I choose to mention a pattern germane to this post and the next few posts:  2 Maccabees is succinct and 4 Maccabees is verbose.  For example, 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42 spans 4 Maccabees 5:1-18:19.  One theory regarding 4 Maccabees is that it originated as an oration for Hanukkah.  I conclude that, if this is accurate, the original audience had a very long attention span.  I like that idea, especially given that I live in age in which many people have the attention spans of fleas with ADHD.

Eleazar, 90 years old, was a scribe.  He, a pious Jew, obeyed the Law of Moses scrupulously.  Of course, the old man refused to eat pork.  He also refused to spare his life by pretending to eat the forbidden meat.  Eleazar wanted to be a good example, all the way to the end.  So, he suffered tortures and died.

2 Maccabees does not describe the tortures.  4 Maccabees does describe the tortures, though.  And that book, being what it is, portrays Eleazar as being a Stoic philosopher.  The references to self-control and courage (5:23-24) fit neatly into Stoicism.

I have already covered some of the theological points of the reading from 4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23 in the post in which I wrote about 4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; and 18:20-24.  For purposes of review, however, here are are some reminders:

  1. 6:29 indicates belief in the suffering of the holy functioning as expiation of sins for the people–in this case, the persecuted Jews.
  2. 7:19 teaches the immortality of the dead.  God is the God of the living, many of whom lack pulses.

By the way, just in case somebody forgot that 4 Maccabees teaches Stoicism, there is 7:22:

For only the wise and courageous man is lord of his emotions.

Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

I prefer to focus on another point, though.  Words and actions matter.  Appearances can deceive, but they still matter.  One may consult 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 for another presentation of this truth.  The context there is eating meat sacrificed to false gods then sold in markets.  The main idea, though, is the same:  Act so as not to lead anyone astray.

Eleazar was faithful to the end.  He died so he would not lead anyone astray.  He should never have been in that situation, though.  Ultimately, Antiochus IV Epiphanes bore the most responsibility for Eleazar’s martyrdom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCUS AURELIUS CLEMENS PRUDENTIUS, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MATEO CORREA-MAGALLANES AND MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF ORANGE SCOTT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, ABOLITIONIST, AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WESLEYAN MEXICAN CONNECTION

THE FEAST OF SAINT VEDAST (VAAST), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI

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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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