Archive for the ‘3 Maccabees 2’ Tag

Jeremiah in Egypt   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXIV

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Jeremiah 43:8-44:30

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Contrary to the prophecy in Jeremiah 43:8-11, the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire never conquered Egypt.  Egypt did fall to the Persian Empire in 525 B.C.E., though.

The archaeological record confirms the presence of Jews in Egypt in antiquity.  We know that Jews lived in Egypt prior to the Fall of Jerusalem and continued to do so afterward.  For example, the Third Book of the Maccabees is about the persecution of Jews in Egypt centuries after the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).

Despite the political-theological agenda of Babylonian exilic Jews versus Egyptian exilic Jews, another point attracts my attention in this post.  I notice idolatry in the Egyptian exilic community.  I recall Hebrew prophets condemning idolatry in the homeland.  I conclude that some people never learn certain key lessons.

I also notice the the reversal of the Exodus from Egypt.  Think, O reader:  Did not God free Jews from slavery in Egypt?  In parts of the Hebrew Bible, Egypt (a literal place) functions also as a metaphor for slavery.  Therefore, in the Book of Jeremiah, to flee to Egypt is to flee to slavery.

The prophecy of the complete destruction of the Egyptian exilic community (42:7-22) was hyperbolic.  After all, some survived to return to Judah (44:28).  But all should have remained in Judah, under divine protection.

Free will is a gift of God.  It is evidence of grace.  How we use our free will can please or vex God.

For you vex me by your deeds….

–Jeremiah 44:8, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In Christian terms, may we abide by the admonition not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).  And may we learn the lessons we ought to learn and should have learned by the examples of our forebears.

Sadly, Jeremiah and Baruch died in involuntary exile in Egypt.  (See Jeremiah 45:4-5, too.)  These men had served God faithfully for decades.  Living in Egypt was their final recorded indignity.

William Alexander Percy (1885-1942) wrote:

The peace of God, it is no peace,

But strife closed in the sod.

Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing–

The marvelous peace of God.

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 6:  THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT SPYRIDON OF CYPRUS, BISHOP OF TREMITHUS, CYPRUS; AND HIS CONVERT, SAINT TRYPHILLIUS OF LEUCOSIA, CYPRUS; OPPONENTS OF ARIANISM

THE FEAST OF DAVID ABEEL, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED MINISTER AND MISSIONARY TO ASIA

THE FEAST OF ELIAS BENJAMIN SANFORD, U.S. METHODIST THEN CONGREGATIONAL MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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The Beginning of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s Persecution of the Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  Mina of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VII

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1 Maccabees 1:20-64

2 Maccabees 5:1-6:17

4 Maccabees 4:15-26

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Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.)

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The First Book of the Maccabees establishes two years, according to the Hellenistic/Seleucid calendar:  143 (a.k.a. 169 B.C.E.) and 145 (a.k.a. 167 B.C.E.).

The account in 1 Maccabees differs from those in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.  The version in 1 Maccabees does not mention Jason, the former High Priest.  Also, the account in 4 Maccabees mistakes Antiochus IV Epiphanes for the son of the late King Seleucus IV Philopator.  Historical accounts tell us they were brothers.

Anyhow, Jason, who had bought the High Priesthood, had lost that office to Menelaus, who had outbid him.  Jason tried, by violent means, to get his old job back.  He failed to become the High Priest yet succeeded in causing many people to die.

As one reads the account of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes entering and profaning the Temple in Jerusalem, one may legitimately ask a certain question:  How could he succeed?  Read 3 Maccabees 1:8-2:24; 2 Maccabees 1:13-17; and 2 Maccabees 3:22-28, O reader.  How could King Antiochus IV Epiphanes succeed in 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:15f?  I offer no answers, for I have none.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, having converted the westernmost hill of Jerusalem into a citadel that held from 167 to 141 B.C.E. (see 1 Maccabees 13:49-50), imposed Hellenism–on pain of death–upon the land.  This was his way of trying to create unity in the Seleucid Empire.  If ever there were a reason no to submit to human authority, such oppression was it.

Yet many in Israel found strength to resist, taking a determined stand against the eating of any unclean food.  They welcomed death and died rather than defile themselves and profane the holy covenant.  Israel lay under a reign of terror.

–1 Maccabees 1:62-64, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Keeping the covenant was crucial to pious Jews.  Their salvation came via grace–birth into chosen people.  Their duty was to obey the Law of Moses.  That was how they retained their place in the covenant.  Those who impiously and repetitively ignored the ethical and moral obligations of the Law of Moses dropped out of the covenant.  I have summarized Covenantal Nomism for you, O reader.  Covenantal Nomism was a characteristic of Second Temple Judaism.

How seriously do you, O reader, take your obligations to God and your fellow human beings?

Next, I will write about early martyrdoms, described in 2 Maccabees and 4 Maccabees.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF JAPAN, 1597-1639

THE FEAST OF SAINT AVITUS OF VIENNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JAMES NICHOLAS JOUBERT AND MARIE ELIZABETH LANGE, FOUNDERS OF THE OBLATE SISTERS OF PROVIDENCE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JANE (JOAN) OF VALOIS, COFOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF THE ANNUNCIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILEAS AND PHILOROMUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, 304

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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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From Alexander the Great to Antiochus IV Epiphanes   Leave a comment

Above:  Map Showing Asia Minor, the Seleucid Empire, and the Ptolemaic Empire, 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART I

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1 Maccabees 1:1-19

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Reading the Bible in more than one translation is a positive spiritual and literary practice.  One may decide that a particular translation is best for reading a certain book or certain books of the Bible.  For example, I propose that Job reads best in The Jerusalem Bible (1966), that the Song of Songs reads best in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985), and that First Maccabees reads best in The Revised English Bible (1989).

I am an Episcopalian with strong Roman Catholic and Lutheran tendencies.  I am an also an Episcopalian who grew up a Low Church Protestant and a preacher’s kid–Southern Baptist for my first seven years, followed by United Methodist for the next eleven years.   I tell you, O reader, this so that you will appreciate the significance of my affirmation of the Roman Catholic definition of the canon of scripture.  The first two books of the Maccabees are Deuterocanonical, not Apocryphal.

First Maccabees probably dates to about 100 B.C.E.  The anonymous author’s composition is contemporary with Tobit, Judith, and most of Daniel.  The agenda of 1 Maccabees is the affirmation of the Hasmonean Dynasty.  After all, why were members of the Davidic Dynasty not on the throne of independent Judea?  That was the question of political legitimacy the author of 1 Maccabees addressed.

1 Maccabees 1:1-19 establishes the historical and cultural context:  Hellenism.  The passage names Alexander the Great (d. 323 B.C.E.) then moves along quickly to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.), King of the Seleucid Empire, one of the successors to Alexander’s expansive Macedonian Empire.  One may or may not recall the references to Antiochus IV Epiphanes in Daniel 7, 8, 9, and 11.  One may or may not also remember the allusion to the notorious monarch in 3 Maccabees 2-4.

The struggle against imposed Hellenism formed the backdrop of the Hasmonean Rebellion.  To make matters worse, some Jews turned apostate.

1 Maccabees 1:16-19 lays down another historical marker.  It mentions the successful Seleucid invasion of the Ptolemaic Empire during the reign (180-145 B.C.E.) of King Ptolemy VI Philometor in 169 B.C.E.  The reader who may be unfamiliar with this part of ancient history ought to know that the Seleucid and Ptolemaic Empires, successors to the sprawling Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, fought each other.  Such a reader should also understand that ancient Palestine kept changing imperial masters, depending on the most germane military victory.  

Palestinian Jews still lived under occupation  Antiochus IV Epiphanes was an especially cruel imperial master.

How could Jews, even those dwelling in their ancestral homeland, live faithfully under the Seleucid Empire?

I clue you, O reader, in on a recurring motif in 1 Maccabees.  Keeping the divine covenant and the Law of Moses is essential, as the book teaches.  So is being pragmatic in faithful communal life.  But when does pragmatism cross the line over into the territory of unjust and faithless compromise?  This is a timeless question and a quandary.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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The Deliverance of Egyptian Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART IV

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3 Maccabees 5:1-7:23

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King Ptolemy IV Philopator kept trying to kill Jesus.  God kept intervening.  Twice the plan to trample Jews with elephants failed.  The monarch, whom God put into a deep sleep, eventually awoke and returned to drinking.  The following day, God caused King Ptolemy IV to forget his plan to trample the Jews and returned to his banquet.  Yet King Ptolemy IV resolved once more to kill the Jews of Alexandria and the surrounding countryside.  He also planned to march on Judea.

Eleazar, an elderly Jewish priest of Alexandria, prayed, much as High Priest Simon II “the Just” did in 3 Maccabees 2.  He recalled divine acts of deliverance of the Hebrew people.  God answered the prayer by sending two angels; only the Jews could not see the angels.

Only then did King Ptolemy IV repent.  He released the Jews, ended the persecution of them, and wrote a letter on their behalf.  The Jews praised God and returned home.

3 Maccabees is an enjoyable book to read.  The purple prose enlivens the text, full of rising tension.  3 Maccabees is quite a page-turner.

Nevertheless, 3 Maccabees 7:10-16 contains some disturbing material.  We read of pious Jews, with royal permission, executing those Jews who had, “for the belly’s sake,” violated the Law of Moses–had accepted the royally-mandated brand of Dionysius (3 Maccabees 2:25-33).  Such violence is par for the course in a book with “Maccabees” in the title.  I do not have to approve of such violence, though.

3 Maccabees contains a plethora of references to other books, such as Exodus, Daniel, Jonah, 2 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees.  The two angels (3 Maccabees 6:16f), for example, echo the two angels in 2 Maccabees 3:26.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through 3 Maccabees.  I invite you to join me again as I read through the Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE NINETEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY SAYERS, ANGLICAN POET, NOVELIST, PLAYWRIGHT, TRANSLATOR, APOLOGIST, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS OF CONSTANTINOPLE, WIDOW AND DEACONESS

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The Persecution of Egyptian Jews   Leave a comment

Above:  The Hippodrome of Alexandria, Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART III

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3 Maccabees 2:25-4:21

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Ptolemy IV, the bête-noire of our story, returned to Alexandria after the incident in Jerusalem.  He imposed a poll tax on Jews and punished those who refused to worship Dionysius.  This recalled, in the minds of the original audience of 3 Maccabees, Antiochus IV Epiphanes introducing the worship of Dionysius in Jerusalem (2 Maccabees 6:7).

The historicity of the poll tax in 3 Maccabees 2:25-33 is dubious, according to extant ancient records.  The poll tax in 2:25-33 cannot have any relationship to either one of the only two registrations (those of 220-219 B.C.E. and 206-205 B.C.E.) during the reign of Ptolemy IV.  The census in Luke 2:1-7 shares the same historical dubiousness.  I move along to 3 Maccabees 3, for I know better than to expect unvarnished history from a work of theology.

Jews had Gentile allies, fortunately.  King Ptolemy IV lied about the Jews; he cast them as traitors and ordered their executions.  Jews, gathered forcibly at the hippodrome, awaited their deaths.  In the meantime, they performed hard labor.

Nevertheless, Ptolemy IV was experiencing frustrations.  According to the story, God had spared many Jews in the countryside near Alexandria by causing royal scribes’ ink and paper to run out, thereby preventing the completion of much paperwork.

3 Maccabees is a work that emphasizes God’s faithful love for diaspora Jews.  God loves diaspora Jews as much as Jews in the homeland, the book teaches.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE EIGHTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED-GLASS WINDOW MAKER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND, 1940

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WALLACE BRIGGS, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARNOLD BLAISDELL, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINCA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

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In Praise of High Priest Simon II “the Just”   Leave a comment

Above:  The Tomb of Simon II “the Just,” Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART II

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Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 50:1-24

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I take a detour into Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/the Wisdom of Ben Sira, for this is the time to focus on a hero of 3 Maccabees 2.

Simon II “the Just” served as the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem from 219 to 196 B.C.E.  He supervised the repair of the Temple and oversaw the construction of a reservoir for the city.  Jerusalem, therefore, had a sufficient and secure supply of water in the event of a siege.  The high praise of Simon II in this reading lauded his faithfulness to God, his care in fulfilling priestly duties, and his literal building up of the Temple and the city.

The legacy of Simon II “the Just” should remind us that we are not merely passing through this world.  No, we have mandates from God to be, as Christ put it, salt and light.  The condition of the world and societies ought to interest us.  The state of one’s community should be of great importance to one.  Yes, we are citizens of Heaven.  However, we are also citizens on this planet.  The Bible commands us to be good stewards of the planet and one another.  The Golden Rule remains in effect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BENSON POLLOCK, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY FOTHERGILL CHORLEY, ENGLISH NOVELIST, PLAYWRIGHT, AND LITERARY AND MUSIC CRITIC

THE FEAST OF JOHN HORDEN, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MOOSENEE

THE FEAST OF RALPH WARDLAW, SCOTTISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MCDONALD, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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The Battle of Raphia, with King Ptolemy IV Philopator in Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART I

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3 Maccabees 1:1-2:24

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King Ptolemy IV Philapator of the Ptolemaic Empire (Reigned 221-204 B.C.E.)

High Priest Simon II “the Just” (In Office 219-196 B.C.E.)

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The Third Book of the Maccabees is a misnomer.  Not only does it have no Maccabees, but it also plays out prior to the events of the First, Second, and Fourth Books of the Maccabees.

3 Maccabees, canonical in Orthodoxy, is apocryphal in the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches.

3 Maccabees, composed in Alexandria, Egypt, close to 100 B.C.E., most likely, bears similarities to Greek romances.  The introduction to this book in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (2003) mentions 

purple prose and bombastic details that seem designed to elicit an emotional response, rather than to accurately and straightforwardly report history.

–1661

The introduction to 3 Maccabees in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version (1977) is less generous:

The author often exaggerates, and when in descriptions he attempts to introduce purple passages of rhetoric, he succeeds only in producing bombast and bathos.

–Apocrypha 294

The theology of 3 Maccabees is orthodox and Deuteronomistic:  God, who is faithful, rewards those who are faithful and punishes those who are faithless and evil.  This is a hope to which to cling during times of turmoil and oppression.

Apart from the sources I have quoted, I have two other guides through 3 Maccabees:

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version (1991); and
  2. The Orthodox Study Bible, the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint and the New King James Version (2008).

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3 Maccabees opens abruptly.  The supposition that an introduction has not survived seems reasonable.

King Ptolemy IV Philopator was the Hellenistic ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire, a successor to the expansive Macedonian Empire of King Alexander III “the Great” (reigned 336-323 B.C.E.).  Ptolemy IV, keeping a dynastic custom that dated to King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (circa 275 B.C.E.), married his sister, Arsinoe, in October 217 B.C.E.  (Ptolemy IV also ordered the murder of Arsinoe.)  Ptolemy IV was a weak ruler; a minister, Sosibius, dominated the monarch.  Ptolemy IV and Seleucid King Antiochus III “the Great” (reigned 223-187 B.C.E.) waged the Fourth Syrian War (221-217 B.C.E.).  During this conflict, Ptolemy IV lost much of the Syrian coast to Antiochus III.  Then, at the Battle of Raphia (217 B.C.E)., Ptolemy IV regained control of much of that coast and of Palestine.

The story of Dositheus, absent from other accounts of that battle, introduces a motif into 3 Maccabees.  That motif–intervention and reversal–runs throughout the book.  

Ptolemy IV survived an assassination attempt because of the intervention of Dositheus, an apostate Jew.  The victorious Ptolemy IV, an admirer of architecture, visited Jerusalem.  While there, he offered a sacrifice to YHWH.  This was easy for the pagan king to do.  As far as Ptolemy IV knew, YHWH was just another deity.  The king’s attempt to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple was a step too far.  Only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies; he did this one day per year (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:2, 11-12, 15, 34; Hebrews 9:7).

The reaction of many Jews in Jerusalem was strong.  High Priest Simon II “the Just” prayed.  His prayer contained certain theological hallmarks–the faithfulness of God, the arrogance of kings, the impiety of many people, the divine punishment of the wicked, and the divine deliverance of the faithful.

Then God prevented Ptolemy IV from entering the Holy of Holies.  He fell to the floor and could not speak.  Courtiers had to remove Ptolemy IV, unable to move on his own, from the Temple.  The king remained arrogant and unrepentant.  Ptolemy IV stood in contrast to Heliodorus (2 Maccabees 3:35-39) and even Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2 Maccabees 9:11-17), who repented immediately after God struck them.  The original audience of 3 Maccabees understood those references and awaited the repentance of Ptolemy IV (3 Maccabees 6:22-7:23).

Ptolemy IV prepared to take his revenge on Jews in Egypt.

The Bible contains stories of arrogant and dangerous kings and queens, some of whom were also weak rulers.  Queen Jezebel of Israel dominated King Ahab of Israel.  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was a historical figure.  Yet he functioned as a fictionalized symbol of power run amok in the Books of Daniel and Judith.  The fictional King Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther was a weak monarch who deposed Queen Vashti for refusing to display herself naked to his guests.  Ahasuerus was also willing to sign off onto a genocide of Jews.  At the end of the Book of Esther, the situation was positive because Mordecai and Queen Esther were running the Persian Empire in the king’s name.  Meanwhile, Ahasuerus partied.

Arrogant, impious potentates continue to afflict people, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT RADEGUNDA, THURINGIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRINCESS, DEACONESS, AND NUN; AND SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PONTIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRED D. GEALY, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALDRICH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, COMPOSER, THEOLOGIAN, MATHEMATICIAN, AND ARCHITECT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND CARMELITE FRIAR

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Good Society, Part II   1 comment

Lot and His Daughters

Above:   Lot and His Daughters, by Lucas van Leyden

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Merciful God, gracious and benevolent,

through your Son you invite all the world to a meal of mercy.

Grant that we may eagerly follow this call,

and bring us with all your saints into your life of justice and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 13:1-3, 23-31 (Monday)

Zechariah 7:1-14 (Tuesday)

Psalm 50 (Both Days)

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 (Monday)

Jude 5-21 (Tuesday)

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“When you see a thief, you make him your friend,

and you cast your lot in with adulterers.

You have loosed your lips for evil,

and harnessed your tongue to a lie.

You are always speaking evil of your brother

and slandering your own mother’s son.

These things you have done, and I kept still,

and you thought that I am like you.”

–Psalm 50:18-21, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The Law of Moses teaches that, among other things:

  1. We humans depend on God for everything,
  2. We depend on each other also,
  3. We have no right to exploit each other,
  4. We are responsible to each other, and
  5. We are responsible for each other.

Thus hospitality is a great virtue, for it can make the difference between someone coming to harm or avoiding harm, as well as the difference between someone dying or living.

My summary of the forbidden behaviors in these days’ readings is that they are generally activities that harm others.  I note that, in post-exilic zeal to obey the Law of Moses, many people went too far with regard to the treatment of foreigners.  The Book of Jonah pushes back against such excesses.  The Book of Ruth, in which a Moabite woman marries a Hebrew man and becomes an ancestor of King David, is probably another protest against such zealousness-turned-xenophobia, such as that praised in Nehemiah 13:1.

As for homosexual behavior (as opposed to homosexuality as a sexual preference, an understanding which did not exist until recent centuries), Jude 7 is the only verse in the Bible to make explicit the link between homosexual conduct and the story of Sodom in Genesis 19.  In that chapter Lot, who has lived in the city since Genesis 13, presumably knows his neighbors well enough to understand what they like.  Lot has taken in two angels.  A mob gathers outside his door and demands that he send them outside to that they can gang rape the angels.  Lot refuses the demands and offers to send his two virgin daughters out instead.  (Bad father!)  Fortunately for Lot’s daughters, the mob is not interested and the angels have a plan to save Lot and his family from the imminent destruction of the city.  In the context of Genesis 19 the planned sexual activity is rape, not anything consensual; may nobody miss that point.  The standard Biblical condemnations of the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are like those in Ezekiel 16:48-50 and 3 Maccabees 2:5-6, where one reads that the cities’ sins were notorious and the people were arrogant and brazen in their iniquity.  Ezekiel 16 adds to that description the neglect of the poor and the hungry–a lack of hospitality.

Zechariah 7:8-14 states that the pre-exilic Kingdoms of Israel and Judah violated the basic requirements of the Law of Moses, and paid the price.  The societies, generally speaking, did not administer true justice and act kindly and compassionately.  No, it oppressed widows, orphans, the poor, and resident aliens.  The societies were unrepentant, and divine patience ran out.

Society is people.  It shapes its members, who also influence it.  May we–you, O reader, and I–influence society for the better–to care for the vulnerable, to resist bullying and corruption, to favor kindness and compassion, and to seek and find the proper balance between individual and collective responsibility.  May we eschew bigotry in all forms, for we have a divine mandate to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  May we seek to love God and each other fully, manifesting respect for the image of God in each other, seeking to build each other up, for that is not only the path to the common good but is also godly.

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-and-tuesday-after-proper-26-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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