Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Introductory Material on 1 Maccabees from Jerusalem Bible:
These two books are not in the Jewish canon. They are considered deuterocanonical by the Church. They are about Jewish resistance to the Seleucid dynasty of rulers, and about Jewish resistance to secularization in the form of Hellenism. The Jewish community is torn within itself by those who want to follow the dominant culture and those who stand by the traditions. The Maccabeas family leads the traditionalists
- Judas Maccabaeus (166-160 BC), seeks alliance with Rome
- Jonathan (160-142 BC) – more political than military also seeks alliance with Rome and Sparta
- Simon (142-134) – recognized as High Priest, Governor and ethnarch of the Jews
Written originally in Hebrew, only a Greek text remains. The author is a Palestinian Jew writing after 134 but before capture of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BC
2 Maccabees is a kind of parallel version of the story, but it ends with the defeat of Nicanor by Judas (covering the material in chapter 1-7 of 1 Maccabees.
The books affirm a number of beliefs Christians hold strongly—resurrection of the dead, sanctions in the afterlife, prayer for the dead, spiritual rewards for martyrdom and intercession of saints.
1 Maccabees 1 - It starts with the story of Alexander the Great, son of Philip. It tells of his conquests: “ . . .he advanced to the ends of the earth, plundering nation after nation; the earth grew silent before him, and his ambitious heart swelled with pride (1: 3-4). Then he died and his heirs divided his empire, “bringing increasing evils on the world” (1:10). The note says he died in 324 BC but that the division was not worked out until 301 Battle of Ipsus.
Antiochus Epiphanes was son of King Antiochus (a Seleucid). He becomes king in 175 BC. At this time a “set of renegades,” Hebrews wishing to reach accommodation with the reigning Hellenistic culture, start to lead people astray. Winning the approval of the king, they built a gymnasium in Jerusalem, “disguised their circumcision, and abandoned the holy covenant, submitting to the heathen rule as willing slaves of impiety” (1:15).
Antiochus is ambitious, and seeks to expand his territory by invading Egypt and winning there. Then he turns on Israel (169 BC). He loots the Temple. The people are left stunned, ashamed and desolate. But there is further war and oppression. The king decides “that all were to become a single people, each renouncing his particular customs” (1:41).
Some Israelites [the renegades] go along with this. Then in 167 BC, the king “erected the abomination of desolation above the altar.” This was the altar of Baal Shamem or the Olympian Zeus. Ten days later, sacrifice was offered to this Baal—“Women who had had their children circumcised were put to death according to the edict with their babies hung round their necks, and the members of their household and those who had performed the circumcision were executed with the” (1:60-61).
But some stood firm and were executed. “It was a dreadful wrath that visited Israel” (1:64).
1 Timothy 2 – Paul advises Timothy to make sure there is “prayer offered for everyone – petitions, intercessions and thanksgiving – and especially for kings and others in authority, so that we may be able to live religious and reverent lives in peace and quiet” (2:2-3). When he makes reference to the truth as he sees it, it is that “there is only one God, and there is only one mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus, who sacrificed himself as a ransom for them all” (2:5).
Then he addresses then the issue of women and their role in the “assembly” or “community.” His words are very difficult to deal with as a woman of the 21st century. Clearly there were conflicts over the role of women in the early Christian communities. Some clearly saw it as inappropriate that women should speak and teach, which to me involves an inference that they were in fact doing these things in at least some of the communities Paul traveled to.
Here Paul writes that women should dress modestly, and not see themselves as leaders in the community. And he makes his argument in part from the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. “During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I am not giving permission for a woman to teach or to tell a man what to do. A woman ought not to speak, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin” (2:11-13).
While there is continual speculation about whether these words accurately reflect what Paul’s teaching was – some always say there is uncertainty as to whether these thoughts about women were added later by others -- we are clearly dealing with two issues that all Christians have to deal with: one is the level of authority to give to the words of scripture that seem to our differently-rooted cultural eyes to be wrong or out-dated; and the other has to do with whether the vision of truth Paul had was flawed in these matters and whether the Spirit of God has opened others to better insight.
Clearly the culture of the day was weighted against women having a leadership role, but over the years that culture has changed [mostly], and Quakers were in the forefront of that change.
George Fox’s insight was that to make arguments from the Adam and Eve story that Eve had been the one at fault and that Adam had been given authority over “woman” as a result meant that we were continuing to live “in the fall” and to ignore the fact that Christ had given us a way to overcome that “fallen state.” Here are two passages from his Journal that deal with the issue:
“Now this death which Adam fell into was a spiritual death; for by one man’s disobedience or offense, namely Adam’s, judgment came upon all men to condemnation. So all men are under this judgment and condemnation in Adam in the Fall. . .they that do not believe in Christ; the Light, as he commands, (John 12:36); they abide in spiritual death and darkness, and under the judgment and condemnation in Adam in the Fall, in the perishing state. But he that believes on the Son of God has everlasting Life, and passes from death to Life, shall not perish in darkness and is not condemned, but comes out of condemnation, etc.” (George Fox, Letters, 464).
“[O]thers . . . asked me whether it was not the command of God that a man must rule over his wife . .. And did not the apostle say, ‘I permit not a woman to teach’? And where did we read of women elders and women disciples? And it was an abuse to the elders to set up a women’s meeting. But I told them that he and they were but elders in the Fall, ruling over their wives in the Fall, . . .and man and woman were meet [suitable, appropriate]-helps (before they fell) and the image of God and righteousness and holiness; and so they are to be again in the restoration by Christ Jesus” (George Fox, Journal, 667).
To understand better how Fox saw the “life in Christ” as post-fall, you have to get into the idea of the fulfillment of Genesis’ “protoevangelium.” If you are interested, see the “Genesis and John” paper at http://catholicquaker.blogspot.com/.