Friday, October 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 12 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 10)

2 Maccabees 12 – While there is this new pact of peace made with the Jews, some governors – Timothy, Apollonius, Hieronymus, Demophon and Nicanor, still will not let them live in peace.

It isn’t long before there is another assault on the people - an unexpected drowning of people in Joppa. Judas takes revenge and then goes on to head off a similar assault on the Jews of Jamnia. Clearly, as he sees it the whole campaign embodies a recommitment of the Jews to their God. They believe in the resurrection of the body. Offerings for the dead are made so that they might be released from their sins. This is almost like the idea of a purgatory.

Judas and his men pursue all of the governors who refuse to join in the terms of peace. He is successful in all his battles and takes a terrible toll on his enemies towns. At Casphin, a city “inhabited by a crowd from many different nations” (12:13), he “made a slaughter without number, so much so that an adjoining pool, two stadia in width, was seen to flow with the blood of the slain” (12:16). These words are always hard to take in the scripture narrative; there must have been some innocent among the slaughtered.

Judas’ enemies are stricken with fear. He wreaks havoc on a number of populated cities. At Scythia, they learn that the inhabitants of the city have been kind to the Jews, so they do not assault them. At the end, the Jews return to Jerusalem for the “solemn days of the seven weeks were underway” (12:31). After Pentecost, the march against Gorgias, the leader of Idumea [or Jamnia]. After the battle, they find “some of the treasures of the idols that were near” (13:40) hidden amongst the remains. They see this as the reason for their success. It is confusing here. Clearly Gorgias is a Seleucid governor who was attacked for mistreating Jews under his authority, but the treasure found must have been associated with the Jews of the town – otherwise it is hard to understand why he would react as he does.

“So then, turning themselves to prayers, they petitioned him that the offense which had been done [by their compatriots??] would be delivered into oblivion. And truly, the very strong Judas exhorts the people to keep themselves without sin, since they had seen with their own eyes what and happened because of the sins of those who were struck down” (13:42). He send 12,000 drachmas of silver to Jerusalem to make a “sacrifice for the sins of the dead thinking well and religiously about the resurrection, for if he had not hoped that those who had fallen would be resurrected, it would have seemed superfluous and vain to pray for the dead” (13:43-44).

It is interesting to see the beginnings of a belief in the resurrection of the dead here so late in the narrative. I am not sure what I think when it comes to this. I tend to be somewhat analytical about things; I see the increasing faith in the “afterlife” and in the “resurrection of the dead” as ways of solving the problem of justice in this existential reality we must deal with. It is so clearly not something we can see solely within the parameters of the short lives we have.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 10
The question of racial equality did not really confront Friends until they began to travel to those parts of the world where slavery was practices. While Fox made it clear that Friends who were slave owners should exercise kindness and teach their slaves the gospel, he clung to the biblical letter here and did not see slavery as a fundamental offense against the gospel of Christ.

John Woolman, in eighteenth-century America, would be the one to lead Friends to the insight that any participation in the institution of slavery was inconsistent with Christian practice.

Modern Friends found early Friends’ testimonies about sex and race very meaningful, but not for the same reasons. Modern Friends’ testimony is based much more on the values and principles of the Enlightenment than on any principle early Friends articulated. The problem with that did not become entirely clear to me until some years later when I thought through some of the dilemmas modern feminism was causing us in the Society.

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