Archive for the ‘Artaxerxes I’ Tag

Prologue to Posts Scheduled Around Proper 12, Year C (Revised Common Lectionary)   1 comment

Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus

Above:  Esther Crowned by Ahasuerus, by Paolo Veronese

Image in the Public Domain

Esther I:  Vehicles of Grace

JULY 2019

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The daily lectionary for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), as found in their service book-hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), is the one attached to the Revised Common Lectionary.  For the Thursday before Proper 12 through the Wednesday after that Sunday in Year C the first readings come from the Book of Esther, starting with 2:19 and continuing through 8:17.

The Book of Esther exists in two versions–Hebrew and Greek.  The Hebrew version, which does not even mention God, probably dates to 400-300 B.C.E., at the end of the Persian Empire or the beginning of the Hellenistic Age.  The 107 additional verses in the version from the Septuagint bring the word “God” into the story and elaborate on certain details.  The Greek version of the Book of Esther is canonical in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

As I read the Book of Esther again I will consult Jewish and Roman Catholic Bibles.  My plan is to read the Greek version fully in English-language translation.  The New American Bible labels the Greek additions conveniently as Chapters A-F, a system I will cite.

The Book of Esther is a satire, comedy, burlesque, and work of religious fiction.  Jewish exegetes have known this for a long time.  Some characters are buffoonish, our heroes (in the Hebrew version) are strangely less dimensional than other characters, and exaggeration abounds.  One should not, out of piety, become so serious as to misread a book of the Bible.  There are various contexts in which one should read scripture; genre is among them.  Furthermore, the internal chronology of the Book of Esther (in either version), like that of the Book of Daniel, makes no sense.

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In the Greek version the book begins with what The New American Bible calls Chapter A, containing 17 verses.  We meet Mordecai, a Jewish member of the court of King Ahasuerus (sarcastically “the great,” according to A:1) at Susa.  Ahasuerus is a fictitious monarch of the Persian Empire.  Sources I have consulted indicate elements from the actual Xerxes I (reigned 486-465 B.C.E.) and Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424 B.C.E.).  Mordecai has a dream in which, on a gloomy day amid “tumult, thunder, and earthquake,” two dragons prepare to go to war.  The just live in fear of what might happen to them.  They cry out to God, a mighty river arises, sunlight breaks through, and the lowly rise up and devour the boastful.  Mordecai awakens and attempts throughout the day to comprehend the dream and what God intends to do.

We read in A:1 that Mordecai is not only of the tribe of Benjamin but a descendant of Kish.  This makes him a relative of King Saul (whose father was Kish), who conquered Agag the Amalekite in 1 Samuel 15:1-9.  Haman, Mordecai’s foe, is an Agagite.

Mordecai overhears two eunuchs plot to assassinate Ahasuerus.  The loyal courtier alerts the monarch directly.  Ahasuerus orders the arrest, interrogation, and execution of the eunuchs.  Mordecai receives a reward for his fidelity, but Haman, who had conspired with the eunuchs, begins to plot to harm him.

Chapter 1 depicts Ahasuerus as less than great.  The text states that the king ruled over 127 provinces, or satrapies, but historical records indicate the existence of between 20 and 32 satrapies during the duration of the Persian Empire.  Ahasuerus is wealthy, living in luxury.  He is also mostly powerless, for people manipulate him easily.  The king is also too fond of alcohol in excess.  Ahasuerus orders Queen Vashti to degrade herself  by displaying her beauty to his courtiers .  She refuses the command, thereby disgracing the drunken Ahasuerus.  Thus an imperial incident occurs.  Can the monarch restore his honor?  Vashti loses her position and possibly her life, for he proceeds to choose a new queen from his harem.  Among the virgins in the harem is one Esther, cousin and foster daughter of Mordecai.  This is a secret relationship, however.  He coaches her in how to become the next queen.  She succeeds Vashti.

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What are we supposed to take away from this material and apply to life?  God works behind the scenes in the Book of Esther.  God even works through drunk and easily manipulated monarchs.  Vehicles of grace come in many shapes and sizes; many of them will surprise us.  Many of them do not even know that they are vehicles of grace, but that does not prevent God from working through them, does it?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-i-vehicles-of-grace/

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Devotion for September 19 (LCMS Daily Lectionary)   4 comments

Persian Empire 500 BCE

Above:  Map of the Persian Empire Circa 500 B.C.E.

Nehemiah and 1 Timothy, Part II:  Overcoming Opposition the Godly Way

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2020

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 2:11-20

Nehemiah 4:1-6 (Protestant Versification)/3:33-38 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Versification)

Psalm 36 (Morning)

Psalms 80 and 27 (Evening)

1 Timothy 2:1-15

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Restore us, O God of hosts:

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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I doubt that St. Paul wrote 1 Timothy.  Consider, O reader, 2:9-15.  Allowing for culturally specific conditions regarding hair, jewelry, and clothing, I still detect the stench of patriarchy.  Although St. Paul was a product of his patriarchal context, I contrast 1 Timothy 2:9-15 with the case of Prisca/Priscilla, who taught with the Apostle’s approval.  (See Acts 18:2, 18, and 26; Romans 16:3; and 1 Corinthians 16:19).  That is not my main point, but I feel the need to articulate it first.

Now, for the main idea….

Jewish exiles residing in their ancestral homeland lived within the Persian Satrapy of Beyond the River.  The complicated politics of rebuilding the walls of and Temple at Jerusalem, as told in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, lived up to the joke that politics consists of many small, bloodsucking creatures.  Although King Artaxerxes I (reigned 464-424 B.C.E.) had authorized Nehemiah for a set of tasks, our hero faced opposition from local interests.  Sanballat (the governor of Samaria), Tobiah (the governor of Ammon), and Geshem (the governor of Edom) knew of Nehemiah’s authorization yet tried to stop him anyway.  Did our hero’s role threaten their power, at least in their minds?  That was a likely scenario.  So they resorted to lies and other forms of interference.  Yet they failed for divine and human forces (some of the latter armed with lances, shields, swords, and bows) acted.  The construction workers did need guards, after all.

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for sovereigns and for all in high office so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life, free to practise our religion with dignity.

–1 Timothy 2:1-2, The Revised English Bible

Yes, it is right to pray for everyone, especially those in authority.  I note the difference between praying for someone and praying about that person.  To pray for a person indicates confidence that he or she can change for the better and remain steadfast in the good.  But to pray about a person can reflect an attitude of hopelessness regarding him or her.  As good as we who claim to follow God ought to be, we should not be naive because, despite the power of prayer, some people will not change their negative attitudes and corresponding actions.  So it is wise to obey our Lord and Savior’s advice to his Apostles:

…be wary as serpents, innocent as doves.

–Matthew 10:16b, The Revised English Bible

May each of us, by grace, maintain that balance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF ALBRECHT DURER, MATTHIAS GRUNEWALD. AND LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER, ARTISTS

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/nehemiah-and-1-timothy-part-ii-overcoming-opposition-the-godly-way/

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