It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sirach 26-28

Since I can't figure out what to say about chapter 26, I have decided to quote from Dianne Bergant's comments in the New Interpreter's Study Bible: "Ben Sira was a man of his time...." and "[We] must discover ways of gleaning the fundamental theological meaning of the teaching in order to interpret it in ways that are more suitable for our times."

Chapter 27: Don't betray your friend's secrets. Don't waste your time with foolish people. Treacherous people get what they deserve.

Chapter 28: Let the Lord take care of vengeance. You forgive. Don't gossip or lie or slander.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Sirach 24-25

Wisdom praises herself. When she was looking for the right home, the Creator sent her to Israel. There she took root and grew. She offers her fruits. Wisdom began like a canal from a river, and water gardens, then became a river then a sea.

Wisdom takes pleasure in three things: agreement among brothers and sisters; friendship among neighbors; and a wife and husband who live in harmony. Wisdom loathes three kinds of people: a pauper who boasts, a rich person who lies, and an old fool that commits adultery.

If you didn't learn anything as a youth, you won't have learned it by the time you are old. OTOH sound judgment is attractive in the gray-haired. How great is the one who has found wisdom, but none is superior to the one who fears the Lord.

Wicked women are evil.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Sirach 20-23

Some truths stay true; e.g,
     Some people keep silent because they have nothing to say, while others keep silent because they know when to speak.
     A liar's way leads to disgrace.
     Favors and gifts blind the eyes of the wise; like a muzzle on the mouth they stop reproofs.
     Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure, of what value is either?
     Flee from sin as from a snake; for if you approach sin, it will bite you.
     Panic and insolence will waste away riches.
     When an intelligent person hears a wise saying, he praises it and adds to it; when a fool hears it, he laughs.
     Weep for the dead, for he left the light behind; and weep for the fool for he has left intelligence behind. Weep less bitterly for the dead, for he is at rest; but the life of the fool is worse than death.
     One who throws a stone at birds scares then away, and one who reviles a friend destroys a friendship.
     Gain the trust of your neighbor in his poverty, so that you may rejoice with him in his prosperity.
     Sinners are overtaken through their lips; by them the reviler and the arrogant are tripped up.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sirach 17-19

The Lord created human beings and granted them authority over everything on earth, bestowed knowledge upon them, established with them an eternal covenant. The Lord sees everything we do, rewarding our kindnesses.

Forsake your sins. The Lord is merciful.

The Lord is great; humans, not so much. But, the Lord is patient with us, pouring out mercy, granting forgiveness.

Do not mix reproach with your good deeds, or spoil your gift by harsh words.
Restrain your appetites. Don't waste your money on luxuries.
Don't gossip.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sirach 13-16

Disadvantages of associating with the rich; disadvantages of not being rich. Misery is evil.

On a more positive note: Enjoy yourself everyday. Seeking wisdom results in happiness.

You are free to choose how you live; so, choose to keep the Lord's commandments. Great as is the mercy of the Lord, so also the Lord's chastisement.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sirach 8-12

Occasionally I need to remind myself  that our Bible was written by men to male audience. And, sometimes, I need to remember that this book of wisdom, like much (all?) of our Bible was written to faithful Jews who were living in a place that was being ruled by a powerful foreign nation that definitely was not Jewish.

That said, much of the advice in chapters 8 through 12 is still applicable and helpful but cynical; don't be rude to the rich because they have enough resources to overcome you; don't ignore the advice of the elderly; don't abandon old friends; don't get mad about everything; and, if you hang out with sinners, you will get what you deserve.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sirach 5-7

Remember, and act as if you remember, that God has helped you and will continue to help you.

Stand up for what you know to be right, but be quicker to listen than to speak.

Distinguish between faithful friends and temporary ones.

The search for wisdom may have difficulties but it's worth it.

Do not be evil.
Don't stop praying or giving alms.
Don't lie.
Don't be lazy.
Don't mistreat anyone.
Don't avoid those who mourn or those who are sick.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sirach Prologue-Chapter 4

Scholars date this collection about 180 BCE, a time of Hellenization. The Jews, and everyone else too, were aware of the advantages the Greeks had provided to their world. Sirach (the grandson of  Ben Sira) presents evidence that real wisdom comes from the Lord.

God created Wisdom before all other things, poured her out upon all creation, lavished her upon those who love the Lord. Fear of the Lord enables glory, gladness, and long life. 

Wisdom begins in humans in the womb and continues to live with them, enabling them to flourish.

Advice: "Unjust anger cannot be justified, for anger tips the scale to one's ruin. Those who are patient stay calm until the right moment, and then cheerfulness comes back to them. They hold back their words until the right moment; then the lips of many tell of their good sense."

Trust in the Lord. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, forgiving sins and saves in times of distress.

Woes will come on the timid, the lazy, double-dealers, and cowards.

Honor your parents. Help them when they get old.

On humility, "The greater you are, the more you must humble yourself; so you will find favor in the sight of the Lord. Your humility glorifies the Lord."

Living out humility: Recognize your limitations. Don't meddle. Don't be stubborn.

Warning: Aid the poor. God is listening to their prayers. 

More advice: Rescue the oppressed and those who are orphaned. Do not refrain from speaking at the proper moment. But "Do not be reckless in your speech, or sluggish and remiss in your deeds."

Friday, January 23, 2015

Wisdom 18-19

Wisdom 18-19 continues the review of the events of the Exodus and of lessons learned. Reassurance: God is with us, guiding and protecting us. Contrast the punishment God imposed on the powerful nation: They deserved it because they were unkind to immigrants.

The book of Wisdom closes with this address to God:
For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people,
and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places.
Tomorrow we will begin reflecting on (The Wisdom of Jesus Son of) Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus.  Read the Prologue and first four chapters.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wisdom 16-17

Worshipping idols is wrong, but even worse is worshipping animals. Your ancestors were held captive by animal worshippers. God sent biting locusts and flies, venomous serpents to punish them. Then, during the exodus, your ancestors were bitten by snakes. Yet, God had mercy on them and  healed them. God destroyed the crops of Egypt but sent manna to your ancestors.

The unrighteous will be punished. Kindness will be shown to those who trust in God.

The wicked suffer from cowardice. Fear is nothing but a giving up of the helps that come from reason. Hope, defeated by this inward weakness, prefers ignorance of what causes the torment.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wisdom 13-15

If it's something that you made, even if it is really pretty, it's still something that you made. Don't substitute an idol for your worship or trust.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wisdom 11-12

A continuation of the story of the relationship between Wisdom and the people. Wisdom accompanied the through the wilderness where they got unexpected but abundant water and where they were tested, where the wicked were punished so they could learn what they should do and recognize how powerful God is. And how merciful.

Israel's enemies, Canaanites and Egyptians were punished for their abominable sins. Through those examples, Israel learned that the righteous must be kind.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Wisdom 8-10

Wisdom's virtues: self-control and prudence, justice and courage.

Wisdom knows past history and can infer the future. Friendship with her is pure delight and will yield wealth and renown.

Wisdom was present with God at creation and continues to guide, to strengthen, and to rescue.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Wisdom 6-7

Listen, you people in charge: God is in charge of you.

Wisdom is necessary to rulers for their lives and for the salvation of the world.

Wisdom is worth more than gold or silver; all good things come through her. She is a breath of the power of God, a mirror of the working of God.

God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Wisdom 3-5

Do good to get good. Otherwise, bad things will happen. When the final judgment comes, we may be surprised at who makes it. Arrogance won't work get you any long-lasting benefits.

Addendum to yesterday's reading: As far as I can remember, only Enoch and Elijah went to heaven. The afterlife just wasn't an Old Testament concept--see Ecclesiastes, for example. Yet, here in the Apocrypha, the ways to get in and be kept out of heaven are important.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Wisdom of Solomon 1-2

Commentators conclude that this book was compiled in the first century BCE. Although it seems to have originally been written in Greek, its author is Jewish. It reminds of the wisdom books that we include in our Bible: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes.

Chapters 1 gives advice and encouragement to people who are in charge: Love righteousness. Don't grumble. Don't lie. Don't overeat or overdrink. Don't be misled into thinking that the wicked will get by with it.

Question to myself: If I were giving advice to a powerful person, would I begin with saying, "Be righteous."?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Esther Additions E and F

Addition E comes after Haman's plot to destroy the Jews is overturned. The king decrees that the Jews rather than being dangerously disloyal are instead followers of the most righteous laws and are the children of the living God.

Addition F quotes Mordecai's reaction to this change in the royal attitude which he attributes to God's care.

Who is the hero of this story--Mordecai or Ether?

Tomorrow's reading is the first 2 chapters of the Wisdom of Solomon.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Esther Addition D

After a period of three days after ending her prayer, she again puts on her splendid garments, she, with the support of two of her maidservants, approached the king.She looked beautfiful and happy but was very scared. She was aware no was allowed to approach the king unbidden. The king looked angry. She fainted. God changed the king's attitude. "Those rules don't apply to family," he assured her.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Esther Additions B and C

After Addition A comes chapters 1, 2, and 3: The king gives a banquet--lots of drinking for lots of days. On the seventh day, he directs Queen Vashti to come dance for them. She refuses. He fires her for giving this bad example to other wives. He soon misses having a wife. When  a nation-wide search for a new queen is begun, Mordecai offers his foster child, his niece, Esther. The king picked her to be his new queen. She kept her Jewishness a secret. Mordecai discovered a plot to kill the king. He told Esther who told the king. Not all is well. Mordecai refused to do obeisance to the newly promoted Haman who was so angry at this insult that he persuaded the king to destroy all the Jews.

Addition B. The king sends a letter throughout the kingdom stating that his advisor Haman has warned him that the Jews who live among them are strange and harmful because they follow their own way of life and have their own laws. They are so dangerous that they all should be destroyed.

I'm reading this letter and thinking about what I have also been reading recently of the blanket condemnation of Muslims because of the totally unacceptable actions of some.

Addition C is the prayers that Mordecai and Esther make to God after learning of the threat against the Jews. In her prayer, Esther assures God that she abhors being in a lofty position and has refused to eat at Haman's table.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Esther, Addition A

The Septuagint (or LXX, the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures) includes some material that isn't in what we Christians call the Old Testament. When Jerome translated the Septuagint, he retained the original numbering of the book of Esther, thereby modifying the chronological order to some extent. That is, Addition A is numbered 11-12 in the Apocrypha, but would have proceeded what we have numbered Esther 1. Another difference: King Ahasuereus is called King Artaxerxes

Mordecai is a Jew, one of the captives of the powerful Babylon. He has a vision of impending disaster to the earth and the outcry of the righteous to God. In his dream, the lowly were exalted, and those held in honor were destroyed.

Mordecai overheard a plot against the king and reported it. The king appoints him to his court. Haman was jealous wanted to harm Mordecai.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reading Judith 14-16

Judith directed them on what they were to do next. Her advice worked. The Assyrians fleed from them. The people sang a hymn of praise for her.

Denise Dombkowski Hopkins in Women's Bible Commentary lists the varying ways that Judith has been interpreted:  Femme fatale, female warrior, feminist heroine, virtue personified, lying murderer, saintly beauty

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reflection on reading Judith 12-13

Judith remained in camp three days eating and drinking only from the supplies she had brought with her rather than their food, which would have been considered unclean for her. Each day for three days, she bathed in the spring and prayed to God for directions on how to help her people triumph.

On the fourth day, Holofernes sent for her to come to a banquet. As he told his personal servant, "If I let her leave here without having intercourse with her, she'll laugh at me." Judith did come to the banquet, dressed in her finery. Holofernes, overcome with passion, asked her to have a drink and to be merry." She agreed saying, "This is the greatest day in my whole life," but furnished the wine from the supply that she had brought. Holofernes showed his pleasure at the situation by drinking more wine than he ever had before.

The slaves withdrew, closing the tent so no one would be able to enter. Judith was left alone with Holofernes who had passed out. Judith took the sword hanging above the bedpost and praying to God for strength, with two blows, cut off his head.

Judith and her maid went back to Bethulia, taking Holofernes' head with them. The people were astounded that they had returned safely. Judith asserted that God was still extending mercy to the people of Israel and had destroyed their enemies. For proof, she showed them Holofernes's head. She swore that the Lord had protected her from being defiled. They were astonished. They offered prayers of praise to God, and Uzziah predicted that no one would forget her accomplishments. The people agreed.

Friday, January 9, 2015

reading the Apocrypha

After reading through the entire Bible in a year, I now am attempting to read through those books that aren't included in the One-Year-Bible readings; i. e., the Apocrypha. I plan to interrupt these readings during Lent.

Reflections on reading through the Apocrypha--Judith 1-11


May have been written not long after the time of the Maccabean revolt against the ruling Seleucid Empire (Greeks--read not followers of the God that Jews recognized). This story of Judith is set much earlier during the Assyrian reign.

If you are better history scholars than I am, you may pick up some historical inaccuracies in the description of the foreign rulers and which empire they ruled. See Amy-Jill Levine’s contribution to Judith in the Oxford Bible Commentary, The Apocrypha.

Nebuchadnezzar sent Holofernes, the chief general of his army, to conquer all the lands to the west (what we think of as Syria and Egypt). He commanded him:  Show no mercy to resisters. And for you, obey all my commands, and do it quickly.

The army was made up of 120,000 marching troops, 12,000 archers on horseback, enough animals for food, huge amounts of gold and silver, and more animals to carry all that.

Victory followed victory. Plunder and destruction; execution of all the young men. When they learned of the oncoming threat, the cities on the seacoast that had not yet been attacked surrendered, “Take our land, wheat fields. Take our inhabitants as slaves if you want to.”
Why do we read the Bible? Why do we read history? Should we be troubled by historical inaccuracies in the Bible?

How is our reading of this account differ if we live in a powerful nation or one without means of defense?

The army continued toward Judea. The Israelites were terrified. They had only recently returned from exile and were alarmed at the possibility of having the reconstructed temple destroyed again. Instead of surrender, they prepared for battle.
What would be the modern equivalent of sackcloth?
Israel’s defiance made Holofernes angry, “Who do they think they are? Where do they think that power and strength come from anyway?

One of the generals, Achior, summed up for him the history of the Israelites--prosperity and pain, their continued connection to God, but varying obedience to God’s commands: Their God hates sin so much that if they depart from the way he had prescribed for them, he lets foreign powers defeat them.”

Achior advised, “We need to find out if they commit some sin because that will be the time we will be able to defeat them.”

The army was incensed at the notion that Israel could withstand their power at any time, “Let’s don’t wait for them to make their God mad. We can beat them anyway.”
How do our actions indicate where we think that power and strength come from?

Holofernes had the same attitude, “Who are you to tell us not to attach them because their God will defend them: Nebuchadnezzar is our god, and he’s stronger than theirs.”

He ordered Achior to be taken to one of the Israelite towns, Bethulia, so he could see for himself which army was stronger. When the Israelites heard of Holofernes’ boast of his ability to thwart their God, they prayed to God for protection. And prepared for defense.

The invaders seized their water supply and cut off all approaches to Bethulia. Surrounded all all sides, the Israelites were in despair. They told their ruler Uzziah to surrender, that being slaves was better than being dead. Uzziah refused, “Let’s give God five more days.”
When can the inevitable become evitable?
The woman this book is named after finally makes her appearance in the story. Judith is a widow, religious, beautiful, and rich.

When she heard about Uzziah’s pleas for the five-day wait, she summoned the town officials, “Who are you to put God to the test? Don’t threaten God. Don’t try to bribe God. Ask for God’s help and he will hear if he wants to. In spite of everything, let us give thanks to God.”

Uzziah professed that her words were true, but the people were so thirsty that they couldn’t wait for divine intervention.

Judith said, “I’ll take care of this before the five-day time limit you set expires. Uzziah consented.
How reassuring are Judith’s assurances?

Judith prayed, “O Lord God, you have imposed vengeance before. These Assyrians are proud of their power and wealth and don’t admit that you are the Lord. Show them.

She continued her prayer, “For your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope.”

After her prayers, she took off the sackcloth and changed out of her widow clothes into the kind she had worn to go to festivals with her husband.  She had her maid pack a bag full of wine and special food. Uzziah consented to her leaving the city.

After traveling for a long distance, Judith and her maid were arrested by an Assyrian patrol. She told that she was fleeing from the upcoming destruction of her city and needed to talk to the commander Holofrenes. They were so struck by her beauty that they agreed to take her. The crowds on the way commented, “Who could despise the Israelites if they have women like these? We had better kill they all otherwise, they’ll take over the whole world.”
Does a fine appearance and words that we agree with affect the creditabilty of someone?

Invited into his tent, Judith told Holofrenes that everyone on earth should be loyal to King Nebuchadnezzar. She also told him that the advice Achior had given about timing the assault was true--that God would not protect the Israelites if they sinned.

She said “They are getting very close to sinning--they are hungry and thirsty enough to consume food and drink that has been consecrated.” She added, “When I heard about this upcoming sin, I decided to come tell you. I’ll lead your army through Judea to Jerusalem where you can set up your throne.

Holofrenes, pleased by her words in addition to her beauty agreed to do what she said. He added, “If your promises come true, your God will be my God, and you will live in the king’s palace.

Achior’s advice got him the death penalty. The same advice from the beautiful, rich woman was persuasive.