Archive for the ‘Pacifism’ Tag

Oracles of Divine Salvation, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Swords into Plowshares Statue

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART V

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Micah 4:1-5:1 (Anglican and Protestant)

Micah 4:1-14 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The fourth and fifth chapters of the Book of Micah constitute a distinct section of that book.  They apparently contain a mix of material from the prophet Micah and from a later period.  The references to Assyria (5:4-5) are contemporary to the prophet, but the mention of Babylon (4:10) is not, for example.  Also, Micah 4:1-5 bears a striking resemblance to to Isaiah 2:1-5/2:2-6 (depending on versification).  This makes much sense, for scholars tell us that Micah and First Isaiah were contemporaries.  Also, Biblical authors quoting and paraphrasing each other is a practice one encounters as one studies the Bible seriously.  Alternatively, one may plausibly posit that the Book of Micah and the First Isaiah portion of the Book of Isaiah paraphrased the same source.

After all the doom and gloom of the first three chapters, the tonal shift in Micah 4 is impossible to miss.  That which R. B. Y. Scott wrote in relation to the Book of Hosea applies to the Book of Micah, too:

The final word remains with mercy.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed (1968), 80

Looking ahead, judgment will return in Chapters 6 and 7, but the Book of Micah concludes on a note of divine mercy.

The hopes of an ideal future remain attractive.  I pray for a future in which nations will beat their swords into plowshares.  I am a realist; I want to be a pacifist yet understand that some violence, sadly, is necessary.  I also affirm that most violence is unnecessary.  I yearn for the day when all people will be at shalom with themselves, each other, and God.  I pray for the time when the reality of the world will be the fully-realized Kingdom of God.

A careful reader may notice certain details in the designated portion of the Book of Micah.  4:2 tells us that “many nations” will seek divine instruction at Mount Zion.  It does not read, “all nations.”  4:11 tells us that “many nations” still oppose God’s covenant people.  Reading this chapter, in its final form, can be confusing, given the mix of material from different eras.  Micah 4:11f, in the context of 4:10 (“To Babylon you shall go….”) dates to a period later than the prophet Micah.  Micah 4:11f, acknowledging a challenging geopolitical situation for Judah, comforts Judah with the promise of divine deliverance.  Divine mercy on Judah will be divine judgment on Judah’s enemies.  The vision of 4:1-8 remains unfulfilled in the rest of the chapter.  In 4:14/5:1 (depending on versification), Jerusalem is under siege.

Dare we hope for the vision of Micah 4:1-8 to become reality, finally?  Dare we have enough faith to accept this ancient prophecy as not being naive?  Bringing the fully-realized Kingdom of God into existence is God’s work.  Transforming the world from what it is into a state less unlike that high standard is the work of the people of God, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 26, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF HARDWICKE DRUMMOND RAWNSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAMBERT PÉLOGUIN OF VENCE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP NERI, THE APOSTLE OF ROME AND THE FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE ORATORY

THE FEAST OF SAINT QUADRATUS THE APOLOGIST, EARLY CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST

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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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