Category Archives: Faith

Impressions of “The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity,” by Taylor Marshall

2,000 years ago a Jew from Galilean regularly visited the Temple in Jerusalem. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover there. At home he would preach in a synagogue. His followers called him “rabbi.” He was executed on the authority of the Roman governor. After his death a convert to his cause spoke, saying “I am a pharisee.”

The man of course was Jesus. But the implications of this, that the one who Christians call the Son of God was himself Jewish, is often elided. It does not imply only that Jews are the elder broths in faith of the Christians. It means that to understand the words of Jesus as they would have been understood by those he spoke to, a Jewish interpretation of those words is needed. This is what Taylor Marshall gives to us in his short work, The Crucified Rabbi.

Marshall was formerly protestant minister (well, an Episcopal priest, which may be close enough). His extensive Biblical knowledge, and his late introduction to Catholicism, allows him to make connections that others would not see. (For what it’s worth, a Reform minister who read my reactions to Covenant and Creation and The Book of Kings made a mirror comment about me — I knew little enough about Reform thought to be surprising.) At his best, He defends both the Papacy and the Blessed Virgin in terms I’ve never encountered anywhere, and which have stayed with me. His discussion of baptism is interesting, though tends to a Protestant understanding of the sacraments. And when it comes to the matter of the Old Testament, Marhall is a dispensationalist, and attempts to bring this disreputable protestant theory into the Catholic mainstream.

The Royal Household

The most fascinating section is Marshall’s discussion of two offices of the Kingdom of Israel: the Royal Steward and the Queen Mother. A description of the first argument can be found in a post by Caritas et Veritas. The Royal Steward was Father to Jerusalem, and acted in the Name of the King when the King was physically not present among the people or otherwise indisposed. The Royal Steward was even capable of negotiating on behalf of the king

Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshake from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. And when they had called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to them. Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust?
2 Kings 18:17-19

The Royal Stewardship itself became an Office of Prophecy, as Isaiah foresaw the Messiah would re-establish that office as well. The Royal Steward will be clothed in the robes of the Messiah himself:

‘Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;

I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.

The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open
.

I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.
Isaiah 22:20-23

The Crucified Rabbi of the tittle appears to explicitly reference this:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:17-19

The implications are not necessarily obvious to non-Catholics: what is the Office of the Royal Steward, and what relevance would it have in Christianity are less discovered than the Bishop of Rome. But the answer may, perhaps by the same

A similar argument can of course made be for the Queen Mother, a position given both by biology and ceremony, both from thrones

Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established…

Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand. Then she said, “I desire one small petition of you; do not refuse me.”

And the king said to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”
1 Kings 2:19-20

and the cross

Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.”

Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”…

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.
John 19:4-5,26-27

Old and New Baptism

Marshall seeks Old Testament fore-runners of baptism, but I disagree with his conclusions here. Indeed, the fore-runner to the sacrament of baptism is found in the New Testament… the baptism of John!

According to the Catholic Church, the baptism of John the Baptist was not the sacrament of baptism, but a Jewish tevilah preparing the Jewish people for the advent of the Messiah. John the Baptist did not administer the Christian sacrament of baptism because he did not baptize in the Trinitarian name. Moreover, the Apostles received those who had received “only the baptism of John” (c.f. Acts 19:1-4). Saint Augustine wrote, “Those who were baptized with John’s baptism needed to be baptized with the baptism of the Lord.”

The two oldest versions of the Old Testament we have are the Masoretic Hebrew edition, and the Septuagint Greek edition. While Jewish now use the Masoretic text, and Christians historically preferred the Greek, both are incomplete: the Greek text seems to have been translated from an earlier edition than the Hebrew. Marshall’s focus on the Hebrew seems to have been intended for use in dialog between Catholics and Rabbinical Jews. Thus, some discussion of baptism that would be illuminating have been left out.

For instance, in all his discussions of the Hebrew roots of baptism, he does not include this passage, with the evocative term used in the Greek translation:

Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped [baptizein] seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
2 Kings 5:9-14

Christ explicitly references this, in the context of a wondrous baptism being given to a gentile but not the Jews:

And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrat
Luke 4:27-28

Instead, Marshall introduces concepts from rabbinical thought but with no obvious analogue in the New Testament, such as the Great Flood turning the world into a giant Jewish washing pool.

Dispensationalism

Easily the weakest theme of the book is Marshall’s attempt to shoehorn “Dispensationalism” into Catholicism. Dispensationalism is an anti-Judaic (and, on suspects, anti-Catholic) doctrine that the Bible is the record of God repeatedly changing his mind and revoking previous promises. At an extreme, Dispensationlists encourage us to ignore the words of Jesus, as they were a last-attempt to speak to the fallen Jewish people, and a new dispensation began with the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. As with the equally dubious covenant theology, the trick becomes identifying a unit of analysis (dispensation or covenant) within a text, even though neither has historic validity, and then using it to erase everything except the most recent dispensation or covenant.

Marshall does not hide this. The current dispensation began on Pentecost. Everything before this event is a dead letter if not ratified after it:

While the Old Covenant was consummated and perfectly fulfilled at the death and resurrection of Christ, the New Law of the gospel was not promulgated until Pentecost. It was on Pentecost that the New Testament and the need for baptism became absolutely binding and necessary. Pre-Pentecostal Judaism in expectation of the Messiah was the true religion instituted by God through Abraham. Post-Pentecostal Judaism is a dead letter — a religion unknown to the pges of Sciripture.

In summary, Jewish ethnicity in itself does not save. The Old Covenant is no longer salvific.

A Protestant summary of Dispensationalism which makes this more explicit is below. Note that shared focus on revoked dispensations, and that one of the dispensations revoked are the teachings of Christ:

Two problems here. The first is if the Pentecost began a new “dispensation,” and it is for that reason the old dispensations are no longer in effect, this new “church age” would include the sacrament of communion (which for protestant dispensationlists, is indeed the case), as these words were stated before Pentecost:

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Luke 22:19

As were the words of the first Maundy Thursday:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34

The second problem concerns Marhsall’s use of the phrase “no longer.” The Apostle Paul wrote that the Law always lead to death, in a way similar to Christian baptism:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Galatians 2:19-21

This is important: The Old Covenant was never salvific. That is why Christ died for us. Even the great patriarchs descended into the most pleasant parts of Hell. As Marshall writes:

Traditional Catholic teaching holds that Christ descended to “Abraham’s bosom” or Limbus Patrum — the pleasant abode of the netherworld where the Old Testament faithful waited for the coming of the Messiah. They could not yet ascend to the heavens, because Christ had not yet died on the cross.

From a legal perspective, Marshall’s dispensationalism can be rejected by looking at the history of the blood sacrifice. Elsewhere, Marshall writes “The Temple was the only place of sacrifice in the Old Covenant” — a period (or dispensation) presumably beginning shortly after the death of the first King of Israel, David, and ending on the occasion of the death of the last. Numerous blood rituals though are held outside the grounds of the Temple in Jerusalem:

Including gentile sacrifices, such as those by Job:

And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
Job 1:5

Including Jewish sacrifices, such as those by Moses:

And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”
Exodus 24:8

And the perfect sacrifice, the only one that could ever lead to eternal life and the resurrection of the dead

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new[c] covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Matthew 26:27-28

Catholicism teaches God does not revoke His promises. The Old Covenant is still in effect. But it was given to the Jews at Sinai. Some things were given to our older brothers but not to us.

We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
Pope Francis I, Evangelli Gaudium

I disagree with Marshall’s theory of revoked covenants as strongly as I thank him for introducing me to knowledge of the Royal Household. But both ideas are indicative of Marshall as a syncretic teacher, who has taken his protestant method of Biblical Analysis and tried to apply it in a Catholic frame.  This is too his credit.  Taylor Marshall writes an exhaustive blog on theological issues, if you’d like to have more familiarity with his methods and ideas.

I strongly recommend The Crucified Rabbi by Taylor Marshall. In Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote that reading of the Old Testament without understanding Judaism may do more harm than good, and The Crucified Rabbi is a good cure for this. It is a better explanation of the Old Testament than than Covenant and Creation, and more accessible to a lay reader than The Assembly of the Gods.

I read The Crucified Rabbi in the Kindle Edition.

Impressions of “Orthodoxy,” by G.K. Chesterton

I previously read The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) and The Everlasting Man (1925) by G.K. Chesterton, so I was interested in Orthodoxy (1908), his description of Christianity. Chesterton falls short of the St. Augustine’s Confessions (400) and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (1952). Additionally, and oddly, his description of Buddhism is odd, and as this was repeated two decaldes later in Everlasting, I wonder if he relied on some treasured, if incorrect, source. Yet the book is thought provoking, and was not a waste of time.

Confessions is the psychological autobiography of a rich kid finding himself, and finding God. Mere Christianity is an easy to read introduction to very common Christian ideas. Orthodoxy is neither of these. Very little about Chesterton or his life is discussed, but the tone of elevated and somewhat archaic. It feels like a document from another civilization, with rhetorical techniques that seem both clever and artificial.

The best parts of the work are those that tease Chesterton’s later work, The Everlasting Man. There’s some really funny lines about the press, showing that fake news and the quality of news media as the hobbies of the rich were also true a century ago.

This is the tone of fairy tales, and it is certainly not lawlessness or even liberty, though men under a mean modern tyranny may think it liberty by comparison. People out of Portland Gaol might think Fleet Street free; but closer study will prove that both fairies and journalists are the slaves of duty.

Unexpectedly, Chesterton also includes what appears to be an extended defense of the existence of ghosts, noting that the “scientific” conditions demanded by skeptics would fail to include many aspects of human society

The question of whether miracles ever occur is a question of common sense and of ordinary historical imagination: not of any final physical experiment. One may here surely dismiss that quite brainless piece of pedantry which talks about the need for “scientific conditions” in connection with alleged spiritual phenomena. If we are asking whether a dead soul can communicate with a living it is ludicrous to insist that it shall be under conditions in which no two living souls in their senses would seriously communicate with each other. The fact that ghosts prefer darkness no more disproves the existence of ghosts than the fact that lovers prefer darkness disproves the existence of love. If you choose to say, “I will believe that Miss Brown called her fiance a periwinkle or, any other endearing term, if she will repeat the word before seventeen psychologists,” then I shall reply, “Very well, if those are your conditions, you will never get the truth, for she certainly will not say it.” It is just as unscientific as it is unphilosophical to be surprised that in an unsympathetic atmosphere certain extraordinary sympathies do not arise. It is as if I said that I could not tell if there was a fog because the air was not clear enough; or as if I insisted on perfect sunlight in order to see a solar eclipse.

The exact same logic can be used ot defend the existence of “grey aliens” of course… who share many aspects with elves, or demons. This intersection between religion and the paranormal is a hidden theme of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams (2015). Similar themes appear in C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength (1945) and Michael Heiser’s The Facade, and the first half of Colin Wilson’s The Mind Parasites (1967).

Near the end of the book there is a comparison of Buddhist and Christian art. Or there would be one if it was accurate. Chesterton argues that Christian saints are always shown with their eyes open, and that in “Chinese temples,” the saints are always shown with their eyes closed

Even when I thought, with most other well-informed, though unscholarly, people, that Buddhism and Christianity were alike, there was one thing about them that always perplexed me; I mean the startling difference in their type of religious art. I do not mean in its technical style of representation, but in the things that it was manifestly meant to represent. No two ideals could be more opposite than a Christian saint in a Gothic cathedral and a Buddhist saint in a Chinese temple. The opposition exists at every point; but perhaps the shortest statement of it is that the Buddhist saint always has his eyes shut, while the Christian saint always has them very wide open. The Buddhist saint has a sleek and harmonious body, but his eyes are heavy and sealed with sleep. The mediaeval saint’s body is wasted to its crazy bones, but his eyes are frightfully alive. There cannot be any real community of spirit between forces that produced symbols so different as that. Granted that both images are extravagances, are perversions of the pure creed, it must be a real divergence which could produce such opposite extravagances. The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards. The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. If we follow that clue steadily we shall find some interesting things.

I’ve been in Chinese Buddhist temples, and this is simply incorrect. Buddhist and Catholic sculpture, in particular, often use the same trick of having the statue looking forward and down, so the viewer must kneel and look up to see the statue’s eyes. For example, consider Guanyin the Goddess of Mercy, an amalgamation of a traditional figure in Chinese religion with a historical disciple of the Buddha. The emotional impact to a Chinese Buddhist of looking up at Guanyin’s (the Goddess of Mercy’s) compassionate eyes must be similar to kneeling and looking up at the eyes of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Worse for Chesterton’s argument, just as Mary is often the character of dramatic performances (from nativity plays to more involved medieval passion plays), so is Guanyin. The extension of her many arms, to help every creature, is performed yearly in front of an audience of hundreds of millions on Chinese television (with her eyes open, of course).

Chesterton, attempting to show a difference between Christianity, raises a deeper question: why are non-Christian traditions so like shadows of Christian ideas?  One answer is that it is the devil mocking Christ. Another it is the King of the Universe making straight the way of the LORD. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued that such non-Christian depictions of Christian themes are simplified hagiophanies, appearances of the holy, “good dreams” whispered by the Holy Spirit.


Yet that comment about “tradition” brings up another point, and one Chesterton does not spend enough time on. Tradition is the democracy of the living and the dead. In the same way a federal government with checks and powers aggregates different factions to promote the general welfare, preventing any one from being a tyranny, tradition is a block on the tyranny of the age.

But there is one thing that I have never from my youth up been able to understand. I have never been able to understand where people got the idea that democracy was in some way opposed to tradition. It is obvious that tradition is only democracy extended through time. It is trusting to a consensus of common human voices rather than to some isolated or arbitrary record. The man who quotes some German historian against the
tradition of the Catholic Church, for instance, is strictly appealing to aristocracy. He is appealing to the superiority of one expert against the awful authority of a mob. It is quite easy to see why a legend is treated, and ought to be treated, more respectfully than a book of history. The legend is generally made by the majority of people in the village, who are sane. The book is generally written by the one man in the village who is mad. Those who urge against tradition that men in the past were ignorant may go and urge it at the Carlton Club, along with
the statement that voters in the slums are ignorant. It will not do for us. If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history or fable. Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

So, Orthodoxy is an odd book. In some ways its as inaccessible as Confessions and as impersonal as Mere Christianity. But it is thought provoking. I didn’t expect my review to tough on both UFOs and political philosophy, though here we are. It’d recommend Chesterton’s other books first, and C.S. Lewis before them, but Orthodoxy should be preserved, lest it is forgotten.

I listened to Orthodoxy on unadbridged audible.

The Second Book of Esdras

Recently I read — well, I’m not sure what it’s called. Let’s back up.

Traditionally the book I read would be called 4 Esdras, or the Fourth Book of Ezra. But Protestant, and then English-language Catholic translations, renumbered a series of books, 1 Esdras became Ezra, 2 Esdras became Nehemiah, 3 Esdras became 1 Esdras, and 4 Esdras became 2 Esdrass So 2 Esdras may either mean this book, or the Book of Nehemiah. Further, this book is so obviously a triptych that its parts are sometimes broken up, with the middle called 4 Esdras or 4 Ezras the first two chapters called 5 Esdras, and the last two called 6 Esdras. The part called 4 Esdras in that naming scheme corresponds to Ezra Salathiel in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Some churches call it 3 Ezras.

But the Revised Standard Version and the 1611 King James Bible both call it 2 Esdras. So that’s what I’m going with. The Second Book of Esdras.

The Second Book of Esdras is supposedly narrated by Ezra, whose inter-office memos with the Emperor of Babylon are recorded in the Book of Ezra and who is often considered to be the final editor of the Five Books of Moses. Most churches consider 2 Esdras to be Apocryphal. 2 Esdras even less accepted than the Prayer of Manasseh, though the core of bulk of 2 Esdras is at least more widely adopted than the Ethiopian-Orthodox-only Book of Enoch. There’s disputes over what portions were written by Christians under Roman rules, and what portions were written under Pharisees under Roman rule. Considering that many Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus, considered themselves Christians, there may not be much of a difference.

There are three sections, each of which deal with God’s judgment on Israel. The first and last are apocalypses. The middle section — longest of the three — is a dialogue on the presence of suffering and the vision of woman.

Now, from the end the beginning. First, the last:

Many images in 2 Esdras are shared with the New Testament, such as the seeds in the field

Woe to those who are choked by their sins and overwhelmed by their iniquities, as a field is choked with underbrush and its path overwhelmed with thorns, so that no one can pass through
2 Esdras 16:77

Which recalls the parable of the sower

And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.
Matthew 13:3-7

But not all the parables are passables. Images of the Holocaust — the burnt offering — of the mid 20th century come to mind

As in an olive orchard three or four olives may be left on every tree, or as when a vineyard is gathered some clusters may be left by those who search carefully through the vineyard, so in those days three or four shall be left by those who search their houses with the sword…. They shall be like mad men, sparing no one, but plundering and destroying those who continue to fear the Lord. For they shall destroy and plunder their goods, and drive them out of their houses.
2 Esdras 16:29-31, 71-72

The author was not the first to use holocaust imagery in this way:

The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu (1928)

Within this context, the command not to be anxious of physical things

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Matthew 6:31-34

Puts on the airs of an escape from a burning city

Hear my words, O my people; prepare for battle, and in the midst of the calamities be like strangers on the earth. Let him that sells be like one who will flee; let him that buys be like one who will lose; let him that does business be like one who will not make a profit; and let him that builds a house be like one who will not live in it; let him that sows be like one who will not reap; so also him that prunes the vines, like one who will not gather the grapes;
2 Esdras 16:40-43

There’s one line that I want to highlight. I’ll return to the theme later.

Just as a respectable and virtuous woman abhors a harlot, so righteousness shall abhor iniquity, when she decks herself out, and shall accuse her to her face, when he comes who will defend him who searches out every sin on earth.
2 Esdras 16:49-50

Next, the first:

The physical nightmare at the end of 2 Esdras is matched by promises of a nightmare at the beginning. God condemns Israel and announces a blood price will be due

Thus says the Lord Almighty: Have I not entreated you as a father entreats his sons or a mother her daughters or a nurse her children, that you should be my people and I should be your God, and that you should be my sons and I should be your father? I gathered you as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. But now, what shall I do to you? I will cast you out from my presence. When you offer oblations to me, I will turn my face from you; for I have rejected your feast days, and new moons, and circumcisions of the flesh. I sent to you my servants the prophets, but you have taken and slain them and torn their bodies in pieces; their blood I will require of you, says the Lord.
2 Esdras 1:28-32

But (in a hint at what the last section is missing), there is still time of repentance

Rise and stand, and see at the feast of the Lord the number of those who have been sealed. Those who have departed from the shadow of this age have received glorious garments from the Lord. Take again your full number, O Zion, and conclude the list of your people who are clothed in white, who have fulfilled the law of the Lord. The number of your children, whom you desired, is full; beseech the Lord’s power that your people, who have been called from the beginning, may be made holy.”
2 Esdras 2:38-41

And the Son of God himself will be coming with palms.

I, Ezra, saw on Mount Zion a great multitude, which I could not number, and they all were praising the Lord with songs. In their midst was a young man of great stature, taller than any of the others, and on the head of each of them he placed a crown, but he was more exalted than they. And I was held spellbound. Then I asked an angel, “Who are these, my lord?” He answered and said to me, “These are they who have put off mortal clothing and have put on the immortal, and they have confessed the name of God; now they are being crowned, and receive palms.” Then I said to the angel, “Who is that young man who places crowns on them and puts palms in their hands?” He answered and said to me, “He is the Son of God, whom they confessed in the world.” So I began to praise those who had stood valiantly for the name of the Lord. Then the angel said to me, “Go, tell my people how great and many are the wonders of the Lord God which you have seen.”
2 Esdras 2:42-48

The Messiah, when he comes, will not change a single letter of the law, but apply it to all people

What shall I do to you, O Jacob? You would not obey me, O Judah. I will turn to other nations and will give them my name, that they may keep my statutes.
2 Esdras 1:24

Though perhaps not all promises are kept. The Father condemns…

Because you have forsaken me, I also will forsake you. When you beg mercy of me, I will show you no mercy. When you call upon me, I will not listen to you; for you have defiled your hands with blood, and your feet are swift to commit murder.
2 Esdras 1:25-26

… but the Son will intercede.

And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!”
Luke 23:33-35

The heart of the story:

The heart of 2 Esdras begins with Ezra complaining to God about cruelty and injustice. If God hates Israel enough to destroy Jerusalem (poetically by the Babylonians, and against by the Romans), He really just should torture her directly and stop using intermediaries:

If thou dost really hate thy people, they should be punished at thy own hands.”
2 Esdras 5:30

And in the darkest moments, as with Job, the “original” horror of Thomas Ligotti

No other life forms know they are alive, and neither do they know they will die. This is our curse alone. Without this hex upon our heads, we would never have withdrawn as far as we have from the natural—so far and for such a time that it is a relief to say what we have been trying with our all not to say: We have long since been denizens of the natural world. Everywhere around us are natural habitats, but within us is the shiver of startling and dreadful things. Simply put: We are not from here. If we vanished tomorrow, no organism on this planet would miss us. Nothing in nature needs us.”
Thomas Ligotti, The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2012)

seems plagiarized

I replied and said, “O earth, what have you brought forth, if the mind is made out of the dust like the other created things! For it would have been better if the dust itself had not been born, so that the mind might not have been made from it. But now the mind grows with us, and therefore we are tormented, because we perish and know it. Let the human race lament, but let the beasts of the field be glad; let all who have been born lament, but let the four-footed beasts and the flocks rejoice! For it is much better with them than with us; for they do not look for a judgment, nor do they know of any torment or salvation promised to them after death. For what does it profit us that we shall be preserved alive but cruelly tormented? For all who have been born are involved in iniquities, and are full of sins and burdened with transgressions. And if we were not to come into judgment after death, perhaps it would have been better for us.”
2 Esdras 7:62-69

(Ligotti’s seconday claim in the above passage, that “We are not from here,” may also plagiarized, c.f. Philippians 3:20)

As in the Book of Job the question is not addressed: God emphasizes that Ezra does not understand all the facts.

And he said to me, “If I had asked you, ‘How many dwellings are in the heart of the sea, or how many streams are at the source of the deep, or how many streams are above the firmament, or which are the exits of hell, or which are the entrances of paradise?’ Perhaps you would have said to me, ‘I never went down into the deep, nor as yet into hell, neither did I ever ascend into heaven.’ But now I have asked you only about fire and wind and the day, things through which you have passed and without which you cannot exist, and you have given me no answer about them!”
2 Esdras 4:4-9

Just as angels do not understand all the facts

He answered me and said, “Concerning the signs about which you ask me, I can tell you in part; but I was not sent to tell you concerning your life, for I do not know.
2 Esdras 4:52

Though even here, Ezra’s reply is subversive

And he said to me, “You cannot understand the things with which you have grown up; how then can your mind comprehend the way of the Most High? And how can one who is already worn out by the corrupt world understand incorruption?” When I heard this, I fell on my face and said to him, “It would be better for us not to be here than to come here and live in ungodliness, and to suffer and not understand why.”
2 Esdras 4:10-12

It is through this question of whether it was better never to have been, that we see the heart of the Second Book of Esdras. For the persecution fo all Israel prefigures the persecution fo the King of Israel, the nation of the Only Begotten Son

And now, O Lord, behold, these nations, which are reputed as nothing, domineer over us and devour us. But we thy people, whom thou hast called thy first-born, only begotten, zealous for thee, and most dear, have been given into their hands. If the world has indeed been created for us, why do we not possess our world as an inheritance? How long will this be so?”
2 Esdras 6:57-59

And it is this, the persecution of Israel as prefiguring the suffering of Christ, that makes one think: who else was there

Here I return to that line from earlier, that a virtuous woman despise a harlot. For Ezra encounters a woman in a vision. Ezra sees her weeping over her son, who died on his wedding day. After praying for “30 years,” which are later explained to mean 30 centuries, the woman says:

And I brought him up with much care. So when he grew up and I came to take a wife for him, I set a day for the marriage feast.
“But it happened that when my son entered his wedding chamber, he fell down and died. Then we all put out the lamps, and all my neighbors attempted to console me; and I remained quiet until evening of the second day. But when they all had stopped consoling me, that I might be quiet, I got up in the night and fled, and came to this field, as you see. And now I intend not to return to the city, but to stay here, and I will neither eat nor drink, but without ceasing mourn and fast until I die.”
2 Esdras 9:46-47, 10:1-4

The preceding passage describing “my son” is not from the weeping woman, but from the Father

For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years. And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. And the world shall be turned back to primeval silence for seven days, as it was at the first beginnings; so that no one shall be left. And after seven days the world, which is not yet awake, shall be roused, and that which is corruptible shall perish. And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who dwell silently in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them.
2 Esdras 7:28-32

To us the Second Book of Esdras is literature, not scripture, an ancient CS Lewis tale. So we don’t need to wonder if there’s an inversion going on, if the 3,000 years of prayer of the woman mean the 3,000 daylight hours of pregnancy, or if the 40 decades of the Messiah being revealed are the 40 months of Christ’s public ministry. (Though as most authorities believe 2 Esdras was written after the crucifixion, such an accounting does not require a supernatural intervention.)

Rather, we see that what appears to be a couplet (the mother of the Messiah, and the Father of the Messiah), is in fact interrupted by an explanation of an angel of what the image means. According to the angel, the woman is Zion, Israel, the mother of Jerusalem

This woman whom you saw, whom you now behold as an established city, is Zion. And as for her telling you that she was barren for thirty years, it is because there were three thousand years in the world before any offering was offered in it. And after three thousand years Solomon built the city, and offered offerings; then it was that the barren woman bore a son. And as for her telling you that she brought him up with much care, that was the period of residence in Jerusalem. And as for her saying to you, ‘When my son entered his wedding chamber he died,’ and that misfortune had overtaken her, that was the destruction which befell Jerusalem
2 Esdras 10:44-48

Israel is not ever-virgin. She’s a harlot. She’s whored after idols. Israel was sued for divorce by God in Jeremiah! There was a deposition!

“Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see:
Where have you not lain with men?
By the road you have sat for them
Like an Arabian in the wilderness;
And you have polluted the land
With your harlotries and your wickedness.
Jeremiah 3:2

The Messiah is associated with two women, Mary and Israel

One ever-virgin. The other a whore.
One Queen of Angels. The other beaten by angels.
One taken up to heaven. The other still dwelling on earth.
One saved from sin before time. The others sins paid for with blood.

But both women awaited the Messiah, Israel and Mary. Both were present at his death. The foreign men required the groaning of the earth to recognize the Son of the Man. The women knew it already

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Matthew 27:54-56

Mary and Israel, Christianity and Judaism. Two sides of the triptych of the Second Book of Esdras, beginning and ending with Christianity imagery, but centered on the hope of the Son of David. The Lion will guide them both home

 “And as for the lion whom you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all his words that you have heard, this is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David, and will come and speak to them; he will denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will cast up before them their contemptuous dealings. For first he will set them living before his judgment seat, and when he has reproved them, then he will destroy them. But he will deliver in mercy the remnant of my people, those who have been saved throughout my borders, and he will make them joyful until the end comes, the day of judgment, of which I spoke to you at the beginning
2 Esdras 12:31-34

As the Lord says

He said to me, “I shall liken my judgment to a circle; just as for those who are last there is no slowness, so for those who are first there is no haste.”
2 Esdras 5:42

Which is to say

So the last will be first, and the first last.”
Matthew 20:16

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.