Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Last Speech of Mattathias

With the Greek phrase κοπετν μέγαν for “great lamentation”, Luke alludes to the death and burial of Jacob in Genesis 50:10 LXX and of Mattathias in 1 Maccabees 2:70 and perhaps also to their last speeches.

Mattathias said to his sons: “Now, my children, show zeal for the law, and give your lives for the covenant of our fathers. Remember the deeds of the fathers, which they did in their generations; and receive great honor and an everlasting name. Was not Abraham found faithful when tested, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness? Joseph in the time of his distress kept the commandment, and became lord of Egypt. Phinehas our father, because he was deeply zealous, received the covenant of everlasting priesthood. Joshua, because he fulfilled the command, became a judge in Israel. Caleb, because he testified in the assembly, received an inheritance in the land. David, because he was merciful, inherited the throne of the kingdom for ever. Elijah because of great zeal for the law was taken up into heaven. Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael believed and were saved from the flame. Daniel because of his innocence was delivered from the mouth of the lions. And so observe, from generation to generation, that none who put their trust in him will lack strength.”

This speech is atypical in that most of the twenty characteristics that Kurz concluded are characteristics of great classic farewell speeches and the four of biblical speeches were not present with one notably exception: a theological review of history.

Perhaps Stephen recognizing he was about to die composed his speech inspired in part by the last speech of Mattathias. Certainly, Mattathias has set forth some inspirational examples. Earlier, Stephen had stated that that Abraham lived in the land “yet he [God] gave him no inheritance in it” using the Greek word κληρονομία for inheritance. Mattathias specifically notes that Caleb received an inheritance κληρονομίαν in the land. Joshua and Caleb were the only spies who reported favorably. They were the only ones of the all of the people who left Egypt who were permitted to enter the promised land. Caleb was the leader of the Israelites after Joshua and is buried with Joshua in Samaria. Caleb is not mentioned by name by Stephen because his inheritance was Hebron and the region around it which was in Judea.

Stephen’s use of the Righteous One as a term for Jesus may have been influenced by the last speech of Mattathias. Although Paul developed his argument about righteousness of Abraham from Genesis 15:6, the statement in Mattathias's last speech, and also Jubilees 23:10, does demonstrate that first century Judaism considered Abraham to be a model of obedience to God. Unlike Mattathias and Paul, Stephen makes no mention of the righteousness of Abraham.

Copyrighted 2007


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