Archive for the ‘Abolitionists’ Tag

The Beginning of the Hasmonean Rebellion   1 comment

Above:  Mattathias and the Apostate, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XV

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1 Maccabees 2:1-70

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How much is too much to tolerate?  When must one, in good conscience, resist authority?  The First and Second Books of the Maccabees are books about resistance to tyranny and about the political restoration of Israel (Judea).  These are not books that teach submission to all human governmental authority, no matter what.  The heroes include men who killed imperial officials, as well as Jews who ate pork–

death over a ham sandwich,

as a student of mine said years ago.

Mattathias was a Jewish priest zealous for the Law of Moses.  He and his five sons started the Hasmonean Rebellion after the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.E.  Mattathias, having refused an offer to become on the Friends of the King, launched the rebellion.  (Friend of the King was an official position.  Also, there were four ranks of Friends:  Friends (entry-level), Honored Friends, First Friends, and Preferred Friends.)  The sons of Mattathias were:

  1. John Gaddi–“fortunate,” literally;
  2. Simon Thassis–“burning,” literally;
  3. Judas Maccabeus–“designated by Yahweh” or “the hammerer,” literally;
  4. Eleazar Avaran–“awake,” literally; and
  5. Jonathan Apphus–“favorite,” literally.

The rebellion, under Mattathias, was against Hellenism.  Under Judas Maccabeus, the rebellion became a war for independence.

Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E.

The farewell speech in 2:49-70 contains references to the the following parts of the Hebrew Bible:

  1. Genesis 22 (Abraham; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 44:19-21, also);
  2. Genesis 39 (Joseph);
  3. Numbers 25 (Phinehas; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 45:23-26, also);
  4. Joshua 1 (Joshua; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:1-10, also); 
  5. Numbers 13 and 14 (Caleb; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:7-10, also);
  6. 2 Samuel 7 (David; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:2-12, also);
  7. 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 2 (Elijah; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:25-12, also); 
  8. Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego); and
  9. Daniel 6 (Daniel).

The point is to remain faithful to God during difficult times.  I support that.  On the other hand, killing some people and forcibly circumcising others is wrong.  If I condemn Hellenists for committing violence, I must also condemn Hasmoneans for doing the same.

The text intends for us, the readers, to contrast the death of Mattathias with the death of Alexander the Great (1:5-6).  We read:

[Alexander’s] generals took over the government, each in his own province, and, when Alexander died, they all assumed royal crowns, and for many years the succession passed to their descendants.  They brought untold miseries on the world.

–1 Maccabees 1:8-9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The agenda of 1 Maccabees includes the belief that renewal of Jewish traditions followed the death of Mattathias , however.

I have a habit of arguing with scripture, off-and-on.  I may recognize a text as being canonical yet disagree with part of it.  Arguing with God is part of my patrimony, inherited from Judaism.  Sometimes I seek to adore and thank God.  Arguing with God (as in Judaism) contrasts with submitting to God (as in Islam).  Perhaps the combination of my Protestant upbringing and my inherent rebelliousness keeps showing itself.  If so, so be it; I offer no apology in this matter.

As much as I engage in 1 and 2 Maccabees and find them interesting, even canonical–Deuterocanonical, actually–they disturb me.  Violence in the name of God appalls me, regardless of whether an army, a mob, or a lone civilian commits it.  I may recognize a given cause as being just.  I may, objectively, recognize the historical importance of certain violent acts, including those of certain violent acts, including those of rebellious slaves and of John Brown.  I may admit, objectively, that such violence may have been the only feasible option sometimes, given the circumstances oppressors had created or maintained.   Yet, deep down in my soul, I wish I could be a pacifist.

So, the sacred violence in 1 and 2 Maccabees disturbs me.  I understand the distinction between civilians and combatants.  The violence against civilians in 1 and 2 Maccabees really offends me morally.  These two books are not the only places in the Old Testament I read of violence against civilians.  It is present in much of the Hebrew Bible proper, too.  I object to such violence there, also.

Jennifer Wright Knust, a seminary professor and an an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, wrote Unprotected Texts:  The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (2011).  She said in an interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio that she has detected a disturbing pattern in many of her students.  Knust has said that many of her pupils think they must hold positions they would otherwise regard as morally repugnant.  They believe this, she has explained, because they interpret the Bible as supporting these positions.

As Mark Noll (a historian, a University of Notre Dame professor, and a conservative Presbyterian) has written, the U.S. Civil War was a theological crisis.  The authority of scripture was a major part of proslavery arguments that quoted the Bible, chapter and verse.  The counterargument was, therefore, allegedly heretical.  That argument rested mainly on a few verses–the Golden Rule, mainly.  And the abolitionist argument was morally superior.

I encourage you, O reader, to go all-in on the Golden Rule.  Questions of orthodoxy or heresy be damned.  Just follow the Golden Rule.  Leave the rest to God.  Do not twist the authority of scripture into an obstacle to obeying the Golden Rule.  I do not believe that God will ever condemn any of us for doing to others as would have them to do to us.

I offer one other thought from this chapter.  Read verses 29-38, O reader.  Notice that even those zealous for keeping the Law of Moses fought a battle on the Sabbath, instead of resting on the day of rest.  Know that, if they had rested, they may have lost the battle.  Know, also, that relativizing commandments within the Law of Moses was a Jewish practice.  (Remember that, so not to stereotype Judaism, as in stories in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath then faced criticism for having done so.)  Ideals clash with reality sometimes.

To return to Knust’s point, one need not believe something one would otherwise consider repugnant.  One need not do so, even if one interprets the Bible to support that repugnant belief.  The recognition of the reality on the ground takes one out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the practical.  May we–you, O reader, and I–properly balance the moral demands (real or imagined) of the theoretical with those (also real or imagined) of the practical.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DANNY THOMAS, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC ENTERTAINER AND HUMANITARIAN; FOUNDER OF SAINT JUDE’S CHILDREN’S RESEARCH HOSPITAL

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTO TO ALTOMUNSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF BRUCE M. METZGER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN TIETJEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORFIRIO, MARTYR, 203

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The Old and the New   1 comment

restless-weaver

Above:  The Copyright Information for “Restless Weaver,” an Excellent 1988 and 1993 Hymn, Number 658 in Chalice Hymnal (1995)

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The Collect:

Holy God, our strength and our redeemer,

by your Spirit hold us forever, that through your grace we may

worship you and faithfully serve you,

follow you and joyfully find you,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 22

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 48:12-21

Psalm 40:6-17

Matthew 9:14-17

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Some Related Posts:

Isaiah 48:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/thirteenth-day-of-advent/

Matthew 9:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/third-day-of-lent/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/proper-5-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/week-of-proper-8-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/devotion-for-october-6-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Let all who seek you rejoice in you and be glad;

let those who love your salvation say always, “The Lord is great.”

–Psalm 40:17, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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The words of a dying church, I have heard, are

We’ve never done it that way before.

The Bible speaks again and again of God doing new things and provides examples–the main one being the Incarnation and all that flowed from it.  The tension between the traditional and the innovative is an old story.  One can find both gold and dross among both the old and the new.  Yet how can one distinguish between the dross and the gold?

That is a difficult question, one worth wrestling with over time.  My study of the past tells me that hindsight proves useful.  Traditional interpretations of the Bible in the Antebellum U.S. South affirmed chattel slavery.  Thus, according to that standard, abolitionists were heretics.  Yet the alleged heretics were really the orthodox and the alleged orthodox were really the heretics.  The new was superior to the old.   Yet hindsight does not exist in the moment.  That is a problem.

Here is another example:  I like hymns with theologically deep words.  These hymns might be old or new.  Their value does not depend on their age.  But “seven-eleven songs”–songs with seven words one sings eleven times–are dross.  Thus I despise praise songs and choruses, heaping upon them a great amount of undying contempt for their shallowness.

Striking the proper balance between the old and the new can prove difficult.  I propose a standard from Philip H. Pfatteicher, an expert on Lutheran liturgy.  He wrote:

…the new is not always found in opposition to the old but arises from the old as its natural growth and development.  Stability and continuity are essential elements of catholic Christianity.

Commentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship:  Lutheran Liturgy in Its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis, MN:  Augsburg Fortress, 1990), page 10

It is good to remember that our traditions began as innovations.  They became traditions only with the passage of time.  And neither theology nor liturgy should function as museums.  Yet neither ought the faddish displace the tried-and-true, as my studies of liturgical development have revealed.  (Some 1970-1972 liturgies have not aged well.)

Furthermore, some issues are questions purely of taste, with no right or wrong involved.  One ought to recall that also.

Isaiah 48:12-21 condemns the faithlessness of both Chaldea and Judah yet ends with the promise of the redemption of the latter.

If you had only listened to my commands,

verse 18a reads in The Revised English Bible (1989).  The commands of God are old sometimes and new on other occasions, from our temporal perspectives.  May we, by grace, identify these commands and follow them, separating the new and worthy from the new and faddish and the old and worthy from the old and erroneous.  So, with the worthy old and the worthy new, may we rejoice in the Lord.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 5, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF GREGORIO AGLIPAY, PHILIPPINE INDEPENDENT BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/devotion-for-wednesday-after-the-second-sunday-after-epiphany-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Song of Songs and Gospel of John, Part III: Violating Social Norms   1 comment

william-lloyd-garrison

Above:  William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004672098/)

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Song of Songs 6:4-7:5 (May 22)

Song of Songs 7:6-8:14 (May 23)

Psalm 89:1-18 (Morning–May 22)

Psalm 97 (Morning–May 23)

Psalms 1 and 33 (Evening–May 22)

Psalms 16 and 62 (Evening–May 23)

John 6:22-40 (May 22)

John 6:41-59 (May 23)

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Some Related Posts:

John 6:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/devotion-for-february-18-and-19-in-epiphanyordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/sixteenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/seventeenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/eighteenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/nineteenth-day-of-easter/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/twentieth-day-of-easter/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/01/proper-13-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/proper-14-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/06/proper-15-year-b/

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The Song of Songs ends with a note consistent with the rest of the book:  this love violates social norms.  To consumate it is risky, and the lovers must be prepared for a risky parting or a flight together; the Hebrew text is ambiguous regarding whether the lovers will remain in each other’s company.

Speaking of violating social norms, the discourse of eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood violated Jewish social norms.  Such potent language offended sensibilities.  It sounds like cannibalism, does it not?  And more is happening in the narrative.  The Greek text in John 6 echoes the Greek text of the Septuagint in reference to grumbling Israelites in the desert after the Exodus.  So those who complained regarding Jesus received especially negative press.  And Jesus was (and remains) far more than manna.

In my North American context celebrations of the Holy Eucharist are routine, with no legal attention paid to them.  Yet, a few centuries ago, Roman Catholic priests risked their lives to say the Mass in England.  Following Jesus violated social and norms at that time and place.

Sometimes I think that following Jesus has become too respectable, not that I favor religious persecution.  Early Christianity, like the love in the Song of Songs, had an edge an element of risk to it.  And it had value.  As Thomas Paine wrote,

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly:  ’Tis dearness only that gives everything its value.

The American Crisis, Number 1, December 23, 1776

And, when religion becomes respected–the establishment even–it loses its prophetic edge.  I think of the uses of Christianity in  U.S. history to justify slavery then segregation and to criticize prostitutes while affirming the sexism and patriarchy which pushed many women into that situation.  Such hypocrisy, in the case of these women, blamed the victims.  Simply put, Jesus did not die because he was respectable and affirmed social injustice.  No, he died because Roman imperial officials considered him a threat to Pax Romana, a desert called peace, as Tacitus referred to it.

Respectability is overrated.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH OF PORTUGAL, QUEEN

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/devotion-for-may-22-and-23-in-ordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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