The Hymn of the Three Youths Pictured

Prophet Daniel

In the Book of Daniel, three young Jewish men while in captivity in Babylon are sentenced to death by the Babylonian emperor for refusing to worship the emperor’s pagan god.  The Three Holy Youths are thrown into a furnace to be burned to death, but miraculously God comes to their rescue.  This story of faithfulness to the one God came down in Jewish history in a couple of different versions.  This story is much longer in the Greek Septuagint version than in the Hebrew/Aramaic version.  When the Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel was composed/translated additional verses in the Greek that are not known in any Hebrew/Aramaic form were in the text.   In the Centuries after the time of Christ, Jewish religious authorities rejected these verses known only in Greek and declared them not part of the Jewish Scriptures.

At the time of Christ, however, the Greek version of the Book of Daniel was commonly read by many Jews and accepted as authoritative scripture.  The earliest Christian writers were obviously familiar with the Septuagint version of the Book of Daniel and quoted it as Scripture.  Scenes from the longer Septuagint version entered into the popular imagination, piety and theology of the early Christians.  The verses to be quoted in this blog series are part of the hymn that the Three Youths sing while in the fiery furnace which is supposed to destroy them.  Instead they are saved and a divine figure appears with them in the furnace.  It was the appearance of the divine figure which captured the imagination of the Christians.   What follows in this blog and the next several blogs in this series are a portion of what the Three Youths sang as recorded in Daniel 3:51-89  (The Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today’s World, Thomas Nelson, Kindle Loc. 65580-699).  These verses were used in the liturgical life of the church in matins and in the services of Holy Saturday.

The story tells of three young Jewish men living in captive exile in Babylon who refuse to worship the golden idol set up by King Nebuchadnessar.  The king orders them thrown into a fiery furnace as the means for their execution for their defiant disobedience.   The three men famously tell the King:

“For there is a God in the heavens, whom we serve, and He is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and he will deliver us from your hands, O king.  But, if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods, nor worship the golden image set up.”

The king is infuriated by their comment and has them thrown into the furnace.  Miraculously, the 3 youths are not killed by the flames but instead an angel of the Lord descends into the furnace and in the midst of the inferno and the three saints sing a hymn of praise to God.  When the king looks into the furnace he sees not only the three young men but also a fourth figure – one who “is like the Son of God.”   In early Christian thinking this was clearly another vision of the pre-Incarnate Christ.

Then the three, as if with one mouth, sang, glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying:  

“Blessed are You, O Lord God of our fathers, For You are praiseworthy And exalted beyond measure unto the ages. Blessed is Your name and the temple of your glory, And You are praised exceedingly And exalted beyond measure unto the ages.

You are blessed in the holy temple of Your glory, And are highly praised And exceedingly glorious unto the ages.  Blessed are You on the throne of Your kingdom, And You are praised And exalted beyond measure unto the ages.  

“Blessed are You who behold the depths And sit upon the cherubim. You are praiseworthy And exalted beyond measure unto the ages. Blessed are You in the firmament of heaven, For You are praised and glorified unto the ages.

Next:  Daniel 3:57-72

God’s Sapience and Science

Some believers in God, especially those who read Genesis 1-3 literally, find their faith threatened by the discoveries and theories of science (especially evolution and genetics). I continue to believe in the aphorism that “truth is truth” and so we have nothing to fear from the discoveries of science.   But then I’m also not a biblical literalist when it comes to Genesis 1-3.   I find God does provide us a way to understand scientific truth and in fact all knowledge in the book known as the  WISDOM OF SOLOMON.

The Wisdom of Solomon is found in those Christian Bibles based in the Septuagint (for example, THE ORTHODOX STUDY BIBLE).  The Septuagint is the Greek language version of the Jewish Scriptures (which the Jews themselves had translated into the Greek a couple hundred years before the birth of Jesus).

The Septuagint is the version of Jewish Scriptures most often quoted and read by the New Testament and Post-Apostolic writers, and is the official version of the Old Testament accepted by the Orthodox Church.   In this scripture,  we find the Wisdom of God which says scientific knowledge too is given to us by the Lord.   Truth and knowledge, especially that of creation are not opposed to the Truth of God’s revelation – they are the same Truth!

Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  (Romans 1:20)

It is not only scientific knowledge which has been granted to us from God, even the skills, arts and craftsmanship which humans have perfected are seen in the Scriptures as coming from God as well!  Proverbs 6:6-10 tells us we can even learn wisdom from the tiny ant.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:15-21

May God grant me to speak according to His purpose,

and to have thoughts worthy of what I have received;

Christ the Wisdom of God

for he is the guide even of wisdom

and the corrector of the wise.

Wisdom and Lady Justice

For both we and our words are in his hand,

as are all understanding and skill in crafts.

Stone Carver Craftsman

For it is he who gave me unerring knowledge of what exists,

to know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements;

Stalactites and Stalagmites

the beginning and end and middle of times,

the alternations of the solstices and the changes of the seasons,

the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars,

the natures of animals and the tempers of wild animals,

the force of the winds and the thoughts of human beings,

the varieties of plants and the virtues of roots;

And to know both what is hidden and what is manifest,

For Wisdom the artisan of all things taught me.

For a list of and links to other photo-blogs I’ve done go to My Photo Blogs.

Adam in 2 Esdras (A)

This is the 3rd blog in this series which began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.  The previous blog is Adam, the First Human.

In this blog we look at a few references in 2 Esdras from the Jewish Septuagint in which the story of Adam is interpreted for the Jews.  In 2 Esdras we encounter a very clear negative picture of Adam’s contribution to the human condition.  There is much debate about the date of when 2 Esdras was written, but some scholars put it as contemporaneous with or even slightly later than the writings of St. Paul in the First Century of the Christian Era.    2 Esdras has an interesting history in terms of its relationship to the canonical scriptures (it is not in the Jewish canon, but was included in the Latin canon.  It is not in the Greek canon but is in the Slavonic canon).   A scholarly study of the text is beyond our interest here.  2Esdras does give us some insight into the growing importance of the Adam story in the history of the interpretation of the Adam story found in Genesis 2-3 for it reflects the interpretive ideas of Adam found in other writings at the time of St. Paul.

The 1st Adam

“O sovereign Lord, did you not speak at the beginning when you planted the earth—and that without help—and commanded the dust and it gave you Adam, a lifeless body? Yet he was the creation of your hands, and you breathed into him the breath of life, and he was made alive in your presence. And you led him into the garden that your right hand had planted before the earth appeared. And you laid upon him one commandment of yours; but he transgressed it, and immediately you appointed death for him and for his descendants. From him there sprang nations and tribes, peoples and clans without number.”   (2 Esdras 3:4-7)

First, Adam is seen as the father of all nations and clans.  This is a rather benign admission.  It is significant in that it recognizes all humanity shares the same first ancestor.  Thus Adam’s signficance is not for Jews alone.

The imagery of God is very anthropomorphic – God fashions Adam with His hands and breathes into Adam the breath of life.  Adam is the transgressor, disobeying God’s commandment.  God then makes Adam AND his descendants mortal.   Mortality, as a result of Adam’s behavior, became part of the human condition, and all humans suffer as a result of Adam’s sin.  No explanation is offered as to why this should be so –  why did God appoint death for all of Adam’s descendants when it was only Adam who sinned?  The question is not answered at this point.

It is also interesting to contrast 2 Esdras with the anthropology and theology found in the Wisdom of Solomon.   The Wisdom of Solomon is a pre-Christian work from perhaps a hundred years before the author of 2 Esdras.  It was written by a Jew probably of the Hellenic Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt.  It was read as Scripture in the Jewish Septuagint, but will be removed from the Jewish Scriptures about 100AD.    In the Wisdom of Solomon, God is not the creator of death, but rather ungodly humans in their sinfulness summoned death into existence.  The Wisdom of Solomon defends the absolute goodness of God, and attributes death not to God but as a result of human sin.

“Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.”    (Wisdom of Solomon 1:12-16)

Whereas 2 Esdras emphasizes the omnipotence of God, who is the creator of everything, including death, the Wisdom of Solomon emphasizes the goodness of God who created the entire cosmos as good; it is humans who have brought death into being through their own sinfulness.  God is free from all blame in this theology.   Creation is originally good, just as God is good.  Humans have corrupted God’s creation.

These two versions of how death came into being and why humans are mortal reflect the ongoing tension in the interpretation of the Old Testament regarding the goodness of God and His creation and the holiness of God versus the sinfulness of humanity.    All of these ideas are found in the Jewish tradition of interpreting Scripture.    Why is there so much sin in God’s creation when the Creator is good and originally saw His creation as good?   This dilemma is not just a modern one, but rather was a major debate among the ancient Jewish people.  It was a question that troubled St. Augustine and led to his conclusions about the effect of original sin on humanity.  We will next consider  three other passages from 2 Esdras which speak about Adam, before returning to the writings of St. Paul in the New Testament.

Next:  Adam in 2 Esdras (B)

Adam, the First Human

This blog series began with Adam & Sin, Paradise and Fasting.

“Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, . . .  the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”  (Luke 3:23, 38)

If the Gospels were our only source for understanding (interpretation) of the figure of Adam, the first human, we actually would know very little about Adam, and nothing negative.  For the only reference to Adam in the four Gospels is Luke 3:38, and that passage tells us nothing less than that Adam is the son of God, as is Jesus according to the Gospel (Luke 1:32, 35; 3:22).  No mention in the Gospel tradition of Adam’s sin, disobedience, or expulsion from paradise.  Even John who’s Gospel clearly parallels and echoes the Genesis 1 creation story, does not mention Adam.  The silence of the Gospel tradition about Adam, largely reflects the rabbinic Jewish canonical tradition from the end of the first century of Christianity which rejected their Greek Septuagint tradition.  The broader Jewish tradition of biblical commentaries offered a rich interpretation of Adam as is reflected in the Septuagint.  But the Jewish rabbinic tradition apparently in reaction against the growing Christian movement, rejected the Septuagint, and narrowed their canon which is reflected in the much later Masoretic text of the Jewish Scriptures which they use in modern times.

It is St. Paul who ties Adam to Christ interpretively; St. Paul uses Adam to understand Christ’s death and resurrection, and Christ to give meaning to Adam who was but a type of the reality which was to be revealed in Christ.  Before St. Paul, the Jewish Septuagint tradition which was accepted as canonical by Jews at that time did give serious consideration to Adam’s role in human history and his effect on all of humanity.   St. Paul certainly follows the Septuagint’s interpretation of Adam, as well as that rabbinic tradition of interpretation which offered volumes of thought on Adam.

Before looking at St. Paul’s own comments on Adam, we can consider a few quotations from the Jewish Septuagint tradition, which was considered canonical by most Jews at the time of Jesus.   First, we will consider a few shorter references to Adam in the Septuagint, and then in the next blog look at the more substantial consideration given Adam in 2 Esdras (all quotes from the New Revised Standard Version of the Septuagint).

“You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support.  From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’” (Tobit 8:6) 

Tobit offers a rather benign look at Adam and Eve – it is from them that the human race came into being.  No mention of their sin or of any ill effects their behavior may have had on their descendents.

“Wisdom protected the first-formed father of the world, when he alone had been created; she delivered him from his transgression, and gave him strength to rule all things.”  (Wisdom of Solomon 10:1-2)

The Wisdom of Solomon also has a rather positive view of humanity.  Interestingly, Wisdom is credited with having delivered Adam from transgression and gave him strength to rule all things, which would appear to be in contradiction to the events of Genesis 3 and the Fall of Eve and Adam.

“The first man did not know wisdom fully, nor will the last one fathom her.”   (Sirach 24:28)

Sirach’s first comment about Adam can be read as an explanation for why the first human sinned – the human was immature and didn’t know Wisdom who was to protect him.  Thus the original sin was not due to intentional rejection of God, nor to evil, but rather due to an unpreparedness for or immaturity in dealing with the world.

“Few have ever been created on earth like Enoch, for he was taken up from the earth.  Nor was anyone ever born like Joseph; even his bones were cared for. Shem and Seth and Enosh were honored, but above every other created living being was Adam.”   (Sirach 49:14-16) 

Once again, we see a very positive assessment of Adam in Sirach.  Adam is above every other created living being including Enoch, the Patriarch Joseph, Shem, Seth and Enosh.   Once again, no mention of Adam’s sin or fall.

Like the reference to Adam in Luke’s Gospel, these four references to Adam from the Septuagint have a fairly positive interpretation of Adam.  They make no mention of sin or the Fall.   They also say more about Adam than we find in the rest of the canonical Jewish Scriptures, in which Adam is not really dealt with outside of the first chapters of Genesis.  Despite the huge role Christian tradition has assigned to Adam in understanding the Scriptures, the Jewish canonical texts offer virtually no interpretation of the Adam story found in Genesis 2-3.  Adam seems to have almost no role besides being the first human.  But there was growing interest in the Adam stories among Jewish scholars at the time of Christ.

Christ raising Adam and Eve

St. Paul is in that rabbinic train of thought which does interpret the Adam stories, and he certainly will change the reading of Genesis 2-3, reading and ininterpreting those chapters Christologically.  Adam is understood in Christ, and the Gospel story of Christ and salvation is rooted firmly in the fall of Adam.  Before St. Paul wrote, there are some other references to Adam in Jewish tradition, including  some more extensive interpretation of Adam in 2 Esdras.

Next:   Adam in 2 Esdras (A)

Orthodoxy in the World: Beginnings

This is the 2nd blog in this introductory series to the Orthodox Faith.  The First blog is Orthodoxy in the World and Light to the World

1st Century Christian Congregations

           It was in this time period of pressure to change in 1st Century Palestine that Jesus himself was born, grew up and gathered a group of followers, his disciples, who believed him to be the promised messiah of Israel.   They  began spreading their message to the world.   And they  naturally used the means already existing in Judaism for spreading the faith – the synagogue system which focused on a study of the written word of God and the revelation of God they believed it contained, and the Septuagint, using the Greek language to make the new Christian teachings accessible to the entire culture surrounding Judaism.  

            And Christianity did rapidly spread among Greek speaking people throughout the Roman Empire.   The Christians composed some of their own writings as well, letters of the new movements leaders and also a new genre of literature known as the Gospel, all written in Greek, the unofficial language of the nascent Christian movement.   In fact that part of the Christian scriptures which is unique to Christianity was all originally written in Greek, and only later translated into Latin.   Historical and archeological findings and documents show that from the beginning of Christianity well into the 5th Century, the vast majority of Christians were Greek speaking, even as the faith spread throughout the Roman Empire and into territories beyond the Empire. 

3rd Century Distribution of Christianity

 And as the Christian movement became more established it became increasingly comfortable with the Greek language and also with Greek religious and philosophical concepts and perspectives.  It was in this world that many of the early Christian theological concepts were conceived and accepted as true expressions of the faith.   Of course these concepts were debated and in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire they were given further cross pollination as a mixture of Greek, Syriac and Coptic forms of Christianity wrestled with terminology that might best express the faith.

            The rapidly growing Christian movement also found itself in a hostile world.  It’s claims and teachings pitted it against some forms of traditional Judaism.  Christianity was definitely a messianic sect, whereas some forms of Judaism were not messianic.  Christianity was not based in or dependent on the temple in Jerusalem – a temple which King Herod had built just prior to Jesus’s own birth and this temple had given rise to a new Jewish nationalism and pride which then fed messianism.   Christianity also came to believe that not only was Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah the correct understanding of God’s Teachings, but that Jesus himself was more important than the Torah, an idea that was repugnant to many Jews for whom the Torah was more important than the Temple.    The Christians found themselves unwanted in Jerusalem and often expelled from the Jewish synagogues which were spread throughout the Mediterranean region. 

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World: The Roman Empire

Orthodoxy in the World & Light to the World

Five years or so ago, when I was teaching at the University of Dayton, a colleague in the Religious Studies Department asked me to compose an essay on the Orthodox Church to be included in an introduction to religion textbook which was to be entitled World Religions in Dialogue .   The project eventually was abandoned, and my essay on Eastern Orthodoxy was returned to me to do with as I wished.   I’ve decided to convert it into a blog series, and publish it as such.   It was intended to be a general introduction to the Orthodox Christian faith in a book that had an ecumenical bent to it.   This is my original draft as the project never got to the stage of editing or asking me to rewrite text.

Map of Israel 1000BC

History – Beginnings

            The Middle East has through history been a crossroads for many varied cultures and kingdoms.   It has been the grounds for much cross pollination of thought and belief.  Two thousand years ago a new religious movement began in the Middle East which fertilized by a cross pollination of culture and language blossomed into one of the world’s major religions.   This nascent movement came to be known in history as Christianity.    This new religion began as a movement within Judaism itself but quickly jumped cultures and rapidly evolved and adapted to a Greek milieu which surrounded the Judaism of Palestine.

            Judaism of two thousand years ago was itself in the process of change.  The religion which was centered in and identified with the Temple in Jerusalem and with the written Torah, had itself been adapting the culture changes brought about by the changing fortunes of history and kingdoms.   Judaism had a long standing relationship with the cultures and religions of the Syrians, Babylonians, Persians and Egyptians.   But all of these lands had come under the influence of the Greeks as Alexander the Great (4th Century BCE) conquered all of these territories in rapid succession causing a Greek cultural influence to be spread throughout the region.   Not all forms of Judaism resisted the influx of Greek culture to the same extent, though religiously some of Judaism tried to limit the effects of Greek thinking on its own practices.  However, in the centuries following the invasion of Alexander the Great, the Jews themselves translated their scriptures, the Tanakh, into the Greek language giving the world the Septuagint and an international access to the wisdom, beliefs and revelation of Judaism.    The Septuagint  became accepted by Jews as an authoritative version of their own scriptures for Jews as well as for Gentiles.   It’s appearance on the world scene occurred as Judaism was beginning to expand beyond Jerusalem and Palestine through the rabbinic synagogues which made Judaism accessible where ever Jews settled.   Coupled with the Greek language Septuagint which opened its faith to the world, Judaism was beginning to be a world religion, not limited by geography, language or ethnicity.     The prophets of Israel and the Messianic form of Judaism furthered the notion that Judaism had a message for the world.

Next:  Orthodoxy in the World: Beginnings

In Defense of the Septuagint

The Prophet Moses
The Prophet Moses

As is well known historically,  somewhere about 200 years before the time of Christ the Jews translated their Scriptures into the Greek language.  This translation was called the Septuagint  (normally abbreviated as LXX).     It was a well respected document throughout the ancient world including among the Jews themselves, especially among those who commonly used Greek as their language of communication.   In fact the Scriptures were translated into Greek to make them more accessible to the rest of the world which used Greek as the universal language of the educated people.  Many Jewish scholars themselves relied on the Septuagint in their own writings. 

About 100 years or so after the time of Christ, the Jewish rabbis began reconsidering the acceptability of the Septuagint for use by Jews.  This seems in part to have occurred because of the Christian reliance on the Septuagint for their own claims about Jesus being the Messiah and fulfilling Old Testament prophecies.

After the Protestant Reformation, Protestant scholars in an effort to discredit the Roman Catholic Church abandoned reliance on the Septuagint and began using only Jewish versions of their Scriptures for translating the scriptures into modern languages.  The Masoretic Text which became the official version of the Jewish Scriptures was finalized between the 7th-10th Centuries AD, and thus is not an older text than the Septuagint but a more recent text.  The Masoretic text does correspond closely to Hebrew/Aramaic texts from the 2nd Century AD but differs at points from the Septuagint, sometimes significantly.

Modern biblical scholars do consult the Septuagint even when they rely on the Masoretic Text because the Septuagint is more ancient than the Masoretic Text and because the Septuagint was translated from a more ancient Hebrew/Aramaic text and so allows us to know how Jewish scholars 200 years before Christ were interpreting and understanding their own scriptures.  The Septuagint was not translated by Christians as Christianity did not exist at that time, so the Christians had no influence over the translation into Greek of the Jewish scriptures.  It did happen however that the Christians found the Septuagint to be both a solid basis for Christian thinking and rather useful in polemics against the Jews of later Centuries.

Since the time of the Reformation some Protestant biblical readers have distrusted the Septuagint and don’t accept it as a legitimate bible for Christians to read.   Some feel it is too “Roman Catholic.”   Others think it an unreliable translation or interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures, even though it was done by the Jews themselves and honored

Old Testament Patriarchs
Old Testament Patriarchs

by the Jews at the time of Christ.  Additionally, many scholars feel that the New Testament authors were very reliant on the Septuagint as demonstrated by their frequently using the Septuagint when quoting the Old Testament.

As I was reading Robert Charles Hill’s translation of  ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM’S COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS Vol. 2   (pp 343-344), I came across two footnotes of his that actually lend credence to the importance of the Septuagint (LXX) for our knowledge of the Old Testament.   Both of these footnotes were in regard to Psalm 145.

“…though our (Masoretic) Hebrew text has one verse (13) missing, which the LXX supplies, an inclusion confirmed by the Hebrew manuscripts discovered at the Dead Sea.”

“This is the verse occurring in the LXX and a Hebrew ms found at Qumran; it is not in the Masoretic Hebrew text of this alphabetic psalm at the point where we would expect a verse beginning with the letter nun….”

 I have read various arguments about the reliability of the Septuagint version of the Jewish scriptures and arguments for why Protestant Scholars prefer the Masoretic Text when doing translation of the Old Testament.   But the Septuagint which is used officially by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox has shown itself to be a good window OSBinto the ancient Jewish (Pre-Masoretic) Scriptures.    Some have argued that translators in the ancient world were more likely to eliminate parts of texts (accidentally or purposefully) than to add to them.  At least in the two instances Hill mentions regarding the Psalms, the Septuagint may be relying on a more ancient text of the Hebrew Scriptures than the Masoretic Text does and thus gives us a better glimpse into the sacred writings of ancient Israel.   The Septuagint preserved something the Masoretic text lost.

THE ORTHODOX STUDY BIBLE  itself bases its translation of the Old Testament scriptures on the Septuagint unlike Protestant versions of the Bible.   The OSB thus follows the ancient Christian and traditionally historic version of the Scriptures which was commonly relied on by the first Christians themselves.   This is not to say that common English versions of the bible are wrong, they simply follow Protestant principles in their translations of the Old Testament and thus have a less complete version of the Old Covenant scriptures.