Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
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Today’s reading from Isaiah is dated around the time of King Cyrus the Great of Persia. If you remember, King Cyrus gave the Jews permission to return to Palestine in 538 BCE. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Cyrus’s kingdom went from the Aegean Sea (between Greece and Turkey) eastward to the Indus River in Tibet. His successors conquered all of Asia Minor and Egypt. From my atlas, here’s an overview of the area with the red marking the west (Aegean Sea) and east (Indus River) boundaries. It helps to know that we now associate Persia with Iran.
Here’s some art work from the period.
This is Hercules doing his first of twelve “Labours.”
Here is a basilica located in Paestum Italy. It precedes the Parthenon by 100 years.
Here’re are some Persian smiles.
Persian smiles Look at the smiles on these faces. It was thought that art depicting humans should show some kind of “sign of life,” thus the smiles on these statues. Later in classical Greece, sculptors figured out how to depict the human body with more human expression (signs of life), so the smiling faces disappeared.
4th Sunday after Epiphany
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Today’s OT reading is from Deuteronomy, one of the five books of the Pentateuch, the law code of the Hebrews attributed to Moses. The image above is the top portion of a stone slab that records the law code of the Babylonians attributed to King Hammurabi, written some hundred or so years before Moses. It depicts the standing King Hammurabi receiving the law from Babylonia’s national god of the sun. The king is holding up his right arm in a speech gesture, perhaps a prayer, and looking at the divine in the eyes, as if to report on his codification of the law.
Here is a picture of the entire 7-foot stone slab or stela entitled The Law Code of Hammurabi, displayed at the Louvre in Paris.
On the body of the stela is the Babylonian law written in cuneiform. Here is a magnification of the cuneiform from the stela.
The stela was discovered in three pieces, in Iran in 1901.
Like his predecessors, King Hammurabi (c. 1792-1750) sought for justice throughout his kingdom, which was spread along the Euphrates River from its mouth at the north end of the Persian Gulf northward through today’s Iraq and Syria, the ancient Mesopotamia.
The Babylonian law code was based on precedence, consisting of 282 legal decisions made by King Hammurabi that include economic provisions (prices, tariffs, trade and commerce), family law (marriage and divorce), criminal law (assault and theft) and civil law (slavery and debt). The most famous of its similarities to Mosaic law is its law of retaliation: an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth.
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
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I found some history and art that relates to the prophet Jonah, about whom we read in today’s lection.
When Jonah visited Nineveh, he would have preferred that his God destroy the city, as it was a dangerous rival of Israel. The Assyrians were well known for their violence and cruelty. We can see the well-developed culture of the city in the sophisticated limestone reliefs pictured below, found in Nineveh, dating to Jonah’s time period. (late 7th C. BCE)
The Sack of the City of Hamanu. Notice the detail: soldiers with pickaxes and crowbars, falling timbers and bricks in the air. Other soldiers are marching away from the burning city down a wooded hill carrying booty. At the bottom soldiers are in camp, relaxing with food and drink while one stands guard.
Here’s another one called Dying Lioness.
In ceremonial royal lion-hunting for the glorification of the king, the lion was released from a cage within a hollow square formed by troops with shields so that the king could kill her. Notice the raw emotion depicted so well even in this stone rendition. Her large front paws drag her body, punctured with arrows.
Nineveh had an elaborate system of 18 canals that brought water from nearby hills, just one of the architectural feats of King Ashurbanipal. The king also constructed a palace with a library where his scribes copied ancient texts–over 20,000 pieces of tablets and fragments, including math, botany, chemistry. Evidently, (according to Encycopedia Britannica) modern scholars are not close to completing their studies of this find.
Look at this bronze portrait sculpture that dates way before Jonah, c. 2300-2200 BCE Head of an Akkadian Ruler. Notice the plaited hair and detailed beard. Nineveh, which is now located within Mosul, Iraq was the largest and oldest Assyrian city.
References: Encyclopedia Britannica on line, Chabad.org, Bible History on line, History of Art by H.W. Janson
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