Monday, October 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 14-15 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 12)

2 Maccabees 14 – Around 161 BC, Judas learns that the son of Antiochus Epiphanes who should have succeeded his father – Demetrius – has been released by the Romans and had arrived at the port of Tripolis with a strong army and a fleet of ships. He had killed his brother Antiochus V and Lysias.

A “former high priest” one Alcimus, approached the new king and present him “with a olden crown and a palm, together with the traditional olive branches from the Temple” (14:4), presumably to get on his good side.  When Demetrius calls him to learn of the “dispositions and intentions of the Jews, he replied, ‘Those Jews called Hasidaeans, who are led by Judas Maccabaeus, are warmongers and rebels who are preventing the kingdom from finding stability’” (14:6).

Together with others around Demetrius who hate Judas, a plan is hatched to send Nicanor as “military commissioner for Judaea” to “dispose of Judas, disperse his followers and install Alcimus as high priest of the greatest of temples. The pagans in Judaea, who had fled before Judas, flocked to join Nicanor” (14:13-14).

When the Jews hear these men are coming, “the sprinkled dust over themselves sand made supplication to his who had established his people for ever and had never failed to support his own heritage by his direct intervention” (14:15). Things turn out well for Judas. Nicanor send representatives to offer the Jews a pledge of friendship and a treaty is concluded that undermines Alcimus’ plan. “Nicanor took up residence in Jerusalem and did nothing out of place there . . . He kept Judas constantly with him, becoming deeply attached to him and he encouraged him to marry and have children” (14:23-24). A Jerusalem Bible note says that the outcome here is at variance with 1 Maccabees 7:27 that focuses on there being a “clash” between Judas and Nicanor.

Alcmius tries to get the king to turn on Judas and Nicanor and appears to succeed. Demetrius writes to Nicanor expressing displeasure at the treaty and telling him to break it. Nicanor does not want to turn on Judas but he must obey his king. He eventually demands that Judas be handed over to him and threatens to destroy the sanctuary if they do not do this. The priests respond by turning again to God for help. One of the elders of the Jews, a man named Razis, is threatened with arrest, but he falls on his own sword rather than permit himself to be seized. His death is not quick, and they describe it in some detail.

2 Maccabees 15 – When Nicanor hears that Judas and his men are near Samaria, he plans to attack them on the Sabbath. The Jews who were forced to be with him challenge him not to behave in a savage way on this special day. He challenges their arguments, but does not succeed in carrying out the “savage plan” he had started with (15:5).

Nicanor plans to “erect a public trophy with the spoils taken from Judas and his men,” (15:6), “a cairn stacked round with the arms of enemies fallen in battle” (717). Judas urges his men not to be afraid. “He put fresh heart into them, citing the Law and the Prophets, and by stirring up memories of the battles they had already won” (15:9). He relates again the treachery they had endured from the Seleucids, and arms his men “not so much with the safety given by shield and lance as that confidence that springs from noble language” (15:11). He tells them of a dream he’s had, a vision of “Onias stretching out his hands and praying for the whole nation of the Jews” (15:12). Onias introduces the Prophet Jeremiah, a man highly regarded by the Jews of this period. “Jeremiah . . . stretched out his right hand and presented Judas with a golden sword, saying as he gave it, ‘Take this holy sword as a gift from God; with it you shall strike down enemies’” (15:15-16).

Judas thus inspires his men. They face an enemy well deployed with elephants and cavalry. Judas raises his hands and calls on the Lord “who works miracles, in the knowledge that it is not by force of arms, but as he sees fit to decide, that victory is granted by him to such as deserve it” (15:21). Judas and his people win the battle and they come across Nicanor, dead among the defeated. Judas orders his head to be cut off along with his arm and his shoulder and taken to Jerusalem. When he presents these body parts to the Jews in front of the altar, he also sends for the Seleucid soldiers stationed at the Citadel. In front of them, he takes out the tongue of Nicanor, cuts it up and feeds it in pieces to the birds. The head is hung from the Citadel.

Since then the city has remained in the possession of the Jews.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 12
The testimonies I have touched on in this chapter were not the only ones. In the nineteenth century, Friends made it a very clear testimony to avoid the use of alcohol and, later, drugs. They also frowned on gambling or toying with “chance” or “luck” in any way. They adopted a testimony against the use of capital punishment. But the bottom line for early Friends was the idea of hearing and obeying—being singularly attentive to the light and word of Christ in you and doing what he commanded with undivided heart, even if it meant embracing the cross. The cross, as I have said, was central to Friends.

Where the world is standing the Cross is not lived in. But dwelling in the Cross to the world, here the Love of God is shed abroad in the heart and the Way is opened in the inheritance, which fades not away. . .” (Fox, Letters, 45).

The Prophetic Dimension of Friends’ Spirituality
The fact that Friends saw themselves as responding to God’s living voice within made them see themselves in some measure as prophets of his word to the world. Hearing and obeying the word of God was the occupation of a prophet. You may not be called to go out and do some great and memorable deed, but you were called to do what God led you to do even if it involved risks. Mary Fisher, a simple English housemaid, believed God was calling her to witness the gospel to the Sultan of Turkey, who ruled over an empire that posed a military threat to Europe in the seventeenth century. She traveled many months to obey this call and even managed to get an audience with him. I have mentioned the Friends who died obeying a call they belied they had from God to witness against the Puritans’ prohibition against the free circulation of Quaker tracts in New England. This prophetic dimension of Friends’ early witness is sometimes overlooked in presentations of Friends’ testimonies and spirituality. But I mention it because it played a role in my journey from the beginning, whether I felt called to speak in vocal ministry or in other more worldly contexts or at the end when I felt called to leave and return to the Catholic Church. The sense of being in the same place in relation to God as the prophets has always been something I felt as a Friend.

Modern Friends are much less reticent talking about the testimonies Friends hold that they are about what Friends believe[d] theologically. Many people, like me, were drawn to Friends precisely for these testimonies, especially the peace testimony, so I experienced the difference in what it was to see those testimonies prior to becoming Christian and after my convincement. The antiwar movement of the sixties attracted many people to the pacifist views of Quakerism. The track record of the Society—being so early an opponent of slavery, recognizing the humanity of the American Indian tribes they settled near, providing leadership to the women’s suffrage movement, and other progressive stances they have taken over the years—these things were very appealing to many of us who grew up believing in the struggle for civil rights for blacks and then for women, fighting against the war in Vietnam, and struggling to bring about a society we thought would be more just. The environmental movement of the seventies and eighties also found values and commitment in Friends’ testimonies that supported their concerns with the idea of stewardship over the creation. So many of the movements of the post World War II era found resonance in the traditions and values of Friends.

The problem was [and is in my opinion] that without a strong foundation and articulation of the theological roots of all these testimonies, the modern Society tended to adopt the secular reasoning and language of the wider movements. Quaker “guides” or disciplines tended to hold onto older quotations and references back to early Friends beliefs, but the common parlance and logic of Friends on these issues was hardly distinguishable from that of the anti-establishment groups that existed outside Friends. What is missing from the modern way of understanding and articulating Friends’ testimonies is any kind of radical call to holiness especially in relation to personal, sexual behavior And there is no room for the call to lowliness or self-abnegation; there is little comfort with the sense of sin early Quakers found so important in coming to the sense of God’s new covenant presence. But it is in the discernment process (or lack of one) that one really sees what modernism has wrought among Friends.

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