Archive for the ‘Zoroastrianism’ Tag

The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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The Fourth Vision, Fifth Vision, and Second Oracle of First Zechariah   Leave a comment

Above:  Zerubbabel’s Temple

Image in the Public Domain

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READING HAGGAI-FIRST ZECHARIAH, PART IX

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Zechariah 3:1-4:14

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The contents of Zechariah 1:7-6:15 date to early February 519 B.C.E. (1:7).

The fourth vision (3:1-10; 4:4-5) is of the purification of the high priest Joshua ben Jehozadak, whom we met in Haggai 1:1.  TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) correctly translates the label in 3:2 as “the Accuser,” not “the Satan” or “Satan.”  This version thereby avoids an anachronistic reading of the doctrine of Satan, who, in Jewish theology, went from being an employee of YHWH to rebellious free agent during the Persian period.  “The Satan”–“the Accuser” and “the Adversary”–as an employee of YHWH in Numbers 22:26 and Job 1 and 2, for example.

One may legitimately argue that Satan was a rebellious free agent long before Zoroastrianism influenced Jewish theology, after the Babylonian Exile.  I, as a student of history, try not to read anachronisms into Biblical stories, though.

The vision depicts high priest Joshua as an unjustly criticized servant of God, affirmed and purified by God.  We read that Joshua was human, therefore flawed, yet that this intracommunity sniping was harmful.

We also read (as in Haggai 1:1) that Joshua and Zerubbabel (the governor) shared power.  One may recall Zerubbabel from Haggai 1:1 and 2:20-23.  One may remember that Zerubbabel would have been the Davidic king if there had been one.  One may recall that Haggai identified Zerubbabel as a king in the future (our ancient past).  Zerubbabel is “the Branch” in Zechariah 3:8.  The oracle about Zerubbabel (4:6-10) follows the fourth vision and relates to it.  That oracle declares that the governor will, by divine aid, oversee the completion of the rebuilding of the Temple.

The vision regarding high priest Joshua also predicts unusual prosperity in the future (Zechariah 4:4).  See Micah 4:4 and 1 Kings 5:5, also.

The fifth vision (4:1-3, 11-14) is of the lampstand (a menorah) and olive trees.  This vision speaks of Joshua and Zerubbabel as partners in power, with God being present.  One olive tree stands of Joshua.  The lampstand symbolizes God.  The other olive stands for Zerubbabel.

First Zechariah committed an error Haggai also made:  he predicted that Zerubbabel would become king and that the Davidic monarchy would resume.  He did not become a king, and no Davidic monarch has ruled since the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.).

Sometimes–perhaps frequently–when God restores and revives peoples, God does so in ways they do not expect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN DE JACOBIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY BISHOP IN ETHIOPIA; AND SAINT MICHAEL GHEBRE, ETHIOPIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND FOUNDER OF THE MINISTERS OF THE SICK

THE FEAST OF LEON MCKINLEY ADKINS, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY TO NATIVE AMERICANS

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The Universality of God, the Fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, and More Diatribes About the Folly of Idolatry   Leave a comment

Above:  Ruins of Babylon, 1932

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-13231

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READING SECOND ISAIAH, PART VI

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Isaiah 45:1-47:15

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I started this this long-term project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order (with some exceptions), months ago.  I have learned much along the way.  Mainly, I have learned how repetitive the Hebrew prophetic books are.  I have learned that they are like people who tell the same stories again and again.  I have read so many assertions of the sovereignty of God, the folly of idolatry, the sin of social injustice, and other matters before arriving at Isaiah 45:1-47:15 that I choose not to beat too many proverbial dead horses in this post.

I hope you, O reader, understand.

God works through human beings much of the time.  Isaiah 45:1 calls King Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) the “Anointed One,” or Messiah.  We know that his army defeated the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  We know that Cyrus II permitted Jewish exiles to return to their ancestral homeland in 538 B.C.E.  And we know that Cyrus II was a Zoroastrian, not a Jew.  We know, too, that the shape of Jewish theology changed during the Persian period, and that Zoroastrianism influenced these changes.  I, as a Christian, owe a theological debt to Zoroastrianism, via Judaism.

The city of Babylon survived for a long time after 539 B.C.E.  It was an ancient city then, and it remained important for centuries.  Yet the city became less important than it had been.  Babylon’s time as an imperial capital had ended.  The city became a regional administrative center within the Persian Empire.  King Seleucus I Nicator (r. 305-281 B.C.E.), looking for a capital for his Seleucid Empire, chose not to base the empire at Babylon.  He founded a new city, Seleucia, nearby.  Over time, the population of Babylon dwindled, until it the ancient city became a village, and a source of bricks for construction elsewhere.  Eventually, nobody lived in Babylon any longer.

Likewise, Seleucia, built on the Tigris River, had its day in the sun.  The course of the Tigris River shifted, however, and Seleucia eventually became a set of ruins, too.

Everything–empires, cities, et cetera–has it its time.  That time may be long.  However long that time lasts, it ends eventually.  Do not get too attached to anything, O reader.  If you outlive your “stuff,” others will have to decide what to do with it.  Trust in God, who is forever, and (in the Johannine sense), eternal.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF AUGUSTUS TOLTON, PIONEERING AFRICAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN RUDOLPH AHLE AND JOHANN GEORG AHLE, GERMAN LUTHERAN ORGANISTS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SCHEFFLER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM, HOLLAND, 1572

THE FEAST OF ROBERT GRANT, BRITISH MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT AND HYMN WRITER

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The Census, the Plague, and the Altar   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of King David

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART XLIX

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2 Samuel 24:1-25

1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1

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Whenever I am afraid,

I will put my trust in you.

–Psalm 56:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Theology changes.  A careful reading of the Bible reveals theological evolution in the Bible.  This is the reason I cannot be a fundamentalist.  Inconsistencies exist in the texts.  For example, did God or “a satan”(“adversary,” literally) persuade King David to conduct the census for which God punished the kingdom for years?  The answer depends on whether one accepts 2 Samuel 24:1 or 1 Chronicles 21:1.

This discrepancy exists because of theological evolution.  As a serious student of the history of Jewish theology ought to know, Satan as a free agent (rather than as one of God’s employees, as the tester of loyalty to God, as in the Book of Job as in Numbers 22:21-40) is a relatively late development.  The understanding of Satan as a free agent and an opponent of God dates to the postexilic period, when Zoroastrianism was influencing Judaism.  The Persians may have been correct.  That is a separate matter for another post.  In terms of the history of religion, Satan as the chief rebel against God in Judaism and, by extension, in Christianity, is a legacy of Zoroastrian influence, objectively.

The question of God and evil interests me, an intellectually honest monotheist.  Saints, theologians, and philosophers have tackled the thorny problem.  I harbor no delusion that I settle it in this post.  I do, however, refer to C. S. Lewis, who acknowledged that God is in the dock.  Ultimately, I, as a monotheist, cannot honestly blame anyone except God for evil–for permitting it to exist, at least.  The author of 2 Samuel 24 accepted this perspective.  The author of 1 Chronicles 21, writing during the Persian Period, did not.

If, however, one accepts the pre-Persian Period concept of “the Satan” as one of God’s employees–the loyalty tester, as in the Book of Job, God remains responsible for evil, too.  God is still in the dock.  If one accepts “the Satan” as one of God’s employees, then one must accept that “the Satan” cannot function or exist apart from God.  In Genesis, the language in certain passages uses “God” and “angel” interchangeably.  This is not a difficulty if one accepts that angels can exist and function only in the context of God, that, whatever they do or say, they do on divine orders.  Therefore, the words and actions of an angel are those of God, practically.  Therefore, if one accepts the pre-Persian Jewish understanding of “the Satan,” one must accept that “the Satan” acts and speaks only when following divine orders.  God is still in the dock.

Or maybe the ancient Zoroastrians were correct regarding the existence of independent agents of evil.

If I preferred easy answers, I would not wrestle with God.  If I did not prefer wresting with God, this great monotheistic conundrum of the problem of God and evil would perturb me more than it does.  Ultimately, though, I must agree with David and Job.  God is God.  God refuses to fit into our boxes, regardless of how piously we define them.  And we have no feasible alternative to turning to God, do we?  Part of the life of spiritual growth is learning to distinguish between our biases and God’s thoughts.

Nevertheless, may we exercise caution in how we think, speak, and write of God.  May we refrain from portraying God as a celestial gangster.  I hear some people speak of God in terms that should lead one to recoil in terror from God.  An Episcopal priest I know has a wonderful strategy for engaging with people who profess not to believe in God.  He asks them to describe the God in whom they do not believe.  Inevitably, he hears a description of God he rejects.  “I don’t believe in that God either,” the priest replies.

I, as an Episcopalian, seek moderation.  I follow the Anglican Via Media, after all.  I am neither fully Protestant nor fully Roman Catholic.  I am not a Biblical literalist.  I reject, however, the excesses of John Dominic Crossan and that ilk.  My intellect is always in gear; it constitutes one-third of my faith.  Nobody who tells me I should think less often gets far with me theologically.  I accept the primacy of scripture without shutting down my brain’s higher functions and advocating for scriptural inerrancy and infallibility.  A frontal lobotomy and willful ignorance are not prerequisites for salvation.  And I affirm that God is trustworthy while admitting that no human being can fully understand God.  The image one sees when looking into one’s mirror may be the most alluring idol of all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 15, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA OF AVILA, SPANISH ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, MYSTIC, AND REFORMER

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Cyrus II Allows Exiles to Return   2 comments

Above:  Cyrus II

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 2 KINGS 22-25, 1 ESDRAS, 2 CHRONICLES 34-36, EZRA, AND NEHEMIAH

PART X

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2 Chronicles 36:22-23

1 Esdras 2:1-15 and 5:7-46

Ezra 1:1-11 and 2:1-70

Nehemiah 7:6-73a

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Sit silent, retire into darkness,

O Fair Chaldea;

Nevermore shall they call you

Mistress of Kingdoms.

–Isaiah 47:5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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Cyrus II of the Persians and the Medes (r. 559-530 B.C.E.) conquered the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 538 B.C.E.  He, a tolerant ruler, reversed the Babylonian Exile and launched another Jewish exodus.  Cyrus earned his nickname, “the Great.”

Biblical authors were understandably sympathetic to Cyrus II.  Isaiah 44:24-45:25 went so far as to apply “Messiah” to him.  (Aside:  As scholarly books about Messiahship attest, that term has had a variety of meanings over time.)  Coverage and mentions of Cyrus the Great in 2 Chronicles 36, Ezra 1, Ezra 3-6, 1 Esdras 2, and 1 Esdras 4-7 was also positive.  Why not?

Walter Brueggemann, a great scholar of the Old Testament and a minister in the United Church of Christ, tells us that the main themes in the Hebrew Bible are exile and exodus.  Both themes are present in the readings for this post.  Related to those themes is the hand of God acting through people, including Gentiles, good or bad.  Cyrus II (who was a Zoroastrian, by the way) occupies space on the list of good Gentiles.  Related to that theme is another one:  anyone may function as a prophet of God, however briefly or not.  If God chooses to speak through someone, that person is a prophet for as long as he or she speaks for God.  All of these themes are consistent with a fifth one:  the sovereignty of God.

I, as a Christian (therefore, a Trinitarian), accept the the concept of the Holy Spirit speaking through people.  I have experienced it.  I have also experienced people functioning as agents of grace.  The identities of God’s agents have surprised me sometimes.  Often they have been people I have expected, however.

God speaks to us and acts in a variety of ways, including via human beings.  God may speak and act through you, O reader, and through me.  When we fail to recognize any agent or prophet of God, we miss something important.  We need to reorient our expectations.  I am chief among those who need to heed this advice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MACKILLOP, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTMAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF PASSAU

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF PREACHERS

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Building Up Our Neighbors, Part I   1 comment

Witch of Endor--Nikolai Ge

Above:  Witch of Endor, by Nikolai Ge

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven

to be the true bread that gives life to the world.

Give us this bread always,

that he may live in us and we in him,

and that, strengthened by this food,

may live as his body in the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

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The Assigned Readings:

1 Samuel 28:20-25

Psalm 34:1-8

Romans 15:1-6

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I called in my affliction and the LORD heard me

and saved me from all my troubles.

–Psalm 23:6, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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That verse from Psalm 34 functions as a counterpoint to King Saul’s situation in 1 Samuel 28:20-25.

Saul was at the end of his reign and at war with Philistine forces.  He had, according to 1 Samuel 28, disguised himself and gone to a necromancer (some translations say “witch”) at Endor, so that she would summon Samuel, who had anointed the monarch then announced God’s rejection of him.  The necromancer was in a difficult situation, for Saul had outlawed her profession.  (So, according to the monarch’s own standards, by what right was he there?)

The story in 1 Samuel 28 reflects an old understanding of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible.  Concepts of postmortem reward and punishment came later, by means of Zoroastrianism, for forces of the Persian Empire ended the Babylonian Exile.  (This does not mean, of course, that Heaven and Hell are figments of imagination, just that Zoroastrians had the concepts before Jews and, in time, Christians.  God’s agents come from many backgrounds.)  The understanding of the afterlife in 1 Samuel 28 is Sheol, the underworld.

In 1 Samuel 28 the necromancer, whose profession was, according to the Bible, forbidden due to its heathen nature, summoned Samuel successfully.  The prophet and judge, who was irritated with Saul, stated that the monarch had no more than a day left on the earth.  Saul took this badly, so he refused to eat for a while, until the necromancer and some countries convinced him to consume food.  The woman, who had risked her life to help Saul, cared about his well-being and fed him and his entourage.

God’s agents come from many backgrounds.  Sometimes they save us from our afflictions.  On other occasions, however, they simply provide aid and compassion until fate arrives.

Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.

–Romans 15:2, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Our neighbors include those similar to us and different from us.  Some like us, others are hostile to us, and still others are neutral or apathetic.  We like some of our neighbors, despise others, and have little or no knowledge of the existence of still others.  Yet we are all in this life together; that which we do to others, we do to ourselves.  We are, in the ethics of the Law of Moses, responsible to and for each other as we stand side-by-side in a state of responsibility to and total dependence upon God.  Certain attitudes, therefore, fall outside the realm of righteousness.  These include greed, bigotry, rugged individualism, self-reliance, and Social Darwinism.  There is no divine law against compassion, however.  And, since whatever we do to others, we do to ourselves, caring for others effectively and selflessly (at least as much as we can) is to our benefit.  Whenever we build up our neighbors, we build up ourselves.

MAY 27, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WILLIAM SCHAEFFER, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, HISTORIAN, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE DICKINSON, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/devotion-for-thursday-before-proper-14-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Waiting for God II   1 comment

Noah's Ark

Scan Source = Lawrence G. Lovasik, S.V.D., New Catholic Picture Bible:  Popular Stories from the Old and New Testaments (New York Publishing Company, 1960), page 14

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The Collect:

O God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son

you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death.

Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love,

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 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 9:8-17 (Thursday)

Daniel 12:5-13 (Friday)

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (Both Days)

Ephesians 1:3-6 (Thursday)

Ephesians 1:7-14 (Friday)

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“O give thanks, for the Lord is gracious:

God’s steadfast love endures for ever.”

So let the people say whom the Lord has redeemed:

whom the Lord has redeemed from the hand of the enemy,

and gathered out of the lands,

from the east and from the west:

from the north and from the south.

–Psalm 107:1-3, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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Sometimes that deliverance–from exile, tyranny, religious persecution, foreign occupation, et cetera–does not come soon enough according to our human expectations.  That is part of the context of the epilogue to the Hebrew version of the Book of Daniel.  That version (distinct from the one with Greek additions) ends:

Many will be purified and purged and refined; the wicked will act wickedly and none of the wicked will understand….But you, go on to the end; you shall rest, and arise to your destiny at the end of days.

–12:10, 13, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

A sense of living between the pronouncement of the divine promise and the end of days also pervades the assigned reading from Ephesians 1.  That letter, probably Pauline without being of St. Paul the Apostle, encourages faithful Christians to live for the praise and glory of Christ.  That counsel is as sound today as it was in the late first century C.E.  God will act when God will act.  I refuse to predict when that might be, for

  1. I can do nothing to change the divine schedule, into which I have no insight, and
  2. the list of failed prophets and prophecies (especially of the Second Coming of Jesus) is long.

But what of the character of this God, whom the author of Psalm 107 described as gracious?  We mere mortals are wise to proceed in theological humility, but we are not entirely lacking in knowledge on this point.  One lens through which to consider this topic is the story of the Great Flood and Noah’s Ark.  It is an oft-told tale with many inconsistencies within the Biblical narrative itself, due to the number of sources cut and pasted together.  The composite Biblical account is also just one variation on a much older story, which probably goes back to a massive flood in the area of the Black Sea.  (The world, as the ancient authors of the Bible understood it, was much smaller than the planet I see represented on globes today.)

A myth is a story which communicates a truth without being literally accurate.  So what does the composite Biblical account of Noah’s Ark tell us about God?  A rival version of the tale, of Zoroastrian origin, says that Ahriman (read:  Satan in post-Exilic Jewish and in Christian theology) started the flood, which Ahura-Mazda (the chief deity) ended.  But there is one actor–God–responsible for starting and ending the flood in Genesis.  In a monotheistic system the deity commits all that people perceive as good or bad; God is always on the hook for the theological problem of good and evil.

This is God for whom we wait and whom many people profess to stand in awe of, to love, and to follow.  This is God, who encompasses judgment and mercy.  This is God, properly a mystery.  This is God, whose schedule is not ours.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIUS FORTUNATUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF POITIERS

THE FEAST OF CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-the-fourth-sunday-in-lent-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Lamps of God–With Oil from Unexpected and Unlikely Sources   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Ezra 1:1-6 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the LORD roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by word of mouth and in writing as follows:

Thus said King Cyrus of Persia:  The LORD God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.  Anyone of you all His people–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem; and all who stay behind, wherever he may be living, let the people of his place assist him with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, besides the freewill offering to the House of God that is in Jerusalem.

So the chiefs of the clans of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, all whose spirit had been roused by God, got ready to go up to build the House of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.  All their neighbors supported them with silver vessels, with gold, with goods, with livestock, and with precious objects, besides what had been given as a freewill offering.

Psalm 126 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,

then were we like those who dream.

2 Then was our mouth filled with laughter,

and our tongue with shouts of joy.

3 Then they said among the nations,

“The LORD has done great things for them.”

The LORD has done great things for us,

and we are glad indeed.

5 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,

like the watercourses of the Negev.

6 Those who sowed with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

7 Those who go out weeping, carrying the seed,

will come again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Luke 8:16-18 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

No one lights a lamp to cover it with a bowl or put it under a bed.  No, he puts it on a lamp-stand so that people may see the light when they come in.  For nothing is hidden but it will be made clear, nothing secret but it will be known and brought to light.  So take care how you hear; for anyone who has will be given more; from anyone who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.

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The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The united Kingdom of Israel divided in 928 B.C.E., with Jerusalem continuing as the capital city of Judah and a new, northern kingdom, becoming Israel.  The Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom in 722 B.C.E.  Then, in 609 B.C.E., the Assyrians fell to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, which ended the existence of the Kingdom of Judah in 586 B.C.E.  The conquerors deported many–but not all–inhabitants of Judah to Babylon.

Decades passed.  Finally, in 539 B.C.E., the Persians and the Medes, led by King Cyrus II, conquered the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians.  Cyrus had a policy of religious toleration, which he extended to the Jews.  For the Jews he did more, however; he allowed those Jews in Babylon to return to their ancestral homeland. Cyrus also sponsored the construction of the Second Temple.  He was not even a Jew.  The king was a Zoroastrian, an adherent of a faith system that influenced the course of Judaism, and therefore Christianity, in profound ways.  This ought not to bother a Biblical literalist or to give comfort or ammunition to a scoffer prowling around in search of evidence to discredit the Judeo-Christian traditions, for no single human religion has a monopoly on the truth.  Some just possess more of it than others, and Judaism and Christianity contain far more than any other religions–including Zoroastrianism.

The brief reading from Luke speaks of shedding light.  The image in that text is of an oil lamp on a lamp stand in the middle of a small and otherwise dark house.  Light is especially evident in the dark; how far it reaches becomes obvious.  The final lines in that lesson speak of the imperative of growing in faith, for the consequence of a lack of spiritual growth is atrophy.

So, how does Ezra relate to Luke?  Here is my answer:  It took Cyrus, one of the goyim, to help perpetuate the truth of the Jewish faith.  He provided oil for the Jewish lamps, if you will indulge my analogy.  That light continues to burn within Judaism and Christianity today.  Where might you find oil for your spiritual lamp?  The answers might surprise you.  Likewise, you might provide oil for lamps of people the identities of which might shock you.

There is an inclusive message here.  I note this and accent it because one of the unfortunate aspects of post-Exilic Judaism was exclusiveness.  The Book of Jonah is a powerful satire of that attitude.  We will get to that soon enough–in the Week of Proper 22.  So think about these questions:  Whose Cyrus are you?  And who is your Cyrus?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 1, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS SYRAGIUS OF AUTUN AND ANACHARIUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS, AND SAINTS VALERY OF LEUCONE AND EUSTACE OF LUXEUIT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK DENISON MAURICE, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIDONIUS APOLLINARIS, SAINT EUSTACE OF LYON, AND HIS DESCENDANTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/week-of-proper-20-monday-year-1/

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Posted May 4, 2012 by neatnik2009 in Ezra 1, Luke 8, Psalm 126

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