Archive for the ‘Ecclesiasticus 44’ 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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Glorifying God VII   1 comment

Above:  The Tower of Babel, from Metropolis (1927)

A Screen Capture

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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 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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Genesis 11:1-9 or Acts 28:16-31

Psalm 135:1-14

Revelation 6:1-17

John 9:1-41

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The gospel of Christ will always stand in judgment of the things that are happening in the political, economic, and social spheres of communities and nations.  And if this is so, then martyrdom is not as far away as we think.  The word “martyr” in Greek is the same word from which we get the word “witness.”

–Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 49-50

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To be a witness to God can be risky.  The risk may or may not involve violence, injury or death.  However, even under the best of circumstances, to ignore or minimize that risk is foolish.  Risk may even come from conventionally religious people–from powerful ones, perhaps.

I detect an element of humor in John 9:1-41.  (Reading the Bible in such a way as to miss humor is far too common.)  By the time a reader arrives at the end of the story, one may imagine steam pouring out of the ears of some of the Pharisees, if this story were in the form of a Looney Tunes cartoon.  This would make for a wonderful scene in verse 27, with the healed man’s question, 

Do you want to become his disciples yourselves?

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

At the end of that story, the healed man found himself expelled from the synagogue.  His plight must have resonated with members of the Johannine Jewish Christian community, on the margins of their Jewish communal life.  Therefore, some Jews referred to other Jews as “the Jews.”

At the end of the Acts of the Apostles, St. Paul the Apostle lived under house arrest in Rome.  Ultimately, he did via beheading.

God may have struck down many enemies and oppressors of Israel, but many of the faithful have suffered and/or died for the faith, too.

The story of the Tower of Babel is a myth.  Anyone consulting it in search for a reliable source of linguistic origins is on a doomed mission.  That is not to say, however, that the story contains no truth.

This is a story about the folly of self-importance–collective self-importance, in this case.  Verse 5 reads:

The LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the people had built.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That verse conveys the insignificance of human achievements relative to God.

The desire to make a name for ourselves–collectively and individually–is a great value in many societies.  It is not, however, a value the Bible champions.  Psalm 135 reads, in part:

Hallelujah.

Praise the name of the LORD;

give praise, you servants of the LORD,

who stand in the house of the LORD,

in the courts of the house of our God.

Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;

sing hymns to His name, for it is pleasant.

For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself,

Israel, as His treasured possession.

–Verses 1-4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

If we–collectively or individually–have a name that should last for generations, centuries, and millennia, God will give it to us.  That name may not persist in human memory, though.

Some of them left a name behind them, 

so that their praises are still sung.

While others have left no memory

and disappeared as though they had not existed.

They are now as though they had never been,

and so too, their children after them.

–Ecclesiasticus 44:8-9, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

So be it.

To seek to glorify God and to maintain divine standards of political, economic, and social justice can be dangerous.  At minimum, the risk is social marginalization and scorn.  Much of this contempt may come from conventionally devout people who should know better.  To serve God or to serve Caesar.  To glorify God or to glorify oneself?  To worship God or to worship country?  The decisions are ours to make?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 23, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE ALMSGIVER, PATRIARCH OF ALEXANDRIA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES KINGSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST, NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD GRUBB, ENGLISH QUAKER AUTHOR, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES D. SMART, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF PHILLIPS BROOKS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF MASSACHUSETTS, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/23/devotion-for-proper-18-year-d-humes/

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Evaluation of King Josiah   5 comments

Above:  King Josiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART V

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1 Esdras 1:23-24

Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 49:1-6

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O my God, remember to my credit all that I have done for this people!

–Nehemiah 5:19, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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And the deeds of Josiah were upright in the sight of the Lord, for his heart was full of godliness.  In ancient times the events of his reign have been recorded–concerning those who sinned and acted wickedly toward the Lord beyond any other people or kingdom, and how they grieved the Lord deeply, so that the words of the Lord fell upon Israel.

–1 Esdras 1:23-24, New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That passage from 1 Esdras has no parallel in 2 Chronicles or 2 Kings.

Sirach 49:1-6 heaps more praise upon Josiah.  That passage lauds only three Israelite monarchs–David, Hezekiah, and Josiah.  The rest were wicked, verse 4 tells us.  Sirach 49:1-6 also tells us that Josiah’s name is like “blended incense” and that his memory is precious.  One also reads that Josiah “kept his heart fixed on God” and led a virtuous life during “times of lawlessness.”  Such lawlessness, one reads, led to the Babylonian Exile.

Sirach 49:1-6 comes from a section (Chapters 44-50) in which Ben Sira praises heroes, but not always in chronological order.  The standard English translation of Sirach 44:1 begins,

Let us now praise famous men….

I wonder if the author of Hebrews (definitely not St. Paul the Apostle) had Sirach 44-50 in mind when dictating or writing the roll call of faith in Chapter 11.

The story of King Josiah of Judah confirms what most people know already:  the wisdom and character of those who sit in positions of power changes the courses of nations and the world.  And even those who walk with God make foolish decisions.  At least these rulers are not evil, though.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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