Archive for the ‘3 Maccabees 7’ 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 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 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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