Jonathan, Successor of Judas Maccabeus   4 comments

Above:  Jonathan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXV

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1 Maccabees 9:23-73

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

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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Jonathan, son of Mattathias and brother of Judas Maccabeus, led the Hasmonean Rebellion, starting in 160 B.C.E.

His story will occupy blog posts in this series through 1 Maccabees 13:30.

Times were perilous.  Bacchides, as governor, was victorious.  The Hasmoneans were on the run.  A severe famine affected the land.  After the abduction and murder of a brother (John Gaddi), Jonathan led a raid and avenged John Gaddi’s death.  And again (see 1 Maccabees 2:29-41), Hasmoneans had to defend themselves on a Sabbath (1 Maccabees 9:43f).  In the Seleucid/Hellenstic year 153 (159 B.C.E.), Alcimus died in agony (1 Maccabees 9:54-57).  The theme of retribution, prominent in 2 Maccabees (see 4:38, 5:8-10, 13:3-8, and 15:28-36), played out in 1 Maccabees, too.

While Jonathan and his brother Simon worked together to rebuild fortifications, Bacchides continued to fight back.  Yet the Hasmoneans were regaining momentum.  Bacchides returned his prisoners of war and left Judea.

Taking up residence in Michmash, Jonathan began to govern the people and root the apostates out of Israel.

–1 Maccabees 9:73, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Nevertheless, King Demetrius I Soter remained on the Seleucid throne, at least for a little while longer.  The Hasmonean Rebellion had not ended.

In purely human terms, Seleucid efforts against Jonathan failed because of the lack of effective Seleucid leadership.  Conversely, Jonathan succeeded against the odds because, in part, he offered effective leadership.  Also, Jonathan won enough popular support for the Hasmonean Rebellion.  Well-armed military forces have failed throughout the past to control sufficiently mobilized populations.  Populations that have made themselves ungovernable have triumphed over those–not always foreigners–who would govern them.

The anonymous author of 1 Maccabees added another point:  God was on the side of the Hasmoneans.  God may have been on their side.  Assuming that was true, that point did not nullify or contradict my points in the previous paragraph.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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The Death of Judas Maccabeus   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of Judas Maccabeus

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXIV

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1 Maccabees 9:1-22

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

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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Back in 1 Maccabees 7 and 2 Maccabees 15, Nicanor (one of the Nicanors, anyway) died in combat against Hasmonean forces under the command of Judas Maccabeus.  Nicanor’s severed head hung from the citadel of Jeusalem, and his severed tongue became food for birds.

Seleucid King Demetrius I Soter reacted to that news about as well as you, O reader, may have guessed.  He sent governor Bacchides and High Priest Alcimus into action again in the Seleucid/Hellenistic year 152 (160 B.C.E.)  The war between the Hasmoneans and the Seleucid Empire continued.  The overwhelming numbers of the Seleucid army inspired fear in Hasmonean ranks.  Judas Maccabeus’s relatively small army became smaller via desertion.

Judas Maccabeus remembered what you, O reader, may also recall:  the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare earlier in the narrative.  That was then.  Judas Maccabeus died in combat.

The Hasmonean Rebellion continued, however.

1 Maccabees 9:21 reads:

How is our champion fallen,

the saviour of Israel.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

This draws from two other verses.  One is 2 Samuel 1:25a, part of David’s lament for the Jonathan and King Saul:

How are the warriors fallen on the field of battle!

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The other verse is Judges 3:9:

Then the Israelites cried to the LORD for help, and to deliver them he raised up Othniel son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, and he set them free.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

Robert Doran, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), asked a germane question:

What had Judas actually accomplished?

-111

Seleucid forces controlled Jerusalem.  Furthermore, Judas Maccabeus had died as a guerrilla seeking to avoid capture.  He died a failure.  So did King Saul (1 Samuel 31:1-13; 1 Chronicles 10:1-10), who perished while fighting to liberate the Hebrews from Philistine oppression.

Doran proposed that Judas Maccabeus became a hero postmortem because his family eventually won the struggle and founded a dynasty:

Judas’s was a movement that could not fail, for it depended not on him alone but on the vision that his father had sparked in many minds.

–Robert Doran, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), 111

Jonathan, brother of Judas Maccabeus, took on the mantle of leadership and continued the struggle.  In contrast, David, rival of King Saul, eventually won freedom for his people from Philistine oppression.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Beginning of the Alliance with the Roman Republic   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Expansion of the Roman Republic in the Second Century B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXIII

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1 Maccabees 8:1-32

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

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The First Book of the Maccabees presents the leader of the Hasmonean Rebellion as being both idealistic and realistic.  Many people are both idealistic and realistic.  Many other people are one or the other.  Unrealistic idealists work against their own goals.  Realists who lack idealism need a moral compass.

One example of Hasmonean realism exists in 1 Maccabees 2:31-48.  Engaging in combat on the Sabbath violates the Law of Moses, a code the Hasmoneans insisted that Jews follow.  Nevertheless,

On that day they came to this decision:  “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kinsmen died in the hiding places.”

–1 Maccabees 2:41, The New American Bible (1991)

Remember that, O reader, when you read a Gospel story in which critics of Jesus and/or his Apostles accuse him or them or allegedly violating the Sabbath.  Recall that relativizing the commandments within the Law of Moses and bowing to reality was already part of the practice of orthodox Judaism prior to the time of Christ.

Consider, O reader, the political situation of Judas Maccabeus and his followers in the Hasmonean Rebellion.  He fought against apostate Jews, as well as King Demetrius I Soter of the Seleucid Empire.  That empire was fracturing.  The Hasmonean Rebellion was just one revolt with which King Demetrius I Soter contended.  Judas Maccabeus and the other Hasmoneans needed allies.  The Roman Republic, furthermore, opposed Demetrius, who had, in violation of orders from the Roman Senate, escaped from Rome, captured the Seleucid throne, and had ordered the execution of Regent Lysisas and the young King Antiochus V Eupator.  The Hasmoneans and the Romans had a common enemy.

The text contains references to Roman victories against King Philip V of Macedonia (197 B.C.E.), King Perseus of Macedonia (168 B.C.E.), and King Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Empire (189 B.C.E.).  One also reads about Roman victories in Spain (late 200s B.C.E.), northern Italy (222 and 191 B.C.E.), and Greece (146 B.C.E.).  The reference to the Roman victory against the Achean League in 146 B.C.E. is an anachronism, given the contemporary setting of 160 B.C.E.

Also, comparing 1 Maccabees 8:16 to the opinions of contemporary and subsequent Roman historians reveals that 1 Maccabees 8:16 is an idealized presentation of the later phase of the Roman Republic.  1 Maccabees 8:1 makes clear, however, that what followed was what Judas Maccabeus had heard.

The treaty (8:23-29) provided for mutual defense and for Jews not to aid enemies of the Roman Republic.  King Demetrius I Soter formally had a new enemy (8:31).  Nevertheless, the Roman Republic did not come through for their allies until 142 B.C.E. (1 Maccabees 14:16-24)–18 years later.

Father Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., explains the geopolitical situation following the treaty of 160 B.C.E.:

There is evidence that the Romans were not very scrupulous about fulfilling their obligations in this kind of treaty.  They usually acted when it best suited their interests.  However, a small constituency like the Maccabees had little to lose from such a treaty.  Its existence might scare off the Seleucids, who would not know whether this might be one of those occasions that might bring about Roman intervention.  It also gave the Maccabees and their supporters the status of speaking on behalf of Israel and so constituting a kind of government.

The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 792

I, writing in 2021 C.E., note the irony and poignancy of 1 Maccabees 8.  I know that Roman general Pompey added Judea to the Roman Republic in 63 B.C.E., after the composition of 1 Maccabees circa 104 B.C.E.  I know about the First Jewish War (66-73 C.E.) and the Second Jewish War (132-135 C.E.), too.  I know about the Roman imperial destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  These facts inform my interpretation of 1 Maccabees 8.

Nevertheless, in the temporal and geopolitical contexts of 160 B.C.E., Judas Maccabeus acted shrewdly, in a combination of idealism and realism.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Defeat and Death of Nicanor, with the Death of Razis   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas Maccabaeus Before the Army of Nicanor, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXII

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1 Maccabees 7:26-50

2 Maccabees 14:14-15:37

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

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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I confess to you, O reader, that I am confused.  I do not know if the Nicanor of 1 Maccabees 3:38–a general and a Friend of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes–is the same man as the Nicanor 14:11-15:37.  Commentaries and study Bibles disagree with each other.  They agree, however, that “Nicanor” was a common name.

Anyway, the Nicanor of these readings was formerly in charge of the royal elephants.  Yet King Demetrius I Soter appointed him the governor of Judea.  Nicanor’s mission was, in the words of 1 Maccabees 7:26, to wipe out the people of Israel.  The depiction of Nicanor in 1 Maccabees 7:26-50 was consistently negative.  In 2 Maccabees, however, Nicanor developed good will for Judas Maccabeus, for a time, at least.

Furthermore, according to 2 Maccabees, Alcimus, hoping to prevent Judas Maccabeus from becoming the High Priest, meddled.  Alcimus wrote to King Demetrius I Soter.  Then King Demetrius I Soter wrote to Nicanor.  The friendship with Judas Maccabeus ended.

Nevertheless, the portrayal of Nicanor in 2 Maccabees was still negative.  The story of the death of Razis, a devout Jewish elder (2 Maccabees 14:37-46) painted Nicanor in an especially unflattering light.

2 Maccabees 14:46 affirms the physical resurrection of the dead, by the way.  Furthermore, 2 Maccabees 14:15-16 teaches that some deceased pious people, such as the prophet Jeremiah, were alive prior to the general resurrection of the dead.

Also, Nicanor had no respect for the Jewish Sabbath (2 Maccabees 15:15).  Yet Judas Maccabeus had faith in God.

From 161/160 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., on the twelfth or thirteenth day of Adar, Jews celebrated the feast of the death of Nicanor (1 Maccabees 7:49; 2 Maccabees 15:36).

Here ends my journey through 2 Maccabees.  The remainder of 1 Maccabees awaits me, though.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Accession of King Demetrius I Soter, and Alcimus as High Priest   Leave a comment

Above:  Image of a Coin of King Demetrius I Soter

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXI

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1 Maccabees 7:1-25

2 Maccabees 14:1-14

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

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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The political fragmentation of the Seleucid Empire was the backdrop for the accession of King Demetrius I Soter in 162 B.C.E.  Under the terms of the Treaty of Apamea (188 B.C.E.), Demetrius was a hostage in Rome, the capital city of the Roman Republic.  After the death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164/163 B.C.E., the rivalry between Philip and Lysias, both of whom King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had appointed regent, threatened the unity of the empire.  Lysias had the guardianship of King Antiochus V Eupator, seven years old at accession in 164/163 B.C.E., though.  Philip, having failed in his attempted coup d’état, fled to Egypt, and the protection of King Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 180-145 B.C.E.).  Philip returned to Antioch, the capital city of the Seleucid Empire, in 162 B.C.E.  He held it briefly.

Demetrius Soter, seeking to return home, requested the Roman Senate’s permission to depart.  That body did not grant such permission.  So, he left anyway.  The prince, a nephew of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and a first cousin of King Antiochus V Eupator, landed at Tripolis in 162 B.C.E.  Demetrius’s forces captured Lysias and King Antiochus V Eupator.  Then Demetrius ordered the execution of Lysias and King Antiochus V.

When did Alcimus become the High Priest?  1 and 2 Maccabees are vague about that matter.  Alcimus seems to have been the High Priest under King Antiochus V Eupator–Regent Lysias, really.  The appointment to the High Priesthood came from the monarch, at least officially.  Therefore, if Alcimus were to continue as the High Priest, King Demetrius I Soter had to reappoint him.

1 and 2 Maccabees are clear about the political agenda and rotten character of Alcimus, a scoundrel and an opponent of Judas Maccabeus.  Why would a High Priest whose office depended on a royal appointment not to be an ally of the Seleucid monarch?  The most notable exception to that rule may have been Onias III, in 2 Maccabees 4.  Alcimus was a liar with blood on his hands.  He was unfit to be the High Priest.

This story reminds one of Jason and Menelaus, notoriously wicked High Priests.

The other major character was Bacchides, the governor of the province “Beyond the River.”  King Demetrius I Soter was in the East, suppressing the revolt of Timarchus.  (The Seleucid Empire had become politically unstable.)

Judas Maccabeus, recognizing the perfidious character of the lying and bloodthirsty Bacchides, disegarded the false offers of friendship.  Judas Maccabeus was also no fool.  The rebel leader, whose power was on the ascendancy, understood correctly that Alcimus and other apostate Jews had caused damage worse than that Gentiles had committed.

Meanwhile, Alcimus knew that Judas Maccabeus was winning.  The rebel leader’s forces, outnumbered by Seleucid forces, were winning.  Guerrilla warfare has frequently been an effective way of defeating a numerically superior military force.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AQUILA, PRISCILLA, AND APOLLOS, COWORKERS OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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

Above:  A Menorah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XIX

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1 Maccabees 4:36-61

2 Maccabees 10:1-9

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God, the pagans have invaded your heritage,

they have defiled your holy temple,

they have laid Jerusalem in ruins,

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

the bodies of your faithful for the wild beasts.

Around Jerusalem they have shed blood like water,

leaving no one to bury them.

We are the scorn of our neighbours,

the butt and laughing-stock of those around us.

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

Is your jealousy  to go on smouldering like a fire?

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

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

for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his home.

Do not count against us the guilt of forever generations,

in your tenderness come quickly to meet us,

for we are utterly weakened;

help us, God our Saviour,

for the glory of your name;

Yahweh, wipe away our sins,

rescue us for the sake of your name.

Why should the nations ask,

“Where is their God?”

Let us see the nations suffer vengeance

for shedding your servants’ blood.

May the groans of the captive reach you,

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

Repay our neighbours sevenfold

for the insults they have levelled at you, Lord.

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

will thank you for ever,

will recite your praises from age to age.

–Psalm 79, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–258

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

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

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 11, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ONESIMUS, BISHOP OF BYZANTIUM

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The Death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  The Punishment of Antiochus, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XVIII

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1 Maccabees 6:1-17

2 Maccabees 9:1-29

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

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

Is this not wonderful mealtime reading?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

without understanding what the Lord has in store for him

or why he has taken him to safety;

they look on and sneer,

but the Lord will laugh at them.

Soon they will be corpses without honour,

objects of scorn among the dead for ever.

The Lord will dash them down headlong, dumb.

He will tear them from their foundations,

they will be utterly laid waste,

anguish will be theirs,

and their memory shall perish.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

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

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

The evil that men do lives after them;

the good is oft interred with their bones.

–William Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF PHILIP ARMES, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST

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Campaigns of Lysias   Leave a comment

Above:  King Antiochus V Eupator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XVII

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1 Maccabees 3:27-4:35

2 Maccabees 8:8-36; 11:1-12:1

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Lysias was a prominent man.  He was a member of the royal court of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  Lysias, in fact, belonged to the court order; he was “the King’s relative.”  Lysias was also the viceroy of the lands between the Egyptian border and the Euphrates River.  And he was the guardian of the future King Antiochus V Eupator (reigned 164/163 B.C.E.-162 B.C.E.), then seven years old.

When we left off in the narrative, Judas Maccabeus was winning battles against Seleucid forces.  The rebel leader had become enemy number one, according to King Antiochus IV Epiphanes.  King Antiochus IV, whose proverbial chickens were coming home to roost (as proverbial chickens are wont to do), went off to raise money in the east of the empire.  He gave half of his army to Lysias, to command, in the year 147 of the Seleucid/Hellenistic calendar (165 B.C.E.).

The mission of Lysias was straight-forward:  to crush the Hasmonean Rebellion, to massacre Jews, and to colonize Judea.  The faithful Jewish response consisted of praying and fighting.  In 165 B.C.E., Judas Maccabeus recalled divine faithfulness against seemingly impossible odds.  The Hasmonean force won another victory, which they credited to God.

In 164 B.C.E., Judas Maccabeus won another victory against a larger force.  He prayed before the battle.

1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees contradict each other regarding some details.  Mostly, so what?  I do not care if Lysias commanded a force of 65,000 (1 Maccabees 4:28) or 80,000 (2 Maccabees 11:2).  That matter may or may not be interesting, depending on what one considers interesting.  Whether or not Judas Maccabeus established a peace–yes (1 Maccabees 4:25) or no (2 Maccabees 11:13-15)–is somewhat interesting to me.  I also notice the different organization of material in the two books.  2 Maccabees wraps the content around the death of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the purification of the Temple.  1 Maccabees does not.  That contradiction interests me somewhat, too.  Then again, comparative chronologies, are inconsistent in parts of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels.  If I affirmed Biblical inerrancy and/or infallibility, I would probably have a theological or spiritual crisis over such inconsistencies.  

The main idea in these readings seems to be that the forces of Judas Maccabeus were invulnerable as long as they followed the Law of Moses.  God, the authors believed, fought for the Jews against their Seleucid oppressors.  The contrast between the spiritual humility of Judas Maccabeus and the arrogance of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes is stark.

I do not accept for a New York minute that fidelity to the divine covenant makes a military force or adherents to a cause invincible.  Faithfulness to God does not necessarily lead to triumph.  I wish it did.  The world would be a better place if it did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF PHILIP ARMES, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST

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Judas Maccabeus, the Second Leader of the Hasmonean Rebellion   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas Maccabeus

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XVI

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1 Maccabees 3:1-26

2 Maccabees 8:1-7

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(Youths)
See, the conqu’ring hero comes!
Sound the trumpets! Beat the drums!
Sports prepare! The laurel bring!
Songs of triumph to him sing!

(Virgins)
See the godlike youth advance!
Breathe the flutes and lead the dance!
Myrtle wreaths and roses twine
to deck the hero’s brow divine!

(Israelites)
See, the conqu’ring hero comes!
Sound the trumpets! Beat the drums!
Sports prepare! The laurel bring!
Songs of triumph to him sing!
See, the conqu’ring hero comes!
Sound the trumpets! Beat the drums!

George Frederick Handel, Judas Maccabaeus (1746)

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Judas Maccabaeus came forward to take his father’s place.  He had the support of all his brothers and his father’s followers, and they carried on Israel’s campaign with zest.

He enhanced his people’s glory.

Like a giant he put on his breastsplate

and girt himself with weapons of war…..

His renown spread to the ends of the earth,

and he rallied a people near to destruction.

–1 Maccabees 3:1-3a, 9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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The liveliness of that translation explains why I prefer to read the First Book of the Maccabees in The Revised English Bible (1989).

The account in 2 Maccabees is, predictably, concise.  One should expect that from the condensed version of five books.  The longer account in 1 Maccabees is vivid.  The anonymous author of 1 Maccabees and the anonymous Epitomist of 2 Maccabees wanted people to know that the Hasmoneans fought on God’s side.

By the way, “Heaven,” in 1 Maccabees, is a reverential circumlocution.  Yet “Heaven” is not a reverential circumlocution in the Gospel of Matthew, which uses “God” at least fifty times and “Kingdom of God” four times.  Look it up, O reader.  You may wish to look it up here or here.  The Dalman consensus is erroneous.

I have already made an extended comment about sacred violence in the previous post in this series.  I refer you, O reader, to that post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

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

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

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

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

THE FEAST OF PHILIP ARMES, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST

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This is post #2550 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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