Category Archives: Maccabees

what if Jesus died for God’s honor?

I realize this thesis has never been proposed before so bear with me…

In reading through what Jarvis Williams calls “martyrdom theology” I come across Eleazar of 2 Maccabees:

Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes, a man advanced in age and of noble appearance, was being forced to open his mouth to eat pork. 19 But preferring a glorious death to a life of defilement, he went forward of his own accord to the instrument of torture, 20 spitting out the meat as they should do who have the courage to reject food unlawful to taste even for love of life.

21 Those in charge of that unlawful sacrifice took the man aside, because of their long acquaintance with him, and privately urged him to bring his own provisions that he could legitimately eat, and only to pretend to eat the sacrificial meat prescribed by the king. 22 Thus he would escape death, and be treated kindly because of his old friendship with them. 23 But he made up his mind in a noble manner, worthy of his years, the dignity of his advanced age, the merited distinction of his gray hair, and of the admirable life he had lived from childhood. Above all loyal to the holy laws given by God, he swiftly declared, “Send me to Hades!”

Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-fi...
Persephone and Hades. Tondo of an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 440-430 BC. Said to be from Vulci. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

24 “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many of the young would think the ninety-year-old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. 25 If I dissemble to gain a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I would bring defilement and dishonor on my old age. 26 Even if, for the time being, I avoid human punishment, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hand of the Almighty. 27 Therefore, by bravely giving up life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, 28 and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws.”

He spoke thus, and went immediately to the instrument of torture. 29 Those who shortly before had been kindly disposed, now became hostile toward him because what he had said seemed to them utter madness. 30 When he was about to die under the blows, he groaned, saying: “The Lord in his holy knowledge knows full well that, although I could have escaped death, I am not only enduring terrible pain in my body from this scourging, but also suffering it with joy in my soul because of my devotion to him.” 31 This is how he died, leaving in his death a model of nobility and an unforgettable example of virtue not only for the young but for the whole nation.

Note specifically v.26-28. There is a connection between honor and blasphemy. If Jesus died as martyr, or with the theology of martyrdom on his side, then he died in response to the honor of God.

I don’t necessarily believe that is the case, as you should know by now; however, the story does give us a sense that there exists a connection, just as in suicide, for a chosen death and a sense of honor. Eleazar dies devoted to God — as a devotion to God — to avoid dishonoring God.

Razis

"Death of King Saul", 1848 by Elie M...
“Death of King Saul”, 1848 by Elie Marcuse (Germany and France, 1817-1902) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

notes, not done. shoot, not even edited. going through the OT/Jewish writings looking for self-inflicted deaths. 

Another suicide is found in 2 Maccabees, this time at 14.37–46, in which Razis, a loyal Jew who was soon to be arrested, killed himself because, “εὐγενῶς θέλων ἀποθανεῖν, ἤπερ τοῖς ἀλιτηρίοις ὑποχείριος γενέσθαι, καὶ τῆς ἰδίας εὐγενείας ἀναξίως ὑβρισθῆναι.” The phrase “εὐγενῶς θέλων ἀποθανεῖν”[1] is immediately noticeable especially because of the praise it gives the suicidal Jew.[2] The details of the story must be examined almost minutely. Razis is a title, rather than a name, possible derived derived from Isaiah 14.16–18 or 24.16 and related to his good standing in the community (2 Maccabees 14.17). As with Abimelech before him, a tower is involved (although it is doubtful the tower has a significance beyond the literary).[3] He is intent, as with King Saul, refusing to allow any one or thing to stop him.[4] It is 14.46, however, that gives us more pause. After the horrific self-inflicted death, he dies with his entrails in hands proclaiming vindication in the Resurrection: “παντελῶς ἔξαιμος ἤδη γινόμενος, προβαλὼν τὰ ἔντερα καὶ λαβὼν ἑκατέραις ταῖς χερσίν, ἐνέσεισε τοῖς ὄχλοις· καὶ ἐπικαλεσάμενος τὸν δεσπόζοντα τῆς ζωῆς καὶ τοῦ πνεύματος τὰ αὐτὰ αὐτῷ πάλιν ἀποδοῦναι, τόνδε τὸν τρόπον μετήλλαξεν.”

[1] Though only loosely related at best, see Aristotle’s Ethica Nicomachea 1115b.5. A better connection — linguistically and contextually — can be found in Dionysius of Halicarnassus’s work, Roman Antiquities, 10.46.5–6 (c. 30 BCE).

[2] Both Jewish and Christian theologians have struggled with this passage. “The nobility was that of feeling, since nobility of birth was not recognized among the Jews. The justification and laudation of self murder, which here comes to light, is not only anti-Jewish, but has also been justly urged by Protestant theologians as directly militating against the canonicity of the present book. To this objection Roman Catholics have never been able to make a satisfactory answer. The cases of Saul and of Samson, sometimes cited as parallel, are in quite another category” in John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, and Edwin Cone Bissell, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Apocrypha (Logos, 2008), 611.

[3] Some scholars see the tower as part of the Temple. See John Kampen, “Razis (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), 624.

[4] John R. Bartlett, “2 Maccabees,” in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (ed. James D. G. Dunn and John W. Rogerson); (Eerdmans, 2003), 846–47.

Eleazar Avaran

Antonio Ciseri's Martyrdom of the Seven Maccab...
Antonio Ciseri’s Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees (1863), depicting the woman with her dead sons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not done. Just notes. And notes make good blog posts.

As we will see below, the Maccabean books provides the early Christians with a great wealth of material for theological reflection as well as understanding the role of martyrdom. The first self-inflicted death in this series of books occurs when Eleazar rushes into a crowd of elephants to assassinate king Antiochus V (1 Maccabees 6.43–44): “καὶ εἶδεν Ἐλεαζὰρ ὁ Σαυαρὰν ἓν τῶν θηρίων τεθωρακισμένον θώραξιν βασιλικοῖς, καὶ ἦν ὑπεράγον πάντα τὰ θηρία, καὶ ὤφθη ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεύς. καὶ ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιποιῆσαι αὑτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον.”[1] In a less-than-ironic twist, the rather short episode accomplishes exactly what Eleazar meant to do, which is to preserve his name although we know that the sacrifice did nothing for his people.[2] But, the story does not end there. In 4 Maccabees 1.7–10, Eleazar is held up as the example of a virtuous martyr. This may be in response to 3 Maccabees wherein the author recounts the story of Eleazar, but in a gander cosmic sense. In 3 Maccabees 6.16–19, Eleazar is pictured as piously recounting God’s promises — specifically the promise to never abandon Israel — just before the attack.[3] Only instead of the quick dash by the Jew, the battled is enjoined by God and the heavenly host (3 Macc. 6.18). The story moves from a suicide for an unsuccessful but valiant reason (something like a noble death) to part of a rather dramatic cosmic battle of the gods (a martyrdom) (see figure 3.1 below).[4]

3.1

καὶ εἶδεν Ἐλεαζὰρ ὁ Σαυαρὰν ἓν τῶν θηρίων τεθωρακισμένον θώραξιν βασιλικοῖς, καὶ ἦν ὑπεράγον πάντα τὰ θηρία, καὶ ὤφθη ὅτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐστιν ὁ βασιλεύς. καὶ ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν τοῦ σῶσαι τὸν λαὸν αὐτοῦ, καὶ περιποιῆσαι αὑτῷ ὄνομα αἰώνιον. (1 Maccabees 6.43–44)
Τοῦ δὲ Ελεαζαρου λήγοντος ἄρτι τῆς προσευχῆς ὁ βασιλεὺς σὺν τοῖς θηρίοις καὶ παντὶ τῷ τῆς δυνάμεως φρυάγματι κατὰ τὸν ἱππόδρομον παρῆγεν. καὶ θεωρήσαντες οἱ Ιουδαῖοι μέγα εἰς οὐρανὸν ἀνέκραξαν ὥστε καὶ τοὺς παρακειμένους αὐλῶνας συνηχήσαντας ἀκατάσχετον πτόην ποιῆσαι παντὶ τῷ στρατοπέδῳ. τότε ὁ μεγαλόδοξος παντοκράτωρ καὶ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς ἐπιφάνας τὸ ἅγιον αὐτοῦ πρόσωπον ἠνέῳξεν τὰς οὐρανίους πύλας, ἐξ ὧν δεδοξασμένοι δύο φοβεροειδεῖς ἄγγελοι κατέβησαν φανεροὶ πᾶσιν πλὴν τοῖς Ιουδαίοις καὶ ἀντέστησαν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τῶν ὑπεναντίων ἐπλήρωσαν ταραχῆς καὶ δειλίας καὶ ἀκινήτοις ἔδησαν πέδαις. (3 Maccabees 6.16–19)
πολλαχόθεν μὲν οὖν καὶ ἀλλαχόθεν ἔχοιμ ἂν ὑμῖν ἐπιδεῖξαι ὅτι αὐτοκράτωρ ἐστὶν τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός, πολὺ δὲ πλέον τοῦτο ἀποδείξαιμι ἀπὸ τῆς ἀνδραγαθίας τῶν ὑπὲρ ἀρετῆς ἀποθανόντων, Ελεαζαρου τε καὶ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἀδελφῶν καὶ τῆς τούτων μητρός. ἅπαντες γὰρ οὗτοι τοὺς ἕως θανάτου πόνους ὑπεριδόντες ἐπεδείξαντο ὅτι περικρατεῖ τῶν παθῶν ὁ λογισμός. τῶν μὲν οὖν ἀρετῶν ἔπεστί μοι ἐπαινεῖν τοὺς κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν καιρὸν ὑπὲρ τῆς καλοκἀγαθίας ἀποθανόντας μετὰ τῆς μητρὸς ἄνδρας, τῶν δὲ τιμῶν μακαρίσαιμ ἄν. (4 Maccabees 1.7–10)

 

[1] The phrase “ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν” used in here is similar to Galatians 1.4 (“δόντος ἑαυτὸν”) and Titus 2.14 (“ἔδωκεν ἑαυτὸν”), but used where Jesus is the object.

[2] He is mentioned in Greg. Great, Mor. 19.21.34, in regards to the morality of historical figures. Gregory sees his example as a positive one.

[3] δειχθήτω πᾶσιν ἔθνεσιν ὅτι μεθ’ ἡμῶν εἶ, κύριε, καὶ οὐκ ἀπέστρεψας τὸ πρόσωπόν σου ἀφ’ ἡμῶν, ἀλλὰ καθὼς εἶπας ὅτι Οὐδὲ ἐν τῇ γῇ τῶν ἐχθρῶν αὐτῶν ὄντων ὑπερεῖδον αὐτούς, οὕτως ἐπιτέλεσον, κύριε.(3 Macc. 6.15)

[4] Eleazar’s death can passively be seen in 3 Maccabees 6.23.

Redemption of Life – The Price of Admission in Exodus, Job, and 2 Maccabees

JUDAEA, First Jewish War. 66-70 CE. AR Shekel ...
Your life ain’t worth 2 shekels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found this interesting. I am currently researching substitution (hint, I don’t think Jesus was classically substituted in Galatians) for my dissertation. These passages all connect for me.

The translations are from the REB.

The Lord said to Moses: When you take a census of the Israelites, each man is to give a ransom for his life to the Lord,* to avert plague among them during the registration. As each man crosses over to those already counted he must give half a shekel by the sacred standard at the rate of twenty gerahs to the shekel, as a contribution levied for the Lord. Everyone aged twenty or more who has crossed over to those already counted will give a contribution for the Lord. The rich man will give no more than the half-shekel, and the poor man no less, when you give the contribution for the Lord to make expiation for your lives. The money received from the Israelites for expiation you are to apply to the service of the Tent of Meeting. The expiation for your lives is to be a reminder of the Israelites before the Lord. – Exodus 30.11-16.

Yet if an angel, one of a thousand, stands by him,
a mediator between him and God,
to expound God’s righteousness to man
and to secure mortal man his due;*
if he speaks on behalf of him and says,
‘Reprieve* him from going down to the pit;
I have the price of his release’:
then his body will grow sturdier* than it was in his youth;
he will return to the days of his prime. – Job 33.23-25

He levied a contribution from each man, and sent to Jerusalem the total of two thousand silver drachmas to provide a sin-offering*—a fit and proper act in which he took due account of the resurrection. Had he not been expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been superfluous and senseless to pray for the dead; but since he had in view the splendid reward reserved for those who die a godly death, his purpose was holy and devout. That was why he offered the atoning sacrifice, to free the dead from their sin. – 2 Macc 12.43-45.

This does not mean I believe we can buy our way into heaven; but at the very least we can two things.

  • a “biblical” model for pre-Reformation indulgences.
  • the hope of redemption by acts, even after death.

Are Indulgences* Un/biblical*?

English: "The Judas Kiss", (Mark 14:...
English: “The Judas Kiss”, (Mark 14:45) by Gustave Doré. Judas kisses Jesus in order to betray him to the guards. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Sunday School we are discussing Christianity by century. Right now, we are at the 10th century, about the time scholasticism is firmly taking root in the West. With this enlightenment comes the manifestation of indulgences and the like.

So, it got me to thinking. First, keep in mind the usual Protestant view of indulgence may not be the correct one. Second, when I say “biblical” I do not usually mean it is directly found in Scripture. Christian doctrine is more often than not drawn from Scripture rather than capitalizing of direct words of Scripture. Of course, “biblical” is something still undefined. For instance, what canon do you use? If you are a Catholic and use books not found in the Protestant canon, is this considered biblical?

In the 12th chapter of 2 Maccabees, Judah seeks to turn away the temporal sins that may lay with the fallen. He does several things.

On the next day, as had now become necessary, Judas and his men went to take up the bodies of the fallen and to bring them back to lie with their kindred in the sepulchres of their ancestors. Then under the tunic of each one of the dead they found sacred tokens of the idols of Jamnia, which the law forbids the Jews to wear. And it became clear to all that this was the reason these men had fallen. So they all blessed the ways of the Lord, the righteous judge, who reveals the things that are hidden; and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin. (2 Macc 12.39-42, RSVCE)

He prayed, acting as a mediator and took up a collection for an offering by the priests at the Temple. He sought to turn away the temporal sin of those already redeemed. In Scripture (depending upon your limitation) we find something of an allowance for indulgences do we not? No wonder Luther worked feverishly to rid his canon of this book. It said something he didn’t like.

Thoughts?

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