Friday, October 11, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 1 and My Own Article on "Genesis and John" (Part 3)

2 Maccabees 1 – The book begins with two letters; the first one is to the Egyptian Jews:

“May he give you all the heart to worship him, and to do his will, with a great heart and a willing soul. May he throw open your heart with his law and with his precepts, and may he create peace. May he heed your prayers and be reconciled to you and may he not forsake you in the evil time” (1:3-5).

And the second one is to Aristobulus, tutor to King Ptolemy. Aristobulus is known for his allegorical approach to the Pentateuch. It is an invitation to celebrate the dedication of the Temple in 164 BC [40 years older than the first letter]. It is hard for me to understand much of this, but it in part retells the story of the rebuilding of the Temple under Nehemiah [c.430 BC] and of how the light in the original Temple, hidden somehow – in the liquid naptha – in a dry well was rekindled in the Temple by just bringing it out and pouring it over the sacrifice and exposing it to the sun (1:22).

The prayer of Nehemiah is lovely: “O Lord God, Creator of all, terrible and strong, just and merciful, you alone are the good King. You alone are excellent, you alone are just, and all-powerful, and eternal, who frees Israel from all evil, . . . Receive the sacrifice on behalf of all of your people Israel, and preserve and sanctify your portion. Gather together our dispersion, free those who are in servitude to the Gentiles, and respect those who are despised and abhorred, so that the Gentiles may know that you are our God” (1:24-27).

“Genesis and John”
Part 3
I admit I became a little obsessed with this and went to the internet and tried to find out why Catholics hadn't given the "Second Adam" idea the same weight Friends had, and it led to a whole new discovery. I learned something very interesting. The passage at the center of this – Genesis 3:15 – was a foundational passage of the Church’s devotion to Mary (Mariology). OK, go slow.

Inquiry into this, I might add, has led me to be aware that this passage is a veritable quagmire of theological discussion. At bottom, the majority of Christians over the years have accepted the passage as a messianic prophecy. The interesting thing is that I don’t think any Christian group has given the passage more weight than early Friends. That Jesus was for “man” a Second Adam that gave us an ability to overcome all the consequences of “the fall” in a very real way IN THIS LIFE – including an end to the submission of woman to man, an end to the futility of life and expulsion from the spiritual garden that God intended this world to be – these are absolutely fundamental elements of the Quaker Christian vision and tradition.

But the Mary part – how did that come to be? And how come Quakers were not into that? It comes down to translations. The translation of 3:15 that I have in my Bible and that Fox had in his Bible [either the Geneva or the King James] was based on the Greek Septuagint [pre-Christian Jewish translation of the Torah from Hebrew to Greek]. Here the passage read, "I will put enmity between you [talking to the serpent] and the woman, and between your seed [offspring] and hers; He will crush/bruise your head, you (serpent) will bruise/strike his heel.” Most modern translations seem to use the word “offspring” rather than “seed” and this is important mainly because the text Fox used probably had “seed” and the idea of the “Seed” of Christ was one of the key terms Quakers used to refer to that indwelling presence of the redemptive power we should be living in. But the key thing here for the Second Adam idea is the use of the pronoun “He” which was seen by the early disciples and later by Fox as a prophecy of Christ’s role.

What happened though was that sometime in the late 4th, early 5th century AD, Jerome created a Latin version of the Old Testament texts but used some existing Hebrew texts as his main source, not the Greek Septuagint. The few changes he made in the Genesis passage 3:15 were influential in the growth of the devotion to Mary in the church. It wasn’t the only passage that seemed to justify it, but it was important. His translation used the feminine Latin pronoun instead of the masculine singular. In English it reads, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” So in the Catholic “take” on 3:15, the emphasis is on Mary as the New Eve, not Jesus as the Second Adam. The dispute about the passage is very interesting and continues to this day. But for me the issue is not so much which translation is exactly right but how did the people influential in my Christian life see the passage and how did it shape their theology.

It makes a lot of sense that God, in the story, would be talking about “the woman” and “the serpent” – they were the two He was talking to. But my inquiry into this also led me to a somewhat new and equally exciting new take on another related reference to Mary.

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