Saturday, May 26, 2018
Your bible may not include these books, just like your TV may not get all the channels or streaming services. Here you would find the accounts of what happened after Alexander beat back the Persians, his successors split the empire into Seleucid and Ptolemaic regions.
This is the ‘intertestamental’ period, and the rabbis in Alexandria, Jamnia, and Babylon developed new writings in response, culminating in Talmud, Mishnah, and Midrash, while the same cultures provided the community of discourse from which Christian scriptures were penned.
Try reading Akenson’s ‘Surpassing Wonder’ (McGill-Queen’s U Press) for a sense of how this stuff comes out of the ‘soup’ of several centuries.
1 Maccabees recount how Alexander’s defeat of the Persians affected the people in the late 300’s BCE, while 2 Maccabees is framed as a message from Jews in the Holy Land to those in Egypt.
1 Esdras reaches back to the return from exile, while 2 Esdras (included in the Slavonic bible, not in the greet, and appended to the Vulgate) collects traditions of Esdras, and apocalypses like Revelation.
3 Maccabees tells a story of insurrection against Ptolemaic rule, exile to Alexandria in Egypt, and return, while 4 Maccabees is an appendix to the Greek bible, a philosophical speculative reinterpretations of the traditions.
Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant bibles vary in which of these books they include, and in how much weight they are given.
As we end this week of browsing ‘histories’, or ‘latter prophets’, I hope these thumbnail introductions to Samuel/Kings, Chronicles/Ezra/Nehemiah, and Maccabees/Esdras put our Easter Season study of Joshua/Judges in context.
Settlers or Anarchy? What meta-narratives of ‘conquest and settlement’, ‘nation-building’, ‘decline and fall’, and ‘restoration’ help you to construe your own situation? We are living in a ‘post-colonial’ or ‘post-modern’ culture – these books may matter to give us a longer perspective, and stories with which to compare and contrast our own.