Archive for the ‘Vashti’ Tag

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

Above:  King Ptolemy IV Philopator

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

READING 3 MACCABEES

PART I

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

3 Maccabees 1:1-2:24

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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).

++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Esther IV: Fear Itself   1 comment

Esther--John Everett Millais

Above:  Esther, by John Everett Millais

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Esther 4:1-17

Psalm 138

Luke 8:22-25

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Though I live surrounded by trouble

you give me life–to my enemies’ fury!

You stretch out your right hand and save me,

Yahweh will do all things for me.

Yahweh, your faithful love endures for ever,

do not abandon what you have made.

–Psalm 138:7-8, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The story in the Book of Esther resumes with the fourth chapter and includes the Greek addition The New American Bible labels Chapter C.  Mordecai and Esther digest the royal decree of genocide against the Jews.  Mordecai is not safe; neither is Esther, although she is the queen consort.  If she goes to visit Ahasuerus without him summoning her first, she risks death.  And if he does not order her death for that reason, he might have her killed for being Jewish.  In Chapter C Mordecai prays for God to deliver the Jews and Esther prays for guidance and for deliverance from fear.

Deliverance from fear occupies the core of Luke 8:22-25, in which Jesus calms a storm.  Although I affirm the proposition that he could have done that, I find the metaphor in the story helpful and the question of the literal story irrelevant to this post.  We experience storms in life.  Sometimes God delivers us from them.  On other occasions, however, God accompanies us through them and delivers us from fear instead.

Esther was correct to know fear.  Ahasuerus had probably ordered the death of Queen Vashti, whose offense had been to refuse to degrade herself.  He was also an easily manipulated monarch through whom others, especially Haman, governed.  Ahasuerus was not powerless, however, for he had the authority to order the execution of someone who went to him uninvited.  Furthermore, he had just ordered genocide against Esther’s people, the Jews.  She could have yielded to fear and laid low.  Esther could have preserved herself at the expense of her fellow Jews, but she found her courage and prayed,

O God, whose power is over all, hear the voice of those in despair.  Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear.

–Esther C:30, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

On March 4, 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said,

…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Out of fear we human beings become more stingy and selfish.  Out of fear we think and act hatefully toward others or merely condone the hateful actions of others.  Out of fear we retreat into passivity when the occasion demands courageous actions.  Out of fear we violate the Golden Rule, often while assuring ourselves of our imagined righteousness.

May we trust in God and act courageously, according to the Golden Rule.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-12-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Esther I: Vehicles of Grace   1 comment

Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus

Above:  Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus, by Paolo Veronese

Image in the Public Domain

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The daily lectionary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), as found in their service book-hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), is the one attached to the Revised Common Lectionary.  For the Thursday before Proper 12 through the Wednesday after that Sunday in Year C the first readings come from the Book of Esther, starting with 2:19 and continuing through 8:17.

The Book of Esther exists in two versions–Hebrew and Greek.  The Hebrew version, which does not even mention God, probably dates to 400-300 B.C.E., at the end of the Persian Empire or the beginning of the Hellenistic Age.  The 107 additional verses in the version from the Septuagint bring the word “God” into the story and elaborate on certain details.  The Greek version of the Book of Esther is canonical in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I read the Book of Esther again I will consult Jewish and Roman Catholic Bibles.  My plan is to read the Greek version fully in English-language translation.  The New American Bible labels the Greek additions conveniently as Chapters A-F, a system I will cite.

The Book of Esther is a satire, comedy, burlesque, and work of religious fiction.  Jewish exegetes have known this for a long time.  Some characters are buffoonish, our heroes (in the Hebrew version) are strangely less dimensional than other characters, and exaggeration abounds.  One should not, out of piety, become so serious as to misread a book of the Bible.  There are various contexts in which one should read scripture; genre is among them.  Furthermore, the internal chronology of the Book of Esther (in either version), like that of the Book of Daniel, makes no sense.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In the Greek version the book begins with what The New American Bible calls Chapter A, containing 17 verses.  We meet Mordecai, a Jewish member of the court of King Ahasuerus (sarcastically “the great,” according to A:1) at Susa.  Ahasuerus is a fictitious monarch of the Persian Empire.  Sources I have consulted indicate elements from the actual Xerxes I (reigned 486-465 B.C.E.) and Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 B.C.E.).  Mordecai has a dream in which, on a gloomy day amid “tumult, thunder, and earthquake,” two dragons prepare to go to war.  The just live in fear of what might happen to them.  They cry out to God, a mighty river arises, sunlight breaks through, and the lowly rise up and devour the boastful.  Mordecai awakens and attempts throughout the day to comprehend the dream and what God intends to do.

We read in A:1 that Mordecai is not only of the tribe of Benjamin but a descendant of Kish.  This makes him a relative of King Saul (whose father was Kish), who conquered Agag the Amalekite in 1 Samuel 15:1-9.  Haman, Mordecai’s foe, is an Agagite.

Mordecai overhears two eunuchs plot to assassinate Ahasuerus.  The loyal courtier alerts the monarch directly.  Ahasuerus orders the arrest, interrogation, and execution of the eunuchs.  Mordecai receives a reward for his fidelity, but Haman, who had conspired with the eunuchs, begins to plot to harm him.

Chapter 1 depicts Ahasuerus as less than great.  The text states that the king ruled over 127 provinces, or satrapies, but historical records indicate the existence of between 20 and 32 satrapies during the duration of the Persian Empire.  Ahasuerus is wealthy, living in luxury.  He is also mostly powerless, for people manipulate him easily.  The king is also too fond of alcohol in excess.  Ahasuerus orders Queen Vashti to degrade herself  by displaying her beauty to his courtiers .  She refuses the command, thereby disgracing the drunken Ahasuerus.  Thus an imperial incident occurs.  Can the monarch restore his honor?  Vashti loses her position and possibly her life, for he proceeds to choose a new queen from his harem.  Among the virgins in the harem is one Esther, cousin and foster daughter of Mordecai.  This is a secret relationship, however.  He coaches her in how to become the next queen.  She succeeds Vashti.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What are we supposed to take away from this material and apply to life?  God works behind the scenes in the Book of Esther.  God even works through drunk and easily manipulated monarchs.  Vehicles of grace come in many shapes and sizes; many of them will surprise us.  Many of them do not even know that they are vehicles of grace, but that does not prevent God from working through them, does it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/prologue-to-posts-scheduled-around-proper-12-year-c-revised-common-lectionary/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Two Kings   15 comments

Ahaseurus and Haman at Esther's Feast

Above:  Ahasuerus and Haman at Esther’s Feast, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

God of power and might, your Son shows us the way of service,

and in him we inherit the riches of your grace.

Give us the wisdom to know what is right and

the strength to serve the world you have made,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 53

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Esther 2:1-18

Psalm 7

2 Timothy 2:8-13

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I will bear witness that the LORD is righteous;

I will praise the Name of the LORD Most High.

–Psalm 7:18, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

This is a devotion for the day after Christ the King Sunday.  Pope Pius XI created that festival in 1925, when dictators governed much of Europe, interwar tensions were rising, and the Holy Father perceived the need to issue a reminder that God is in control, despite appearances.  The original date was the last Sunday in October, opposite Reformation Sunday in many Protestant churches, but the Roman Catholic Church moved the date to the Sunday before Advent in 1969.  In the middle of the twentieth century many U.S. Protestants observed Christ the King Sunday on the last Sunday in August.  I have found evidence of this in the official materials of the reunited Methodist Church (1939-1968).  Today observance of Christ the King Sunday (on the Sunday before Advent) has become common in many non-Roman Catholic communions.  I have detected it in the Revised Common Lectionary and the Common Lectionary before that, as well as in official materials of Anglican/Episcopal, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Cooperative Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, and other denominations.

In contrast to Christ the King we have the fictional Ahasuerus, a pompous figure whose courtiers manipulate him.  He and others figure in the Book of Esther, which the germane notes in The Jewish Study Bible (2004) refer to as a low comedy with burlesque elements, as well as a serious side.  (Comedy has a serious side much of the time.)  The Book of Esther pokes fun at authority figures, one of the oldest pastimes.  Ahasuerus, humiliated when Queen Vashti refuses his summons, decides angrily to replace her.  Before he can reverse that decision, his advisers intervene.  This opens the narrative door for Esther to become the secretly Jewish Queen of Persia just in time for Haman to plot to kill the Jews.  Esther might have been a tool of schemers initially, but she becomes an instrument of God.

St. Paul the Apostle might not have written 2 Timothy, but the letter is of the Pauline tradition.  Certainly the Apostle did suffer hardship due to his obedience to God and agreed, as the text says:

If we have died with [Christ Jesus], we will also live with him;

if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he will also deny us;

if we are faithless, he remains faithful–

for he cannot deny himself.

–2:11b-13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Regardless of the situations of our daily life and how they became our reality, may we obey God and do the right thing.  This might prove to be quite dangerous, leading even to death, but so did the path of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 8, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SHEPHERD KNAPP, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN DUCKETT AND RALPH CORBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS IN ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF NIKOLAI GRUNDTVIG, HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/devotion-for-monday-after-proper-29-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++