Violent Revolt or Faithful Living and Teaching Wisdom?

A Maccabean warrior and a Wisdom Prophet disciple: A dialogue

The situation: 

169-164 BCE was the time of the great Seleucid persecution, :  Impure sacrifices, Books of the Law destroyed, Jews killed, enslaved, Jews forced to eat pork.  Mattathias, a priest, kills a royal official, a Hellenistic Jew who was about to make an impure sacrifice.  Then, some of the “Holy Ones”, allies of Mattathias, who had taken refuge in a cave rather than fight on the Sabbath, were massacred by the Seleucids. There may have been a thousand including women and children. (According to the book of the Maccabees)

Aziel is a disciple of the wisdom prophet, (my name for the author and editor of the book of Daniel, –based on Daniel 11:33, 12:1-4).  He is recalling the Babylonian stories and the visions of Daniel to encourage the Hebrews to seek the way of peace and teach wisdom. 

Gidon is a follower of Mattathias and his sons. He is calling the Hebrews to join the revolt against the forces of Antiochus Epiphanes who has been oppressing the people of Judah

Gidon:  “We must follow the example of Mattathias who defied the demands of the Seleucid Greek official to offer a sacrifice to their gods. He showed no fear in killing the Greek-loving Jew who offered to perform the sacrifice.  Don’t you know that thousands of Jews were killed by Syrians and that thousands of men and women were sold into slavery? We must follow Judah, the hammer, in the fight to drive the Syrians out of our land.” (It is estimated that twenty to forty thousand Jews were sold into slavery to raise funds to support Antiochus Epiphanes’ wars. (2 Maccabees 5:11–14)

Aziel:  Thousands of Daniel’s people were killed when Jerusalem was destroyed and many died on the way to Babylon.  Leaders of Israel were killed or taken to Babylon. Many more of our ancestors were killed or died during the fifteen years of the siege of Jerusalem. ” (2 Kings 25:1–72 Chronicles 36:12

Aziel:   Daniel was probably made a eunuch, since most of those close to the king where treated this way.”(  https://www.gotquestions.org/Daniel-eunuch.html accessed 3-22-21)

Gidon:  “They are trying to destroy our faith and way of life. Jews are being forced to eat pork!  Mother’s forced to wear slain circumcised baby boys around their necks” (2 Maccabees 6:10)

Aziel:  Daniel persuaded Babylonians to get him and his friends “kosher” food that would make him wise. The hyper king (and his dream interpreters) by contrast, who ate all the rich food, couldn’t remember the dream (the king) or interpret (the astrologers, etc.) the dream.1

Gidon:   “We must stop the pagan worship that is being conducted in temple and purify the temple.” (I Maccabees 1:47)

Aziel:  The Jerusalem temple was destroyed and Daniel’s people were to Babylon, had no temple available for worship. ” (2 Kings 25)

Gidon:  “We should follow the example of Phineas, our ancestor, who ran a spear through the sinning Zimri and the Moabite woman he was consorting with. Only by killing the pagans and the Hebrews who cooperate with them will our people be pure. (I Maccabees 1:26)  Joshua, David and others have been strong in defending our land. (Numbers 25)

Aziel:  Daniel was faithful to God without violence. Remember that our people triumphed over the Egyptians at the Red Sea without our effort.  God did it all.  His command in Exodus was “Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.” (Exodus 14:3)  Even though our ancestors believed that the possession of our land came due to the power of their arms, Exodus 23:28 and Deuteronomy 7:20 tells us that the Lord could have used hornets to drive out our enemies.  King Asa called for help from the Lord and the Ethiopian army was put to flight.***  Later King Asa made an alliance with  Under King Jehoshaphat.  The Lord defeated our enemies without the need for human help. (2 Chron. 20)

Gidon:  “Egyptians and Antiochus, the Syrian ruler, have stolen temple vessels.”(I Maccabees 1:21)

Aziel:  Babylonians also stole and used temple vessels in a banquet for their leaders. (Daniel 5)

Gidon:  “We cannot just to do nothing when Antiochus claims to be god in the land of the Lord.”2

Aziel:  But we can laugh at Antiochus as Daniel laughed at the dumb ox ruler of Babylon. (Dan. 5)

Gidon:  “Antiochus has banned traditional worship and begun burning of Torah scrolls.”(1 Maccabees 1:57)

Aziel:  Remember that when the Babylonian “god for a month” banned prayer to any god but him? Daniel defied the ban and openly prayed as before (even though he knew he would be sent to the lions’ den. (Dan. 6)   Daniel’s three friends refused to worship the pagan image, acknowledging death might be the result. The wisdom prophet made fun of Babylonian religion and its elaborate festival and image. But, the straightforward deliverance of the three Hebrews by their God was gives us confidence. (Dan. 3)

Gidon:  “If all of us do as some Jews have done and refuse to fight the Gentiles to defend our lives and our religion, we will soon be wiped off the face of the earth.” (1 Maccabees 2:39)

Aziel:  We can find confidence in the words of the wisdom prophet who recounts Daniel’s visions of kingdoms rising and falling from the time of Nebuchadnezzar to the Roman Empire (depending on your interpretation).  According to the wisdom prophet, God will be the one who brings down the empires. And, remember, Michael, God’s warrior, fights for Israel.  Remember God’s promise to Abraham. (Daniel 10:13-21; Daniel 12:1)

Gidon:  “But you are doing nothing, while your brothers are fighting, laying down their lives to preserve our faith, protecting our families and our land.”

Aziel:  But you have allied yourselves with the pagans, the Romans.3 

Gidon:  “Death of fighters on battlefield will provide atonement for others.”4

Aziel:  We will follow the guidance of the Wisdom Teacher.  We are doing what God commanded.  We have cared for the widows and children of  those who died at the hands of the foreigners. We continue to teach the wisdom, practice covenant ways faithfully, trust God.  Those who teach the wisdom (above) may die, but will “shine as stars”. (Dan. 11:33, 12:1-4)

The Aftermath:  History of Palestine
Maccabees through guerilla warfare, then open warfare defeated Seleucids with the help of threats from Romans.  An independent Jewish state was established under the Hasmonian dynasty (the family name for the Maccabee army leaders).  The temple was purified and Torah-guided worship re-established.  The Hasmonians intermarried with family of Cleopatra to maintain security between Egypt and Judah against Syria. Herod (of New Testament note) marries last Hasmonian princess. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hasmonean_dynasty  accessed 3-22-21

The wisdom teacher and followers may have retreated to desert (the Qumran settlement?) and establish what became the Essenes, avoiding the political intrigues in which the Pharisees and Sadducees participated.  Jesus was probably influenced by rural or city Essenes and their non-violent approach.5

Notes

*** (and Asa’s army slaughtered many of them)

1Valeta, David M. “Court or Jester Tales:  Resistance and Social Reality in Daniel 1-6.”  Perspectives in Religious Studies, 32 no. 3, Fall 2005, p 309-324. All of the references to humor in Daniel come from Valeta.

2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes

3https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman%E2%80%93Jewish_Treaty#:~:text=The%20Roman%E2%80%93Jewish%20Treaty%20was,Jewish%20people%20and%20the%20Romans. Accessed 3/20/2021

Portier-Young, Anathea. Apocalypse against empire : theologies of resistance in early Judaism. William B. Eerdmans Pub., 2011. Portier-Young provides a scholarly basis for some of the ideas I developed in an earlier essay part of which was published in The Mennonite Vol. 6, No. 7, April 1, 2003., p.12-14.

4Ripley, Jason. “Atonement and Martyrdom in the Gospel of John”, Horizons in Biblical Theology, 30 Apr 2020, Volume 42:  Issue 1 Pages 58-89 [abstract only] https://doi.org/10.1163/18712207-12341403    accessed 3/20/2021.

5Trever, John C. “The Qumran Teacher- another candidate?”  Early Jewish and Christian Exegesis,  edited by Craig A. Evans and William Stinespring, Scholars Press, 1987, pp 101-121.  Note p. 105

General background:

Daniel Smith-Christopher, “Daniel”  New Interpreters Bible Commentary (Reference Shelves, EMU Library). The development of my understanding of Daniel has been aided significantly by this article. [I was unable to get the page numbers due to the closing of the library to those without EMU ID.]

deSilva, Daniel.  Day of Atonement.  Kregel Press, 2015 (novel about the background to beginning of Maccabees’ revolt.  Personal copy)

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Immanuel: A warning to Joseph about power politics

Isaiah and Ahaz

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.  He will be eating curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, for before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. Isaiah 7:14-16

What if Ahaz (king of Judah) had believed Isaiah’s word from God that God was with him?  Isaiah gave Ahaz a timeline for the future of the kings of Israel and of Aram.  A young woman/virgin would conceive, give birth to a son who would be named “God with us”.  That boy would reach the age of knowledge of right and wrong, probably twelve years.  By that time the neighboring kings of Israel and Aram, who Ahaz feared, would no longer be a threat. But, only if Ahaz believed God was with “us” [and not trust in a military alliance with Assyria].  Read verses 17 and following to discover the terrible things that would happen if Ahaz did not listen to the word from God.

What happened:  Ahaz made an alliance with Assyria and traveled there.  He liked the altar he saw there and had one made to use in Jerusalem—he may have been required by the treaty to erect an altar for Assyrian gods.  Israel became a dependent of Assyria.  During the time it took the young woman’s son to reach twelve, the kings threatening Ahaz and Judah were defeated and, one of them, Israel, ceased to exist as a nation.

What would have happened if Ahaz had trusted in “God with us”?

Five hundred years later

 “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 This all happened so that what did the Lord through the prophet speak would be fulfilled: 23 Look! The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will name him immanuel,” which means “God with us.” Mt. 1:20-23 (NET) [Emphasis from NET]

Was the angel was reminding Joseph of Isaiah’s word to Ahaz (Joseph’s ancestor) of the importance of trusting “God with us”?  (I am not dealing in this essay with the questions of the nature of Jesus’ birth and the incarnation.) Then we might conclude that part of the message was that Joseph’s trust in God (Immanuel) was essential in the days to come. Challenges included social disapproval due to Mary’s pregnancy, immigration to Egypt under the threat of death, and a son would be born into a world hostile to the message of “God with us.”

Warning about power politics

For Isaiah, “Immanuel” meant trusting God, rather than turning to military alliances (violence).    Joseph was in Bethlehem because of the Roman occupation of his country.  The occupation came in part because of a choice of violence over trusting God.  The freedom fighters of a century and a half before Joseph, the Maccabees, decided that only by violent revolt against Syria and a military alliance with Rome could the people of God practice their religion as they should. Their contemporary, compiler of the Daniel experiences, opposed that call to violence.  The Daniel writer called for faithful living like Daniel and friends, teaching wisdom, and trusting the visions of God’s control of history. The “chief priests and rulers” of Joseph’s time were part of the ruling class that gained power after the successful revolt against the Seleucid (Syrian) government.  The Jewish leaders had chosen violence as a way to protect the temple and their way of worship.   After the Hebrews gained their independence, the Romans used the treaty with them as a pretext to take over Judah.  Some of the chief priests and legal experts maintained their alliance with Rome for personal economic advantage as well as to protect their religious freedom.

During Jesus ministry, the legal experts or “chief priests and rulers” were frequent opponents of Jesus.  At the time of Jesus’ torture and execution, we know that the chief priests worked with the Romans to seek the death of Jesus – Immanuel.  Did the angel bring a word of warning to Joseph because they, like Ahaz, had made accommodations with the superpower of the day, rather than trusting Immanuel?

What if the Persian astronomers had continued to look for the star they had seen in the East and gone directly to Bethlehem, rather than to Jerusalem?  Although Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem, it is possible to plot a path from “the East” directly to Bethlehem.  One could conclude that they gave in to popular notions of kingship and went Jerusalem because it was the center of political and military power.  If the Persian astronomers had continued to seek the star’s guidance, would the deaths of the boy children around Bethlehem have been avoided?  The “chief priests and keepers of the law” were more concerned with maintaining their alliance with Herod than seeking “God with us”.  Could the astronomers have refrained from telling Jesus’ location to Herod?  What did Joseph learn from the Persian astronomers that prepared him to quickly respond to the Spirit’s warning to leave Bethlehem ahead of Herod’s search?

A dark shadow extends from Ahaz, through the Maccabees and their descendants, the “chief priests and rulers” of Joseph’s time and to Herod.  It continues through Caiaphas and his allies who were willing to allow the Romans to kill Jesus to protect the place of the ruling classes in Palestine.  We are compelled to ask whether it extends to “collateral damage” of drone strikes and assassinations by order of governments ostensibly seeking peace, freedom and order.  Does it extend to the displacement of Palestinian Arabs and Syrian Arab Christians from land owned by their families for many generations?  The question must be asked even if we acknowledge some moral distance between Herod’s massacre of Judean boys and drone strikes.

Consider, then, the line, connecting Isaiah’s understanding of Immanuel with the wisdom teachers in Daniel-who anticipate shining like stars if death came (Dan. 12:3)-rather than doing violence.  The line extends to the angel’s challenge to Joseph to trust Immanuel and to the angel’s message of peace at Jesus’ birth. The line extends to and beyond Jesus’s weeping over Jerusalem: “If only they knew what made for peace.” *

For Joseph, the “Immanuel” message was a warning of difficulties leading to violence, but also the assurance that God was with him.  But he was encouraged to be faithful.  Today many people of God argue that goodness/justice/freedom of worship can only continue through ultimate reliance on military solutions (although some acknowledge the need for development and diplomacy).   Christians want to use political power to protect, ensure and enforce Christian practices on society.   The consequences of this choice in Isaiah’s time, in Joseph’s time, and Jesus’ time should challenge us to reexamine these texts for guidance today.  The answer begins with our willingness to hear the Isaiah and the angel’s message, Immanuel:  God with us.

 

*[Isaiah, the Daniel editor and the gospel writers see faithful covenant living as an essential base for trusting Immanuel.  I hope I have not obscured that base by focusing on the issue of political/military alliances and the reliance on violence versus trust in God.]

[revised blog reposted from November 2017]

Waiting On God An exploration of the basis for the new testament peace witness in the first (old) testament

The Psalmist counsels us “wait on the Lord”! What do you think of or imagine yourself doing in response to this counsel? In what situations have you recalled passages from the Bible that include this phrase? In the passages below, what is the context of the word “wait” or “waiting”? In the past I have thought of “waiting” as suggesting prayer and meditation. Is this made explicit in the text?

For the subjects of the Psalm, what would be the alternative to “waiting”? What more than prayer in suggested by “waiting”? How often does the “waiting” command come in the context of violence? What is the significance of this?

Psalm 33:  16-22

16 The king is not saved by his great army;
a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.
17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.

18 Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
19 that he may deliver their soul from death
and keep them alive in famine.

20 Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 For our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.

Psalm 37:(5-9) 14-15, 32-34

14 The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
15 their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.

32 The wicked watches for the righteous
and seeks to put him to death.
33 The Lord will not abandon him to his power
or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial.

34 Wait for the Lord and keep his way,
and he will exalt you to inherit the land;
you will look on when the wicked are cut off.

(See below for a list of similar passages*)

In Psalm 33 use of the word “wait” is preceded by description of violence against the people of God. (“Whether the king is to use his great army or not is not clarified.) Action by God’s people is not needed. Waiting leads to affirmation of God’s presence and control of the situation. Note the words “help”, “trust”, “hope” as helper words for “wait”.

In Psalm 37 the situation is bleak. Not just the people of God are the target of the forces of evil, but specifically “the poor and needy”. Violence is what evil people do. In the end “the wicked [will be] cut off”. The people of God “wait” and “keep his way”. Keeping God’s way (v. 34) refers to covenant/Torah behavior. In Isaiah 40, the setting is a bit different. While in these Psalms there is the implication that God will overpower the enemy or the evil Hebrews, that is not as clear in Isa.40:28-31. Is the vindication of the “suffering servant” what one is to wait for?  (See my blog on Isa. 40, “Exodus to Exile”)

Waiting and then what?

Are these “wait” passages behind Paul’s instructions in Romans 12:19 and following? “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19 with Deut. 32:35)? How is Paul’s reminder related to the need to wait? The normal response to violence is vengeance.  Note surrounding the “vengeance” command we are encouraged to “love”, “seek peace”, and “feed” [your] enemy”. Here we have some of the things from the life and teachings of Jesus that are to the focus the people of God while waiting for God to act.

The “First” Testament basis for the peace understanding of Anabaptists needs further exploration. While there is much violence found in the first testament, the new testament affirms the contrasting thread lifted out here that calls for us to wait on God. From God comes protection and vengeance/justice.

 

*Similar passages are:  Psalm 25:1-5, Psalm 27: 11-14, Psalm 62:1-7 (See also, Psalm 40:1-3—no suggestion of violence in this passage), Psalm 130:1-6, Proverbs 20:22, Lamentations 3:13-26, Isaiah 30:15-18 (the word “rest” is used in this passage), Micah 7:2-3, 7; Isaiah 40:28-31 (God has just “rescued” Israel from Babylon), Isa. 64:1-4, Zephaniah 3:8

Related concept:

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).