Archive for the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ Tag

Extending the Borders   1 comment

Above:  Adoration of the Magi Stamp from Latvia, 1992

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 60:1-6

Psalm 72

Ephesians 3:2-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Lord God, on this day you revealed your Son

to the nations by the leading of a star. 

Lead us now by faith to know your presence in our lives,

and bring us at last to the full vision of your glory,

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 15

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O God, by the leading of a star you once made known

to all nations your only-begotten Son;

now lead us, who know you by faith,

to know in heaven the fullness of your divine goodness;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 20

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Third Isaiah, in Isaiah 60, applied motifs of the Davidic Dynasty, not to the Messiah, but to the Israelite nation as a whole.  (The “you” in Isaiah 60:1-6 is plural.)  There is no Messiah in Third Isaiah, which teaches that in the future, God will rule directly on Earth.

Yet we have this assigned reading on the Feast of the Epiphany, about Jesus, the Messiah.

Psalm 72, originally for a coronation, describes the ideal Davidic monarch.  He will govern justly, defend the oppressed, crush the extortioners, and revere God, we read.  His renown spreads far and wide, we read.  These sentences describe few of the Davidic monarchs.  They do not even describe King David.  The Christian tradition of reading Jesus into every nook and cranny of the Hebrew Bible interprets Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of the text, though.

Call me a heretic if you wish, O reader, but I resist the tendency to read Jesus into every nook and cranny of the Hebrew Bible.  Call me a heretic if you wish; I will accept the label with pride.  I even own a t-shirt that reads:

HERETIC.

Father Raymond E. Brown, whom I admire and some of whose books I own, argued against the historicity of the birth narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.  I take this point while disagreeing with another one:  Brown considered the account in the Gospel of Luke closer to reality than the one in the Gospel of Matthew.  I reverse that.  I posit that there may have been a natural phenomenon (poetically, a star) that attracted the attention of some Persian astrologers.  This scenario seems plausible.

I, being a detail-oriented person, as well as a self-identified heretic, also wince at the depictions of the shepherds and the Magi together at Bethlehem.  Even if one mistakes the germane accounts in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke for historical stories, one may notice that up to two years separated the stories.  St. Dionysius Exiguus, for all his piety, counted badly.  Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E.  If one accepts the Massacre of the (Holy) Innocents as being plausible (as I do), then one may wish to notice that the Roman client king ordered the deaths of boys two years old and younger at Bethlehem.  This story, therefore, places the birth of Jesus circa 6 B.C.E.  Either way, St. Dionysius Exiguus still place the birth of Jesus “Before Christ.”  (This is why I use B.C.E. and C.E.)

Whoever wrote or dictated the Epistle to the Ephesians, I am grateful to St. Paul the Apostle, the great evangelist to the Gentiles.  I, as a Gentile, am happy to be in the club of Christ.  I also acknowledge that I, as a Christian, stand on the shoulders of Judaism, a faith I refuse to malign.

The Epiphany–set on the old Eastern date of Christmas–reminds us that God seeks to attract as many followers as possible.  We Gentiles, grafted onto the tree of faith, need to remember that we are a branch, not the trunk, of that tree.  The limits of divine mercy exist, but I do not know where the borders are.  I assume that Judaism and Christianity are the two true faiths.  Yet I do not presume to know who God’s “secret friends”–secret to me–are.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 17, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DEICOLA AND GALL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS; AND SAINT OTHMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AT SAINT GALLEN

THE FEAST OF JAMES WOODROW, SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, NATURALIST, AND ALLEGED HERETIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT PACHOMIUS THE GREAT, FOUNDER OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNAL MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS A. DOOLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN AND HUMANITARIAN

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Adapted from this post

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Five Kings   1 comment

Above:  Head of Herod, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 7:10-14 (15-17)

Psalm 24

Romans 1:1-7

Matthew 1:18-25

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.

Take away the hindrance of our sins

and make us ready for the celebration of your birth,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always,

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 14

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Stir up your power, O Lord, and come among us with great might,

and because we are sorely hindered by our sins,

let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us;

through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with

you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 14

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Kings populate the readings for this Sunday.

The kings in Isaiah 7:10-17 were Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah.  Immediately–in context–God was with Judah and the leadership of that kingdom during the Syro-Ephraimite War.  The conception of the future King Hezekiah to an almah (young woman) was the sign of this.

YHWH is the King of Glory in Psalm 24.

Jesus was the king in Romans 1:1-7.  The death and resurrection of Christ revealed in yet another way that he was the Son of God.  (May we avoid the heresy of Adoptionism.)

Herod the Great was a client king of the Roman Empire.  To accuse Herod of being mean was to understate reality.  The man ordered the deaths of relatives and strangers alike.

Therefore, I, as a historian, attest that the story of the Massacre of the Innocents is plausible.  It is consistent with the character of Herod the Great.

Matthew 1:18 quotes and reapplies Jeremiah 31:15, a text about Israel, personified as Rachel, weeping for her lost children, exiles during the Babylonian Exile.  Jeremiah 31:16 predicts the return of the exiles, though.  There is hope, even if it is deferred sometimes.

That must have been cold comfort to grieving parents, though.

As we approach the twelve days of Christmas, may all of us cling to hope.  That hope may seem like cold comfort, especially if we grieve the absence of someone who has died or has not been able to attend for another reason.  I need encouragement to cling to hope as much as the next grieving person; I know the feeling of more than one “blue Christmas.”  Yet hope abides.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 8, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT THORFINN OF HAMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF A. J. MUSTE, DUTCH-AMERICAN MINISTER, LABOR ACTIVIST, AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF ARCANGELO CORELLI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS COPERNICUS AND GALILEO GALILEI, SCIENTISTS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEDELL, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT PEPIN OF LANDEN, SAINT ITTA OF METZ, THEIR RELATIONS, AND SAINTS AMAND, AUSTREGISILUS, AND SULPICIUS II OF BOURGES, FAITHFUL CHRISTIANS ACROSS GENERATIONAL LINES

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Adapted from this post

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Two Annunciations and a Visitation   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Magnificat

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART III

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Luke 1:5-46

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Consensus among scholars of the New Testament holds that the first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke are the that work in miniature.  Luke 1 and 2 introduce themes the rest of that Gospel develops.

Luke 1:5 grounds the audience in time and place.  We read the name of the Roman client king:  Herod (the Great).

Herod the Great (r. 37-48 B.C.E.) married into the Hasmonean Dynasty and founded his own.  The Herodian Dynasty held power (under the Roman aegis) until 70 C.E.  Herod the Great, the Governor of Galilee (47-37 B.C.E.), became the King of the Jews in 37 B.C.E.  He had authority in Judea and Galilee.

Consider calendars, O reader.  Judaism had its calendar.  The Romans had their calendar, which started with the founding of Rome–on the B.C.E./B.C.-C.E./A/D. scale, 753 B.C.E./B.C.  The B.C.E./B.C.-C.E./A.D. scale dates to what we call the 500s C.E./A.D., when St. Dionysius Exiguus introduced it.  I notice that he miscalculated, for St. Dionysius attempted to place the birth of Jesus one week before the beginning of the year 1 Anno Domini (In the Year of Our Lord).  Yet Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E.  Consider the account of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18).  I contend that a tyrant who had been dead for three years could not have ordered that slaughter.  I conclude, therefore, that St. Dionysius miscalculated.

I use “Before the Common Era” (B.C.E.) because I refuse to refer to the birth of Jesus as having occurred “Before Christ.”

Much happens, on the surface and beneath it, in these verses.  Some of these are:

  1. We read the identification of St. John the Baptist with Elijah (verse 17), indicating eschatological expectations regarding Jesus.
  2. St. Elizabeth is reminiscent of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1.
  3. The Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2) is the model for the Magnificat.
  4. We read that St. John the Baptist will go before “him” (verse 17), indicating YHWH, not Jesus.
  5. We are also supposed to think of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah (Genesis 15 and 17).
  6. Being disturbed or afraid when encountering an angel is a Biblical motif.
  7. The Holy Spirit is a major theme in Luke-Acts.  It makes its Lucan debut in 1:35.
  8. In Hebrew angelology, there are seven archangels.  1 Enoch 19:1-20:8 names them:  Gabriel, Suru’el, Raphael (who features in the Book of Tobit), Raguel, Michael, Uriel (who features in 2 Esdras/4 Ezra), and Sarafa’el.  An alternative text of 1 Enoch mentions another name, Remiel.  Seven, being the number of perfection, may be symbolic.  Or Remiel may be an alternative name for one of the archangels.
  9. The Lucan theme of reversal of fortune is prominent in the Magnificat.
  10. I recommend consulting Raymond E. Brown, The Birth of the Messiah--Updated Edition (1993), 358-360, for a detailed, line-by-line breakdown of the Magnificat, with citations from the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus, and the Psalms of Solomon.
  11. Childlessness was, in the culture, always the woman’s fault, regardless of biology.
  12. St. John the Baptist was certainly just kicking (1:41).  Unborn children kick.
  13. Verses 5-56 are about what God did and how people responded.

Underneath it all is a celebration of God.  God has taken the initiative–God the Lord, the saviour, the Powerful One, the Holy One, the Merciful One, the Faithful One.  God is the ultimate reason to celebrate.

–N. T. Wright, Advent for Everyone:  Luke–A Daily Devotional (2018), 89

I agree.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FOURTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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The Book of Consolation   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XIX

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Jeremiah 30:1-31:40

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The Book of Jeremiah contains distinct sections.  30:1-31:40 is the Book of Consolation.  After all the recent doom and gloom in Jeremiah, some consolation is welcome.

Layers of authorship exist in the Book of Consolation:

  1. A layer dating to the prophet himself,
  2. A layer of the editing of statements dating to the prophet himself,
  3. A layer dating to the Babylonian Exile, and
  4. A layer dating to after the Babylonian Exile.

I acknowledge this and focus on themes.

We read of a divine promise of the end of the Babylonian Exile, with collective spiritual renewal attached the return to the ancestral homeland.

We read of God chastising the covenant community for its sins and devouring those who wanted to devour the covenant community.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

The image of God as the Good Shepherd, reversing exile, occurs in Jeremiah 31:10-14.  For other occurrences, read Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 34:11-16.  The image of the Good Shepherd applies to Jesus in John 10:1-21.

Jeremiah 31:15 is one of the verses dubiously quoted in reference to Jesus (Matthew 2:18).  (The Gospel of Matthew frequently quotes the Hebrew Bible dubiously in reference to Jesus.)  Jeremiah 31:15 uses the name of Rachel, wife of Jacob, and alludes to Genesis 35:16-21 and 1 Samuel 10:2.  In Jeremiah 31:15, “Rachel” (Jerusalem personified) weeps for those who have gone into exile.  Yet these exiles–or their descendants–will return, we read.  Matthew 2:18 interprets Jeremiah 31:15 as a prediction of the Massacre of the Innocents at Bethlehem, circa 4 B.C.E.

We also read of the remnant of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel reincorporating into Zion.  This element is either historically troublesome or potentially so.

  1. It may refer to those people of Israel who retained their faith joining the spiritually renewed community.  This is not historically troublesome.  The historical record mentions people fleeing Israel, as well as their descendants moving to the ancestral homeland.
  2. However, if the prophecy in Chapter 30 is a version of the prophecy in Chapter 31, we may have a historical problem, O reader.  The historical record tells us that the descendants of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah never reunited.  The combination of genetics and cultural anthropology tells us that Ten Lost Tribes scattered across the Old World–from South Africa to Afghanistan.  And, with the advent of widespread global travel, we can state with certainty that the descendants of the Ten Lost Tribes have scattered across the world.
  3. We do not have a historical problem if the fulfillment of this prophecy has yet to occur.

Whenever God will reunite the remnants of Israel and Judah, we read, God will establish a new covenant–one written on human hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Early Christian interpretation of this passage as referring to Jesus explains why the New Testament bears the label it does.  We can thank Tertullian (in full, Quintus Septimus Florens Tertullian, c. 160-c. 225 B.C.E.) for that.  In the context of Jeremiah 31, though, the prophecy refers to the internalization of the Torah, therefore, to a spiritual state in which disobedience to God will cease to be an option.

This topic reminds me of an abbreviation of an extended passage from St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430):

Love God and do whatever you please: for the soul trained in love to God will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.

The too-abbreviated version is:

Love God and do whatever you please.

The rest of the quote is essential for proper context and understanding.

Anyhow, the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34 has yet to come true communally.  Some especially holy men and women may have, by grace, achieved the spiritual state St. Augustine described.  I am not one of them.

Jeremiah 31 concludes with the repetition of divine faithfulness to the covenant people.  God may punish them for their sins, but will never destroy them.  The Jews will remain the Chosen People for all time.  Jeremiah 31:38-40 reverses Jeremiah 1:10.

See, I appoint you this day

Over nations and kingdoms:

To uproot and pull down,

To destroy and to overthrow,

To build up and to plant.

–Jeremiah 1:10, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This is the beginning of one thread.  Then we read Jeremiah 31:38-40:

See, a time is coming–declares the LORD–when the city shall be rebuilt for the LORD from the tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate; and the measuring line shall go straight out to the Gareb Hill, and then turn toward Goah.  And the entire Valley of the Corpses and Ashes, and all the fields as far as the Wadi Kidron, and the corner of the Horse Gate on the east, shall be holy to the LORD.  They shall never again be uprooted or overthrown.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

This description of the rebuilding of Jerusalem speaks of a promising future.  Yet I know of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  We may be reading a yet-unfulfilled prophecy.

Or Jeremiah may have gotten this one wrong.  He also predicted the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of Egypt (46:1-6).  The Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire never conquered Egypt.

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 Death of Simon, the Accession of John Hyrcanus I, and the Rest of the Story   1 comment

Above:  Judea Under the Hasmoneans

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXXI

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1 Maccabees 16:11-24

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THE DEATH OF SIMON AND THE ACCESSION OF JOHN HYRCANUS I

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Above:  John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

The First Book of the Maccabees is primarily the story of the leadership of Mattathias and three of his five sons:  Judas Maccabeus, Jonathan, and Simon.

The Hasmonean Dynasty was not immune to the darker side of human nature.  Simon had appointed his son-in-law Ptolemeus son of Abubus the commander of the plain of Jericho.  Ptolemeus, greedy for wealth and power, plotted to kill Simon and Simon’s sons Mattathias and Judas, drunk, at a banquet.  Ptolemeus killed those men, but he did not succeed Simon.  Ptolemeus did notify King Antiochus VII Sidetes and request assistance in a coup d’état.  Ptolemeus also sent men to execute John Hyrcanus I and seize control of Jerusalem.  John Hyrcanus I, warned, escaped, had the would-be-executioners killed, and succeeded his father as the High Priest.

Shortly after John Hyrcanus I died in 104 B.C.E., the anonymous author of 1 Maccabees wrote.  The work ended as it began:  stife and infighting.  1 Maccabees, a riveting story (and a good read, especially in The Revised English Bible, 1989), is a cautionary tale.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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THE REST OF THE STORY

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For the full version of the rest of the story, consult Flavius Josephus, O reader.

John Hyrcanus I conquered Moab and Samaria.  He also ordered the destruction of the temple at Gerazim.  He died of natural causes.

Above:  Aristobolus I

Image in the Public Domain

Aristobolus I (reigned 104-103 B.C.E.) succeeded his father and assumed the title of king.  King Aristobolus I had his brother and mother killed.

Above:  Alexander Jannaeus

Image in the Public Domain

Alexander Jannaeus (reigned 103-76 B.C.E.), another son of John Hyrcanus I, succeeded Aristobolus as the High Priest and the king.  Alexander Jannaeus married Salome Alexandra.  During his reign, strife between Pharisees and Sadducees divided the kingdom.

Above:  Salome Alexandra

Image in the Public Domain

Salome Alexandra (reigned 76-67 B.C.E.) succeeded as the queen.  During these years, Hyrcanus II, son of Alexander Jannaeus and Alexandra, served as the High Priest.

Above:  Hyrcanus II

Image in the Public Domain

Hyrcanus II briefly reigned as king (67 B.C.E.) after the death of Salome Alexandra.

Above:  Aristobolus II

Image in the Public Domain

Aristooolus II (reigned 67-33 B.C.E.) had struggled with his brother Hyrcanus II for years.  The two brothers continued their struggle, transformed into a civil war, after Aristobolus took over.  The Roman Republic intervened in the civil war, first on the side of Aristobolus II.  Then the Romans deposed Aristobolus II and removed him to Rome in 63 B.C.E.  Roman General Pompey installed Hyrcanus II as the High Priest.  Yet the real ruler of Judea, was minister Antipater, who worked for the Roman Republic.  Judean independence had ended.

Rebellions ensued.  Hyrcanus II and Antipater worked for the Roman Republic.  Julius Caesar appointed Hyrcanus II an ethnarch (47-41 B.C.E.).  Antipater died of poisoning in 43 B.C.E.

Above:  Antigonus II Mattathias

Image in the Public Domain

Herod the Great, son of Antipater, entered the picture.  Herod and his brother Phasael served as Roman tetrarchs in 41-40 B.C.E. Then the Parthians installed Antigonus II Mattathias, brother of Hyrcanus II, as the Judean king and the High Priest.  Phasael committed suicide.  Herod fled to Rome.  High Priest Hyrcanus II became a mutilated (no ears) captive in the Parthian Empire.  The struggle between Herod the Great and Antigonus II Mattathias ended in 37 B.C.E.  Herod reigned as a Roman client king until he died in 4 B.C.E.

Above:  Mariamne I

Image in the Public Domain

Herod the Great married into the Hasmonean Dynasty, merging that family with his.  He married Mariamne I, granddaughter of Aristobolus II and Hyrcanus II, in 37 B.C.E.  Then Herod the great began to execute Hasmoneans:

  1. High Priest Aristobolus III (d. 35 B.C.E.)
  2. Hyrcanus II (d. 30 B.C.E.)
  3. Mariamne I (d. 29 B.C.E.)
  4. Alexandra, mother of Mariamne I (d. 28 B.C.E.)
  5. Alexander, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne I (d. 7 B.C.E.)
  6. Aristobolus, son of Herod the Great and Mariamne I (d. 7 B.C.E.)

Consider the account of the Massacre of the Innocents (Matthew 2:16-18), O reader.  It is consistent with the character of Herod the Great.

Herod the Great, at the end of his life, had terminated the male line of the Hasmonean Dynasty.  Yet the Hasmonean genetic heritage continued.  The three daughters of Herod the Great and Mariamne continued to live.  Furthermore, Aristobolus, the strangled son of Herod the Great and Mariamne I, had a daughter, Herodias.  She had a daughters, Salome.  Herodias persuaded Salome to request the head of St. John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12).  Herod Agrippa I was a client king of the Roman Empire from 37 to 44 B.C.E.  He persecuted Christians, and died in Acts 12:22-23.  His son, Herod Agrippa II, ruled as a Roman client king (50-100 B.C.E.).  He died childless.  With him the Herodian Dynasty ended.

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EVALUATION

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So, as we–you, O reader, and I–stand at the end of this series and ponder the Hasmoneans and their legacy, we ask, what was their legacy?  Robert Doran’s answer may prove useful.

…the author also acknowledges that the Maccabees had been the family through whom God had wrought deliverance in Israel.  He emphasizes that God does act faithfully to the people if they attempt to follow God’s commandments.  Torah faithfulness, a longing to serve God at the Temple and at the place God has chosen, vibrates throughout [1 Maccabees].  One may question whether today one should follow the same war tactics as Judas and his brothers did; one may be dismayed at the open acceptance of ethnic cleansing as a means to follow God’s commandments.  But one cannot question whether the Maccabees fought according to their own convictions to keep alive the worship of the God of Israel.  For that, their name will be remembered.

The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), 178

Doran wrote at the end of 1 Maccabees, when, as he put it:

The heady days of the opening revolt against the Seleucids have been replaced by Hasmonean institutionalization.

–178

Hasmonean institutionalization watered the seeds of destruction the sons of the old priest Mattathias had planted.  Good intentions paved the road to hell.  And Herod the Great brought down the final curtain upon the Hasmonean Dynasty.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the First, Second, and Fourth Books of the Maccabees.  It has been an intellectually and spiritually rewarding project for me.  (There is seldom a line separating the spiritual and the intellectual for me, actually.)  I pray that this reading project has had a similar benefit for you.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PHILIPP MENANCTHON, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND SCRIBE OF THE REFORMATION

THE FEAST OF CHARLES TODD QUINTARD, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF TENNESSEE

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FREDERICK MARTIN, SR., AND CHARLES AUGUSTUS ZOEBISCH, GERMAN-AMERICAN INSTRUMENT MAKERS

THE FEAST OF LOUIS (LEWIS) F. KAMPMANN, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX BISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

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Grace Amid Grief and Violence   1 comment

Massacre of the Innocents

Above:  Massacre of the Innocents, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

All-powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light

into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace.

Call us out of darkness, and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son,

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 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:15-17

Psalm 148

Matthew 2:13-18

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Let kings and commoners,

princes and rulers over the whole earth,

youths and girls,

old and young together,

let them praise the name of the LORD,

for his name is high above all others,

and his majesty above earth and heaven.

He has exalted his people in the pride of power

and crowned with praise his loyal servants,

Israel, a people close to him.

Praise the LORD.

–Psalm 148:11-14, Revised English Bible (1989)

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Christmas Eve and December 25 are supposed to be joyous occasions, especially liturgically.  Yet, for many people, grief due to the absences of certain family members detracts from the celebration.  Such times ought to become occasions for grace to flow to those who grieve, with mere mortals functioning as agents of God.  We live in the midst of grace, which I liken to a lamp.  We notice its light more at night than we do earlier in the day.  Likewise, grace becomes more noticeable when we perceive the need for it to be greater.

Jeremiah 31 speaks of the return of the exiles from the ten lost tribes of Israel to their homeland, an event which has yet to occur.  Rachel weeps because of their absence, but there is hope, the text says.  The author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted part of that passage and related it to the Massacre of the Innocents.  Herod the Great was a mean and mentally unhinged monarch who derived his power from the Roman Empire.  He authorized violence against members of his own family, so ordering the killing of strangers was consistent with his character.

Some stories of violence follow the great festival of Christmas Eve and Day.  December 26 is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.  And December 28, of course, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents.  Jesus entered a world in which evil people commit or consent to violence to benefit themselves and many other people stand by and watch it happen.  Human nature has remained constant and the violence has continued.  We humans are creatures of habit.  That fact contributes to the imperative of fostering and pursuing positive habits, those which build up people and contribute to the common good.  This is possible, for God has bestowed ample grace upon us.  What will we do with it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN VON STAUPITZ, MARTIN LUTHER’S SPIRITUAL MENTOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES THEODORE HOLLY, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF HAITI

THE FEAST OF JOHN MILTON, POET AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE SAINTS AND MARTYRS OF THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/devotion-for-december-28-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Difficult Questions of Suffering   1 comment

guido_reni_-_massacre_of_the_innocents

Above:  The Massacre of the Innocents, by Guido Reni

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The Collect:

O Lord God, you know that we cannot place our trust in our own powers.

As you protected the infant Jesus, so defend us and all the needy from harm and adversity,

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 20

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 31:15-22 (December 29)

Isaiah 26:1-9 (December 30)

Psalm 20 (both days)

Luke 19:41-44 (December 29)

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (December 30)

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Some Related Posts:

 Jeremiah 31:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/fourth-day-of-christmas-feast-of-the-holy-innocents-december-28/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/06/04/devotion-for-november-14-15-and-16-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Luke 19:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/devotion-for-the-forty-fifth-and-forty-sixth-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/week-of-proper-28-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/week-of-proper-28-thursday-year-2/

Isaiah 26:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/14/fifth-day-of-advent/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/devotion-for-december-9-lcms-daily-lectionary/

2 Corinthians 4:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/proper-5-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/devotion-for-august-25-and-26-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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From God’s holy place may you receive help;

may God strengthen you out of Zion.

–Psalm 20:2, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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In the Jeremiah reading God comforts the Israelite nation.  They have sinned, yes, and the negative consequences of persistently bad actions will ensue.  But exiles will also return in time.  In the midst of punishment grace speaks.  The beginning of the passage reappears in Matthew 2:18, in the context of Herod the Great’s massacre of the Holy Innocents.  The Collect from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006) reminds us that God spared the life of young Jesus.  Yet others died in his place.

The readings for these two days combine to constitute a certain tension.  God is faithful and will be merciful after either allowing punishment to occur or after meting out punishments.  Yet the latter God does not do happily.  Nevertheless, innocent people suffer because they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.  The readings from December 26 (http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/07/18/devotion-for-december-26-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/) tell us that this does not indicate that God has been negligent in divine duties.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 joins the chorus of affirming voices:

So we do not lose heart.  Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.

The New Revised Standard Version

Theodicy is a risky endeavor.  God is best qualified to justify self to human questions, of course.  And our ideas (or at least some of them) might prove false.  But, if God is truly the one and only deity–as I affirm–then God is in the dock.  I, as an honest Monotheist, cannot blame one deity for bad events and credit another for negative ones.  But one of my favorite spiritual inheritances from the Jews, my elder siblings in faith, is the right to argue with God faithfully.  I want answers to issues such as the suffering of the innocent.  Until or unless I get them, however, I still have a healthy relationship with God.  And I intend to continue to have one for the rest of my days and afterward.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 19, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT POEMEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINTS JOHN THE DWARF AND ARSENIUS THE GREAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF SAINT AMBROSE AUTPERT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN PLESSINGTON, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE YOUNGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

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Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/devotion-for-december-29-and-30-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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The Suffering of the Innocent, Part I   1 comment

Above:  Massacre of the Innocents, by Matteo di Giovanni

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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:

Isaiah 52:13-54:10

Psalm 2 (Morning)

Psalms 110 and 111 (Evening)

Matthew 2:13-23

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Some Related Posts:

Matthew 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/fourth-day-of-christmas-feast-of-the-holy-innocents-december-28/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/second-sunday-after-christmas-years-a-b-and-c/

Isaiah 52-54:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/third-week-of-advent-thursday/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/proper-24-year-b/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-ninth-day-of-lent-good-friday/

Prayers for Those Who Suffer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/prayers-for-those-who-suffer/

A Prayer for Those Who Are Desperate:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-prayer-for-those-who-are-desperate/

A Prayer for the Healing of Minds:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-prayer-for-the-healing-of-minds/

A Franciscan Blessing:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/a-franciscan-blessing/

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Whom did the author of Isaiah 52:13-54:10 have in mind?  Perhaps the Jewish people themselves were the despised and suffering servant.  Or maybe a pious Jewish minority was the servant.  Another interpretation of the text is that it speaks of an in individual, perhaps Jeremiah.  This last option is plausible.  The text, unfortunately, does not say for sure.  And, of course, there is a Christian interpretation which applies the text to Jesus.  The imagery fits poetically, if not chronologically.

This is an interesting passage to read along with the Matthew account of the killing of the Holy Innocents.  The servant, in Isaiah 53:5, suffers for the sins of others.  This applies to the unfortunate young boys whom Herod the Great had killed.  Terrible fates fell upon these who had done nothing.  Terrible fates fell upon them because of the sins of one man and those who obeyed him.

Such violence continues to the present day, unfortunately.  The existence of a just God does not prevent them, obviously.  And the joyful tone of Isaiah 54:1-10 leaves many grieving and otherwise distressed people cold.  This is understandable; I do not condemn.  In fact, I have at least as many questions as do other people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 20, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS, ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF HENRY JUDAH MIKELL, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE SAINTS AND MARTYRS OF AFRICA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GRANT BROUGHTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/devotion-for-december-28-lcms-daily-lectionary/