The Apocrypha

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A Fishy Tale
Tobit

Tobit is a righteous man living in Galilee until he is exiled by the Assyrians to their capital city of Nineveh. He rises to an important position in Assyria, only to lose everything when he is caught burying the bodies of fellow exiles who have been thrown outside the city walls.

 

There follows an incredible tale involving an angel in disguise, hidden wealth, inexplicable blindness, death wishes (two of them), a demon king (!!), a sudden marriage, and a happy ending. 

 

Hang on for a wild ride!

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Truth and Lies
Judith

The story of Judith is set at the time of the fall of Israel and Judah (both--it’s a mashup). General Holofernes threatens to overwhelm the forces of Israel. The tiny town of Bethulia guards the mountain pass. 

 

Judith, a righteous and beautiful widow living in Bethulia, devises a plan to deceive General Holofernes. Asking God to bless her in her deceit, she enters the enemy camp with nothing but her handmaid and a bag of food.

 

Is her deceit blessed by God? Good question. She does, in fact, deliver Israel from the hands of General Holofernes. We’ll give some thought as to what parts to take away and what parts we should perhaps leave behind.

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Who Is Wisdom?
Baruch, Wisdom, Sirach

The Apocryphal books of Baruch, the Book of Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Ben Sirach all emphasize the importance of Wisdom. Her value is far beyond that of riches or any power. In all three books she is emphatically female.

 

And yet, we get conflicting views of her. In some passages, she is omniscient and all-powerful, the very image and breath of God, while in other passages she is quite clearly a created being (albeit the very first created being).

 

In this class we explore these passages and compare them to similar passages in the Proverbs of the Hebrew Bible as well as passages in the New Testament.

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Beginning Maccabees
1Ma 1:1-28; 2Ma 1:1-4:38

The Hebrew Bible ends around 400 BCE. There are no more tribes of Israel--only scattered families which are gradually coalescing into geographic communities. Around 330 BCE, Alexander the Great conquers the world but dies suddenly, leaving the world in chaos. 

 

After 40 years of infighting, the world settles (more or less) into four major kingdoms: Macedonia, Thrace, Egypt, and the Seleucid Empire. Judea (named Palestine by the Romans who were themselves a rising world power) is fought over by Egypt and the Seleucids. The Seleucids eventually win. 

 

As the story of the Maccabees opens, the high priest has become a political appointee of the Seleucid king. It is a position of power that goes to the highest bidder. Prepare yourself for a whirlwind of politics and intrigue.


1&2 Maccabees overlap, so refer to the Maccabees Chronology to guide your reading.

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The Persecution Begins
1Ma 1:29-2:48; 2Ma 4:39-8:7

Things are about to get bad. The High Priest Menelaus goes to Antioch and instigates murder and bribery. He gets caught, but he uses his ill-gotten riches to make the charges roll off his back. 

 

Antiochus IV Epiphanes attacks Egypt and is humiliated by the Romans. Enraged, he vents his anger on Jerusalem. After ransacking the Temple (with the help of the high priest!) and setting up “the abomination that causes desolation,” he returns to Antioch where he begins an aggressive campaign to Hellenize his empire.

 

And that spells disaster for the Jews. Forced to worship the Greek pantheon and desecrate all that is holy to Israel, many Jews forsake their faith rather than face torture and death. But many others would rather be martyred than renounce YHWH. 

 

One family in particular, the Hasmoneans, fight back hard. The father, Mattathias, is a local priest. He has five sons, one of whom is Judas Maccabeus. Judas the Hammer. Here come the Maccabees!

1&2 Maccabees overlap, so refer to the Maccabees Chronology to guide your reading.

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Overwhelming Odds And A Miracle
1Ma 2:49-6:63; 2Ma 8:8-12:1

Mattathias dies, leaving his son Simon as head of the Hasmonean family and his son Judas Maccabeus as leader of the army--a euphemism for a force of about 6K. 

 

Judas and his men rely on God and shrewd tactics. They fight a classic guerrilla war, consistently outflanking, outmaneuvering, and outsmarting Seleucid forces ten times larger. More fighters join the resistance.

 

Finally, after three years of fighting, they are able to beat back the Seleucids, leaving only a garrison ensconced in the heavily fortified citadel near theTemple. Judas and his men find the Temple in shambles and set about to repair it. Finding only one day’s worth of untainted oil, they begin an eight-day celebration, and the oil burns without ceasing. It’s a miracle, the very first Hanukkah!

1&2 Maccabees overlap, so refer to the Maccabees Chronology to guide your reading.

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The End Of The Maccabees
1Ma 7-End; 2Ma 12-End

After the death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Lysias gains control of the Seleucid Empire, at least while Antiochus V is a boy. But Lysias is an interloper with no real claim to the throne. He is challenged by both Demetrius I Soter of the Seleucid line and another pretender to the throne, Alexander Epiphanes (Balas).

 

One thing leads to another, and even the reigning Egyptian Ptolemy gets in on the power struggle. And who’s caught in the middle? The Maccabees, of course. 

 

This class has plenty of intrigue and plot twists, but what it does not have is any theology, so we don't have any questions in the Study Guide. We’ll spend the entire class time getting from where we are in 163 BCE to Herod the Great and the time of Christ. It’s quite a ride.

1&2 Maccabees overlap, so refer to the Maccabees Chronology to guide your reading.