Archive for the ‘Daniel 12’ Category

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

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

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

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

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

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

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

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

HIGH TREASON

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

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

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

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

666

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

godless political power allied with godless religion.

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

Stoffel offered:

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

–76

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

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

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

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

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The Sounding of the Seven Trumpets   Leave a comment

Above:  The Locusts of the Apocalypse

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XI

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Revelation 8:1-11:9

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

THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS

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

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

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

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

THE DEMONIC LOCUSTS

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

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

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

ROMAN IMPERIAL PERSECUTION

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

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

EATING THE SCROLL OF DOOM

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

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

SYMBOLISM AND NUMEROLOGY

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

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

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Introduction to the Apocalypse of John   Leave a comment

Above:  Revelation Title (French)

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from a copy of the Louis Segond revised translation (1910) of the Bible

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READING REVELATION, PART I

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Revelation 1:1-20

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Rev[elation] is widely popular for the wrong reasons, for a great number of people read it as a guide to how the world will end, assuming that the author was given by Christ detailed knowledge of the future he communicated in coded symbols.

Father Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), 773

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…Revelation does not speak about our time, it does speak to it.

–M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (1989), 62

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THE APOCALYPTIC GENRE

Reading a book within its genre matters.

Consider the apocalypse in Daniel 7-12, for example, O reader.  The author wrote in the first century B.C.E.  He mostly wrote history as prophecy.  But when the author started writing about the future (relative to him), he got details wrong.  This was par for the course, given the genre.

Apocalyptic literature, written in images and symbols, is politically subversive of tyranny.  The genre offers hope during difficult times, encourages the faithful to remain faithful, and contrasts the world order with the divine order.  Apocalyptic literature uses the future as away to address the present.

I lay my theological cards on the table at the beginning of this project, O reader.

  1. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian.
  2. I am a student of history.
  3. I am an intellectual.
  4. I know the historical record of failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming and failed identifications of the Antichrist.
  5. I tell you, O reader, that the rapture is a fiction from the mind of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
  6. I know that Darby’s Dispensationalism, popularized further in C. I. Scofield‘s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” remains a widespread interpretive system.
  7. I affirm that Christ will eventually return, but only once.  The rapture requires two Second Comings.
  8. I have no interest in prophecy conferences, but care deeply about loving like Jesus daily.

Apocalyptic literature has much to say about our present.  This content remains politically subversive.  That is fine.  I approve of subverting injustice, tyranny, slavery, economic exploitation, and needless violence.  They are antithetical to the Kingdom of God.

Apocalyptic literature is also optimistic.  In the darkness, the genre proclaims hope that God and good will triumph in the end.  Apocalyptic literature, therefore, stiffens the spines of discouraged, faithful people.  Good news of the deliverance of oppressed people doubles as judgment of the oppressors.  The genre invites us to ask ourselves:

Whose side am I on?

In summary, apocalyptic literature immediately moves past preaching and gets to meddling.

THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN AND RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY

Certain passages of the Old and New Testaments, in their contexts, support submission to earthly authority.  The Apocalypse of John has none of that.  Revelation tells us that the Roman Empire was evil, antithetical to the Kingdom of God.  This is the message that made the text treasonous long ago and still inspires many people to resist tyranny.  One may read, for example, of Christian opponents of Apartheid (in South Africa) drawing inspiration from the Apocalypse of John, even as the national government prosecuted and persecuted them.  Today, in dictatorships, certain Christians are reading Revelation as they emerge in their struggles for justice.

REVELATION IN THE BIBLE AND LECTIONARIES

Revelation is a liturgical hot potato.  The major lectionaries include little of it.  The Eastern Orthodox lectionary excludes the Apocalypse of John.  The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) explains:

While seen as canonical and inspired by God, the Revelation is the only New Testament book not publicly read in the services of the Orthodox Church.  This is partly because the book was only gradually accepted as canonical in many parts of Christendom.  In addition, in the second and third centuries Revelation was widely twisted and sensationally misinterpreted, and the erroneous teachings brought troublesome confusion to Christians–a trend that continues to this day.

Genesis and Revelation constitute fitting bookends of the Christian Bible.  Genesis opens with mythology–the creation of an earthly paradise, followed by the end of that paradise–to be precise (Genesis 1-3).  Revelation concludes with a vision of God, having finally defeated evil once and for all, restoring that earthly paradise and establishing the fully-realized Kingdom of God (Revelation 21-22).

THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN

Revelation came from 92 to 96 C.E., at the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian.  Emperor-worship and the worship of the goddess Roma (Rome personified) were parts of conventional Roman patriotism and civic life.  The Christian refusal to participate in these cults made Christians seem unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst.  Persecution was generally sporadic and regional at the time, but it was a constant threat.  “John of Patmos” (whoever he was) wrote to seven churches in commercial cities in western Asia Minor.

The elaborate symbolism–including numerology–in apocalyptic literature prevented the uninitiated–in this case, Roman censors–from understanding the texts.

SYMBOLISM AND MEANING IN REVELATION 1

The only instance in which to interpret any number in the Apocalypse of John literally pertains to the seven churches in western Asia Minor.

Revelation 1 plunges us into the symbolic aspect of apocalyptic literature immediately.  Stars (at the end of the chapter) represent angels and lamp-stands represent churches.  Earlier in the chapter, Jesus has white hair, indicating holiness.  His eyes, like a burning flame, pierce to the heart of all things.  Christ’s “feet like burnished bronze” are stable and steadfast.  His voice, “like the sound of the ocean,” is the convergence of the truth of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus holds the Church–then a vulnerable group of house congregations–in his hand.  From Christ’s mouth emerges a two-edged sword (speech).  His face shines like the sun.  Christ is victorious, resurrected, ascended, and priestly.

The Roman Empire may have seemed to have had all the power and glory.  It did not.  The Roman Empire had executed Jesus.  Yet he had risen; his tomb was empty.  The power of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to the power of God in Christ.

That was treasonous, for, according to Roman coinage, the emperor was the “Son of God.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE EDWARD LYNCH COTTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CALCUTTA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH ALBERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND POET

THE FEAST OF HERBERT G. MAY, U.S. BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN ERNEST BODE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TYNDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND MARTYR, 1536; AND MILES COVERDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF EXETER

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The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Corrupt High Priests: Jason and Menelaus   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VI

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2 Maccabees 4:7-50

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Jason had originally been Joshua, son of Onias III, son of Simon II “the Just” (3 Maccabees 2:1-20; Sirach 50:1-24), and grandson of Onias II.  The High Priesthood, of the lineage of Aaron, was supposed to be a lifetime appointment.  The pious Onias III was out of office.  Joshua, who took a Greek name (Jason), purchased the High Priesthood from the new monarch, Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  Jason committed what later became known as simony, after Simon Magus offering to purchase the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24).

Jason, unlike his brother, father, grandfather, et cetera, betrayed the faith.  He imposed Hellenism and led people into apostasy.  The Jewish High Priest ever tried to make an offering to Hercules.  After three years of being the High Priest, Jason lost his job to simony.  How ironic!

Menelaus, son of Simon the corrupt Temple administrator, purchased the High Priesthood from King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 172 B.C.E.  The cruel Menelaus never paid the king, though.  Meanwhile, Jason in exile among the Ammonites.  Menelaus, summoned to appear before King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, appeared before Andronicus, a regent, instead.  (The monarch had to deal with two rebellious cities.)  Menelaus attempted to bribe Andronicus.  Onias III denounced Menelaus, who suggested the murder of Onias III.  Andronicus had Onias III executed.  

Before leaving Jerusalem, Menelaus had placed his brother Lysimachus in his stead.  When a crowd protested his perfidy, Lysimachus doubled down on it.  He sent forces to attack the crowd.  But the crowd killed Lysimachus.

Menelaus managed to remain in office, despite an attempt to remove him.  

Yet thanks to the cupidity of those in power, Menelaus, this arch-plotter against his fellow citizens, continued in office and went from bad to worse.

–2 Maccabees 4:50, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Daniel 9, 11, and 12 help to date most of the Book of Daniel to a certain late period on the B.C.E. scale, due to historical references.  Onias III is “an anointed one cut off” in Daniel 9:26 and the “prince of the covenant” in Daniel 11:22.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes is the “contemptible person on whom royal majesty had not been conferred” (11:21).   And Jason is “an alliance” in 11:23.  

As people say, 

It will get worse before it gets better.

That statement applies to the next post, I will cover the beginning of the persecution of the Jews by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

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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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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Resurrection of the Dead, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  Resurrection of the Righteous and Coronation of the Virgin, by Francesco Bassano the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday after Easter, 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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Almighty God, who showest to them that be in error the light of thy truth,

to the intent that they may return into the way of righteousness;

grant unto all them that are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion

that they may avoid those things that are contrary to their profession,

and follow all such things as are agreeable to the same;

through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 169-170

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Isaiah 26:12-16, 19

Psalms 122 and 123

2 Timothy 1:3-14

John 11:1-29

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Some texts are clear.  John 11:1-44, for example, makes plain that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  A plain reading of 2 Timothy reveals that the author, writing as St. Paul the Apostle, thought that Jesus had abolished death, of a sort.  Psalm 122 obviously includes a prayer for the peace of Jerusalem.  Psalm 123, another pilgrimage text, is a prayer for divine mercy.

Isaiah 26:19 is ambiguous, though.  Some texts in the Hebrew Bible use life after death as a metaphor for national renewal.  Ezekiel 37 does this, for example.  Daniel 12:2-3, 12 is the only passage in the Hebrew Bible that unambiguously affirms the personal resurrection of the dead.  The germane note in The Jewish Study Bible takes no side in the debate over whether Isaiah 26:19 is literal or metaphorical.  Even rabbis disagree.  So be it.

In Christian theology, the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead relies on more than one passage of scripture anyway.  Beliefs about the afterlife common among Christians have more to do with Greek philosophy than the Bible.  Changing minds regarding this issue can be a challenging task.  Assumptions often become so entrenched that they become so entrenched that they remain despite evidence and education to the contrary.

Ultimately, nobody on this side of the veil knows what lies on the other side.  People have ideas, many of which extend this life into the next one.  Heaven–or whatever one calls it–may seem like an extension of what we know on Earth.  Our human imaginations cannot conceive of what the afterlife is like.  The best we can do is to resort to metaphors and analogies.

I have my ideas.  Heaven and Hell are realities, but not places.  A place has coordinates and geography.  One can map a place.  It is to the north of X or to the west of Y.  Heaven and Hell, I propose, are spiritual realities.  Every person in Heaven got there by grace.  All people in Hell sent themselves.  And you, O reader, and I may be shocked and perhaps even appalled at who is where.

Such matters are in the purview of God, as they have always been.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THEODOSIUS THE CENOBIARCH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM EVEREST, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS II OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH OF AQUILEIA

THE FEAST OF RICHARD FREDERICK LITTLEDALE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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Restoration and Revelation   Leave a comment

Above:  The Healing of Tobit, by Bernardo Strozzi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART IX

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Tobit 11:7-12:22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

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

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

THE FEAST OF ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL TAIT, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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

THE FEAST OF SOPHIE KOULOMZIN, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN CHRISTIAN EDUCATOR

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This is post #2400 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Daniel and Susanna   Leave a comment

Above:  Susanna and the Elders

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART XI

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Daniel 13:1-64

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Daniel and Susanna, according to study Bibles I consulted, hails from either the second or the first centuries B.C.E.  A standard description of Daniel 13 is that it is the oldest surviving detective story.  I prefer to think of it as the oldest surviving Perry Mason story.

The cast of named characters is:

  1. Joakim, husband of Susanna;
  2. Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim;
  3. Hilkiah, father of Susanna; and
  4. Daniel.

The story does not name the two wicked elders.

This is a story about the miscarriage of justice.  We read that the beautiful and pious Susanna, wife of the wealthy and pious Joakim, refused the sexual advances of the lecherous and homicidal elders, who had hidden in her garden.  The story describes the two elders as predators.  We also read of their perjury and of Susanna’s false conviction, followed by her sentence of death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:21-22).

This is also a story about justice.  We read of Susanna’s prayer (verses 42-43) and of God’s reply:  sending Daniel to rescue her.  We read of Daniel’s Perry Mason routine, by which he exposed the two elders’ lies with an arborial question:  

Now, if you really saw this woman, then tell us, under what tree did you see them together?”

–Verse 54, The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1989)

We also read of the elders’ execution, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).  In the Law of Moses, the punishment for committing perjury to convict someone falsely is to suffer the fate one intended for the accused.

The suffering of the innocent and the pious is a major theme in the Book of Daniel.  We also read of God delivering such victims in Daniel 2 and 3.  Yet Daniel 10-12 wrestles with the realities of martyrdoms.

God delivers the innocent and the pious some of the time.  This tension is evident in the Book of Psalms.  Some of those texts sound like Elihu, as well as Job’s alleged friends:  Suffering results from sins, and God delivers the righteous.  Yet other Psalms come from the perspective of the suffering righteous.  The former position fills Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/the Wisdom of Ben Sira, too.  Ecclesiastes functions as a counter-argument to that excessive optimism.

Why does God deliver some of the righteous and not all of them?  I have no pat answer for such a challenging question.  In Revelation 6:9-11, even the martyrs in Heaven are not always happy.

We who struggle with this vexing question belong to an ancient tradition.  We are the current generation in a long train.  We have reasons to rejoice, at least; God delivers some of the innocent and the pious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN KENNETH PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS WIFE, HARRIET ELIZABETH “BESSIE” WHITTINGTON PFOHL, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN; AND THEIR SON, JAMES CHRISTIAN PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CASPAR FRIEDRICH NACHTENHOFER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MISSIONARY

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The Final Vision   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Michael the Archangel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART X

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Daniel 10:1-12:13

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This passage, superficially from 586 B.C.E. or so, actually comes from a time much closer to 164 B.C.E.  The reference to the “prince of Greece” (the guardian angel of the Seleucid Empire) clues us into the actual period of composition.

Again, as I keep repeating in these posts, the Book of Daniel is not history.  Chapter 11 mentions Darius the Mede, supposedly the conqueror of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the immediate predecessors of Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes.  Historical records tell us that Cyrus II conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  Records also tell us that the Persian Empire had ten kings from 559 to 330 B.C.E., with Cyrus II being the first and Darius III the last.  Daniel 11:2 reads:

Persia will have three more kings, and the fourth will be wealthier than them all; by the power he obtains through his wealth, he will stir everyone up against the kingdom of the Greeks.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The material in the reading for this post is dense, with many references to ancient potentates.

  1. The “warrior king” in Daniel 11:3 is obviously a reference to Alexander III “the Great,” given the breaking up of his empire after his death (11:4).
  2. The kings of the south were kings of the Ptolemaic Empire.
  3. The kings of the north were kings of the Seleucid Empire.
  4. The kings of the south (11:5f) and the north (11:6f) were Ptolemy I Soter (reigned 323-285 B.C.E.) Seleucus II Callinicus (reigned 246-225 B.C.E.), respectively.
  5. Daniel 11:6 refers to the murder of the daughter of a daughter of King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (reigned 285-246 B.C.E.).
  6. Daniel 11:7 refers to the retaliation of King Ptolemy III Euergetes (reigned 246-221 B.C.E.).
  7. Daniel 11 also contains references to hostile relations during the reigns of subsequent kings, including Ptolemy V Ephiphanes (reigned 204-180 B.C.E.) and Antiochus III “the Great” (reigned 223-187 B.C.E).
  8. Daniel 11:20 refers to Seleucus IV Philopater (reigned 187-175 B.C.E.), who attempted to rob the treasury of the Temple in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 3).
  9. Daniel 11:21f refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.), the bête noire of Hasmonean partisans and a foe of the Ptomemaic Dynasty in Egypt.

Jews were literally in the middle of this Ptolemaic-Seleucid warfare.  Judea, incorporated into the Seleucid Empire after the Battle of Paneas (200 B.C.E.), were subject to religious persecution.  This reality set the stage for the Hasmonean rebellion, in progress during the composition of Daniel 7-12.

The message of Daniel 10-12, then, is to remain faithful despite persecution and martyrdom.  God will win in the end.

Daniel 12 contains another theologically important detail.  The resurrection of the dead in Ezekiel 37 is a metaphor for the restoration of Judah after the Babylonian Exile.  The resurrection of the dead is literal in Daniel 12, though.

Living in perilous times is stressful.  The temptation to surrender hope is strong.  Yet, as the Book of Daniel repeatedly reminds us, God is sovereign.  God is faithful.  And, to quote the Reverend Maltbie Davenport Babcock (1858-1901),

This is my Father’s world,

O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong,

God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:

The battle is not done;

Jesus who died shall be satisfied,

And earth and heaven be one.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 22, 2020 COMMON ERA

CHRIST THE KING SUNDAY–PROPER 29:  THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEAGRAVE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DITLEF GEORGSON RISTAD, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, LITURGIST, AND EDUCATOR

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