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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Psalm 55: An Intimate Companion

Fyodor Bronnikov: The Head of Judas

It was you, my other self, my comrade and friend, you whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in procession in the house of God. 

Betrayal at the hands of an intimate friend.  Terror and violence within the city walls.

For they will not mend their ways; they have no fear of God.  They strike out at friends and go back on their promises.  Softer than butter is their speech, but war is in their hearts.  Smoother than oil are their words, but they are sheathed swords. 

Treachery, deceit, mischief and evil.  Oppression and fraud.  Death.

If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and rest. 

Rocked with grief, his heart pounding, the psalmist retreats, full of fear, shuddering and trembling into himself.

Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert.

No one goes to the wasteland. Surely there will be no one to betray him there.

I would soon find shelter from the raging winds and storm.

The horrible events that encircle the psalmist will not follow him to the wilderness.  Perhaps there he will be able to collect himself into prayer.

At dusk, dawn and noon I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard.

On this Holy Thursday we commemorate the Last Supper of the Lord, a meal in which he shares himself most closely with his most intimate friends.  And yet one of these has already made the decision to betray Jesus.

If my foe had viewed me with contempt, from that I could hide.  But it was you, my intimate friend, you, whose company I enjoyed, at whose side I walked in procession in the house of God. 

Jesus faces his foe head on, sharing a meal with him on the evening before his death, handing a morsel of bread, of himself, to this close companion (Matthew 26:20-25, Mark 14:17-21, Luke 22:21-23, John 13:21-30).  The evangelist John closes his accounting of the exchange with these four word: And it was night.  Betrayal at the hands of an intimate friend.  Terror and violence within the city walls.

Jesus withdraws to the gardens on Gethsemane in prayer.  Jesus hands himself over to the plans of his creator.

At dusk, dawn and noon I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard.

It is likely that each of us will suffer an act of betrayal at the hands of an intimate friend.  Perhaps we have been the betrayer in a trusted relationship.  God does not promise that he will keep us from such deep deception but he comes to each of us in the person of Jesus to instruct us how we might act and how we might behave.  He remains with us in the person of the Holy Spirit to comfort us and to teach us wisdom.

If only I had wings like a dove that I might fly away and rest.  Far away I would flee; I would stay in the desert. I would soon find shelter from the raging winds and storm.  At dusk, dawn and noon I will grieve and complain, and my prayer will be heard.

And so we pray.

When trouble stalks us, let us retreat into the Lord.

When we suffer at the hands of an intimate friend, let us pray at dusk, at dawn and at noon.

When we believe that all is lost, let us remember that our prayer will be heard.

Amen.


This week we have been looking at the story of Jerusalem to see what the events of the city’s life might tell us about our own. Today we spend time reflecting on the effects of betrayal and how we might recover from both internal and external division.

Image from: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/fyodor-bronnikov/the-head-of-judas-1874

For other reflections on Betrayal, enter the word in the blog search box and choose a Noontime. 

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

John 13:21: Collapse from Within

Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me”.

Jesus and his apostles

Jesus and his apostles

Not all betrayals come from alien people or places.  Not all deception arrives from beyond.  Often, perhaps too often, betrayal springs from within, from the roots of denial we plant early in life, from a core of duplicity and infidelity that we consciously or subconsciously nourish.  We are quick to blame others for our downfalls, slow to admit responsibility for our actions.

The southern kingdom of Judah took in refugees from the north when the kingdom of Israel was overrun by infidels from the north.  They foolishly did not see their own fall that the prophet Micah predicted for them; they stayed their course of iniquity and kept to their corrupt ways believing that their vices were well-hidden.   Jerusalem’s walls expanded to take in the exiles; the city welcomed home those they judged as fallen yet even this apparent act of generosity did nothing to soften hard hearts or weaken stiff necks.  The people of Jerusalem ignore all the warning signs that she will become uninhabitable once their southern kingdom is taken.  Like us, Jerusalem is quick to criticize others for their misdeeds while we quickly ignore our own.

I am always stunned by the candor with which Jesus speaks about Judas’ impending disloyalty. (John 13, Matthew 26:14-25) He mentions no names but hands a morsel to Judas, plainly giving the apostle permission to follow his corrupt heart.  Jesus knows that this closest of companions has already turned against him.  Betrayal cuts deepest that cuts so close.   Disgruntled with the kingdom as he sees it, Judas is quick to blame Jesus for what appears to be a lack of willingness to take a stand . . . and slow to see the mystery of the kingdom in the person of Jesus.

Hezekiah's Jerusalem

Hezekiah’s Jerusalem

We have signs before us each day, telling us where to go and what to say and do; yet we – like the people of Judah – pride ourselves for not falling away from the rules as they believe the Israelites have done.

We are given warning signs regularly, recommending that we mend our ways, and soften our hearts and minds; yet we – like the people of Judah – believe our defenses and resources are formidable as the Israelites do.

We are given permission to hate or to love; we are treated with tenderness and care, and yet – like the apostle Judas – we choose the quick and comfortable route to temporary comfort . . . while we leave behind genuine and infinite happiness, while we too frequently betray the very love that would save and protect us.

Today as we reflect at noon, we might choose to spend time with the story of Jerusalem following the fall first of Israel in the north and then Judah in the south.  Or we might choose to spend time with John 13 to contemplate our own potential for collapse from within.


Images from: http://sortlab.blogspot.com/2011/04/tuesday-of-holy-week.html and https://thelonghaulwithisaiah.wordpress.com/tag/pekah/

To read another Holy Tuesday reflection, click on the image of Jesus and his apostles above or go to: http://sortlab.blogspot.com/2011/04/tuesday-of-holy-week.html

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

John 13:1-5: Holiness

john-of-the-cross[1]This week we have been considering the concept of betrayal – in particular betrayal by one near to us and well-loved.  Plots to kill prophets, a cherished teacher turned over to authorities by a well-respected disciple, betrayal at the deepest and most sensitive core.  Years ago a colleague wondered aloud if he ought to alert a supervisor of a co-worker’s laziness and lack of loyalty.  My thinking was that our supervisor already knew: “This will cut deeply when the truth is known,” my colleague observed.  “Yes,” I agreed, “And all the more because they have been such close friends”.  We nodded to one another in quiet understanding.  Months later the truth came to light, so did the pain, and – fortunately for all of us – the suffering was accompanied by holiness.

Robert F. Morneau writes about holiness at such a time as described by St. John of the Cross: “Essentially, this way of holiness was the doing of God’s will and a refusal to live a life of self-interest and self-indulgence.  Holiness is more than an intellectual assent to what God teaches through Scripture and the teachers in the church.  Holiness is actually doing faith, putting into action the decrees of God.  But there must be a radical awareness that one’s holiness is rooted in one’s relationship with God, fostered by prayer.  Only when disciplined prayer and the offering of one’s life in service come together are we on the road to holiness”. 

IM000314.JPGIn today’s Noontime we see Jesus as the consummate servant leader.  He not only washes his followers’ feet, he gives over his life so that they . . . and we . . . may live forever with him.  This, of course, we can easily see as holiness.  The more difficult task is to be the servant leader to even those who wish to see us fail.  We remember that Judas Iscariot was one of the twelve who lived with Jesus and then betrayed him.

Jesus knew that his hour had come . . .

He loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end . . .  So during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power . . . Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.

Jesus, the consummate servant leader, puts his faith into action.  Radically aware of what he is meant to do, he hands over all to the Father . . . and he kneels to do the simplest of tasks.  He cleans the feet of those who follow him.  He loves his own, and he loves them to the end.  And so must we tend to those who follow us, even those who betray us . . . for this is holiness.  This is the way through and beyond the deepest betrayal.


DAILY REFLECTIONS FOR ADVENT & CHRISTMAS: WAITING IN JOYFUL HOPE 2010-11, Robert F. Morneau, 38-39.

Written on December 14, 2010. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite. 

For more on John of the Cross, click on the link or images above or go to: http://www.doctorsofthecatholicchurch.com/JC.html

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Friday, January 31, 2020

1 Maccabees 12:39-52: Convolution

Tryphon

Tryphon

Below is a site which makes an attempt to unravel this highly complicated plot we see unfolding in 1 Maccabees.  It is difficult to sort through the intricacies of this period in Jewish history just prior to the arrival of Jesus.  All of these double faces and double plots with their twistings and turnings are sometimes too difficult to witness, too difficult to watch . . . and yet we ought to spend here.  We must observe, witness and learn from what we experience. These convolutions may well be too close to home.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Diodotus_Tryphon 

This betrayal, capture and murder of Jonathan paint a clever piece of political strategy which – – – in the end – – – backfires on Tryphon.  His life terminates in suicide.  This is an old story, an old theme, with characters familiar to all of us.  We see this drama played out in our families, in sensational headlines, in history books, in memoirs, and sometimes in our own lives.  Tryphon presents himself as a reasonable friend while plotting to use Jonathan’s trust to his advantage.  This is a story repeated in big and little ways daily.  Hearts are won and then broken.  Promises made and then abandoned.  Lives buoy upward on the tide of events only to be ruined.

What do we do when we too frequently find ourselves the victims of the Tryphos in our lives?  Do we cease to trust and go within to barricade ourselves from danger?  Do we resort to revenge and add to the violence and atmosphere of mistrust?  Or do we pray for those who harm us, hope for an impossible but just outcome, and place our faith ultimately in God?

Isolation leads to our own depression and suicide.  Violence ushers us swiftly to our own corruption and brutal end.  The sign of our spiritual development is that we are able to ask God to convert hard hearts and stiff necks, that God right an immense wrong, and that God abide with us just as we struggle to abide with God.

We can predict our own ends when we examine this story and ourselves.

Verse 39 reads: Tryphon was determined to become king . . . When we determine our destiny without consulting God we enter into a dark convolution of self.

Verse 40: Looking for a way to seize and kill . . . When we first seek to do away with opposition rather than listen to disparate voices we create a crooked image of God.

Verse 49: Tryphon sent soldiers . . . to destroy . . . When we enlist our friends in a warped plan of retribution we give ourselves over to a darkness that is ultimately overcome by light.

Our lives are repeated patterns of options from which to choose: life or death, light or darkness, mercy or violence, justice or destruction.  We are moving toward Lent and later Eastertide.  We will witness the promise fulfilled; we will be rescued.  In which direction do we steer ourselves?  Onto the straight yet narrow paths of light which lead to completion?  Or into the dark convolutions of a distorted sense of self?

We know the road signs.  We know the feeling of despair when we suffer the little deaths of self through betrayal that escort us to our own destruction.  We also know the sensation of love, the exhilaration of hope and the power of faith.

Let us witness and watch . . . and let us become accustomed to looking for the light that pierces the darkness . . . and steers us away from the convolutions of darkness.


First written on April 24, 2009. Re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

To read more about the Selucids and others, click on the coin image above or the citation.  

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Thursday, January 30, 2020

Jeremiah 40 & 41: Being Quiet Amid the Storm

gedaliah[1]Nebuchadnezzar’s forces invaded Jerusalem on the ninth day of the ninth month in the eleventh year of Zedekiah (586 B.C.E.) This Jewish king had entered into an alliance with Egypt and in doing so he aggravated the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar who took the land of Judah by force.  The Jewish nation had been a kingdom paying tribute to Babylon.  Now they had become part of a greater empire, and many of her citizens were sent in exile to the place we today call Iraq.

In today’s Noontime we read about how Jeremiah, Zedekiah’s prophet who had urged the king to commit himself to God instead of doing evil in God’s sight, is at first given the freedom to go where he likes after the invasion.  His overseer is Gedaliah and we can find out more about him at this site.

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/holidays/Jewish_Holidays/Minor_Fasts/Ideas_and_Beliefs/Tzom_Gedaliah.shtml

What we find to be intriguing about this man Gedaliah is that he had received a warning about Ishmael’s plot to kill him.  Believing the rumors he had heard to be only slander, Gedaliah welcomes Ishmael instead of being wary of him . . . and then dies at the betrayer’s hand.  Gedaliah is remembered as both the one who releases Jeremiah from prison and the one who dies through betrayal.

It is believed that Jeremiah is later whisked away to Egypt with fellow Jews who seek asylum there.  Zedekiah is forced to watch the execution of his sons after which he is blinded and deported to Babylon along with thousands of his people.  These are stories of such violence that they are difficult to comprehend; and yet they are stories that give way to hope despite their ugliness.

The prophecy of Jeremiah is one through which we understand that we are each called into a personal relationship with God.  In the following chapter we hear these words of comfort from God: If you remain quietly . . . I will build you up; not tear you down; I will plant you, not uproot you; for I regret the evil I have done you . . . for I am with you to save you, to rescue you. 

Everywhere we go there is danger on all sides, Jeremiah warns.  Yet there is safety deep within where God has planted the law by which we are to live.  Today we read about betrayal in the middle of a prophecy which brings hope.  Today we read about assassination in the midst of a prophecy about life.  Today we read about flight in a prophecy about nearness to God.  There is always a place in the darkness in which we might close our eyes, be still, and listen for the voice within.

If you remain quietly . . . I will build you up; not tear you down; I will plant you, not uproot you; for I regret the evil I have done you . . .

Let us pray that in our times of deepest stress that he have the sense to remain quiet . . . so that the Lord might build us up.  Let us pray that in our times of greatest darkness that we have the confidence to remain quiet . . . so that the Lord might plant us anew.  And let us pray that in our times of most piercing pain that we have the strength to remain quiet . . . so that the Lord can undo the evil that has been done.  We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Image from: http://sephardicguy.com/2011/10/02/gedaliah-who-is-he-why-do-we-fast/

Written on March 7, 2010.  Re-written and posted today as  Favorite.

For more on Ishmael and Gedaliah, go to: http://professorwillis.blogspot.com/2011/07/ishmael-and-ammonites-murder-gedaliah.html

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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

2 Corinthians 1:3-11: Encouragement

I am so touched by the number of times Paul uses the verb encourage and the noun encouragement in this citation.  As I read through the opening of this second letter to the group in Corinth, I am struck by the idea that as Christians we need to be encouraging one another as we move along the path of life – this is the mark of a Christian: to exhort, to pray, to urge, to praise, to support, to bolster . . . to encourage.  How many times do we browbeat, do we demand, do we undercut, do we deceive, how often do we judge?  Perhaps we put distance between ourselves and others because we are afraid of betrayal at an intimate level.  Perhaps we are afraid to trust.  If this is so . . . we have a place to turn for understanding.  We can examine John 13.

Picture1Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me”.  The disciples looked at one another, at a loss as to whom he meant.

Perhaps we have sensed when someone close to us was about to turn against us.

One of his disciples . . . was reclining at Jesus’ side . . . He leaned back against Jesus’ chest and said to him, Master, who is it?”

Perhaps we are too afraid to look closely at circumstances; we may be too anxious to begin a conversation that needs beginning.

Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it”. So he dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot. 

Jesus teaches us that we must remain calm in the face of treachery.

After he took the morsel, Satan entered him.  So Jesus said to him, “What you are going to do, do quickly”.

Jesus shows us how to remain open and honest in the midst of our enemies.

Now none of those reclining at the table realized why he said this to him.  Some thought that since Judas kept the money bag, Jesus had told him, “Buy what we need for the feast,” or to give something to the poor. 

We understand that betrayal is deep-rooted and far-reaching. 

So he took the morsel and he left.  And it was night.

We remember that even for Jesus . . . there is darkness.

Picture3When we are betrayed we find relief and support in the encouragement of others.  We find compassion and mercy in Christ’s example.  Psalm 55 describes the anguish of betrayal at the hands of intimate friends; Jesus teaches us how to withstand the pain brought by this betrayal.  Christ brings us encouragement.

And so we pray . . .

We look for healing and restoration in others . . . let us give healing and restoration in all we do and say.

We look for openness and honesty in others . . . let us act openly and honestly in all our actions and declarations.

We look for constancy and fidelity in others . . . let us be constant and faithful in all our deeds and words.  

We look for justice and mercy in others . . . let us live justly and mercifully all our days and all our nights in Christ.

And let us give thanks for the encouraging companions God sends to us as we journey on our way.  Amen.


First written March 18, 2008.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite. 

To explore words of encouragement for children, click on the image or visit: https://www.momjunction.com/articles/words-of-encouragement-for-kids_00402209/#gref

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1 Maccabees 12:19-38: In the Face of Great Odds

Friday, December 20, 2019

Jonathan Maccabeus

We have looked at the verses that precede and follow today’s citation, reflecting on friendship and betrayal, on constancy and convolution.  Today we see Jonathan Maccabeus experiencing success as he follows the call of God.  He is later betrayed, but his betrayer suffers a sad end.  We might learn about the kind of patience needed for fidelity when we ponder this story; and we may better understand the need for fortitude and hope when we follow God’s call.  Jonathan’s victory in today’s Noontime comes from his faith in a God who does not abandon his creatures.  Jonathan’s true triumph is not the battles the battles he wins . . . but his commitment to the promise he has made to God.  His true reward is not the fame of the battle won . . . but the serenity of knowing that all is best and all is well when our work is placed in God’s hands.

From today’s Evening Prayer in MAGNIFICAT:

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.  1 Peter 1:8

Whatever gains I had, these I have come to consider a loss because of Christ.  It is not that I have already taken hold of it or have already attained perfect maturity, but I continue my pursuit in hope that I may possess it, since I have indeed been taken possession of by Christ.  Philippians 3: 7, 12

Although Jonathan did not see God, he loved God and followed his calling . . . even to death.

Whatever gain or loss Jonathan had, he had in God.

May we too, be as constant and as hope-filled as Jonathan . . . even in the face of the greatest odds.


Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Evening.” MAGNIFICAT. 16.11 (2010). Print.  

Written on November 16, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://all-generals.ru/index.php?id=1193

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2 Maccabees 9: Giving Up & Giving In

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

We might eliminate a good deal of treachery and betrayal from our lives if we first find a way of doing all things through, and for, and with God alone . . . for God alone guarantees an honorable path for living.  God alone assures us a life spent in eternal serenity.  God alone makes promises that are fully and truly kept. 

These are the closing words from Saturday’s Noontime when we reflected on Chapter 8 of 2 Maccabees.  Today we look at The Punishment and Death of Antiochus: the stories of Antiochus’ illness and death.  Verses 8 – 11: Thus, he who previously, in his superhuman presumption, thought he could command the waves of the sea, and imagined he could weigh the mountaintops in his scales, was now thrown to the ground and had to be carried on a litter, clearly manifesting to all the power of God . . . Shortly before, he had thought that he could reach the stars of heaven, and now, no one could endure to transport the man because of his intolerable stench.  At last, broken in spirit, he began to give up his excessive arrogance, and to gain some understanding, under the scourge of God, for he was racked with pain unceasingly. 

After suffering the torment of his pain, he capitulates to the will of God.  He vows to restore all that he has ruined, and even vows that he will convert to Judaism.  This is a story of a fearsome ruler who surrenders to an even more fearsome Old Testament Yahweh, a God who is relentless in delivering justice.   The story ends sadly, with Yahweh apparently deaf to this sinner’s petitions for mercy.  So this murderer and blasphemer, after extreme sufferings, such as he had inflicted on others, died a miserable death in the mountains of a foreign land. 

We have no way on knowing how this man is ultimately judged by his maker.  In the context of the times he was seen as one who sinned so greatly that he became a lost soul, succumbing to the temptation of sin.  This is a man who would have done well by listening to the words of Psalm 36: Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of the heart.  There is no fear of God before his eyes.  He so flatters himself in his mind that he knows not his guilt.  In his mouth are mischief and deceit.  All wisdom is gone.  He plots the defeat of goodness as he lies on his bed.  He has set his foot on evil ways, he clings to what is evil. 

The psalmist does not try to solve the riddle of evil into which souls enter when they begin to love lies and deception; nor may we for these are the inscrutable ways of Yahweh.  Instead, we might look at this man and ourselves with New Testament eyes, and we might continue with Psalm 36 as we sing to God: To both man and beast you give protection.  O Lord, how precious is your love.  My God, the sons of men find refuge in the shelter of your wings.  They feast on the riches of your house; they drink from the stream of your delight.  In you is the source of life and in your light we see light.

Superhuman presumption, excessive arrogance . . . a broken spirit, a believer in love.  Nicanor and Antiochus . . . Paul and Abraham.  Those who trust only power and self . . . those who trust only God.

Even if – and perhaps especially when – the path directly before us is shrouded in mystery, we are given a clear direction by the source of all life itself so that we might orient our journey.  When we suffer from a broken spirit, we will want to see this sorrow as what it is . . . a giving up of presumption and arrogance . . . and a giving in to goodness and light.


For an interesting post about journeying, click on the image above or go to: http://journeyintomidlife.com/contact.htm

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2 Maccabees 8: Nicanor

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Gustave Dorè: Judas Maccabeus before the Army of Nicanor

Here we return to the heroic story of Judas Maccabeus from an earlier portion of the Maccabees’ story; and the role the Maccabeus family plays as a thorn in the side of the Selucid Empire as it struggles to retain control of its territories and holdings.  We see Judah gathering his troops’ we watch military maneuvers and battles.  Winners divide spoils; they celebrate victories.  There is not much different from the evening news except the level of technology we use in killing one another.

The last verses of this chapter focus on Nicanor, a man who intensely dislikes the Jewish people and all they stand for.  He will appear later in Jewish history and he will eventually be killed in battle; his head and right hand will be on display in Jerusalem for all to see.  But here we read of a time of humiliation for him and we might spend time with this verse: he was eminently successful in destroying his own army.  So he who had promised to provide tribute for the Romans by the capture of the people of Jerusalem testified that the Jews had a champion, and that they were invulnerable for the very reason that they followed the laws laid down by him. 

This new Champion is Judas Maccabeus; the laws are those of the Lord.  The man who intended to be slave-dealer flees like a runaway slave, leaving behind him the clothing that designates him as “A Friend of the King”.  He will later return, but his end will be ignoble.

http://www.bible-history.com/isbe/N/NICANOR+(1)/

All of this brings me to thinking about those who float through life establishing their worth as friends of those in power; rather than finding a way to live a genuine life of devotion to God.

It brings me to thinking about how those who “live by the sword also die by the sword”; ending their lives in the very way they had intended to end the lives of others.

It brings me to thinking about my own life, my own circumstances, and how and where I spend my spiritual and emotional self.  Whom do I value and why?  What do I value and when?  How do I value anyone or anything . . . and do I come to my evaluation with or without God?

We might eliminate a good deal of treachery and betrayal from our lives if we first find a way of doing all things through, and for, and with God alone . . . for God alone guarantees an honorable path for living.  God alone assures us a life spent in eternal serenity.  God alone makes promises that are fully and truly kept.


For more on Judas Maccabeus and the Selucid Empire, go to: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/353851/Judas-Maccabeus  and http://www.britannica.com/search?query=selucid+empire

Written on November 24, 2010; re-written and posted today as a Favorite.

Image from: http://www.mundellchristianchurch.com/art/2Macc-15-Judas-Maccabeus-before-the-Army-of-Nicanor.html

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