2 Maccabees 2:
1)In the records it will be found that Jeremiah the
prophet ordered the deportees to take some of the fire with them as indicated,
COMMENTARY: This is not, to my
knowledge, actually in the letter that Baruch found, unless he’s talking about
a figurative fire in the heart.
2) and that the prophet, in giving them
the law, directed the deportees not to forget the commandments of the Lord or
be led astray in their thoughts, when seeing the gold and silver idols and
COMMENTARY: Now this IS in Jeremiah’s
letter, as copied in Baruch 6:1-72.
Since Baruch is also in the Apocrypha, we will come to it eventually.
other similar words he exhorted them that the law should not depart from their
COMMENTARY: And now this writer hopes to
restore the law that departed from the hearts of many in the Egyptian diaspora.
same document also tells how the prophet, in virtue of an oracle, ordered that
the tent and the ark should accompany him, and how he went to the very mountain
that Moses climbed to behold God’s inheritance.
COMMENTARY: God did not permit Moses to
live long enough to reach the Promised Land, for he had sinned. Yet He did permit him to climb Mt. Nebo in
order to see the Promised Land beyond, and there Moses died.
The most popular opinion, and one founded on scripture, identifies the sin of
Moses as lack of faith, in striking a rock twice instead of once to cause it to
produce water, which seems to me like a weak reason for so great a penalty. I can’t help but wonder if the real sin was
his murder of an Egyptian slavedriver whom he saw beating a Jewish slave. As a prince of Egypt he could have simply
ordered the man to stop, but he was young then, and apparently felt a passion well
up to identify with his own people rather than his adoptive family and this
erupted suddenly and violently. Could
the second blow against the rock symbolize his striking down the Egyptian? Perhaps this is where his faith really
failed, because God later delivered his people from slavery, striking all of
the blows necessary without a single Jew needing to shed blood. But that’s just my harebrained thought.
Getting back to Jeremiah’s deeds, the scholars say
that he took the ark, etc., up there to demonstrate that the postexilic Temple
is still the place to worship even without its central sacred objects. I see this also as Jeremiah reminding the
Jews that this exile wouldn’t be the first time that the Jews were outside
looking in, and their faith (as represented by the tabernacle and tent) as
having no temple to go to, but that a younger generation would indeed make it
back, as the younger generation accompanying Moses made it to the Promised Land
when their parents and grandparents didn’t.
5) When Jeremiah arrived there, he found
a chamber in a cave in which he put the tent, the ark, and the altar of incense;
then he sealed the entrance.
COMMENTARY: I find this beautiful and
mysterious! Symbolically the seed of a
dying plant has been buried and will someday sprout again. In addition to the practicality of preserving
these treasures from conquest and harm, it also promises that the winter of the
Jews will not last for ever; the seed of faith will wait for their spring.
Another account, recently translated by archaeologists (the Massekhet Kelim, or
“Treatise of Vessels” says that some
Levites (“Shimmur and his companions”) hid various portions of the temple
artifacts, including the Ark, throughout Babylon, but they shall not be
revealed until the coming of the Messiah.
It says that they also delivered some artifacts into the hands of the
angels Shamshiel, Michael, Gabriel and possibly Sariel.
The Babylonians themselves carved an image of the Ark
of the Covenant being carried into Babylon as loot. Of course they might have lied for the
Then we have the Ethiopian Coptics, who would dispute that this was even the
real Ark. According to their account,
Solomon tricked the Queen of Sheba into agreeing to sleep with him. (The Song of Solomon says she was willing;
the Ethiopians dispute this.) Unbeknownst
to him, he begat a son that night, Menelik I, born of the two most intelligent
people on the planet. As a grown man,
and quite smart in his own right, he decided to avenge his mother. So Menelik returned to Israel and used trickery
of his own to steal the Ark and leave a replacement in its stead. To this day Coptic priests guard what they
say is the real Ark of the Covenant, but only one man at a time is properly
initiated to actually go into the chamber to behold it, for it is too much to
ask for more than one in a generation to endure.
6) Some of those who
followed him came up intending to mark the path, but they could not find it. 7) When Jeremiah
heard of this, he reproved them: “The place is to remain unknown until God
gathers his people together again and shows them mercy. 8) Then the Lord will
disclose these things, and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will be seen,
just as they appeared in the time of Moses and of Solomon when he prayed that
the place might be greatly
COMMENTARY: “The place” means the
Temple. As tantalizing as this passage
might be to the Indiana Jones in all of us, archaeologists have only found the
ruins of a Byzantine church and monastery on Mt. Nebo, allegedly marking the
place where Moses died. Which is not to
deny the presence of the Ark, assuming that the alternative theories as to its
whereabouts are false. If God couldn’t
hide the cave from a mortal archaeologist, He wouldn’t be living up to his P.R.
9) It is also related how Solomon in his
wisdom offered a sacrifice for the dedication and the completion of the temple.
Just as Moses prayed to the Lord and fire descended
from the sky and consumed the sacrifices, so also Solomon prayed and fire came
down and consumed the burnt offerings.
COMMENTARY: This repeating motif in the
Biblical accounts took a new twist in the Pentecost of the New Testament, when
tongues of flame came down from heaven and hovered over Mary, the Apostles, and
each of the Disciples and followers present, as the Holy Spirit entered into
them, marking each of them as a living, walking Temple of God.
had said, “Because it had not been eaten, the purification offering was
COMMENTARY: The priests were supposed to
eat the purification offering, becoming one with the sacrifice, and thereby
offering their daily lives as a sacrifice.
12)Solomon also celebrated the feast in the same way for
COMMENTARY: His celebration thus began
and ended with a Sabbath.
13) These same things are also told in the
records and in Nehemiah’s memoirs,
as well as how he founded a library and collected the books about the kings and
the prophets, the books of David, and the royal letters about votive offerings.
COMMENTARY: All of which are lost to us
except for Nehemiah’s memoirs (specifically Nehemiah 1-7 and 11-13.) Even then many say that these weren’t the
memoirs referred to, and that these, too, are lost.
14) In like manner
Judas also collected for us all the books that had been scattered because of
the war, and we now have them in our possession.
COMMENTARY: That would be the various
books of the Written Torah, which Christians call the Old Testament, which once
consisted of a number of separate scrolls.
(Early Christians invented bookbinding as we know it, to make it easier
to find one’s place when arguing about scripture. You’re welcome.)
Writing down the Oral Torah didn’t happen till (in the case of the Mishnah) the
second century AD, and the Talmud or Gemara didn’t get written down until the
late fifth century. These elaborate on
the Written Torah and give it context.
For a long time Jews maintained a strict taboo against writing these
down, to keep them from becoming too rigid by casting them into a single,
immutable form, as well as to keep them out of the hands of those who would not
understand, but there came a point when they could have been lost altogether if
not written down, so great scholars (Rabbi Judah the Prince for the Mishnah,
and unknown scholars for the Talmud) very reluctantly preserved them in
writing, but not without warnings.
This is why Catholics put great store in our own oral traditions and do not
abide by the Sola Scriptura standard set forth by Martin Luther. Although by now our oral traditions have
indeed become written down and solidified, and have become defined just as
rigidly. It seems a perennial human
desire to nail down rules, so that if only we could memorize and obey these precisely
and unvaryingly, we would become perfect and our perfection would make our
lives Heaven. (Nor is this notion
restricted to religion!)
Jesus was very fond of scripture, but not a great fan of scriptural
rigidity. He healed on the Sabbath. He refused to stone an adultress. And He knew precisely the right moment to
violate the rule to stay indoors during the Passover, in order to voluntarily
expose Himself to the Angel of Death.
you need them, send messengers to get them for you.
COMMENTARY: Doubtless copies. Even so, that’s a very generous offer! It took a lot of time to copy scriptures
down, and paper (or rather its equivalent, papyrus or parchment) was
expensive. (So expensive that, a century
or so later, a member of the Roman emperor’s own family allegedly exposed a
plot against his life by salvaging discarded “papers” in order to scrub them
clean for re-use, angered by her daughter’s wastefulness, only to read on them
rough drafts of a treasonous letter.)
Villages often owned community Torahs and passed them around in
gatherings to study scripture under a rabbi’s guidance.
The writer really feels a strong commitment to bring back these lost sheep!
16) As we are about to
celebrate the purification, we are writing: you should celebrate the feast
days. 17) It is God who has
saved all his people and has restored to all of them their inheritance, the
kingdom, the priesthood, and the sacred rites, 18)
as he promised through the law. For we hope in God,
that he will soon have mercy on us and gather us together from everywhere under
the heavens to his holy place, for he has rescued us from great perils and has
purified the place.
COMMENTARY: The writer repeats his
urgings from the chapter before, this time after the promise of a great gift to
facilitate the return to orthodoxy. The
gift makes it more of a kindness and less of a judgment.
19) This is the story of Judas Maccabeus
and his brothers, of the purification of the great temple, the dedication of
the altar, 20) the campaigns
against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, 21) and of
the heavenly manifestations accorded to the heroes who fought bravely for the
Jewish people. Few as they were, they plundered the whole land, put to flight
the barbarian hordes, 22) regained
possession of the temple renowned throughout the world, and liberated the city.
They re-established the laws that were in danger of being abolished, while the
Lord favored them with every kindness.
COMMENTARY: Summarizing the story that
we just covered in 1 Maccabees, but this time he will retell it with different
and more human details, sometimes more heroic, sometimes more horrifying.
23) All this, detailed by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes,
we will try to condense into a single book.
COMMENTARY: We no longer have Jason of
24) For in view of the
flood of data, and the difficulties encountered, given such abundant material,
by those who wish to plunge into accounts of the history, 25) we have aimed to
please those who prefer simply to read, to make it easy for the studious who
wish to commit things to memory, and to be helpful to all.
COMMENTARY: And I am grateful! Although now I’ve got to wonder what got left
out from the five volume account.
26) For us who have
undertaken the labor of making this digest, the task, far from being easy, is
one of sweat and of sleepless nights.
COMMENTARY: It might seem like easy
labor to sit and write, but the sleepless nights tell us that the sweat comes
of anxiety, from trying to decide what to cut and what to keep, without
committing a heresy or making the end result lose meaning. Grave responsibility can make any task a
27) Just so, the
preparation of a festive banquet is no light matter for one who seeks to give
enjoyment to others. Similarly, to win the gratitude of many we will gladly
endure this labor,
COMMENTARY: He offers this as a labor of
28) leaving the responsibility for exact
details to the historian, and confining our efforts to presenting only a
COMMENTARY: Sadly, this hypothetical
historian dropped the ball; nobody kept up with copies of Jason of Cyrene’s
original five volume epic.
29) As the architect of a new house must
pay attention to the whole structure, while the one who undertakes the
decoration and the frescoes has to be concerned only with what is needed for
ornamentation, so I think it is with us.
COMMENTARY: He’s aiming for light
reading. We shall see!
30) To enter into
questions and examine them from all sides and to be busy about details is the
task of the historian; 31)
but one who is making an adaptation should be allowed
to aim at brevity of expression and to forgo complete treatment of the matter.
COMMENTARY: Let’s hope that he is at
least more accurate than a Hollywood made-for-TV historical romance!
32) Here, then, let us
begin our account without adding to what has already been said; it would be
silly to lengthen the preface to the history and then cut short the history