Monthly Archives: October 2012

Susanna meets Sherlock Holmes

Update: Matt says you can find Susanna on page 1471 of the new study Bibles and on 1683 of the older ones. 

This is a great story. For now, don’t worry about the footnotes, just enjoy the plot. The story has a beautiful woman, scheming men, a sex crime, a close call with an unjust execution, and a little detective work. What else could you want?

Just a few things to notice: 
  • The story is set in Babylon, but doesn’t emphasize the evil of the captors. It focuses, instead, on the corruption of Jewish judges. The very fact that it uses the term “Jew” tells us that it took on final form in the post-exilic period. 
  • It uses “Lord” instead of “LORD” and prefers the term “Heaven” as a circumlocution for God.
  • The story suggests both Genesis and the Song of Songs with its setting in a garden.
  • It also hints at the story of Bathsheba with lecherous men scheming to watch Susanna bathe.
  • It also suggests the sacrifice of a scapegoat when the men lay their hands on Susanna (Leviticus 16.21-22). All of these references tell us that the story originated during a time when the Hebrew Bible was beginning to take shape and the author could assume people knew the Torah, stories of David, and the Song of Songs.
  • The story assumes that readers are familiar with a patronage system where commoners must appeal to wealthy — and supposedly neutral — third parties to settle their disputes. Watch the opening scene of “The Godfather” if you want to see how such a system works. You can see in verses 52-3 that people also knew about corruption in the patronage system.
  • Susanna knows her Torah and “cried out with a loud voice” as Deuteronomy 22.24 teaches a woman about to be raped to do.
  • Daniel also knows his Torah. The trial was illegal because there were not enough witnesses and no cross examination was conducted (Deuteronomy 19.15-20).
  • In verses 56-58 notice how Daniel contrasts daughters of Canaan, Israel, and Judah.
  • There are some nice Greek puns in 55 and 58. Check your footnotes to see the explanations. The fact that these puns work in Greek tells us that the story likely took on its final form during the Hellenistic period (fourth through second centuries).

Last thing: Take the name Daniel out of the story. Change it to whatever you like, or just call him the “young man.” Does it change the story at all? Does Daniel show skill in logical deduction elsewhere in the book of Daniel? If you can answer these questions “no,” then you can see why many scholars believe that this story was originally not about Daniel. It probably circulated independently as a nice little self-contained detective story (maybe a crime series that never got picked up?) and then was later attached to the stories about Daniel.

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The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews

In the Septuagint there are three additions to the book of Daniel: The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. The first is inserted in chapter three where we find Daniel’s three friends in Nebudchadnezzar’s furnace. The second and third are placed after the end of the book. All of these additions may have circulated as independent folk tales and liturgies during an earlier time as oral traditions, but they take on a final form around the turn of the first century when the book of Daniel was translated into Greek.
Take note of the structure of the book. Verses 1-22 record a prayer. 23-27 offer a short prose account of the outcome of the trial of the three friends in the furnace. Verses 29-68 record a song of thanksgiving. Remember that these are set during the exile and are likely written and certainly redacted during the period of the Maccabean revolts. Think about those as contexts of persecution and trial. But these are also periods during which Judaism is emerging as a specifically religious phenomenon, as opposed to simply an aspect of the national and political interests of Judah. Without the Temple (during exile) and without the sacrificial system (during the time when Antiochus IV Epiphanes has desecrated the new Temple) the people began to develop new, synagoge-based models of worship. Prayers of confession, sermons, and songs of praise would have figured prominently during these periods. The prayer and song recorded here are very much the kind of thing you would expect to hear in worship. Try to imagine what these would have meant to people in exile and in Jerusalem during Seleucid rule.
Look at the structure of the prayer.
V. 1-5 – What is the character of God?
V. 6-10 – What have the people done wrong?
V. 11-14 – Plea for mercy based on God’s long history with the people
V. 15-18 – In the absence of Temple sacrifice, what can the people offer?
V. 19-22 – Plea for mercy based on character of God and desire for vindication.

If you had to write a prayer of confession for our context, what would it say?
Now look at the structure of the hymn of praise.
V. 29-34 – Direct address ascribing praise to God.
V. 35-41 – Exhortation for the heavenly beings and celestial bodies to praise God.
V. 42-51 – Exhortation for the turning of the seasons and of the day and night to praise God.
V. 52-59 – Exhortation for the inanimate and living creatures of the earth to praise God.
V. 53-65 – Exhortation for human beings to praise God.
V. 66-68 – Exhortation for individuals to praise God, ending with appeal to the nature of God.

Notice how the song joins human praise to the praise of all creation. It slowly narrows the focus of praise from the vast structures of the cosmos, to the weather patterns of the earth, to the living inhabitants of the earth, and finally to the human community. You can see two places in our own liturgy where we do this. First, think about the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving that we offer just before celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Second, remember the words of the Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow (like v. 29-34)
Praise God all creatures here below (like v. 52-59)
Praise God above ye heavenly host (like v. 25-41)
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (like v. 67-68)

If you were to compose a hymn of praise, how would you describe the character of God? Who would you exhort to join you in singing this praise?

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Book Signing for Three Idlewild Authors

All members of the Idlewild family are invited to a book signing honoring our own Steve Haynes, Kendra Hotz and Matt Matthews. The signing will be held at the Rhodes College bookstore on Friday, November 2nd from 4 to 6 pm. Kendra and Matt will sign their book Dust and Breath: Faith, Health, and Why the Church should Care about Both (Eerdmans, 2012) and Steve will signThe Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation (Oxford, 2012). Both books will be available for purchase.


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Daniel 9-12: A Prayer, A History, A Vision of the Future

Daniel begins chapter nine with a reference to the prophet Jeremiah. There are two interesting things about this. The first has to do with how we date the book of Daniel. This is one of the very few places where a biblical text from the Hebrew Bible refers to another biblical text. New Testament writers often appeal to the Hebrew Bible, which had taken on a fixed, canonical form by then. But the process of canonization was slow enough that Hebrew Bible authors could not refer to earlier sources in this way. It seems unlikely that Jeremiah had already achieved canonical status by the time of the exile, which began within his lifetime. Daniel’s reference to Jeremiah then is yet another indication that the book was written much later the exilic period in which it is set — probably in the mid-second century during or just before the time of the Maccabean revolts. The second interesting thing about the reference to Jeremiah has to do with how malleable the facts of history become in light of Daniel’s theological purpose. Jeremiah predicted a 70-year exile. So, do the math. The exile began in 586 when the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. It ended in 538 when Cyrus decreed that the exiles could return. That’s only 48 years. Let’s try again. Maybe we can start the exile in 597 when the first wave of nobles were sent to Jerusalem. Hmm..still not there. Okay, let’s delay the end of the exile until 520 when reconstruction began on the Temple. Shoot! Now we’re either short by four years or we’ve overshot it by seven. Oh well, it’s in the neighborhood of 70, and that’s such a good number. Let’s just go with it; that’s what Daniel did.

9:4-19 records a prayer of confession. Communal confession was part of the liturgical tradition in Judah and had become especially important in synagogue worship after the destruction of the Temple. If you read this prayer aloud, you’ll recognize the same cadences of speech that we still use in our own prayers of confession. Take note of the following features:
  • v. 4-6 make clear that both the sin and the punishment are communal;
  • v.7 speaks of all those driven away, both the people of Judah and those of the northern tribes; it also gestures toward the diaspora communities that continued long after the exile had ended;
  • v. 11-14 reiterate a theology of retribution that had become prominent during exile. It was most systematically expressed in the works of the Deuteronomistic Historians (DH) who recounted the history of Israel in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and KIngs. The DH held that God had a made a vassal-suzereignty covenant with Israel. It was an “if-then” contract that promised the protection of God provided that the people remained loyal. The exile was understood as a consequence of breaking the contract. If you want to read a theologian with strong reservations about that theology, take a look at the book of Job.
  • v. 17, the “desolated sanctuary,” refers both to the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians and to the re-built Temple desecrated when the Seleucids filled it with altars to foreign gods;
  • v. 18 expresses a theological conviction that makes the calvinist in me happy: “We do not present our supplication before you on the ground of our righteousness, but on the ground of your great mercies.”
  • Finally, notice the liturgical rhythm of the closing lines: “Oh Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay!”

Gabriel comes at the end of chapter 9 to offer a vision of the times between exile and the rule of the Seleucids. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, “the prince who is to come,” is the one who brings war, makes “sacrifice and offering cease,” and places in the Temple “an abomination that desolates.”

Chapters 10 and 11 recount a complicated history of war between the Ptolomies and the Seleucids after the division of Alexander the Great’s empire. Try not to get lost in the details, but instead notice the overarching theme. Even though kingdoms come and go, even though foreign powers rise and fall, God is in control of history. 
  • Look at the description of Gabriel in 10.5-6. It is reminiscent of the visions of other prophets — like Isaiah and Ezekiel — and later is picked up by apocalyptic authors like John of Patmos in the book of Revelation. No wonder the angel greeted him with “do not fear.” 
  • Apparently war is being waged in heaven even as it is on earth, and Gabriel has left “one of the chief princes,” Michael, to organize the battle while Gabriel comes to earth to sort out Daniel’s visions.
  • Typical of a prophet, Daniel expresses reluctance to take up the prophetic task (10.17).

Here’s the history in a nutshell (don’t sweat the details):
  • 11.1-4, Alexander’s kingdom will be “broken and divided toward the four winds”
  • 11.5-10, the king in the north refers to the Seleucid leader, while the king in the south is a Ptolomaic ruler based in Egypt. Berenice, a daughter of a Ptolemaic ruler, and her children were slaughtered, but her brother (“a branch from her roots,” v. 7) fought to avenge her. 
  • 11.10-13, eventually the Seleucids defeated the Ptolomies and took possession of Judah.
  • 11.14, “the lawless among your own people,” may refer to the powerful families of Judah who were willing to pay bribes to the Seleucids to have their sons chosen for the office of high priest.
  • 11.14-19 accounts for the reign of Antiochus III who tried to make a treaty with the Ptolomies in Egypt by offering his daughter Cleopatra in marriage. The marriage did not work as Antiochus had hoped because he found himself deep in tribute debt after suffering defeat at the hands of the Romans. (Of course, Cleopatra would end up giving the Romans no end of trouble, but that’s a whole other story!)
  • 11.20-28 – at last we arrive at the real bad guy of the story, the villain of Daniel’s own time: The “contemptible person” (v. 21) of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. LIke the Seleucids before him, A IV E could not resist going to war against the Egyptians, and like his predecessors he failed to defeat them on their own turf. 

11.29-39 brings all of this history home to the Jews of Daniel’s own time and to their struggle to figure out how to live under a tyrant who desecrated their Temple and demanded they give up their own religious practices. 
  • Daniel argues that when the “Kittim,” the Romans proved too much for Seleucid forces, that Antiochus turned his wrath on the Jews. Look carefully at v.30b-31 for a list of his evil acts.
  • Now notice three kinds of responses in v. 32-33: there are “people who violate the covenant,” those who “take action,” and “the wise.” These are likely Jews who (1) assimilated and were rewarded for it (see v. 39), (2) took up arms, such as the Maccabean forces, or (3) resisted nonviolently and often suffered the consequences through torture and martyrdom.
  • 11.40-45 – in these verses Daniel moves from an historical account to a prediction. He foretells the end of Seleucid rule.

Meanwhile, back in heaven….
You remember that Gabriel had left Michael in heaven to deal with a celestial war, right? Having put things right in heaven, Michael comes to put things right on earth. Here are some important things to note:
  • You can see here a vision of a cosmic savior that will eventually grow into an expectation of a Messiah who is more than an earthly king. It is precisely this kind of expectation that prepares the way for Christian claims about Jesus. 
  • Notice that this chapter includes one of the earliest biblical claims about a personal afterlife, and it takes the form of resurrection and final judgment.
  • Finally, remember that this promise of resurrection, life everlasting, and final vindication is offer
    ed to those who are being “purified, cleansed, and refined.” That was the same language that Daniel used earlier for the wise ones who suffered martyrdom. Here is a promise that they may not survive the furnace or the lion’s den, but they will nonetheless be restored and vindicated at the end of times.

See you Sunday.

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Bill Burnett – "In Life and in Death, We Belong to God."

Contrarians – many of you will remember that Bill and Sonia used to be regular participants in our class. They’ve not been able to attend for the past few years, but have always stayed close in our hearts. Please keep Sonia in your prayers in the days to come.

William L. “Bill” Burnett, Jr. died at home Sunday evening, October 7, 2012. A memorial service will be held at 11:00 a.m. Thursday, October 11 at Idlewild Presbyterian Church. After the service, interment will be in the columbarium followed by family visitation in the T.K. Young Room.

Bill and his wife Sonia came to Idlewild in 1983. He was an ordained elder, had been active with Global Missions, Children’s Ministry and Congregational Care, and sang in the Adult Choir for many years. Bill lived “loving God through service,” said Sonia. He was a retired junior high teacher and was committed to serving people around the world as a ham radio operator. 

Our prayers are with Sonia, their son Tim and daughter-in-law Melissa, and their grandchildren. 

Blessed are those who die in the Lord.

NOTE TO ELDERS: If you are attending the service, please meet in the narthex 15 minutes before the service.


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A Lion’s Den and Two Visions

In chapter 6 we enter the Persian era. The Persians were more tolerant of religious diversity than the Babylonians were (recall that it was Cyrus who allowed the people of Judah to return to their land and rebuild their Temple), which makes the story of the lion’s den an odd one. 

We are not told how Daniel distinguished himself in the eyes of the Persian emperor, but only that he was made one of three “presidents” to whom the 120 satraps would report. We can recognize the scheming of his fellow leaders as typical of office politics in any age! Darius’s edict condemned Daniel to the lion’s den even though Darius favored Daniel because the Persians understood an edict of the emperor to be immutable. Even if he did not fully anticipate the consequences, Darius must accept them because his word cannot be revoked. As you read the account of the lion’s den it is also good to remember that this was written during a period of persecution. 

Notice that as in the case of the three friends in the firey furnace, an angel shows up to save the day. It was during the Persian period that angels became more prominent in Jewish thought. It was also during this period that some concepts, like the “one like a human being” or the “Son of Man,” that would later become prominent in Messianic thought developed.

The beasts in chapter 7 represent four successive kingdoms. The lion is Babylon. Notice that it gained a “human mind.” This could refer to the prediction that Nebuchadnezzar would regain his senses after a period of living like an animal. The bear is the Medes. The leopard is the Perians. And the “terrifying and dreadful” final beast is the the Greeks. Take a look at verse 14. As a Christian this should sound like a prediction of Christ. Daniel likely had in mind an angel or some other cosmic figure. Nevertheless, this is precisely the kind of imagery that slowly developed during the inter-testamental period into an expectation that God would send a cosmic savior. 

In 7:25 you see a gesture toward the persecution during the time in which Daniel was written. “He shall speak words against the Most High” refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes who tried to eliminate Jewish practices such as keeping kosher and circumcision. He “shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High” likely refers to the persecutions. The people are promised that after three and a half years the kingdom of Judah will be restored. Under Judas Maccabeus, it was. Briefly.

Chapter 8 returns us to Hebrew. (We’ve been in Aramaic since chapter 2.) This vision is also a reference to the history that leads up to the mid-second century. Alexander the Great is great horn of the male goat, which is replaced by four lesser horns. This refers to the four generals who divided Alexander’s kingdom after his death. The “transgression that makes desolate” in verse 13 probably refers to the image of himself that Antiochus set up in the Temple. Notice the role of Gabriel as protector of Israel and interpreter of visions. 

Finally, take a look at the last line of 8:25: “He shall be broken, and not by human hands.” What advice do you think Daniel would offer would-be revolutionaries like Judas Maccabeus?

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