All posts by tdaxp

Impressions of “Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle That Defined a Generation,” by Blake Harris

Recently I finished Console Wars, by Blake Harris. It is an extremely well written corporate history of the battle between Sega and Nintendo during the Super Nintendo / Sega Genesis era. I strongly recommend it.

Console Wars is nearly a novel, centering on Sega’s upstart executive leadership team. Console Wars helped me understand my home town better. It showed the cultural divide between Japanese and American businesses greatly impact those businesses, and also how the American media is easily manipulated. It’s a great book.

First, the book centers around Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske. He is written like a CEO version of Don Draper, and it’s very clear his goal is to sell Sega products, as opposed to originally develop them. But beginning with a weaker system, weaker intellectual property, and weaker games, Sega’s marketing eventually lead them to best Nintendo in home game console market share. CEO Kalinske was formerly at Mattel, and in his career had been responsible for the marketing of Flintstones Chewable Vitamins and the modern Barbie doll, when the focus moved from fashion to aspiration (“astronaut Barbie, teacher Barbie, and so on). It’s fascinating.

Second, I live the town that where Nintendo of America is still located. Unlike other “tech” companies near me, though, Nintendo employees are relatively cliquish, and disproportionately Japanese. This book helped explain some of the culture of my own town to me, giving me the corporate history and identify which made this “Nintendo” possible.

Third, a theme throughout the book was the cultural divide between the Japanese corporate centers and the American subsidiaries. While Nintendo of America, Sega of America, and the embryonic Sony Playstation team were competitors with each other, they shared exasperation at the behavior and mores of their Japanese overlords. I’m sure the frustration was mutual. While the western executives features worked insane hours and occasionally were rude in personal ways to each other, there clearly was a greater sense of understanding among them than up the corporate chain.

Fourth, its hilarious how effectively these companies manipulated the press, not just the gaming trades but even the national news. The economic rot that would eventually trigger the gamergate consumer revolt was already festering at this time. Similarly, certain behavior the press has been outraged over int he past week (as of the writing of this post) is quite well established indeed!

Last, this is the best corporate history I ever read. High Noon and American Icon are good hagiographies, is an impressionist marvel, and Steve Jobs is an amazing biography, but nothing I read described the highs and lows of an entire industry from the top like this one did. My enjoyment was greatly helped by Fred Berman, possibly the best nonfiction narrator I ever encountered.

The “Computer Historian” youtube channel posted an accurate description online, so I’ll include that here.

Console Wars is highly recommended. I listneed to it on unabriged Audible.

The Prayer of Manasseh

Christians think of Saul, known to the gentiles as “Paul,” as a forgiven sinner. Saul invented Christian martyrdom, with St. Stephen as the victim. The first notable “act” of The Acts of the Apostles might be this murder of an apostle

But to that murderer Saul, the image of the forgiven sinner would have been King Manasseh

Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel
2 Kings 21:1-2

A Child-King, Manasseh may have killed his children. At the very least he dedicated them to other gods

Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spirits and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger.
2 Kings 21:6

Even if his sons survived, the holy martyrs did not

Moreover Manasseh shed very much innocent blood, till he had filled Jerusalem from one end to another, besides his sin by which he made Judah sin, in doing evil in the sight of the Lord.
2 Kings 21:16

When Saul was out and about, the Lord spoke to him, and promised more information once he went to a certain city.. Damascus

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?”

The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Acts 9:3-6

When Saul arrived in Damascus, the Lord used a man named Ananias to further encourage Saul to repent.

With King Manasseh, the LORD was first rebuffed.

And the LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen
2 Chronicles 33:10

So He used another city, and another foreigner: BABYLON and ESARHADDON

Therefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.
2 Chronicles 33:11

It is in his captivity that King Manassah cried out, and in his captive impotence he begged the LORD for forgiveness.

Now when he was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,  and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God….

Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, indeed they are written in the book of the kings of Israel. Also his prayer and how God received his entreaty, and all his sin and trespass, and the sites where he built high places and set up wooden images and carved images, before he was humbled, indeed they are written among the sayings of Hozai
2 Chroncicles 33:12-13,18-19

The Apocrypha held sacred by the Eastern Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox churches purports to have a text of this prayer. Whether or not the Prayer of Manasseh is actually the prayer of that king, or a devout attempt to reconstruct one, is unknown. But what is important, I think, is that it was prayed during Manasseh’s weakness, when he was unable to save his country, and unable to do anything except pray and repent and look to a future where he might not be in bondage. The LORD will chose his own instruments. It is for man to repent, and if he cannot do better, a least desire to so do.

It reads, in its entirety:

O Lord Almighty, God of our fathers, of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and of their righteous seed,

You Who have made heaven and earth with all their adornment,

You Who have bound the sea by the word of your command, You Who have shut the deep, and sealed it with your fearsome and glorious Name,

You at whom all things shudder, and tremble before Your power,

for unbearable is the magnificence of Your glory, and not to be withstood is the anger of Your threat toward sinners,

and unmeasurable and inscrutable is the mercy of Your promise,

for You are the Lord Most High, compassionate, patient, and merciful, repenting from the evil deeds of people.

You, O Lord, according to the fullness of Your clemency, promised repentance and forgiveness to those who have sinned against You, and in the fullness of Your mercies, You have appointed repentance for sinners toward salvation.

Therefore, You, O Lord, God of the righteous, have not given repentance for the righteous, for Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, who had not sinned against You, but you have given repentance for me, the sinner.

For I have sinned more than the number of sand of the sea; my lawless deeds are multiplied, O Lord, multiplied, and I am not worthy to look and see the heights of heaven because of the multitude of my unrighteous deeds.

I am bent down by too many a bond of iron for the lifting of my head because of my sins, and there is no relief for me, for I have provoked Your wrath and done evil before You. I have set up abominations and multiplied provocations.

And now I bend the knee of my heart, begging for Your clemency.

I have sinned, O Lord, I have sinned, and I know my lawless deeds.

I am asking, begging You: forgive me, O Lord, forgive me! Do not destroy me with my lawless deeds, nor for all ages keep angry with me, nor condemn me to the depths of the earth, for You, O Lord, are the God of those who repent.

And in me You will display Your goodness, for, my being unworthy, You will save me according to Your great mercy.

And I will praise You throughout all the days of my life, for all the power of the heavens sing Your praise. For Yours is the glory, to the ages. Amen.
The Prayer of Manasseh 1:1-15

Finally, the story has a happy ending. Manassah does return to Jerusalem, he clears out the idols, and (while the high places are not destroyed) at least God is worshiped there. He reigned for many years and died peacefully, the King in Jerusalem

So Manasseh rested with his fathers, and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza. Then his son Amon reigned in his place.
2 Kings 21:18

The Wisdom of Solomon and Sirach

There are two two “wisdom” books of the Deuterocanon, The Wisdom of Solomon (commonly called Wisdom) and the Wisdom of Sirach (common called Sirach). Throughout both, Wisdom is repeatedly described as the first female creature. Sirach makes clear that if you have Wisdom, you will never thirst again.

Well, maybe unless you’re the lowest of the low.

If you have Wisdom, you will never be thirsty again if you are part of her “people.”

Wisdom will praise herself,
and will glory in the midst of her people.

In the assembly of the Most High she will open her mouth,
and in the presence of his host she will glory…

“Those who eat me will hunger for more,
and those who drink me will thirst for more.”
Sirach 24:1-2,21

The worst people in the world are the non-people of the Samaritans, with their petty capital in Shechem, the site of Jacob’s well

With two nations my soul is vexed,
and the third is no nation:
Those who live on Mount Se’ir, and the Philistines,
and the foolish people that dwell in Shechem.
Sirach 50:25-26

Of types of people, women are worse than men. A shameful man is better than a virtuous woman for company, a shameful woman is the worst of all

Do not look upon any one for beauty,
and do not sit in the midst of women;
for from garments comes the moth,
and from a woman comes woman’s wickedness.
Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good;
and it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace.
Sirach 42:12-14

It’s obvious the last person in the world who have this drink would be a shameful Samaritan woman.

There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.

The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”

Jesus said to her, “Every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”
John 4:7-16

I suspect Luther and Calvin’s rejection of Sirach had more than a little to do with this: it appears to be directly rejected by the Gospel According to John. But I think that is a mistake, and ignores the importance of Jesus meeting that woman. Point by point, John uses the next verses to respond and expand on Sirach.

For the woman identifies Jesus as a prophet

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
John 4:17

Christ is a Prophet. Even greater than Moses, the greatest of the Prophets

Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.
Deuteronomy 34:10-12

More comforting than the Twelve Minor Prophets‘ role in providing comfort

May the bones of the twelve prophets
revive from where they lie,
for they comforted the people of Jacob
and delivered them with confident hope.
Sirach 49:10

To Samuel, who worked in the spirit after death

Before the time of his eternal sleep,
Samuel called men to witness before the Lord and his anointed:
“I have not taken any one’s property,
not so much as a pair of shoes.”
And no man accused him.

Even after he had fallen asleep he prophesied
and revealed to the king his death,
and lifted up his voice out of the earth in prophecy,
to blot out the wickedness of the people.
Sirach 46:19-20

To Elisha, who worked in the body after death

Nothing was too hard for him,
and when he was dead his body prophesied.
As in his life he did wonders,
so in death his deeds were marvelous
Sirach 48:13-14

And in between the hitherto greatest of the prophets, Elijah, who could raise the dead

How glorious you were, O Elijah, in your wondrous deeds!
And who has the right to boast which you have?
You who raised a corpse from death
and from Hades, by the word of the Most High;
Sirach 48:4-5

And intercede between the Father and the Son

you who are ready at the appointed time, it is written,
to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the heart of the father to the son,
and to restore the tribes of Jacob.
Sirach 48:10

The Transfiguration is the central element of the Gospel According to Matthew, and to Jews may be the most shocking event of the Gospel.

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Matthew 17:1-5

Western readers assume that Jesus is chatting with Moses and Elijah, but that not the only way to read this. Moses already saved Israel once, by convincing God not to destroy his people. Elijah, even after being taken up, would do the same thing. The visible intercession of the two greatest saviors, speaking (preparing?) another, cannot be understated its importance.

It is this what the woman references, when she calls Jesus a “Prophet.” It is the Gospel emphasizes, when this annunciation of the Savior of the Saviors is given to the lowest of the low, a shamed Samaritan woman.

But that is not all

Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father
John 4:20-21

Wisdom is not just for Jerusalem. Indeed, Sirach points out the famous gentile prophets, those who were not circumcised, or were circumcised late in life

Peoples will declare their wisdom,
and the congregation proclaims their praise.

Enoch pleased the Lord, and was taken up;
he was an example of repentance to all generations.

Noah was found perfect and righteous;
in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange;
therefore a remnant was left to the earth
when the flood came.

Everlasting covenants were made with him
that all flesh should not be blotted out by a flood.
Abraham

Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations,
and no one has been found like him in glory;
Sirach 44:15-19

The future of worship is international, for all nations will be called to Him

Many will praise his understanding,
and it will never be blotted out;
his memory will not disappear,
and his name will live through all generations.
Nations will declare his wisdom,
and the congregation will proclaim his praise;
if he lives long, he will leave a name greater than a thousand,
and if he goes to rest, it is enough for him.

I have yet more to say, which I have thought upon,
and I am filled, like the moon at the full.
Sirach 39:9-12

It’s worth thinking about that last sentence, the one immediately following the nations, and the greatness of going to rest in the LORD. It is echoed elsewhere

I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:12-14

Jesus of Nazareth may have been more patient with the lowly Samaritan woman than the author of Sirach had expected, but certainly he agreed that the Jews were a chosen people, and chosen to bring forth salvation

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.
John 4:22

Year before Christ would teach his students the Lord’s Prayer

Our Father who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts,
As we also have forgiven our debtors;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:10-13

Sirach taught a similar prayer to his own readers

O Lord, Father and Ruler of my life,
do not abandon me to their counsel,
and let me not fall because of them!
O that whips were set over my thoughts,
and the discipline of wisdom over my mind!
That they may not spare me in my errors,
and that it may not pass by my sins;
in order that my mistakes may not be multiplied,
and my sins may not abound;
then I will not fall before my adversaries,
and my enemy will not rejoice over me.

O Lord, Father and God of my life,
do not give me haughty eyes,
and remove from me evil desire.
Let neither gluttony nor lust overcome me,
and do not surrender me to a shameless soul.
Sirach 23:1-6

From the Father, salvation comes

For he who turned toward it was saved, not by what he saw,
but by thee, the Savior of all.
And by this also thou didst convince our enemies
that it is thou who deliverest from every evil.
Wisdom 16:7-8

In the future, be better.

But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23-24

It is to another woman, another prostitute, that Jesus says go, and sin no more

Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”

This echoes Sirach, both who urged the renunciation of sins

Have you sinned, my son? Do so no more,
but pray about your former sins.

Flee from sin as from a snake;
for if you approach sin, it will bite you.
Its teeth are lion’s teeth,
and destroy the souls of men.
Sirach 21:1-2

And urged us not to condemn those who were trying to turn from sin

Do not reproach a man who is turning away from sin;
remember that we all deserve punishment.
Sirach 8:5

It is of course not the weakest and the lowliest who are at the most risk

For the lowliest man may be pardoned in mercy,
but mighty men will be mightily tested.
Wisdom 6:6

But the mighty

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:15

It is at the end of their dialogue with the woman (who had identified him as a prophet before), that Jesus reveals he is the Messiah. She had seen part of the truth, He told her another part.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ); when he comes, he will show us all things.”

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
John 4:25

I couldn’t help but think of this when reading Sirach‘s poem to the High Priest, which felt like a poem of the Crucifixion

When he put on his glorious robe
and clothed himself with superb perfection
and went up to the holy altar,
he made the court of the sanctuary glorious.

And when he received the portions from the hands of the priests,
as he stood by the hearth of the altar
with a garland of brethren around him,
he was like a young cedar on Lebanon;
and they surrounded him like the trunks of palm trees,

all the sons of Aaron in their splendor
with the Lord’s offering in their hands,
before the whole congregation of Israel.

Finishing the service at the altars,
and arranging the offering to the Most High, the Almighty,

He reached out his hand to the cup
and poured a libation of the blood of the grape;
he poured it out at the foot of the altar,
a pleasing odor to the Most High, the King of all.

Then the sons of Aaron shouted,
they sounded the trumpets of hammered work,
they made a great noise to be heard
for remembrance before the Most High.

Then all the people together made haste
and fell to the ground upon their faces
to worship their Lord,
the Almighty, God Most High.

And the singers praised him with their voices
in sweet and full-toned melody.[f]

And the people besought the Lord Most High
in prayer before him who is merciful,
till the order of worship of the Lord was ended;
so they completed his service.
Sirach 50:11-19

A blessed altar, indeed

For blessed is the wood by which righteousness comes.
Wisdom 14:7


Sirach identifies wisdom as the drink that will forever satisfy, and identifies a Samaritan whore as the lowliest creature on the earth. It is to such a woman, such a personification of Jewish distaste, that the salvation from the Jews was provided. From the greatest to the meekest, the last became first.

Christ was the first born of all Creation, begotten not made

He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:15

But it is Wisdom, made not begotten, which was the First Creature that was not the creator

Wisdom was created before all things,
and prudent understanding from eternity.[c]
Sirach 1:4

And at the end of time, it is the First Born which shares this First Creature, so even the lowly woman at the well will never thirst again

These opposites, these extremes, are ordained by God

All things are twofold, one opposite the other,
and he has made nothing incomplete.
Sirach 42:24

So in that spirit, two-fold advice, a proverb from this blog

Have a drink
But not too much
(But if your friend has too much… let it slide)

Wine is like life to men,
if you drink it in moderation.
What is life to a man who is without wine?
It has been created to make men glad.

Wine drunk in season and temperately
is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.

Wine drunk to excess is bitterness of soul,
with provocation and stumbling.

Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his injury,
reducing his strength and adding wounds.

Do not reprove your neighbor at a banquet of wine,
and do not despise him in his merrymaking;
speak no word of reproach to him,
and do not afflict him by making demands of him.
Sirach 31:27-31


The Book of Tobit and the Tales of the Deuterocanon

The night I read The Book of Tobit I thought it was the funniest book in the bible

Then they both went to sleep for the night.
But Raguel arose and went and dug a grave, with the thought, “Perhaps he too will die.” Then Raguel went into his house and said to his wife Edna, “Send one of the maids to see whether he is alive; and if he is not, let us bury him without any one knowing about it.”
Tobit 8:9-12

The next day I thought over some of the verses, and realized there was more too it.  After being merry, the situation must be explained

So he communicated the proposal to Raguel. And Raguel said to Tobias, “Eat, drink, and be merry; for it is your right to take my child. But let me explain the true situation to you. I have given my daughter to seven husbands, and when each came to her he died in the night. But for the present be merry.” And Tobias said, “I will eat nothing here until you make a binding agreement with me.”
Tobit 7:9-11

Tobit is clearly a comedy. None of the “on-screen” characters are ultimately harmed, it ends in a wedding, and everyone lives happily ever after.

So now, my children, consider what almsgiving accomplishes and how righteousness delivers.” As he said this he died in his bed. He was a hundred and fifty-eight years old; and Tobias gave him a magnificent funeral
Tobit 14:11

But it also has the most realistic depiction fo depression in the entire bible. Not Job’s philosophical speeches, not demons making someone mad, but praying for death, so one’s loved ones don’t need to feel bad about a suicide

When she heard these things she was deeply grieved, even to the thought of hanging herself. But she said, “I am the only child of my father; if I do this, it will be a disgrace to him, and I shall bring his old age down in sorrow to the grave.” So she prayed by her window and said, “Blessed art thou, O Lord my God, and blessed is thy holy and honored name for ever. May all thy works praise thee for ever. And now, O Lord, I have turned my eyes and my face toward thee. Command that I be released from the earth and that I hear reproach no more. Thou knowest, O Lord, that I am innocent of any sin with man, and that I did not stain my name or the name of my father in the land of my captivity. I am my father’s only child, and he has no child to be his heir, no near kinsman or kinsman’s son for whom I should keep myself as wife. Already seven husbands of mine are dead. Why should I live? But if it be not pleasing to thee to take my life, command that respect be shown to me and pity be taken upon me, and that I hear reproach no more.”
Tobit 3:10-16

Tobit also includes the pettiest of celestial cruelties, a man being blinded, after doing a good dead, by birds shitting in his eyes. And incompetent doctors. God acting through man in most pettty of all ways

When the sun had set I went and dug a grave and buried the body. And my neighbors laughed at me and said, “He is no longer afraid that he will be put to death for doing this; he once ran away, and here he is burying the dead again!” On the same night I returned from burying him, and because I was defiled I slept by the wall of the courtyard, and my face was uncovered. I did not know that there were sparrows on the wall and their fresh droppings fell into my open eyes and white films formed on my eyes. I went to physicians, but they did not help me. Ahikar, however, took care of me until he went to Elymais.
Tobit 2:7-10

Job faced the additional humiliation of a nagging wife, but the poor speaker sees a worse fate: it is him who becomes the whiny, untrusting bitch while his wife brings home the (goat) bacon

And she said, “It was given to me as a gift in addition to my wages.” But I did not believe her, and told her to return it to the owners; and I blushed for her. Then she replied to me, “Where are your charities and your righteous deeds? You seem to know everything!”
Tobit 2:14

The power of prophecy is shown to be ridiculous, as the guardian angel “prophesied” by the blind Tobit for his son…

And Tobit said to her, “Do not worry, my sister; he will return safe and sound, and your eyes will see him. For a good angel will go with him; his journey will be successful, and he will come back safe and sound.” So she stopped weeping.
Tobit 5:20-21

…is the sort of Angel of Disinformation from the Book of Ezekiel.

But he answered, “Are you looking for a tribe and a family or for a man whom you will pay to go with your son?” And Tobit said to him, “I should like to know, my brother, your people and your name.” [The Angel Raphael] replied, “I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias, one of your relatives.”
Tobit 5:11-12

Yet while the angels in Genesis guarded Paradise, in Ezekiel they conspired to destroy kingdoms, and in the Gospels they protected the Son of Man, here Raphael becomes a rom-com sidekick! Raphael’s goal is to hook up Tobias, and get him to man up, curse or nor curse!

When they approached Ecbatana, the angel said to the young man, “Brother, today we shall stay with Raguel. He is your relative, and he has an only daughter named Sarah. I will suggest that she be given to you in marriage, because you are entitled to her and to her inheritance, for you are her only eligible kinsman. The girl is also beautiful and sensible. Now listen to my plan. I will speak to her father, and as soon as we return from Rages we will celebrate the marriage. For I know that Raguel, according to the law of Moses, cannot give her to another man without incurring the penalty of death, because you rather than any other man are entitled to the inheritance.”

Then the young man said to the angel, “Brother Azarias, I have heard that the girl has been given to seven husbands and that each died in the bridal chamber.
Tobit 6:9-13

The Book of Tobit resembles other tales from the Deuterocanon, such as the Book of Judith with its comically thick foreshadowing…

And if you follow out the words of your maidservant, God will accomplish something through you, and my lord will not fail to achieve his purposes.
Judith 11:6

“Therefore, when I, your servant, learned all this, I fled from them; and God has sent me to accomplish with you things that will astonish the whole world, as many as shall hear about them.
Judith 11:16

… and sexy, feel-good ending

And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed his head from his body. Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.
Judith 13:8-10

I suspect dour reformers removed these books from the Christian cannon shares much of the reason why, in old times, were given to the Hebrews: They are delightful. They are cheesy. They feature damsels in distress…

When the maids had gone out, the two elders rose and ran to her, and said:  “Look, the garden doors are shut, no one sees us, and we are in love with you; so give your consent, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that a young man was with you, and this was why you sent your maids away.”
Susanna sighed deeply, and said, “I am hemmed in on every side. For if I do this thing, it is death for me; and if I do not, I shall not escape your hands.
Daniel 13:20-22

…And thrilling courtroom action!..

Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under a mastic tree

Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under an evergreen oak.” And Daniel said to him, “Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw[e] you in two, that he may destroy you both.”
Daniel 13:54-59

These stories have everything. For children, other children, exposed with their lying parents

In the night the priests came with their wives and children, as they were accustomed to do, and ate and drank everything.

Early in the morning the king rose and came, and Daniel with him. And the king said, “Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?” He answered, “They are unbroken, O king.” As soon as the doors were opened, the king looked at the table, and shouted in a loud voice, “You are great, O Bel; and with you there is no deceit, none at all.”

Then Daniel laughed, and restrained the king from going in, and said, “Look at the floor, and notice whose footsteps these are.” The king said, “I see the footsteps of men and women and children.”
Daniel 14:15-20

For the children-at-heart, a dragon that explodes from eating too much

Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. And Daniel said, “See what you have been worshiping!”
Daniel 14:27

And for those older than children, well, some terms may be euphemisms. We’ll explain when you’re older

What is the matter, Esther? I am thy brother, fear not.
Thou shalt not die: for this law is not made for thee, but for all others.
Come near then, and touch the sceptre.
And as she held her peace, he took the golden sceptre, and laid it upon her neck, and kissed her, and said: Why dost thou not speak to me?
She answered: I saw thee, my lord, as an angel of God, and my heart was troubled for fear of thy majesty.
Esther 15:12-16

The themes of these grand tales of the Deuterocanon– the Books of Tobit and Esther, the additions to Daniel and Esther, are three-fold

Joy, even in the face of the despair
Romance, even in the face of death
Divine deliverance and un-natural-y long life

The Unchanging Father sits on top of the things of nightmares, and owns even the terrifying deep

Blessed art thou, who sittest upon cherubim and lookest upon the deeps,
and to be praised and highly exalted for ever.
Daniel 3:32

But what awaits is glorious

Many nations will come from afar to the name of the Lord God,
bearing gifts in their hands, gifts for the King of heaven.
Generations of generations will give you joyful praise.
Tobit 13:11

Then Judith began this thanksgiving before all Israel, and all the people loudly sang this song of praise.

And Judith said,
Begin a song to my God with tambourines,
sing to my Lord with cymbals.
Raise to him a new psalm;
exalt him, and call upon his name.
For God is the Lord who crushes wars;
for he has delivered me out of the hands of my pursuers,
and brought me into his camp, in the midst of the people.

Judith 16:1-3

Thou hast made heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven.
Thou art Lord of all, and there is none that can resist thy majesty.
Esther 13:10-11

The Deutercanon is hyperreal.  It contains obvious historical discontinuities, it places Kings in the wrong Empires, it plays with real prophets like Daniel and turns him into a dragon slayer.  In these stories, in these tales, an image is painted that can be understood by both children an adults.  That image, that logic, that reason, is something as joyful, as romantic, and as lively as a wedding feast

And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.

Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.” And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
Revelation 19:6-10

The Books of the Maccabees

Greek attack!

After Alexander son of Philip, the Macedonian, who came from the land of Kittim, had defeated Darius, king of the Persians and the Medes, he succeeded him as king. (He had previously become king of Greece.) He fought many battles, conquered strongholds, and put to death the kings of the earth.
1 Maccabees 1:1-2

The Books of the Maccabees are the most exciting books of the Bible since Joshua. We got elephants in the land!

They showed the elephants the juice of grapes and mulberries, to arouse them for battle. And they distributed the beasts among the phalanxes; with each elephant they stationed a thousand men armed with coats of mail, and with brass helmets on their heads; and five hundred picked horsemen were assigned to each beast. These took their position beforehand wherever the beast was; wherever it went they went with it, and they never left it. And upon the elephants were wooden towers, strong and covered; they were fastened upon each beast by special harness, and upon each were four armed men who fought from there, and also its Indian driver.
1 Maccabees 6:34-37

How to kill such a beast? A martyrdom operation: stab the elephant in the heart!

He got under the elephant, stabbed it from beneath, and killed it; but it fell to the ground upon him and there he died.
1 Maccabees 6:46

The Holy Spirit provides many roads to the Gospels, and these books are aimed at the same population as its literary twin, the Song of Songs. The post-apocalyptic Book of Baruch is morose.  Maccabees references this spirit, but what’s coming up is closer to Mad Max.

Because of them the residents of Jerusalem fled;
she became a dwelling of strangers;
she became strange to her offspring,
and her children forsook her.
1 Maccabees 1:38

The Greeks have stupid sports, and they use them to corrupt even the holy ones

When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life. He set aside the existing royal concessions to the Jews, secured through John the father of Eupolemus, who went on the mission to establish friendship and alliance with the Romans; and he destroyed the lawful ways of living and introduced new customs contrary to the law. For with alacrity he founded a gymnasium right under the citadel, and he induced the noblest of the young men to wear the Greek hat. There was such an extreme of Hellenization and increase in the adoption of foreign ways because of the surpassing wickedness of Jason, who was ungodly and no high priest, that the priests were no longer intent upon their service at the altar. Despising the sanctuary and neglecting the sacrifices, they hastened to take part in the unlawful proceedings in the wrestling arena after the call to the discus, disdaining the honors prized by their fathers and putting the highest value upon Greek forms of prestige. For this reason heavy disaster overtook them, and those whose ways of living they admired and wished to imitate completely became their enemies and punished them. For it is no light thing to show irreverence to the divine laws—a fact which later events will make clear.
2 Maccabees 4:10-17

The Greeks attack the people

So they attacked them on the sabbath, and they died, with their wives and children and cattle, to the number of a thousand persons.
1 Maccabees 2:38

They are desecrating the temples

Not long after this, the king sent an Athenian senator to compel the Jews to forsake the laws of their fathers and cease to live by the laws of God, and also to pollute the temple in Jerusalem and call it the temple of Olympian Zeus, and to call the one in Geri’zim the temple of Zeus the Friend of Strangers, as did the people who dwelt in that place.
2 Maccabees 6:1-2

And their will is law

And whoever does not obey the command of the king shall die.”

In such words he wrote to his whole kingdom. And he appointed inspectors over all the people and commanded the cities of Judah to offer sacrifice, city by city. Many of the people, every one who forsook the law, joined them, and they did evil in the land; 53 they drove Israel into hiding in every place of refuge they had.
1 Maccabees 1:50-53

The war is exciting. For instance, a once cruel king now lies dying, and comes to God…

Then it was that, broken in spirit, he began to lose much of his arrogance and to come to his senses under the scourge of God, for he was tortured with pain every moment. And when he could not endure his own stench, he uttered these words: “It is right to be subject to God, and no mortal should think that he is equal to God.”
2 Maccabees 9:11-12

But he’s style a king, and his letter is dark comedy:

But when his sufferings did not in any way abate, for the judgment of God had justly come upon him, he gave up all hope for himself and wrote to the Jews the following letter, in the form of a supplication. This was its content:

“To his worthy Jewish citizens, Antiochus their king and general sends hearty greetings and good wishes for their health and prosperity. If you and your children are well and your affairs are as you wish, I am glad. As my hope is in heaven, I remember with affection your esteem and good will. On my way back from the region of Persia I suffered an annoying illness, and I have deemed it necessary to take thought for the general security of all
2 Maccabees 9:18-21

And even fake news from a foreign power, designed to swing Jewish opinion

This is a copy of the letter which they sent to Onias: “Arius, king of the Spartans, to Onias the high priest, greeting. It has been found in writing concerning the Spartans and the Jews that they are brethren and are of the family of Abraham.
1 Maccabees 12:19-21

Though maybe there is more to this than it seems, that Greek and Jew might somehow be one…

The two books of Maccabees relate the Revolt against the Greeks from different perspectives. The First Book focuses on the heroism and zealotry of Judas Maccabeus and clan. His father saw the evils of the king in Jerusalem, gave a beautiful speech, and left to the countryside. The Maccabees burned with devotion to the law, and in a scene out of 300, begin their revolt after an emissary of the distant king journeys to their village

Then the king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the city of Mode-in to make them offer sacrifice. Many from Israel came to them; and Mattathias and his sons were assembled. Then the king’s officers spoke to Mattathias as follows: “You are a leader, honored and great in this city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.”

But Mattathias answered and said in a loud voice: “Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each one from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and my brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. Far be it from us to desert the law and the ordinances. We will not obey the king’s words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.”

When he had finished speaking these words, a Jew came forward in the sight of all to offer sacrifice upon the altar in Mode-in, according to the king’s command. When Mattathias saw it, he burned with zeal and his heart was stirred. He gave vent to righteous anger; he ran and killed him upon the altar.
1 Maccabees 2:15-24

But the Second Book focuses on the lived atrocities of the Greeks. It was not — or perhaps not entirely — Judas’s poetic father who left Jerusalem in high mind protest, but Judas and his brothers who fled the murderous Hellenes

When this man arrived in Jerusalem, he pretended to be peaceably disposed and waited until the holy sabbath day; then, finding the Jews not at work, he ordered his men to parade under arms. He put to the sword all those who came out to see them, then rushed into the city with his armed men and killed great numbers of people.

But Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do; they continued to live on what grew wild, so that they might not share in the defilement.
2 Maccabees 5:25-27

In both cases the Maccabees led the revolt. The Jews were to be saved, and the gentiles terrorized

Then Judas and his brothers began to be feared, and terror fell upon the Gentiles round about them.
1 Maccabees 3:25

So now, O Sovereign of the heavens, send a good angel to carry terror and trembling before us.
2 Maccabees 15:23

Much has been written of the three Divinely-ordained offices of King, Priest, and Prophet. We know three figures in the Hebrew Bible who legitimately held two of these titles simultaneously: Melchizedek (King & Priest), Saul (King & Prophet), and Ezekiel (Prophet & Priest).

The Maccabees were definitely priests, from the tribe of Levi

In the one hundred and seventieth year the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel, and the people began to write in their documents and contracts, “In the first year of Simon the great high priest and commander and leader of the Jews.”
1 Maccabees 13:41-42

Yet they were careful to show they did not claim the titles, or even divination ability, of prophets,

And they thought it best to tear it down, lest it bring reproach upon them, for the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until there should come a prophet to tell what to do with them.
1 Maccabees 4:45-46

And likewise, the title “King” is notably missing from the Maccabees’ executive roles

Thus the [gentile] king honored him and enrolled him among his chief friends, and made him general and governor of the province.
1 Maccabees 10:65

The Maccabees are High Priests, albeit priests that have come not to bring peace, but a sword.

 

The Books of the Maccabees provide continuity between the world of the Torah and those of the Epistles. Sometimes this is explicit, like the parallelism in all three, Abraham’s tested faith in God was credited to him as righteousness

But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Genesis 15:2-6

Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness?
1 Maccabees 2:52

For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.
Romans 4:3-5

Yet reading these books, of the brutal gentile persecution of the Jews and the equally ferocious response, we see a glimmer of something else. Between the clear love of the Maccabees

But they said to one another, “Let us repair the destruction of our people, and fight for our people and the sanctuary.”
1 Maccabees 3:43

and the humiliating ways they left their dead enemies outside Jerusalem

Then the Jews seized the spoils and the plunder, and they cut off Nicanor’s head and the right hand which he had so arrogantly stretched out, and brought them and displayed them just outside Jerusalem.
1 Maccabees 7:47

There is a sense something is missing. The Protestant Reformers who edited down the Bible, and excluded the Books of Maccabees, would answer that the errors demonstrate the Maccabees were not rightly guided, and these books are not Holy books.

How can circumcising the gentiles be righteous?

They forcibly circumcised all the uncircumcised boys that they found within the borders of Israel.
1 Maccabees 2:46

There is no historical doubt the Book of Deuteronomy was widely circulated at this time.  They seem to have missed some words

The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name. He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.
Deuteronomy 10:15-21

These priests spilled blood by the lakeful.

They took the city by the will of God, and slaughtered untold numbers, so that the adjoining lake, a quarter of a mile wide, appeared to be running over with blood.
2 Maccabees 12:16

But we remember the evils of the gentiles, even against innocent families

The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and cauldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, ‘And he will have compassion on his servants.’”
2 Maccabees 7:3-6

The gentiles are evil.  Perhaps it might take even more than a lake worth of blood to save them.

One could almost make a rosary out of the Books of the Maccabees. So much is here, but incomplete, or in the wrong order

The Savior of Israel, Blessed

When he saw that the army was strong, he prayed, saying, “Blessed art thou, O Savior of Israel, who didst crush the attack of the mighty warrior by the hand of thy servant David, and didst give the camp of the Philistines into the hands of Jonathan, the son of Saul, and of the man who carried his armor.
1 Maccabees 4:30

In the Wilderness, in the Wilderness

But Judas Maccabeus, with about nine others, got away to the wilderness, and kept himself and his companions alive in the mountains as wild animals do; they continued to live on what grew wild, so that they might not share in the defilement.
2 Maccabees 5:26-27

The Jews, before the Romans

Yet for all this not one of them has put on a crown or worn purple as a mark of pride, 15 but they have built for themselves a senate chamber, and every day three hundred and twenty senators constantly deliberate concerning the people, to govern them well. They trust one man each year to rule over them and to control all their land; they all heed the one man, and there is no envy or jealousy among them.
1 Maccabees 8:14-16

Tortured by the Gentiles

When he had said this, he went at once to the rack. And those who a little before had acted toward him with good will now changed to ill will, because the words he had uttered were in their opinion sheer madness. When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned aloud and said: “It is clear to the Lord in his holy knowledge that, though I might have been saved from death, I am enduring terrible sufferings in my body under this beating, but in my soul I am glad to suffer these things because I fear him.”

So in this way he died, leaving in his death an example of nobility and a memorial of courage, not only to the young but to the great body of his nation.
2 Maccabees 6:24-31

The Death of the Savior

“How is the mighty fallen,
the savior of Israel!”
1 Maccabees 9:19-21

The visit to Emmaus

And he said to those who were building houses, or were betrothed, or were planting vineyards, or were fainthearted, that each should return to his home, according to the law.

Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.
1 Maccabees 3:56-57

The Hastening after Pentecost

After the feast called Pentecost, they hastened against Gorgias, the governor of Idumea.
2 Maccabees 12:32

The Journey to Rome

They went to Rome, a very long journey; and they entered the senate chamber and spoke as follows: “Judas, who is also called Maccabeus, and his brothers and the people of the Jews have sent us to you to establish alliance and peace with you, that we may be enrolled as your allies and friends.”
1 Maccabees 8:19-20

But before we get carried away, we remember other things common in the Hebrew Bible, like the joy of weddings, and wedding parties

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Isaiah 61:10

and the Gospels

And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast. No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse. Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matthew 9:15

and see them go tragically wrong here

They raised their eyes and looked, and saw a tumultuous procession with much baggage; and the bridegroom came out with his friends and his brothers to meet them with tambourines and musicians and many weapons. Then they rushed upon them from the ambush and began killing them. Many were wounded and fell, and the rest fled to the mountain; and they took all their goods.
1 Maccabees 9:39-40

Theologically, the Books of the Maccabees are cited as precedent for prayers for the dead. Whatever the faults of the Maccabees clan, they agreed with a later High Priest that God is the God of the living, even those living in Sheol

On the next day, as by that time it had become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kinsmen in the sepulchers of their fathers. Then under the tunic of every one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was why these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous Judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to prayer, beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out. And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened because of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead
2 Maccabees 12:39-44

Those dead would be joined by others. The Maccabees rule lasted for a little over the century. The last High Priest of the line, Aristobolus III, would be killed as a youth.

Contemporary law would view the crime of drowning High Priest Aristobolus as a child-killing.  He was 17 when he was murdered.

This would have been news to another man, who may well have been the same age as Aristobolus.  If so Joseph of Nazareth would have heard this news before his future Mary was born.  And in the decades to come, at the birth of his foster-son, Joseph certainly remembered the murder of the last Maccabbee, the High Priest Aristobolus, and the man who killed him.

Herod.

The Confessions of Saint Augustine

On Friday I finished Confessions, by St. Augustine. Confessions was written not much closer to our time (around 1,400 years ago) than it was from the conquest of Israel (around 2,000 years before that). But it is a much more “modern” book. Except for its very wordy style, it feels very contemporary.  By the end of the book, I felt I knew him.

Confessions is really two works in one: an autobiography (complete with “daddy issues”) and a popularization of Christian theology. Augustine’s family seems to have been either upper middle class or lower upper class. He’s active in sports, somewhat slotthful in study, goes to another “state” (that is province) for what we’d call college, and hangs out with his friends a lot. He works as a lecturor, and some of his closest friends become mid-level government officials. His relationship with his dad is tricky, he and his mom seem to be great friends, and the only odd note is that it is in passing that he mentions his concubines (which seem to be paid for by his mom?). Perhaps the contemporary equivalent would be that his mom bought him a very nice car, and he’s active on tinder.

While the young Augustine is living his life, the cool, hip religion of Christianity is part of the social milieu. I kept being reminded of my friend’s description of the “California ideology” and new media, and kept visualizing all of these events happening in Los Angeles with some variety of Buddhism, or maybe the Talmud. In any case Augustine’s initially attracted to the “Manichaes,” an early heresy in Christianity which insisted the soul was all good, and thus evil came from a rival, weaker deity. In any case he eventually rejects this — evil decisions come from one’s own will, and its the will that needs to be turned — and the once great Manichean heresy leaves only one ruin… in China.

Besides this outline, three themes stood out at me. First, the popular theology sketched out by Augustine is remarkably preserved — CS Lewis write nearly the same thing, except much clearer. Second, the writing style is dramatically different than anything in the Bible — the “Greek” New Testament feels much closer to the Hebrew Bible than this. Third, Augustine repeatedly expresses a concern that I’ve heard from my own secular contemporaries, and strongly urges against literal readings of the Bible.  (He may even do this to excess.)

St. Augustine describes the Trinity as the Eternal Father, the only-begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Son, fully human and fully divine, is the mediator between man and God. In this sense he is uncontroversially “Christian”:

But the true Mediator, whom in Thy secret mercy Thou hast pointed out to the humble, and didst send, that by His example also they might learn the same humility that “Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” appeared between mortal sinners and the immortal Just One mortal with men, just with God; that because the reward of righteousness is life and peace, He might, by righteousness conjoined with God, cancel the death of justified sinners, which He willed to have in common with them. Hence He was pointed out to holy men of old; to the intent that they, through faith in His Passion to come, even as we through faith in that which is past, might be saved. For as man He was Mediator; but as the Word He was not between, because equal to God, and God with God, and together with the Holy Spirit one God.”

On the other hand, Augustine’s writing style is nothing like the Christian Bible’s. The Hebrew Bible, and the Christian New Testament, are designed for a world where reproducing text is expensive. There Scripture has explicit reference to people memorizing the complete text, and letters in the first century were passed between towns. This economy of words means in just one sentence, the heart can grasp at the wondrous

And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
Genesis 5:24

and the terrible.

Last of all, the mother died, after her sons.
2 Maccabees 7:41

Augustine, on the other hand, badly needs an editor. Even paragraphs with striking conclusions

For there is more than one way in which men sacrifice to the fallen angels.

Have incredibly long and drawn-out prologs. The earlier part of that paragraph, whose conclusion is so thought provoking, is tedious

Bear with me, my God, while I speak a little of ‘those talents Thou has bestowed upon me, and on what follies I wasted them. For a lesson sufficiently disquieting to my soul was given me, in hope of praise, and fear of shame or stripes, to speak the words of Juno, as she raged and sorrowed that she could not

“Latium bar. From all approaches of the Dardan king,”

which I had heard Juno never uttered. Yet were we compelled to stray in the footsteps of these poetic fictions, and to turn that into prose which the poet had said in verse. And his speaking was most applauded in whom, according to the reputation of the persons delineated, the passions of anger and sorrow were most strikingly reproduced, and clothed in the most suitable language. But what is it to me, O my true Life, my God, that my declaiming was applauded above that of many who were my contemporaries and fellow-students? Behold is not all this smoke and wind? Was there nothing else, too, on which I could exercise my wit and tongue? Thy praise, Lord, Thy praises might have supported the tendrils of my heart by Thy Scriptures ; so had it not been dragged away by these empty trifles, a shameful
prey of the fowls of the air

Even Augustine’s jokes are often buried. Here I highlighted an exchange worry of CS Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. Read it, if you can stay awake

Behold, I answer to him who asks, “What was God doing before He made heaven and earth?” I answer not, as a certain person is reported to have done facetiously (avoiding the pressure of the question), “He was preparing hell,” saith he, “for those who pry into mysteries.” It is one thing to perceive, another to laugh, these things I answer not. For more willingly would I have answered, “I know not what I know not,” than that I should make him a laughingstock who asketh deep things, and gain praise as one who answereth false things. But I say that Thou, our God, art the Creator of every creature; and if by the term “heaven and earth” every creature is understood, I boldly say, “That before God made heaven and earth, He made not anything. For if He did, what did He make unless the creature?” And would that I knew whatever I desire to know to my advantage, as I know that no creature was made before any creature was made.

Augustine has a scientific sensibility. He describes experiments meant to test astrology, which in those days was considered applied mathematics. He warns against literal readings, and presents a metaphorical view of the creation stories in Genesis that would get him kicked out of many conservative churches. And while the view what the Book of Jonah is a metaphorical comedy is well established, Augustine’s (apparent) allegorical reading of the Miracle of the Fishes and Loaves would be more controversial, and I will not comment more on that here

Therefore will I speak before Thee, O Lord, what is true, when ignorant men and infidels (for the initiating and gaining of whom the sacraments of initiation and great works of miracles are necessary, which we believe to be signified under the name of “fishes” and “whales”) undertake that Thy servants should be bodily refreshed, or should be otherwise succoured for this present life, although they may be ignorant wherefore this is to be done, and to what end; neither do the former feed the latter, nor the latter the former; for neither do the one perform these things through a holy and right intent, nor do the other rejoice in the gifts of those who behold not as yet the fruit

Confessions is full of Roman abstractions and science, but not the evocative world of the Hebrews. Angels appear only rarely, and stars only as natural objects. The various cosmic entities, such as the Prince of Persia or the Witch of Endor, seem to have no place here. Most alarming, Augustine looks forward to a sort of cosmic stasis, and a view of everlasting life perhaps closer to Buddhist nirvana than an everlasting feast

Who can unravel that twisted and tangled knottiness? It is foul. I hate to reflect on it. I hate to look on it. But thee do I long for, O righteousness and innocence, fair and comely to all virtuous eyes, and of a satisfaction that never palls! With thee is perfect rest, and life unchanging. He who enters into thee enters into the joy of his Lord, and shall have no fear, and shall do  excellently in the most Excellent. I sank away from Thee, O my God, and I wandered too far from Thee, my stay, in my youth, and became to myself an unfruitful land.

Our Lord declared himself the God of the living, not the dead. We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and hold Christ as the first fruits of that victory over unchanging death. May death have its perfect rest — that is, may death be thrown into the fire, the second death — and the living have the spirit, the inward-flowing air of changing organisms.

But these are minor matters. Augustine did not die for us, and never claimed to be our Lord. Rather, he is a fascinating man — sinner, rich kid, philosopher, and occasional troll — who followed in Paul’s steps and explained the Christian religion to the Romans. In the same way one can imagine the author of the Letter to the Hebrews speaking with Zadok the Priest, Augustine would have gotten along with — or at least enjoyed debating — Paul.

I listened to Confessions on unabridged audible.

The Minor Prophets

The Minor Prophets are twelve short books that mark the end of the Hebrew Bible. They were written over centuries, and bridge the gap between the Angelic War in Ezekiel and what comes next. In The Minor Prophets, the post-modern bomb left by Ezekiel goes off. Narrative is destroyed, and we see the pieces at the heart of everything.

But first, a joke.

But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jonah 3:8

Animals don’t wear sackcloth! It’s written for you!

And this is terror. It’s something that does happen. And it’s written for you!

I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs;
I will tear open their rib cage,
And there I will devour them like a lion.
The wild beast shall tear them.
Hosea 13:8

The New Religion is coming, the Everlasting King of Israel, a babe in Bethlehem

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” says the Lord.  “Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me to you.
Zechariah 2:10-11

And the old religion will not die. For the Calf woshipped in Samaria

The inhabitants of Samaria fear
Because of the calf of Beth Aven.
For its people mourn for it,
And its priests shriek for it—
Because its glory has departed from it.

“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
As they called them,

So they went from them;
They sacrificed to the Baals,
And burned incense to carved images
Hosea 11:1-2

is the son of a Bull, and the Heiffer Israel

“Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion;
For I will make your horn iron,
And I will make your hooves bronze;
You shall beat in pieces many peoples;
I will consecrate their gain to the Lord,
And their substance to the Lord of the whole earth.”
Micah 4:13

This sounds like a joke. Livestock is not worth saving!

And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left—and much livestock?”
Jonah 4:11

This also contains a joke. But with a metaphor that makes you reconsider others

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor,
Who crush the needy,
Who say to your husbands, “Bring wine, let us drink!”
Amos 4:1

And the same metaphor, except with no joke

The lion tore in pieces enough for his cubs,
Killed for his lionesses,
Filled his caves with prey,
And his dens with flesh.

“Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts, “I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.”
Nahum 2:12-13

In any case, the romance of the LORD embraces all of these things, the animal and the human alike

“And it shall be, in that day,”
Says the Lord,
“That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’
And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’

For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals,
And they shall be remembered by their name no more.

In that day I will make a covenant for them
With the beasts of the field,
With the birds of the air,
And with the creeping things of the ground.
Bow and sword of battle I will shatter from the earth,
To make them lie down safely.
Hosea 2:16-18

A romance where Israel is a beloved bride in one context, a cheap slut in another

My people ask counsel from their wooden idols,
And their staff informs them.
For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray,
And they have played the harlot against their God.
Hosea 4:12

And undoubtedly male in yet another

I will be like the dew to Israel;
He shall grow like the lily,
And lengthen his roots like Lebanon.
Hosea 14:5

A child can giggle when Jonah says Nope! and, in detail, does exactly the opposite of what he is commanded

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying,

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish
from the presence of the Lord.

He  went down to Joppa, and
found a ship going to Tarshish; so
he paid the fare, and
went down into it,

to go with them to Tarshish
from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah 1:1-3

A church lady might blush at some of the humor shared by the Spirit

Israel empties his vine;
He brings forth fruit for himself.
According to the multitude of his fruit
He has increased the altars;
According to the bounty of his land
They have embellished his sacred pillars.
Hosea 10:1

And sometimes His joke doesn’t seem funny at all

Be silent in the presence of the Lord God;
For the day of the Lord is at hand,
For the Lord has prepared a Sacrifice;
He has invited His guests.
Zephaniah 1:7

The most curious thing about the modern world is we cannot see the hidden side of the coin, we cannot that one is the complement of the other.

For this

For how great is its goodness
And how great its beauty!
Grain shall make the young men thrive,
And new wine the young women.
Zechariah 9:17

Implies this

“Thus says the Lord of hosts:

‘Old men and old women shall again sit
In the streets of Jerusalem,
Each one with his staff in his hand
Because of great age.

The streets of the city
Shall be full of boys and girls
Playing in its streets.’
Zechariah 8:4-5

Fruitfulness and salvation are assured.

I will whistle for them and gather them,
For I will redeem them;
And they shall increase as they once increased.
Zechariah 10:8

For some, at least

“They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts,
“On the day that I make them My jewels.
And I will spare them
As a man spares his own son who serves him.”
Malachi 3:17

The Old Religion of whatever testament was before the Hebrews, and religion described in the covenant to come after, blend together

The sun and moon stood still in their habitation;
At the light of Your arrows they went,
At the shining of Your glittering spear.

You marched through the land in indignation;
You trampled the nations in anger.

You went forth for the salvation of Your people,
For salvation with Your Anointed.
You struck the head from the house of the wicked,
By laying bare from foundation to neck. Selah
Habakkuk 3:11-13

The Second Temple, build by the Persians is not quite as good as the old one built by the Jews

In the seventh month, on the twenty-first of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying:  “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people, saying: ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple[a] in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing?
Haggai 2:1-3

But there will be another

“For thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Once more (it is a little while) I will shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land; and I will shake all nations, and they shall come to the Desire of All Nations, and I will fill this ` with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine,’ says the Lord of hosts.

‘The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘And in this place I will give peace,’ says the Lord of hosts.”
Haggai 2:6-9

A New Temple, Mount Zion, Deliverance

“But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance,
And there shall be holiness;
The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.
Obadiah 1:17

The Minor Prophets give us brief references to their past

He who builds His layers in the sky,
And has founded His strata in the earth;
Who calls for the waters of the sea,
And pours them out on the face of the earth—
The Lord is His name.
Amos 9:2-3

He took his brother by the heel in the womb,
And in his strength he struggled with God.

Yes, he struggled with the Angel and prevailed;
He wept, and sought favor from Him.
He found Him in Bethel,
And there He spoke to us—
Hosea 12:3-4

O My people, remember now
What Balak king of Moab counseled,
And what Balaam the son of Beor answered him,
From Acacia Grove to Gilgal,
That you may know the righteousness of the Lord.”
Micah 6:5

And even more, to their future

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting.”
Micah 5:2

And the rest quickly, so quickly…

“Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi 3:1

and

“Remember the Law of Moses, My servant,
Which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel,
With the statutes and judgments.

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet
Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Malachi 4:4-5

and

After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
Hosea 6:2

and

“And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
Joel 2:28

and

The earth quakes before them,
The heavens tremble;
The sun and moon grow dark,
And the stars diminish their brightness.
Joel 2:10

and

The sun shall be turned into darkness,
And the moon into blood,
Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.
Joel 2:31

In all vineyards there shall be wailing,
For I will pass through you,”
Says the Lord.

Woe to you who desire the day of the Lord!
For what good is the day of the Lord to you?
It will be darkness, and not light.
Amos 5:17-18

and

And in that day it shall be
That living waters shall flow from Jerusalem,
Half of them toward the eastern sea
And half of them toward the western sea;
In both summer and winter it shall occur.
Zechariah 14:8

… as if the work of ages could be completed in a moment, or a weekend.

In the Hebrew religion, the minor books are treated as a unity, known as The Twelve. The Twelve ends the Hebrew Bible. And within these books that act like chapters, onle one has a traditional narrative with a clear beginning, middle, and end. That is the light comedy these impressions started with… Jonah. And yet that short narrative it interrupted, by what appears to be a psalm

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the fish’s belly.

And he said:

“I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction,
And He answered me.
“Out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
And You heard my voice.

For You cast me into the deep,
Into the heart of the seas,
And the floods surrounded me;
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
Jonah 2:1-3

Amid the explosion of signs and symbols through the twelve, we remember a single sinner, crying from the dead.

Perhaps what comes next might be news to him.

That work is The Gospel According to Matthew.

The Book of Baruch and the Letter of Jeremiah

After the destruction of the Temple, the ritual spilling of blood stopped in Jerusalem. Four great prophetic books — known to us as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel, chronicled that awful event and its aftermath. We say awful, but it was designed by God. The LORD proceeded from Jerusalem on these four roads, calling the entire world to worship as He does so.

After passion of Christ, the ritual spilling of blood in Jerusalem was made presentable at all times. Four great accounts of the Gospel — known to us as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, chronicled that awful event and its aftermath. We say awful, but it was designed by God. The Lord proceeds to us on these four roads, calling the entire world to worship as He does so.

Such beautiful stories of the faith.

And then there’s Baruch.

Some of us ate the flesh of their sons
and others the flesh of their daughters.
Baruch 2:3


Baruch does not claim to be a prophet. The LORD is not quoted. Tradition states that Baruch himself was the personal secretary of Jeremiah, and this may well be the case.

This is the exile from the eyes of the people, who raise money and buy offerings and don’t really know what to do.

Then they wept, and fasted, and prayed before the Lord; they collected as much money as each could give, and sent it to Jerusalem to the high priest Jehoiakim son of Hilkiah son of Shallum, and to the priests, and to all the people who were present with him in Jerusalem.
Baruch 1:5-7

Baruch presents not a celestial stage, but a hateful reality that was real enough to those suffering in it.

Pray for the life of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, and for the life of his son Belshazzar, so that their days on earth may be like the days of heaven.
Baruch 1:11

To get the effect, imagine a world where the Nazis were triumphant. And a terribly reduced Jewish population was left, praying for the health of Adolf and Eva.

The purpose of Baruch was to help a Jewish population survive in an emergency, immediately after the destruction of the Temple. Just as Baruch contains not just theology, but also please to be wise (which is to say, cunning) in the Darwinian nightmare of Babylon

You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.

If you had walked in the way of God,
you would be living in peace for ever.
Baruch 3:12-13

This short book is only six chapters –at most. In some churches the sixth chapter is presented as The Letter of Jeremiah (written down by Baruch), a short piece emphasizing that the idols of the Babylonians are not themselves gods.

[The idols’] faces are wiped because of the dust from the temple, which is thick upon them. One of them holds a sceptre, like a district judge, but is unable to destroy anyone who offends it. Another has a dagger in its right hand, and an axe, but cannot defend itself from war and robbers. From this it is evident that they are not gods; so do not fear them.
Baruch 6:13-16

The closest parrallel to this disaster in the New Testament tradition is the Didache, a compilation of Christian events widely circulated in first century palestine. The purpose of Didache was help a Jewish population survive in an emergency, immediately after the killing of the Lord.

Be watchful for your life; let your lamps not be quenched and your loins not ungirded, but be ye ready; 2for ye know not the hour in which our Lord cometh.
Didache 16:4

As a Catholic, I’ve wondered why Baruch is accepted as part of the Scripture itself, while the Didache is considered more of an early church document, perhaps the first Papal Bull (some traditions state that the Didache was dictated by Peter). Barcuh grounds reality, after the four Great Prophets of the early Exile. Why were the Gospels not similarly grounded in the Bible by the Didache, and instead followed up by the continent-spanning Acts of the Apostles?

This is the closest I have to an answer: Baruch is a story of survival, but Acts is an adventure. Baruch is about huddling around a remnant, Acts is going out from a secure upper room.

And more than that. Baruch could only plee for the Lord to notice the faithful

O Lord, look down from your holy dwelling, and consider us. Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear;
Baruch 2:16

But at Pentecost, the Apostles knew He did much more than notice.

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
Acts of the Apostles 2:36-39

 

Review of “The Everlasting Man,” by G.K. Chesterton

The other day I finished The Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton is often compared to C.S. Lewis, and of Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man is closest in tone to Lewis’ The Abolition of Man. Indeed, I wonder if Lewis’ title is a play of Chesterton’s. For while Lewis considers what it would mean for man as a species to end, Chesterton concerns himself with a unique event in the history of man: the emergence of Christianity.

Chesterton is a Catholic author, but his argument here is effectively secular: before Christianity there were mythologies in the sense of epic stories about the gods, and there were philosophies that provided an outline of the universe and a moral framework, but no mythic philosophy. Plato may have talked about Forms, in other words, while the priests sacrificed to Zeus, but no serious attempt was to combine these concepts. Thus, the New Testament is truly new, the “good news” really is news, because while dictatorship, democracy, art, puns, cosmology, and all the rest reach beyond history, the combinations of the roles of the Priest and the Philosopher have a definite beginning, in first century Palestine

Chesterton admirably surveys eastern religions to argue for the universalism of the novelty of the New Testament. Here I think he succeeds. Hindus is a world of interweaving mythologies, not a moral system. Likewise, Buddhism or Confucianism are philosophies, but not religions. “Buddhism” is more religious than Confucianism,” but Chesterton emphasizes the Buddhist importance of letting go of attachments, and presents it as a personal philosophy that may be applicable regardless of the structure of the supernatural world. That is, a Buddhist who truly believed that everything was an illusion would also conclude that any fires of purgatory or fields of paradise were themselves part of a wheel of existence, a wheel that continues beyond mortal life. (Chesterton does not address “Salvation Vehicle” Buddhism, but would presumably argue that by adopting myth, it left behind philosophy.)

Several times Chesterton refers to the Jews as keeping the “Secret” of monotheism, and it is with the Jews that he could face the strongest counter-argument. Chesterton explicitly disregards Moses as a mythic figure because the Hebrew Bible repeatedly emphasizes that Moses was a man, not a divine being. Likewise, though Chesterton does not mention the Book of Job, I imagine he would exclude that Hebrew work because God only appears as a whirlwind, and Yamm and Leviathan only appear as allusions.

But it is in Genesis that the uniqueness of Christianity, with regards to Judaism, is most questionable. Because the LORD indeed walked the earth, he scolded Adam and Eve, he ate meat and drank milk with Abraham and Sarah. The strongest argument against that is that Genesis is speaking figuratively when it refers to the Divine on earth, while the New Testament speaks literally. But why should this be so? I suspect Chesterton is influenced by the mainline Jewish interpretation of Genesis, but the same devout critics who doubt God physically walked on Earth three-thousand years ago doubt He walked on earth two-thousand years ago, as well.

Even if you ultimately disagree with Chesterton, he’s well worth reading. He also contrasts events in such a way to give them a whole new dimension. The pagan god Ba’al is an old rival to the LORD among the Hebrews, of course, but it was the Grace of Ba’al who brought his elephants to trample the Romans. Both the Jews and the Romans were horrified at the sacrifice of children to the Phoenician gods. Of course, it would be the high priests and the civilian governor of those civilizations that would execute a greater sacrifice still.

I listened to The Everlasting Man on Audible.

The Book of Ezekiel

Angel attack!

The Book of Ezekiel is the most disturbing book of the Bible I read so far.

It begins grounded in reality, both the physical reality (where Ezekiel is among the captive elders of Israel) in the celestial reality (the Throne of God among the Angels). But the relentless power of heaven gives way to greater fury, and the destruction intensifies. Surrounding countries as well are condemned, the small and the great, until…

Well, it’s not clear until what. Nations of this world eventually fade into Gog and Magog, known geography transforms into something non-Euclidean. The other latter prophets end in ways that seem relatively normal — the promise of Salvation in Isaiah, the romantic comedy of Jeremiah, the despair of Lamentations.

Ezekiel appears to use the “distancing effect,” which is sometimes invoked in fiction to force the reader to confront a reality more real than what is on the stage, or the page. The other notable example of this in scripture is the Gospel of John, with its incantations of you… you… you… (The Gospel of John and the Revelation of John also gives us the only clue of what becomes of the threat posed by those Palm-like Angels. The Revelation also lets us say goodbye to Gog and Magog…)

The remainder of this post is me trying to grapple with these themes. I am aware I am missing much. For instance, the Threefold Office of Priest, Prophet, and King is held in part by Melchizedek (Priest and King), Saul (King and Prophet), and Ezekiel (Prophet and Priest). What is to be made of that?

Why can we identify with no one?

In the Old Religion of the Hieberu, the Stars were the celestial Department of Defense. Created by God the Father as part of the conquest of nothingness, they still served EL and bathed his enemies in fire. The stars fought for Jacob, and it was a star in human form that initiated this military-military alliance with the Israelites. We as humans see these hyperdimensional stars only in their dimensions that intersect our space-time, our “reality”: as the nuclear furnaces that light the night sky, as the military attache to the Twelve Tribes.

The Angels are the civilian counterparts to the Stars, the celestial State Department to the celestial Military. They include high-level diplomatic guards, messengers, and special operators. In our world the State Department subsumes the Central Intelligence Agency. In the Book of Ezekiel, the Angels conduct the greatest coup in the history of the world: the overthrow of the Kingdom of Israel, the desecration of the Temple, and the Babylonian Exile.

The Book of Isaiah made clear that Nebuchadnezzar is the LORD’s implement. The Book of Ezekiel shows how he used that asset: through his manipulative and murderous angels.

But first, before the wonder, the reality.

The King is in prison.
The priest is a captives.

Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I was among the captives by the River Chebar, that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God.
Ezekiel 1:1

The End is now

An end has come,
The end has come;
It has dawned for you;
Behold, it has come!
Ezekiel 7:6

This isn’t the humorous divorce satire of Jeremiah. This is the nightmare of Lamentations.

Then He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel do in the dark, every man in the room of his idols? For they say, ‘The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.’”
Ezekiel 8:12

The Angels directly achieve the destruction of Jerusalem. It is directly ordered by the LORD

To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city.
Ezekial 9:5-7

The killing is done off-camera

Just then, the man clothed with linen, who had the inkhorn at his side, reported back and said, “I have done as You commanded me.”
Ezekiel 9:11

Our poor narrator, Ezekiel the Priest and Prophet, is alone with his thoughts

So it was, that while they were killing them, I was left alone; and I fell on my face and cried out, and said, “Ah, LORD God! Will You destroy all the remnant of Israel in pouring out Your fury on Jerusalem?”
Ezekiel 9:8

Some thoughts on the nature of God are appropriate here.

Ezekiel takes the creation stories that we see in Genesis and Job, and twists them with the legal satire from Jeremiah. The LORD says to Israel, to the reader:

“And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
Ezekiel 16:6

The meaning may be the same as the famous Doxology

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;
Deuteronomy 30:19

but the tone is surely different. This is not an exhortation. This is come across a wounded traveler, a foreigner, kicking in his blood, and being disgusted by death. This echoes not Moses’s exhortation to live, but a parable spoken later.

Then Jesus answered and said: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion.
Luke 10:30-33

Certainly a spiritually dead priesthood would be familiar to Ezekiel the Priest

Disaster will come upon disaster,
And rumor will be upon rumor.
Then they will seek a vision from a prophet;
But the law will perish from the priest,
And counsel from the elders.
Ezekiel 7:26

And this is the crux of it. The hardest article of faith to accept is that The Unhuman God is not an Inhuman God. The Book of Ezekiel, with its angelic attack on the daughters of Eve, dwells on this horror.

Against all of that, we only have this:

Yet you say, ‘The way of the LORD is not fair.’ Hear now, O house of Israel, is it not My way which is fair, and your ways which are not fair?
Ezekiel 18:25

The truth of this statement is left as an exercise to the reader.

In the written Torah, God ate dinner with Abraham and his family. He spoke to Moses face-to-face, like a friend. In the New Testament, he is still a baby when he is seen by his mother, her spouse, and even the magi of Persia. He came eating and drinking, he ate dinners with Pharisees and with crowds.

But the LORD’s intention, in meeting face to face in the Book of Ezekiel, is not so friendly

“As I live,” says the LORD God, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face.
Ezekiel 20:33-35

Everything Israel tries to limit this attack fails. The angels are too effective. The magic charms may work, but only increase the fury

“Likewise, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart; prophesy against them, and say, ‘Thus says the LORD God: “Woe to the women who sew magic charms on their sleeves and make veils for the heads of people of every height to hunt souls! Will you hunt the souls of My people, and keep yourselves alive? And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies?”

‘Therefore thus says the LORD God: “Behold, I am against your magic charms by which you hunt souls there like birds. I will tear them from your arms, and let the souls go, the souls you hunt like birds. I will also tear off your veils and deliver My people out of your hand, and they shall no longer be as prey in your hand. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
Ezekiel 13:17-21

It is a measure of the despair of the Israelites that worship of Tammuz, the Living-and-Dying god, is taken up in the temple

And He said to me, “Turn again, and you will see greater abominations that they are doing.” So He brought me to the door of the north gate of the Lord’s house; and to my dismay, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz.
Ezekial 8:13-14

Tammuz cannot even save himself, spending half of each year in the underworld. To these women he was their best hope. A hope against Whom?

The Angel attack is comprehensive. It includes a specops disinfo campaign, in which the spirits the King of Babylon intends to communicate with are intercepted, and messages detrimental to Israel are inserted into the channel

The word of the LORD came to me again, saying:

“And son of man, appoint for yourself two ways for the sword of the king of Babylon to go; both of them shall go from the same land. Make a sign; put it at the head of the road to the city. Appoint a road for the sword to go to Rabbah of the Ammonites, and to Judah, into fortified Jerusalem.

For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the road, at the fork of the two roads, to use divination: he shakes the arrows, he consults the images, he looks at the liver. In his right hand is the divination for Jerusalem: to set up battering rams, to call for a slaughter, to lift the voice with shouting, to set battering rams against the gates, to heap up a siege mound, and to build a wall.

And it will be to them like a false divination in the eyes of those who have sworn oaths with them; but he will bring their iniquity to remembrance, that they may be taken.
Ezekiel 21:18-23

The Angelic weapons are made of fire

Then it happened, when He commanded the man clothed in linen, saying, “Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim,” that he went in and stood beside the wheels. And the cherub stretched out his hand from among the cherubim to the fire that was among the cherubim, and took some of it and put it into the hands of the man clothed with linen, who took it and went out. The cherubim appeared to have the form of a man’s hand under their wings.
Ezekiel 10:6

Angels are gigantic. What fits in their hands is large enough to destroy a nation

I will pour out My indignation on you;
I will blow against you with the fire of My wrath,
And deliver you into the hands of brutal men who are skillful to destroy.
You shall be fuel for the fire;
Your blood shall be in the midst of the land.
You shall not be remembered,
For I the Lord have spoken.’”
Ezekiel 21:31-32

And then, more terribly

“Woe to the bloody city!
I too will make the pyre great.
Heap on the wood,
Kindle the fire;
Cook the meat well,
Mix in the spices,
And let the cuts be burned up.
“Then set the pot empty on the coals,
That it may become hot and its bronze may burn,
That its filthiness may be melted in it,
That its scum may be consumed.
Ezekiel 24:10-11

And then, most terribly

“Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man’s bread of sorrow.”

So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.
Ezekiel 24:16-18

Let us step back for a second from the hell angels have brought to our world.

We can take a break, and laugh at a lewd joke

Elders of Gebal and its wise men
Were in you to caulk your seams;
All the ships of the sea
And their oarsmen were in you
To market your merchandise.
Ezekiel 27:9

The joke, written with the use of “in” to fly over the heads of children, is part of a litany against the nations, similar to Isaiah’s letter. In a few short lines Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Phlistia are condoned too. Tyre, the merchant city, comes up for castigating. Except there’s these… glitches.

“All who handle the oar,
The mariners,
All the pilots of the sea
Will come down from their ships and stand on the shore.
Ezekial 27:29

Another would stand by the shore of the sea….

And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.

He stood on the shore of the sea. And I saw a beast coming out of the sea. It had ten horns and seven heads, with ten crowns on its horns, and on each head a blasphemous name.
Revelation 12:17-13:1

And later, the Threefold Identification — that some lands, some angels, and some demons:

“You were the seal of perfection,
Full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.

You were in Eden, the garden of God;
Every precious stone was your covering:
The sardius, topaz, and diamond,
Beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold.
The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes
Was prepared for you on the day you were created.

“You were the anointed cherub who covers;
I established you;
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.

You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created,
Till iniquity was found in you.

“By the abundance of your trading
You became filled with violence within,
And you sinned;
Therefore I cast you as a profane thing
Out of the mountain of God;
And I destroyed you, O covering cherub,
From the midst of the fiery stones.
Ezekiel 28:13-16

After this the worldly litany continues.  Sidon is condemned.  Egypt is condemned.  The Pharaohs will see his soldiers in the deep.  The monsters are at work.

Yet, maybe there is hope? God will save the people. David will be a prince in the royal house once more

Therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will establish one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them—My servant David. He shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David a prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
Ezekiel 34:22-24

The imagery almost- — briefly — matches that of the romantic comedy in Jeremiah

Therefore thus says the LORD God: “I have raised My hand in an oath that surely the nations that are around you shall bear their own shame. But you, O mountains of Israel, you shall shoot forth your branches and yield your fruit to My people Israel, for they are about to come. For indeed I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, all of it; and the cities shall be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. 11 I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and better for you than at your beginnings. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.
Ezekiel 36:7-11

And then, not eros, but thanos — not romantic love, but dead bones:

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord
Ezekiel 37:4

Yet the dead shall come back

Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves.
Ezekiel 37:12-13

It feels like the ending, a glorious and wonderful promise.

Even the Royal Line of David will return!

“David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children’s children, forever; and My servant David shall be their prince forever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the Lord, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.”’”
Ezekiel 37:24-28

But what to make of these new enemies, not the Amalekites or the Sidonians, but lands never heard of on this world, Gog and Magog?

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.
Ezekiel 38:1-3

The wars exceed any known historical massacres, and are all against all

I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the LORD God. “Every man’s sword will be against his brother. And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
Ezekial 38:21-22

The substance of the angels — fire — directly consumes the weapons of men

“Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and bucklers, the bows and arrows, the javelins and spears; and they will make fires with them for seven years. They will not take wood from the field nor cut down any from the forests, because they will make fires with the weapons; and they will plunder those who plundered them, and pillage those who pillaged them,” says the LORD God.
Ezekiel 39:9-10

And once more, we may look upon God face to face… like a friend

then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the LORD God.”
Ezekial 39:28-29

The world — the prism through which we see reality at least — is now changed. The Temple somehow is back. Carved with angels and trees

And it was made with cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Each cherub had two faces, so that the face of a man was toward a palm tree on one side, and the face of a young lion toward a palm tree on the other side; thus it was made throughout the temple all around. From the floor to the space above the door, and on the wall of the sanctuary, cherubim and palm trees were carved.
Ezekiel 41:18-20

the stuff of nightmares in our world

With alters, two for three, somehow the numbers do not quite make sense

In the vestibule of the gateway were two tables on this side and two tables on that side, on which to slay
the burnt offering,
the sin offering, and
the trespass offering.
Ezekiel 40:39

In the old days of the Kingdom the bodies of the Kings would be on the hills outside Jerusalem, such as the Place of the Skull

And He said to me, “Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of My feet, where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever. No more shall the house of Israel defile My holy name, they nor their kings, by their harlotry or with the carcasses of their kings on their high places
Ezekiel 43:7

In the old days of the Kingdom the bodies of young bulls would be in the Temple inside Jerusalem, on Mount Zion

You shall give a young bull for a sin offering to the priests, the Levites, who are of the seed of Zadok, who approach Me to minister to Me,’ says the LORD God.
Ezekiel 43:19

In the new days, every day, the lamb will be made present, the bread is made present, the Holy Oil will be made present, as a sacrifice fo the LORD

“You shall daily make a burnt offering to the Lord of a lamb of the first year without blemish; you shall prepare it every morning. And you shall prepare a grain offering with it every morning, a sixth of an ephah, and a third of a hin of oil to moisten the fine flour. This grain offering is a perpetual ordinance, to be made regularly to the LORD. Thus they shall prepare the lamb, the grain offering, and the oil, as a regular burnt offering every morning.”
Ezekiel 46:-13-15

The Hebrews were shepherds and agriculturalists.  Kings and Warriors.  Yet in this depiction of the impossible and the incredible, the Kings and Alters and Sacrifices, a bizarre promise to a marginal population, that fishermen will be successful.

Why is this the penultimate promise?

And it shall be that every living thing that moves, wherever the rivers go, will live. There will be a very great multitude of fish, because these waters go there; for they will be healed, and everything will live wherever the river goes. It shall be that fishermen will stand by it from En Gedi to En Eglaim; they will be places for spreading their nets. Their fish will be of the same kinds as the fish of the Great Sea, exceedingly many.
Ezekial 47:9-10

Why are the stripes of the land, the lashes of Israel, the ultimate promise?

“Now these are the names of the tribes: From the northern border along the road to Hethlon at the entrance of Hamath, to Hazar Enan, the border of Damascus northward, in the direction of Hamath, there shall be one section for Dan from its east to its west side; by the border of Dan, from the east side to the west, one section for Asher; by the border of Asher, from the east side to the west, one section for Naphtali
Ezekial 48:1-3

(etc.)

What does God mean by any of this?

A last thought. One of the images above comes form the animated television show, Neon Genesis Evangelion (“The Gospel of a New Beginning.”) Evangelion and Ezekiel share a conceit of an angelic attack on the world, inexplicable destruction, sacrifice, and a style of writing sometimes known as “Epic” or “Brechtian.”

Both end in ways that make the ‘plot’ fade into meaningless. The everyday nations of Ammon and Egypt fade into Gog and Magog, as any semblance of a sane geography leaves to a river flowing from Zion and an Israel divided into twelve equal stripes. Similarly, the angelic monsters and human headquarters in Evangelion somehow fade into an infinite plane and a mysterious railroad car.

The reason for this form of writing, what Bertolt Brecht called the “distancing effect,” is to separate the audience from the main story. The main story is not your story. The purpose is not an emotional catharsis, but a change in the audience. The goal is reflection. When we read of Gog and Magog, when we see the infinite plane, or the railroad car, the point is to emphasize the passingness of the ‘main plot’ but the enduring, and perhaps corrupted, experience of the audience.

The reaction to Brechtian art, rather Evangelion or The Chinese or other such works, is often anger.  A story without a sensible catharsis is not fair, says the audience.  The director’s response is often a variation of, “it is the audience that is not fair!”

Reality itself is epic. And Ezekiel distances. The impossible ending, the reader’s infinite distance to the Sacrifice and the Priests, the Bull and carcass of the King, break our reality itself. The ending, Israel lashed and fisherman with large nets, barely makes sense (unless you read ahead).

It is the next time man meets the LORD, face to face, like a friend, that the palms are broken

The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:

“Hosanna!
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’[d]
The King of Israel!”
John 12:12-13

And in the end that is after all the ends of Ezekiel, all the ends of time, the stripes of Israel, the broken palms, God and His Lamb, are given to us together


of the tribe of Zebulun twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Joseph twelve thousand were sealed;
of the tribe of Benjamin twelve thousand were sealed.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Revelation 7:8-10