Archive for the ‘Nebuchadnezzar II’ Tag

Divine Judgment Against Elam   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXXIII

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Jeremiah 49:34-39

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Elam (capital = Susa) was east of the Tigris River.  The name of the country derived from one of the children of Shem (Genesis 10:22). Ezra 4:9 mentioned the “men of Susa.”  The Assyrian Empire sacked Susa in 646 B.C.E., and Elamite archers participated in Assyrian attacks on Judah (Isaiah 21:2; 22:6).  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire expelled Elamite invaders into the Tigris region circa 596 B.C.E.

This oracle provides a date, of a sort.  The oracle originates from very early in the reign (597-586 B.C.E.) of King Zedekiah of Judah.

This oracle, like some others in this set of oracles, concludes on a hopeful note.

Elam passed into the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire then into the Persian Empire, but long remained a rebellious province.  Finally, in 521 B.C.E., King Darius I of the Persian Empire (r. 522-486 B.C.E.) established his winter palace in Susa.

Some of the people in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost were Elamites (Acts 2:9).

The oracle does not list any sin Elamites may have committed.

After the massive devastation, Yahweh will restore the fortune of Elam.  God’s ultimate resolve is the well-being even of Elam.  That well-being can only happen, however, when Yahweh’s throne is firm in the land and all other claimants to the throne have been eliminated.

–Walter Brueggemann, A Commentary on Jeremiah:  Exile and Homecoming (1998), 461

After all, God is sovereign.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELLERTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF CARL HEINRICH VON BOGATSKY, HUNGARIAN-GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY FRANCES BLOMFIELD GURNEY, ENGLISH POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP, AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

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Divine Judgment Against Egypt   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXVI

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Jeremiah 46:2-28

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Jeremiah 46:2 refers to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian defeat of Egypt at Carchemish in 605 B.C.E. in the past tense.

Jeremiah 46:13 refers to the Chaldean/Neo Babylonian invasion in 601 B.C.E. in the past tense.  Historical records tell us that King Nebuchadnezzar II did not vanquish Egypt (contra 43:8-11), but withdrew to Syria instead.  Historical records also tell us that Egypt fell to the Persian Empire in 525 B.C.E.

Depending on the commentary one accepts, we read either two or three brief oracles against Egypt (46:2-26), followed by an oracle for Judah (46:27-28).  The Egyptian oracles exist in the contexts of Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian invasions, depicted as divine punishment of Egypt.  Jeremiah 46:27-28, nearly identical to 30:10-11, comforts Judah.  A remnant of Judah will remain, we read.

For more about divine judgment on Egypt, read Isaiah 18:1-20:6; Ezekiel 19:1-16; Ezekiel 30:1-32:32.

Walter Brueggemann writes that, in Jeremiah 46, YHWH, not the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, was “the enemy of Egypt.”  He continues:

Yahweh stalks the map of the Near East as only Yahweh is authorized to do.  The nations will sooner or later have to come to terms with Yahweh’s powerful will.  International politics does not consist simply in power and cunning and strategy and ruthlessness.  There is a purpose that overrides all such human posturing.  Whoever stands over against that transcendent purpose, as Egypt here does, is sure to fail.

A Commentary on Jeremiah:  Exile and Homecoming (1998), 429

Empires come and go; they rise and fall.  Kings and Pharaohs come and go, too.  International alliances shift.  God, however, is forever and sovereign.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I OF CONSTANTINOPLE, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND SAINT JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND THE “SWEET-VOICED NIGHTINGALE OF THE CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF DAVID LOW DODGE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN BUSINESSMAN AND PACIFIST

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS J. UPLEGGER, GERMAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND MISSIONARY; “OLD MAN MISSIONARY”

THE FEAST OF FRANK LAUBACH, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF MARK HOPKINS, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, EDUCATOR, AND PHYSICIAN

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Jeremiah Among the Remnant of Judah, and the Decision to Flee to Egypt   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XXIII

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Jeremiah 42:1-43:7

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The political situation was tense in Judah after the fall of the kingdom and the assassination of Gedaliah.  A population who had fled then returned and asked Jeremiah to pray for advice and report back to them.  Should they flee to Egypt?  God said, “No.”  God said He would preserve them and their descendants as a remnant if they remained in Judah.  God was sovereign; Nebuchadnezzar II was His vassal.

This population did not like the divine reply Jeremiah reported.  They did not hear what they wanted to hear.  They did not want to hear that fleeing to Egypt would lead to unfortunate results for them.  They did not want to hear that fleeing to Egypt would lead to them dying

by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence.

–Jeremiah 42:17

(Yet read Jeremiah 44:28.)  They did not want to hear that fleeing to Egypt would result in them becoming

an execration of woe, a curse, and a mockery.

–Jeremiah 42:18

Therefore, they decided to flee to Egypt anyway.

They did not obey the LORD.

–Jeremiah 43:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the Biblical narrative, including the Book of Jeremiah, the Kingdom of Judah fell apart because people did not obey God.  They were still disobeying God.

The theological voice in much of the Hebrew Bible (including the Book of Jeremiah) is that of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.  This is the community from which the final drafts of much of the Hebrew Bible emerged after the Babylonian Exile.  Walter Brueggemann writes that, in this portion of Jeremiah, we read the Babylonian exilic community denying legitimacy to the Egyptian exilic community.  I have no reason to doubt the historical legitimacy of this interpretation.

Those who disobey God act out of a false sense of autonomy.  No person, community, et cetera, is autonomous from God.  Learning that lesson is difficult.  Discerning the difference between someone speaking for God and someone speaking for himself or herself may also be difficult.  One may, for example, carry on an internal monologue and imagine that one is conversing with God.  Then there are liars.  Despite these challenges, one rule may prove helpful:  If God always seems to argue with you, O reader, you are mistaking yourself for God much of the time, at least.

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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Jeremiah Versus False Prophets   Leave a comment

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XVIII

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Jeremiah 27:1-29:32

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The Masoretic Text of Jeremiah 27:1 indicates that Jehoiakim was the King of Judah.  Yet this is a scribal error, for the rest of the text names Zedekiah as the King of Judah.  Many English translations correct the Masoretic Text and list Zedekiah as the monarch.

Zedekiah, born Mattaniah, reigned from 597 to 586 B.C.E.  As the King of Judah, he was always a vassal of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

God was sovereign, Jeremiah pronounced.  All world leaders, even King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (r. 605-562 B.C.E.) were vassals of God.  The prophet told King Zedekiah to disregard the advice of the false prophets to rebel against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The only way to live was as a Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian vassal, Jeremiah told King Zedekiah.  The King of Judah disregarded the prophet’s advice and rebelled anyway.  King Zedekiah, blinded, died a prisoner in Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-25:26; 2 Chronicles 36:11-21; 1 Esdras 1:47-58).

Hananiah ben Azzur was a false prophet.  He was the prophetic equivalent of happy pills.  Hananiah, who had

urged disloyalty to the LORD,

died the same year he issued the false prophecy.

The first round of the Babylonian Exile started in 597 B.C.E., with the deposition of King Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah.  Before the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.), Jeremiah wrote to these exiles.  They were home, Jeremiah wrote to these exiles.  Jeremiah counseled them to settle permanently.  In Deuteronomy 20:5-7, building houses, planting vineyards, marrying, and procreating indicated permanent settlement.  The collapse of such signs of permanent settlement, as was about to happen in Judah, indicated divine judgment (Deuteronomy 28:30-32; Amos 5:11; Zephaniah 1:13).  The restoration of these signs of permanent settlement played a role in prophecies of consolation (Isaiah 65:21-23; Jeremiah 29:5-6; Ezekiel 28:25-26).

Jeremiah 29:10 returns to the motif of seventy years, present in Jeremiah 25:11-14.

We read denunciations of other false prophets–Ahab ben Kolaiah and Zedekiah ben Maaseiah (29:20-23), as well as Shemaiah the Nehelamite (29:24-32).  We read of their unfortunate fates.  We also read again that false prophesy is urging disloyalty to God.

One of the practical difficulties in applying timeless principles is that one must apply them in circumstances.  Circumstances can vary widely, according to who, when, and where one is.  Therefore, a degree of relativism exists in the application of timeless principles.

Consider one timeless principle, O reader.  One should never urge disloyalty to God.  My circumstances are quite different from those of Jeremiah, during the reign of King Zedekiah.  Yet the timeless principle applies to my set of circumstances.  When and where I am, how I may confront those urging disloyalty to God looks very different than Jeremiah in Chapters 27-29.

Whenever and wherever you are, O reader, may you never urge disloyalty to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN PAXTON HOOD, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, PHILANTHROPIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DAVID JAESCHKE, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; AND HIS GRANDSON, HENRI MARC HERMANN VOLDEMAR VOULLAIRE, MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND MINISTER

THE FEAST OF ENMEGAHBOWH, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE OJIBWA NATION

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH DACRE CARLYLE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

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Introduction to the Book of Baruch   Leave a comment

Above:  A Map Showing the Seleucid Empire Circa 188 B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING BARUCH AND THE LETTER OF JEREMIAH

PART I

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Baruch 1:1-14

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The Book of Baruch derives its name from Baruch, the scribe of the prophet Jeremiah.  Superficially the Book of Baruch seems to have come from the Babylonian Exile.  That is impossible, though.  Baruch 1:15-2:19, for example, is a rewritten version of Daniel 9:4-19, composed after 150 B.C.E.

The Book of Baruch, with at least four authors, uses exile as a literary device.  Consider, O reader, the feeling of being a Jew of the diaspora during the second and first centuries B.C.E.  Living in the diaspora must have felt like being in exile.  Think also, O reader, of the suffering and repression many Jews of the diaspora experienced, occasionally or constantly.  The Babylonian Exile functioned as a metaphor for their reality.

How should faithful Jews live under Syrian/Seleucid rule?  That was the question of the hour.

The pseudo-historical setting of Baruch 1:1f is the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire circa 582 B.C.E.  The text names King Jehoichin/Jeconiah/Coniah of Judah (2 Kings 24:6-17; 2 Chronicles 36:9-10; Jeremiah 24:1).

The scene in Baruch 1:5 is one of priests continuing to offer sacrifices to God at the ruins of the First Temple.  This is consistent with Jeremiah 41:5.

The Book of Baruch accepts the Deutronomic theology of the Babylonian Exile:  it was punishment for the nation’s sins.  Notice also, O reader, the prayer for King Nebuchadnezzar II.  To pray for one’s oppressor may be difficult.  However, one’s fate still depends on the oppressor’s decisions.

The Book of Baruch emphasizes continuity in the context of great difficulty.  It stresses the continuity of ritual, faith, community, and worship.  Kings come and go, the Book of Baruch teaches us, but God remains constant.  The Jewish community must cleave to God and hold together, the Book of Baruch insists.

This is an example of mutuality in God, a value from the Torah.  We all depend entirely on God.  We also depend on each other and are responsible to and for each other.  Western individualism, despite its positive aspects, is alien to the Torah.  The attitudes that anyone can be a self-made person and can act without having consequences for others are heresies.

Excesses of Western individualism lead easily into “God-and-me” religion.  The Bible does contain material about individual responsibility, of course.  However, talk of an individual relationship with God apart from or at the expense of faith community is alien to Biblical spirituality.  “God-and-me” religion is heretical.  The proper context for a personal relationship with God is “God and us.”

The Book of Baruch understands this.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 18, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF MARC BOEGNER, FRENCH REFORMED MINISTER AND ECUMENIST

THE FEAST OF ALICIA DOMON AND HER COMPANIONS, MARTYRS IN ARGENTINA, 1977

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUILIA VALLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF JOHN DARWALL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HENRY DRAPER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Battle of Raphia, with King Ptolemy IV Philopator in Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 3 MACCABEES

PART I

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3 Maccabees 1:1-2:24

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King Ptolemy IV Philapator of the Ptolemaic Empire (Reigned 221-204 B.C.E.)

High Priest Simon II “the Just” (In Office 219-196 B.C.E.)

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The Third Book of the Maccabees is a misnomer.  Not only does it have no Maccabees, but it also plays out prior to the events of the First, Second, and Fourth Books of the Maccabees.

3 Maccabees, canonical in Orthodoxy, is apocryphal in the Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican churches.

3 Maccabees, composed in Alexandria, Egypt, close to 100 B.C.E., most likely, bears similarities to Greek romances.  The introduction to this book in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (2003) mentions 

purple prose and bombastic details that seem designed to elicit an emotional response, rather than to accurately and straightforwardly report history.

–1661

The introduction to 3 Maccabees in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Revised Standard Version (1977) is less generous:

The author often exaggerates, and when in descriptions he attempts to introduce purple passages of rhetoric, he succeeds only in producing bombast and bathos.

–Apocrypha 294

The theology of 3 Maccabees is orthodox and Deuteronomistic:  God, who is faithful, rewards those who are faithful and punishes those who are faithless and evil.  This is a hope to which to cling during times of turmoil and oppression.

Apart from the sources I have quoted, I have two other guides through 3 Maccabees:

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, New Revised Standard Version (1991); and
  2. The Orthodox Study Bible, the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint and the New King James Version (2008).

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3 Maccabees opens abruptly.  The supposition that an introduction has not survived seems reasonable.

King Ptolemy IV Philopator was the Hellenistic ruler of the Ptolemaic Empire, a successor to the expansive Macedonian Empire of King Alexander III “the Great” (reigned 336-323 B.C.E.).  Ptolemy IV, keeping a dynastic custom that dated to King Ptolemy II Philadelphus (circa 275 B.C.E.), married his sister, Arsinoe, in October 217 B.C.E.  (Ptolemy IV also ordered the murder of Arsinoe.)  Ptolemy IV was a weak ruler; a minister, Sosibius, dominated the monarch.  Ptolemy IV and Seleucid King Antiochus III “the Great” (reigned 223-187 B.C.E.) waged the Fourth Syrian War (221-217 B.C.E.).  During this conflict, Ptolemy IV lost much of the Syrian coast to Antiochus III.  Then, at the Battle of Raphia (217 B.C.E)., Ptolemy IV regained control of much of that coast and of Palestine.

The story of Dositheus, absent from other accounts of that battle, introduces a motif into 3 Maccabees.  That motif–intervention and reversal–runs throughout the book.  

Ptolemy IV survived an assassination attempt because of the intervention of Dositheus, an apostate Jew.  The victorious Ptolemy IV, an admirer of architecture, visited Jerusalem.  While there, he offered a sacrifice to YHWH.  This was easy for the pagan king to do.  As far as Ptolemy IV knew, YHWH was just another deity.  The king’s attempt to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple was a step too far.  Only the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies; he did this one day per year (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16:2, 11-12, 15, 34; Hebrews 9:7).

The reaction of many Jews in Jerusalem was strong.  High Priest Simon II “the Just” prayed.  His prayer contained certain theological hallmarks–the faithfulness of God, the arrogance of kings, the impiety of many people, the divine punishment of the wicked, and the divine deliverance of the faithful.

Then God prevented Ptolemy IV from entering the Holy of Holies.  He fell to the floor and could not speak.  Courtiers had to remove Ptolemy IV, unable to move on his own, from the Temple.  The king remained arrogant and unrepentant.  Ptolemy IV stood in contrast to Heliodorus (2 Maccabees 3:35-39) and even Antiochus IV Epiphanes (2 Maccabees 9:11-17), who repented immediately after God struck them.  The original audience of 3 Maccabees understood those references and awaited the repentance of Ptolemy IV (3 Maccabees 6:22-7:23).

Ptolemy IV prepared to take his revenge on Jews in Egypt.

The Bible contains stories of arrogant and dangerous kings and queens, some of whom were also weak rulers.  Queen Jezebel of Israel dominated King Ahab of Israel.  King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire was a historical figure.  Yet he functioned as a fictionalized symbol of power run amok in the Books of Daniel and Judith.  The fictional King Ahasuerus from the Book of Esther was a weak monarch who deposed Queen Vashti for refusing to display herself naked to his guests.  Ahasuerus was also willing to sign off onto a genocide of Jews.  At the end of the Book of Esther, the situation was positive because Mordecai and Queen Esther were running the Persian Empire in the king’s name.  Meanwhile, Ahasuerus partied.

Arrogant, impious potentates continue to afflict people, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT RADEGUNDA, THURINGIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRINCESS, DEACONESS, AND NUN; AND SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PONTIERS

THE FEAST OF DOROTHY ANN THRUPP, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRED D. GEALY, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALDRICH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, COMPOSER, THEOLOGIAN, MATHEMATICIAN, AND ARCHITECT

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND CARMELITE FRIAR

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Judith’s Hymn of Deliverance, with Her Renown and Death   Leave a comment

Above:  Blanche Sweet as Judith in Judith of Bethulia (1914)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VIII

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Judith 16:1-25

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O Lord, thou are great and glorious,

wondrous in strength, invincible.

Let thy creatures serve thee,

for thou didst speak, and they were made,

thou didst sent thy Spirit, and it formed them;

there is none that can resist thy voice.

For the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations with the waters;

at thy presence the rocks shall melt like wax.

But to those who fear thee, thou wilt continue to show mercy.

For every sacrifice as a fragrant offering is a small thing,

and all fat for burnt offerings to thee is a very little thing,

but he who fears the Lord shall be great forever.

–Judith 16:13b-16, a.k.a. Canticle 69 in The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) and Canticle 622 in The Methodist Hymnal (1966)

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But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman.

For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men;

nor did the sons of the Titans strike him down,

nor did tall giants set upon him;

but Judith daughter of Merari with the beauty of her countenance undid him.

–Judith 16:5-6, The New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (1989)

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The hymn of Judith acknowledges what Achior, soon to convert to Judaism (14:6-10), said in Chapter 5:  God is the strength of the Israelites.  The hymn of Judith places her accomplishment in proper context.  That context is God.

The rest of the story:

  1. Judith refused all offers of marriage.
  2. She freed her maid/servant.
  3. She lived to a ripe old age (Job 42:16; Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29).
  4. People held her in high esteem.
  5. Her grave was next to that of her late husband.

The end of Chapter 16 likens her to various heroes in the Book of Judges.  Judith 16:25 tells us that nobody spread terror among the Israelites for a long time after her death.  For a similar motif, read Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28.

Interestingly, the Hasmonean period (168-63 B.C.E.) lasted 105 years, the lifespan of Judith.  Given the composition of the Book of Judith circa 100 B.C.E., we have a coincidence.

Judith placed God at the center of her life.  She revered God and acted to protect her community.  She was a fictional military heroine long before a historical military heroine, St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

The Book of Judith also contains a warning to fatuous gas bag, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers.

[Holofernes’s] bloated self-image clouds his judgment, so that he not only sees in himself what he wants to see, but also sees in Judith what he chooses.  If Holofernes had been clever enough to catch Judith’s irony, he would have been clever enough to avoid her trap, even get the best of her.  But he was not.

–Lawrence M. Wills, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999), 1089

The warning is that they leave themselves open to their own undoing.  Their fate is in themselves, not in their stars, to paraphrase William Shakespeare.

At the end of the Book of Judith, Nebuchadnezzar II, not a major character since Chapter 2, is still on the throne.  I suppose the fictional version of that monarch in this book gave up his plan to take revenge on disloyal servants.  After all, he is not the king of all the Earth.  No, God is.

So, fatuous gas bags, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers, beware.  God is the king.  God is sovereign.  Even fatuous gas bags, authoritarian rulers, and their enablers are subject to the judgment of God.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Book of Judith, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERSON PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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Judith Before Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VI

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Judith 10:1-12:20

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Holofernes was like his master, King Nebuchadnezzar II.  He was vain, boastful, and quick to accept flattery.  The general also consumed lies as easily and in great quantities as easily as he drank too much wine.

Judith played the role of the seductress well.  She understood male nature, which she exploited.  In doing so, Judith placed herself in much danger.  She was even sleeping in the tent of Holofernes.  Her undercover (pardon the pun) mission was always perilous.

A few aspects of these three chapters are especially worthy of explanation and elaboration.  

  1. Judith lied when she said her people were so desperate they were about to violate the food laws in the Law of Moses.  She referenced Leviticus 17:10-16 and Numbers 18:8-32.  Yet, at the time of the composition of the Book of Judith, any violation of the Law of Moses for the purpose of preserving human life was acceptable, according to one school of Jewish thought (1 Maccabees 2:29-41).
  2. Ironically, Holofernes told the truth, at least partially.  He said that Judith was renowned throughout the world (11:20-23).  The Book of Judith has long provided inspiration for artists.
  3. Judith was in extreme sexual danger (12:5).  So was Sarah in Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:17.
  4. Judith established her routine of leaving the Assyrian army camp unchallenged each night (12:6-9).  This strategy paid off in 13:11.
  5. Judith had to work quickly.  She had only five days to deliver her people (7:29-32; 8:32-35).
  6. Judith obeyed kosher food laws, even in the Assyrian army camp.  (One may think of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, too.)
  7. Judith’s unnamed female maid/servant was loyal and essential.  Judith’s servant was intelligent, unlike the gullible Bagoas, servant of Holofernes. 
  8. In 11:19-23, Judith used language laced with allusions to the prophets and the Book of Psalms.  Verses 19 and 20, for example, echoed Isaiah 40:3-4; 35:8-10; 42:16; 51:11; 56:10-11;; as well as 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalm 89:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 10:2 and 13:7.
  9. Ironically, the wisdom at which Holofernes marveled was deception.
  10. The words of Holofernes, “…your God will be my God…” (11:22), an echo of Ruth 1:16, are vague.  Perhaps the character had no idea what he was saying.
  11. Holofernes lusted after Judith (11:16).
  12. The texts depict Judith as a great beauty.  They also describe Assyrian soldiers as drooling over her.  Therein resided part of Judith’s power, which she used to the full extent necessary.

The Book of Judith contains elements of satire and comedy.  The text is rich with irony in many places.  For example, even a boastful fool accidentally tells the truth sometimes.  The intoxicated Holofernes also imagines himself to be in control of the situation.  He has no idea how wrong he is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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Israel’s True Power and Strength   Leave a comment

Above:  King John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART III

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Judith 4:1-6:2

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Holofernes represented an oppressive violent power and an ego-driven monarch.  The general had succeeded in his previous campaigns, even against people who had greeted his army with garlands, dancing, and the sound of timbrels (2:1-3:10).  The Israelites were in dire straits as he turned his attention toward them.

Yet the Israelites worshiped God.  They prayed to God.  And, as even Achior, the Ammonite leader acknowledged, the Israelites’ power and strength resided in God.  Yet Holofernes asked scornfully,

Who is God beside Nebuchadnezzar?

–Judith 6:2b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Achior found refuge with the Israelites, at least.

A refresher on the Kingdom of Ammon and on the Ammonites is in order.

  1. “Ammon” comes from Benammi, both the son and grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38).  Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk then seduced him.  They gave birth to the founders of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
  2. The attitude toward the Ammonites in the Bible is mostly negative.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon was east of the River Jordan and north of Moab.  
  4. The Kingdom of Ammon, a vassal state of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  After Ammon reasserted itself, it became a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire then the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  A failed rebellion led to mass deportations of Ammonites and the colonization of their territory by Chaldeans.

Anyone who wants to read more about the Ammonites in the Bible may want to follow the following reading plan:

  1. Genesis 19;
  2. Numbers 21;
  3. Deuteronomy 2, 3, 23;
  4. Joshua 12, 13;
  5. Judges 3, 10, 11, 12;
  6. 1 Samuel 10, 11, 12, 14;
  7. 2 Samuel 8, 10, 11, 12, 17, 23;
  8. 1 Kings 11, 14;
  9. 2 Kings 23, 24;
  10. 1 Chronicles 11, 18, 19, 20;
  11. 2 Chronicles 12, 20, 24, 26, 27;
  12. Ezra 9;
  13. Nehemiah 2, 4, 13;
  14. Psalm 83;
  15. Isaiah 11;
  16. Jeremiah 9, 25, 27, 40, 41, 49;
  17. Ezekiel 21, 25;
  18. Daniel 11;
  19. Amos 1;
  20. Zephaniah 2;
  21. Judith 1, 5, 6, 7, 14;
  22. 1 Maccabees 5; and
  23. 2 Maccabees 4, 5.

Back to Achior…

A close reader of Achior’s report (5:6-21) may detect some details he got wrong.  Not all characters speak accurately in every matter.  One may expect an outsider to misunderstand some aspects of the Israelite story.

At the end of the Chapter 6, we see the conflict between the arrogance of enemies of God and the humility of Israelites.  We know that, in the story, the Israelites could turn only to God for deliverance.  Anyone familiar with the Hebrew prophets ought to know that this theme occurs in some of the prophetic books, too.

In the context contemporary to the composition of the Book of Judith, Jews had endured Hellenistic oppression under the Seleucid Empire.  Jews had won the independence of Judea.  John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135-104 B.C.E.; named in 1 Maccabees 13:53 and 16:1-23) had ordered the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim and forced many people to convert to Judaism.  The persecuted had become persecutors.  This was certainly on the mind of the anonymous author of the Book of Judith.

May we, collectively and individually, do to others as we want them to do to us, not necessarily as they or others have done to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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Campaigns of Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes’s Army Crossing the Euphrates River

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART II

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Judith 2:1-3:10

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The Book of Judith, like the Book of Tobit, has a bizarre sense of geography.  For example, Judith 2:21 has the army under the command of General Holofernes marching from Nineveh to Cilicia (about 300 miles) in three days.  This is unrealistic.  So is having King Nebuchadnezzar II based in Nineveh.

As one may recall from Chapter 1, King Nebuchadnezzar II had won his war against King Arphaxad of the Medes.  Nebuchadnezzar II had done this without the support of much of his empire.  He was a sore winner.  Nebuchadnezzar II dispatched Holofernes to make those disloyal populations wish they had been loyal.  Holofernes succeeded in this mission in Chapters 2 and 3.  Israel was next on his list.

Holofernes caused “fear and dread” to fall upon Sidon and Tyre in Judith 2:28.  This phrase was important because of the reversal of fortune in Judith 15:2.  In that verse, God, via Judith and Israelites, caused “fear and dread” to overcome the Assyrians.  With Nebuchadnezzar II as their king, they should have been the Chaldeans, not the Assyrians.  (The Book of Judith is a novella, not a work of history.)

In the Book of Judith, more so than in the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar II represented

worldly power run amok,

to quote Lawrence M. Wills in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999).  Tyrannical power, reduced to one man’s ego, was especially dangerous.  And, in the context of the Hellenistic Age from which the Book of Judith emerged, King Nebuchadnezzar II also represented the Hellenistic thread to Jewish life, faith, and identity.  In the story, King Nebuchadnezzar II needed people to enable and empower him and his agenda; he needed men such as General Holofernes.  The monarch was a distant figure, starting in the middle of Chapter 2.  His name occurred in 2:19; 3:2; 3:8; 4:1; 11:1; 11:4; 11:7; 11:23; 12:13; and 14:18.  From Chapters 2 to 16, Holofernes was the face of the enemy.

The power structure in the Book of Judith has remained, unfortunately.  Details and personnel have changed.  Nevertheless, the dynamic of people empowering and enabling a powerful, dangerous egomaniac has remained relevant.   Certain human beings have always had only the power others have granted them.  It has always been a form of idolatry.

In contrast to the power structure in the empire in the Book of Judith, O reader, consider the alternative in the Book of Judith.  That alternative, grounded in the worship of God, consists of balanced relationships in the context of faithful community.  We all need faithful community.  “Jesus and Me” is a heresy.  I tell you, O reader, that faithful community has saved my life and come to my aid in other crucial ways.  Anyone who says, “I did this by myself, without anybody’s help,” or “I don’t need anyone” is objectively wrong.  The Bible teaches mutuality.  It teaches complete dependence on God.  The Bible does not teach rugged individualism.  Neither does it teach empowering and enabling tyrants and would-be authoritarian rulers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEPHA ROSSELLO, COFOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF OUR LADY OF PITY

THE FEAST OF ANNE ROSS COUSIN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EMMA FRANCIS, LUTHERAN DEACONESS IN THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS AND HARLEM

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GUSTAVE POLACK, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

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