Archive for the ‘Joshua Son of Nun’ Tag

A Dangerous Game, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Coin of Demetrius II Nicator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXVII

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1 Maccabees 11:1-74

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Alexander Epiphanes (Balas) (Reigned 150-145 B.C.E.)

Ptolemy VI Philometor (Reigned 180-145 B.C.E.)

Demetrius II Nicator (Reigned 145-139/138  and 129/128-125 B.C.E.)

Antiochus VI Epiphanes (Reigned 145-142 B.C.E.)

Trypho (Reigned 142-138 B.C.E.)

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King Alexander Balas (sometimes spelled Balus), son-in-law of King Ptolemy VI Philometor of the Ptolemaic Empire, found himself stuck between King Ptolemy VI Philometor and King Demetrius II Nicator.  King Ptolemy VI Philometor was reasserting the traditional Egyptian control of Judea, in the borderlands with the Seleucid Empire.  Jonathan, as the High Priest and the leader of Judean Jews, was in the middle, geographically, metaphorically, and politically.  With the deaths of King Alexander Balas and King Ptolemy VI Philometor, Jonathan had to deal with King Demetrius II Nicator after 145 B.C.E.  The High Priest also had to contend with Jewish renegades.

Jonathan, a former ally of Alexander Balas, joined the ranks of the Friends of King Demetrius II Nicator.  The new Seleucid monarch was an adolescent.  He had the title, but one Lasthenes (named in 11:32) was the power behind the throne.  Jonathan got a sweet deal:  three more districts added to his territory, plus taxes (formerly paid to King Demetrius II Nicator) paid instead to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Yet the Seleucid Empire remained politically unstable.  Lasthenes and King Demetrius II Nicator faced another challenge.  Trypho was a former partisan of King Alexander Balas.  Trypho exploited widespread discontent in military ranks to prop up King Alexander VI Epiphanes, son of Alexander Balas.  This political instability affected Jonathan and the Jewish people, of course.

Jonathan’s forces rescued the young King Demetrius II Nicator in Antioch, the royal capital city.  The monarch–or rather–Lasthenes, more likely–reneged on the promises to Jonathan.  The High Priest, therefore, transferred his loyalty to the young King Antiochus VI.  So did many soldiers of the Seleucid Empire.

King Antiochus VI Epiphanes–or Trypho, rather–lavished privileges upon Jonathan and confirmed his appointment as the High Priest.  Yet King Demetrius II Nicator and Lasthenes were still active.  And they were working to frustrate Jonathan’s plans.

Jonathan, a shrewd political operator, was also pious.  After he prayed (11:71), his forces won a battle they had been losing.  The anonymous author of 1 Maccabees attributed that victory to God.  That author had Joshua 7:6-9 in mind.  Jonathan came across like Joshua son of Nun.

Jonathan took hostages in 11:62. He acted as Bacchides had done.  The High Priest also paid a moral price for functioning as a Seleucid lackey.  Nevertheless, he was stuck between competing claimants to the Seleucid throne.  (Let us never forget that, O reader.)  Jonathan contended with a quandary many leaders have faced:  How dirty must one get to commit the most good?  And how dirty can one get before one is just dirty and too far gone?  How many compromises are too many compromises?  And which compromises must one never make?

I detect another disturbing motif in 1 Maccabees, especially in Chapter 11:  older men were manipulating minors, claimants to the throne.  This theme also occurred in the cases of Lysias and King Antiochus V Eupator (1 Maccabees 5:1-68; 1 Maccabees 6:17-63; 1 Maccabees 7:1-25; 2 Maccabees 10:10-13:26; and 2 Maccabees 14:1-14).  These older men, manipulating minors, acted in the names of their wards.  But did those boys and young men ever stand a chance, given that they were pawns?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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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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Elijah in the Wilderness   Leave a comment

Above: Elijah in the Desert, by Washington Alllston

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART LXXIII

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1 Kings 19:1-18

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The voice of the LORD makes the oak trees writhe

and strips the forests bare.

–Psalm 29:8, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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King Ahab of Israel (Reigned 873-852 B.C.E.)

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Except when the voice of God is a soft, murmuring sound.

There is much going on in 1 Kings 19.  For example:

  1. Let us not forget the hundred unnamed prophets hiding from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in two caves in 18:4.
  2. If Elijah had died in Chapter 19, the prophetic tradition would have continued.
  3. God provided for Elijah in the wilderness, as God had done for Moses and the former Hebrew slaves in Exodus.
  4. Elijah sheltering in the rock calls back to Moses sheltering in the rock (Exodus 33:13-33) when God passed by.
  5. The depiction of God in 1 Kings 19:1-18 is opposite of that of Baal Peor, a storm god.
  6. God told Elijah in so many words, “Stop whining!  Get back to work!”  Then God gave Elijah three tasks to complete.
  7. Elijah completed only one of those tasks.  Elisha completed the other two tasks in 2 Kings 8:7-15 and 9:1-15, after the assumption of Elijah into Heaven.  
  8. Elijah selecting his successor (Elisha) echoes Moses choosing his successor (Joshua son of Nun) in Numbers 27:15-23.

Germane texts offer a mixed critique of Elijah.  As with King David, his record in scripture is more ambiguous than his standard historical reputation.  Such overblown reputations result from the excesses of nostalgia.

Yet such ambiguity should comfort us.  If there was hope for Elijah, for example, there is also hope for us.  Heroic figures were human beings with great flaws and great virtues.  These heroes did much for God.  So can we mortals.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES A. WALSH AND THOMAS PRICE, COFOUNDERS OF THE MARYKNOLL FATHERS AND BROTHERS; AND MARY JOSEPHINE ROGERS, FOUNDRESS OF THE MARYKNOLL SISTERS OF SAINT DOMINIC

THE FEAST OF DMITRY BORTNIANSKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF HARRY WEBB FARRINGTON, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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