Not many of my readers are familiar with the writings known as the Apocrypha. I find it a shame it took me so long to discover something so important in classical literature and art, but better late than never. Anyway, parts of it are fascinating, other parts less so. For me, wading through the books of the Maccabees is somewhat of a slog, as I'm not fond of endless recountings of wars and battles—not here, not in the Old Testament, not in the Iliad—but that's just me. True, it's interesting to read about the historical period between the Old and New Testaments; nonetheless I find the stories of Tobit, Judith, and Susannah more enjoyable.

There are some gems hidden amongst the tales of fighting, and here is one of them, found in the first chapter of Second Maccabees:

When our fathers were being led captive to Persia, the pious priests of that time took some of the fire of the altar and secretly hid it in the hollow of a dry cistern, where they took such precautions that the place was unknown to any one. 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. And when they reported to us that they had not found fire but thick liquid, he ordered them to dip it out and bring it. And when the materials for the sacrifices were presented, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle the liquid on the wood and what was laid upon it. When this was done and some time had passed and the sun, which had been clouded over, shone out, a great fire blazed up, so that all marveled. ... Nehemiah and his associates called this “nephthar,” which means purification, but by most people it is called naphtha.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 1, 2022 at 6:39 am | Edit
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