Saturday, February 9, 2013

Genesis 33-34 and The Martyrdom of Polycarp 17-End

Genesis 33 – When Jacob sees Esau coming with his 400 men, he divides his family up in a way that is especially protective of Rachel, putting her last in the line approaching his feared brother, Esau. 

He goes ahead of everyone and bows down to his brother seven times, hoping to make peace with him. He [and we] are surprised when Esau runs “to meet him and embrace him, [throwing] his arms around his neck and [kissing] him” (33:3).  They weep in each other’s arms.

Esau tries to refuse the gifts Jacob offers him, and it is interesting what Jacob says to him: “please accept this gift . . .since to come into your presence is for me like coming into the presence of God, now that you have received me so kindly” (33:10).  What he intended as gifts to assuage Esau’s wrath, he desires now to give as gifts of thanksgiving.  Esau’s face is like the face of God because it is the face of love and forgiveness.

So, Jacob passes back over into Canaan and buys land in Shechem from the children of Hamor. He builds another altar here and names it “El-Elohe-Israel [God, the God of Israel]” (33:20).

Genesis 34 - The first story we have after this tale of love and forgiveness between Jacob and his brother is a story of violence and sexual depravity—the land of Canaan is always associated with these vices. 

Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, is raped by a man named Shechem, son of Hamor, the chief of the region called Shechem.  Hamor tries to rectify the situation by arranging for the marriage of his offending son to Dinah, but Jacob’s children—especially Simeon and Levi, the angry ones who are Dinah’s full brothers, plan revenge and not only revenge but a revenge that is taken in the context of Hamor’s clan accepting the rite of circumcision (34:15).  Three days after all the men of the town have been circumcised, Simeon and Levi enter the town and “slaughter every male there, including Hamor and his son Shechem” (34:25-26).

The other sons of Jacob arrive and plunder the town, seizing all the flocks, “everything they could lay their hands on, both inside the town and outside in the fields. They looted all their wealth and plundered their houses. They also took all their little children and wives and led them away as captives” (34:27-29). This is really a pretty horrendous act of violence.

And Jacob reacts weakly to it; he is most concerned with how he and his family will be seen the people of this land. But Simeon and Levi argue that they couldn’t let them treat Dinah as if she were a prostitute, but the act is really bad in his mind.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp
Chapter 17 – The Roman authorities do not give the Christians permission to take away the body of Polycarp, and the writer interprets the way the authorities deal with the issue as a something inspired by the “jealous and envious Evil One” (130).

Nicetas, the father of Herod, tells the governor of the province that if they release the body, Christians might “take to worshipping this fellow [Polycarp] instead [of Christ]” (130).  The author attributes this all to Jews whom he sees as behind the local push to persecute Christians. They are perhaps reacting to the growing trend among Christians to revere the “hallowed relics” of their martyrs.

“Little do they know that it could never be possible for us to abandon the Christ who died for the salvation of every soul that is to be saved in all the world . . . It is to Him, as the Son of God, that we give our adoration; while to the martyrs, as disciples and imitators of the Lord, we give the love they have earned by their matchless devotion to their King and Teacher” (131).

Chapter 18 – When “the centurion saw that the Jews were spoiling for a quarrel” (131), they took the body and burned it to ashes. Christians “gather up his bones – more precious to us than jewels, and finer than pure god” (131); they lay them in a secure place where they will later meet and “celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom” (131). This will brings some peace to the community and also prepares them for further trials.

Chapter 19 – Polycarp is said to be the twelfth in Smyrna to be martyred. But he “is the only one to be singled out for universal remembrance and to be talked of everywhere, even in heathen circles” (131). His example is special because he was a famous doctor and also because his martyrdom – the details of it – were so fully like the details of Christ’s death in the gospels.

Chapter 20 – These last sections are mostly an extended goodbye. The writer notes that he is aware they wanted a fuller account than perhaps he’s given, but Marcion provided what has been shared. He encourages them to pass the account along after they are finished reading it so that others too may “glorify the Lord who singles out His chosen saints from among the number of His bondsmen” (131).

The letter is signed by the scribe Evarestus.

Chapter 21 – Polycarp’s date of death is given, but there is some dispute about its accuracy. The names of the officials are given who were responsible for Polycarp’s arrest [Herod], the High Priest [Philip of Tralles], the proconsul [Statius Quadratus] “but the ruling monarch was Jesus Christ, who reigns for ever and ever. To him be ascribed all glory, honor, majesty, and an eternal throne from generation to generation. Amen” (132).

Chapter 22 – Farewell. “Order your lives by the word of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit) for the salvation of His holy elect; even as did Polycarp the Blessed in his martyrdom. May it be our lot to be found following in his footsteps in the kingdom of Jesus Christ” (132).

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