Monday, December 09, 2013

Antiochus Redivivus

Just as we shouldn't read the "temple tantrum" texts without getting the Antiochus Epiphanes/Judah the Hammerer connection (as N.T. Wright reminds), it's good to connect the Christmas/slaughter of the innocents story to  Antiochus Epiphanes as well (as Craig Keener reminds below:

....Regardless of how much Matthew's original audience knew about Herod's brutality, however, they could envision him like the anti-Jewish tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who also slaughtered Jewish babies. Most of all, they would associate Herod's behavior with that of Pharaoh of old, who killed baby Israelite boys in Moses's day. Ironically, it is Egypt that here provides Jesus's family refuge, and in the angel's later words to Joseph ("Return to Israel, for those who wanted to kill the child are dead") Matthew echoes God's words to Moses: "Return to Egypt, for those who wanted you dead are now dead themselves." Political corruption makes Jesus's own home the most dangerous place for

Practical implication:

If made explicit, such contrasts between the political king and his new rival could connote treason, but the rest of Luke-Acts shows that Jesus and his followers are not out to violently overthrow the empire. Rather, they work for change as they pray for the coming of God's kingdom.

What we learn from the first "Christmas stories," then, is more than a challenge against seasonal greed, gluttony, and grudging giving. It challenges us to consider to which king our loyalty lies. Do we pledge first allegiance to those who achieve power by violence, intrigue, and economic or political exploitation? Does it matter where our wealth and merchandise come from? Or do we pledge first allegiance to different values, identifying with those in need and working for peace and justice in the world?

If it is the latter, these are values not only meant to be celebrated during Christmas season. In both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke the earliest scenes of Jesus pave the way for the rest of his ministry of healing and restoration and its culminating conflict in his execution by those who considered him a threat. In context, then, these first stories about Jesus's birth challenge us to follow his sacrificial way of life, no matter what it costs us.   link

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