August 27, 2017

Prayer to Wisdom Wisdom of Solomon 7:22-26; 8:13
There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy,
unique, manifold, subtle,
mobile, clear, unpolluted,
distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen,
irresistible, beneficent, humane,
steadfast, sure, free from anxiety,
all-powerful, overseeing all,
and penetrating through all spirits
that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.
For Sophia is more mobile than any motion;
because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things.
For she is a breath of the power of God,
and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her.
For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness….
Because of her I shall have immortality,
and leave an everlasting remembrance
to those who come after me.

Judith 12:16-13:2; 6-10
Then Judith came in and lay down. Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her. So Holofernes said to her, “Have a drink and be merry with us!” Judith said, “I will gladly drink, my lord, because today is the greatest day in my whole life.” Then she took what her maid had prepared and ate and drank before him. Holofernes was greatly pleased with her, and drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born.

When evening came, his slaves quickly withdrew. Bagoas closed the tent from outside and shut out the attendants from his master’s presence. They went to bed, for they all were weary because the banquet had lasted so long. But Judith was left alone in the tent, with Holofernes stretched out on his bed, for he was dead drunk….

She went up to the bedpost near Holofernes’ head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed, took hold of the hair of his head, and said, “Give me strength today, O Lord God of Israel!” Then she struck his neck twice with all her might, and cut off his head. Next she rolled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out and gave Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.

Tobit 6:14-18; 7:9-15
Then Tobias said in answer to Raphael, “…I have heard that [Sarah] already has been married to seven husbands and that they died in the bridal chamber. On the night when they went in to her, they would die. I have heard people saying that it was a demon that killed them. It does not harm her, but it kills anyone who desires to approach her. So now, since I am the only son my father has, I am afraid that I may die and bring my father’s and mother’s life down to their grave, grieving for me—and they have no other son to bury them.”

But Raphael said to him, “Do you not remember your father’s orders when he commanded you to take a wife from your father’s house? Now listen to me, brother, and say no more about this demon. Take her. I know that this very night she will be given to you in marriage. When you enter the bridal chamber, take some of the fish’s liver and heart, and put them on the embers of the incense. An odor will be given off; the demon will smell it and flee, and will never be seen near her any more. Now when you are about to go to bed with her, both of you must first stand up and pray, imploring the Lord of heaven that mercy and safety may be granted to you.

….Then [Tobias and Sarah] went to sleep for the night. But Raguel, [Sarah’s father], arose and called his servants to him, and they went and dug a grave, for he said, “It is possible that [Tobias] will die and we will become an object of ridicule and derision.” When they had finished digging the grave, Raguel went into his house and called his wife, saying, “Send one of the maids and have her go in to see if he is alive. But if he is dead, let us bury him without anyone knowing it.” So they sent the maid, lit a lamp, and opened the door; and she went in and found them sound asleep together. Then the maid came out and informed them that he was alive and that nothing was wrong. So they blessed the God of heaven, and Raguel said,
“Blessed are you, O God, with every pure blessing;
let all your chosen ones bless you.
Let them bless you forever.

Sirach 33:20-22
To son or wife, to brother or friend,
do not give power over yourself, as long as you live;
and do not give your property to another,
in case you change your mind and must ask for it.
While you are still alive and have breath in you,
do not let anyone take your place.
For it is better that your children should ask from you
than that you should look to the hand of your children.

Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-9
The souls of those who have pleased God are safe in his hands and protected from pain. Only in the minds of the foolish are those people dead and their death considered
a disaster or a destruction. In fact, they are at peace and destined never to die, though others may have thought they were being punished. They will be richly rewarded, because God tested them for a while and found them worthy of being his children. God tested them like gold in a fiery furnace, and he accepted them like a pleasing sacrifice. When God shows them mercy, they will be like shining sparks setting weeds on fire. The Lord will rule them forever and let them rule over nations. All of God’s faithful people will understand truth and live with him in love, because God is kind and merciful to those he chooses to be his holy people.

The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews 1:52-59
Let the earth bless the Lord;
let it sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, mountains and hills;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, all that grows in the ground;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, seas and rivers;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, you springs;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, you whales and all that swim in the waters;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, all birds of the air;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.
Bless the Lord, all wild animals and cattle;
sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.

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The books of the Bible we are going to look at this week and next should not be called the Apocrypha which means hidden or secret. They are neither. The Roman Catholic Church calls them Deuterocanonical or a “second canon.” They have been excluded from Protestant Bibles or relegated to the fringes. Roman Catholics canonized them officially in the 1500s in response to the Protestant Reformation. They were used by the church until the Reformation as sacred scripture.

These books are an important bridge between the TaNaKh and the early Christian writings. This period following the conquest of Alexander the Great that introduced the world to Greek thought, culture, philosophy, and religion helps us understand influences on Jesus and early Christianity.

The Jews were conquered by Babylon and taken to exile in 587 BCE. The Persians conquer Babylon. In 539 BCE Cyrus, the Persian king delivers an edict that Jews can return to their homeland. Those are the last words of the TaNaKh in 2 Chronicles: “Let them go up” that is to Jerusalem.

Not every Jew goes back to Judah. So we get a new term, diaspora, or scattering. This is the scattering or dispersion of Jews. Here is the problem: You know how to be Jewish when you have a temple. How do remain Jewish without a temple? You have three things:

  1. The Torah. That is your story from Genesis to Deuteronomy which was completed shortly after the exile.
  2. Circumcision. You can perform that rather permanent ritual wherever you live as a sign of the covenant with Yahweh.
  3. Sabbath. You can keep Sabbath and other rituals wherever you live as well.

This deuterocanonical literature is about that, being Jewish in the diaspora.

The big year we all remember from the history of Western civilization is 333 BCE. Alexander the Great conquers the world. Everyone learns Greek. The Greeks are impressive. Plato, Aristotle, Pythagorus.

After Alexander does his conquering, the empire is divided between his two generals. After 323 BCE the Seleucids control all of the empire north of Palestine, including Syria and the east. The Ptolemies control Palestine and south into Egypt.

Palestine, which is the Greek name for Judea and its environs is again on the border and is territory fought over by these new Greek powers. Life for Jews under the Ptolymies is not bad. Jews learn Greek culture. They translate their Bible into Greek, the Septuagint, the version of the Bible the early Christian authors use. Under the Ptolemies, the Jews give their children Greek names. They incorporate Greek philosophy and culture into their own. The Ptolemies in turn tolerate the Jews doing their thing (Torah, monotheism, circumcision, Sabbath observance and so forth).

Things change around 199 BCE. The Seleucids gain power over Palestine and are less forgiving to the peculiar practices of the Jews. Then the real bad guy enters: Antiochus Epiphanes. His dates are 175-163. He made a lot of trouble in those twelve years. He wants to make his empire fully Hellenized. Hellenized comes from Hellos, the name Greeks called themselves.

In 167 BCE, Antiochus begins a policy of “forced Hellenization.” This includes burning copies of the Torah, barring circumcisions, preventing Jews from observing the Sabbath, and then, seizing the Temple and its gold. Apparently, he is a bit short of cash in funding his war against the Ptolemies in Egypt. Plus, according to tradition, Antiochus puts a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem Jewish temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar. Not cool.

When you start to tear down people’s symbols, monuments, and so forth, no matter what you might think of them, the people often fight back. I have no affinity for Robert E. Lee. I have less affinity for another civil war.

Enter Judas “the hammer.” Maccabee is the word for hammer. Judas the Maccabee or Judas the Hammer is a guerrilla fighter. He and his brothers give Antiochus fits for decades. Within three years the Maccabees take back the temple and, eventually in 142 BCE create a separate Judean state, the first time Jews had autonomy since before the exile to Babylon 400 years earlier. More on Maccabees next week.

It is in this overwhelming Greek influence that this deuterocanonical literature is composed. Some of this literature such as the Wisdom of Ben Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, are cool with Greek philosophy and incorporate it into their works. They are likely composed prior to Antiochus. Sirach is full of practical wisdom like Proverbs and speaks glowingly of Sophia the personification of wisdom Sirach says was at the beginning with God and is responsible for the Torah and other wise things.

The Wisdom of Solomon also praises Sophia. With the wisdom of Solomon you find the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and the pre-existent soul that takes on flesh. This is certainly influenced by Plato and his gang. This will be formative for Christian understanding of Jesus as the divine Logos in the Gospel of John. A case can be made that Jesus is theologically understood as the incarnation of the divine Sophia.

Those books are positive and healthy. They integrate and synthesize other forms of thinking. That happens when leaders don’t micromanage. They allow for creativity and don’t worry so much about people worshiping the wrong gods and whatever.

Then comes Antiochus Epiphanes and his heavy-handed policies. That creates violence and black and white thinking. You are for us or against us. You must be Greek or Jew. Not both.

Let’s look at some of these others. Daniel and Esther are written in this time period but are set in a previous time.

First of all, there are two books that are in the TaNaKh or the Christian Old Testament but they fit in this later time period, Daniel and Esther. We know about Daniel. Daniel and Lion’s Den. Shadrack, Meshak, and Abednego in the fiery furnace.

We know about Esther who we talked about a couple of weeks ago. She is the beautiful queen who saved the Jews from the bad guys. The bad guys influence the king in these stories. Because the Jews have these peculiar practices, they should be killed. That is the conflict in this literature. Jews facing enemies that don’t like them. Esther is the tale of the heroic queen who saves her people. That is where we get the celebration of Purim.

The setting for both Daniel and Esther is centuries before the actual texts were written. The setting for Esther and Daniel is with Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar. It reflects the time much later under Greek rule, specifically, Antiochus.

It is resistance literature. You don’t address directly the people you are talking about. You set it in a previous time, but the people “in the know” know to whom the literature is directed. Daniel, Esther, and Judith are resistance literature.

Daniel introduces a new thing—apocalyptic thinking. It is in Daniel where we first get the idea that if you die by the enemy’s hand because you did good for God, God will resurrect you in the next life. In the Torah and the Prophets, you suffer because God must be punishing you. Everything has to work out in this life.

What happens though, when you are doing good, you are doing God’s thing, and you still get killed? The answer is in apocalypticism. God would expand time and reward the faithful with eternal life. Bad people also will be resurrected to eternal torment. Resurrection of the body comes out of this time period.

Daniel also has the phrase the “son of man.” Daniel has many visions and many of the symbols have a one to one correspondence with leaders in this later time period including the time of Antiochus. The overall message is that there is trouble now, but God will make it good and soon.

Jesus and the gospel writers used this phrase for himself and to the apocalyptic figure who would judge and bring in God’s future kingdom. Resurrection of the body that has been destroyed by enemies and apocalyptic thinking in God would come in dramatically and make a new kingdom, a new heaven and earth comes out of persecution, persecution of people who are persecuted for doing God’s will.

Daniel is an important book. The character, Daniel, is like Joseph who succeeds in the foreign kingdom. He is well-liked and becomes a leader, like Joseph did in Egypt. Bad guys are envious of Daniel and see that he has these peculiar religious practices that are not Greek and they use that to get the king to made edicts against him. Edicts such as you must pray to god of the emperor or to the emperor. Daniel, of course, won’t do this. He is caught praying to Yahweh and he is thrown then into the lion’s den. He spends the night there and God shuts the mouths of the lions. The next morning the king runs to the lion’s den to see if Daniel survived somehow because he really did like Daniel. Miraculously, Daniel did survive and he tells the king that the one true god, the god of Israel, shut the lions’ mouths. The king is relieved and executes the bad guys.

Daniel is a popular figure. This story of Susanna in the apocrypha is really about Daniel. Susanna is a beautiful woman, falsely accused of sexual impropriety. Of course, she is guilty because the men who tried to assault her say she is the bad one. So she is just about to face severe punishment, but Daniel comes in and like a detective questions the men and their stories don’t quite match and he saves her. He is better than Matlock.

My Sunday school teacher who was also my kindergarten teacher in Winthrop, Washington was named Georgia Longnekker. Mrs. Longnekker wrote in my King James Bible that she gave me in very nice penmanship:

“Dare to be a Daniel.
Dare to stand alone.
Dare to have a purpose firm.
Dare to make it known.”

I always treasure the stories of Daniel.

Tobit. Tobit is an interesting story. It is where we get among other things, the notion of guardian angels. There are two separate stories that link. The story of Tobit’s son, Tobias and the story of Sarah.

Tobit is busy burying Israelites who have been slain for their religion. It is not a happy thing. One day he looks up and a bird poops in his eye and he goes blind. He has bad luck. He prays that God would take his life. He sends his son Tobias to where his relatives live. One owes him some money and he wants Tobias to marry someone in the family and bring back the cash.

Meanwhile, a woman named Sarah also is having bad luck. She has had seven husbands and every one of them died on her wedding night. A demon kills them. She prays also for her death.

Both the prayers of Sarah and Tobit are heard by God at the same time, so God sends an angel to answer the prayers. The angel tells Tobias that he needs to marry Sarah. Tobias learns the story of the unfortunate events in the bridal chamber, but the angel tells him, “Hey, remember, your father gave you good advice. If you ever run into a demon, take these fish guts and burn them and the smell will chase the demon away.” You never know when good advice like that might come in handy.

So that is what he does. They get married and on their wedding night Tobias and Sarah burn the fish guts as incense and it is all very romantic and they pray. The demon smells the smoke and flees to Egypt where he is captured by an angel.

Meanwhile, Sarah’s parents are a bit anxious about what might happen to Tobias. He could be number eight. So Sarah’s father digs his grave. In the morning, he tells his wife that if he does get killed by the demon, let’s just bury him and not tell anyone. It is just too embarrassing.

Of course, in the morning, they discover Sarah and Tobias sleeping and happy. They praise the Lord.

Then there is Judith. Both Judith and Tobit are resistance literature. Tobit is pious. He prays, he follows the Torah. It is about how to be Jewish in a foreign land where the majority of the powerful do not like you very much. Resitance involves prayer, righteousness, and perseverance against enemies both natural and supernatural.

Judith is set in a fictional time. She gets the king’s name wrong. Scholars think this might be deliberate so that readers would know this is fictional religious leaders. Judith and her city are under attack. The guys are afraid of the enemy. They are giving up. Judith is courageous and decides to take matters into her own hands. She goes into the king’s tent and seduces him. She is very beautiful. She gets him drunk and while the enemy king is passed out she decapitates him with his own sword. She puts the head in her food bag and puts it on a pole in her city and the enemy sees it and runs in terror.

She saves the day.

Judith shows how it is possible for a smart, young woman to get ahead.

What is the takeaway?

Doctrines of both immortality of the soul and resurrection of the body happened during this period. Both doctrines have been absorbed and stitched together in Christianity. You notice this stitching whenever you go to a funeral. You are at the funeral and people say Aunt Millie is in heaven now. But you see her body in the casket. How does that happen. Well, her soul is in heaven. Immortality of the soul.

But that isn’t resurrection of the body. When I was in New York at my first church I first learned about gravestones. The old ones. They always faced east. Nowadays they face all directions and have inscriptions of golf clubs and what not on them. In the old days they all faced east and they had scripture inscribed on them.

The belief was that on the day of resurrection, Christ would come in the clouds from the east and the bodies would rise up and face the risen Christ. Then the dead would face the final judgment while in their bodies. That is a different notion from immortality of the soul. It is a re-creation of the body itself at the end time. Christianity has kept both notions, as I say, rather stitched together.

Both of these doctrines come from this time period and from the apocryphal literature. In this time period, some Jews under persecution began to think that justice wasn’t realized in this life and God would grant new bodies in a new heaven to those who died for the sake of god. Also, at this same time, the Greek doctrines from Plato of the immortality of the soul make their way into a synthesis with Jewish theology.

Theology evolves. That is important to remember. Our understanding of life and of God change. This change happens because of interaction with others and with life itself. That to me is a good thing to know. Why not be open to that? Why not be open to new ideas? Why not be open to new religious views and to other cultures?

So the literature of the Wisdom of Solomon and the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, that integrates Jewish and Greek thinking shows that we learn from each other that is a good thing, a better thing can be produced with interaction.

This literature reminds me that there is a time to be courageous and to take on the powers. The To be like Daniel and Judith, dare to stand alone. Dare to have a purpose firm; dare to make it known. Dare to chop off the enemy’s head when it comes to that.

There is also a time to be courageous enough to stand together. Be creative and clever. To win the enemy over to a friend. To collaborate, synthesize, and grow. In the words of Baruch another deuterocanonical work:

Learn where there is wisdom,
where there is strength,
where there is understanding,
so that you may at the same time discern
where there is length of days, and life,
where there is light for the eyes, and peace.

Amen.