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Exclusively published to the Touchstone website each week, these Daily Reflections are brief commentaries on the lectionary readings contained in the St. James Daily Devotional Guide. The reflections are penned by Patrick Henry Reardon, editor of the Daily Devotional Guide and a senior editor of Touchstone. Father Reardon provides here a very brief directional clue for one of the texts each day. Long-time readers of the Daily Devotional Guide will find these reflections an additional help to their reading of Holy Scripture which they can print and keep with their Guide.

The Daily Reflections will be updated weekly.

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Sunday, December 4

Revelation 6:1-8: The opening of the first four seals brings forth four horses, variously colored in a way reminiscent of Zechariah 1:8-11; 6:1-7, though in Revelation the attention is directed more to the riders than to the horses.

The first, the mounted archer on the white horse, symbolizes invasion and war. The mounted archers contemporary with John were the Parthian warriors to the eastern border of the Roman Empire (verses 1-2), on the far side of the Euphrates (cf. 9:14; 16:12).

The second rider, which is like unto it, rides a red horse symbolic of bloodshed and fire. Whereas the first horseman carried a bow, the second carries a sword (verse 4). War invariably leads to famine and starvation, symbolized in the third horse, a black one, whose rider carries a scales to measure the scant remaining food (verses 5-6).

Green, the color of the fourth horse, is the color of white human flesh at the beginnings of decay. The rider of this horse, therefore, is named Death, which perhaps is a metaphor for plague (verse 8), as in the common expression “black death” to mean bubonic plague. With war, famine, and disease, the populace is dying too fast to be buried; their rotting corpses are left for the beasts of the field. For this combination of evils, compare our text to Luke 21:9-11.

All of these afflictions were visited on the world that John knew. In A.D. 62 the Roman legions were defeated by the Parthians to the east (cf. Tacitus, Annals 15.13-17), and there were shortages of food, such as those recorded in The Acts of the Apostles and in Suetonius's Lives of the Caesars (“Domition” 7). In addition, there were earthquakes, such as those in Asia Minor itself in A.D. 60 (cf. Tacitus, Annals 14.27), volcanic eruptions, such as Vesuvius (cf. Pliny, Letters 6.16), civil war in Rome following the suicide of Nero in 68, and the war in Judea that culminated in the destruction of that city in A.D. 70. All of these events, John is telling us, were the subjects of the Sacred Scroll opened by the Lamb. That is to say, they are all the fulfillment of prophecies in the final times.

Monday, December 5

Revelation 6:9-17: Besides the evils that afflict the people of the world, John knows of a special harm visited on Christians. After his description of the four horsemen, therefore, he speaks of the bloody persecution endured by believers (verses 9-11). Their blood (in the biblical idiom, their souls, because the soul is in the blood, according to Leviticus 17:11) has run down the side of the altar of sacrifice and pools at its base. They are martyrs, which is the Greek word for “witnesses.” Like the blood of Abel, their blood cries out to God, “How long?” (Compare Isaiah 6:11; Zechariah 1:12; Habakkuk 1:2; Daniel 8:13; 12:6)

The vengeance for which they pray is not a personal vindictiveness (for Christians always forgive their enemies and wish them no harm; this is an absolute rule, allowing no exceptions), but a petition for the fulfilling of God's righteous historical purposes.

They must wait, however, until the full measure of the martyrs is complete (compare Hebrews 11:40). Their white robes signify their participation in eternal life (cf. 7:13-17). The opening of the sixth seal declares those things that precede the end of the world and the final vindication of the saints.

First come the perturbations of the earth (verses 12-14), and then the effects on human beings (verses 15-17). The sequence of these afflictions follows the order of creation in Genesis 1, namely, (1) earth, (2) sun, (3) moon, (4) stars, (5) firmament, (6) land, (7) man. What John sees, then, is a kind of de-creation, a reversal of what God established, the collapse of the universe.

In the opening of the fifth, sixth, and seventh seals, we also detect the same four colors that accompanied the first four seals: thus, fifth seal, white robes; sixth seal, red moon and black sun; seventh seal, the green grass.

There is a great irony in the image of the “wrath of the Lamb.” Indeed, a wrathful lamb is unimaginable except to the enemies of God. The wrath, of course, does not come from the Lamb who shed His blood for the world's redemption and who hates nothing that He has made. The wrath comes, rather, from within the enemies themselves, who insist on seeing God as an enemy.

Tuesday, December 6

2 Maccabees 1: Second Maccabees begins with two introductory letters (1:1-9 and 1:10-2:18). The purpose of these introductory letters was to urge the Jews at Alexandria (who by this time outnumbered the Jews in Jerusalem) to add the feast of Hanukah to their liturgical calendar, so that they would observe the same liturgical calendar as the Temple in Jerusalem. That is to say, there was an effort to preserve a unity of worship--simultaneous worship--taking place in different places. If all the believers could not be present in the same place at the same time, it was thought desirable that at least they be praying together at the same time. Their prayer would unite them, even though they were separated by distance. This effort demonstrates a sense of communion that was not to be diminished by the circumstances of space. The awareness of other believers at prayer at the same time tended to widen, to catholicize the experience of worship.

The first of these letters, sent from Jerusalem in 124 B.C. (the year 188 of the Seleucid Kingdom), exhorts the Jews in Egypt to observe the winter feast of Hanukah, here called “the feast of Tabernacles in the month of Kislev” (verse 9). It is so called because it follows the liturgical structure of autumnal feast of Tabernacles, which coincided with the original dedication of the First Temple (1 Kings 8:2,65). It also coincided, we recall, with the dedication of the new altar erected after the Exile (3:3-4).

This is a model letter dispatched from the mother synagogue to the synagogue at Alexandria, which was probably already the largest synagogue in the world. It was sent for the purpose of encouragement, exhortation, and mutual support (verses 1-6).

The letter goes on to mention the recent sad state of affairs in Judea, already narrated in an earlier letter sent to Egypt during the reign of Demetrius (verse 7). This was Demetrius I Soter, who ruled the Seleucid kingdom from 162-150. The Jason referenced in this letter (verse 7) was the apostate high priest, whose story will be told in 4:7-5:10.

For centuries the Jews had been obliged to deal with large foreign powers whose policies interfered, in various ways, with the goals and ideals of their own nation. They had dealt with Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Persia. Now they were obliged to deal with the Greeks, more particularly the Seleucid kingdom governed from Antioch. This kingdom had been founded at the death of Alexander the Great in 323, when his excessively large empire had been divided among his generals. The Seleucid kingdom was named for Seleucus I Nicator (323-280), one of those generals.

As one sees in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the history of the Holy Land had been relatively peaceful during the Persian period, but a great deal of turmoil ensued when the Greeks and Macedonians came to power. In the first division of Alexander's empire, rule over the Holy Land fell to Ptolemy I Lagi, another of Alexander's generals, to whose governance was allotted Egypt and its adjacent regions. It was during his rule (323-284) that very close ties developed between the Jews in the Holy Land and Egypt. It was during that third century, in fact, that the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek at Alexandria, the capital of the Ptolemy family.

In subsequent wars (200-198 B.C.) between the Ptolemy and Seleucid families, however, the governance of the Holy Land passed to the latter, and the fortunes of the Holy Land, already ravaged by those wars, were gradually but very dramatically altered.

In 167 B.C. the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164), who decided to invade Egypt, imposed a heavy tax on Judea in order to finance the invasion. In effect, he simply robbed and pillaged the people.

Antiochus did not like the Jews. They did not fit in with his plans for a unified realm. His large realm, which included regions as far away as Babylon, embraced many ethnic groups separated by mountain ranges and a variety of languages and cultures. Hence, he set out on an ambitious program of cultural uniformity, which involved a religious synthesis of elements from Greece, Phoenicia, and Syria. (Recall that the Romans had already begun to combine the pantheon of Greece with that of Rome, identifying Ares with Mars, Hermes with Mercury, and so forth.) He had no trouble identifying Olympian Zeus (cf. 2 Maccabees 6:2) with the Syrian and Phoenician Baal, but he found Israel's God much less accommodating. In the view and resolve of Antiochus, therefore, the Jewish religion had to change, in order to be brought into conformity with his national agenda.

This resolve would have been bad enough for the Jews, but their situation was made much worse by the willingness of some of them to cooperate with the efforts of Antiochus. The latter had no trouble recruiting the assistance of many Jews who were all too happy to envisage their religion in newer and more accommodating terms. These Jews had in mind to alter their inherited faith in order to bring it into conformity with the wishes and aspirations of the times.

Thus, the Books of the Maccabees tell the story, not only of the oppression of the Chosen People from without, but also of attempts to corrupt the Jewish faith from within. This is a history, then, not only of persecution, but also of apostasy.

The second letter introductory to this book (1:10--2:18) was written earlier, shortly after the rededication of the Temple on December 14, 164 B.C. (10:1-8; 1 Maccabees 4:36-59) It also requests the Jews in Egypt to join with those in the Holy Land to celebrate annually the feast of Hanukkah to commemorate that rededication. Judas Maccabaeus is the only person named among the senders of this letter (verse 10).

This letter is addressed specifically to the spiritual leader of the Jews in Alexandria, Aristobolus. He is called the “teacher” of Ptolemy VI Philometor (181-146) inasmuch as he dedicated to that pharaoh a book in which he argued that the classical philosophy and moral wisdom of the Greeks was derived from the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. From that work, now lost, Clement of Alexandria quoted Aristobolus as saying, “And Plato followed the laws given to us, and clearly he studied everything that they contain” (Stromateis 1.22).

The unnamed “king” (verse 11) described in this letter is none other than Antiochus IV Epiphanes, recently deceased after his disastrous invasion of Persia. Seeking the treasures in the temple of the Sumerian goddess Nanaia, or Anaitis, he had declared himself her true husband (verses 13-14). This was another example of the religious syncretism pursued by this king; the Greeks identified Nanaia with their own Artemis. The author describes why this effort of Antiochus was unsuccessful (verses 15-16).

More significant to the theme of this book is the fact that the Jews had used the occasion of this eastward military campaign to neutralize the Seleucid army occupying Jerusalem and to purge and dedicate the Temple.

The curious story of the miraculous fire (1:19-2:13) came from a lost work ascribed to Nehemiah. This account served to identify the flames that consumed the sacrifices in the Second Temple with those that had consumed the sacrifices in the First Temple--namely, sacred fire that had descended from heaven on the sacrifices offered at the time of Solomon's dedication of the First Temple centuries earlier (2 Chronicles 7:1; cf. Leviticus 9:24). This story thus reinforces the emphasis on continuity and the maintenance of religious heritage, which is characteristic of this book.

This miracle of “liquid fire” is said to have made a special impression on the Persian emperor, who was Artaxerxes I (465-424) (verses 33-34). This should not surprise us, because in the religion of the ancient Persians, Zoroastrianism, fire itself was thought to be sacred.

Indeed, in the prayer offered at the time of the sacrifice (verses 24-29), the typical Zoroastrian of the period would have found little to which to object. The religion of Zoroaster (who apparently lived some two centuries earlier), was a kind of moral monotheism, in which the “Wise Lord,” Ahura Mazda, was the personal foundation of the moral order. This Hebrew prayer, therefore, in which the biblical God is addressed as “righteous” and “only just,” may have found deep resonance in the Persian soul.

We recall that the descendents of those same Zoroastrians eventually found their way to Bethlehem, guided by a star.

Wednesday, December 7

2 Maccabees 2: The first part of this chapter (verses 1-18) continues the second introductory letter of this book. It contains a curious account of Jeremiah at the time of Jerusalem's downfall in 587 B.C. According to this story, Jeremiah oversaw the removal of the Ark of the Covenant, the altar of incense, and the ancient Tabernacle to Mount Nebo before the end (verse 4).

The Tabernacle itself, which had not been in use since Solomon's construction of the Temple, was likely kept in some form of storage, and its location was known to Jeremiah, who had it placed in a cave on Mount Nebo (verse 5).

It is more remarkable that Jeremiah was able to abscond with the Ark of the Covenant and the altar of incense, which pertained to the appointments of the Temple. This detail gains plausibility, however, if one bears in mind the level of confusion that must have reigned in Jerusalem during the closing days before the final collapse.

Jeremiah further prophesied, at the time, that in due course the place of the concealment on Mount Nebo would be disclosed by a theophanic phenomenon (verse 8) like those indicated in Exodus 16:10; 40:35; and 1 Kings 8:10-11. Stories like this are great fun, of course, because they give the readers throughout out history something new to look forward to. Like the story of Elijah's return, such stories make their readers participants in the expectation. Besides, every sensible child knows the attraction of stories of buried treasure waiting to be discovered.

This letter also credits Nehemiah with gathering a library of Israel's archival records (verse 13), an effort copied by Judas Maccabaeus three centuries later (verse 14). Copies of these collections are made available to the Jews in Egypt (verse 15).

The second part of this chapter (verses 19-32) consists of a preface in which the editor of the book, a writer commonly called the Epitomist, announces his intention to condense into one book a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene (verse 23). This work, our Epitomist tells his readers, recorded in detail all the history associated with the recent trouble, including the military exploits and religious labors of Judas and his brothers (verses 19-22).

In verse 21 we find the first extant reference to “Judaism,” a term apparently meaning “the religion of the Jews” (cf. also 8:1; 14:38; Galatians 1:14). Recourse to this abstract term surely reflects the historical situation of the time, when most Jews lived and practiced their religion outside the Holy Land and apart from its historical institutions.

Anxious already that he may have said too much, the Epitomist brings his preface to an end (verse 32).

Thursday, December 8

2 Maccabees 3: Here commences the actual narrative of the Maccabean period. In order to put the material of this chapter into context, it will be useful to review a bit of history.

As the second century B.C. began, the Seleucid kingdom was playing an ambitious but dangerous hand. As we reflected earlier, between 200 and 198 the Seleucid king, Antiochus III (“the Great,” 223-187), wrested control of the Holy Land from Egypt, ruled over by Pharaoh Ptolemy V Epiphanes (203-181). At the same time, however, the mind of Antiochus was entertaining even bigger thoughts, and riskier.

When the Romans won the Second Punic War at the battle of Zama just a few years earlier, in 202, the wily Carthaginian general, Hannibal, escaped and sought refuge in the Seleucid court, hoping to fight Rome again on a better day. It was likely Hannibal himself that put into the mind of Antiochus III to turn his sights westward. He marched on Asia Minor and then Thrace in 197, prompting the King of Pergamos, Eumenes II Sotor (197-159), to complain to Rome. Rome, not anxious for another war so soon after defeating Carthage, attempted to settle the problem by diplomacy.

Some leaders on the world scene, however, regard it as a sign of weakness when an apparently strong nation, capable of military intervention, chooses diplomacy instead. It is important that powerful nations not forget this lesson of history--consistent and habitual recourse to diplomacy on the part of the strong tends to encourage lesser nations that are bent on aggression, tempting them to push their luck.

Antiochus III was one of those geopolitical leaders who regarded diplomacy by the strong as a sign of a lack of political resolve. In 192, having relinquished nothing after several years of diplomacy with the Romans, he invaded Greece, apparently confident that Rome would not intervene. One imagines that it was Hannibal, still, who encouraged him in this delusion. Hannibal wanted a fight with Rome above all things.

Rome, however, now provoked beyond measure, finally declared war, and Antiochus was driven back to Asia Minor in 191. The following year his fleet was defeated at Myonnesus and his army at Magnesia (cf. Daniel 11:18). At the Treaty of Apamea in 188 Antiochus was obliged to give up almost all of Asia Minor, to surrender his war elephants and fleet, to hand over Hannibal (regarded by the Romans as a monumental nuisance), to give Rome a group of important hostages that included his own son (the future Antiochus IV Epiphanes), and to pay an annual tribute that became increasingly burdensome in subsequent years.

The wily Hannibal managed to escape, but all the other conditions of the Treaty of Apamea were met. Antiochus III, desperate for funds to pay his indemnity to Rome, attempted to rob a temple in Elam in 187 and was killed for his efforts (cf. Daniel 11:19). He was not the last Seleucid to try robbing a temple.

It is useful to reflect on these facts of history, because they indicate that the Seleucid Kingdom, which seemed so powerful to the little nation of the Jews, was in fact in the course of a full, steady, relentless decline.

After the death of Antiochus III, the Seleucid debt to Rome was inherited by his son, Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175), who soon turned his eyes on another possible source of income, the Temple treasury at Jerusalem. It is at this point that we take up the present chapter of 2 Maccabees.

The governor at Jerusalem's Temple, Simon (called a Benjaminite in the Septuagint), had recently quarreled with the high priest Onias III (verse 4). Simon, unable to gain advantage over Onias in any other way, related to Apollonius of Tarsus, the Seleucid governor of Syria and Phoenicia, that the Temple treasury was full of money not being used (verse 6), and this word quickly reached the ears of the king and his minister Heliodorus. That is to say, Simon deliberately used the Temple treasury as a bait to lure the Seleucid throne to interfere at Jerusalem (verses 7-8; cf. Daniel 11:20).

When Heliodorus arrived at Jerusalem to claim the cash, Onias informed him that some of the money was intended for the relief of the poor (verse 10) and the rest of it was held in “sanctuary” status as a private trust (verses 11-12). Little impressed with such considerations, Heliodorus resolved to take the funds anyway (verse 13).

The shocked reaction of the priests and people to this threat to the Temple was universal (verses 15-21), and their prayers ascended to heaven (verse 22), where they were answered unto rather dramatic effect (verses 24-29). After the very life of Heliodorus was spared only by a sacrifice that Onias offered on his behalf (verses 31-34), the Seleucid minister returned home with chastened thoughts and worthier sentiments (verses 35-40).

The scourging and expulsion of Heliodorus inspired the artist Rafael, whose mural of the scene in the Vatican Museum may be viewed at http://www.abcgallery.com/R/raphael/raphael37.html.

Friday, December 9

2 Maccabees 4: Simon, whose treachery had brought about the dramatic events narrated in the previous chapter, was not less determined, in spite the frustration of his repeated attempts to be rid of Onias. Against the high priest he continued to plot with Apollonius, the governor of Cele-Syria (verses 1-4).

Onias, knowing this menace and eager to thwart it, resolved to bring the matter to the attention of Seleucus himself (verses 5-6). However, he was too late in this effort, for none other than Heliodorus had recently murdered the king in a palace revolt. This took place in 175.

Events did not turn out well for Heliodorus, because other factions in the court thwarted his efforts to seize control of the government. Moreover, another son of Antiochus III, also named Antiochus, who had been handed over to the Romans as a hostage at the Treaty of Apamea thirteen years earlier, managed to escape captivity and had already started to return home. He was at Athens when he learned of the death of his brother. Arriving at last, he was promptly put on the throne by those who had thwarted the rebellion of Heliodorus. He assumed the crown as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and the Jews were to find him the very worst of the Seleucid monarchs.

Before proceeding further with the narrative, it is well that we consider the state of the realm when Antiochus IV came to power, because the political conditions of the time render the seemingly erratic policies of this ruler more intelligible.

Antiochus inherited a shaky situation. His unstable throne was lately threatened by a palace revolt, and he found himself ruling an enormous and very diverse empire, difficult to govern, its various sections prone to come apart.

Moreover, Antiochus was menaced by sustained outward threats on every side. To the east the Parthians increasingly harassed his territory, and it was on a campaign in the east that he would eventually lose his life. On his southwestern border there loomed the increasingly hostile presence of Egypt, a realm far from resigned to its recent loss of rule over Palestine and Phoenicia. Most of all, however, there was Rome, certainly offended by Antiochus's escape, in violation of the Treaty of Apamea. Rome had defeated the Seleucids in all their earlier encounters, and Antiochus needed to tread lightly. His sword was not one to be measured against Rome. (As we shall see presently, the Jews had already begun to make overtures to Rome for their own protection, and it was this effort of the Jews that would finally bring Rome permanently into the politics of the region, a tragic presence that would lead directly to the fall of Jerusalem two centuries later.)

The combination of Rome and Egypt would make life particularly difficult for Antiochus Epiphanes. When assumed the throne in 175, the nominal ruler of Egypt was his nephew Ptolemy VI Philometor (181-146), but the latter had not yet attained his majority. The real ruler was Ptolemy's mother, Cleopatra I, the sister of Antiochus. When Ptolemy came of age in 172, Antiochus sent Apollonius of Tarsus (cf. 3:4-6) to Egypt for a double purpose. First, to represent the Seleucid throne at the coronation, and second, to assess the young king's geopolitical intentions. Apollonius discerned that the newly crowned pharaoh was not favorably disposed toward his uncle in Antioch. (It was during this time that Antiochus himself visited Jerusalem; cf. verses 21-22.)

The assessment of Apollonius was correct. In 170 Ptolemy Philometor attempted to reconquer Palestine. Antiochus, turning him back easily, then invaded Egypt, where he established a sort of protectorate over the reign of his rebellious nephew. When this arrangement collapsed on his withdrawal from the country, he returned in force and laid siege to Alexandria. Word of these developments reached the Roman senate, which ordered the invader to evacuate Egypt. Following a humiliating scene with the Roman legate Gaius Popilius Laenas in 168, Antiochus did so, aware that he was no match for Rome.

Because of these military pressures threatening Antiochus from without, he did not feel comfortable with dissident elements within his realm. In order to solidify into one political reality the diverse cultures over which he ruled, Antiochus decided on a rigorous policy of cultural and religious reform, in the hope of discouraging movements toward independence and rebellion in the local provinces. It was not his intent to suppress the regional religions, but to make them “fit in” by a process of assimilation, to integrate them into a larger, more comprehensive culture.

Antiochus did not believe that these local religions, correctly understood, were truly at odds with one another in those deeper dimensions that make religion itself really important. After all, he reasoned, was there really so much difference whether the divinity was called Zeus or Baal? All these different religions, did they really differ so much from one another except in superficial particulars or the names by which they invoked the gods?

Antiochus was what we might today call a Perennialist. Throughout the ages, he thought, the religions of the various cultures were all pretty much the same and had all deposited their experience in a common pool of religious wisdom. What united these religions were those perennial features that they all shared. Antiochus was persuaded that the adherents of those various religions-those tribal faiths-were all structured in essentially the same way and were addressing themselves to the same set of gods and religious concerns. He was very comfortable with a policy of mix-and-match in matters of religion.

Consequently, Antiochus did not intend to suppress local religions and religious customs, but to universalize them and to raise them to a higher cultural plain by ridding them of elements that made them narrow and sectarian.

In this endeavor, Antiochus pursued the philosophical tradition of Alexander the Great, who believed that religion should unite people, not divide them. Alexander's universal vision had attempted to unite into one vast empire peoples as diverse as Macedonians, Greeks, Phoenicians, Syrians, Jews, Egyptians, Persians, and Hindus. This universal mission of became part of Hellenistic culture itself, and Antiochus was nothing more than its enthusiastic heir.

From the perspective of Antiochus, the people most in need of his reforms were the Jews, whose God stubbornly resisted cultural and religious assimilation. That is to say, the Jewish religion, as inherited from antiquity, steadfastly refused to “fit in.”

On the other hand, there were Jews that agree with Antiochus. They too thought their religion out of step with the times. In addition, some of them were willing to betray their own nation and religion for the sake of selfish advantage. As we have seen, one of these was Simon, the governor of the Temple.

Another was Jason (or Joshua), a jealous brother of the high priest Onias III. Jason acceded to the high priesthood, when Onias, fearing that his days were numbered in the new political climate, fled to Egypt at the accession of Antiochus IV. There, in 169-168, he constructed a sort of rival temple at Heliopolis, popularly known as the temple of Onias (Josephus, The Jewish Wars 7.10.2). He would later leave Egypt and travel to Antioch for the purpose of denouncing his successors, an unwise decision that led to his death (verses 33-35).

Jason, to secure the high priesthood for himself, simply bribed the Seleucid court (verses 7-8). Antiochus IV, always strapped for cash, agreed readily, and from that point forward the high priesthood was available to the highest bidder.

Jason, to solidify the deal, also offered to advance the king's own cultural reforms by establishing a training center (gymnasion) for the Hellenizing of young Jews (verses 9-10). None of this could have taken place without the compliance of many of Jason's countrymen, including other priests (verses 13-17). Those associated with this institution wore special broad-rimmed hats associated with Hermes, the god of gymnasts (verse 12). In addition, those trained at this gymnasion took part in the athletic contests in Phoenicia, to which he sent a large sum of money for sacrifices to the god Hercules, identified by the “New theology” of the day with the Phoenician divinity, Melquart (verses 17-19).

To discourage appeals to Rome, Jason abrogated an earlier treaty of friendship between the Jews and the Roman senate (verse 11; cf. 1 Maccabees 8:17).

For all that, some of the Jews considered Jason too slow and conservative! Desiring even more concessions to Hellenism, they plotted his overthrow as high priest. After three years (174-171) Jason was replaced, and, following several further intrigues and a prolonged period of wandering, he finally died among the Spartans, buried in a foreign land and mourned by no one (verse 26; 5:6-10).

Jason's replacement as high priest was a cousin, another Onias, who is more commonly referred to as Menelaus. He was the brother of Simon, the governor of the Temple, who had learned that money was the real force in the choice of the high priest. He simply outwitted and outbid his rival (verses 23-25).

Having obtained the high priesthood by bribery, Menelaus was eventually summoned to deliver the goods, or at least to give an explanation why not (verses 27-29). At it happened, Antiochus himself was away from the capital at the time (verses 30-31), a circumstance that permitted Menelaus to do, once again, what he did best. He bribed the king's minister Andronicus with money gained by the sale of vessels stolen from the Temple (verse 32).

It was at this point that Onias, learning that the high priesthood had once again changed hands, returned from Egypt and came to denounce these recent usurpers of the office that was rightfully his (verse 33). Now that Menelaus had already compromised Andronicus by bribery, he persuaded him to violate the principle of sanctuary and murder Onias (verses 34-36). Antiochus, on his return to the capital, caused Andronicus to be executed for this crime (verses 37-38).

Meanwhile, things were not idle back at Jerusalem. During the absence of Menelaus, his brother Lysimachus, left in charge of the Temple, took the opportunity to plunder that venerable institution still further, provoking an uprising among the common people (verses 39-40). These defeated the force sent against them and killed Lysimachus (verses 41-42).

Needless to say, these events reflected badly on Menelaus, who nonetheless managed with more bribery to extricate himself from blame at the royal court. Even the pagans recognized the injustice (verses 43-50). Obviously things were going from bad to worse at Jerusalem.

Because of the greater length of some of these Daily Reflections, Saturday's reflection will be posted at the end of the week.



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