Queries & Comments

More Queries & Comments Winter 2023

Memorable Maccabees

IN HER ARTICLE “The Rise of the Maccabees,” Andrea Berlin makes a statement that needs a slight clarification. She writes, “The trouble began when Antiochus IV, returning from a failed invasion of Egypt, raided the Temple,” etc…

The trouble actually began earlier, when Antiochus IV removed first the high priest Onias III, and then his brother the high priest Jason. In 172 BC, he replaced Jason with the corrupt Menelaus, who was not from the family of the high priests, but had promised Antiochus IV more tax money. Menelaus looted some of the Temple’s treasures not only to pay Antiochus IV but also to pay an assassin to kill Onias III in Antioch.

In 169 BC, Antiochus IV attacked into Egypt and defeated Ptolemy VI, his own nephew. He captured all of Egypt except Alexandria. While he was besieging Alexandria, the former high priest Jason began a revolt in Jerusalem. Jason had heard a rumor—almost certainly spread by Ptolemy VI—that Antiochus IV had died in Egypt. Threatened by this revolt in his rear, Antiochus IV left Egypt and attacked Jerusalem. He killed many rebelling Jews and looted the Temple of much of its gold and silver.

The next year, in 168 BC, he again attacked and conquered all of Egypt except for Alexandria. While he was besieging Alexandria, a Roman delegation led by Senator Gaius Popillius Laenas sailed into Alexandria’s harbor and threatened Antiochus IV with war with Rome unless he immediately left Egypt. Antiochus IV had lived in Rome as a hostage for 13 years after his father, Antiochus III, was disastrously defeated by Scipio Asiaticus at the Battle of Magnesia, in 190 BC.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes was terrified of Roman military power and left Egypt, but he was furious with the Jews because he blamed them for his failure to take Alexandria a year earlier, in 169 BC. He thus harshly persecuted pious Jews, placed an idol in the Temple, and sacrificed pigs on the Temple altar. It was his pollution of the Temple and his severe persecution of pious Jews that led to the revolt of Judas the Maccabee, and eventually to the first Hanukkah.
Clyde E. Billington
Niceville, Florida


Invisible David and Solomon


REGARDING THE ARTICLE “David and Solomon’s Invisible Kingdom,” by Zachary Thomas and Erez Ben-Yosef, today, after centuries of industrialized warfare, we may think of shepherds and cowherds as marginal, poor, weak, and submissive. But in the days of hand-to-hand combat, a muscular man who spent his life outdoors herding cattle and fighting off wolves and lions was a force to be reckoned with. Faced with thousands of these incredible fighters, a wise city might ask for terms.
Tom Kane
Floresville, Texas


Debating the Bible’s Relevance

IN HIS REVIEW of Render Unto Caesar by John Dominic Crossan, Zeba Crook states that Crossan believes that the Book of Revelation advocates a total rejection of Roman culture, and that “this is unhistorical, as God did not slaughter the Romans, as promised.”

I have been reading and studying the Book of Revelation all my life, and it’s news to me that it advocates in any way the “slaughter of the Romans!” Generally, Revelation is a critique of the excesses of the government of Rome, which of course would include the culture of emperor worship it fostered, but this in no way implied the wholesale “slaughter of Romans,” which, at best, is one view among many (though this is the first time I have ever heard it expressed). Generally, the camps of view on Romans view it as largely or even wholly already past, partially fulfilled and in work, or wholly in the future, and above all, symbolic and understood as such by the author and early educated readers. To suggest that it simply was about a “vengeance” on the Roman people is surprisingly sophomoric and not in line with the scholars who have studied it over the centuries, going all the way back to Irenaeus and Justin Martyr.
Andy Heaton
Huntsville, Alabama


THERE IS MUCH to debate in John Dominic Crossan’s latest book, but to criticize the work because it treats the Bible as relevant to modern times is dull and predictable. Just as predictable is the inevitable reply from a believer: The word of God is eternal and the only sure guide to shaping social, political, and economic policy in any age.
Dan Kinder
Miami, Florida


Give Us a Trot

WHAT A WONDERFUL ISSUE! On page 12, showing the volunteers around an inscription, it would be fun to put a translation of the inscription into the picture blurb. Those who don’t know the language of the inscription would be edified. But those of us who dabble in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin could have fun puzzling out the inscription word by word. In my old Latin class, a line-by-line translation was called a “trot.” When you show an inscription, please give us a “trot.”
Tom Kane
Floresville, Texas


Paul Push Back

IN CLAUSEN’S ARTICLE “Five Myths About the Apostle Paul,” of the five so-called myths, I did not find one that I found unobjectionable. One example: Myth 1 argues that Paul did not abandon Judaism for Christianity. While there is some truth to this, it is very deceptive. Rather, Paul saw Christianity as the fulfillment of the promise of the covenant even though he did not use the word Christianity. Because the law is fulfilled, we are no longer under the law, hence, no more need for circumcision with the more inclusive rite of baptism (Romans 2:25–29).

To say that Paul was not writing for the ages is troubling, too. Perhaps he, himself, did not know that his letters would become half of the New Testament. But isn’t it true that when you state a truth that it is true not just for your readers but for all time? Clausen says that “Paul’s missionary horizon was short” and that he did not write for future generations (1 Thessalonians 4:15). However, Thessalonians, it is argued, is not written by Paul but a later writer. Who can argue with the agelessness of 1 Corinthians 13?
O’Bryan Milligan
Des Moines, Iowa


DAVID CHRISTIAN CLAUSEN RESPONDS: There is no evidence that Paul taught Jews that they were no longer under the law, or that God’s covenants with them had been annulled, or that God had abandoned his people Israel. There are no scholars of which I am aware who consider 1 Thessalonians inauthentic (2 Thessalonians, yes).


I AM RESPONDING to “Five Myths About the Apostle Paul” in the Summer issue. The biblical quotes below are taken from the New International Version. Here are “Five Truths About the Apostle Paul”:

1) Paul rejected his Pharisaic past to embrace Christianity.

Philemon 3:7–9: “I consider everything loss … forgetting what is behind.”
1 Corinthians 9:20: “To the Jew I became like a Jew.”

2) Paul’s letters were not only addressed to Gentiles.

Galatians 3:23: “We [italics added] were held prisoners under the law.”
Romans 2:17ff: “You, if you call yourself a Jew ….”

3) Paul taught freedom from the Torah.

Galatians 3:23–25: “… we were held prisoners under the law … we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”
Hebrews 8:13: “By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete ….”
Hebrews 10:9: “He sets aside the first to establish the second.”

4) Christ died for Jewish sins, too. Their former means of atonement was ended.

John 1:29: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Hebrews 9:8–10, 26: sacrifices only lasted until a “new order” came in.
Hebrews 10:8–10: sacrifices and offerings are “set aside.”

5) Paul was also “ungodly,” needing Jesus’s sacrifice.

1 Timothy 1:15: Paul called himself “chief of sinners.”
Ephesians 3:8: Paul felt he was “the least of God’s people”


DAVID CHRISTIAN CLAUSEN RESPONDS: 1) Paul was a student of rhetoric, both Jewish and Greek. Philippians 3:7–9 is an example of Jewish argumentation by qal wahomer: If a small thing is true, how much more so (“even more”; menounge) is a related but greater thing true. Paul was not denying his Jewishness; he was saying that his Jewishness, though valuable, paled in comparison with knowing the Jewish messiah. Nowhere does Paul jettison his Jewishness. The passage in 1 Corinthians 9:20 demonstrates that Paul made use of another form of rhetoric, known in Greek as prosōpopeia, speech-in-character. Paul could not mean that he behaved in all the ways he outlines in this passage (as a Jew, then a non-Jew, then a sinner) but that he spoke in their terms (rhetorically “became”; ginomai), so that they could understand his message. To Jews, he explained things in Jewish terms; to polytheistic non-Jews, as a non-Jewish teacher might. He proclaimed his message using words and symbols that made sense to them. To have behaved differently before different audiences would have led to charges of hypocrisy or flattery. In this passage, Paul also denied being “without God’s law.”

2) In Galatians 3:23–25, Paul is using another rhetorical device known as pluralis societatis, the social plural. As with the above, Paul often identified with his audience in his letters, although he was not in all ways one of them. An example I give in class is to say, “We need to turn in our essays on Friday.” Clearly, I am not going to be turning in an essay. Preachers and politicians use this form of rhetoric frequently to identify with their audiences. Romans 2:17ff has been studied extensively and is now recognized as Paul writing about Gentiles who by then considered themselves Jews in some way: “call yourself a Jew.”

3) Again, the “we” in Galatians 3:23–25 are Paul’s Gentile audience. And Hebrews is not by Paul.

4) The Gospel of John and Hebrews are not by Paul.

5) Again, these New Testament writings are not by Paul.

Editor’s Note: Check out the Winter 2023 issue’s Web Exclusive, “The Great Paul Debate,” to read other leading scholarly perspectives on the apostle Paul.

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