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Bible Study Feature Focus: Between Malachi and Matthew
Part One - The History

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Posted on CCPC's website 2023

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

Introduction to... to....
            whatever this is.

      No really, that is an accurate statement.
      There is no format here, no agenda. We're going down this winding path simply to see how the historical period between that final verse with the 'doom' in it in Malachi four and that epic opening of Luke that picks up the story some time before Gabriel stopped by to speak to the Virgin Mary:

"In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah..."

      Along the way we'll check in with our old friend Josephus, and meet a gentleman by the name of Judas Maccabeaus, and his father and brother, and then we'll watch some Hanukkah lights be turned on both around 160 BC and in the Gospel of John, and, as is the way of these sorts of outings, we'll sort through some obscure references, and read a few quotes. Such as:

"To ask the proper question is half of knowing."
- Roger Bacon (1220 - 1292)

      We'll begin by trying to do what Doctor Mirabilis (Latin for "wonderful teacher") stated, by asking a couple of questions: Why dig through this stuff? And, how much of it is really important?

      Well, let's hit the second one first, because it comes in and directly impacts the story in the Gospels.

Corruption of the High Priest
      In John 18, Christ has been brought before the High Priest, Caiaphas, and yet, HE doesn't seen to recognize him. OK, it was the middle of the night and he may have been in his nightclothes, but still.
      It could be that He didn't recognize him because instead of having inherited the position from his father, or even grandfather, who had also inherited the position (eventually) from Aaron the brother of Moses, Caiaphas had been appointed by the Roman governor Gratus, and then retained by Pilate. See chapter 2 of Book 18 of Josephus's Antiquities..., linked below.
      Let's look at that for a second, and go back and find where it started.

      We don't have to look too far:

2 Maccabees 4:
"7 When Seleu'cus died and Anti'ochus who was called Epiph'anes succeeded to the kingdom, Jason the brother of Oni'as obtained the high priesthood by corruption, 8 promising the king at an interview three hundred and sixty talents of silver and, from another source of revenue, eighty talents. 9 In addition to this he promised to pay one hundred and fifty more if permission were given to establish by his authority a gymnasium and a body of youth for it, and to enrol the men of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch. 10 When the king assented and Jason came to office, he at once shifted his countrymen over to the Greek way of life. ..."
Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (see link below)
      The passage goes on to say that the priests lost interest in the things of the Temple and went out and participated in the Greek games.

      Hang on for a moment of dissent:

"Whether or not the right to appoint the high priest belongs to the king, all are in agreement that, after the fact, if the king installs a high priest, the installation is valid. As such, even during much of the Second Temple period, when the high priesthood was up for sale to the one who offered the king the largest bribe, these high priests-though often unscrupulous and impious-were technically kosher." see link below.
      They 'may be in agreement. But....

      Leviticus 21 has other ideas on how the post should be filled. And Numbers 8 : 24 and following discusses about other items. And given their history, you'd think the Jewish Scholars would pause for a moment about calling the development recorded in both the Maccabees and Josephus "kosher".....

      OK. Time Out.
      There were Jews at the time, just as there are Christians today, that see developments in the faith that don't agree with The Book. In the Jew's case, it was the Torah, and the prophets, and so on. To the Christians, it is those books, with the addition of the New Testament, especially the Gospels and Acts. They saw, or see, something that strolls in and sets up a table and begins selling pigeons and they don't accept it. In the case of the Jews of the period just before Christ overturned the table, this would be the Essenes, who disagreed with everybody else, and which gave rise to the even more extreme separatist sect, the Qumrun community who brought us the Dead Sea Scrolls. There are several links below to more on them and those. But it's OK to leave your suitcase in the corner of the community's day room because we'll be coming back here before this is over.

      Be that as it may. The waters there get pretty deep and murky, and without a Temple for the High Priest to do his duties in, the whole argument is pointless. So let's move on to a better time.

Hanukkah / Chanukah
      It is the "Festival of Lights" and also the "Festival of Dedication" and the "Miracle of the Oil" and so on, which begins in 2 Maccabees 10 : 6 - 8.
      Well, actually the event ends there, but the traditional observance begins there and is even mentioned in the Gospel of John chapter 10 verses 22 and 23
"At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area, in the portico of Solomon." (NASB)

      In short, in the 160s BC, after the military forces of the Maccabees seized Jerusalem from the corrupting Greeks, they purified the Temple, rebuilt the altars, and sacrificed to God. For seven nights / eight days.
      Of course, most of the traditions, and especially dreidel spinning with its song and everything else that has grown up around the commemoration, it is new when you consider the age of the holiday. By most accounts, the dreidel game evolved from a Roman game and moved into in Eastern Europe sometime around the late middle ages and was then adopted by the Jews there. And there's a link below to most about all that. But that's still not a good reason to eat your chocolate coins before you ante up for the next spin. As for the song, there are several versions, none of which are linked below so as to preserve what is left of our sanity for this outing.

"Let the mind be enlarged to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind"
- Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

The Books
      The books of the Maccabees are historically interesting. The fact that Josephus considered them a reasonable source for his history gives them some credibility as a reasonably reliable documentation of the times.
      But there are some problems with the Maccabees being included in the Bible as a whole. And we're only talking about the First and Second books. Books three and four have NOTHING to do with those times, and shouldn't even be called Third and Fourth Maccabees, but they had to call them something, so there you are. It should be noted that the Greek Orthodox Church, and a few others, recognize the third book as canon.

      Let's begin at the beginning.
      There is NO KNOWN HEBREW ORIGINAL for either One or Two. And they were not found in the Dead Sea Scroll cache, which we'll come back to and explain in a minute. Suffice it to say here, the reason was most likely religiously political and not religiously religious.
      There's a link below to an essay dealing with another extra-Biblical myth, this time about Lillith, "Adam's first wife", and what some claim to be the True / Real / Original Bible Scrolls (see about halfway through the article). While not of the same caliber as a discussion of the authenticity of Maccabees 1, it is partway down that side street and worth a look.
      The oldest known copy of Maccabees is from a copy of the Greek Book of Seventy, the Septuagint. The Greek translation was first done under the Egyptian Ptolemy's who came to power in Egypt and the Jordan Valley after the breakup of Alexander's empire, and then recopied several times in the Greek speaking Jewish world.
      One of the older existing versions of it is the Codex Sinaiticus copied before 400 AD which includes 1 Maccabees and some other apocryphal books. While there are some differences between the remaining copies of the work, it is certain Jerome of Stridon was familiar with them during his work. St. Jerome (345? - 420) included the first two Maccabees in his Latin edition, the Vulgate. Most likely because he was familiar with them from prior work on both Biblical and ecclesiastical writings before he dedicated himself to the translation of the entire Old Testament which was finished in the early 400s, although some work was continued later by others, especially on the New Testament.

      One of the arguments used against the inclusion of these books is that they were not included in the Hebrew Bible. Which is true. The Apocrypha, see link below to extensive encyclopedia article on the topic, as they are known together are not the current (whenever they were looking at it) Hebrew Bible, see link below for the books in it and a discussion of their status. However, the various Catholic denominations include various books listed on various lists of the Apocrypha. See link below.
      But then again, what was called the Hebrew Bible in 1885 may or may not have been the Hebrew Bible as read by the Hasmonean authorities during the time of the Maccabees, or later. The idea of a 'Hebrew Bible' is something of a moving target when you look at it through the filter of the "Authorized Edition". Information can be found on it at several of the Jewish information links below.
      The majority of the books in the list are historical or one nature or another, a couple are poetic, and at least one was written by a person, Baruch, who may have been a scribe for somebody whose book IS in the canon, Jeremiah.

      The usual list of books that are considered the Apocrypha or "deuterocanonical books" include Tobit, Wisdom, Baruch, Maccabees, and so on. Most WERE in the original 1611 King James Bible, see link below, and were not removed from widely circulated editions until the 1880s. Which means these books were IN the Bible for longer than they've been Out of the Bible.
      Another of the arguments is that they don't appear to be directly inspired. To which they point to certain aspects of the books that many scholars are certain were added later and include everything from political commentary to what may well be an inside joke. That argument falls apart when you consider books that are included in everybody's canon, including Job and Jonah. Yes, Maccabees One and Two were obviously written some time after the events covered, as were the Books of Moses. Yes, they were written to amplify the drama of the events and underscore the heroism of various individuals involved, and to highlight just how evil the bad guys were, well, fine. "Can you say 'David and Goliath' boys and girls?"
      There was also some discussion about whether or not the books that were the Apocrypha were not in line with the doctrine of the rest of the Old Testament, or even the overall message of the church. And we intentionally used the small 'c' in that word as standing for the various denominations instead of the "Church" as the Body of Christ. It should be pointed out that at the time these books were dismissed from the newer editions of everything from the KJV to the RSV and everything that followed, there were wholesale changes going on in the Protestant world. Some of that is documented in a Media Desk essay that looks at the Reformation and the Restoration, see link at the bottom of the resource links below.

"Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a general natural law."
- St. Jerome

And now we need to talk about Martin Luther.

      Yes we do.
      The majority of the credit, blame, whatever you please, can be sent to Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) of "95 Thesis" fame. Besides having a serious case of heartburn with his native Roman Catholic church and some of their practices, he didn't like several of the books of the Bible, including about the last third of the New Testament, with Revelation as the headliner and Hebrews running a good second. He didn't manage to have them pulled from the index of his German edition of the Bible, but he did talk those he was working with to drop the books we're talking about from the Old Testament. Once his edition came out, eventually, over the next handful of centuries, other Protestant publishers followed suit until in the 1880's, it became the standard for them. However, the Roman church, and the Eastern Orthodox churches did not. And, to their credit, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which is one of the oldest, if not THE oldest Christian denomination on the planet (but that is a discussion for another time) has no interest at all in European theological spats, and has their own quite interesting list of books they consider canon. See link below.

      Fortunately, all of the books that were removed from the Western Bible, and the various Pseudepigraphal (items written after the person to whom it is attributed has assumed room temperature, sometimes centuries later) books (see links below) that may be interesting, as well as various Gnostic texts (such as the 'Gospel of Judas Iscariot'), and we have links below to some those at a couple of different sites.
      For the record, the Gospel of Judas is total fiction from around 300 AD or even later, and has less credibility than the Gospel of Thomas.

"But should a Christian read them?"
      We'll answer that one in a couple of different ways....
      To be fair, MOST Christians don't read the Bible they've got. If the minister says something like "turn to Second Thessalonians" many of those in the pew on Sunday morning have to check the index to find it. And never mind trying to get them to look up something in Ezra or Obadiah.
      And there are some that if you give them a copy of the Book of Enoch, they're not sure whether or not looking at it is a sin. No, we're not kidding. Of course, many of them walk into the room with a 1611 KJV under their arm, but that is a rant for another time. While we're at it, fragments of the FIRST Book of Enoch were found in the Dead Sea cache, and is in the Ethiopian Orthodox Bible.
      As we said earlier, most of these books are more or less historical in nature. Some contain poetry as is found in the Minor Prophets, and some of them even have prophetic tones.
      Are they inspired? Who knows?
      SHOULD they be "In The Bible?" Well, they were, and then various humans decided they shouldn't be. BUT. As we just pointed out.... These books are still available to be read. So. If you are so inclined, have at it.

"If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe in, but yourself."
- Saint Augustine

and now... They ARE still here so ...
Why aren't they in the Dead Sea Scrolls?

      The Essenes were a fringe sect of the Jews. They made a point to disagree with almost everything everybody else ever said, and, spent a good deal of time disagreeing with each other as well. See the section in Josephus below where he talks about how they wouldn't marry and gave all their income to their priests.
      A small detachment of this group got so fed up with what they called "polistae" (dwelling in cities) that they abandoned everything a went way out in the desert and lived in a rough compound with a view of the Dead Sea.
      One of the things that the Qumran community was upset about in the city was the Hasmonean (Maccabeean) High Priests, as their sect, the Essenes, observed the Zadok line of Levitical priests. Sometime during the period with Simon and then John, his son, in office, the separatists packed up and moved out and simply ignored the outside world as much as possible. At least they did until the eventual ruin of most of Judea around 70 AD by the Romans who either leveled Qumran or chased everybody off and let the desert take it back.
      One of the points Josephus makes is that the Essenes didn't go in for any of the usual practices that ensure a group's survival, including having kids. So it was essentially doomed to fail in only a few generations.
      Now, we said all that to say this. The Maccabees, books one and two at any rate, were written to make Judas and Jonathan and various other ones look good, that's obvious from the text. Something that would have given those in the Qumran community an very bad case of the fantods (Note: a semi-mythical illness that causes fidgeting, uneasiness, unsteady breathing, and perhaps even sweating, may also include a queasy stomach), or perhaps even had whoever wanted to include it banished from the settlement as a collaborator with the heathens. So when the time came to start stashing their library down in the rocks, any copies they had of the Maccabees, which may have existed in an early form at the time, went into the cooking fire. There's a link below that mentions another ancient library which partially suffered that fate, with a review of some Dead Sea Scrolls.

Besides all that... Just how bad did things get between Malachi and Matthew?

      That's an interesting question. As we'll see in the next section of this study when we look at the books, the Greeks had moved in and set up shop and were turning the Jews into Greeks. Which was something else both the Maccabeeans and the Essenes were upset about. See 1 Maccabees 1:41 and following, and then; 2 Maccabees 6:1 - 11. And then, as if that wasn't enough, you have the local strong man leader sending tribute to Rome trying to buy favors that way. That REALLY upset the Essenes, and a lot of others as well.
      The language of the common people was being replaced by both Aramaic, the language Jesus actually spoke when out and about, and Greek, the language of the learned community.
      The idolatry that had always been scurrying around like rats in a warehouse was now the order of the day. And is one of the things that comes to a head in the second book we'll look at.
      And while Jerusalem hadn't been under 'home rule' for more than a handful of years at a time since not long after Solomon, almost every new administration was worse than the last one, with the few good governors and priests standing out from the crowd so much you have Minor Prophets calling them the 'Seal of God'.
      And then you have things like the torture of Jews as outlined in 2 Maccabees chapters 6 and 7, which we'll look at when we get to it, as cited in Hebrews 11 "Faith Hall of Fame".

      So, let's see. You have priests out playing in the Greek games, the high priesthood being traded for political favors, the language has changed, and then you have armed priests coming in and killing everybody and setting up their own dynasty, the Hasmoneans, for a hundred years while a group that claims to be holier than them runs out into the desert and leaves the Pharasees and Saducees in charge in town. And such severe torture of civilians that it is remembered for hundreds of years and is then written about in the New Testament.
      Sounds like fun, where do we sign up?

      In the next edition of this study, we look at the books 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Selected Sources:

The Apocrypha

Maccabees (RSV)

Another source for the Maccabees

We have two different links to Josephus's:
Antiquities of the Jews - Book XII


"How Cyrenius was sent by Cesar to make a taxation of Syria and Judea; and how Coponius was sent to be procurator of Judea. Concerning Judas of Galilee; and concerning the sects that were among the Jews."
The Essenes are described in Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18 Chapter 1, paragraph 5 (he touches on the Pharasees just before that).
Also see: "Antiquities...", Book 15, Chapter 2, Section 4.


An article about High Priest Caiaphas How is a High Priest Selecteed"


The Truth Behind the Hanukkah Dreidel: Metafolklore, Play, and Spin


"13 Facts about the Maccabees..."


New Testament High Priests

Ancient Jewish History: The Dead Sea Sect

"Love and Hate at Qumran"

"The very first translation of the Hebrew Bible was made into Greek, probably as early as the third century BC. This, the so-called Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, is traditionally dated to the reign of Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (285-246 BC)"
The Vulgate

"The scope of this article takes in those compositions which profess to have been written either by Biblical personages or men in intimate relations with them." the Apocrypha

the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (English Available on page)

This link includes a fascinating work by the name of Didache
Early Christian Writings

Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha and Sacred Writings

Alexander the Great

-and- Non-Fiction articles mentioned in the above work:

".... According to the True Bible Texts Lilith was created before Adam, but she refused to submit to Adam so GOD created Eve and He made her so that she had to submit and Lilith was banished from the Garden...."
Includes a look at those "True Bible Texts": Whitherist Thou Lilith

A look at the Dead Sea Scrolls

Sources used throughout entire study:

the Geneva Bible downloadable

the 1611 KJV

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

With the assistance and cooperation of The Media Desk.