Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dark Matter

A dear friend of mine was remarking on how he struggles with some of the darker passages of scripture - God commanding the Israelites to kill women and children. At some point, if you read the Bible, you have to come to grips with these sorts of things.

So let's consider a hypothetical situation. Grandma passes away, and in her effects you discover her diary, and begin reading it. You find page after page about what a kind, gentle man your Grandpa was, but then there's a date on which she wrote "John beat the children today." What do you believe about your grandfather in light of that?

Some possibilities come to mind.

  • Perhaps it was an expression. Families are full (or at least mine is full) of inside jokes and odd expressions that don't always mean what they say at face value.
  • Perhaps she meant it in a different context ("John beat the children [at backgammon] today").
  • Perhaps it was paternal correction in a time where corporal punishment wasn't considered evil (e.g. the children were playing with matches and grandpa taught them a lesson).
  • Perhaps Grandpa really was a child abuser and Grandma just ignored it most of the time but couldn't on that particular day.

No exegetical analysis of Grandma's diary is going to settle the question. It all falls back on two things. Your relationship with your grandfather and your relationship with your grandmother.

How did your grandfather treat you? Is one sentence enough to undo the lifetime of memories of him pushing you on the swing, teaching you magic tricks and building a bird house together?

What do you know of your grandmother? Was she the sort of woman who would let her children be abused? Didn't she take your brothers to task when they picked on you? Hasn't she always been stern, yet fair?

Similarly, what do we think when we see these passages of Scripture? Some possibilities come to mind.

  • Perhaps the Israelites attributed things to God that were not really His attributes. There are plenty of examples in the Old testament where God is depicted as being "evil" "angry" or having "wings." These are all recognized as literary devices.
  • Perhaps the author used God as an excuse to justify something the Israelites wanted to do, even though it was not His will. There are examples of this in the Bible as well. One example is the law permitting divorce, which Jesus explicitly points out as the case where God allowed men to make an unjust law because of the "hardness of their hearts."
  • Perhaps the actions themselves are expressions, not literal things that were done. For instance, in Psalm 137 the author says "Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!" - but in the psalm the "mother" is understood to be the city of Babylon and her "children" refers to her army.
  • Perhaps the actions are exaggerated to make the event seem more than it was. For instance the Canaanites were supposedly all killed, yet they return to fight again later. Likewise the Amalekites. Saying that the Israelites killed every living thing, down to the last child, was likely an exaggeration of a decisive victory.
  • Or perhaps God really is evil. and Jesus' and the prophets' exhortations of peace and love are all a ruse to snare gullible believers.

In the end you have to rely on your relationship with God and with His Church. What kind of a god do you think God is? How has the Church seems Him? What are the "fruits" of His believers?

If you have a personal relationship with God, you know what He is like, and these passages don't shake that. If you don't have a relationship, it's all a matter of which exegesis you want to believe. Much of what's available today is written by non-believers who wish to see things in a harsh light. For a more balanced view look to books like Light on the Dark Passages of Scripture by Mark Giszczak

Friday, December 18, 2015

Opposite jobs

Sunday, December 13, 2015


The other day as I was leaving the clinic, after having prayed the rosary aloud, one of my Protestant friends called out to me "Queen Mother isn't capitalized in the Bible, you know." I asked what he meant, and he indicated that the rosary was wrong (and giving too high an honor to Mary) because it called her the "Queen Mother" and that doesn't appear in the Bible.

N.B. The rosary doesn't actually call her "Queen Mother" that I know of. I think he was referring to "Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy" which is actually two separate titles ("Hole Queen" and "Mother of Mercy"). Rather than get into defining those two titles I thought I would address the issue of "Queen Mother", which is also an acceptable title for Mary.

We had had a similar conversation before about calling Mary queen, and I had urged him to read about the "Gebirah" (Hebrew), or Queen Mother in the books of Kings. I take it he did, and that was what he found, hence our conversation.

I had to go, but I noted to him that the original Hebrew wouldn't have capitalized anything, a point which I think only confused matters. As I left I promised that next week I would come back armed with a bunch of scripture references to show my point. The rest of this blog post is my intended reply to this gentleman.

What I meant when I was talking about the Old Testament being written in Hebrew is that ancient Hebrew had no upper and lower case letters. So saying “queen mother” isn't capitalized in the Bible just means the translator didn't capitalize it – it says nothing about the original text. For that matter, although the Bible is the inerrant word of God, the translator was just a fallible man, and so your English Bible can have mistakes in the sense that it doesn't convey the correct meaning of the original perfect text. That's why when arguing about the authority of Scripture it is important to understand not only what King James says, but what the Sacred author actually wrote.

But on to the subject at hand – is Mary the “Queen Mother”?

We are told Jesus sits on the throne of David (Luke 1:32 - He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.) - so we should look at the kings of Israel to find out what is meant by that. One of the things characterizing the kingdom of Israel (and most ancient kingdoms) was the Gebirah (in Hebrew גְּבִירָה) , or Queen Mother (sometimes translated as “Great Lady”).

The Gebirah, the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of Judah, was an official position held by the mother of the Davidic kings. The Hebrew word gebirah is found 15 times in the Old Testament. In Genesis 16:4, 8, 9 it refers to Sarah (Abraham's wife, who is promised to be the mother of kings). In 1 Kings 11:19 it is used to refer to the queen of Egypt.

In 1 Kings 15:13 we see Asa, descendent of David, restoring God's rule to Judah after his father Abijam, had don evil. The Bible says “And also Maachah his mother, even her he removed from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove; and Asa destroyed her idol, and burnt it by the brook Kidron.” Well, he could hardly remove his mother as queen if she were not the queen. The same event is described in 2 Chronicals 15:16 “And also concerning Maachah the mother of Asa the king, he removed her from being queen, because she had made an idol in a grove: and Asa cut down her idol, and stamped it, and burnt it at the brook Kidron.”

In 2 Kings 10:13 the brethren of Ahaziah go to meet “the children of the King and the children of the queen” - they wouldn't have to meet the children of the queen if she were the king's wife – they would also be the children of the king. And it is important that they meet both, because their intention was to slay them all, and if they had only slain the children of the king then the children of the queen (the kings' brothers and sisters) would inherit the throne, and they wanted to eradicate the royal line.

In 1 Kings 2, Scripture says the Gebirah sat a throne alongside her son and had a role as counselor and intercessor to the king (see also 2 Chronicles 22:3):

19 Bathsheba therefore went unto king Solomon, to speak unto him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king's mother; and she sat on his right hand.

20 Then she said, I desire one small petition of thee; I pray thee, say me not nay. And the king said unto her, Ask on, my mother: for I will not say thee nay.

In times of conquest, both the king and his mother both represented royal power (2 Kings 24:12 – 12 “And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign.”). Note that his wife is not mentioned, but his mother is.

In Sacred Scripture the mother of the Davidic king is listed along with her son in the books of 1 & 2 Kings and 1 & 2 Chronicles when he assumes the throne. The only queen mothers not listed are those of King Jehoram, who married wicked Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel of Israel (2 Kings 8:17-18); King Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2-3); and King Asa (1 Kings 15:10). In the case of Jehoram and Ahaz, their mothers may have died prior to their sons assuming the throne of David, and in the case of Asa, his grandmother is named as the Gebirah, his mother having died or perhaps his grandmother, the former Gebirah, did not relinquish her power and authority upon the succession of her grandson.

Note that when Israel splits into Israel (north) and Judah (south), the northern kings abandon the gebirah (and God – they eventually become the pagan Samaritans) while the Davidic line passes to Judah, who are the chosen of God (where we get the name Jews). Here are the kings of Israel/Judah:

1. Rehoboam
930-913 BC
Son of Solomon
Mother: Naamah the Ammonite
1 Kings 11:42-14:31
2 Chronicles 9:31-12:16
2. Abijam (Abijah)
Son of Rehoboam
Mother: Maacah (Micaiah) descendant of David's son Absalom
1 Kings 14:31-15:8
2 Chronicles 13:1-23
3. Asa
Son of Abijam
Gebirah = grandmother Maacah
1 Kings 15:8-24
2 Chronicles 13:23-16:14
4. Jehoshaphat
Son of Asa
Mother: Azubah
1 Kings 15:24' 22"41-51
2 Chronicles 17:1-21:1
5. Jehoram
Son of Jehoshaphat
Mother: ?
2 Kings 8:16-24
2 Chronicles 21:1-20
6. Ahaziah
Son of Jehoram
Mother: Athaliah
2 Kings 8:24-29; 9:14-26
2 Chronicles 22:1-12
7. Athaliah (Queen Mother)
Daughter of Ahab and Jezebel of Israel
2 Kings 11L1-20
2 Chronicles 22:1-15
8. Jehoash (Joash)
Grandson of Athaliah and son of Ahaziah;
Mother: Zibiah (Beersheba)
1 Kings 11:1-12:21
2 Chronicles 22:10-23; 24:27
9. Amaziah
Son of Jehoash
Mother: Jehoaddan
2 Kings 14:1-22
2 Chronicles 26:1-23
10. Uzziah
Son of Amaziah
Mother: Jecoliah
2 Kings 15:1-7
2 Chronicles 26:23-27:9
11. Jotham
Son of Uzziah
Mother: Jerushah
2 Kings 15:32-38
2 Chronicles 26:9-27:9
12. Ahaz
Son of Jotham
2 Kings 15:38-16:20
2 Chronicles 27:9-28:27
13. Hezekiah
Son of Ahaz
Mother: Abijah
2 Kings 16:20; 18:1-20:21
2 Chronicles 28:27-32:33
14. Manasseh
Son of Hezekiah
Mother: Hephzibah
2 Kings 21:1-18
2 Chronicles 32:33-33:20
15. Amon
Son of Manasseh
Mother: Meshullemeth
2 Kings 21:18-26
2 Chronicles 33:20-25
16. Josiah
Son of Amon
Mother: Jedidiah
2 Kings 21:26-23:30
2 Chronicles 33:25-35:27
17. Eliakim/Jehoahaz
Son of Josiah
Mother: Hamutal
2 Kings 23:30-34
2 Chronicles 36:5-8
18. Jehoiakim
Brother of Eliakim
Mother: Zebidah
2 Kings 23:34-24:6
2 Chronicles 36:5-8
19. Jehoiachin
Son of Jehoiakim
Mother: Nehusta
2 Kings 24:6-17
2 Chronicles 36:8-10
20. Mattaniah/Zedekiah
Parental uncle of Jehoiachin and son of Jehoiakim
Mother: Hamital
2 Kings 24:17-25:30
2 Chronicles 36:10-13;
Ezekiel 17:13-16

The Gebirah was clearly the most important woman in the Kingdom of Judah; a king had many wives, but only one mother. The Gebirah of the eternal Davidic Kingdom of Jesus Christ is Mary of Nazareth. She appears in this role in Revelation 12:1 - “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” - this is clearly a reference to Mary because we see in verse 5 “And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne.” which is clearly Jesus.

Thus according to the Bible it is correct to use the title Gebirah, or Queen Mother, for Mary.