The use of wine (Sir 31:25-31:31)

“Do not try to prove your strength

By drinking wine.

Wine has destroyed many people.

As the furnace tests

The work of the smith,

So wine tests hearts

When the insolent quarrel.

Wine is very life to human beings,

If you drink it in moderation.

What is life to one

Who is without wine?

It has been created

To make people happy.

Wine drunk at the proper time,

Is rejoicing to the heart.

Wine drunk in moderation

Brings gladness to the soul.

Wine drunk to excess

Leads to bitterness of spirit,

Leads to quarrels,

Leads to stumbling.

Drunkenness increases

The anger of a fool

To his own hurt.

It reduces his strength.

It adds wounds.

Do not reprove your neighbor

At a banquet of wine.

Do not despise him

In his merrymaking.

Speak no word of reproach to him.

Do not distress him

By making demands of him.”

Sirach warns that you should not try to show how strong you are by drinking wine since it has destroyed many people. Just as a furnace tests the iron work of a blacksmith, so too wine tests insolent people when they quarrel. However, wine does have a good purpose. It is life itself when taken in moderation. Without wine, our lives would not be happy. Wine at the proper time and in moderation rejoices and gladdens the heart and the soul. On the other hand, over indulging in wine can lead to a bitter spirit, quarrels, and stumbling around. The fool who drinks excessively increases his own anger to his own detriment. Drunkards lose their strength and sometimes get wounded. If you are at a banquet with wine, do not pick an argument with your neighbor. Do not dislike him for having a good time. Do not criticize him or ask him for anything. It is not the right time.

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The condensed story (2 Macc 2:23-2:28)

“All of this has been set forth by Jason of Cyrene in five volumes. We shall attempt to condense it into a single book. There is a considerable flood of statistics involved. The difficulty is that those who wish to enter upon the narratives of history find a mass of material. We have aimed to please those who wish to read it by making it easier for those who are inclined to memorize, and thus profit all readers. For us who have undertaken the toil of abbreviating, it is no light matter but calls for sweat and loss of sleep. It is not easy for one who prepares a banquet and seeks the benefit of others. Nevertheless, to secure the gratitude of many we will gladly endure the uncomfortable toil. We leave the responsibility for exact details to the compiler, while devoting our effort to arriving at the outlines of the condensation.”

Apparently there was a 5 volume work on the history of the Maccabees by a Jason of Cyrene. That work is now lost. This anonymous biblical author wanted to condense it down into 1 volume. This might be called the “Reader’s Digest” of the Maccabees story. He claimed that there was a lot of statistics and material about Judas Maccabeus and his brothers. He was going to make it easy to read and memorize in his abbreviated version. However, doing so was not easy, but like an uncomfortable task, like preparing a banquet. He was not going to sweat the details since he was more concerned with the outline in his condensation.

The seven day feast of King Artaxerxes (Esth 1:5-1:8)

“At the end of the festivity, the king gave a drinking party for the people of the various nations who lived in the capital city of Susa, both great and small, a banquet lasting for seven days, in the garden courtyard of the royal king’s palace. The courtyard was adorned with white cotton curtains and blue hangings tied with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings and marble pillars. Gold and silver couches were placed on a mosaic floor of emerald, mother-of-pearl, and marble. There were coverings of gauze, embroidered in various colors, with roses arranged around them. The cups were of gold and silver. A miniature cup made of ruby was on display, worth thirty thousand talents. There was abundant sweet wine, such as the king himself drank. The drinking was not according to a restrained fixed rule. The king wanted it this way. Thus he commanded his stewards to comply with his pleasure and that of his guests, as each one desired.

The first gathering was more official. This week long festival seems a little less organized. The participants seem to be local Susa folk who worked in the capitol. Persian kings supposedly gave great feasts. The setting is a beautiful outdoor royal courtyard that is adorned with white, blue, and purple linen cloths tied to marble pillars with silver rings. They had gold and silver couches on a mosaic marble floor, with roses all around. This would indicate a late spring, early summer time frame. They drank from gold and silver drinking cups. He had a miniature cup of ruby worth millions of USA dollars. Everyone got to drink the king’s wine as much as they wanted. The king had given the orders to his wine stewards. This seems like a very happy sumptuous gathering.

The kingdom of King Artaxerxes (Esth 1:1-1:4)

“It was after this that the following things happened in the days of King Artaxerxes, the same Artaxerxes who ruled over one hundred twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In those days, when King Artaxerxes was enthroned in the capital city of Susa, in the third year of his reign, he gave a banquet for all his friends and other persons of various nations, the Persians and the Median nobles, as well as the governors of the provinces. After this, he had displayed to them the wealth of his kingdom and the splendor of his bountiful celebration during the course of one hundred eighty days.”

Now we begin the story of Esther with the Hebrew text. This was the great King Artaxerxes (465-424 BCE) with a huge empire from India to Ethiopia. This Persian king, which is now Iran, had over 127 provinces. So that when we read about Samaria in the Province Beyond the River Euphrates in Nehemiah and Ezra, it was only 1 of 127 provinces. This was the 3rd year of King Artaxerxes’ reign, about 462 BCE. The capital city was Susa, a town that dates back to about 5,000 BCE, about 7, 000 years old. Susa was a major Persian city that went out of favor when it was captured by the Greek Alexander the Great in 331 BCE. King Artaxerxes had invited most of the 127 governors, nobles, and especially the Persian and Median nobles to see the wealth and splendor of his kingdom for about 6 months, 180 days. Persia and Media were old friendly neighboring countries.

The invitation of General Holofernes (Jdt 12:10-12:11)

“On the fourth day, General Holofernes held a banquet for his personal attendants only. He did not invite any of his officers. He said to Bagoas, the eunuch, who had charge of his personal affairs.

‘Go and persuade the Hebrew woman.

As she is in your care

To join us

To eat

And to drink with us.

It would be a disgrace

If we let such a woman go,

Without having intercourse with her.

If we do not seduce her,

She will laugh at us.’”

The plan of General Holofernes was very clear. He was having a banquet with only his own personal attendants and no officers. Bagoas, who was the eunuch in charge of the general’s personal affairs, was to invite Judith and persuade her to come to the banquet. Apparently there was a real Persian eunuch named Bagoas, who lived in the 4th century BCE, about 200 years after the supposed setting of this story. Eunuchs were men who were castrated or sometimes just impotent or celibate. They were not interested in sex or marriage so that leaders felt safe having them take care of their personal matters for them, particularly their women. General Holofernes felt it would be a disgrace to him if he did not have sex with Judith before she left camp. If he did not seduce her, she would probably laugh at him.