Archive for the ‘2 Maccabees 4’ Tag

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 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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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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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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The Attempt on the Temple Treasury   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of King Seleucus IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART V

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2 Maccabees 3:1-4:6

4 Maccabees 3:19-4:14

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Onias III, High Priest (In Office 196-175 B.C.E.)

Seleucus IV Philopator (Reigned 187-175 B.C.E.)

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Onias III was the son of and successor to High Priest Simon II “the Just” (in office 219-196 B.C.E.).  I read and wrote about Simon II “the Just” when I read the Third Book of the Maccabees (the one with no Maccabees) for this weblog.  The germane passages were 3 Maccabees 2:1-20 and Sirach 50:1-24.  He had to contend with an invasion of the Temple, too.

Now I digress to recall the story of notorious American bank robber Willie Sutton (1901-1980).  His explanation for why he robbed banks was,

Because that’s where the money is.

Back to the Books of the Maccabees….

Above:  Map Showing the Seleucid Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

The Seleucid treasury was in need of replenishment.  The empire had lost most of Asia Minor after 198 B.C.E.  Furthermore, the Treaty of Apamea (188 B.C.E.) had imposed indemnities on the Seleucid Empire.  The overblown reports of riches in the Temple treasure in Jerusalem attracted the attention of King Seleucus IV Philopator (not Nicator, contrary to 4 Maccabees 3:20.)  King Seleucus I Nicator reigned from 305/304 to 281/280 B.C.E.

2 Maccabees 3:1 overstates the case; Jerusalem did not enjoy “unbroken peace and prosperity” during the tenure of High Priest Onias III.  There was no such peace and prosperity, even apart from the events that Simon the Temple administrator set in motion with his lie.  The city was relatively quiet during the years of Onias III’s tenure, though.  In reality, Onias III, like the rest of his nation, was struck literally and politically, between the Ptolemaic Empire (based in Egypt) and the Seleucid Empire (based in Syria).  The High Priest, initially pro-Seleucid, switched his political allegiances to the Ptolemaic Empire.  Simon the Temple administrator was pro-Seleucid, though.

The story of God repulsing invaders from the Temple fits a motif about the sovereignty of God.  One may recall a similar event in 3 Maccabees 1:8-2:24, complete with divine punishment of King Ptolemy IV Philopator (reigned 221-203 B.C.E.).  One may also notice a similarity to the story of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and a military force invading a pagan temple in 2 Maccabees 1:13-17.  In that account, though the priests defended the temple.  Either way, invading temples was a bad idea.

Onias III was a good and pious man.  Simon the Temple administrator was not.  After the failed raid on the Temple treasury.  Heliodorus turned on his master; he assassinated Seleucus IV Philopator in 175 B.C.E.  Onias III sought to appeal for help to Seleucus IV Philopator, but the High Priest arrived after the assassination.  

The Revised English Bible (1989) expresses the difficult situation immediately prior to the assassination well:

[Onias III] saw that unless the king intervened there could be no peace in the public affairs, nor would Simon be stopped in his mad course.

–2 Maccabees 4:6

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the new king.  That was bad news.  And Onias III lost his job.  Jason, born Joshua, was the new High Priest.  Matters had become worse.

The name of Jason (the High Priest) has come up already.  The Epitomist referred to Jason in 2 Maccabees 1:7-8.

We are about to read the story of that perfidious priest.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Second Maccabees: Two Letters   Leave a comment

Above:  Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART II

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2 Maccabees 1:1-2:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This second letter contains references that require explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Israel’s True Power and Strength   Leave a comment

Above:  King John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART III

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Judith 4:1-6:2

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Holofernes represented an oppressive violent power and an ego-driven monarch.  The general had succeeded in his previous campaigns, even against people who had greeted his army with garlands, dancing, and the sound of timbrels (2:1-3:10).  The Israelites were in dire straits as he turned his attention toward them.

Yet the Israelites worshiped God.  They prayed to God.  And, as even Achior, the Ammonite leader acknowledged, the Israelites’ power and strength resided in God.  Yet Holofernes asked scornfully,

Who is God beside Nebuchadnezzar?

–Judith 6:2b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Achior found refuge with the Israelites, at least.

A refresher on the Kingdom of Ammon and on the Ammonites is in order.

  1. “Ammon” comes from Benammi, both the son and grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38).  Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk then seduced him.  They gave birth to the founders of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
  2. The attitude toward the Ammonites in the Bible is mostly negative.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon was east of the River Jordan and north of Moab.  
  4. The Kingdom of Ammon, a vassal state of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  After Ammon reasserted itself, it became a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire then the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  A failed rebellion led to mass deportations of Ammonites and the colonization of their territory by Chaldeans.

Anyone who wants to read more about the Ammonites in the Bible may want to follow the following reading plan:

  1. Genesis 19;
  2. Numbers 21;
  3. Deuteronomy 2, 3, 23;
  4. Joshua 12, 13;
  5. Judges 3, 10, 11, 12;
  6. 1 Samuel 10, 11, 12, 14;
  7. 2 Samuel 8, 10, 11, 12, 17, 23;
  8. 1 Kings 11, 14;
  9. 2 Kings 23, 24;
  10. 1 Chronicles 11, 18, 19, 20;
  11. 2 Chronicles 12, 20, 24, 26, 27;
  12. Ezra 9;
  13. Nehemiah 2, 4, 13;
  14. Psalm 83;
  15. Isaiah 11;
  16. Jeremiah 9, 25, 27, 40, 41, 49;
  17. Ezekiel 21, 25;
  18. Daniel 11;
  19. Amos 1;
  20. Zephaniah 2;
  21. Judith 1, 5, 6, 7, 14;
  22. 1 Maccabees 5; and
  23. 2 Maccabees 4, 5.

Back to Achior…

A close reader of Achior’s report (5:6-21) may detect some details he got wrong.  Not all characters speak accurately in every matter.  One may expect an outsider to misunderstand some aspects of the Israelite story.

At the end of the Chapter 6, we see the conflict between the arrogance of enemies of God and the humility of Israelites.  We know that, in the story, the Israelites could turn only to God for deliverance.  Anyone familiar with the Hebrew prophets ought to know that this theme occurs in some of the prophetic books, too.

In the context contemporary to the composition of the Book of Judith, Jews had endured Hellenistic oppression under the Seleucid Empire.  Jews had won the independence of Judea.  John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135-104 B.C.E.; named in 1 Maccabees 13:53 and 16:1-23) had ordered the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim and forced many people to convert to Judaism.  The persecuted had become persecutors.  This was certainly on the mind of the anonymous author of the Book of Judith.

May we, collectively and individually, do to others as we want them to do to us, not necessarily as they or others have done to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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Humility Before People and God, Part I   1 comment

Belshazzar's Feast

Above:   Belshazzar’s Feast, by Mattia Preti

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Holy God, our righteous judge, daily your mercy

surprises us with everlasting forgiveness.

Strengthen our hope in you, and grant that all the

peoples  of the earth may find their glory in you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (Monday)

Daniel 5:1-12 (Tuesday)

Daniel 5:13-31 (Wednesday)

Psalm 84:8-12 (All Days)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (Monday)

1 Peter 5:1-11 (Tuesday)

Matthew 21:28-32 (Wednesday)

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O LORD of hosts,

happy are they who put their trust in you!

–Psalm 84:12, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Do not be arrogant, the readings for these three days tell us.  Trust in God instead, we read.  Daniel 5 tells us of Belshazzar, viceroy under this father, King Nabonidus (reigned 556-539 B.C.E.) of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  God, the story tells us, found Belshazzar wanting.  Furthermore, we read, God delivered the empire to the Persians and the Medes, and the Babylonian Exile ended shortly thereafter.

Cease your proud boasting,

let no word of arrogance pass your lips,

for the LORD is a God who knows;

he governs what mortals do.

Strong men stand in mute dismay,

but those who faltered put on new strength.

Those who had plenty sell themselves for a crust,

and the hungry grow strong again.

The barren woman bears seven children,

and the mother of many sons is left to languish?

–1 Samuel 2:3-5, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That is a timeless lesson.  We read of Jesus telling certain professional religious people that penitent tax collectors and the prostitutes will precede them in the Kingdom of God.  Later in 1 Peter, we read of the imperative to clothe ourselves in humility, when dealing with each other and God.  As Proverbs 3:34-35 tells us,

Toward the scorners he [God] is scornful,

but to the humble he shows favor.

The wise will inherit honor,

but stubborn fools, disgrace.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Persecution might come, but one must remain faithful.  That is a recurring message in the Bible, from Jeremiah to the Books of the Maccabees to the Gospels to 1 Peter to Hebrews to the Revelation of John.  It can also be a difficult lesson on which to act, as many chapters in the history of Christianity attest.  Fortunately, God is merciful than generations of Donatists (regardless of their formal designations) have been.  That lack of mercy flows from, among  other sources, pride–the pride which says,

I persevered.  Why did you not do likewise?  I must be spiritually superior to you.

We all need to acknowledge, confess, and repent of our sins.  We all need to change our minds and turn around spiritually.  We all need to be humble before God and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 31, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VISITATION OF MARY TO ELIZABETH

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/05/31/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-25-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Clinging to God   1 comment

St. Michael the Archangel Icon--Andrei Rublev

Above:  Icon of St. Michael the Archangel, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Daniel 12:1-4

Psalm 63:1-8

Revelation 3:1-6

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My soul clings to you;

your right hand upholds me.

–Psalm 63:8, The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995)

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The reading from Daniel 12 follows from chapter 11, the contents of which are crucial to grasp if one is to understand the assigned reading.  The narrative, an apocalypse, concerns the end of the reign and life of the Seleucid monarch Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164 B.C.E.), the bete noire of 1 Maccabees 1-6, 2 Maccabees 4-9, and the entirety of 4 Maccabees.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was also the despoiler of the Second Temple and the man who ordered the martyrdom of many observant Jews.  In Daniel 11 the monarch, the notorious blasphemer, dies.  After that, in chapter 12, St. Michael the Archangel appears and the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment ensue.  There will be justice for the martyrs after all, the text says.

The issue of God’s justice for the persecuted faithful occupies much of the Revelation to John.  Today’s reading from that apocalypse is the message to the church at Sardis, a congregation whose actual spiritual state belies its reputation for being alive.  Repent and return to a vibrant life of righteousness, the message says.  That sounds much like a message applicable to some congregations I have known, especially during my childhood.

Clinging to God can be difficult.  During the best of times doing so might injure one’s pride, especially if one imagines oneself to be self-sufficient.  And during the worst of times one might blame God for one’s predicament.  During the other times mere spiritual laziness might be another impediment.  Nevertheless, God calls us constantly to lives–individually and collectively–of vibrant righteousness.  May we love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves.  May we help others the best ways we can.  May we heed the Hebrew prophetic call to work for social justice.  May we, by grace, leave our communities, friends, acquaintances, families, and world better than we found them.  Whenever we do so, we do it for Jesus, whom we follow.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 18, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/devotion-for-friday-before-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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