1. Robert M. Seltzer, Jewish People, Jewish Thought: The Jewish Experience in History (New York: MacMillan, 1980) 190-191.
How does the Roman-Jewish war compare to the Maccabean revolt?…In both wars the Jews opposed imperial powers, but the Maccabees were fighting a declining Seleucid state, about to be torn apart by regional uprisings, dynastic struggles, and outside enemies. The Roman empire of the mid-first century CE was in full ascent, temporarily embarrassed by political confusion at the center, but with immense military resources to put down a local rebellion. An independent Jewish state in the Near East in the first century CE was not a realistic possibility.
This quote stood out to me because it tries to find a “natural” (if that’s the right word) cause for the success of the Maccabean revolt and the failure of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans. In Jewish and Christian traditions, God blessed the Maccabees against overwhelming odds because they were standing for God’s laws, whereas he punished the Jews in the first century for some sin, be it their rejection of Jesus (for Christians) or their infighting (according to the Babylonian Talmud).
This quote also calls to mind Desmond Ford’s commentary on Daniel. Whereas many biblical scholars believe that the dreadful “fourth beast” of Daniel 7 represents Antiochius Epiphanes, Ford goes with the traditional Jewish and Christian view that it’s Rome. His reason is that Antiochus’ power was on the decline, and Rome was able to boss Antiochus around. That’s why Antiochus was limited in his ability to invade Egypt. Perhaps, but the Book of Daniel doesn’t exactly present the “Antichrist” (to read a Christian idea back into Daniel) as invulnerable, for Daniel 11:30 states, “For ships of Kittim shall come against him, and he shall lose heart and withdraw” (NRSV). So I’m not sure if the “Antiochus” interpretation can be ruled out.
Lately, I’ve been watching Jimmy Swaggart’s series on biblical eschatology, and Swaggart argues that the Antichrist will be from Alexander’s old empire, namely Syria. He draws this conclusion from the passages in Daniel that refer to Antiochus, the ruler of the Seleucids (in Syria) during the second century B.C.E. Yet, paradoxically, he still sees the “fourth beast” of Daniel 7 as Rome. This point of view is the basis for the position that the Antichrist will come from Europe, the old Roman Empire. Wouldn’t Swaggart be more consistent to say that the “fourth beast” in the time of Christ’s return will be the reconstituted Seleucid Empire, rather than the Roman Empire? I wonder how he addresses these issues. I watch him, but I still have much to learn about his interpretation of prophecy!
2. Norman J. Cohen, Self, Struggle and Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives (Woodstock: Jewish Lights, 1994) 32.
True covenant between God and the human being cannot be sealed in the paradisial setting of the Garden of our infancy, but must come as a result of our experience in the world outside of Eden. To appreciate the very essence of oneness requires the experiencing of fragmentation, isolation, and loneliness.
A pastor once told his congregation, “God does not want you to be alone.” He was trying to encourage his congregants to form relationships, to be in community, and to become accountable to one another.
I didn’t care for his statement, to be honest. For one, why should I walk around with the assumption that God condemns me because I’m an introvert, with difficulty making friends? Second, if God doesn’t want me to be alone, then why doesn’t he do his part to change that?
Christians like to say that we should be in community to learn how to love one another, a skill or attribute we will need when we’re in heaven, or the new heavens and the new earth, whatever you want to call it. I’m not about to dismiss that idea, since there may be a lot of truth to it. But couldn’t there also be a place for loneliness in God’s plan? We’ll appreciate community all the more after our own bouts of loneliness and alienation.
This reminds me of something Tim Keller used to say: our suffering in this life will enable us to appreciate and enjoy the afterlife a whole lot more. Jonathan Edwards made a similar point in his sermon on heaven, in Charity and Its Fruits: if you don’t have companions, don’t hate others, but look ever more forward to your destiny in heaven, a place where people will love one another.