Archive for the ‘Stoicism’ Tag

The Defiance of the Seven Brothers   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IX

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2 Maccabees 7:1-2

4 Maccabees 8:1-9:9

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Strap yourselves in, O reader.  We are plunging into the core of the Fourth Book of the Maccabees, complete with improbable speeches placed in the mouths of victims of torture.  We will also read vivid descriptions of those tortures.

I have read every book of the Russian Orthodox canon of scripture.  I read some of them–including 4 Maccabees–so long that they seem now to me when I reread them.  Rediscovering the purple prose of 4 Maccabees is a literary delight.

For like a most skillful pilot, the reason of our father Eleazar steered the ship of religion over the sea of the emotions, and though buffeted by the stormings of the tyrant and overwhelmingly by the mighty waves of tortures, in no way did he turn the rudder of religion until he sailed into the haven of immortal victory.

–4 Maccabees 7:1-3, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Wow!  Just, wow!

Seven brothers and their mother insisted on keeping kosher.  They arrested, willingly faced torture and martyrdom.

2 Maccabees covers that material in two verses.  4 Maccabees uses thirty-eight verses for the same purpose.  One of the brothers comes across as a verbose Stoic philosopher in 4 Maccabees 9:1-9.  In 9:7-8, for example, we read a reference to the Stoic principle that suffering cannot affect the essential nature of the wise.

In this post, I choose to focus on another point:  the clash of civilizations, with a dose of imperialism.  King Antiochus IV Epiphanes was a committed Hellenist.  That would not have been a problem for pious Jews had he been tolerant.  But, no!  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, believing he had the superior form of civilization, imposed it on diverse populations.  Thus, those who refused to eat pork became enemies of the state.

I disagree with many people.  I consider their political ideas to be misguided and sometimes dangerous.  I may differ with their theology or lack thereof.  I am open about calling superstition what it is.  But I never support torturing any of these people.  Furthermore, as a matter of history, rulers who pursue policies of religious toleration decrease the probability of rebellion.

Also, why should any ruler care if Jews refuse to eat non-kosher food?  Why not respect that religious conviction and keep the peace?  When I was a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, one of my professors was Dr. John Steinberg.  One of his male ancestors had been a subject of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The army did not respect kosher food laws.  Therefore, that ancestor, a pious Jew, evaded the military draft and came to the United States of America.

I understand.  Jesus said it best:

Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

–Matthew 22:21b, The New American Bible (1991)

The state has no right to impose certain demands on the people.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCUS AURELIUS CLEMENS PRUDENTIUS, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MATEO CORREA-MAGALLANES AND MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF ORANGE SCOTT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, ABOLITIONIST, AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WESLEYAN MEXICAN CONNECTION

THE FEAST OF SAINT VEDAST (VAAST), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI

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The Martyrdom of Eleazar the Scribe   1 comment

Above:  Eleazar Forced to Eat Swine’s Flesh, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART VIII

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2 Maccabees 6:18-31

4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23

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Before I delve into the material, O reader, I choose to mention a pattern germane to this post and the next few posts:  2 Maccabees is succinct and 4 Maccabees is verbose.  For example, 2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42 spans 4 Maccabees 5:1-18:19.  One theory regarding 4 Maccabees is that it originated as an oration for Hanukkah.  I conclude that, if this is accurate, the original audience had a very long attention span.  I like that idea, especially given that I live in age in which many people have the attention spans of fleas with ADHD.

Eleazar, 90 years old, was a scribe.  He, a pious Jew, obeyed the Law of Moses scrupulously.  Of course, the old man refused to eat pork.  He also refused to spare his life by pretending to eat the forbidden meat.  Eleazar wanted to be a good example, all the way to the end.  So, he suffered tortures and died.

2 Maccabees does not describe the tortures.  4 Maccabees does describe the tortures, though.  And that book, being what it is, portrays Eleazar as being a Stoic philosopher.  The references to self-control and courage (5:23-24) fit neatly into Stoicism.

I have already covered some of the theological points of the reading from 4 Maccabees 5:1-7:23 in the post in which I wrote about 4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; and 18:20-24.  For purposes of review, however, here are are some reminders:

  1. 6:29 indicates belief in the suffering of the holy functioning as expiation of sins for the people–in this case, the persecuted Jews.
  2. 7:19 teaches the immortality of the dead.  God is the God of the living, many of whom lack pulses.

By the way, just in case somebody forgot that 4 Maccabees teaches Stoicism, there is 7:22:

For only the wise and courageous man is lord of his emotions.

Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

I prefer to focus on another point, though.  Words and actions matter.  Appearances can deceive, but they still matter.  One may consult 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 for another presentation of this truth.  The context there is eating meat sacrificed to false gods then sold in markets.  The main idea, though, is the same:  Act so as not to lead anyone astray.

Eleazar was faithful to the end.  He died so he would not lead anyone astray.  He should never have been in that situation, though.  Ultimately, Antiochus IV Epiphanes bore the most responsibility for Eleazar’s martyrdom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCUS AURELIUS CLEMENS PRUDENTIUS, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CORNELIA HANCOCK, U.S. QUAKER NURSE, EDUCATOR, AND HUMANITARIAN; “FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE OF NORTH AMERICA”

THE FEAST OF SAINTS MATEO CORREA-MAGALLANES AND MIGUEL AGUSTIN PRO, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF ORANGE SCOTT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, ABOLITIONIST, AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE WESLEYAN MEXICAN CONNECTION

THE FEAST OF SAINT VEDAST (VAAST), ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF ARRAS AND CAMBRAI

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Stoicism and Platonism in Fourth Maccabees   Leave a comment

Above:  Zeno of Citium

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART IV

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4 Maccabees 1:1-3:18; 13:1-14:10; 18:20-24

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The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, composed in 20-54 C.E., perhaps in Antioch, is a treatise.  It interprets Judaism in terms of Greek philosophy–Stoicism and Platonism, to be precise.  4 Maccabees elaborates on the story of the martyrdom of the seven brothers and their mother, covered relatively succinctly in 2 Maccabees 7:1-42, and set prior to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

Fourth Maccabees, composed by an anonymous Hellenistic Jew and addressed to other Hellenistic Jews, has two purposes:

  1. To exhort them to obey the Law of Moses (18:1), and
  2. To proclaim that devout reason is the master of all emotions (1:1-2; 18:2).

Cultural assimilation was a common temptation for Hellenistic Jews.  “Keep the faith,” the author urged more verbosely than my paraphrase.  For him, devout reason was a reason informed by the Law of Moses.  Devout reason, in the author’s mind, the highest form of reason was the sole province of faithful Jews.

Vicarious suffering is also a theme in 4 Maccabees.  In this book, the suffering and death of the martyrs purifies the land (1:11; 6:29; 17:21), vindicates the Jewish nation (17:10), and atones for the sins of the people (6:29; 17:22).  The last point presages Penal Substitutionary Atonement, one of several Christian theologies of the atonement via Jesus.

The blending of Jewish religion and Greek philosophy is evident also in the treatment of the afterlife.  The Second Book of the Maccabees teaches bodily resurrection (7:9, 11, 14, 23, and 29).  One can find bodily resurrection elsewhere in Jewish writings (Daniel 12:2; 1 Enoch 5:1-2; 4 Ezra/2 Esdras 7:42; 2 Baruch 50:2-3).  The Fourth Book of the Maccabees, however, similar to the Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-4, teaches instant immortality, with reward or punishment.  The martyrs achieve instant instant immortality with reward (4 Maccabees 9:9, 22; 10:15; 14:15; 15:7; 16:13, 25; 17:12, 18; 18:23).  Antiochus IV Epiphanes, however, goes to everlasting torment (9:9, 29, 32; 10:11, 15; 11:3, 23; 12:18; 18:5).

Stoicism, in the Greek philosophical sense, has a different meaning than the average layperson may assume.  It is not holding one’s feelings inside oneself.  Properly, Stoicism teaches that virtue is the only god and vice is the only evil.  The wise are indifferent to pain and pleasure, to wealth and poverty, and to success and misfortune.  A Stoic, accepting that he or she could change x, y, and z, yet not t, u, and v.  No, a Stoic works to change x, y, and z.  A Stoic, therefore, is content in the midst of difficulty.  If this sounds familiar, O reader, you may be thinking of St. Paul the Apostle being content in pleasant and in unpleasant circumstances (Philippians 4:11-12).

Stoicism shows up elsewhere in the New Testament and in early Christianity, too.  It is in the mouth of St. Paul in Athens (Acts 17:28).  Stoicism is also evident in the writings of St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), mentor of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430).  Why would it not be in the writings of St. Ambrose?  Greek philosophy informed the development of early Christian theology.  Greek philosophy continues to exist in sermons, Sunday School lessons, and Biblical commentaries.  Greek philosophy permeates the Gospel of John and the Letter to the Hebrews.  Greek philosophy is part of the Christian patrimony.

Platonism was the favorite form of Greek philosophy in the Roman Catholic Church for centuries.  Platonism permeated the works of St. Clement of Alexandria (circa 150-circa 210/215) and his star pupil, Origen (185-254), for example.  Eventually, though, St. Albert the Great (circa 1200-1280) and his star pupil, St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), successfully made the case for Aristotle over Plato.  Holy Mother Church changed her mind after the deaths of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. The Church, having embraced Aristotle over Plato, eventually rescinded the pre-Congregation canonization of St. Clement of Alexandria.  And the Church has never canonized Origen.  I have, however, read news stories of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland trying to convince The Episcopal Church to add Origen to the calendar of saints.  (The Episcopal Church already recognizes St. Clement of Alexandria as a saint.)

Platonism and Stoicism have four cardinal virtues–rational judgment, self-control, justice, and courage.  These appear in 4 Maccabees 1:2-4.  As I read these verses, I recognize merit in them.  Some emotions do hinder self-control.  Other emotions to work for injustice and obstruct courage.  News reports provide daily documentation of this.  Other emotions further the causes of justice and courage.  News reports also provide daily documentation of this.

I also affirm that reason should govern emotions.  I cite news stories about irrationality.  Emotions need borders, and must submit to objectivity and reason, for the best results.

4 Maccabees takes the reader on a grand tour of the Hebrew Bible to support this conclusion.  One reads, for example, of Joseph (Genesis 39:7-12; 4 Maccabees 2:1-6), Simeon and Levi (Genesis 49:7; 4 Maccabees 2:19-20), Moses (Numbers 16:1-35; Sirach 45:18; 4 Maccabees 2:17), David (2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 4 Maccabees 3:6-18).

Reason can effect self-control, which works for higher purposes.  One of these higher purposes is

the affection of brotherhood.

–4 Maccabees 13:19, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

In the case of the seven martyred brothers, as the author of 4 Maccabees told their story, these holy martyrs used rational judgment and self-control to remain firm in their faith.  Those brothers did not

fear him who thinks he is killing us….

–4 Maccabees 13:14, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

That is the same courage and conviction present in Christian martyrs, from antiquity to the present day.

One may think of another passage:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

–Matthew 10:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Edition (1971)

Not surprisingly, many persecuted Christians derived much comfort and encouragement from 4 Maccabees.  These Christians had to rely on each other, just as the seven brothers did in 4 Maccabees.

Mutuality is a virtue in the Law of Moses and in Christianity.

I have spent the first four posts in this series laying the groundwork for the First, Second, and Fourth Books of Maccabees.  I have provided introductory material for these books.

Next, I will start the narrative countdown to the Hasmonean Rebellion.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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