Title (Zech 1:1-1:1)

“In the eighth month,

In the second year

Of King Darius,

The word of Yahweh

Came to the prophet Zechariah,

The son of Berechiah,

The son of Iddo.”

The word of Yahweh came to the prophet Zechariah in the same year as it had come to Haggai, the second year of Persian King Darius I in 520 BCE.  However, this was the 8th month and not the 6th month as with Haggai, so that it was 2 month later.  Zechariah was the son of Berechiah and the grandson of Iddo.  In the Book of Ezra, chapter 5, there is an explicit mention of Haggai and Zechariah, the son of Iddo.  Nehemiah, chapter 12, mentioned Iddo as one of the high priests who came with Zerubbabel when he left Babylon in 538 BCE.  Thus, Iddo would have been an important person.  Berechiah seemed to be less important, but could be the father of the young Zechariah.  Nehemiah mentioned Berechiah as the son of Meshezabel, in chapter 3.

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Jeremiah and the jug (Jer 19:1-19:2)

“Thus said Yahweh.

‘Go!

Buy a potter’s earthenware jug!

Take with you

Some of the elders of the people,

As well as some of the senior priests.

Go out to

The valley of the son of Hinnom,

At the entry of the Potsherd Gate!

Proclaim there the words

That I tell you.’”

Yahweh tells Jeremiah to buy an earthen jug. He was supposed to take some of the elders and the senior priests with him. He was to go to the valley of Hinnom at the Potsherd Gate that might be the garbage area around the Dung Gate mentioned in Nehemiah, chapter 4, just outside Jerusalem. There Jeremiah was to proclaim the words that Yahweh would tell him.

Nehemiah (Sir 49:13-49:13)

“The memory of Nehemiah

Also is lasting.

He raised our fallen walls.

He set up the gates.

He set up the bars.

He rebuilt our ruined houses.”

Sirach continues his list of holy men with Nehemiah who rebuilt the fallen walls, gates, and doors around Jerusalem. Nehemiah also restored many of the old ruined houses in the city of Jerusalem as recounted in Nehemiah, chapters 2-3.

Rebuild Zion (Ps 51:18-51:19)

“Do good to Zion!

In your good pleasure!

Rebuild the walls of Jerusalem!

Then you will delight in right sacrifices.

You will delight in burnt offerings.

You will delight in whole burnt offerings.

Then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

This psalm ends with this addition about rebuilding Zion that had nothing to do with David and his sin with Bathsheba.  David had not even built the Temple so that to rebuild it would have been a post-exilic effort such as in Ezra and Nehemiah. This addition is almost in contradiction to the preceding verses that were pointing out the non-importance of sacrifices.  Here it is the opposite.  God would delight in right sacrifices, various burnt offers, and all those bulls on his altar.  This seems to go against the whole theme of this psalm, but brings the repentance back to ritual sacrifices.

The library of Nehemiah (2 Macc 2:13-2:15)

“The same things are reported in the records

And in the memoirs of Nehemiah.

He also founded a library.

He collected the books about the kings and prophets,

And the writings of David.

He collected the letters of kings about votive offerings.

In the same way Judas also collected all the books

That had been lost on account of the war

That had come upon us.

Now they are in our possession.

So if you have need of them,

Send people to get them for you.”

We do have the book of Nehemiah. Whether there were other records or memoires that is mentioned in a library, we are not sure. Nowhere else is there a mention of a library, but Nehemiah and Ezra were 5th century BCE scholars who worked with the law. They may have been the first to have what might be called an unofficial canon of the Bible. He may have been the one who collected the works of the prophets and the books about the kings together with the Pentateuch to create the Hebrew Bible. Judas Maccabeus may have done the same thing. He may have gathered all the biblical books into a library since that is what the Bible means, a library of books. The other biblical moment would have been under King Josiah in the 7th century BCE, when they discovered the book of the law. These Jewish people were willing to lend them out. Alexandria was a major world library at this time. It was there in the 2nd and 3rd century BCE that the translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek Septuagint Bible took place. This is one of the few biblical occasions where someone is vaguely talking about the makeup of the Bible itself.

The sacredness of naphtha (2 Macc 1:30-1:36)

“Then the priests sang the hymns.

After the materials of the sacrifice had been consumed,

Nehemiah ordered that the liquid that was left

Should be poured upon large stones.

When this was done,

A flame blazed up.

But when the light from the altar shone back,

It went out.

When this matter became known,

It was reported to the king of the Persians.

The place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire,

The liquid had appeared

With which Nehemiah and his associates

Had burned the materials of the sacrifice.

The king investigated the matter.

He enclosed the place.

He made it sacred.

With those persons whom the king favored

He exchanged many excellent gifts.

Nehemiah and his associates called this nephthar.

This means purification.

However, by most people it is called naphtha.”

After the priests had sung their hymns and the sacrifice had been consumed, Nehemiah ordered that the left over liquid be poured on large stones. A blaze started when the sun was shining brightly. However, when the sun was not out, there was no flame. This was reported to the king of Persia. Nehemiah was a trusted cupbearer for King Artaxerxes who investigated this material. He then called the place where it was found to be sacred. In fact, he gave this as gifts. Thus naphtha, nephthar, or oil gained its importance.

The importance of fire (2 Macc 1:19-1:23)

“When our ancestors were being led captive to Persia,

The pious priests of that time took

Some of the fire of the altar.

They secretly hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern.

They took such precautions

That the place was unknown to anyone.

But after many years had passed,

When it pleased God,

Nehemiah, having been commissioned by the king of Persia,

Sent the descendants of the priests

Who had hidden the fire to get it.

When they reported to us

That they had not found fire

But only a thick liquid,

He ordered them to dip it out and bring it.

When the materials for the sacrifices were presented,

Nehemiah ordered the priests

To sprinkle the liquid on the wood

And on the things laid upon it.

When this was done,

Some time had passed.

The sun, which had been clouded over,

Shone out,

A great fire blazed up,

So that all marveled.

While the sacrifice was being consumed,

The priests offered prayer.

The priests and everyone,

Jonathan led.

The rest responded,

As did Nehemiah.”

There is nothing in the book of Nehemiah about this fire incident. If anything it is a reference to the cult of fire among the Persians. Somehow the captured Israelite priests hid a fire that had been on an altar in a dry cistern that no one knew about. How could a fire keep going it no feeds it? When Nehemiah asked the descendents of these priests to get the fire, they told him that they only had a thick liquid that could have been naphtha or petro-chemical oil, which of course, was found in the Persian area. They put wood on it. When the sun shone it, it burst into flames so that it consumed the sacrifice. Obviously, the priests and everyone offered sacrifices. A certain Jonathan seemed to be the priest leader of this ceremony.