The Book Of Tobit And Its Recensions

The book of Tobit is one of those books Catholics would call the Deuterocanonicals and non-Catholics would label the Apocrypha.

Basically, it’s about a pious old man from the tribe of Nephthali named Tobit exiled along with the other Israelites in Nineveh who goes blind after bird droppings fell on his eyes (!). One day Tobit decides to collect money he had once deposited to an acquaintance named Gabael in the land of Media and sends his son Tobias (aka Tobiah) to do so.

Along the way, Tobias is accompanied by a guy who passes himself off as a kinsman of his named Azariah, and a dog who doesn’t do anything in the story except to be mentioned briefly at the very beginning and the very end of the journey. Arriving in Media, Tobias gets the money from Gabael, and marries the latter’s daughter Sarah, who was tormented by a demon named Asmodeus, who had killed every man she married.

Tobias succeeds in driving Asmodeus out by burning, under Azariah’s advice, the liver and heart of a rabid fish he had encountered during the journey. Tobias, Sarah, and Azariah return to Nineveh, where Tobit was cured of his blindness by the gall of the same fish. ‘Azariah’ eventually reveals himself to be the angel Raphael, sent by God to cure Tobit and Sarah of the afflictions they had, and goes back to heaven.

Years pass, and Tobit finally dies, but not before warning his son to leave Nineveh before God destroys it according to prophecy. After burying his father, Tobias and his family then go away and settle at Media, where the tale ends.

That’s the main gist of the story. But here’s the thing. Those of you who like to read from different translations of the Bible might have already noticed this, but if you compare the book of Tobit as it is in three different translations – the Douai-Rheims, the Revised Standard Version, and the New American Bible – you’d notice that the text of each is radically different from one another.

I encountered some people from time to time who tried to follow the daily readings, only to find that the version they found in their Bible is totally unlike what’s read out in church.

This is much more evident if you read from the Douai-Rheims. The book begins like this in the NAB version: “This book tells the story of Tobit, son of Tobiel, son of Hananiel, son of Aduel, son of Gabael, son of Raphael, son of Raguel, of the family of Asiel and the tribe of Naphtali. During the days of Shalmaneser, king of the Assyrians, he was taken captive from Thisbe, which is south of Kedesh Naphtali in upper Galilee, above and to the west of Asher, north of Phogor.”

The RSV version is pretty close, if shorter (for instance, it omits “son of Raphael, son of Raguel” and simply mentions Thisbe as being “to the south of Kedesh Naphtali in Galilee above Asher.”)

But if you pick up the DR, this is what you’ll find: “Tobias of the tribe and city of Nephtali, (which is in the upper parts of Galilee above Naasson, beyond the way that leadeth to the west, having on the right hand the city of Sephet,) when he was made captive in the days of Salmanasar king of the Assyrians, even in his captivity, forsook not the way of truth, but every day gave all he could get to his brethren his fellow captives, that were of his kindred. And when he was younger than any of the tribe of Nephtali, yet did he no childish thing in his work.”

Totally different, isn’t it? What’s going on here? The answer’s simple: all three translations use three different source texts.

The first thing to understand is that there’s no single, standard version of the book of Tobit. Instead what you really have is different versions of the same work circulating in different languages like Greek or Latin or Hebrew or Aramaic or even Ethiopian.

There are at least two or three versions of Tobit in Greek. The shorter one, found in virtually most surviving Greek manuscripts, is called Greek I (G1). The longer (containing 1,700 more words than G1) version found only almost fully in the 4th-century Codex Sinaiticus, and partially in a couple other manuscripts, is Greek II (G2). Sinaiticus uniquely preserves most of G2 – albeit riddled with scribal errors – except for two lacunae (4:7-19b and 13:7-10b).

Fortunately, an 11th century manuscript (Mount Athos, MS 319, aka Vatopedi 913) gives the G2 text from 3:6 to 6:16 (while giving the G1 text for the rest of the book), thereby filling one of the two lacunae.

The third version, Greek III (G3) is fundamentally related to G2, but is not dependent on the version contained in Sinaiticus. G3 exists only partially (covering only 6:9-13:8) in three cursive manuscripts, which all reproduce G1 for the rest of the book.

As for Latin, there are two main versions of the book. To be more precise, one of the two is more like a family of different versions.

The various versions of Tobit made before St. Jerome translated biblical books into Latin are mainly related to G2, to the point that it can be used to understand and correct its text via comparison, although from time to time they do exhibit some differences from the text in Sinaiticus (more on these later). These so-called Vetus Latina (VL) versions are not all of one type, though.

As of now, there is still no critical edition of the VL version (or rather, versions).

The next best thing is an 18th century text assembled by French Benedictine monk Pierre Sabatier in the Bibliorum sacrorum latinae versiones antiquae, seu Vetus Italica (pp. 706-743), mainly based on two 9th century Latin manuscripts: Q (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 93, aka MS Regius 3564) and P (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11505, aka MS Sangermanensis 4) along with readings from G (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 11503, aka Sangermanensis 15 or Sangermanensis 1), which contains the text up to 13:2, and W (Rome, Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, Regin. lat. 7, aka Codex Reginensis), which contains the text only as far as 6:12, the rest being a copy of the Vulgate version (see below).

Since then, two other manuscripts have been found and studied, which illustrate the lack of ‘one type’ of the text: the 10th century R (Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, fonds lat. 6, aka the Ripoll Bible), and the 9th-century X (Madrid, Biblioteca Univers. Cent. 31, aka Codex Complutensis I).

Both of these have been published by the Italian scholar Francesco Vattioni in the 1970s, who also published the readings of the Tobit text found in a work attributed to St. Augustine known as the Speculum de sacra scriptura (Mirror of Holy Scripture).

The text of Complutensis I is very paraphrastic, representing a much expanded form of the text found in Sabatier. Besides these, other important sources for the VL Tobit are quotations from early Church Fathers.

The text translated by Jerome and included in the Latin Vulgate, meanwhile, is interesting in itself, because it is a free translation of a translation.

This is how he explains the translation process in his preface to the book: “I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words.”

Apparently, Jerome did not know ‘Chaldean’ (Aramaic) – although he does note that the language is similar to Hebrew (answer being that both are Semitic languages), which he is thought to have known – that he needed someone to translate the Aramaic version of Tobit he had acquired. The translation work was apparently very quick – according to Jerome’s words it only took him, his scribe, and his Aramaic-speaking translator “the work of one day.”

The Vulgate version (which is apparently of the same general family as Greek I, though not similar to it) was once the dominant version of the book in the West before more use was made of Greek manuscripts in biblical translations starting from the Renaissance onwards.

We don’t know for sure whether the Aramaic text used by Jerome is descended from a Semitic forebear or was based on the Greek. The Vulgate text’s relation to the Greek versions and even to the VL recensions is really problematic, since it exhibits some considerable differences from them (although some scholars suspect that Jerome was apparently at the same time dependent on the VL versions).

These differences might stem in part from the version Jerome and his bilingual acquaintance were translating from, but perhaps also in part due to Jerome’s possibly rather free translation method (he admitted that his translation of Judith, which was like Tobit also from an Aramaic version, was magis sensum e sensus quam ex verbo verbum “more sense for sense than word for word;” it could very well be the same case here).

The general impression one could get from Vulgate Tobit is that it is more moralistic and didactic compared to the more straightforward other versions – I’d even say quite preachy. Compare Raphael-as-Azariah’s advice to Tobias on their way to Media in the Vulgate to, say, the G2 version (NAB):

Then the angel Raphael said to him: Hear me, and I will shew thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony, as to shut out God from themselves, and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule, which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. But thou when thou shalt take her, go into the chamber, and for three days keep thyself continent from her, and give thyself to nothing else but to prayers with her. And on that night lay the liver of the fish on the fire, and the devil shall be driven away. But the second night thou shalt be admitted into the society of the holy Patriarchs.

And the third night thou shalt obtain a blessing that sound children may be born of you. And when the third night is past, thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayst obtain a blessing in children.”
(Douai-Rheims, Tobit 6:16-22)

Raphael said to him: “Do you not remember your father’s commands? He ordered you to marry a woman from your own ancestral family. Now listen to me, brother; do not worry about that demon. Take Sarah. I know that tonight she will be given to you as your wife! When you go into the bridal chamber, take some of the fish’s liver and the heart, and place them on the embers intended for incense, and an odor will be given off. As soon as the demon smells the odor, it will flee and never again show itself near her. Then when you are about to have intercourse with her, both of you must first get up to pray. Beg the Lord of heaven that mercy and protection be granted you. Do not be afraid, for she was set apart for you before the world existed. You will save her, and she will go with you. And I assume that you will have children by her, and they will be like brothers for you. So do not worry.” (NAB-RE, Tobit 6:16-18)

For a long time, only G1 and the Vulgate text were the only ones readily available to translators: Sinaiticus was only found in the early 19th century and Oxyrhynchus (where a 6th century fragment containing the G2 version of Tobit 2:2-5, 8 was found – one of the three manuscripts containing G2) wasn’t excavated until 1896.

And even after Sinaiticus was discovered to have a different text of the book, scholars at the time still considered the its text to be secondary to G1’s. Reason being the adage (well-known in textual criticism) of lectio brevior lectio potior, “shorter reading is the better reading.”

That, and the fact that G1 enjoys more attestation than G2, which was – back then – only represented in a single manuscript. They assumed that G1 was the original version, while G2 was an expansion of it.

Aside from G1, Sinaiticus, and the Vulgate, people before the mid-20th century were aware of a number of other versions of the book in Hebrew (and one in Aramaic), although all of these were late, medieval texts that are deritative of the Greek or the Vulgate versions.

  1. The Münster text (HM), first published in 1516 in Constantinople, then reprinted in Basel by Sebastian Münster in 1542. Said to be a 5th century version, this text is generally based on G2. This version was reproduced in the London Polyglot.
  2. The Fagius text (HF), said to date from the 12th century and first published in 1519 (reprinted by Paul Fagius in 1542). This version is also found in the 1657 London Polyglot. This text is usually judged to be a paraphrastic translation or a free recasting of a Greek text like G1 made by a medieval Jew from Western Europe. This version is noted for its introduction of OT phraseology into the text. The Haydock Commentary often alludes to this version along with the other ones named here.
  3. Gaster’s text (HG), another translation derived from from a 15th century Midrash on the Pentateuch that condenses and greatly abbreviates the narrative found in the medieval Aramaic text, with which it otherwise largely agrees. The narrative in 1:1-3:6 is again in the third person; much of the dialogue and the prayers are eliminated. The text lays a huge emphasis on tithing, a reason why it was introduced into the pentateuchal midrash.
  4. Cairo Genizah T-S A 45.25, 45.26 and 45.29 (Cambridge University Library): Fragmentary texts dating from the 13th-14th century. The earliest of these, 45.26 is of the same recension as the 1516 Constantinople text, while the latter two agree with Fagius’ version.

In the 19th century, Adolf Neubauer also discovered a 15th-century Aramaic text of Tobit in the Bodleian library at Oxford (Hebrew MS 2339).

The text, written in late Aramaic, seems to have been derived from G1. Some peculiar quirks of this version include: (1) agreement with the Vulgate in telling the story of Tobit in the third person in chapters 1-3; (2) omission of the dog, which is mentioned in most other versions; (3) abbreviation of chapter 12, omission of chapter 13 and most of 14 (the remaining part of which is highly condensed); and (4) a short epilogue in Hebrew.

At that time, Neubauer expressed his opinion that this text “Chaldee text in a more complete form was the original from which the translation of the Vulgate was made,” an opinion which was eventually critiqued as being unsubstantiated.

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the 1950s, however, would change long-held assumptions. But that’s for next time.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “Tobias Saying Good-Bye to his Father [Tobit],” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1860.

Nahum The Carpenter: The Event

The day had arrived, the boys and their families were very excited, but also very apprehensive. They had heard of more attacks by Jewish factions on the new Jesus people as well as the Romans attacking Jews and in some isolated cases the new Jesus people too.

They had prayed continuously and because of the indomitable faith were certain it would be a grand event. Time will tell!

Saturday morning arrived with a beautiful bright sunrise and a light breeze. About sixty people arrived at Ezra’s farm just after day break and the set up began. Some of the work had been done in the days before. Abraham and friends had dug a pit, brought in dried wood and Simon had built a large spit to hold the calf over the fire. The wine had been delivered and tables had been set up under some shade trees. Water, hay and some oats were stored in the shed near the field where the horses would be kept.

As arranged Joshua and Zilpah picked up Ruth and Nahum telling them they were going to spend the day with Ezra and Elizabeth.

They arrived about 10:00 am to be welcomed by over 300 guests. Ruth and Nahum were numb with the shock at seeing so many of their friends and family there and could not speak for a few minutes. Elizabeth and Hannah then took the couple to two large comfortable chairs under a sycamore tree, brought them some food and wine and set them up to receive their friends over the next eight hours.

Once they were settled Ezekiel gave a very short welcome and an even shorter blessing of the day being sure to include some Jewish blessings in his speech. The throng then settled in for a wonderful day of celebration.

This gathering was rather unique in that there were New Christians, Jews, and some non-believers who were friends and/or customers. Maybe because of the high-quality wine, or more likely because of the relationship with Nahum and family everybody seemed to each other’s company. The great food helped too!

When the children were fed, occupied and tended to by the teachers, the adults started feasting and chatting with Ruth and Nahum. Zeke and his band started playing rather robust music. Many people old and young joined in and some even danced.  Ruth and Nahum were busy chatting “one by one” of all their guests and they were already smiling more than they had for months.

The children were rounded up and brought back to their parents and Market Man’s huge fruit offering was placed strategically for everyone to partake, they were asked to take it to a comfortable spot in front of a makeshift stage.

Hannah and Elizabeth then introduced their friend Demetra and her brother. Some people had even heard of the young songstress, since some of the guests travelled to other countries for business or to visit family and friends.

The next two hours seemed to fly by, the crowd was entranced by the magical music the young couple provided. The crowd was very expressive too, as they clapped and applauded after each number. Three times Demetra said this is our final song, three times the crowd cheered them back for one more!!!

When they finally finished Samuel came on to the stage and asked everybody to please sit still for a few more minutes and to look to the field to the west.

As if on cue a team of small horses could be seen approaching, as it drew closer it was obvious that they were pulling a small carriage. The crowd was silent for a few moments as the horses and carriage approached NO ONE knew what was going on, except for the Shop Boys.

As it drew close to Ruth and Nahum, one could see the driver was Simon and then Nathan and Bart jumped out of the two doors and they walked towards Ruth and Nahum and said Happy Anniversary from your shop team. 

Nahum was so overcome he had to be helped from his chair to the men. He eyes were leaking like an overflowing dam. Both he and Ruth hugged the boys and, of course since it was a surprise to them too, Ezra and Zeke came over and said now I see what you had covered up all the time in the back of the shop. They shared a big laugh.

The carriage was a work of art. It was complete with bright red leather seats, glass windows, ertra handles and steps to make entry and exit easy. Ezra, was bothered by one thing, where did you get the horses. Samuel said, oh your friends looked after that for us, no problem. Ezra just smiled some more and shook his head.

This was the model the boys copied, but they added several features to it and made it more ornate.

This was the culmination of perhaps the most enjoyable day in the lives of Ruth and Nahum.

The only sad thing was the fact they were both so overcome with love, appreciation and emotion that they had trouble enjoying so much attention. They were shocked!

As the sun was starting its decent in the western sky, horses and wagons were brought from their resting places for the guest, it was like a Valet Service! The ladies were busy cleaning up and the men started to take down the stage, chairs and tables etc. Meanwhile Nahum and Samuel took his new carriage for a ride around the field and once again Nahum was smiling.

They returned and Samuel said I will park your carriage and let the horses out in the field we will collect them in the morning for you. Go and rest now!.

Ruth and Nahum were so tired they could hardly stand, but the excitement and pleasure they got from The Event kept them going as they helped put Paul and Mirame to bed, each of them giving a bed time story to the happy kids.

Finally, Ruth, Nahum, Ezra, Elizbeth, Ezekiel, Hannah, the Shop Men, and some other close relatives came together in Elizabeth’s home and reminisced about the surprise day they enjoyed. There was much happiness and joy at that gathering and Ezra prayed it would help in his father’s recovery.

Ezra was jokingly kidding his men for their ability to hide the carriage from him for the past two months. They enjoyed some laughs and said there were several times when he came to the shop when they were working at night that they thought he might see it, but we were able to combine it with other carriages we were working on and you never noticed. He again wanted to know more about the team of horses too, how could his buddies hide that from him.

They explained that when his horse trainers were busy with young horses and/or with customers horses, one of his friends had purchased two colts and put them into the mix and you never noticed. They received great training and are a very dependable and reliable little team. Ezra just shook his head, I guess I better start paying more attention! They all laughed.

It was a wonderful day, it turned out even better than the boys and their wives thought it would. And, with NO problems from any outsiders.

Later that evening Ezekiel led them all in a very emotional prayer of thankfulness.

They all went to bed very happy, and Nahum had trouble falling asleep as he thought of all the blessings that had been bestowed upon him during his lifetime.

One of the happiest days in the lives of Nahum the Carpenter.

The photo shows, “A Jewish Festival” by Alfred Dehodencq, painted in 1865.

Parable Of The Sower

Every Society has its dream of a better world. The classless society, the American dream; Utopia. Martin Luther King spoke about having a dream where black and white would no longer be segregated.

We hear our politicians when it’s coming up to election time talk about a fair and just society. The former British Prime Minister David Cameron talked about the ‘Big Society’. Not sure whatever happened to it.

The Jews of the first century were no different to us in wanting a better society and a better world. In the Old Testament, we can read from Judges on through to Kings and Chronicles all about the different rulers and kings Israel had and what sort of society they tried to create.

But as time went on it became clear that it would take an extraordinary intervention on God’s part to transform this present evil world into the sort of world where God’s people would really feel at home.

A decisive victory over the power of evil would have to be won, a victory no ordinary human being could ever achieve.

The people looked forward to the arrival of a supernatural deliverer, the one who would be anointed like the mighty heroes of the past; a new David; but greater even than David was. They waited for The Messiah.  

Don’t worry said the prophets; things look pretty bad for us Jews in this present wicked age.

But soon the Messiah will step out of the wings of history; and then at long last the kingdom of God will begin.

Can you imagine the shock that must have gone through the population of Galilee when Jesus, a young carpenter from Nazareth, started to wander around their towns and villages saying it had happened? ‘The kingdom of God has Come’. Its arrived. ‘Repent and believe the good news that I bring’. That’s what he said.

Many as we know were naturally very sceptical. They were not unfamiliar with lunatics who indulged their megalomaniac fantasies by pretending to be the Messiah.

But this man did not just make messianic claims; he cast out demons, he healed the sick, he raised the dead. He feeds 5000 plus people with a few fish and some loaves. He forgave people. And he taught. He wasn’t just all talk.

There was a charisma about him that had not been seen in Israel since the days of the greatest prophets 500 years before. There was even a rumour than he was Elijah or Jeremiah back from the dead.

The word ‘kingdom’ in that part of the world meant a great deal to the Galilean masses. The mere mention of the kingdom fired up their most fanatical zeal, and inspired their most passionate commitment.

All Jesus had to do when confronted by this vast multitude was to work a miracle or two and deliver a suitable firebrand speech and the whole of the Galilean countryside would have erupted enthusiastically for his Messiahship.

 He could easily have whipped up the crowds to march on Jerusalem. As some political leaders try to do even today.

But the extraordinary thing is, he didn’t. Instead he told them a story.

He had power greater than every nation combined together on planet earth at his disposal. But instead he tells the people a story. Can you imagine this great crowd coming to him from town after town, full of expectancy, hanging on to every word and ready to do as he commands? Then He sits down and tells them a Story.

Not a straight forward type of story; but a bizarre perplexing riddle of a story called a Parable. People are more open to stories; but not everybody; this is the strange conundrum.

Even his closest friends were utterly bewildered by this kind of approach. What on earth are you doing Jesus they asked him. What is this parable business all about?

Then he explains to them; ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that though seeing, they may Not see, through hearing they may Not understand. What does he mean? These are unpopular and controversial words.

What Jesus says here clearly seems to contradict the popular view of parables as moralizing stories told to aid the understanding of simple rural people.  

On the contrary; Jesus says he speaks in parables not to make it Easier for people to understand, but to make it Harder. Though seeing, they may Not see, though hearing, they may Not understand. Whatever you make of that, its quite clear that Jesus was not as impressed by these crowds, streaming out of Galilee to see him, as we might have been, if we had been there.

Jesus was not convinced that they were on his wavelength.

You see Jesus grew up with these people; he knew perfectly well what their ideas of the kingdom of God were; and that they were as different from his own ideas……. as chalk and cheese. As day to night. He had to take a different way with them. The last thing he wanted to do was to foster their mistaken notions by courting popularity with them. He was going to make things difficult for them.

He hints in fact that he feels rather as the prophet Isaiah did, when he was told to preach to a people whose hearts would be Hardened against his words.

Yet At other times Jesus speaks to the crowds and challenges them; he who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Verse 8. So how do properly assess what Jesus is saying here.

This particular parable acts as a type of filter. You know what a filter does. It sifts.

Among the thousands who come to see and hear him for all the wrong reasons; he believes there are Some, just some who are genuinely Open to the truth.

A tiny minority maybe, amid that vast spiritually deaf multitude; but though few, they Did have ears to hear.

His parables were like a type of Filter that identified those True disciples.

They identified those who came to Jesus looking for just a political leader, a nationalist revolutionary, or a spell binding miracle worker, they went away disillusioned. Or I want you Jesus to give me the wow factor; take away all my troubles and tribulations, then I can get on with living for myself.

They found to their disappointment a teller of stories. But those who were drawn to him by some deeper magnetism stayed. In their hearts God’s spirit was working. They were being inwardly called to follow him.

Though they were perplexed at first, just like all the others, they were also intrigued, longing to understand what he was really getting at, sensing that somewhere buried in the obscurity of his parables lay the clue to that kingdom of God for which their hearts longed.

To you he says to them; ‘the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given’. But for some you have to take it a step further.

You will never find the kingdom, or Jesus for that matter if you do not allow your mind and heart to be opened. You need to move closer to him.

This is in fact, a fundamental characteristic of all Jesus’ ministry. You don’t get to grips with his message from the safe distance of a detached curiosity.

Unlike so many orators and some preachers of today; Jesus’ head was never turned by the flattery of the crowds.

He wasn’t fooled by the illusion of success that big numbers conjure up, he saw through all that hype. Instead he was perfectly content to Invest himself in just Twelve men and the handful of women Luke names for us. Provided they were real listeners, real learners, and real disciples, he was prepared to give the whole of himself to such a tiny band.

The parable of the Sower acts as a sifting process because

 behind this imagery of the sower and the seed is the solemn and serious truth that only some who hear his words are ultimately blessed by him and saved.

You know the way when people joined the Gold Rush in America back in the 1800’s. You see the prospectors sifting through a pile of dirt and stones from the river bed as they look for gold. And then they start to gradually wash all the debris away, until there is just one or two gold nuggets left.

Though there may be many whose initial response to the gospel looks promising, the path of being a follower of Jesus proves too demanding. They can’t hack it.

Different people view the meaning of parables differently. Some feel that parables are deliberately mysterious and elusive. But by drawing us into this particular story Jesus brings home some truths that we were not aware of which can strike home and leave us uncomfortable, perplexed and wanting more.

No matter whether we understand this parable, this story; at the first or second or third or fourth attempt; it can take years; Jesus still gets his message across. He wants us to hear it; to think carefully about it; and respond to it.

The photo shows the icon, “Christ the Sower of Seeds.”

Nahum The Carpenter, The Fourteenth Epistle

While Ezra and Ezekiel are hard at work secretly planning The Event, some interesting situations are making for some stories about Nahum’s and Ezekiel’s lives.

Nahum and Ruth often give thanks for having both of their sons home and healthy. Ruth still has nightmares when she thinks of the condition Ezekiel was in when he arrived home in that large industrial caravan. Seeing him in a coma with an extremely high fever caused both her and Nahum to think he may die.

Because of the professional loving care of Elizabeth and Hannah he is alive and well today.

Nahum continues to search for answers to situations that occur and result in such good fortune for his family. He reflects on Ruth coming to his father’s shop to see him when he was thirteen, how Elizabeth found Ezra in a pile of mud after falling off his horse, how Yohanin and Miriamme sold them their beautiful property, at how Jonathon came along and bought his old property, and now this! His son comes home almost dead and he falls in love with his nurse. I truly believe God has his hand in our lives and I am so glad we get to worship his son Jesus now.

Over three months have passed since that troubling day Ezekiel was brought home by the large caravan. He is almost his old self again and working closely along side Isaac. However, his memory still plays tricks on him.

Every day, it seems, he remembers something new from his past. It often troubles him because the memory is incomplete. He would like to know more about his recovery, but knows if he asks anyone it will only bring back bad memories for them too. He is very close to asking Hannah, because he knows she is strong and will be able to handle the situation. He has to find the right time.

One night, Ezekiel and Hannah were chatting and discussing their future. Ezekiel was in a reflective mood and seemed to be day dreaming a bit. Finally, Hannah said is there anything wrong? He replied nothing is wrong, but I sometimes get this feeling that my life was spared and you and Elizabeth and my family were part of that saving event.

I have only brief glimpses of my condition and remember little things about my healing, but I cannot help but wonder why I was so fortunate to have made a complete recovery. Hannah pointed out to him that there is a place in the bible that says there is a time to live and a time to die. It is your time to live.

He again reiterated that he is so thankful to God and his family for saving him, but wonders what really happened to him.

Hannah, using all her nursing and “patient” patient training said, ok, let me tell you what happened. He was all ears!

She said that when I first saw you I knew you were very ill, but I knew in my heart you would recover.

He asked if she would tell him about his time at the clinic and what had taken place there. She told him that she and Elizabeth were waiting for him. You had a very high fever and  basically in a deep sleep or coma and was unaware of your surroundings.

She told him she started treating him with a new herb she heard about from Dioscorides  called Yarrow. We bathed you, put you in a clean robe, gave you lots of water to drink and let you rest, along with big dosages of the new herb.

She also confided to him that she considered him a different and special patient. I did not know what the difference was, but I found some kind of connection with you. She put it down to the fact it was Ezra’s brother, but she was not sure? With that, he squeezed her hand and said simply I am so glad you did!!!

She continued. Elizabeth had arranged for the family to take turns sitting and monitoring you. We needed to continue with our duties at the clinic. The clinic was busy and we were concerned over your slow recovery, we were getting tired and worried. Elizabeth decided to ask her younger sister, to come and help at the clinic. This was a brilliant move as the young girl possessed the same qualities as her older sister and was a big help.

One morning you really scared us! You sat up in bed, calling out names and places that made no sense. You were very delirious.

Six days after you arrived with the fever, you were still in a coma. We were now getting very worried.  It is common knowledge that if it exceeds ten days the patient will likely die. I was convinced that it is a serious fever but not malaria. I had treated malaria patients before and your symptoms were different.

The following night on your mom’s watch this time, you had another delirium attack, worse than the others. Everyone is extremely concerned now. Nahum sent Simon to fetch Isaac.

All the family is awake late into the night. Isaac has arrived and he is preparing to have a prayer service for you. Your family, Miriamme and I gather around your bed and Isaac leads us in prayer.

He speaks to God as though he was speaking to a friend, asking for a favour. He is very careful to continually tell God that “we” all want Ezekiel to get well and to live. If it is God’s will to take his life, please God give us the strength and wisdom to understand and accept it.

Your poor mom was in tears and hugs Isaac for his prayer and for thanking God for the life Ezekiel has lived to this point.

Next morning.  Miramme brought you some  porridge, which you ate with haste, a good sign. She then asked if she could make a suggestion. She was very careful to ensure she was not interfering with our treatment, we asked her to continue.

She said that many years ago her grandmother had been given her some tea, she thought it was from India. We have kept it all these years sealed in a waxed jar. We only opened it when someone was really sick or had a fever. I used it on Yohanan some years ago and he got better. I resealed it and put it away. I just thought of it today. I asked her to mix a potion for you and she gave it to you.

We are all very tired now. It is about 3:00 am. We decided to try and sleep and leave Isaac to watch over you for a few hours.  We went to sleep with heavy hearts and prayers on our lips.

It was just before dawn when Isaac crept quietly out of your room and came to my bedroom and woke me.   He asked me to wake up the others as he thought you were coming to. 

They stayed in the back ground as Isaac gently helped you to sit up. In thinking about it now, it was kind of funny as you sat up as though nothing had happened, you rubbed your eyes, stretched your arms and said, where am I? what is going on?

 Now I am embarrassed to tell what happened next! Ezekiel said what do you mean? was I rude or something? No. she said you looked around and asked where the angel went?

We assumed you were still delirious, but you said you remember seeing a beautiful girl here patting you with cool cloths, and giving you cool water, she looked like an angel.  Where is she? The family all looked at me and I was so overcome with a feeling I have never experienced before that I ran out of the room.

Ezra went over to you and very quickly told you what happened, your trip home via a caravan, your stay at the clinic and your very serious high fever. He then said you have a nurse by the name of Hannah, I think that is who you mean.

With that he called me back into the room. As i approached you, your face lit up and you almost shouted, that’s her, she saved my life. I went over and said Hi, I am Hannah and I gave you a kiss on the forehead. You tried to hug me but you were too weak, you just said thank you.

 Ezra went to the back of the clinic and came back with the roller chair. A few months ago, Elizabeth went into the shop and told Simon and Bart she had a request!

She asked them if they could put wheels on the back legs of this heavy wooden chair, and handles on the back, this way she could transport patients without having to tote them or make them walk slowly. The boys smiled and obliged her with the roller chair.

Ezra gently placed his brother in the chair and wheeled him out to the latrine and then to the little pond behind the shop. Ezekiel was able to wash his hair, beard and body which made him feel like a new man. He toweled off and Ezra wheeled him back to his bed, which had been made up with clean sheets and pillows. You went back to sleep and we all met in a big circle and Isaac again led us in a prayer of thanksgiving for returning you to us. It was so emotional; we were all crying with joy.

The next day Miriamme said she would make you some hearty soup and that I should enjoy it with you, so we had our first meal together!!!

When we finished eating and were chatting you surprised and embarrassed me a little when you said: I suppose since you are my nurse you know all about me. I said, yes, I think so. You replied, OK, but I know nothing of you, tell me about yourself. So I proceeded to tell you all the things you now know. You were very pleased and we seemed to grow closer the more we got to know each other.

You stayed in the clinic two more days and on the last day Miriamme asked you to dinner, she would make one of your favourites, dumplings. She said she would make them at Elizabeth’s as she had the larger rooms. Again, she asked me to join them.

We enjoyed our feast and later enjoyed a quiet evening chatting and talking about what we might like to do in the future, I really enjoyed it. I had never spent quiet alone time with a man before.

About nine o’clock there was a knock on the door and Ezra came in. He sat and chatted and helped us finish the wine. He then said he would see to his horses and return and take you to the latrine. I said, thank you, I will leave in a few minutes.

Do you remember what happened next? She asked playfully! Now it was Ezekiel’s turn to blush! Yes, I sure do, it was my first time kissing a girl on the lips and it felt so good.

When they had composed themselves and Ezekiel was happy to find out the truth he told her some more good news.

Ezekiel said he had been asked by Isaac during one of his visits home, if he would consider taking over Isaac’s work as he was getting old and the travelling was making him very tired. I am considering his offer, but I do not feel capable of filling Isaac’s shoes.

Isaac has been very patient and kind with me, he has pointed out that it is not a case of me filling his shoes, but rather an opportunity for me to continue teaching about Jesus, but doing it my way.

When he put it like that, I felt I would try it and see how I make out. Over a year has passed and I feel the people are believing in my teachings and willing to follow me in their worship of this man Jesus. It is very satisfying, and people have been very kind and generous to me by giving me food, gifts and gold. I think I am ready for a wife!

One night after dinner at Hannah’s home, Ezekiel asked her parents if he could speak with them alone. Hannah knew what was coming! Unlike his older brother and father who both had difficulty with words, Ezekiel was quite confident and spoke very eloquently with her parents.

At the conclusion, they called Hannah back into the room and they agreed on a wedding date and of course, the young couple already have a home to move into.

The wedding took a few months later, Ezra and Elizabeth arranged for the wedding celebrations and due to the on going threats to Christians it was a low-key event.

It took place at Hannah’s parents farm and again many of Ezra’s “horse friends” served as custodians of the guests’ horses and wagon, as guards around the perimeter of the farm and some helped with the grilling of the meat.

It was a truly exciting and dramatic day for all concerned. Considering it was just over a year since Ezekiel almost died, reliving the tragic death of Isaac, remembering so many Christian friends who had been murdered recently and most importantly recognizing the contributions these two young people were making to their country and to their fellow man.

Both Hannah, for her work at The Clinic, and Ezekiel for his preaching and his work spreading Jesus’ word to so many people they were truly loved by so many, and it was with great satisfaction they were able to say a small thank you at their wedding.

Similar to Elizabeth and Ezra a few years earlier, the young couple borrowed two of Ezra’s horses and rode to a beach resort a few hours away for a few days of wedding celebration.

The photo shows, “The Resurrection of the Son of the Widow of Nain,” by Wilhelm Kotarbiński, painted in 1879.

Rahab’s Faith

The children of Israel as they enter into the Promised Land, Canaan, have a few major challenges ahead of them. Their great leader Moses has died and there are a lot of people in Canaan who do not like, or want the Israelites anywhere near them. The entire generation that set out from Egypt 40 years earlier have all died, except two young men; Joshua and Caleb.

These two men had spied out in advance the Promised Land together for Moses. They had returned enthusiastically about the prospects of Israel’s new homeland confirming what God had already told them. The time was now right to enter into Canaan. The Israelites now under the leadership of Joshua are camped along the Jordan River directly opposite the city of Jericho. 

Wisely Joshua did not get his army ready and just attack. Just as Moses had done years before, Joshua sent spies ahead to gather military information about what lay on the other side of the Jordan and Jericho. The two spies head off and the first person they meet is a woman called Rahab. Was it by sheer chance they meet her out of all the thousands of people they could have met? Was it by sheer chance she would meet two very culturally different men? Rahab’s whole life and her future would soon be changed through this encounter.

What do we know about Rahab? It’s not a name that many women are called today. Many women are called after Mary, Ruth, Hannah, Lydia, Rachel, Rebecca, Sarah, Martha, Elizabeth, All biblical names. But no Rahab. That gives you a clue. Not many men are called Judas either.

The first thing we are told about her is in the very first verse; she is introduced as a prostitute named Rahab. I wonder what she looked like and what she dressed like. She was an immoral woman who had No concept of sexual purity.

She lived in a sex obsessed pagan society that was fanatically devoted to everything that God hates. This culture like Sodom and Gomorrah was on the verge of God’s judgement. Their generational descent into the abyss of moral and spiritual corruption had been intentional, and now it was irreversible.

It appears that Rahab has always been a willing participant plying her trade. Now that God had called for the complete destruction of the entire culture because of their extreme wickedness, why shouldn’t Rahab also receive the just desserts of her own deliberate sin?  Good question.

Rahab as we would say was; the dregs of society. She made her living catering to the most depraved insatiable sexual appetites. It’s hard to imagine how someone like her could ever be changed. Her house was not in some back alley of the city, but perched on the famous walls. She was in a prime location of her red-light district. We could safely assume that her trade was a financial success given the location.

Jericho was part of the Amorite kingdom which was a totally depraved and violent pagan culture. In fact, their culture was so depraved with witchcraft and child sacrifice going back to the time of Abraham that their evil lifestyle was the very reason God granted Abraham and his heirs rights to their land, driving them of it.  So, the spies enter into the city of Jericho to check it out. A bit like a Mission Impossible Team. Looking for a place to spy out the land they came across Rahab. The location of her house seems to have been the ideal spot.

The Israelite spies did not seek to take advantage of her for immoral purposes. Perhaps this being what won her trust over in the first place. They were not here to use and abuse her unlike the other men who came through the doors of her house. These men were different, they were sober and serious.  Presumably, they treated her with dignity and respect while they were staying with her. Maybe they told Rahab something about their God and the ways in which he had saved, lead and provided for them. Amazingly she was spiritually open to the way God was working through these two spies.

 Everyone in Jericho already knew that the Israelite nation was now camped across the river a short distance away. They had heard about the Hebrews escape from Egypt now they were seeing them with their very own eyes. And they were frightened. Rahab now finds herself where she could make a fair bit of money if she turned in these two spies. But she didn’t. She hid them. She misdirected the officials and saved the lives of the two spies, even though this put her at considerable risk of losing her own life.

At this point for someone who lived their life through wicked, corrupt ways it seems alien that someone like her would turn down the chance to make a lot of money, and put her own life at risk. Not only is this sudden change in her attitude unexpected, it runs counter to every instinct that normally would motivate a woman like Rahab.

What could possibly bring such a dramatic change in a person’s life, and in such circumstances. God. God is the answer.

Suddenly God touches her life in some amazing way. Over the years of her tough hardened life; had she come to realise that her life should not be like this. The lies, the perverted sex, the booze, the cheating, the brawling.

Is this the level I am at? I cannot do this anymore. I need a clean break. But how? There comes appoint in a person’s life where this awakening; this light comes on. Everybody is different. For some it’s like a Damascus Road experience, for others it’s more of an Emmaus Road experience, gradual. Either way something changes. With her new-found faith undeveloped as it was, we see immediately that it bears the fruit of action. The bible tells us; ‘faith without deeds is dead’. Rahab did something; she took the spies in, making herself vulnerable. With this act she was putting her faith into action. She not only hid them, she embraced their cause, entrusting her whole future to their God, and our God.

There is absolutely nothing but faith in God, that could have made such a dramatic, sudden change in the character of such a woman. She had heard of the mighty acts and wonders he performed with the Hebrews. Now she had met real flesh and blood people, spies, who knew him and worshipped him. She was prepared to follow them and their God.

What about you today? Have you sat maybe for years in the pews of a church, hearing Sunday by Sunday the stories of God’s mighty acts and his miracles? Listening carefully to the scriptures, and the prayers and the sermon. But that’s as far as it goes. The trust, the stepping out in faith needed; is still absent. After it was clear that the king’s messengers were gone for the night, Rahab went back up to the roof to speak with the spies. It’s really quite amazing what she says to them; ‘ I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great Fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting because of you.’

What was it that caused her in particular to trust in God? It was fear. Fear of God. Is it a bad thing to be frightened of God? No, it’s not. Our affluent western societies across the globe generally speaking have no fear of anything. No fear of the police, the courts, getting caught, libelling or slandering anyone. People generally have no fear.

A life sentence for murder is around 8 years in prison or less. You hire a barrister or better still you get the state to pay for a barrister to get you off. There is no fear of doing wrong. Knife crime in London is out of control.

Years ago, in the UK you would never have heard of a child being suspended from school; now it’s a daily occurrence. Most people have no fear of God. Afterall What’s he going to do? I; am my own authority. My rights trump everyone else. I must be allowed to do what I want to do. And the state will back me up. Right or wrong.

But they forget one thing; there will be a day of judgment for every human being who lives on this planet. That judgement will be carried out by the living God of Israel. This is what Jesus Christ says 1500 years later, after the battle of Jericho; ‘I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’

We all know what happened next. God intervened in a way that made clear to everyone in Canaan that he was fighting for Israel. He demolished the massive walls of Jericho without any military means whatsoever. On the 7th day the Israelites marched around the city 7 times, blew a ram’s horn, and shouted. Instantly the wall of the city fell down flat. All except one part of the wall.

Rahab and her house were spared. In chapter 6 we are told the two spies went into the ruins and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her entire family and left them outside the camp of Israel. They received the protection they had been promised.

Rahab is a beautiful example of the transforming power of faith in God. Although she had few spiritual advantages and little knowledge of the truth, her heart was drawn to God. She risked her life, turning her back on a way of life that did not honour God, and walked away from everything but her closest family members. But they too came into the community of God. We never hear of Rahab again in the Old Testament. But her name comes up in the New Testament. Her name is mentioned 3 times in Hebrews and the book of James where she is held up as an Example of faith, for both men and women. Rahab’s faith was anything but dead.

But the most amazing occurrence of Rahab’s name, though in the NT is the very first time it appears. It appears on the very first page, in the very first paragraph, of the first gospel, Matthew.

Matthew begins his account of Christ’s life with a lengthy genealogy tracing the entire lineage of Jesus from the time of Abraham.

There in the list of Jesus’ ancestors’, we unexpectedly come across Rahab’s name. ‘Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David’.

It is highly unusual for women to be named in Hebrew genealogies at all. Yet in the Bible, the greatest manifesto of human rights ever written, Matthew mentions 5 women all of them notable for various reasons; Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Three of them knew what it was like to be an outcast, stigmatised because of who they were. Yet God is able to work all things together for good. Rahab was saved by God spiritually as well as physically not because of her good acts like protecting the spies.

She did not earn God’s favour by any good deeds. She is not a lesson in how to better ourselves through self-improvement. She is a reminder that God by his grace can save even the worst of offenders and turn a habitual sinner into a saint. Proving there is hope for everyone.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies,” by James Tissot, painted ca. 1896 to 1802.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Thirteenth Epistle

NIt has been almost three years since the tragic death of Isaac. Ruth and Nahum are still struggling with his death. It has affected them deeply to the point of depression. Ezra and Ezekiel have tried to console and help their parents but nothing they have done has made them feel any less remorseful.

Another contributing factor to their stress and poor health are the daily reports of mass murders of Christians in nearby towns and cities. Both the Jews, who resent the new Christian believers and the Romans who are angry that the Christians continue to state their belief in Jesus and his preachings ahead of the Roman Leaders.

Now a new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non-threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.

The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

It is fifty years since Nahum took over his fathers carpentry and leather shop. The boys believe a celebration should be held in honour of this accomplishment.

The boys have been secretly planning an event that they hope will help bring some closure to the death of Isaac and the hundreds of his followers. They also hope it will bring some happiness back into the lives of their parents.

It is a large event they are planning,  a huge amount of work and planning and even some fear of the Roman soldiers and the  Jewish rebels.  After all, Nahum was one of the mob who joined together and shouted CRUCIFY HIM! CRUCIFY HIM! and some of those people have remained faithful to the Jewish faith but are still customers today.

After three months of talking, checking, enquiring (secretly) and praying about their plan, they have decided to tell their wives on Saturday night of the plan.

Following dinner, Ezra asked the two ladies to join them in the sitting room where the boys presented their plan. The ladies were awe struck and for some time did not reply. After a while, Hannah looked at Elizabeth and said do you think the ladies from the Guild would be willing to help with the food. There were about fifty women in the Guild, she replied,  I am sure they would.

With that Hannah said, ok, lets do it! They all agreed they should keep it a secret from Ruth and Nahum, but should discuss it with the larger family before undertaking such a big event. They made a plan for each of them to reach out to various family members and get their approval. They are to meet again in two weeks.

Two weeks later the two couples met and exchanged the results of their respective visits. The visits all went well, and many of the visits resulted in offers to assist. Joshua said he had four large barrels of fine wine he would bring! That was an important aspect that they all smiled about.

The most important and dangerous part of the plan was the fact the event would be open for both the new Jesus people; Christians, and the Jewish community. They would also have to get the approval from Claudius and the Roman soldiers. Was this too dangerous a mix? Only time would tell.

The Christian community around this part of Jerusalem was not being persecuted by either the Jews or the Romans, however, only a few miles away there were horror stories of mass killings, tortures and persecution of the Christians. Would this Event be noticed by these factions who could easily slaughter hundreds of unarmed, innocent people.

Ezra and Ezekiel decided on a plan that would give them some assurance of a safe and danger free event. They would consult with  various people to get their reaction to the idea.

When the boys reconvened the next week, they were pleased with the responses they got from their contacts.  Ezra has spoken with some of his Jewish friends and leaders while Ezekiel visited Claudius.

They were assured from both fronts that there was no danger if they agreed to two rules.  That there be no religious activities, and no political involvement or participation. Both boys agreed this could be attained, although they were very disappointed they could not talk about their new friend Jesus, but realized the danger that could come to them if they aggravated the Romans or the Jews.  They decided to ask God for forgeiveness and forged ahead with their plans

Now it was time to get to work, and there was a lot of work for everyone. They decided they would have a meeting during one afternoon when they knew Nahum would be at home. Also, there would be no suspicions about a secret meeting held during the day.

On Thursday, fourteen people arrived at the shop. Ezekiel took the lead and presented the plans. He was supported by Ezra, Elizabeth and Hannah.

The Event would be a celebration of fifty years of Nahum The Carpenter. There would be an open invitiation to anyone and everyone. There would be food, wine, childrens games, music, horse and wagon valet service, and Ruth and Nahum would be comfortably seated where all the guests could stop by and say hello.

This brief synopsis begged many questions! Who would do the cooking? Abraham had volunteered to cook a large steer on an open pit; Elizabeth and Hannah had spoken to two local Ladies Guilds and over forty ladies would look after the remaining food. Market Man had offered to bring large baskets of fresh fruit, and of course Joshua was bringing the wine.

Who was looking after the children: Hannah and Sara had reached out to three teacher friends and they agreed to assist along with several teen agers from the local schools. What about  the horses and wagons. Here, Ezra was so proud of his “horse friends”, many had volunteered to meet the wagons and after unloading the passengers would drive the wagons to near by fields where there would be shade, water and hay for the animals. There were enough volunteers that they could take turns and still enjoy some of the festivities too.

 What about the music? This proved to be another proud moment for the two boys. First of all Ezekiel had played in a band with some of his friends. They enjoyed sacred music as well as some of the present day modern music. They would play in an area where people could listen, dance and sing as they chose. Then, the big suprise came from Sara and Hannah. They had met a young  girl, Demetra,   while at medical school in Athens. As well as training in the medical field she was also an aspiring entertainer. She followed the music of Sappho and her brother accompained her on the Lyre.  Both Hannah and Sara had attended several of her concerts while training in Athens. Although her music was primarily Greek, her beautiful voice and amazing poetry of Sappho made for wonderful musical entertainment.

When contacted by Sara  she  agreed to come if she and her brother could be given some travel expense money and a place to stay.  Hannah explained that the Medical Centre had saved enough to assist with travel expenses and Elizabeth had offered the new home that had been Miriamme and Yohanan’s apartment as a place to stay.

The participants were all nodding their approval as the couple explained their plans. Two final questions were asked: how many people did they expect, and who was  going to pay for all this? Again, the boys explained they had done some research and came up a number of 300 guests! since much of the labour was being donated, most of the costs would be assisting in paying for the food.

 The boys had prepared a budget for the purchase of the foods and to  reimburse the ladies for the purchase of vegetables etc. This would not be an issue.

On Monday Ezra and Ezekiel retraced their steps of a few weeks ago and revisited the leaders to advise them the Event was a go. Now it is time to get to work.

The photo shows, “The Widow’s Mite” by James Tissot, painted ca. 1886 to 1894.

Who Was Caiaphas?

Joseph Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest between AD 18-37, best known for his role during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. Nothing is known about his early career, but we can assume that he was a member of a wealthy family, because he married a daughter of the high priest who is called Annas (or Ananus) son of Seth, high priest from AD 6-15 (John 18:13). Even when he was no longer in function, he was apparently extremely influential. According to Josephus, five of Ananus’ sons became high priest (Antiquities 20.198); to this we may add Caiaphas, his son-in-law.

Both Annas and Caiaphas may have sympathized with the Sadducees, which found most of its members among the wealthy Jewish elite. Some scholars think it probable that Caiaphas was a member of the embassy that went to Rome in AD 17 to discuss fiscal matters (Tacitus, Annals, 2.42.5).

In AD 18, the Roman governor Valerius Gratus (AD 15-26) appointed Caiaphas as high priest. The two men must have had an excellent working relation, because Caiaphas remained in office exceptionally long. Gratus had dismissed at least four high priests – Annas (Ananus), Ishmael ben-Fabus, Eleazar ben-Ananus, and Simon ben-Camithus – before appointing Caiaphas. Aside from Annas, the aforementioned high priests ruled for only a single year before being taken out of office.

It is tempting to link this appointment to the Jewish embassy that in AD 17 had appealed to Tiberius for a reduction in the tribute of Judaea: was Caiaphas rewarded for his tactful behavior in Rome? In any case, Gratus’ successor Pontius Pilate never changed the high priest, which can mean that he had found in Caiaphas a man who could be trusted.

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus was goverened by the high priest and his council. This was a reversion to the system that had been followed in the Persian and Hellenistic periods before the Hasmonean revolt. The high priest, often in concert with the ‘chief priests’, sometimes with the ‘elders’ (influential, aristocratic laymen), was in charge of ordinary police and judicial procedures, and he – alone and in such combinations as just described – figures large in the Gospels, Acts and in Josephus.

Priesthood was hereditary among the Jews; the priests traced their lineage to Aaron, brother of Moses and first high priest. During the Persian and Hellenistic periods, the high priests, who were rulers of the nation, were (or were thought to be) members of the family of Zadok (1 Kings 1:28-45). The Hasmoneans were hereditary priests, but they were not Zadokites. When they arose to power as a result of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, however, the natural consequence was that the leading member of the family was declared high priest.

When Simon ascended to the high priesthood (1 Maccabees 14:41-49), the previously ruling Zadokite family was deposed, though the system of government remained the same. About a hundred years later, however, the revolt of Aristobulus II (66-63 BC) and his son led to Herod’s appointment as King of Judaea, and this changed the system.

Herod, himself a non-Jew, could not claim descent from a priestly family and had to appoint high priests during his reign. When Rome deposed Archelaus in AD 6 and sent a prefect to govern Judaea, it also began to appoint the high priest. Thereafter it sometimes granted the right to a member of Herod’s family, but sometimes this right was retained by the prefect (later procurator), or by the legate of Syria.

During a sixty-year period (AD 6-66), the high priests were always chosen from one of four families of aristocratic priests. The high priests as political appointees did not have quite the prestige and authority of the hereditary high priests of earlier periods, but nevertheless they had some prestige and a lot of authority.

For the most part, they governed Jerusalem successfully.
In Jerusalem, then, even when Judaea was under ‘direct’ Roman control, Jewish leaders were in day-to-day control. The magistrates were Jews who ruled by Jewish law, the schools were Jewish and the religion was Jewish. The high priest and his council had a wide range of responsibilities: they were required to organize payment of tribute and to get the money and goods to the right person. Jerusalem was policed by the Temple guards, commanded by the high priest.

The high priest was a suitable ruler because the office was traditional and thus was held with great reverence, and the prefect considered him the ideal spokesman for and to the population of Jerusalem. Granted, there were cases when people did not like a high priest (the mob hunted down and killed a former high priest when revolt broke out in AD 66), but whether the high priest was good or not, respect for the office was deep and genuine.

First Herod and then Rome took control of the priestly vestments and released them only during special occasions. With them on, the high priest wielded too much power. Cases concerning control of the vestments, and with it the appointment of the high priest, more than once went directly to the emperor for decision.

Who controlled the vestments and the office really mattered, because the man in the office was not only a mediator between Rome and her subjects, but also between God and man. He was the one who, on the Day of Atonement, would go into the Holy of Holies and make atonement for the sins of himself and all Israel.

The Romans considered the high priest to be the reasonable official for them. If people wanted to deal with Rome, they went to the high priest. If Rome wanted to communicate with the people, the prefect summoned the high priest. If anything went wrong, the high priest held full responsibility. But he was only the first among equals: responsibility to prevent trouble fell, to some degree, on all the leading citizens.

In short: Rome’s rule over Judaea at our period was rather ‘indirect’: it governed through client (puppet) kings or resident governors, who in turn, utilized local aristocrats and magistrates down the food chain – be it the local village elder or the Temple high priest.

The prefect’s main duties are to maintain domestic peace and collect tribute: in Judaea – specifically in Jerusalem, both tasks are turned over to the priestly aristocrats, while the prefect would usually limit himself to monitoring for potential trouble and moving out only when things spiralled out of control, under normal circumstances.

If the high priest did not preserve order, the prefect would intervene militarily, and the situation might get out of hand. As long as the Temple guards, acting as the police, carried out arrests, and as long as the high priest was involved in judging cases (though he usually did not execute anyone), there was little possibility of a direct clash between the Jews and the Romans.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death. (John 11:49-52).

To keep his job, he had to remain in control, but any decent high priest – and Caiaphas, it seems, was pretty decent – had to care about the common populace as well. He had other obligations than just the need to prevent clashes with Roman troops. As the man in the middle, he should also represent the views of the people to the prefect, and should stand up for Jewish customs and traditions.

Around AD 36, Pilate’s career in Judaea came to an end. The governor of Syria, Lucius Vitellius, intervened in the Jewish affairs during the Passover festival of AD 37 and removed Caiaphas from office. The man who had ruled the longest of the nineteen high priests of the first century was succeeded by his brother-in-law Jonathan, a son of Ananus, who himself ruled for only a year before being replaced by his brother, Theophilus (AD 37-41).

In November of 1990, a family tomb was discovered in Peace Forest in North Talpiot, Jerusalem. The crypt contained four loculi (burial niches), with twelve intact ossuaries (boxes containing human bones), as well as some coins. The coins, as well as the writing on the ossuaries, help date this tomb as being from around the 1st century AD.

On one of the ornate ossuaries (left), measuring 74 cm long, 29 wide, and 38 high, two inscriptions were found: on the side was written Yehosef bar-QYF’, with Yehosef bar-QF’ written on one end. This ossuary contained the bones of two babies, a young child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60 years of age. Another ossuary from the same tomb also bore the inscription QF’.

After some study, the bones were buried again back on the Mount of Olives – because burial is so central to the Jewish faith, there has in fact been some recent controversy between archaeologists and ultra-Orthodox Jews over human remains uncovered in digs: it is now a rule that uncovered remains are to be promptly turned over to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (presently the Ministry of Religious Services) for reburial – while the ossuary is currently located in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Those who favor the Caiaphas interpretation (based on Josephus, who mentions his name as Joseph Caiaphas) propose that QYF’/QF’ should be read as Qa[ya]fa’, while those questioning it think that it should be vocalized as Qofa’ or Qufa’ instead.

Patrick lives in Japan. He supports the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite according to the Missal of Bl. Pope John XXIII.

The photo shows, “He Is Guilty Of Death” by Vasily Polenov, painted in 1906.

Ways Of The World

A group of first year medical students had just completed a tour of a hospital, and the nurse who had directed them was asking for questions. Immediately a hand went up. How is it that people who work here are always washing their hands a student asked?

The nurse gave a wise answer; ‘they are always washing their hands for two reasons; first, they love health, and second, they hate germs’.

It’s more than in hospital standards where ; love and hate go hand in hand. A husband who loves his wife is certainly going to have a hatred for what would harm her and vice versa.

In this letter of John’s, he has reminded us to exercise Love, the right kind of love. Now it warns us that there is a wrong kind of love, a love that God hates. This is love for what the bible calls ‘the world’.

We need to know first of all what does God mean by the world? Well it does NOT mean the world of nature and the beauty and wonder within it. All we have to do is Look at the beauty of; Niagara Falls, the animal and insect life in a tropical rain forest, the Grand Canyon, the beach at Benone, the Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, the list is endless. God created the world of nature that we can marvel at and enjoy; our God given task is to appreciate, care for, and be good stewards of it.

The world named here as our enemy is not the natural world, but an invisible Spiritual System opposed to God and Christ. It originates of course from Satan and is driven by him. It is the very opposite of what God stands for. This system is a set of ideas, of attitudes, of activities, of purposes brought about through people, developing into a common rule or system or systems. Many wars, ethnic cleansing, persecutions, are examples but there are many more that never involve weapons.

Jesus called Satan, ‘the prince of this world’ meaning that he has a certain amount of control and influence over it which he undoubtedly has.

The devil has a highly skilled organisation of evil spirits working with him and influencing the affairs of this world which bring about certain outcomes. There are countless multitudes whether they realise it or not are energised by Satan to do his bidding and carry out his work.

But a more sinister reason why Christians are NOT to love the world is because of what the world does to us. For this world has an impact on us.

Being worldly is not so much a matter of activity, as of attitude. It is more than possible for a Christian to stay away from questionable amusements and dubious places and still love the world; because worldliness is a matter of the heart.

This is important; worldliness not only affects your response to the love of God; it also affects your response to the will of God. John clearly tells us in verse 17; ‘the world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.’

Doing the will of God should be a joy for those living in the love of God. Jesus said; if you love me, you will keep my commandments. But when a Christian loses their enjoyment of the Father’s love, they find it hard to obey the Father’s will. Put very simply, anything in a Christian’s life that causes them to lose their enjoyment of the father’s love or their desire to do the father’s will, is worldly and must be avoided.

Responding to God’s love which means your personal devotional life; and doing God’s will which means your daily conduct; these are two tests of worldliness.

Many things in this life are clearly wrong and God’s word clearly identifies them as sins.

 It is wrong to kill someone, it is wrong to lie and to steal. But there are other areas of Christian conduct that are not so clear and about which even the best Christian’s disagree on. In such cases the believer must apply the test to their own lives and be honest in their self-examination, remembering that even a good thing may rob a believer of their enjoyment of God’s love and their desire to do God’s will.

John points out that the world system uses three devices to trap Christian’s. There is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These same things trapped Eve in the garden of Eden. ‘And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food (which is the lust of the flesh), and that it was pleasing to the eye (which is the lust of the eyes), and also desirable for gaining wisdom (which is the pride of life), she took some and ate it.

The lust of the flesh includes anything that appeals to man’s fallen nature. The flesh does not mean the body as many think. Rather it refers to the base fallen nature of man that makes him blind to spiritual truth.

A Christian that is someone who trusts fully in God, has both the old nature the flesh; and the new nature the Spirit, in their lives. They both co-exist. And what a battle these two natures can wage. Let’s look at how this conflict works out.

God has given men and women certain desires and these desires are good. Hunger, thirst, tiredness, sex, are not at all bad in themselves. There is nothing wrong about eating, drinking, sleeping, or having children. But when the flesh nature controls them, they become sinful lusts.

Hunger is not wrong, but gluttony is sinful. Thirst is not wrong, but drunkenness is a sin. Sleep is a gift from God, but laziness is shameful. Sex is God’s gift when used rightly, but when used wrongly in perverted ways, it becomes immorality.

We can see where the cross overs occur and how the world operates. It appeals to normal appetites, and at the same time tempts us to satisfy them in forbidden ways.

In today’s world we are surrounded by all kinds of allurements that appeal to our lower nature. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane said to his disciples as he returned and found them sleeping; ‘the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. Here again we see the clash of the two natures. The Apostle Paul tells us we are to put ‘no confidence in the flesh’.

The second device that the world uses to trap Christian’s is the ‘lust of the eyes.’ Our eyes have an appetite too. ‘Feast your eyes on this’ we say. The lust of the flesh appeals to our base appetites of the old nature, whereas the lust of the eye operates in a more refined way.

In view here are pleasures that gratify the sight and the mind, sophisticated and intellectual pleasures. The Greeks and Romans lived for entertainment and activities that excited the eyes. Times have not changed very much in 3000 years.Our biggest threat today to corrupt us in what we see, comes in the form of a screen.

There are many examples in the bible of the disastrous consequences when people saw something and lusted after it. Like Achan a soldier and a member of Joshua’s army when he saw the silver and gold, and after being told by God not to take it, he took it. Which had devasting consequences.

 King David from the roof of the palace Saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing who was already married to another man. His eyes incited his lust and he had to have her and she became pregnant to him. Once again with disastrous consequences.

Of course the eyes like the other senses are a gateway into the mind. The lust of the eyes therefore, can include intellectual pursuits that are contrary to God’s word. There is pressure to make Christian’s think the way the world thinks and God warns us against the ‘counsel of the ungodly.’

This of course does Not mean that Christians ignore education and secular learning; it does means however, that they are careful not to let intellectualism crowd God into the background. A classic example of this is Darwin’s theory of Evolution which essentially contradicts creation, neutralises God and destroys the dignity and worth of human beings. Yet is widely taught throughout the education system. 

The third device is the ‘boastful pride of life.’ The original Greek word for pride was used to describe; ‘a scoundrel who was trying to impress people with his importance’. Pride means to elevate a person’s self-esteem or self-importance.

Pride originated first of all in the devil. We are told in the book of Proverbs; that ‘before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, and ‘haughty eyes and a proud heart the lamp of the wicked, are sin.’ People since the beginning of time have always tried to outdo others in their spending and their getting. The boastful pride of life motivates much of what many people do. Wasteful consumerism is an epidemic with millions getting themselves into unnecessary debt; for what. To discard something perhaps of great value after a matter of days or weeks. All done largely to impress others for them to notice how affluent or successful they are.

Because of the pride of life, it is amazing what stupid things people do just to make an impression; even sacrificing honesty and integrity in return for notoriety and a feeling of importance.  The world appeals to us through the lust of the flesh that is anything that makes us blind to spiritual truth; the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. It is important to note that no Christian becomes worldly all of a sudden. Worldliness creeps up on a Christian; it is a gradual process. And the Christian landscape is littered with causalities.

We can read where Abraham’s nephew Lot embraced the various forms of worldliness in Sodom and Gomorrah which led to his downfall.

So how do we live in the world without being consumed by it? This is a huge challenge for us all in every generation. It’s not easy and mistakes will be made. Sometimes lines will be blurred as in the case of Lot.

But John guides us by reminding us that we are little children. Those who love Jesus and trust in him become part of his family. And the very fact that we share in his nature ought to discourage us from becoming overly friendly with the world. James in his letter writes this; ‘don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.’ It’s very clear.

But something else is true; we begin as little children; but we must not stay as little children. Only as a Christian grows spiritually does he or she overcome the world. As young men and young women who develop into fathers and mother’s and grandmother’s and grandfather’s we are to mature with the word of God. Surely no Christian who has experienced the joys and wonders of friendship with God, and of service for God, will want to live on the substitute pleasures this world offers.

The word of God is the only weapon that will defeat the advances of Satan. We need to be people to get back to reading and applying the word of God to our lives. It is the growing, maturing Christians to whom the world does not appeal because they realise that the things of this world are only toys. A Christian should never be ‘over friendly’ with the world because of what the world is and we should always remember this. The world is and continues to be a Satanic System that hates and opposes Christ. That’s why they crucified him. The world seeks to attract and snare us to live on sinful substitutes that will never satisfy.

Slowly and surely and perhaps sooner than we think, ‘this world in its present form is passing away; but the man or woman, boy or girl, who does God’s will abides forever’.

Rev. Alan Wilson is a Presbyterian Minister in Northern Ireland, where he serves a large congregation, supported by his wife. Before he took up the call to serve Christ, he was in the Royal Ulster Constabulary for 30-years. He has two children and two grandchildren and enjoys soccer, gardening, zoology, politics and reading. He voted for Brexit in the hope that the stranglehold of Brussels might finally be broken. He welcomes any that might wish to correspond with him through the Contact Page of The Postil.

The photo shows, “What is Truth,” by Nikolai Ge, painted in 1890.

Nahum The Carpenter, The Eleventh Epistle

While the death of Isaac has been the most difficult challenge in his life, Nahum continues to look for answers. When he meditates daily, he often will sit for over an hour, alone, thinking of events in his life, trying to replace Isaac’s loss with memories of the amazing blessings God has provided him.

Yesterday, in his meditative state, he brought back the memory of his granddaughter being born.

His memory went like this:

The sounds of horses’ hooves bounding through the early morning mist startled Ruth as she was feeding her chickens early one Saturday morning. She was relieved when the horse and rider came close and she saw it was Samuel and he was smiling, she was very relieved. He got down from his horse and told Ruth that if she wanted to see her new granddaughter, she best be on her way to Elisabeth’s home as soon as possible. The rider then said he had a few more miles to go to tell Elisabeth’s folks the same news.

It was a matter of minutes until Nahum had the team hitched to the wagon and they were off to see their new granddaughter. The two families arrived a few minutes apart and by this time Hannah had Elizabeth and baby sister all cleaned up waiting for their families to arrive.

It had been a bit of a surprise birth as they thought Elizabeth had a couple more weeks before delivery, but as Ezra said to his mother, you know what little girls do they march to their own drummer.  Everyone was delighted; first of all, that both mom and baby were healthy, but also for little Paul who told everyone that it was a sister in his mommy’s tummy; he was right!

The families enjoyed their visit but decided to return home late in the afternoon, leaving the young family in the capable hands of Miriamne, Hannah and Ezekiel. They would return next week for more celebrations.

When the baptismal for little sister was held, she had not been named, Paul kept calling her simply “sissy”! At the ceremony Elizabeth asked Miriamne to come sit beside her; the fragile lady was so pleased for everyone, knowing they had been blessed with a son and now a daughter.

Elizabeth asked for everyone’s attention and started making a little speech. She thanked everyone for their kindness and generosity, for the wonderful family and group of friends they share, and then she said there was one couple who really had changed their lives, and for the better, as it turned out, and that couple was Yohanan and Miriamne.

This startled the aged lady as she was not expecting it! She looked a bit dazed by it all and was at a loss for words. Elizabeth recognized this and quickly drew the lady close to her and announced that their new baby was going to be called Miriamne! This really surprised her to the point where both Hannah and Ruth came over to give her added support. By now the tears were flowing like tiny rivers. She looked up at Elizabeth and said oh, Yohanan would be so pleased, but realizing she did not mention herself, she said of course I am too.

This broke the tension and everybody had a little chuckle which she enjoyed.  Ezekiel was the one who said we need to make a toast to Yohanan, Miriamne, Elizabeth and Miriamne. Everybody cheered and raised their mugs. It was a wonderful happy occasion for Nahum The Carpenter and his family and friends.

Those memories filled him with joy and temporarily replaced his sorrow.

Today, he continued his pleasant memory theme by recalling the wedding of his second son Ezekiel. Of course, his recall started by giving thanks to God again for the recovery of his son from the dreaded fever he came home with.

The wedding of Hannah and Ezekiel took place after Ezekiel had made two trips into the country spreading the Jesus story to some of the more remote towns and villages.

Nahum smiled as he was meditating as he recalled the story Ezra had told him after his brothers wedding. It went like this:

Ezra was very proud of his brother and enjoyed his company.  Ezra was one who liked to remember things from the past. Zeke would occasionally laugh at Ezra when he brought up stories from years ago. They both had a good laugh when Ezra asked Zeke if he remembered the night, he told his dad he did not want anything to do with that smelly leather shop. It was a fond memory!  I think our two lives have worked out quite well after going in two very different directions.

Ezra was bringing up some of the old days for a reason, he was mentally preparing for Zeke’s up coming marriage and he wanted to secretly get Zeke’s help in what he remembered and what he found funny or embarrassing. Ezra would use that at his wedding.

As one would expect, the wedding was causing a stir in and around the east end of Jerusalem. Ezekiel, along with Isaac, had preached to many people about this man Jesus and they had made many friends. People were loving the message they presented, basically to love your fellow man and to learn to forgive, also many of the old Jewish traditions were replaced with direct prayer to Almighty God through his son Jesus Christ. People liked this new way of worshipping.

Also, Hannah had become well known in all the communities around the clinic for her professional and loving manner in which she took care of her patients. It did not matter what religion, colour or creed, she treated them all fairly.

This meant many people were interested in the wedding of this young couple. Ezra and Elizabeth along with family decided on a very special wedding day for Zeke and Hannah.

Nahum pointed out to Ezra that since these Jesus following people were now being persecuted by both Jewish factions as well as Romans, that a quiet wedding might be the be the safest for all concerned.

Ezra discussed his options with his horse owner friends, with family and with some of his customers. It was decided to spread the word of the wedding quietly but widely and not to broadcast it to the public. They also decided to have the wedding ceremony on Yohanan’s church allocated property with the reception held in the fields of Ezra’s farm.

While Ezra was stressing and planning for the wedding, Nahum was spending many hours praying to God for advice. He wanted to speak to Claudius, the Roman Commander of the army around Jerusalem.

Nahum’s shops did a lot of business with the Roman army, fixing their wagons, carts, harness and leather sandals and clothing, but the contact with the army was purely business with literally no personal dialogue between the parties.

Finally, Nahum felt he had God’s approval to approach Claudius.

Claudius told Nahum that Rome had directed him to leave the new Jesus people alone as long as they did not cause any trouble. He added that he and his men appreciated the professional and quality workmanship Nahum’s shops provided. So, therefore he assured Nahum they would be safe.

Nahum rode back home a very happy man. He sang and praised God all the way to his home where he shared the news with Ruth, and later with Ezra.

The wedding took place as planned, it started out as a rainy wet day, but by noon it was sunny. Ezra had arranged with some friends to look after the guest’s horses and mules in his fields while the guests partied.

Isaac conducted a wonderful ceremony, stressing the contributions of the young couple to both the new Jesus church and the medical centre that helped so many people.  Following the ceremony, a huge reception was enjoyed by the guests, many of whom brought food and wine to the happy occasion. After dinner Ezra, aided by his talented wife Elizabeth gave a very humorous, loving roast of his brother. The crowd loved it and cheered at every joke Ezra told.

The celebrations lasted until the next morning when the guests retrieved their horses and mules and found their wagons and drove home.

Ezekiel and Hannah took a similar trip that Ezra and Elizabeth had taken a few years ago and spent three lovely days in a seaside resort.

They returned and immediately started setting up their new home. The next day Hannah returned to her clinic and Ezekiel met with some of his brothers to plan how they could continue to worship Jesus and avoid persecution.  It was a very stressful time for the new Christ people.

A new fear is gripping the city of Jerusalem! There are rumors of a Roman attack on the city in the next few years. The attack will be against the Jews, but the new Christians are worried they may be part of the attack too. Many have already fled to other countries.

Nahum and his boys have discussed the possibility of an attack either by Jews or Romans. Considering their relationship with many Jewish customers and the recent non-threatening actions of the Roman soldiers they have agreed to continue living their lives as they have been for seventy years.

Nahum and family are feeling safe, but many of their friends and customers have been slaughtered by Jewish rebels as they try to eliminate the followers of Jesus.

The Jews are also shocked and angry thousands of Jews are converting to this new Christianity every day. Even in time of persecution, Jesus word is bringing in new followers.

Nahum, while so grateful for all of Gods love and provisions but was a very worried man now.

The photo shows, “Maria, Sister of Lazarus, and Jesus,” Nikolay Ge, painted in 1864.

A Long Defeat: Reading J.R.R. Tolkien

“Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letters 255).

History as a long defeat – I can think of nothing that is more anti-modern than this sentiment expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a thought perfectly in line with the fathers and the whole of Classical Christian teaching. And it’s anti-modernism reveals much about the dominant heresy of our time.

We believe in progress – it is written into the DNA of the modern world. If things are bad, they’ll get better. The “long defeat” would only be a description of the road traveled by racism, bigotry, and all that ignorance breeds.

And our philosophy of progress colors everything we consider. The scientific concept of evolution (please do not jump on me for mentioning the subject) only suggests that there is a change in living things and that the change is driven by adaptation and the survival of those adaptations that are generally advantageous. If such a theory is granted, it says nothing about the direction of the process nor about the process as improvement or progress. That “evolve” has come to mean “change for the better” is a purely ideological assumption with no warrant in science.

But the metaphor of improvement remains a dominant theme within our culture. A few years ago a survey of young Americans revealed the utterly shocking conclusion that for the first time in recorded history, the young did not expect to be as well off as their parents. It was a paradigm shift in American progressive thought.

But Tolkien’s sentiment bears deeper examination. For not only does it reject the notion of progress, it embraces a narrative of the “long defeat.” Of course this is not a reference to steady declining standards of living, or the movement from IPhone 5 back to IPhone 4 (perish the thought!). It is rather the narrative of Scripture, first taught by the Apostles themselves, clearly reflecting a Dominical teaching:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. …Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was. But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra– what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:1-13)

 This is Tolkien’s warrant for the “long defeat.”

 And the thought is not that we wake up one day and people are suddenly boasters, proud, blasphemers, etc. Rather, “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

It was a common belief among the Desert Fathers that successive generations of monks would become weaker and weaker, unable to bear the great trials of their predecessors. Indeed it was said that in the end, the simple act of believing would take greater grace than all of the ascetic feats of the earliest monks.

 This is not a pessimistic streak within Orthodox Christianity. If history tells us anything, it is that this is a very honest, even prescient reading. The evils of the 20th century, particularly those unleashed during and after World War I, are clearly among the worst ever known on the planet, and continue to be the major culprits behind all of our current struggles. That war was not “the war to end all wars.” It has rather been the foundation of all subsequent wars. May God forgive our arrogance (“boasters, proud”…). But the Classical Christian read on human life contains the deepest hope – set precisely in the heart of the long defeat.

It is that hope that sets the Christian gospel apart from earlier pagan historical notions. For the “long defeat” was a common assumption among the ancient peoples. The Greeks and Romans did not consider themselves to have exceeded the heroes who went before. They could model themselves on Achilles or Aeneas, but they did not expect to match their like. The Jews had no hope other than a “restoration of the Kingdom,” which was generally considered apocalyptic in nature. All of classical culture presumed a long decline.

The narrative was rewritten in the modern era – particularly during the 19th century. The Kingdom of God was transferred from apocalyptic hope (the end of the long defeat) to a material goal to be achieved in this world. This was a heresy, a radical revision of Christian thought. It became secularized and moderated into mere progress. It is worth doing a word study on the history of the word “progressive.” 

But Tolkien notes that within the long defeat, there are “glimpses of final victory.” I would go further and say that the final victory already “tabernacles” among us. It hovers within and over our world, shaping it and forming it, even within its defeat. For the nature of our salvation is a Defeat. Therefore the defeat within the world itself is not a tragic deviation from the end, but an End that was always foreseen and present within the Cross itself. And the Cross itself was present “from before the foundation of the world.”

Tolkien’s long defeat, is, as he noted, of a piece with his Catholic, Christian faith. It is thoroughly Orthodox as well. For the victory that shall be ours, is not a work in progress – it is a work in wonder.

Father Stephen Freeman is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, serving as Rector of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.

The photo shows, “The Gift of Galadriel,” by the Hildebrandt brothers, painted in 1977.