Comments

Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Clippings: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost - September 30, 2012



Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures
Author's note:
Sometimes I have material left over when I edit Comments down to fit the available space. This page presents notes that landed on the clipping room floor. Some may be useful to you. While I avoid technical language in the Comments (or explain special terms), Clippings may have unexplained jargon from time to time.

A hypertext Glossary of Terms is integrated with Clippings. Simply click on any highlighted word in the text and a pop-up window will appear with a definition. Bibliographic references are also integrated in the same way.

Esther 7:1-6,9-10,9:20-22

The name Esther is derived from the Persian word stara, meaning star. Esther’s name seems to be derived from that of a Babylonian deity, Ishtar, and Mordecai’s from that of an Akkadian god, Marduk. Purim is a celebration of the deliverance of Jews of the eastern diaspora from persecution. 3:7 says that Pur (a Persian word) means “‘the lot’”. Purim is Pur plus the Hebrew plural suffix im. Purim may well be a feast adopted/adapted from the Babylonians, despite 9:21-22. The ancients commonly resorted to casting lots to determine the propitious time for some important action. [NJBC]

Comments: Ahasuerus: His name is derived from the Persian form of Xerxes (the Greek form).

Comments: He even offers a bribe to those who will kill Jews: Such harsh and merciless measures would not be typical of a Persian king. [NJBC]

Comments: she risks her life by going into the presence of the king uninvited: There is no historical evidence of such drastic penalties. [NJBC]

7:2: “half of my kingdom”: A customary hyperbole. In Mark 6:23, Herod Antipas says to Heriodias: “‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom’”. [NOAB]

7:4: “we have been sold”: Haman’s bribe is mentioned in 3:9. [NOAB]

7:5: “Ahasuerus”: This name also occurs in Ezra 4:6 and Daniel 9:1, but these may be references to other kings. [NOAB]

7:6: “foe and enemy”: Animosity between Haman and Mordecai has historical roots. Per 3:1, Haman is an Agagite; per 2:5, Mordecai is descended from Kish. In 1 Samuel 15:7-9, Saul, son of Kish, takes the Amalekite king, Agag, alive after a battle.

7:8: “they covered Haman’s face”: We know that covering someone’s face before execution was a Greco-Roman custom; perhaps it was also a Persian one. [NOAB]

7:9: “gallows”: 5:14 tells of Haman having the gallows made. The Hebrew word actually indicates the traditional Persian method of executing political offenders: impalement on a wooden spike. [NJBC]

7:9: “Mordecai”: 2:5-6 tells us that he was of the tribe of Benjamin and that his grand-father had been deported during the Exile. 2:11 suggests that he was a minor official of the court, possibly a gatekeeper (see 2:19). [NJBC]

8:1: “King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman”: The Greek historian Herodotus mentions the property of criminals being confiscated in Persia. [NJBC]

8:2: “the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai”: Thus signifying Mordecai’s power as vizier. [NJBC]

8:8: “an edict written in the name of the king and sealed with the king's ring cannot be revoked”: The immutability of Medo-Persian law is also mentioned in 1:19 and Daniel 6:8. [NJBC]

8:9: “Sivan”: This is the Hebraised name for the Babylonian month of May-June. [NJBC]

8:9: “to every province in its own script and to every people in its own language”: This is a rhetorical exaggeration. Aramaic was normally used for such official correspondence. The same phrase is found in 1:22 and 3:12. [NJBC]

8:14: “the citadel of Susa”: Susa is also known as Shushan. The citadel is Xerxes’ winter residence. Susa was in an area called Elam, now in the south-western part of Iran. This town is also mentioned in 1:2, 5; 2:3, 5, 8; 3:15; 9:11-15; Nehemiah 1:1; Daniel 8:2. [HBD]

8:15: “crown”: i.e. the turban worn by a vizier. [NJBC]

9:7-10: “Parshandatha”: This name had been found on a carved seal, so we know that it is authentically Persian. The author of Esther shows an intimate knowledge of the practices of the Persian empire. [NOAB] [NJBC]

9:10: “they did not touch the plunder”: This may be a reminder of the Agag story in 1 Samuel. 15:1-35. There Saul disobeys Yahweh’s orders (given through Samuel) to destroy all the plunder. He is therefore no longer fit to be king. [NJBC]

9:15: “The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day”: Mention of a second day of slaughter is probably a way of explaining why city Jews celebrated Purim for two days while for country Jews it was a one-day feast. [NJBC]

Comments: God is never mentioned by name: It is probable that there is an allusion to a divine design in 4:14, where Mordecai says: “‘... if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father's family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this’”. [HBD] Note also 6:13, where Mordecai’s wife and his advisers say: “‘If Mordecai, before whom your downfall has begun, is of the Jewish people, you will not prevail against him, but will surely fall before him’”. There are other Old Testament books in which God is seldom mentioned, e.g. Proverbs.

Psalm 124

This is a thanksgiving psalm. Plural references and “Israel” (v. 1) suggest national or communal thanksgiving. [NJBC]

Vv. 1-5 speak of a situation in the past when the people were in danger. Vv. 6-8 are thanksgiving for a divine act of deliverance. [NJBC]

Verse 1: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side”: 94:17 begins “If the LORD had not been my help ...”. [NJBC]

Verse 3: “swallowed us up alive”: Proverbs 1:10-12 describes “sinners” swallowing the innocent alive like Sheol. See also Numbers 16:30-33. [NJBC]

Verse 4: “the flood would have swept us away”: An echo of the myth of unruly chaos: in Psalm 130:1, a psalmist says: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD”. The idea of chaotic waters engulfing a psalmist also occurs in Psalm 69:2-3, 15-16. [NJBC]

Verse 6: “as prey to their teeth”: Prey and/or teeth are associated with lions in Amos 3:4 (“Does a lion roar in the forest, when it has no prey? Does a young lion cry out from its den, if it has caught nothing?”); Job 4:10-11 and Psalm 104:21, and with wolves in Genesis 49:27. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “bird”: The heavens (the dome of the sky) was the domain of birds: Genesis 1:20 reports: “And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky’”. The psalm shifts from carnivores on earth to birds in heaven. V. 8b recapitulates, in inverted sequence. [NJBC]

Verse 7: “snare of the fowlers”: a wooden instrument with nets, triggered to capture prey. It is still used in Saudi Arabia for sport. [NJBC]

James 5:13-20

Prayer is mentioned briefly in 1:5-8 (“If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting ...”) and 4:2-3.

Verse 13: The idea here is: pray at all times and under all circumstances! This idea is also found in Ephesians 6:18: “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints”. Joy and prayer are also associated in Romans 12:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17. [JBC]

Verse 14: “elders”: Elders and apostles were both in authority: see Acts 15:2 (Council of Jerusalem), 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4 (“As they went from town to town, they [Paul and Timothy] delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem’). Elders were appointed over missionary churches: see Acts 14:23; 20:17; 1 Timothy 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5-6. So they clearly held an official position in the church. See also 1 Timothy 4:14 (“the council of elders”); Acts 11:30; 1 Peter 5:1. [NJBC] The term in Greek for “elder” is presbyteros (which simply means old man in Classical Greek – someone who is presbyopic has far-sightedness associated with the aging process). Later this term came to be used for the office of priest (which in English is a contraction of the term presbyter – a term which has and is enjoying a renaissance).

Verse 14: “pray over them, anointing them with oil”: Sirach 38:9-12 recommends that a sick person “pray to the Lord, and he will heal you”, “cleans[ing] your heart from all sin” (and then “give the physician his place, for the Lord created him”). He or she should then offer a sacrifice, “and pour oil on your offering”. “Then give the physician his place”. Oil was a common medicinal remedy: see Isaiah 1:6 and Luke 10:34 (the Good Samaritan). Its use for this purpose is also found in rabbinic literature and in Greek culture. [JBC] The Good Samaritan poured oil and wine on the Levite’s wounds after bandaging them. Here in James, oil is vested with special significance, through connection with the divine name. [NOAB] In Mark 6:13, the disciples cast out many demons and “anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them. In the ancient mind, physical and spiritual sickness were almost inseparable. Physical healing and forgiveness of sins are also closely associated in Mark 2:3-12 (Jesus heals a paralysed man) and John 5:14.

Verse 15: “save”: The Greek word is sozein. Elsewhere in James, it means the eschatological salvation of a person: see 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20. In the gospels, sozein is used in both senses: make well and save. See Mark 5:34 (“‘your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease’”); 10:52; Luke 7:50; 17:19. [NJBC]

Verse 15: “raise them up”: The Greek verb is the same as that used of Jesus’ cures in Mark 1:31 (Peter’s mother-in-law) and 9:27 (an epileptic boy). [JBC]

Verse 15: “committed sins”: In view of 3:2 (“... all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle”), the author appears to have intentional sins in mind. [JBC]

Verse 16: “confess your sins”: In the Old Testament, for confession of sins see Leviticus 5:5; Numbers 5:7; Psalm 32:5. In the New Testament, see also Matthew 3:6 (baptism by John the Baptizer) and Acts 19:18 (residents of Ephesus). [JBC] In non-canonical writings of the early church, see Didache 4:14; Epistle of Barnabas 19:12 and 1 Clement 51:3.

Verse 16: “pray for one another”: This is the only place in the New Testament where prayer for one another is explicitly mentioned.

Verse 16: Confession and prayer: a scholar points out that in the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas (both non-canonical) confession is in the liturgical assembly, and is seen as a necessary preparation for effective prayer. [NJBC]

Verse 16: “The prayer of the righteous ...”: The general idea is found in Psalm 34:15, 17 and Proverbs 15:29.

Verse 17: “Elijah”: See 1 Kings 17:1; 18:1, 41-45. [NOAB] Elijah’s role in connection with the famine is also recalled in Sirach 48:2-3 and 2 Esdras 7:109. [JBC] In none of these references is Elijah’s prayer for drought mentioned. It appears that the author of James is relying on an oral tradition.

Verse 17: “a human being like us”: The New English Bible offers a paraphrase: a man with human failures like our own. [JBC]

Verse 17: “for three years and six months”: The author reflects the Jewish tradition found in Luke 4:25. The length of time is probably connected with the apocalyptic: three and one half is half of seven. [JBC] Daniel 7:25 and 12:7 mention “a time, two times, and half a time” – assuming that the reader knows the length of a time. (Note the NRSV footnote: the Aramaic literally means “a time, a time, times, and half a time”.) Note also the following appearances of three and a half in Revelation:

  • 11:2: “forty-two months” (three and a half years)
  • 11:9: “three and one half days” (where a day is probably a time)
  • 12:6: “one thousand two hundred sixty days” (three and a half years)
  • 12:14: “a time, and times, and half a time”.

Verse 20: “save the sinner’s soul from death”: The author probably means both sinner and rescuer. He may be influenced by Ezekiel 3:20-21 and 33:9. [NJBC]

Verse 20: “soul”: The person’s inner being; his person; his self.

Verse 20: “a multitude of sins”: This phrase probably derives from a Jewish parenetic (teaching/exhortation) tradition, and is based on Proverbs 10:12. See also 1 Peter 4:8, which appears to depend on the same tradition. [JBC] See Luke 7:47 and 1 Corinthians 13:7.

Mark 9:38-50

Verses 38-40: The parallel is Luke 9:49-50. [NOAB]

Verses 38-39: This problem also occurred in the early church. Acts 19:13-20 shows none of Jesus’ tolerance. Some scholars believe that the situation there was different: that the sons of Sceva were practising sorcery. [JBC] In Numbers 11:26-29, Moses rebukes Joshua for jealousy towards Eldad and Medad (who “had not gone out to the tent” of meeting). See also Acts 8:18-24; 13:6-12.

Verse 40: See also Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23. In both verses, Jesus is quoted as saying: “He who is not with me is against me.” The context is different: there Jesus’ critics are bitterly opposed to his casting out of demons, and call it the work of the devil. One must choose to be on Jesus’ side against the demonic world.

Verse 41: See also Matthew 10:42. [NOAB]

Verses 42-48: The parallels are Matthew 18:6-9; 5:29-30 and Luke 17:1-2. [CAB]

Verse 42: “little ones”: This may be a reference to the child/servant of vv. 36-37 or to the exorcist.

Verse 43: “hell”: The Greek word is Gehenna. This was the valley of Hinnon (ge’Hinnon) outside Jerusalem where garbage (rubbish) was gathered and burned. According to 2 Kings 23:10, Hinnon had been the site of child sacrifice: see also Jeremiah 7:31; 19:5-6. It provided a physical reminder of the place of eternal punishment. See 1 Enoch 27:2; 90:24-26; 2 Esdras 7:36. [JBC]

Verses 43-47: Some scholars see these verses as referring to short-comings within an individual, rather than of the effect of members on the community. The “hand” is often the member of the body that does the wrong deed; the “foot” goes in the direction of temptation (in Jewish teaching, a moral life is spoken of as a journey); per Job 31:1, the eye can provoke one to sin. The message is: Do not fail to control your own actions and impulses; God will punish such undisciplined behaviour.

Verses 44, 46: In some manuscripts these verses are present and are the same as v. 48; however, they are omitted from the most reliable manuscripts. [JBC]

Verse 47: “to enter the kingdom of God” is to live. See 10:15, 23-25.

Verses 49-50: The parallels are Matthew 5:13 and Luke 14:34-35.

Verse 49: “salted”: Per 2 Esdras, a period of suffering will precede the final coming of God’s kingdom.

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