Burnt Biblical Scroll Deciphered by Digital Technology

A burnt scroll discovered inside in the synagogue at Ein Gedi, Israel can finally be read thanks to new technology. At first considered a lost cause because it was both wrapped and burnt, University of Kentucky Professor Brent Seales were able to digitally “unwrap” it to reveal the oldest lines of Leviticus (Lev 1:1-8) discovered since the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The combination of high-resolution scanning and the team’s “unwrapping” software made the discovery possible. The scroll was discovered in 1970 at an excavation of Ein Gedi, and is dated to the 6th century AD.

The research team at UK produced the flattened, readable text from the micro-computed tomography of the Ein Gedi scroll via the following successive stages:

1. Volume preparation

The data scan from the micro-CT machine is processed in order to enhance the ability to see the structures in the scan: the surface of the material, and the ink that is written on that material.

2. Surface segmentation

The data scan is carefully partitioned into the surfaces on which there is writing.  This partitioning is automatic and uses computer algorithms that are being developed through research. The result is a 3-D surface that is positioned exactly in the data volume where there is evidence of surfaces and writing.  Because the surfaces are rolled up layers within the scroll, they are shaped like tightly coiled sheets of paper.

3. User guidance

The user revises and improves the surface estimates that were made automatically by the surface segmentation step. The user is guided by views of the data scan and a draft view of how the surface appears in the scan.

4. Texture rendering

The completed surface is rendered as a high quality 3-D surface with the texture (markings, structure and ink evidence) from its precise position in the original data scan. The rendering step also produces a flattened version of the 3-D surface texture. This unwraps the potentially curvy and coiled 3-D surface so that it is a single flat page.

This video explains the process using the tasty medium of pastry.

Pope Benedict, Creation, and Biblical Criticism

My paper “The Word in Creation: The Ratzingerian Critique of the Historical-Critical Method and Its Application to the Creation Accounts” is up at Homiletic and Pastoral Review.

Two of my preoccupations during my master’s studies were Creation (particularly the Augustinian understanding of Genesis) and the theology of Pope Benedict. This paper was where the two converged thanks to Ratzinger’s little masterpiece In the Beginning…’: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, which allowed me to explore his approach to Biblical criticism in the context of unfolding Genesis 1.

Here’s a bit of it:

Creation was not a preoccupation of the Israelites until after the Babylonian captivity, when they began looking back at their origins and—drawing on ancient tradition—developed the passages into the form we now know. What they tell the Jews is simply this: God was never just the God of one piece of land or one place. If he was, then he could be overthrown by another, stronger “god.” After Israel lost everything, and began encountering God again in their misery, they came to understand that this was the God of all people, all lands, and indeed, of all the universe. He had this power, first in Israel, then in Babylon, because he created the world and all that was in it.

In captivity, they heard creation myths such as that of the Babylonian Enuma Elish, which tells of Marduk splitting the body of a dragon in two to form the world, and fashioning humans out of dragon blood. All of this dark and primordial nonsense is banished by the image of an earth “without form and void.” No more dragons, no more gods, no more violence and blood: just the pure power of creation from nothing, by a God who made man, not to suffer and struggle and die, but to walk in paradise.

There was order to creation, not chaos. It emerged from Reason, not madness. And it was spoken into being by the Word of God. Indeed, Jews believed that the Torah existed before creation. Creation happened to make the Torah known.

Furthermore, the shape of the creation account itself was meant to echo the Torah and to sanctify time and the week. Time becomes sacred in this account, with man laboring for six days in imitation of God, and resting to worship God on the seventh, in imitation of the “rest” of God Himself. The creation accounts thus build towards, and culminate in, the Sabbath, “which is the sign of the covenant between God and humankind.”24 In a very real sense, then, the creation account can be seen as liturgical: “Creation exists for the sake of worship.” That final day is a day in which humanity itself participates in the freedom of the almighty, provided to us in the covenant. We “enter his rest” (in the words of Psalm 95 and Hebrews).

Read the rest.

Hip-Deep Heaps of Quail!

Today’s infographic comes courtesy of Translation Follies. It purports to illustrate Numbers 11:31, in which the Lord sends quail in abundance to the Israelites.

From Logos Bible Software

From Logos Bible Software

Some Bibles, including the NAB, do indeed translate the passage as “at a depth of two cubits upon the ground.” Even the fairly literal NASB adds an italicized deep in the passage.

The Hebrew, however, roughly works out to “about two cubits the surface the land,” without mentioning depth. (The Septuagint uses the Greek ἀπό, which means “away from” the land.)

The RSV gets it right with the key word “above” rather than “deep.” That is to say, the birds flew low–two cubits, or about 3 feet–over a large swath of land, making them easier to kill, not that Israelites were wading hip deep in a sea of quail swarming on the ground.

 

 

 

Verbum 6 is Here

Verbum Bible Software (the Catholic version of Logos Bible Software) is the backbone of my research and writing on religion. It allows me to drill into massive amounts of data with ease. Scripture, original language resources, church documents, history, papal writings, theology, philosophy, commentaries, and, most important of all, a huge amount of patristic material is all part of my Verbum library. I can highlight, annotated, clip, export, compare, and do almost anything I need to do with text. I can’t imagine doing some of the work requires for my masters without it. Most recently, the ghost series drew heavily on Verbum.

Version 6 was just rolled out, and it adds some very nice new features. This video provides an overview, but some of the things added are

The Psalm Browser was the new feature that really caught my eye. It allows you sort psalms by type, author, and more using visual tools.

Ancient Literature Tools gather all ancient resources that refer or relate to a passage.

Timeline and Atlas: These tool allows you situation Bible books and events in a historical context, and locate them geographically.

Cultural Concepts is a search result that gather references to ancient cultural ideas (such as anointing or hospitality) found in scripture.

Bible Book Guides provide various kinds of introduction and background material for each book of the Bible.

Word Sense does a good job at distinguishing among various meanings of the same word.

Factbook functions like a heavily linked encyclopedia within Verbum, pulling up information, links, references, and resources for topics and individuals, such as “carpenter” or “St. Thomas Aquinas.”

Media resources have been expanded with some powerful search features and some nifty new items, such as aerial views of locations as they look in Bibles times, and as they look now.

There are more robust search and language tools, enhanced introductions to Greek and Hebrew, and much more in the update. I’m loving it so far, and plan to write about a couple of features in more depth.

You can buy or upgrade Verbum here, and see the full line of Logos/Verbum 6 tutorials here.

Debunking the Latest “Married Jesus” Hoax

When these stories start to burble up in my RSS feeds, I always swear I’m going to ignore them and wait for them to go away. Just paying attention to them makes people dumber.not_this_crap_again (3)

This one was an easy call, because the articles had the “tell” of pure BS right inside: the name “Simcha Jacobovici,” mostly famous for outlandish claims like the Talpiot Tomb theory, the forged James Ossuary, finding proof of the Exodus, and similar cringe-worthy nonsense. He’s about as credible as that guy who keep claiming to have the body of a bigfoot in his freezer, and I’m not even exaggerating.

Somehow, Jacobovici and his pet conspiracy-theory academic Barrie Wilson have managed to sucker the British Library into supporting his latest bid for attention and money, just in time for a book and media blitz to coincide with the holiday season. It serves everyone’s purpose, I guess:  they get coverage for their books, people remember that the British Library exists and is filled with genuine treasures, and the media gets eyeballs and the chance to stick a knife into Christianity, which they hate.

So What Is The Discovery?

That’s the hilarious part, because:

1)  There is no discovery! It’s an old and well-known pseudepigraphal text called “Joseph and Aseneth,” about which I’ve written from a theological perspective. They’re trying to hide this fact by referring to it as “The Ecclesiastical History of Zacharias Rhetor” (aka Pseudo-Zachariah Rhetor) , but that’s simply the larger text in which the Syriac text of”Josepeh and Aseneth” (a late translation of an an earlier Greek text) tale is embedded.

2) Jesus and Mary are never mentioned in it!

The original is a fascinating story about the patriarch Joseph and his marriage to the Egyptian Aseneth, mentioned in passing in Genesis 41:45, and deals with her conversion from idolatry to monotheism.

The only way they can get headlines is by turning an allegorical, novelistic tale of a well-known patriarch into a discovery about the historical Jesus by replacing “Joseph” with “Jesus” and “Aseneth” with “Mary Magdalene.”

Why?

No reason, really, except a complete misunderstanding of early Biblical exegesis, particularly that practiced in Alexandria, which sought Christ in every Old Testament text and tried to draw out the Christological meaning from those texts.

But no, that’s not it! It’s “encoded,” you see, to hide the Real Truth That Will Destroy Christianity Forever No Seriously Guys For Reals This Time.

They see mention of the Lord and the incarnate Word in surrounding (not the main) text and the tale becomes, not a theological lesson, but an encrypted history, because the original writers foresaw that, 1500 years later, a couple of dudes would need make payments on their beach houses.

There is controversy about the text: whether it’s purely late Jewish or a Christian adaptation of Jewish material. It may come from  a Second Temple Jewish context without a Christian influence, or it may be an adaptation of a Jewish original into a Christian allegory. My essay points out some of the Eucharistic elements which might make this second suggestion a viable reading.

They’re trying to make a big deal of the “secret” text “discovered” in the British Library, but of course the Syriac version of “Joseph and Aseneth” was not lost at all. Scholars just hadn’t settled on a context for it.

Let’s even pause a moment and ride along with Barrie and Jacobovici to read this as a Christian text. It’s all very allegorical if it is, and if we do read “Joseph” as “Jesus,” what we have then is an allegorical tale of the marriage of Jesus to the Church, which would be a common image used by early Church writers, particularly of the Alexandrian school. An allegorical reading would be a sensible reading supported by similar texts.

The idea that this proves the literal, historical fact of an actual marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is supported by nothing more than wishful thinking and the desire to undermine Christianity and score an easy payday. There is no text (not even a trace of a text, and texts do leave traces even when they’re gone) that suggests a literal marriage of Jesus. None. That’s a curiously modern obsession.

Try to remember what happened with the last Jesus is Married story that sucked up all the media oxygen, and recall the wisdom of Michael Crichton and his Gell-Mann Effect.

This junk comes around without fail every year. I hate covering it, but I hate fraud and ignorance worse.

Ghosts in the Bible: The New Testament

Meister_des_Codex_Aureus_Epternacensis_001

Dives and Lazarus (Codex Aureus, 11th century)

There are no ghosts in the New Testament.

We do, however, find the language of spirits and references to death that can illuminate the subject.

When we read passages such as Matthew 8:22 (”Let the dead bury the dead”) and 22:32 (”God is not the God of the dead but of the living”) we may be confused. Is Jesus disregarding the dignity of the dead, or denying the need of people to grieve and mourn? Tobit was deemed a just man because he cared for the dead. Is Jesus saying something different?

We need to read these passages with two things in mind. First, there is the Jewish purity laws governing contact with the dead. The person burying a body would be rendered ritually impure: a kind of “death” that suggests that the “dead” do indeed bury the dead.

Second, there is the pagan background discussed in my previous post, with people sleeping on graves and seeking supernatural aid from the dead. Jesus is saying that God is the God of life and the living, and he grants no special power to the dead. “Why do you seek the living among the dead,” he will say in Luke 24:5.

Jesus has reversed death. Death is conquered, and essentially inverted. “He who saves his life will lose it.” (Matthew 16:25 and Luke 9:24) This is the new life in Christ.

It’s natural, then, for wayward spirits to have no part in this new life, for they represent an intermediary state, neither dead nor alive, that has no place in Christianity.

Ghosts, however, were still part of the culture, and we see this in several places in the New Testament.

»When Jesus walks on water, the apostles mistake him for a ghost. (Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:49)

But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” [Greek: phantasma] And they cried out for fear.

»When the women see him after the resurrection, he tells them not to be afraid, most likely because they would have feared he was a ghost. (Luke 28:10)

Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

»When he appears to apostles after the resurrection they believe they are a seeing a ghost.

But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit [Greek: pneuma]. (Luke 24:37)

»In the same scene, we witness again the supposed immaterial nature of ghosts.

See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit [Greek: pneuma] has not flesh and bones as you see that I have. (Luke 24:39–40)

Two Greek words are used to convey the same essential meaning.

Pneuma is a breath of air, and by analogy, a spirit. It is used frequently in the New Testament, both for the Holy Spirit and for evil spirits. For example:

“And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit [Greek: pneuma].” (Mark 1:23–24)

Pneuma appears in Wisdom 17:14-15 with the same meaning:

But throughout the night, which was really powerless, and which beset them from the recesses of powerless Hades, they all slept the same sleep, and now were driven by monstrous specters [Greek: pneuma],and now were paralyzed by their souls’ surrender, for sudden and unexpected fear overwhelmed them. [Wisdom is one of the few OT books composed in Greek.]

Phantasma is what we’d call a ghost: an apparition or phantasm. We find it only in the scene where Jesus walks on the water, suggesting that he is displaying some power (lightness or immateriality) traditionally associated with phantoms.

These passages tell us that the idea of ghosts was known to the followers of Jesus. We also see recognizable qualities of these ghosts: they are immaterial, they’re scary, they represent the restless spirits of the dead, and they are light enough to walk on water, suggesting they float on the air.

Yet at the same time, the New Testament appears to shut the door firmly on the idea of ghosts who can wander the earth. In Luke 16:19-31, the story of Dives and Lazarus suggests that the dead can leave neither heaven nor hell.

In the parable, Dives [which is Latin for “rich man,” traditionally used as the man’s name] passes by the poor man Lazarus without helping him. When they both die, Dives goes to Hades and Lazarus to heaven.

From his place of torment, Dives sees Lazarus resting in the bosom of Abraham and begs him for comfort, or that he at least send a message to his family warning them to change their ways.

Abraham denies the first request, saying

Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us. (Luke 16:27)

Although Abraham rejects the idea of people passing between heaven and hell, he doesn’t directly reject the possibility that Lazarus can return to earth as a spirit. The passage suggests that he won’t, because

If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)

Augustine used this passage to ground his treatment of ghosts, reading it as a denial of the ability of the spirits of the dead to pass to the world of the living. I don’t see it as quite that clear cut, but it certainly can be read as an indication of the impermeability of the veil separating life from death.

In the next post, we’ll see how Augustine argued firmly against the reality of ghosts, and then how his arguments were gradually watered down by the advance of Catholic culture across Europe in the middle ages.

 The posts in this series are filed under Ghosts.

Ghosts in the Bible: The Old Testament

Samuel Appearing to Saul (Fuseli 1777)

Samuel Appearing to Saul (Fuseli 1777)

Ghosts posed a problem for the early Church because they seemed to reflect a holdover of pagan belief and superstition. Yet reliable witnesses continued to report encounters with what to appeared to be spirits, and witnesses were not so easily dismissed as they are now. As we head into Halloween, I hope to do a few posts examining the place of ghosts in Catholicism: how have people reacted to accounts of ghosts, and how has the reaction changed over time?

The first place to start is with the Bible, where ghosts are scarce but not absent. The rules governing contact with the dead set the Jews apart from other religions in the ancient world, where ancestor veneration and lavish funeral rites were the norm. Pagans practiced “incubation”: sleeping on a grave in the hopes of receiving an oneiric (dream-state) apparition of the departed with a message or prophesy. Such a practice would run afoul of Jewish purity laws.

Deuteronomy 18-9-13 is pretty emphatic on the matter of necromancy and sorcery:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you any one who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, any one who practices divination, a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD; and because of these abominable practices the LORD your God is driving them out before you.”

The reason for this was very simple: it suggested man could have control over powers reserved to God alone.

Yet ghosts and references to ghosts are found in scripture and must be dealt with if we are to understand the way early Christians treated the phenomena. The most famous instance, of course, is the summoning of the spirit of Samuel by the Witch of Endor in 1 Sam 28. (Also mentioned in 1 Chron 10:13-14 and Sirach 46:23.)

Samuel and the Witch of Endor (West 1777)

Samuel and the Witch of Endor (West 1777)

The striking thing about the Witch of Endor passage is how really diabolical it is: this is nothing less than necromancy, which is condemned by both Jews and Christians. Saul himself had prohibited the practice, which is why he meets in secret with the medium.

Saul knows he has done wrong and lost favor with God, but desires to know his fate in an upcoming battle with the Philistines. “The LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets,” (1 Sam 28:6) we are told.

He disguises himself and asks the medium, “Divine for me by a spirit, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you.” (1 Sam 28:8-9) The word used for “medium” is “ob,” which may refer either to the necromancer herself, or the object she uses to communicate with the dead, such as a skull. The text leaves out her rituals, suggesting to some that Samuel appears unbidden, thus proving to later readers that mediums have no real power. This interpretation does not appear to be supported by the text, since Samuel is annoyed at being “disturbed.”

The scene is as strange for its language as for its necromancy:

“I see a god coming up out of the earth.” [Saul] said to her, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is coming up; and he is wrapped in a robe.” And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and did obeisance. (1 Sam 28:13–14)

The Christological interpretation would only become clear in the fullness of time, but quite obviously Samuel isn’t even a lower-case-”g” god, which is how the RSV renders “elohim.” The use of “elohim” is provocative here, but the word could also suggest a “spirit” or “divine being” as well as gods and, specifically, Yahweh.

Samuel is annoyed at being summoned from “below” (Hades), but proceeds to tell Saul that he will fall to the Philistines and that “tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me.” (1 Sam 28:19)

The appearance of Samuel challenged exegetes from ancient to medieval times. They offered a wide array of interpretations: it was the devil or a demon taking on the guise of Samuel, it was his reanimated corpse infused with spirit but not his soul (a distinction I won’t dwell on here), it was a phantasm, it was an illusion, it was actually Samuel given permission by God to appear and clothed in flesh that looked like his own, it was Samuel, who had been in Hades awaiting Christ.

The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel (Blake 1783)

The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel (Blake 1783)

This last is suggested by Origen, who examines it at length in his Homily on 1 Kings 28. [1 Samuel is 1 Kings in some numberings.] I do not believe this 5000-word text is online, but it’s found in Homilies on Jeremiah and I Kings 28 (translated by John Clark Smith for Vol. 97 of The Father of the Church series).

Origen’s reading would, in time, be rejected in favor of a diabolical answer. The presence of a fairly extensive medieval art tradition for the scene shows its grip on the imagination, as medieval man came to wrestle more actively with the issue of visions, spirits, and dreams. I plan to address this shift in future posts, first discussing Augustine, the Church Father who developed a kind of “theology of ghosts,” and then the medievals.

“I shall be called John Paul”

On this day in 1978, the newly elected John Paul I explained his choice of name:

Yesterday morning I went to the Sistine Chapel to vote tranquilly. Never could I have imagined what was about to happen. As soon as the danger for me had begun, the two colleagues who were beside me whispered words of encouragement. One said: “Courage! If the Lord gives a burden, he also gives the strength to carry it.” The other colleague said: “Don’t be afraid; there are so many people in the whole world who are praying for the new Pope.” When the moment of decision came, I accepted.John Paul I

Then there was the question of the name, for they also ask what name you wish to take, and I had thought little about it. My thoughts ran along these lines: Pope John had decided to consecrate me himself in St Peter’s Basilica, then, however unworthy, I succeeded him in Venice on the Chair of St Mark, in that Venice which is still full of Pope John. He is remembered by the gondoliers, the Sisters, everyone.

Then Pope Paul not only made me a Cardinal, but some months earlier, on the wide footbridge in St Mark’s Square, he made me blush to the roots of my hair in the presence of 20,000 people, because he removed his stole and placed it on my shoulders. Never have I blushed so much!

Furthermore, during his fifteen years of pontificate this Pope has shown, not only to me but to the whole world, how to love, how to serve, how to labour and to suffer for the Church of Christ.

For that reason I said: “I shall be called John Paul.” I have neither the “wisdom of the heart” of Pope John, nor the preparation and culture of Pope Paul, but I am in their place. I must seek to serve the Church. I hope that you will help me with your prayers.

All of John Paul I’s papal messages, radio talks, and more are available in The Homilies, Audiences, and Other Writings of Pope John Paul I (6 volumes, Latin and English) from Verbum for $25. 

They Have Drunk of The Everflowing Life

 There’s a paradox in martyrdom that we must accept even if we can’t reconcile ourselves to it: those being killed because of their faith in Christ are simultaneously tragic victims of injustice and barbarism, and glorious witnesses entering into everlasting life because of their sacrifice. Christ promised little more than this in the world, which would hate us because it hated him first.

In his Exhortation to Martyrdom, St. Cyprian praises those who die for the faith:

And lest anyone become frightened and disturbed at the difficulties and persecutions which we suffer in this world, it must be proved that it was formerly predicted that the world would hold us in hatred and would stir up persecutions against us, so that from the very fact that these things happen the faith of the divine promise is manifest in the benefits and the rewards to follow afterwards, and that whatever happens to Christians is nothing new, since from the beginning of the world the good have labored and the just have been oppressed and slain by the unjust.

The thing is, I don’t want to die for my faith. I don’t even want to suffer for it. I doubt very much that the Christians of Iraq do either. They want to be left alone in their homes in peace to live and love and worship as they choose. These aren’t airy abstractions and pious plaster saints: these are real men, women, and children being brutally murdered.

Antonio Ciseri's Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees

Antonio Ciseri’s Martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees

Few saints sought martyrdom, though many embraced it when the time came. That’s why they’re saints. It’s not that many people have wanted to die for Christ, but that, when pushed to the point of decision, grace gave them strength to hold firm in faith and say, This far and no farther. The promise of something greater awaits.

Christians like to imagine what it would have been like to walk with Jesus in Jerusalem and sit at the Master’s feet. Given what we know of the times, the ministry of Jesus, and human nature, it’s more likely than not that most modern Christians would have been lining the via dolorosa and paying their “homage” not with bent knee and palm branches, but with jeers and spitting. His own friends and followers turned on and abandoned him. Do we think we’re any better?

If I am to be honest with myself, then I must assume that I would have been holding the scourge that drew flesh from His back or the hammer that drove in the nails. Anything more would be hubris. I know what it took for God to drag me back to the foot of the cross from the deeps where I was drowning. I have no illusions about what I would have done had the Master come along with his band of holy outcasts and said “Follow me.”

Likewise, Christians prefer to think we’d embrace that final cross if the time came. I certainly hope I would. I hope my faith would overcome my instinct for self-preservation. If  it did, it would only be by the grace of God, which is the most we can hope for when the time comes. We all die, and each only once. Only God can grant us the strength to die on our feet as Christians rather than on our knees as an apostates.

Far worse for the parent is the idea of watching your children not merely die for the faith, but be tortured for it. This is why the story of the mother and her seven sons in 2 Maccabees 7 was an important text for the Church fathers. St. Cyprian references it in his Exhortation, as do St Gregory Nazianzen, St Ambrose, St Augustine, and others in various texts.

The chapter depicts a mother and her seven sons who are tortured and executed by Antiochus for refusing to eat pork in violation of the Law. They are steadfast in their faith, and one after another the mother urges each to keep that faith even as her heart breaks to watch them die. One offers his hands and says

“I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

The mother, “her woman’s reasoning [fired] with a man’s courage,” says to them

“I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. 23 Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

She urges her last child to “accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”

As a late text which assumes the resurrection of the body as the reward for faith, 2 Maccabees offers a striking prelude to the gospel, and this was not lost on the Church Fathers when they used it for preaching. The youngest son even suggests that their sacrifice will be an expiation not merely for their own sins, but for the sins of the nation:

“For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of everflowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. 37 I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, 38 and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

We are told in the final line that “last of all, the mother died, after her sons.” A mother would choose to die rather than watching her children killed before her eyes, so we have to wonder at the faith and courage she showed until the end.

She knew what every parent should know in our hearts: our primary goal is not to make our children smart, successful, or accomplished (although these are all worthy goals), but to get them to heaven. Again and again, seven times in all, the mother of Maccabees dashed herself against the ragged stones that were the heart of the king. She did not want fear of a “brief suffering” to keep her children from drinking of the everflowing life offered by God.

As the world continues to mint new martyrs, may we do everything in our power to protect their lives, but may we also pray for them to be strong the last, that faith may sustain them in the darkest hours and that, having suffered, they will attain a reward no army could ever take away.

Free Bonhoeffer Book From Logos

The free book of the month from Logos is worth a download: Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works Vol. 3: Creation and Fall:

Creation and Fall originated in lectures given by Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the University of Berlin in the winter semester of 1932–1933 during the demise of the Weimar Republic and the birth of the Third Reich. In the course of these events, Bonhoeffer called his students to focus their attention on the word of God—the word of truth in a time of turmoil.

It’s a commentary on Genesis 1-3.  Grab it while you can.