Archive for the ‘Baruch-Letter of Jeremiah-2 Baruch’ Category

“For He Must Reign.”   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Judgment

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XIV

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Revelation 20:1-15

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TEXTUAL ANALYSIS

In Revelation, 1000 symbolizes a large, uncountable quantity.

Interpretations of the millennium vary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

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

decently and in order,

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

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

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

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

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

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

HIGH TREASON

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

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

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

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

666

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

godless political power allied with godless religion.

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

Stoffel offered:

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

–76

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

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

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

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

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The Opening of the Seven Seals   Leave a comment

Above:  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART X

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Revelation 6:1-7:17

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

THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE

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

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

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

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

But do not harm the oil and the wine!

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

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

THE MARTYRS IN HEAVEN

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

What do you intend to do, you sinners,

whither will you flee on that day of judgment,

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

–1 Enoch 97:3, translated by E. Isaac

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

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

–21:19, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

That is a fair question.

That passage concludes:

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

–2:25

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

…yet saints their watch are keeping,

their cry goes up, “How long?”

and soon the night of weeping 

shall be the morn of song.

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

DIVINE JUDGMENT AND MERCY

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

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

Then his kingdom will appear throughout his whole creation.

Then the devil will have an end.

Yea, sorrow will be led away with him.

–10:1, translated by J. Priest

I am getting ahead of the story, though.

THE SEALING OF THE SERVANTS OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

In the world you will have trouble,

but be brave:

I have conquered the world.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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

Let that sink in, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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To the Church in Sardis   Leave a comment

Above:  Gymnasium and Roman Baths, Ancient Sardis

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING REVELATION, PART VI

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Revelation 3:1-6

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

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

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

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

The spiritual death of congregations is sad.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP THE EVANGELIST, DEACON

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To the Church in Pergamum   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of the Acropolis, Pergamum, Between 1888 and 1910

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-03770

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READING REVELATION, PART IV

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Revelation 2:12-17

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Pergamum, a prominent city, was the seat of the local Roman imperial Provincial Council.  Zeal for enforcing emperor-worship was great.  In the worldview of Revelation, Pergamum was on the short list of places where Satan was enthroned.

Nevertheless, the church there persisted in faith, even after the martyrdom of one of their own, Antipas.

The story of Balaam fills Numbers 22-24.  In that account, Balak, the King of Moab, afraid of the Israelites, hired the soothsayer Balaam to curse and weaken the Israelites.  Numbers 22-24 reveal that God prevented Balaam from doing that.  The Jewish tradition upon which Revelation 2:12-17 relied expanded on that story, making Balaam the prototype of evil people who taught Jews to commit idolatry and to eat food sacrificed to idols (Numbers 25:1-3).

The Nicolaitans favored accommodation to the dominant culture, the one John of Patmos considered evil.

The text of Revelation 2:12-17 is vague about the sins of some of the Christians there.  Some guesses are reasonable, though.  One may surmise that some Christians were eating food sacrificed to idols, for example.  One may recall 1 Corinthians 8:7-13 regarding that matter.

Revelation 2:12-17 concludes with a divine promise to the faithful–a blessed afterlife with spiritual manna.  This conclusion is similar to a passage from Second Baruch, from the Pseudepigrapha:

And it will happen at that time that the treasury of manna will come down again from on high, and they will eat of it in those years because these are they who will arrived at the consummation of time.

–2 Baruch 29:8, translated by A. F. J. Klijn

The white stone was blessed because it was white.  (White symbolized holiness in Revelation.  Jesus had white hair.  The martyrs wore white robes.  Et cetera.)  The stone bore a new name, perhaps that of Jesus.  The faithful, having remained faithful to Christ, received a positive afterlife.

Not conforming to the dominant culture can be difficult when one belongs to a powerless minority.  When that dominant culture oppresses one’s religion, conforming is an easy way out of persecution.  Human beings are inherently social creatures.  Conformity, therefore, is a powerful pressure.  When nonconformity is righteous, conformity is sinful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DENIS, BISHOP OF PARIS; AND HIS COMPANIONS; ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, CIRCA 250

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF LUCCA; AND SAINT JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

THE FEAST OF PENNY LERNOUX, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC JOURNALIST AND MORAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GROSSETESTE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SCHOLAR, PHILOSOPHER, AND BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF WILFRED THOMASON GRENFELL, MEDICAL MISSIONARY TO NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

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The Incomparable Sovereign God, with the First Servant Song   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 40:12-42:17

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YHWH, who ended the Babylonian Exile, was unconquered, incomparable, sovereign, and formidable.  YHWH, the Creator, was the God of the world, not a tribal or national deity.  YHWH was with the Jewish exiles, the Chosen People.  YHWH put the nations on trial, on behalf of justice.

The poor and the needy

Seek water, and there is none;

Their tongue is parched with thirst.

I the LORD will respond to them.

I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

–Isaiah 41:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Idolatry in the presence of YHWH is futile (41:21-29).

I affirm all of the above while noticing that I have read all of it in various Hebrew prophetic books since I started this long-term project, with the Book of Hosea.  I also recall the Letter of Jeremiah (Baruch 6), one of many tirades against idolatry in Hebrew literature.  Another such tirade awaits me in Isaiah 44:9-20.  These tirades, while mocking idolatry (as they should), frequently mischaracterize idols–the objects themselves–and what idolaters though the objects were.  These tirades after falsely accuse idolaters of believing these figures of wood or metal were gods.  Actually, idolaters believed that divine presences entered idols after complex rituals.

Isaiah 42:1-9 is the First Servant Song.  The servant, we read, will bring justice to the nations.  Who is–was–the servant?  Proposed identities include Jesus (of course), King Cyrus II of the Persian Empire, Second Isaiah, the faithful people within the Hebrew nation, and the Hebrew nation itself.  Isaiah 42:1-4, which borrows from Isaiah 11 and Jeremiah 31:31-36, anticipates an ideal future of justice and ecological harmony.  It also lends itself to identifying the servant as the covenant community (42:6)–Jews, in terms Second Isaiah knew.  I, as one who affirms God’s double covenant, add Christians to the ranks of covenant people.  The task of the covenant people (Jews and Christians) in 2021 is to bring justice to the nations, per Isaiah 42:1-4.  God equips and empowers us to do so.  How many of us accept the mission?

I the LORD, in My grace, have summoned you,

And I have grasped you by the hand.

I created you, and appointed you

A covenant people, a light of nations–

Opening eyes deprived of light,

Rescuing prisoners from confinement,

From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

–Isaiah 42:6-7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Those words remain as applicable in 2021 as they were circa 540 B.C.E.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

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

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the affection of brotherhood.

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

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

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

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

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

One may think of another passage:

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Idolatry, Part III   Leave a comment

Above:  Marduk

Image in the Public Domain

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READING BARUCH AND THE LETTER OF JEREMIAH

PART V

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Baruch 6:1-72

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The Letter of Jeremiah is the sixth chapter of Baruch sometimes.  Otherwise, the letter stands on its own.

The Letter of Jeremiah not a letter, despite its title.  Rather, it is a polemic against idolatry.

The Letter of Jeremiah, superficially from the prophet Jeremiah to exiles in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, borrows and recycles from Jeremiah 10:1-16. The Letter of Jeremiah, dating to the 200s B.C.E., reminds us that idolatry is a timeless problem.

The text of the Letter of Jeremiah is tedious and repetitive.  Stylistically, it is a low point in the canon of Christian scripture.

Walter J. Harrelson, writing in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), offered a succinct analysis of the meaning of the text:

What was the danger of idolatry to which this text and others point?  The danger is that the worshiper may come to believe that the deity is manageable, subject to the control of the worshiper, able to be won over, placated.  Israel’s God is sovereign and utterly free, and Israel is called to hear, obey, and adore.

–1531

That danger remains relevant.  The temptation to think one can control or placate God continues to be ubiquitous.  I admit to falling prey to it many times.  I confess to having committed this variety of idolatry.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 22, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK AND WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOPS OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CHAEREMON AND ISCHYRION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, CIRCA 250

THE FEAST OF CHICO MENDES, “GANDHI OF THE AMAZON”

THE FEAST OF HENRY BUDD, FIRST ANGLICAN NATIVE PRIEST IN NORTH AMERICA; MISSIONARY TO THE CREE NATION

THE FEAST OF ISAAC HECKER, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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Consolation and Encouragement   Leave a comment

Above:  Road Through Desert

Image in the Public Domain

Photographer = Gentry George, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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READING BARUCH AND THE LETTER OF JEREMIAH

PART IV

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Baruch 4:5-5:9

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Take courage, my children; call out to God!

The one who brought this upon you will remember you.

As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God,

so turn now ten times the more to seek him;

For the one who has brought disaster upon you

will, in saving you, bring your eternal joy.

–Baruch 4:27-29, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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The story of the Book of Baruch continues with assurance of divine deliverance.  Baruch 5:9 reads:

For God is leading Israel in joy

by the light of his glory,

with the mercy and justice that are his.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

The poem in Baruch 4:5-5:9 is beautiful.  Part of it is an Advent reading every three years.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  As I keep writing, I do not pretend to know what that balance is or should be.  I insist, however, that keeping the balance of divine judgment and mercy in mind is crucial to having a balanced theology.  Hellfire-and-damnation theology is heretical.  So is love without standards.  This is why I affirm the existence of Hell while arguing that God has never sent anyone there.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors to Hell are locked from the inside.

The author of Baruch 4:5-5:9 understood Israel alone to be the people of God.  He lived before the time of Christ and the rise of the Church.  The author of Baruch 4:5-5:9 died before the birth of St. Paul the Apostle.  I, as a Gentile and a Christian, stand outside the people of God, as the author of Baruch 4:5-5:9 defined them.

Anthony J. Saldarini wrote:

We (in the churches) must complement the punishment for sin that Baruch promises to the nations with the story of God’s mercy and ongoing relationship with all nations in history.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (2001), 982

The love of God does extend to all people, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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In Praise of Wisdom   Leave a comment

Above:  Jackson Mine, Negaunee, Michigan, 1912

Image in the Public Domain

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READING BARUCH AND THE LETTER OF JEREMIAH

PART III

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Baruch 3:9-4:4

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My recent Bible study and reading programs have brought me back to Job 28 twice in short order.  This has been serendipitous.  Job 28 was the model for much of Baruch 3:9-4:4.

Wisdom is inaccessible to human beings, Job 28 tells us.  Job 27 flows into Job 29.  Chapter 28 sits between for some reason.  Job 28 concludes with:

And [God] said to man,

“Wisdom?  It is fear of the Lord.

Understanding?–avoidance of evil.”

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Baruch 3:9-4:4 embraces the Deutronomic teaching that God punishes sins and rewards righteousness.  The text urges people to obey God’s commandments, to keep the Law of Moses.  This is a prominent motif in the Bible:  Love God; keep divine commandments.

How, then, should exiles–or just people living under occupation–live while they wait for divine deliverance?  They ought to keep God’s laws?  They must hold God in awe and avoid evil.  The beginning of evil is the false idea that one can do whatever one wants and God will not care.  Evil also falsely assumes that one can and must act on one’s power, given the assumption that God either does not exist or does not care.

To quote Anthony J. Saldarini:

We either acknowledge and obey God in harmony with the world or reject God with a disobedience that leads to chaos.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (2001), 970

Without rejecting science and cultural tolerance, both of which are valuable, I take Saldarini’s point.  I take the point of the author of Baruch 3:9-4:4.  Divine wisdom is 

the book of the precepts of God.

–4:1

Monotheism is uncompromising.  It stakes its claim and rejects other deities.  Ethical monotheism proposes standard that may prove daunting to many people.  So be it.

As we stand firm, may we do so lovingly.  May we never be obnoxious as we assert the truth.  As we proclaim God, may we avoid erecting barriers to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-SECOND DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF BATES GILBERT BURT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF D. ELTON TRUEBLOOD, U.S. QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT MICHAL PIACZYNSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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