Archive for the ‘4 Maccabees 3’ Tag

The Martyrdom of Eleazar the Scribe   1 comment

Above:  Eleazar Forced to Eat Swine’s Flesh, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VIII

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2 Maccabees 6:18-31

4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23

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Before I delve into the material, O reader, I choose to mention a pattern germane to this post and the next few posts:  2 Maccabees is succinct and 4 Maccabees is verbose.  For example, 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42 spans 4 Maccabees 5:1-18:19.  One theory regarding 4 Maccabees is that it originated as an oration for Hanukkah.  I conclude that, if this is accurate, the original audience had a very long attention span.  I like that idea, especially given that I live in age in which many people have the attention spans of fleas with ADHD.

Eleazar, 90 years old, was a scribe.  He, a pious Jew, obeyed the Law of Moses scrupulously.  Of course, the old man refused to eat pork.  He also refused to spare his life by pretending to eat the forbidden meat.  Eleazar wanted to be a good example, all the way to the end.  So, he suffered tortures and died.

2 Maccabees does not describe the tortures.  4 Maccabees does describe the tortures, though.  And that book, being what it is, portrays Eleazar as being a Stoic philosopher.  The references to self-control and courage (5:23-24) fit neatly into Stoicism.

I have already covered some of the theological points of the reading from 4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23 in the post in which I wrote about 4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; and 18:20-24.  For purposes of review, however, here are are some reminders:

  1. 6:29 indicates belief in the suffering of the holy functioning as expiation of sins for the people–in this case, the persecuted Jews.
  2. 7:19 teaches the immortality of the dead.  God is the God of the living, many of whom lack pulses.

By the way, just in case somebody forgot that 4 Maccabees teaches Stoicism, there is 7:22:

For only the wise and courageous man is lord of his emotions.

Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

I prefer to focus on another point, though.  Words and actions matter.  Appearances can deceive, but they still matter.  One may consult 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 for another presentation of this truth.  The context there is eating meat sacrificed to false gods then sold in markets.  The main idea, though, is the same:  Act so as not to lead anyone astray.

Eleazar was faithful to the end.  He died so he would not lead anyone astray.  He should never have been in that situation, though.  Ultimately, Antiochus IV Epiphanes bore the most responsibility for Eleazar’s martyrdom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCUS AURELIUS CLEMENS PRUDENTIUS, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MATEO CORREA-MAGALLANES AND MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF ORANGE SCOTT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, ABOLITIONIST, AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WESLEYAN MEXICAN CONNECTION

THE FEAST OF SAINT VEDAST (VAAST), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI

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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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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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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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