Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Monday, 27 April 2015

Prophets & Their Oracles

Significant Dates (BC)

1000 - Rise of the Israelite State
940 - Separation of Kingdoms into Israel and Judah
721 - Northern Kingdom (Israel) destroyed by Assyrians
586 - Exile of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) into Babylon
539 - Beginning of Persian Period

Assyrian Period
We find announcements of judgement from these prophets, with their main themes being 'The Day of the Lord' (especially in Amos 5), as well as justice, knowledge of God, and cult.

Babylonian Period
In 586, the fall of Judah/Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple took place.  In 596, with the King (Zedekiah) taken into exile, Judah was reduced to a province and there were no more Davidic Kings. There is a transition which takes place, from judgement to hope (for example in Ezekiel 37). 

Persian Period
The fall of Babylon takes place in 539. There is a growing amount of extra-biblical evidence for events in this period - with a crisis of restoration rather than destruction, restored religious observance, a new community with a sense of internal friction, as well as the phenomenon of prophets citing other prophets becoming more common. Furthermore, the new significance of the Temple is created - with the construction of the Second Temple authorised by Cyrus the Great in 538, after the fall of the Babylonian Empire the year before.

There is a clear sense of God's intervention in human history throughout the texts. The ethical message would be that a holy and good life, is one lived rightly before God and neighbour.

The Assyrian Period - Amos
Amos is third in the book of the twelve ( collection of minor Prophets ). The collection appears to be arranged chronologically, with several thematic links  - such as 'the day of the Lord' appearing in both the books of Joel and Amos. The Prophet Amos was ' among the shepherds of Teko'a ' (Amos 1:1) a small town ten miles south of Jerusalem. He led a simple life, as a shepherd and grower of sycamore figs, showing compassion for the oppressed and voiceless of the world. Amos is the great proclaimer of the justice of God, against the injustices of His people. 

The book of Amos falls neatly into three parts 1) Superscription, and writing against the foreign nations 2) Sayings attributed to Amos 3) Vision Reports

Amos' book is probably the earliest prophetical writing, emphasising God's omnipotent nature, and holy will for all nations:

'Amos teaches a most pure monotheism..He often speaks of The Lord of Hosts, meaning thereby that God has untold forces and powers at His command; in other words, that He is omnipotent. His descriptions of the divine attributes show that God is the Creator and Ruler of all things in heaven and on earth; He governs the nations at large, as well as the heavenly bodies and the elements of nature; He is a personal and righteous God..' Catholic Encyclopedia: Amos

Some material within the book of Amos, such as the sayings against Tyre, Edom and Judah are dated later than Amos - with the first being Deuteronomistic in language, and the second two may have been updated during the exilic or early second Temple period. The doxologies in chapters four, five and nine, according to scholars, do not come from Amos. They do however underline the central theme - that Israel's God has now declared war against His own people. Amos clearly had a knowledge of international affairs, sacred tradition and poetic skill. He was less concerned with worship than he was with socio-political matters. This is a marked difference between Amos and Hosea.

The holy Prophet Hosea,  (Hebrew: הוֹשֵׁעַ, , Greek Ὠσηέ ) was one of the twelve minor prophets. He was a contemporary of the Prophets Isaiah, Micah and Amos - in the eighth century before the birth of Christ. 

It is generally accepted that his prophetic career spanned a period of more than thirty years, coming to an end before the fall of the northern kingdom, in 721-22. The early chapters presuppose a period of political stability, and frequent denunciations of the monarchy fit the last twenty-five years of the northern kingdom, during which four out of six kings were assassinated. He characterises prophets as 'instruments by which the divine decree of judgement is carried out.' Dominant themes of the book include 1) a concern for the cult and sacred tradition 2) his opposition to the state priesthood 3) his identification of Moses the Levite as a Prophet 4) linguistic and thematic links between his sayings and Deuteronomy. 

As with Amos, Hosea contains both biographical and autobiographical material - ending with a prospect of eventual well-being. There are few indications of editorial reworking. The dominant religion, in Hosea's context, was a blend of the Yahweh 'cult' along with other cults of the region. For Hosea, false worship is the root cause of moral failure and social disintegration. However this view is only valid when the community has abandoned its religious traditions. It is clear, by reading Amos alone, that immorality exists within the religious and faithful communities as well, so perhaps Hosea concentrates on false worship too much. He has very little to say on matters such as social justice, and civil rights of the disadvantaged. Many would question Hosea's account of marital affairs - asking whether or not they are simply fictional, and whether there were two women or one. Despite these critical points, the Prophet Hosea strove to bring the many Israelites who had forgotten the true God of their forefathers back to the fold. He denounced the iniquities of the people of the northern kingdom of Israel, proclaiming to them the misfortunes they would suffer at the hands of invading foreigners. He foretold the end of the sacrificial offerings and the the priesthood of Aaron, (Hosea 3:4-5). He prophesied about Christ, who would return from Egypt, (Hosea 11;1), would be resurrected on the third day, (Hosea 6:2), and would conquer death, (Hosea 13-14).

The Prophet Micah is the sixth of the twelve minor prophets, descending from the tribe of Judah. He was a contemporary of the Prophet Isaiah, and his denunciations and predictions were in regard to the separate kingdoms of Judah and Israel. He foresaw the misfortunes threatening Israel, before its destruction, and the sufferings of Judah during the incursions under the Assyrian emperor. His book of prophecy consists of seven chapters - with the significant prophecy of Christ's birth in Bethlehem found in 5:2.

Although the book of Micah is commonly known to have been written within the second half of the eighth century, the book itself does not give many clues as to its dating. Micah 4:1-4 appears in Isaiah 2:2-4, suggesting that they both passed through the same editors.

The Babylonian Period - Jeremiah
Jeremiah is the longest of the prophetic books. The Holy Prophet Jeremiah, one of the four great Old Testament prophets, was son of the priest Helkiah from the city of Anathoth near Jerusalem, and he lived 600 years before the Birth of Christ, under the Israelite king Josiah and four of his successors. He was called to prophetic service at the age of fifteen, when the Lord revealed to him that even before his birth the Lord had chosen him to be a prophet. Jeremiah refused, citing his youth and lack of skill at speaking, but the Lord promised to be always with him and to watch over him.

Textual Details:
Editorial history creates problems – the Septuagint version of the text is shorter than the Masoretic Text by about an eighth, and arranges the material differently. Chapters 1-25 consist of sayings directed against Judah and Jerusalem. Some of these have survived more or less in their original poetic form, others have been paraphrased by a Deuteronomistic editor.This first section of the book also contains several lamentations and complaints to God. Although they have come to be known as Jeremiah’s Confessions, they contain no autobiographical material.One of the most prominent features of the book when compared with others, is the more or less continuous account of Jeremiah’s activity and suffering (chapters 37-44). This occurs essentially in the period immediately preceding and following the Fall of Jerusalem. These are third person narratives, recording events with considerable attention to detail, some of which can be corroborated from non-biblical sources. The last section of Jeremiah consists of sayings against foreign nations, and a concluding chapter dealing with the reign of Zedekiah. 

For Jeremiah, false prophecy is rebellion, and punishable by death. The false prophet is one who speaks in the name of another deity, or those who speak in the name of Yahweh but have not been commissioned to do so. Prophets whose predictions do not come true are deemed to be false. In both Deuteronomy and Jeremiah, prophecy is linked to dreams and their interpretation.
The superscription to the book: This informs us that Jeremiah ben-Hilkiah belonged to, or was descended from a family of priests at Anathoth. It also tells us that his prophetic career began in the thirteenth year of Josiah (627 BCE). The death of Josiah was a decisive turning point for him – dating of his call to Josiah’s thirteenth year allowed the editor to represent him as a supporter of his reforms, and to credit Jeremiah with a ministry of forty years.
The early sayings give the impression that Jeremiah is in the process of assimilating the prophetic tradition and bringing it to bear on the contemporary situation, but has not yet found his own voice. In addition, in the early sayings he still holds out the possibility of repentance, although there is already a sense in which this will not happen. The first section of the book therefore ends with the acknowledgement that Jeremiah has thus far been unsuccessful in his prophetic task.

The Prophet Jeremiah's political role was to interpret the changing pattern of political events in the light of the tradition, and mediate, on behalf of God's people. Jeremiah did not seek popularity. He was opposed by the royal court (although he did have some influential friends), his hometown, and especially the Temple bureaucracy. His alienation was seen especially in his refusal to discharge the prophetic function of intercession.
The striking differences between Jeremiah and the earlier prophets are in the traditional forms of prophetic speech breaking up, where there is a greater emphasis on biographical narrations. Furthermore there is an Increased emphasis in Jeremiah on prayer, lamentation, and suffering.

Jeremiah & Moses:
There are several comparable similarities between the prophets Moses and Jeremiah. Jeremiah’s activity also spanned forty years, also proclaiming the Law, interceding with God for the people, accepted rejection, and facing the challenge of those who would not accept his authority. Jeremiah’s initial commissioning is similar to that of Moses (Jer. 1/Ex. 3-4):  with a divine address, confirmation and encouragement designed to overcome hesitation, an act of installation accompanied by words, the specifics of the mission spelled out, and a visionary experience. Both Moses and Jeremiah are reluctant to answer the call, and offer similar excuses (poor speakers). Both are sent on a mission, and for both the word of reassurance is the same: “I am [will be] with you” (Ex. 3.12; Jer. 1.8). The touching of Jeremiah’s mouth and the declaration in Jeremiah 1.9 echoes the assurance to Moses that Yahweh will be “with his mouth” (Exodus 4.12). From the beginning, then, Jeremiah is presented as a prophet ‘like Moses’. Jeremiah’s call also follows the Mosaic model.

The Holy Prophet Ezekiel lived in the sixth century, before the birth of Christ. He was born in the city of Sarir, and descended from the tribe of Levi ; he was a priest and the son of the priest Buzi. Ezekiel was led off to Babylon when he was twenty-five years old together with King Jechoniah II and many other Jews during the second invasion of Jerusalem by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnessar.

There are two significant elements in the vision of the prophet: the vision of the temple of the Lord, full of glory (Ez. 44:1-10); and the bones in the valley, to which the Spirit of God gave new life (Ez. 37:1-14). The vision of the temple was a mysterious prefiguring of the race of man freed from the working evil and of the enemy, and the building up of the Church of Christ through the redemptive act of the Son of God, incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Ezekiel’s description of the shut gate of the sanctuary, through which the Lord God would enter (Ez. 44: 2), is a prophecy of the Virgin giving birth to Christ, yet remaining a virgin. The vision of the dry bones prefigured the universal resurrection of the dead, and the new eternal life bestowed by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Prophet Ezekiel announces to the people of Israel, held captive in Baylon, the tribulations it would face for not remaining faithful to God. The prophet also proclaimed a better time for his fellow-countrymen, and he predicted their return from Babylon, and the restoration of the Jerusalem Temple.

Like Jeremiah, the text of Ezekiel, as we now have it, has gone through several stages of development. The Greek version is more compact than the Masoretic Text, and perhaps represents an earlier stage of transmission. The superscription attributes the book to a certain Ezekiel ben-Buzi of a priestly family, who had an extraordinary vision in Babylon in 593. It is generally assumed that he arrived there with the first batch of deportees in 598, but we are not told this. He was probably active in Judah before going to Babylon, and remained prophetically active until at least 571. He was married. The book is essentially a product of a school or circle which owed allegiance to Ezekiel. There is a certain difficulty with distinguishing the contribution of Ezekiel from that of his school. Despite this, there is a striking unity to the structure of the book – judgement on Israel (chapters 1-24); judgement on hostile nations (25-32); and salvation for Israel (33-48). The first section of the book records the vision of the mobile throne followed by a prophetic commission (Ezekiel 1-7). Chapters 8-11 record another vision – with a guided tour of the Jerusalem Temple. Ezekiel’s prophetic words are preceded by: “The word of Yahweh came to me”

Jeremiah as an older contemporary of Ezekiel: 
Even more than Jeremiah, Ezekiel emphasises the grave responsibility he has towards the community he must serve. He is also more aware of the likelihood of collusion between prophet and public. For Ezekiel a person is free to turn from one way of life to another. This turning, meaning ‘a decisive redirection of one’s life’ is one of the most important aspects of Ezekiel’s teaching. There are areas of Ezekiel's book that are clearly linked to the book of Jeremiah - such as the vision of the Temple. 
Again as with Jeremiah, comparisons can be drawn with Moses – both had visions which led to a commissioning, both are reluctant to dwell on any physical representation of Yahweh – Moses sees only the back of Yahweh, the latter employs a very deliberate choice of language. The throne in Ezekiel is mobile, like the Ark in Exodus.

Ezekiel was a visionary priest and prophet, who was also a learned man. He exemplifies prophecy as a form of pastoral ministry and community leadership. 

St Demetrius of Rostov concludes that the main concepts in the book of Ezekiel are 1)  if a righteous man turns from righteousness to sin, he shall die for his sin, and his righteouness will not be remembered; 2) If a sinner repents, and keeps God’s commandments, he will not die. His former sins will not be held against him, because now he follows God's will, and the path of righteousness (Ez. 3:20; 18:21-24).

Isaiah 40-55:

* Note : The Book of Isaiah consists of Proto-Isaiah ( Chapters 1-39) certainly containing the words of Isaiah; Deutero-Isaiah (Chapters 40-55), probably being the work of an anonymous 6th century author writing during the exile; and Trito-Isaiah (Chapters 56-66), composed after the return from exile. The Holy Prophet Isaiah lived 700 years before the birth of Christ, and was of royal lineage. Isaiah’s father Amos raised his son in the fear of God and in the law of the Lord. Having attained the age of maturity, the Prophet Isaiah entered into marriage with a pious prophetess (Is 8:3) and had a son Jashub (Is 8:18) 

There have been challenges to the idea prevalent amongst scholars, that these chapters were composed in Babylon rather than Judah. Nonetheless, the polemic against Babylonian deities, cults and practices does suggest a Babylonian location.
Like much prophetic literature, Isaiah 40-55 does not provide substantial biographical information. A specific reason for anonymity could be the political situation. Predictions of the victory of Cyrus, and the fall of Babylon would have been rather risky topics for a writer and prophet. The opening verses of this section (40: 1-11) have been taken to reflect a prophetic commissioning from Yahweh after the manner of the earlier Isaiah. The commission to proclaim the end of the exile and a new era of wellbeing appears to have been addressed to an individual seer with his prophetic following. This seer, who speaks from time to time in his own name, can be considered the author of much of the material in Isaiah 40-55. The last part of the book may derive from this seer’s disciples.

There is a distinction of theme and content between chapters 40-48 and 49-55. The first section focuses on the expectation of a new era inaugurated by Cyrus, with a polemic against the Babylonian imperial cult. The following section, however, says nothing about Cyrus or Babylon, and is much less concerned with the political situation.
By 550 Cyrus had united the Persian tribes under him and occupied Ecbatana, capital city of the Medes. In the next three years Cyrus’ campaigns in Armenia and Asia Minor were crowned by the capture of Sardis, and the annexation of Greek cities. These events were the “new thing” proclaimed in chapter 43 and referred to throughout these chapters. Support for Cyrus was likely strong, and from this point of view Isaiah 40-48 could be read as propaganda for the pro-Cyrus party.
The above makes sense in that a long oracle about Cyrus forms the centrepiece of this section. In it, he is a designated shepherd and anointed (well-attested way of acknowledging kings), and Yahweh is responsible for his success. 

In Second Isaiah, the proof of divinity is to predict the future and then bring it about. Yahweh stood with His prophets – the disasters through which people had passed were turned to occasions for faith.  The second section opens with a speaker addressing the nations. He uses the language of prophetic commissioning, speaking of being called and given a name from the womb. Practically everything the speaker says of himself is applied later in Second Isaiah to the community: the sense of failure, being formed and called.

The Persian Period - Isaiah 56-66
Isaiah 55-66 is closely related to 40-55, with these chapters prophetic and eschatological faith being centred around the Temple and the altar. There is no opposition in principle between the bearers of this faith and the Temple authorities and supporters. The seer who speaks for them expounds a teaching not unlike the priesthood of all believers.The seer is speaking in the name of watchmen stationed on the walls whose task it is to remind Yahweh of His promise to restore the city. In this, the seer addresses Jerusalem. These watchmen are charged with the tasks of intercession and prayer on behalf of the community – long established prophetic functions. Commentators have noted the strong liturgical flavour to these chapters. 

In the last two chapters, we read the clearest indications of internal conflict. The first saying in the last chapter represents a rejection of the proposal to rebuild the Temple, and therefore represents a position directly opposed to Haggai and Zechariah. The second saying is a brutal condemnation of animal sacrifice.
Isaiah 66: 1-5 testifies to a rift within Palestinian Judaism of the early Persian period involving a prophetic-eschatological minority led by a seer who understood his mission, and that of his followers in terms of servanthood. The group appears to have been excluded from participation in the Temple cult, which would explain their socio-economic status.

In form and content Haggai is quite distinctive. Much of the material in the book belongs to the category of ‘disputation’. There are admonitions to pay attention, rhetorical questions, anticipated objections which are then answered. These rhetorical devices are more developed in Malachi.
In Haggai, there are frequent words of reassurance – “fear not” (2.5), “I am with you” (1.13; 2.4), “take courage” (2.4). These words suggest that Haggai may be characterised as an optimistic prophet.
The editorial framework to Haggai’s preaching turns the book into somewhat of a diary, marking several stages of the Temple building. The dates of this ‘diary’ cover the sixth to the ninth month of Darius’ second year. To each of these dated periods, there is a corresponding oracle. In the first, Haggai addressed a reproach to the governor, to the high priest, and to the community in general. The rebuilding of the Temple is the necessary precondition for the earth-shattering events that will usher in the new age proclaimed by the prophets. The second discourse has lost its date. The laying of the foundation stone is a turning-point. In the third discourse, it is made clear that the guarantee of political and social well-being is the presence of the divine Spirit through eschatological prophecy. The fourth discourse condemns cult practice that had been occurring since the destruction of the Temple. The fifth discourse predicts the overthrow of the Persian Empire, with the language of the third and fifth sayings making it especially clear that Haggai is part of a Messianic movement in Judah.

The Prophet Zechariah, also Zachary, was a prophet of the postexilic period. He was the writer of the Book of Zechariah. His book is the eleventh of the twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament.

The book of Zechariah consists of eight vision reports, preceded by a sermonic introduction and a concluding section dealing with fasting and hopes for the future.
The vision reports in Zechariah demonstrate a clear structural unity - and within his visions, for the first time, he introduces a supernatural agent who explains what was going on. Also, the term for angel or messenger, malak, had become synonymous with prophet. In addition, the interpreter of the visions also assumes the prophetic role of intercessor, and of one who gives an oracle.
Since the principal function of this ‘person’ is to interpret, there is a clear shift in the nature of prophecy from direct inspiration to the interpretation of previous prophetic sayings. This is the most important aspect of these visions for the historical development of Israelite prophecy.
In chapters nine through fourteen, the book presents two "oracles" or "burdens", one in chapters nine through eleven that outline the course of God's providential dealings with his people down to the time of the coming of the Messiah, and the other oracle, chapters twelve through fourteen, point out the glories that await Israel in "the latter day", the final conflict and triumph of God's kingdom.

With guidance from:
Joseph Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel (London: WJK, 1996)

Contribution from fellow Theology student, A.Morton (Church of Scotland) 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Jonah 2:1-9

This essay on Jonah 2:1-9,  will discuss the passage’s poetic nature, its authenticity and intertextuality, the theological implications, as well as an analysis of its overall meaning. The book of Jonah was written around 784-772BC, by the prophet Jonah who was an inhabitant of the town of Gath-Hepher (4Kg 14:25) in Ancient Israel. The prophet’s experience occurred during the reign of King Jeroboam II of Israel (790-750BC). Jonah 2:1-9 offers the most extravagant use of ‘water and pit’ imagery in biblical poetry and is intertextually linked with the Psalms. 

The chosen passage forms a classic example of a song of thanksgiving, in which the worshiper recounts great distress, followed by his cry to God for help, and concludes with God’s response and intervention. The poem draws on semitic mythological tradition in picturing death as an entrance into the underworld, and a submersion into the cosmic and dark waters. This is particularly appropriate to Jonah’s situation, as he is ‘cast..into the deep’(2:3, RSV), ‘cast out’(2:4) from divine presence, ‘down to the land whose bars closed upon’ him (2:6). This point is central to the book of Jonah, as he also begins his account by descending into Joppa (1:3) after disobeying the Lords command. This is drastically reversed, as he cries to God for help from the pit of distress and despair, which he freely chose to be in, emphasising the gratuitousness of Yahweh’s great mercy and saving intervention. Through his cry of repentance, Jonah experiences God’s compassion and forgiveness. There is an understandable debate among scholars with regard to the authenticity and function of Jonah’s poem, or ‘song of thanksgiving.’ It is embedded in the middle of a prose narrative, and its pious theme seems to contradict Jonah’s quarrelsome behaviour throughout the surrounding text. Until recently, the majority of scholars viewed the poem as inappropriate in its context - with ‘a pastiche of quotations from the psalter badly fitted into its present context.’ Today however, the common view is that the poem is in fact authentic and original, with the clear echo of the book of Psalms being deliberate, and the incongruity disappearing as the sense of piety is perceived ironically. The view of the text being authentic seems more realistic, as it is important to remember that God, throughout the holy scriptures, is a merciful and compassionate deity Who intervenes in order to save and help His people (Deut 4:31). Though His servants may continue to transgress and disobey His commandments, the Lord gives His people opportunities of repentance and confession, in order to ‘create a clean heart,…a new and right spirit’ (Psalm 51) restoring their relationship with Yahweh. Lacocque affirms this understanding of the passage, describing Jonah’s experience as a journey ‘from nothingness into being.’ Through repentance, pain and struggle comes forgiveness, joy and resurrection - as is emphasised within the Orthodox Christian tradition.

In the Orthodox Church’s liturgical tradition, the book of Jonah is read on Holy Saturday, connecting the prophet’s ‘three days and three nights’ (1:17) in the ‘belly of the fish’ (2:1) with Christ’s three-day sojourn in sheol (hades). ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12:40). Jonah’s deliverance from the fish (2:9) resembles the deliverance from death and spiritual rebirth in the waters of baptism.  This rebirth and renewal results in the repentance and salvation of the Ninevites, just as Christ’s Resurrection from the dead makes possible our own salvation and spiritual renewal. Contrary to popular interpretation, often perceiving the fish as a means of punishment, the great fish acts as God’s agent in order to save Jonah, snatching him from ‘the belly of sheol’(2:2). At the same time, the metaphor ‘belly of Sheol’ is unique to Jonah, conveying darkness and despair. The poet perhaps found it appropriate to the passages wider context, connecting the ‘belly of the fish’ with the ‘inner part of the ship’ (1:5). Sheol permits no communication with the other realms of Heaven and earth, and so Jonah is deeply entombed. He pleads, humbles himself, and is heard by God. The switch to the second person (in Hebrew) instantly directs the reader to Heaven’s response upon appeal.

The Septuagint refers to Jonah being lodged into a sea-monster (το κῆτος) which is the origin of the common association of Jonah and the whale. Animals are commonly used in the Old Testament scriptures, as devices by which to reveal the biblical theme, or main character. However, by contrast, in this passage of Jonah the fish is clearly linked with the protagonist. In other words other passages use animals simply as a means of portraying a theme, or based loosely on the central character. In this case, the fish plays a more significant role, and is inextricably linked to Jonah himself. Understandably, there are questions surrounding the literal accuracy of Jonah’s experience with this great sea creature. Saint Jerome highlights similar passages which seem unrealistic and unbelievable ( such as Dan 3:94-27, Ex 14:22, Dan 6:23 ) and emphasises that the importance does not lie in the literal possibility of such stories, but in the honest and fruitful deeds and prayers within the passages - such as Jonah’s fervent prayers to the Lord. For early Christian exegetes like St Jerome, the central theme of this passage is the forgiving God coming to Jonah’s aid, answering his prayer. The chosen text also reminds the reader of the negative and powerful impact of sin. William Caldwell writes that this passage’s ‘view of sin as dreadful in God’s sight, dreadful in its consequences, dreadful in its subtle working, even within God’s servant is worthy of most serious consideration.’ The passage therefore asserts the importance of turning away from sin and alienation from God and His will, and the turning back to the Lord with ‘the voice of thanksgiving’ (2:9) as deliverance only ‘belongs to the Lord’(2:9). The goal of every human being is salvation, and this passage certainly stresses the fact that Yahweh alone can grant us this. Although Jonah flees from God’s presence (1:3), he confesses his mistake, realising that God is indeed the source of life and salvation to which he had previously ignored. The Lord Who is our ‘rock, fortress, salvation’ (Psalm 18:2) and stronghold awaits Jonah in order to deliver him from the pit of selflessness and claustrophobic discomfort (2:5-6).

Most verses of the chosen passage (2:1-9) have an identical, or at least closely parallel counterpart in the Psalms. Jonah 2.3 corresponds with Ps 22:3, 31:23, 118:5 and 130:1;  2:4 with Ps 42:8, 88:8 and 18; 2:5 with Ps 31:23; 2:6 with Ps 113:3 and 69:2; 2:7 with Ps 30:10; 2:8 with Ps 42:7 and 142:4, and finally 2:9 with Ps 31:7. Furthermore, Jonah’s poem appears to have similarities with Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam 2:1-10). This is perhaps the closest parallel to this passage, as a plot break occurs in both poems - with the link between prose and poem being thematically problematic in both texts.

This essay has broadly explored the passage’s poetry, authenticity and intertextuality, and its theological implications. In addition, its overall meaning has been discussed, portraying Yahweh’s merciful and compassionate nature. 


Bolin T, Freedom Beyond Forgiveness (Sheffield: SAP, 1997)

Brenner A, ’Jonah’s Poem out of and within its Context.’ In Among the Prophets (Sheffield: SAP, 1993) 183.

Ceresko A, ‘Jonah and the Great Fish.’ In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary (London: Bloomsbury, 1995) 583.

Caldwell W, ‘The Theology of the Book of Jonah’ in The Biblical World Vol. 19, No. 5 (May, 1902), 378-383

Further Commentaries:

‘Jonah’ in The Orthodox Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008) 1022.

Ancient Bible Commentaries in English: Commentary on Jonah by St Jerome (Kentucky, 2014)

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Saint Inan of Irvine

Saint Inan (also referrered to as Evan) is the patron saint of Irvine, in North Ayrshire. He is said to have resided in Irvine during the 9th century, and had supposedly come from the holy isle of Iona.

Though he was a hermit, according to tradition, St Inan often visited the town of Beith. A nearby hill, known as 'St Inan's Chair' is said to have been used by the saint as a pulpit, in order to preach to the assembled faithful. Just like other saints of his time, Inan would concentrate on the most populated settlements, particularly where pagan worship was a frequent occurrence, in order to share the Christian faith.

Saint Inan's cell was located on the site of todays kirk dedicated to St Mary, in Beith. After taking pilgrimages to both Rome and Jerusalem, the saint finally settled in Irvine where he died. His tomb was frequently visited by the local faithful, with many accounts of miracles taking place at his holy relics.

Dundonald Castle once consisted of a chapel dedicated to Saint Inan - highlighting the locals honour, respect, and love for their local saint of God. His memory is traditionally celebrated on the the 18th of August.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Altar Server

Χριστός Ανέστη! Christ is Risen! 

In the Orthodox Church, an Altar Server ( historically known as an acolyte ) is a term used for someone who, although unordained, performs liturgical duties, assisting the major orders throughout the Divine Liturgy ( and most holy services of our Church ).   

The Orthodox Church no longer possesses the title 'Acolyte' ( as used in the Early Church ) as the role has fallen into disuse with other minor orders. There used to be a rank of minor clergy called the 'taper-bearer,' responsible for bearing lights during processions and liturgical entrances, however this rank has been subsumed by that of the reader ( with the tonsuring of the reader mentioning these functions ). These functions of an acolyte, or taper-bearer are therefore carried out by readers, subdeacons, or by unordained men and boys, wearing the sticharion alone. Interestingly, St John the Russian's holy relics were clothed in a sticharion very similar to that of an altar server.  

The term acolyte was used for someone preparing for the major orders of clergy, however this is not necessarily the case today. However, for around 1800 years the important role of altar servers has brought about countless priestly vocations, and lives fully dedicated to Christ's Church. 

Serving at the altar is a great and holy privilege, especially in the light of the fact that our Tradition does not allow most people ( male or female ) to enter the Holy Sanctuary. 

'Only fear the Lord, and serve him faithfully with all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you.' (1 Sam 12:24)

'If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honour him.' (John 12:26)

The term 'Acolyte,' coming from the word 'akolouthos,' means attendant or follower. This humble ministry has its roots in the Old Testament, with the Prophet Samuel assisting Eli, the Levite Priest; and Elisha assisting Elijah the Prophet. Therefore the Acolyte ( or altar server ) attends to the Bishops or priests, assisting them during services. In addition, the historical term can also be linked to 'akolytos' meaning free from stain or sin - which highlights the importance of a server having exemplary behaviour, not only in the altar, but also in and out-with the life of the parish.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Holy Saturday

'Our joy is almost complete. We have celebrated the destruction of Hades and the Resurrection of our Lord. But now the Church will invite us to place ourselves in the shoes of the myrrh-bearing women, who will go to the tomb of Christ to find it empty, and an angel declaring that Christ has risen!'
- Fr Vassilios Papavassiliou, 'Meditations for Holy Week' 

This morning, at the Divine Liturgy of St Basil, joy begins to overcome sorrow as we celebrate the harrowing of hell, the vanquishing of death and our Lord's glorious resurrection from the tomb. Our watchful expectation is fulfilled by the priest's joyful chant: 'Ανάστα ο Θεός' (Arise o God). The beautiful hymns and readings of our Church proclaim the great joy of Christ's victory over evil and His awaited Resurrection, granting all human beings life:

'When you descended unto death, O Lord who yourself are immortal life, then did You mortify Hades by the lightning flash of your Divinity. Also when You realised the dead from the netherworld, all the Powers of the heavens were crying out: O Giver of Life, Christ our God, glory be to You.'

Let the creation rejoice exceedingly, let all those born on earth be glad: for hell, the enemy, has been despoiled.' 

'But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.' (Rom 6:8-9)

With these joyful hymns we prepare for tonight's Paschal Vigil, having witnessed and venerated Christ's crucifixion, suffering, and tomb, we now await the unwaning light of the world, Who enlightens, renews, and sanctifies humanity and the entire creation. This vigil is not simply a religious custom, but a witness, an experience, and a reminder. By receiving the Paschal light tonight, we are called to bear the good news of the Resurrection, and warmly celebrate the feast which points directly to our very goal  - resurrection, life, the defeat of evil, and love. As St John Chrysostom writes:

 'All of you enter into the joy of our Lord: first and last, enjoy your reward. Rich and poor dance together. Sober and slothful honour the day. Fasters and non-fasters be glad today. The table is full, enjoy yourselves.. all of you enjoy the richness of His goodness..let no one grieve..let no one bewail his faults, for forgiveness has risen from the tomb.'

Have a very blessed and joyful Easter!

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Holy & Great Thursday Evening

Holy and Great Thursday begins with the Vesperal Divine Liturgy of St Basil, celebrating the Last Supper. In the evening, the service of the Holy Passion of our Lord takes place, with twelve Gospel readings presenting the prophecy of Christ's crucifixion, as well as His prayer and instructions. By processing and venerating our Crucified Lord and Saviour, we celebrate His saving passion and death on the cross, granting us forgiveness of sin and eternal salvation. Furthermore, there is a strong emphasis placed on the penitent thief who is crucified alongside our Lord, inheriting eternal life due to his fervent prayer and repentance. We too kneel humbly before the crucified Christ this evening, realising that through this cross, pain, humiliation, sacrifice and love, comes the certainty of resurrection and the trampling down upon death.

As we process around the church, the priest chants ' Today is hung upon the tree, He Who did hang the land in the midst of the waters. A Crown of thorns crowns Him Who is King of Angels. He is wrapped about with the purple of mockery Who wrapped the Heavens with clouds.'

Just as the thief confessed his sins before Christ on the cross, we are similarly invited by the Church to venerate and kiss the Lord's feet with faith, repentance,  love and fear - awaiting His glorious and joyful Resurrection. This evening we are placed within the awesome mystery of the extreme humility of our suffering God - on the one hand faced with the gloom of pain, suffering and death, and on the other hand the Church urges its faithful to await in watchful expectation as we ' see our life lying in the tomb' as Christ lifts us out of our own tombs of distress, death and hopelessness into the light-filled presence of the New Jerusalem!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Holy Unction

This evening, on Great and Holy Wednesday, the sacrament of Holy Unction takes place. The mystery provides both physical and spiritual healing with oil blessed by the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit. The service consists of psalms, seven readings from the Gospels, preceded by seven other New Testament writings - from the epistles of St Paul and St James. Each set of Scriptural readings are followed by a prayer offered on behalf of the faithful, by the priest, asking for physical and spiritual healing, sanctification and forgiveness. The service is concluded with the priest anointing the holy oil upon the faithful's heads and hands, making the sign of the cross and saying 'the blessing of our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ: for the healing of the soul and body of the servant of God (name), always now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.' 

'..let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.' (James 5:14-15)

As Christ came to the world in order to heal 'our infirmities and bear our diseases' (Matthew 8:17), this great power and gift of healing is certainly available to all, within His Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, through the Holy Spirit. This Sacrament which takes place tonight, is the Church's specific prayer for healing - renewing, and forgiving us, as we approach the glorious feast of Pascha. 

'O Lord who, in thy mercies and bounties , healest the disorders of our souls and bodies, do Thou, the same Master, sanctify this oil, that it may be effectual for those who shall be anointed...unto healing, and unto relief from every passion, every malady of the flesh and of the spirit, and every ill..' (Prayer of the Oil)
The Sacrament of Holy Unction taking place this evening at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Luke, Glasgow

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Christ - the Bridegroom

'Behold the Bridegroom comes in the middle of the night..' 
Ιδού ο Νυμφίος έρχεται εν τω μέσω της νυκτός

This evening, at the matins of Holy Wednesday, the last service of the Bridegroom takes place ( having taken place every evening since Palm Sunday). The Church, as described in the parable of the ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) and Isaiah 54, presents Christ as the Bridegroom (ο Νυμφίος). The title highlights His divine presence and watchfulness over His people, as well as His selfless love for His bride, the Church.

This evening's service of the Bridegroom is distinct as it consists of the Hymn of Kassiani, reminding us that through repentance we are truly forgiven. The hymn, based on the account of the sinful woman who is introduced by St Luke in 7:36-50, contrasts the repentance of this woman (who anoints Christ's feet with ointment)  with Eve's fall in Genesis 3:8-11:

"O Lord God, the woman who had fallen into many sins, having perceived Thy divinity received the rank of ointment-bearer, offering Thee spices before Thy burial wailing and crying: "Woe is me, for the love of adultery and sin hath given me a dark and lightless night; accept the fountains of my tears O Thou Who drawest the waters of the sea by the clouds incline Thou to the sigh of my heart O Thou Who didst bend the heavens by Thine inapprehensible condescension; I will kiss Thy pure feet and I will wipe them with my tresses. I will kiss Thy feet Whose tread when it fell on the ears of Eve in Paradise dismayed her so that she did hide herself because of fear. Who then shall examine the multitude of my sin and the depth of Thy judgment? Wherefore, O my Saviour and the Deliverer of my soul turn not away from Thy handmaiden O Thou of boundless mercy."

The following Kontakion read this evening also emphasises our state of repentance, as sinners and unworthy servants, before Christ our Lord, the Bridegroom of the Church:

'I have transgressed far from the harlot, O Good One, yet have never brought you showers of tears; but entreating in silence, I fall before you, as I kiss your immaculate feet with love, that as Master you may grant me forgiveness of offences, as I cry out, O Saviour: deliver me from the filth of my works.'

The Church therefore urges us to fall down before Christ, as we prepare to venerate and contemplate His holy passion, and glorify His Resurrection.