Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A 2019 Reading Retrospective

Since everyone else is doing it and I wanted to get a blog post written before the year runs out, I’ve decided to post a lightly annotated list of books I finished reading in 2019.

First, a few stats: My Zotero records tell me I finished reading 33 books in 2019, including Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, The 21 Balloons, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. That’s up from 32 in 2017, and tied with 2018, but this year I didn’t read War and Peace, so 2018 still takes the cake.

All but 7 were completed before I returned to Canada and to full-time teaching. (Go figure.) I count 15 novels and children’s books, 5 audiobooks, and 5 that I read aloud. (As long as my 12-year-old daughter will consent to having books read to her, I will keep reading them. We are currently enjoying The Screwtape Letters.)

Without further ado, here is the list, followed by my "best of" selections:

Ash, Christopher. The Book Your Pastor Wishes You Would Read. The Good Book Company, 2019.

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1985. (Audiobook)

Balme, Maurice, Gilbert Lawall, Luigi Miraglia, and Tommaso Francesco Bórri. Athenaze: Introduzione al greco antico. Parte I. 2d ed. Montella, Avellino: Accademia Vivarium Novum, 2018. (Not including the Italian)

Campbell, Douglas A. Paul: An Apostle’s Journey. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018. (Audiobook)

Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur. The Hound of the Baskervilles. London: George Newnes, 1902.

Forster, E. M. The Longest Journey. London: Arnold, 1907.

Forster, E. M. Where Angels Fear to Tread. London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1905.

Forster, E. M. Howards End. London: Edward Arnold, 1910.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. (Re-read for class for the 4th or 5th time.)

Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now. New York: Free Press, 2008. (Audiobook)

Lewis, C. S. That Hideous Strength. London: The Bodley Head, 1945. (Read aloud)
(I read this novel multiple times as a child; this was the first time in probably 20+ years.)

Lewis, C. S. The Great Divorce. New York: Macmillan, 1946. (Re-read after @ 20 years; read aloud)

Martínez, Carlos. A Strange Odyssey. Confessions of a Classicist. Grupo Editorial Círculo Rojo S.L., 2019.

Martyn, J. Louis. Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul. Nashville: Abingdon, 1997.

Matthews, Shelly. Perfect Martyr: The Stoning of Stephen and the Construction of Christian Identity. Oxford University Press, 2010.

McKnight, Scot. Reading Romans Backwards: A Gospel of Peace in the Midst of Empire. Waco: Baylor, 2019.

Meeks, Wayne A. The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983.

Millar, Fergus. The Roman Near East: 31 BC - AD 337. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Milne, A. A. The House at Pooh Corner. London: Methuen, 1928.

Milne, A. A. Winnie-the-Pooh. London: Methuen, 1926.

Myers, Benjamin. The Apostles’ Creed: A Guide to the Ancient Catechism. Lexham Press, 2018. (Read aloud)

Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.

Pène du Bois, William. The 21 Balloons. New York: Viking Press, 1975. (A book I remember reading as a child; read aloud after hearing about the eruption on Anak Krakatoa.)

Pullman, Philip. Golden Compass. New York: Random House, 1996.
(I checked this one out from the library for my daughter, decided to double-check it myself first, and got hooked. Pullman is a fine writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed the Oxford and East Anglia settings. Aside from the abrupt in-your-face anti-Christian moralistic ending, it’s a fine read.)

Ransome, Arthur. Swallows and Amazons. London: Vintage Children’s Classics, 2012.

Rico, Christophe, and Lior Ashkenazi. Polis: Speaking Ancient Greek as a Living Language, Level One, Student’s Volume. Edited by Michael Daise. Polis Institute Press, 2015.

Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief. New York: Hyperion, 2005. (A daughter's recommendation.)

Siegel, Robert. Alpha Centauri. Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1980. (Read aloud)
(I remembered my grade six teacher, Miss Fehr, reading this book to the class, but couldn't remember how it ended. I now think she never finished it--and I can see why.)

Spiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. New York: Pantheon Books, 2011.

Thucydides. History of the Peloponnesian War. Translated by Richard Crawley. London: Dent, 1874. (Audiobook)

Williams, Leslie Winfield. Emblem of Faith Untouched: A Short Life of Thomas Cranmer. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016. (Audiobook)

Williams, Peter J. Can We Trust the Gospels? Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. London: Hogarth Press, 1927.

"Best of":

  • Best book published in 2019: I seldom read books in the year they were published. Of the three 2019 books I read this year--surely a record--Carlos Martínez's, A Strange Odyssey gets the prize for being the most stimulating.
  • Most Educational (in a good way): Balme, Maurice, Gilbert Lawall, Luigi Miraglia, and Tommaso Francesco Bórri. Athenaze: Introduzione al greco antico. (The Greek parts; I don't read Italian.)
  • Most Relaxing Bedtime Reading: Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons. (Strangely satisfying. I looked forward to the end of the day when I could read a few pages before my own bedtime.)
  • Best of: C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength. (Published in 1945. Still very relevant.)

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Difference Two Years Make

Two years ago we left the wilderness of southern Saskatchewan for the temperate climate and spectacular libraries of Cambridge.

The trip was a real growth experience. This photo was taken in mid-August 2017, shortly before we left:

And here we are at the beginning of August 2019, a few days after we returned:

In other respects too, our trip was a success. (See this post for why we were there.) But even an academic’s paradise can seem arid and sterile after a while, and I confess to being glad to have left the Cambridge bubble behind for the real world of our isolated little prairie college town.

It’s nice of course to be back in our own comparatively large house with our own stuff, but I also missed the face-to-face interaction that teaching provides as well as the sense that what I was doing—aside from being a husband and father—mattered.

Call it late summer idealism, if you will. Classes begin next week and I know the thermometer will dip as low as -20 in November. At the moment, however, I am grateful to be back in “a community of learning that calls students to seek the kingdom of God, to be shaped profoundly by the scriptures, and to be formed spiritually and intellectually for lives of service.“

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Martin Luther: If you value the gospel, learn Greek and Hebrew

My clickbait title is admittedly a paraphrase, but I think it gets at (part of*) the substance of what Luther actually said:
"For though the Gospel has come and daily comes through the Holy Spirit alone, we cannot deny that it has come by means of the languages, by which it was also spread abroad, and by which it must be preserved. ... In proportion, then, as we prize the Gospel, let us guard the languages. For not in vain did God have His Scriptures set down in these two languages alone—the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. The languages, therefore, that God did not despise but chose above all others for His Word, we too ought to honor above all others. ... And let us be sure of this: we shall not long preserve the Gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which we carry this jewel; they are the vessel in which we hold this wine; they are the larder in which this food is stored; and as the Gospel itself says, they are the baskets in which we bear these loaves and fishes and fragments. If through our neglect we let the languages go (which may God forbid!), we shall not only lose the Gospel, but come at last to the point where we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German. As proof and warning of this, let us take the wretched and woeful example of the universities and monasteries, in which men not only unlearned the Gospel, but corrupted the languages so that the miserable folk were fairly turned into beasts, unable to read or write a correct German or Latin and wellnigh losing their natural reason to boot. ... Hence it is certain that unless the languages remain the Gospel must finally perish." - Martin Luther, "To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools" (1524) as quoted by Michael Gilleland.
* The other part could be paraphrased thus: If you value the gospel, encourage the study of the biblical languages by others if you are not able to study them yourself.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Carlos Martínez Aguirre on Learning Greek and Latin

The English translation of Carlos Martínez Aguirre’s fascinating language-learning memoir, A Strange Odyssey: Confessions of a Classicist, is now out on Kindle. The book is a short narrative diagnosis of problems with traditional “dead” language pedagogy, a compelling demonstration that there is a viable alternative, a sobering description of what is required to develop competence in the “communicative method,” and a whirlwind introduction to some of the resources that are now available. A few excerpts:

From the introduction, on language-learning standards:
“For those outside the range of our subjects, it is normal to think that every Latin or Greek teacher has a mastery of their specialised languages, as would be expected of a German, English or Chinese teacher. That is, anyone not related to the world of Classical Languages would assume that a good teacher of Classical Studies of Secondary School level (and even more so at University level) would be able to speak Classical Latin or Greek with a measure of fluency, write correctly these languages, and of course, be able to comfortably read any text in the original language. However, this is very far from being the case. … [I]f any Russian teacher admitted that he couldn’t improvise the translation a page of Dostoyevsky in situ, nobody would take him seriously. I also see no reason why learning Russian should be easier to learn for any Spaniard than Classical Greek, and even less so Latin.”
On the traditional grammar-translation approach:
“[A]fter eight years of studying Latin and Greek (two in secondary school and six at university), I … not only remained incapable of being able to speak Latin or Greek ... but also of being able to write two lines correctly in these languages, or to translate a page without suffering like a condemned man at the gallows.”
On the possibility of true fluency:
“The most effective way I have discovered to show the cave dwellers [“of classical philology”] the error of their ways is by presenting them with some adolescents speaking Latin and Greek fluently, making comments and even jokes about the texts of the classic authors in that same language, and also explaining that they learnt Latin and Classical Greek without too much difficulty and with the same methodology as they learnt English or French.”
In conclusion:
“At no point have I presumed that it is not possible to master Latin and Greek by the grammar and translation method. What I do attest to is that in my case that system was a failure and that many teachers of Classics … have shared with me of having experienced the same frustration and the feeling of being defrauded when they completed their studies. … [A]lthough all roads lead to Rome, it is evident that some are more tortuous than others.”
The book is self-published, and I’m afraid it shows. The English translation and proofing could have used another round of edits, and the structure and content of the memoir itself would benefit, I think, from additional revision. But for anyone interested in teaching or learning ancient languages, it is more than worth the $3.36 USD list price. Tolle lege!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Maccabean Amnesia in Philo’s Embassy to Gaius

Two months ago, in my last contribution to this on-going series, I followed Daniel Schwartz in suggesting that King Agrippa I, the great-great-grandson of the last Hasmonean king who ruled Judaea and Galilee between 41-44 CE, seems not to have emphasized his Hasmonean ancestry. After publishing the post, I came across a possible piece of counter-evidence in my notes on Philo of Alexandria’s Embassy to Gaius. In this apologetic treatise, Philo includes a long letter that he claims Agrippa sent to Gaius Caligula in an attempt to convince the emperor not to set up a statue of himself in the Jerusalem temple (Leg. 276-329). In the letter’s introduction Agrippa reminds Caligula that his royal Hasmonean ancestors thought so highly of the temple that they valued their hereditary role as high priest more than the title of king:
“I as you know am by birth a Jew, and my native city is Jerusalem in which is situated the sacred shrine of the most high God. It fell to me to have for my grandparents and ancestors kings, most of whom had the title of high priest, who considered their kingship inferior to the priesthood, holding that the office of high priest is as superior in excellence to that of king as God surpasses men.” (Philo, Leg. 278 LCL)
Everyone agrees that the letter is Philo’s own composition rather than Agrippa’s ,[1] but it shows that Philo, at least, was aware of Agrippa’s Hasmonean ancestry and that he did not hesitate to refer to it in a text composed toward the middle of the first-century CE.[2]

The passage may, however, be an exception that proves the rule, for although the letter demonstrates Philo’s awareness of Hasmonean rule in the first century BCE, Philo goes on to have Agrippa deny that the Jerusalem temple had ever previously been desecrated in this way:
“This temple, my Lord Gaius, has never from the first admitted any figure wrought by men’s hands, because it is the sanctuary of the true God. … Thus no one, Greek or non-Greek, no satrap, no king, no mortal enemy, no faction, no war, no storming or sacking of the city, nor any existing thing ever brought about so great a violation of the temple as the setting up in it of an image or statue or any hand-wrought object for worship.” (Philo, Leg. 290, 292 LCL; cf. 300)
Did Philo not remember the Maccabean revolt?

In her commentary on The Embassy to Gaius, E. Mary Smallwood assumes that Philo did know about the “abomination that causes desolation” erected by Antiochus Epiphanes in the Temple, but chose to ignore it:
“Antiochus Epiphanes had actually robbed the Temple and devoted it to the cult of Olympian Zeus, setting up a statue in it …. But in his eagerness to provide uniformly favourable precedents for the treatment of the Jews, Philo deliberately avoids all mention of the action.”[3]
Possibly. But explaining Philo’s silence as a deliberate omission is itself an argument from silence. It is true that Philo’s description of the first-century CE crisis under Caligula reminds modern readers of the second-century BCE crisis under Antiochus Epiphanes; when I re-read the Embassy to Gaius last fall, my first reaction was to think that Philo was dependent on 1 Maccabees. But, as far as I know, Philo, whose extant works focus almost exclusively on the Pentateuch, never refers directly to the Maccabean revolt. A review of the three volumes in the Philo of Alexandria Annotated Bibliography yields nothing about Antiochus or the Hasmoneans / Maccabees, as such, and very few incidental references to 1-4 Maccabees. No one that I can see claims that Philo knew or was directly dependent on the Maccabean literature.

What am I missing?

[1] Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judaea (TSAJ 23; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), 200–202 (Appendix VI: The Philonic Authorship of Agrippa’s Epistle to Gaius [Leg. 276-329]); see also Erich S. Gruen, “Caligula, the Imperial Cult, and Philo’s Legato,” SPhilo 24 (2012): 135–47.
[2] The embassy took place in 39-40 CE; Philo’s death is normally placed around 50 CE. See Gregory E. Sterling, “Philo,” in The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 1065.
[3] E. Mary Smallwood, Philonis Alexandrini: Legatio Ad Gaium (Leiden: Brill, 1961), 298–99.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees -- A Footnote with Footnotes
Part 2: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 2: The Origins of Hanukkah
Part 3: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 3: Hanukkah in the First Century
Part 4: Memories of the Maccabees in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Part 5: The Maccabean Revolt and the Success of Hasmonean Propaganda
Part 6: The Case of the Disappearing First-Century Hasmoneans

Sunday, May 26, 2019

J. Louis Martyn on Romantic Christianity

In the better-late-than-never, the-classics-are-still-worth-reading category, I am slowly working my way through J. Louis Martyn's Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul. The chapter on "Leo Baeck's Reading of Paul" is the best in the bunch (so far). Martyn shows that Baeck gets Paul wrong, but observes that Baeck's critique of Paul is a tragically accurate description of too much of modern Christianity: 
"[S]everance from the Old Testament has always thrown the church into some form of ethical chaos, dangerous both to itself and to others. Baeck's ethical challenge is extraordinarily perceptive. He sees that what is commonly called ethics has had a very hard time finding a recognized and stable home in Christianity. Indeed, over the span of centuries, the dominant picture ... is the one in which ethics is excluded from the sphere considered proper to Christianity, either by being banned to live in a sort of shabby lean-to, having no organic relation to the main house of faith, or by being handed over entirely to the state. Not infrequently ethics has thus become, at worst, the sanctification of a tyrannical government and, at best, 'a message that is perceived dimly, as if from a vast distance, a message that can mean everything while demanding nothing ...' From such ethics one learns to be prudent, to find the modus vivendi; and thus, in the end, one falls into the kind of casuistry that can be comfortable with the neighbor's suffering. About this part of Baeck's charge there can be no argument. Christian history provides more examples than one wishes to enumerate.  
"The full profundity of Baeck's analysis of Christian ethics ensues, however, from his recognition that the organic relationship between faith and ethics is equally compromised when ethics moves in from the lean-to and takes over the house, pretending to be the whole of Christianity, thus rendering unnecessary and, in fact, useless, everything having to do with the mystery of God's transcendent and prevenient activity. Here we have the pattern Baeck identifies as 'the commandment without the mystery.'" 
J. Louis Martyn, Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Nashville: Abingdon, 1997), 67.  
One is tempted to identify the first problem--a shabby-lean-to ethics that emphasizes faith to the neglect of obedience--with the American Evangelical 81%, and the second with progressive Christianity, but a preoccupation with what we should do to the neglect of God's saving intervention, is not the preserve of progressives alone.

Incidentally, exploring the relationship between faith and ethics was, in a way, the premise behind the book Susan Wendel and I co-edited.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Case of the Disappearing First-Century Hasmoneans

This sixth instalment in my series on first-century memories of the Maccabean revolt amounts to a variation on a minimalist-sounding refrain. In this case, those who defend a link between the Maccabean revolt and the first Jewish revolt against Rome tend to ignore the gap between Hasmonean propaganda during the period of Hasmonean rule that ended in the 60’s BCE, and the Jewish revolt more than a century later in the 60’s CE. While Hasmonean popularity appears to have persisted through the reign of Herod the Great (see previous post), there is precious little concrete evidence between 3 BCE and 93/94 CE that anyone appealed either to Hasmonean ancestry or to Hasmonean precedent to buttress their leadership claims or to establish their personal credentials.

As far as I know, the only extant example of an appeal to Hasmonean ancestry in the first century comes from Josephus’s Life, which was written at the very end of the century in 93/94 CE. After cataloguing his priestly credentials, Josephus claims royal descent through the daughter of Judas’s brother, Jonathan:
“Moreover, on my [great-great-grand-]mother’s side I am of royal blood; for the posterity of Asamonaeus, from whom she sprang, for a very considerable period were kings, as well as high-priests, of our nation” (Life 2).[1]
Perhaps it is significant that Josephus only mentions his Hasmonean lineage once, near the end of his life. In the 70’s when he published the Jewish War, he passed over his Hasmonean ancestry in silence, identifying himself only as “a Hebrew by race, a native of Jerusalem and a priest” who was an eyewitness of many of the events he records (War 1.3).

Other explanations of Josephus’s silence in the 70’s CE are possible, of course, and it may be that Josephus’s self-description in the 90’s was typical of the century as a whole. Even though his resumé is the only one to survive, there may well have been others throughout the first century who were proud of their distant Hasmonean lineage.

In a valiant attempt to produce another example, William Farmer suggested “with some confidence” that Josephus suppressed the Hasmonean identity of Judas the Galilean, the founder of the “fourth philosophy” and the one on whom Josephus pinned the blame for the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66 CE. Farmer’s argument rests on a speculative combination of the name, Judas, which was common among Hasmoneans and non-Hasmoneans alike, opposition to Herod by the Jerusalem aristocracy for the murder of Judas’s father, Ezekias, and the supposition that the Jerusalem aristocracy at that time had intermarried with the Hasmoneans.[2] Needless to say, I do not share Farmer’s confidence.[3]
Daniel Schwartz supposes that priests in the first century looked on the Hasmoneans not so much as literal ancestors as exemplars of the best form of government, remembering with nostalgia “the good old Hasmonean days, when high priests ruled the land.”[4] This is possible. But priestly rule was not a Hasmonean innovation, and Schwartz assumes both that Hasmonean rule remained popular—the point in question here—and that “the ejection of Rome” from the land was “the goal toward which territorially-centered priestly religion must logically strive.”[5] (Does historical causation really follow such patterns of logical necessity?)

Instead of first-century Jews celebrating Hasmonean rule, the search for hard evidence yields Hasmonean descendants who did not draw on their Hasmonean heritage when they might have been expected to do so. Josephus is one example. Another is Herod the Great’s grandson, Herod Agrippa I, who was a descendant of Hasmonean royalty through the line of his grandmother, Mariamme. Agrippa I apparently made no attempt to burnish his leadership credentials by appealing to his Hasmonean ancestry when he was appointed king, first of the territory of his uncle Philip, then of Galilee, and finally of Judaea and Samaria.[6] Agrippa I’s son Agrippa II, a Roman through and through, appears to have “helped Titus celebrate the destruction of the Temple in the autumn of 70 C.E.”[7]
Agrippa I’s failure to play up his Hasmonean ancestry may have been a calculated decision. In the charged atmosphere of the mid-first century, an appeal to Hasmonean ancestry may have conveyed a desire for independence at a time when Agrippa had decided to throw in his lot with Rome as his grandfather Herod the Great had done. Indeed, one of the paradoxes of Agrippa’s life, according to Daniel Schwartz, is that even though he pursued an aggressively Herodian foreign policy, completely loyal to Rome and a benefactor of non-Jewish Greek cities both within and beyond the borders of his realm, Agrippa could not escape his Hasmonean ancestry:
“[A] man who knew better than anyone that the fate of Judaea, and of the Jews of the Mediterranean world, was dependent upon Rome, was stubbornly viewed by too many people as harbinger of the type of anti-Roman Jewish nationalism embodied by some of his ancestors. The hopes which were raised by his enthronement, and which refused to die with him, contributed to the faith which led to the great rebellion of 66-73 C.E., and to catastrophe.”[8]
If Schwartz is correct, the legacy of the Maccabees and their Hasmonean successors exerted such pressure on Jews and non-Jews alike that it shaped impressions of, and responses to, Agrippa, despite his best efforts to counteract them.

The problem, for my purposes, is that instead of providing direct evidence for first-century memories of the Maccabees among Jews and neighbouring gentiles, Schwartz’s proposal takes Hasmonean popularity (among Jews) and notoriety (among non-Jews) for granted:

The Hasmonean Legacy among Jews: Schwartz maintains that Agrippa’s Hasmonean ancestry fueled “anti-Roman Jewish nationalism” even though everyone knew that Agrippa himself, the putative Hasmonean heir, would have nothing to do with it:
“While such circles might have drawn some encouragement from Agrippa’s one-quarter Hasmonean descent, it was not to be expected that he would be the flag-bearer for the priests’ return to their former glory …. Some high priests and others, therefore, seem to have undertaken to bear that flag themselves.”[9]
The evidence Schwartz adduces—priestly support for the Jewish revolt itself a couple decades later and “Agrippa’s frequent switching of high priests”[10]—is only compelling if one assumes widespread first-century support for the Hasmoneans to begin with.

The Hasmonean Legacy among Non-Jews: Josephus describes in some detail how non-Jews in the cities of Caesarea and Sebaste rejoiced at Agrippa’s death:
“They hurled insults, too foul to be mentioned, at the deceased; and all who were then on military service … went off to their homes, and seizing the images of the king’s daughters carried them with one accord to the brothels, where they set them up on the roofs and offered them every possible sort of insult …. Moreover, they reclined in the public places and celebrated feasts for all the people, wearing garlands and using scented unguents; they poured libations to Charon, and exchanged toasts in celebration of the king’s death. In this they were unmindful not only of Agrippa, who had treated them with much generosity, but also of his grandfather Herod, who had built their cities” (A.J. 19.357-9).
According to Schwartz, this reaction to Agrippa’s death is “ironic” because Agrippa’s “policy … was that of his grandfather [Herod], not of the Hasmoneans.”[11] It is worth noting, however, that Josephus—our only source for this episode—says nothing about Agrippa’s Hasmonean ancestry. In its context, at the very end of book 19 of the Antiquities, the story illustrates the growing conflict between Jews and Gentiles within Agrippa’s realm that Josephus names as one of the causes of the Jewish revolt. Josephus goes on to say that the emperor Claudius had originally planned to discipline those who dishonoured Agrippa’s memory by relocating the cavalry units from Caesarea and Sebaste to Pontus, but in the end he was persuaded to let them stay in Judaea and, as a result “These men, in the period that followed, proved to be a source of the greatest disasters to the Jews by sowing the seed of the war in Florus’ time” (A.J. 19.366). From Josephus’s perspective, those who opposed Agrippa did so not because of his Hasmonean grandmother but because of his Jewishness.

The Hasmoneans and the Romans: There are also reasons to question an easy equation between Hasmoneans and opposition to Rome.

In the first place, Agrippa’s pro-Roman policy did not stop him from engaging in other activities that led to Roman censure, including fortifying the walls of Jerusalem (War 2.218-219; 5.147-160; A.J. 19.326-7) and meeting as royalty with other client kings (A.J. 19.338-342).[12] Were these actions somehow less provocative than claiming to be the heir of the Hasmonean dynasty? It is true that the Hasmoneans who attempted to regain power in Judaea after Pompey’s invasion called on the Parthians for help driving out the Romans. But during the first century the charge of supporting the Parthians was a convenient way for rivals to libel their opponents. According to Josephus, Agrippa himself had secured control of Herod Antipas’s realm by accusing his uncle of siding with the Parthians against Rome—and Antipas was no relation to the Hasmoneans (A.J. 18.250-2).

More importantly, appealing to one’s Hasmonean ancestry need not have been construed as anti-Roman in itself. Schwartz assumes that opposition to the Greek Seleucid rule of Antiochus and his successors in the original Maccabean storyline had by the first century been transferred to Rome. But substituting “Roman oppressor” in place of “Greek oppressor” was neither necessary nor inevitable. More than thirty-five years ago, Wayne Meeks warned about a tendency to read post-70 Jewish attitudes toward Rome back into the early first century:
“Popular treatments of early Christianity and early Judaism have focused so one-sidedly on Palestine and especially on the failed revolts of 66-70 and 132-135 that we tend to think of Rome as the implacable enemy of the Jews. The documents collected by Josephus, the two political tracts of Philo, and other evidence suggest rather that Jews of the cities more often regarded Rome as their protector.”[13]
Even in Judaea, an anti-Roman stance was not the only viable Hasmonean alternative. Agrippa could, for example, have pointed to the first Maccabean rulers who, according to 1 and 2 Maccabees, were close allies of the Romans (see 1 Macc 8; 12:1-4; 14:16-19, 24; 15:15-24; 2 Macc 4:11; 11:34-38).

In sum, instead of resulting from his pro-Roman policy, Agrippa’s apparent failure to mention his Hasmonean ancestry may suggest that neither he nor his contemporaries regarded it as significant.

To be sure, the disappearance of Hasmonean propaganda in support of Hasmonean leadership claims does not mean people no longer remembered the Maccabean revolt. Whatever the influence of Hasmonean propaganda, it is possible that by the end of the Hasmonean era memories of the Maccabean revolt were secure enough that they could be employed in different ways by those who sought a return to high-priestly rule or freedom from Roman control. People may have looked back fondly on the early stages of the Maccabean revolt while being critical of later Hasmonean rule. In the search for a smoking gun—for hard evidence that memories of the Maccabean revolt motivated popular acts of resistance or rebellion in the first century—most turn to the crisis under Caligula in 39/40 and the first Jewish revolt against Rome that culminated in the Temple’s destruction in 70 CE. I hope to evaluate both these events and the sources that report them later.

My basic point here, which admittedly says more about the limitations of our evidence than anything else, is that there is no direct evidence that people appealed to Hasmonean lineage to support their leadership claims from the immediate aftermath of the death of Herod in 4 BCE until the late first century when Josephus wrote his autobiography. At the very least, this silence should encourage caution about the way the Hasmoneans and Maccabees were remembered. We should not assume that support for the Hasmoneans remained constant or that the Maccabean storyline was reapplied in the same way.

[1] Since Josephus proceeds to give his father’s ancestry and to note how his father’s line was connected to the Hasmoneans through his great-great-grandmother, his reference to his “mother” in Life 2 probably refers to his great-great-grandmother. See Steve Mason, Life of Josephus (Leiden: Brill, 2003), 6 note 14.
[2] William Reuben Farmer, “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” New Testament Studies 4.2 (1958): 150–51. In “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” 155, Farmer only mentions as a possibility that the Judas of Galilee who was active after Herod’s death in 4 BCE (War 2.56) is the same as the Judas the Galilean mentioned in connection with Quirinius’s census 10 years later (War 2.117-118). In Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus, however, Farmer appears to take the identification of the two Judas’s for granted. This view is defended in detail by Martin Hengel, The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), 331–33. For the argument that the two Judas’s were two different individuals, see Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, Volume 1B: Judean War 2 (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 39 n. 341 and 81 n. 724.
[3] See David Goodblatt, Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 96, for reasons why Judas was unlikely to have been a priest, let alone a Hasmonean.
[4] Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judaea, TSAJ 23 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), 130.
[5] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 130, emphasis added. See David M. Goodblatt, The Monarchic Principle: Studies in Jewish Self-Government in Antiquity (TSAJ 38; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1994), for the argument that “priestly monarchy” was the dominant Judaean form of government throughout the Second Temple period.
[6] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 43, 173. Contrast Farmer, “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” 148 n. 3.
[7] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 175.
[8] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 175
[9] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 130.
[10] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 130
[11] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 132.
[12] Schwartz, Agrippa I, 137–44, proposes that Agrippa’s actions were criticized because the Roman legate of Syria, Vibius Marsus, was jealous of Agrippa’s success. But even if Agrippa’s intentions were innocent, his actions were liable to being construed as anti-Roman. For Rome’s evolving approach to governing the Near East and a gradual shift from government through client kings to direct administration, see Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East: 31 BC - AD 337 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Seth Schwartz, The Ancient Jews from Alexander to Muhammad (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
[13] Wayne A Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 38.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees -- A Footnote with Footnotes
Part 2: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 2: The Origins of Hanukkah
Part 3: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 3: Hanukkah in the First Century
Part 4: Memories of the Maccabees in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Part 5: The Maccabean Revolt and the Success of Hasmonean Propaganda

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Maccabean Revolt and the Success of Hasmonean Propaganda

In this fifth post in my series on first-century CE memories of the Maccabean revolt, I want to step back and (a) consider ways in which the Hasmoneans commemorated the Maccabean revolt while they were in power in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, and (b) begin to explore the extent of their popularity after the Roman takeover in 63 BCE.

During the second and first centuries BCE, the Hasmoneans had every reason to perpetuate memories of the Maccabean revolt because it helped them consolidate and legitimate their own rule. 1 Maccabees and possibly 2 Maccabees tell us what Hasmonean propaganda looked like while the Hasmoneans were in power.[1] The Hasmonean-inspired festival of Hanukkah is the most obvious example, but there are others. Albert Baumgarten has suggested that the annual half-shekel temple tax was a Hasmonean innovation introduced to “to reinforce the legitimacy of their rule.”[2] Eyal Regev argues against the consensus that the rise of pilgrimage to the Jerusalem temple originated before Herod’s Temple, in the Hasmonean era.[3] Even if the Hasmonean origins of these practices were eventually lost, the fact that a temple tax caught on in the Hasmonean period speaks to the success of the Hasmoneans in gaining popular support not only in the land of Israel but also in the Diaspora.

The Hasmoneans appear to have remained popular through the end of the first century BCE:
  • Josephus mentions three Hasmonean revolts between 57-55 BCE in the immediate aftermath of the Roman general Pompey’s conquest of Jerusalem in 63 BCE (War 1.160-178; A.J. 14.82-100).
  • Between 40-37 BCE, the Hasmonean Mattathias Antigonus controlled Jerusalem with the support of the Parthians (War 1.248-357).
  • About two years later, Herod the Great, now installed as king of Judaea by the Romans, had his Hasmonean brother-in-law, Aristobulus III, drowned because the people responded so positively to the return of a Hasmonean to the high priesthood (War 1.437).
  • There followed the execution of the Hasmonean former high priest, Hyrcanus II, whom Herod disliked because the throne “belonged to him by right” (War 1.434).
  • Herod murdered his Hasmonean wife, Mariamme, a year later in 29 BCE (War 1.441-444).
  • In 7 or 6 BCE, shortly before his own death, Herod finally executed his sons by Mariamme, who were still considered Hasmonean nobility (see War 1.445, 550-1).
  • In 3 BCE, within a year of Herod the Great’s death, a Hasmonean pretender appeared in Rome, claiming to be Mariamme’s son, Alexander, and, therefore, both the legitimate heir to Herod’s throne and the one who would carry forward the Hasmonean line.[4]
Here, however, our evidence for Hasmonean “propaganda” in service to Hasmonean royalty peters out for almost a century. While Hanukkah continued to be celebrated in Jerusalem, there is no evidence that it was tied any longer to support for the Hasmonean family. It is the significance of this silence that I want to explore in the next post in this series.

[1] Unlike 1 Maccabees, overt support for the Hasmonean regime is absent from 2 Maccabees; the book stresses God's deliverance of the people much more than the human agency of Judas and his brothers. But religious and political motivations may coincide. Since the final form of the book appends letters encouraging the celebration of Hanukkah to “the story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers” (2:19), both the book and the festival it commends may have functioned to encourage support for the Hasmonean dynasty. See Daniel R. Schwartz, 2 Maccabees, CEJL (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2008), 14, 37.
[2] Albert I. Baumgarten, “Invented Traditions of the Maccabean Era,” in Geschichte - Tradition - Reflexion: Festschrift Für Martin Hengel Zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Hubert Cancik, Hermann Lichtenberger, and Peter Schäfer, vol. 1 of (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1996), 197–210, here 199–202 and 201.
[3] See Eyal Regev, The Hasmoneans: Ideology, Archaeology, Identity, JAJSup 10 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013). Unfortunately, Regev does not address memories of the Hasmoneans in the later Second Temple period.
[4] Unlike War 2.101-110, the version of the story in Antiquities 17.324-338 emphasizes the false Alexander’s connection to the Hasmonean line through Mariamme. See especially A.J. 17.330, 335 and the discussion in William Reuben Farmer, “Judas, Simon and Athronges,” New Testament Studies 4.2 (1958): 148; Daniel R. Schwartz, Agrippa I: The Last King of Judaea, TSAJ 23 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990), 43; HT: Steve Mason, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, Volume 1B: Judean War 2 (Leiden: Brill, 2008), 67 n. 623.

Other posts in this series:
Part 1: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees -- A Footnote with Footnotes
Part 2: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 2: The Origins of Hanukkah
Part 3: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 3: Hanukkah in the First Century
Part 4: Memories of the Maccabees in the Dead Sea Scrolls
Part 6: The Case of the Disappearing First-Century Hasmoneans

Sunday, March 31, 2019

C.S. Lewis on Learning to Think in Greek

George Sayer's account of how C. S. Lewis learned to think in Greek stuck in my head when I read it years ago:
"With his strongly guttural Ulster accent, Kirkpatrick would read about twenty lines of the Iliad or whatever work they were studying, translate about a hundred lines quickly and roughly, and then tell his pupil to go through it in detail with a grammar book and a dictionary, while he went back into the garden. At first Jack found it difficult in the time allotted to work through more than about twenty of the lines that the 'grinder' had translated, but before long he was able to work through even more than had been read aloud. He found that he could think in Greek." - George Sayer, Jack: C. S. Lewis and His Times (Harper & Row, 1988), 93-94

I don't much care for the method, but "thinking in Greek" is surely the goal--or shows that the goal of reading fluently has been reached.

I rather suspect Lewis's own experience of learning to think in Greek lies behind this passage in chapter 19 of Out of the Silent Planet:

"To every man, in his acquaintance with a new art, there comes a moment when that which before was meaningless first lifts, as it were, one corner of the curtain that hides its mystery, and reveals, in a burst of delight which later and fuller understanding can hardly ever equal, one glimpse of the indefinite possibilities within. For Ransom, this moment had now come in his understanding of Malacandrian song. Now first he saw that its rhythms were based on a different blood from ours, on a heart that beat more quickly, and a fiercer internal heat. Through his knowledge of the creatures and his love for them he began, ever so little, to hear it with their own ears. A sense of great masses moving at visionary speeds, of giants dancing, of eternal sorrows eternally consoled, of he knew not what and yet what he had always known, awoke in him with the very first bars of the deep-mouthed dirge, and bowed down his spirit as if the gate of heaven had opened before him." 
It is worth noting that when Lewis describes the process of learning another language in Out of the Silent Planet, the approach he describes is conversational.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Timothy Barnes on Sound Scholarship

I encountered this gem in the preface to Timothy Barnes's monograph on Early Christian Hagiography (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010).
“In my first year of research ... I learned two fundamental truths about scholarship that are too often neglected: first, the most useful study of any subject or problem need not be either the most recent or indeed at all recent in date; second, that sound scholarship remains sound scholarship despite the passage of time and changes in intellectual fashion.” (p. x)
The book--originally a series of lectures delivered in German--was published three years after Barnes retired from his position as professor of Classics at the University of Toronto.

Here is a longer version:
 “Soon after I began research in Oxford in 1964, my supervisor Sir Ronald Syme encouraged me to investigate early Christian texts and documents in a spirit of extreme scepticism. … Syme suggested that I investigate the letters of Ignatius of Antioch and the acta martyrum of the second and third centuries on the assumption that every text needed to establish its claims to veracity and ought to be treated as inauthentic until it was proved otherwise. This was perhaps the most salutary and productive single item of advice that Syme ever gave me. For, while my investigation of the letters of Ignatius led nowhere at the time, it revealed to me the superb scholarship of Bishop Joseph Barber Lightfoot, who held the see of Durham from 1879 to 1889, and it convinced me that understanding of Ignatius had not progressed significantly in the three quarters of a century after Lightfoot. In my first year of research, therefore, I learned two fundamental truths about scholarship that are too often neglected: first, the most useful study of any subject or problem need not be either the most recent or indeed at all recent in date; second, that sound scholarship remains sound scholarship despite the passage of time and changes in intellectual fashion.” (pp. ix-x)

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Living Language Pedagogy at Princeton University

Last week the Paideia Institute released a video in Latin (with English subtitles) about a Latin course offered at Princeton University last fall that was taught entirely in Latin:

When I first watched the video, I assumed it was a product of Princeton’s Classics Department. But while the classics department approved the video, it was produced by the Paideia Institute; Joseph Conlon, the course instructor, is a post-doc at the Paideia Institute; and the rather breathless online article about the course was written by the editor of In Media Res, a Paideia Institute magazine.

But when due allowance is made for an organization’s own promotional literature, the Living Latin course, and the fact that it was offered at Princeton, is still an exciting development: The course was offered in response to student demand; Joseph Conlon, who holds a PhD in classics from Princeton University, evidently knows Latin—along with about 10 other languages—very well indeed, and he appears to be an excellent teacher; eminent Princeton historian, Anthony Grafton, was impressed with the class. More importantly, students clearly loved it. Here are a few excerpts (in English translation) from the video:
"It is difficult to understand classical literature without speaking Latin or Greek. But it is difficult to speak Latin without friends who also can or want to learn to speak Latin."
"Before the course I could read Latin, but I had to translate every word into English, and now I can better understand the words of the ancient authors."
"I am always happy when I come to class. Even if I am having a bad day, I am happy in class."
The video itself makes a great case for a living language approach to teaching so-called “dead” languages. Watch the video, and you’ll see why I think the biblical languages should be taught this way too.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Memories of the Maccabees in the Dead Sea Scrolls

According to a hypothesis that dominated 20th-century scholarship, the Dead Sea Scrolls remember the Maccabees as villains. Jonathan, who succeeded his brother Judas as leader in 159 BCE and was appointed high priest by the Seleucid ruler Alexander Balas in 152 BCE, was, according to this theory, known as the “Wicked Priest” who took the high priesthood by force from the Essene “Teacher of Righteousness.”[1] The hypothesis is still debated,[2] but Essene antipathy toward the Hasmoneans is accepted on all sides. This helps explain why no copies of 1 or 2 Maccabees were preserved at Qumran, and why, with one or two possible exceptions, the Dead Sea Scrolls have nothing positive to say about Hasmonean rule.[3]

References to the later Hasmoneans are not quite the same as references to the Maccabean revolt, however. In this exercise in re-evaluating what most everyone takes for granted, I am looking for evidence that Jews in the first-century BCE/CE remembered the second-century BCE crisis under Antiochus IV Epiphanes.

This will be a long and somewhat technical series of posts—if I ever finish it—so let me say up front that the pickings are slim. Most proposed references in the Dead Sea Scrolls to the events leading up to the Maccabean revolt are not compelling on their own. Either the scenes of national devastation and foreign opposition are not specific enough to secure a link to Antiochus’s persecution (4Q179, 4Q381) or the text bespeaks the influence of Daniel with no necessary connection to the crisis Daniel had in view (1QM, 4Q246, 4Q248). That leaves (1) two or three texts with personal names that may indicate awareness of figures from the period (4Q169, 4Q245, 4Q523), (2) the reconstructed Apocryphon of Jeremiah C (4Q383, 385a, 387, 387a, 388a, 389), where I think a reference to the crisis under Antiochus is likely, and (3) the intriguing 4Q390, which I am still puzzling through.

My list of passages is drawn primarily from Hanan Eshel’s valuable, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). If anyone can point me to additional references in the Scrolls to events associated with the Maccabean revolt, I would be grateful.

Other Posts in This Series
Part 1: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees -- A Footnote with Footnotes
Part 2: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 2: The Origins of Hanukkah
Part 3: First-Century Memories of the Maccabees Part 3: Hanukkah in the First Century
Part 5: The Maccabean Revolt and the Success of Hasmonean Propaganda
Part 6: The Case of the Disappearing First-Century Hasmoneans

[1] For this hypothesis, see James C. VanderKam, The Dead Sea Scrolls Today, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010); Hanan Eshel, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 29–61. Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 7th ed. (London: Penguin, 2011), claimed that the hypothesis “was first formulated” by him in 1952. Frank Moore Cross, The Ancient Library of Qumran, 3d ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 101, acknowledged that the view was first “worked out most persuasively by Vermès and Milik,” but claimed that in general terms at least it was “by no means new.”
[2] For example, John J. Collins, Beyond the Qumran Community: The Sectarian Movement of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010) dates conflict between the “Wicked Priest” and the “Teacher of Righteousness” to the first century BCE.
[3] The main exception is 4Q448 where על יונתן המלך could be translated “for King Jonathan” or “against King Jonathan”; the other is a possible reference to Hasmonean priests in 4Q387.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

E. M. Forster on the Problem with Herbert

Reflections on utilitarian education:

“What was amiss with Herbert? ... He was capable of affection: he was usually courteous and tolerant. ... Why in spite of all these qualities, should Rickie feel that there was something wrong with him—nay, that he was wrong as a whole, and that if the Spirit of Humanity should ever hold a judgment he would assuredly be classed among the goats? The answer at first sight appeared a graceless one—it was that Herbert was stupid. Not stupid in the ordinary sense—he had a business-like brain, and acquired knowledge easily—but stupid in the important sense: his whole life was coloured by a contempt of the intellect. That he had a tolerable intellect of his own was not the point: it is in what we value, not in what we have, that the test of us resides. Now, Rickie’s intellect was not remarkable. … But he … tried to make such use of his brain as he could, just as a weak athlete might lovingly exercise his body. Like a weak athlete, too, he loved to watch the exploits, or rather the efforts, of others—their efforts not so much to acquire knowledge as to dispel a little of the darkness by which we and all our acquisitions are surrounded. … Herbert’s contempt for such efforts revolted him. He saw that for all his fine talk about a spiritual life he had but one test for things—success: success for the body in this life or for the soul in the life to come. And for this reason Humanity, and perhaps such other tribunals as there may be, would assuredly reject him.” - E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey (London: Edward Arnold, 1907), 187-8.