The collection of texts originating among the Hebrews of the first millennium B.C., the Hebrew Bible, generally referred to as the Tanakh by Jews and as the Old Testament by Christians, is a compilation recognized as scriptural in both traditions. It is complex in textual history. Written in classical Hebrew (except for some brief portions in a cognate language, Aramaic), it includes material believed to have been transmitted orally, as well as in written form, spanning over a thousand years of history from the 12th through the 1st century B.C.. No original manuscripts from the earliest period have survived, though the Qumran manuscripts of some sections, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, date from as early as the 1st century B.C. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Jewish religious leaders compiled a comprehensive text from those manuscripts that survived the destruction; the earliest surviving manuscripts of this Bible date from the 9th century A.D..
The oldest sections of the Hebrew Bible, the “five books of Moses” or Pentateuch, comprising the Torah in the strict sense, are the five books from Genesis through Deuteronomy. These books, from which the first two selections here are taken, provide among other things the Hebrews’ origin accounts. The Deuteronomic histories (the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings), which chronicle Hebrew history, are the source of the second two selections. A selection is also included from the Book of Job, framed around a central poetic dialogue, probably written around the time of the Persian Conquest and the Jewish Exile of the 6th century B.C. Also included is a passage from one of the Apocrypha: II Maccabees. The Apocrypha are books and portions of books written in Hebrew or Greek in the second and first centuries B.C., ultimately rejected as canonical by later Jewish authorities but preserved in Christian textual collections and whose inclusion in the Old Testament canon was disputed by Christian thinkers. While II Maccabees is not recognized as part of the Hebrew Bible by Jews or as part of the Old Testament by Protestant Christians, it is recognized as scriptural and part of the Old Testament by Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
Within the older material of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, two kinds of text bear on the issue of suicide: statements or imperatives held to define the morality of suicide, and accounts of specific instances of suicide. Of the first kind are Genesis 9:5, “for your lifeblood I will demand satisfaction,” now often said to be the basis on which Judaism’s prohibition of suicide is grounded, and Exodus 20:13, “thou shalt not kill” (or, in the New English Bible translation used here, “Do not commit murder”), the principal basis of Christianity’s prohibition. Christian authors do not typically appeal to Genesis 9:5 as the basis of the prohibition, nor do Jewish authors typically appeal to Exodus 20:13, though both texts are scriptural for both traditions. Of the second kind are the six instances of suicide narrated in the Hebrew Bible proper, as well as two in the Apocrypha: Abimelech (Judges 9:54); Samson (Judges 16:23-32); Saul and his armor bearer (the story runs continuously from I Samuel 31:4 through II Samuel 1:6, and is also related in I Chronicles 10:4); Ahithophel (II Samuel 17:23); Zimri (I Kings 16:18); Razis (II Maccabees 14:41); and Ptolemy Macron (II Maccabees 10:13). These narratives neither moralize about suicide nor express any explicit prohibition of self-killing. Job provides a negative instance of suicide, in which it is not undertaken despite a strong wish for death and a wife’s urging, and the Book of Daniel’s account of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego as they are thrown into the fiery furnace has served in the Jewish tradition as a paradigm of martyrdom to avoid apostasy (generally distinguished from suicide).
These texts pose numerous interpretive challenges. The plain meaning of the selection from Genesis does not explicitly address suicide per se. The explanation of how it has come to serve as the basis of Judaism’s prohibition of suicide involves what Noam Zohar calls “creative midrashic interpretation—so grammatically fantastic (as is not unusual in midrash) as to hardly merit being called an ‘interpretation’ at all.” Daniel Greenwood, in contrast, disagrees that there is a syntactical problem. But both agree on the conceptual implications: Genesis 9:5 eloquently expresses a basic valuation of human life, easily extended to a new context. As Zohar says, its “proclaim[ation of] the sanctity of human life, created in God’s image, and the consequent view of its destruction as amounting to sacrilege . . . provides (far more clearly than a turn of phrase in verse 9:5) the basis for the later midrashic interpretation as prohibiting suicide. . . .” The later interpretation applying the verse to suicide is to be found in Genesis Rabbah [q.v.] and in subsequent texts, including Tosafot [q.v.].
The story of Samson in Judges 16, which may seem to have implications for contemporary discussions of tactical suicide in military and quasi-military situations for subject peoples, is notable for its reference to intention. Samson asks for (and apparently receives) God’s assistance in destroying over 3,000 people and killing himself in the process. As in other military cultures, it is unclear whether Samson’s own death, whether seen as revenge for his blinding or as self-sacrifice in the cause of military success, is to be classified as a form of suicide.
1 Samuel 31:3 and the beginning of II Samuel present a substantial textual challenge: the phrase rendered here describing Saul as “wounded severely” can also be translated, and perhaps more plausibly, as holding that Saul was “very afraid of the archers.” How the passage is translated and how the alternative versions are understood make substantial differences in whether Saul’s suicide, or request for euthanasia, the coup de grâce, is to be understood as preemptive, as the hastening of a dying process already underway, as an act of cowardice, or—as David appears to think—murder, indeed regicide.
In the Book of Job—its inquisition modeled, some commentators hold, on the Persian secret service of the post-Conquest period—God permits “the Adversary,” Satan, to test Job’s renowned piety by imposing hardships on him. Job has had an ample family, extensive property, and good fortune and repute; and so, Satan argues, faith may be easy. With the permission of God, Satan inflicts a series of calamities on Job: his family dies, he loses his property, and he suffers painful physical ailments. The text is excerpted here to highlight not so much Job’s remonstration with God, the usual focus of readings of the text, but the strength of Job’s wish for death. In later commentaries, Job stands as the preeminent scriptural figure of endurance: Despite his wish for death as a relief from his unbearable afflictions, and even in spite of his wife’s suggestion that he curse God and thereby bring about his own death, he does not kill himself.
The selection from the Book of Daniel relates the story of Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah, who have been given the foreign names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; it describes how they are thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. Even though they are miraculously saved in the end, their willingness to die rather than commit apostasy serves as a paradigm of martyrdom for much of later Judaism.
The final selection, recounting the suicide of the Jewish patriot Razis, is taken from the Apocryphal text II Maccabees. This text, said to be an abridgment of a longer historical work by Jason of Cyrene written in Greek that is no longer extant, narrates resistance under the leadership of the priest Matthias and his son Judas Maccabaeus to Hellenization by the Seleucid rulers of Palestine, and the forced introduction of idols and other forms of worship to Judea in general and the Jerusalem temple in particular. The rebellion succeeded, culminating in the rededication of the Temple in 164 B.C.. Significant in this episode is Razis’s desire, as he faces capture by the enemy, to “die nobly” in otherwise humiliating circumstances, both echoing the legacy of Saul and showing the influence of Roman Stoicism.
Genesis 9:1-6; Exodus 20:1-22; Judges 15:9-16:31; I Samuel 31:1-II Samuel 1:16; Job 1:1-4:17, 5:6-5:9, 5:17-5:18, 6:1-7:21, 9:32-10:22, 27:1-6, 36:1-12, 37:14-16, 37:19-38:18, 42:1-6; II Maccabees 14:37, The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha, eds. M. Jack Suggs, Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, and James R. Mueller, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 18, 82-83, 264-266; 310-311; 510-517, 519-520, 534, 543-546, 549-550, 1255-1256. The Book of Daniel, The New English Bible, with the Apocrypha, Oxford Study Edition, ed. Samuel Sandmel, New York: Oxford University Press, 1976, pp. 945-950. Quotations in introduction from Noam Zohar and Daniel J.H. Greenwood.
from THE HEBREW BIBLE/THE OLD TESTAMENT
The Prohibition of Bloodshed
God blessed Noah and his sons; he said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in numbers, and fill the earth. Fear and dread of you will come on all the animals on earth, on all the birds of the air, on everything that moves on the ground, and on all fish in the sea; they are made subject to you. Every creature that lives and moves will be food for you; I give them all to you, as I have given you every green plant. But you must never eat flesh with its life still in it, that is the blood.
And further, for your life-blood I shall demand satisfaction; from every animal I shall require it, and from human beings also I shall require satisfaction for the death of their fellows.
‘Anyone who sheds human blood,
for that human being his blood will be shed;
because in the image of God
has God made human beings.’
The Ten Commandments
God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
You must have no other God besides me.
You must not make a carved image for yourself, not the likeness of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth.
You must not bow down to them in worship; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me. But I keep faith with thousands, those who love me and keep my commandments.
You must not make wrong use of the name of the LORD your God; the LORD will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.
Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy. You have six days to labour and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; that day you must not do any work, neither you, nor your son or your daughter, your slave or your slave-girl, your cattle, or the alien residing among you; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and on the seventh day he rested. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.
Honour your father and your mother, so that you may enjoy long life in the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
Do not commit murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not give false evidence against your neighbour.
Do not covet your neighbour’s household: you must not covet you neighbour’s wife, his slave, his slave-girl, his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to him.
When all the people saw how it thundered and the lightning flashed, when they heard the trumpet sound and saw the mountain in smoke, they were afraid and trembled. They stood at a distance and said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us or we shall die.’
Moses answered, ‘Do not be afraid. God has come only to test you, so that the fear of him may remain with you and preserve you from sinning.’ So the people kept their distance, while Moses approached the dark cloud where God was.
The LORD said to Moses, Say this to the Israelites: You know now that I have spoken from heaven to you.
Samson and the Philistines
. . . Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived by the wadi of Sorek. The lords of the Philistines went up to her and said, ‘Cajole him and find out what gives him his great strength, and how we can overpower and bind him and render him helpless. We shall each give you eleven hundred pieces of silver.’
Delilah said to Samson, ‘Tell me, what gives you your great strength? How could you be bound and made helpless?’ ‘If I were bound with seven fresh bowstrings not yet dry,’ replied Samson, ‘then I should become no stronger than any other man.’ The lords of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings not yet dry, and she bound him with them. She had men concealed in the inner room, and she cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ Thereupon he snapped the bowstrings as a strand of tow snaps at the touch of fire, and his strength was not impaired.
Delilah said to Samson, ‘You have made a fool of me and lied to me. Now tell me this time how you can be bound.’ He said to her, ‘If I were tightly bound with new ropes that have never been used, then I should become no stronger than any other man.’
Delilah took new ropes and bound him with them. Then, with men concealed in the inner room, she cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the ropes off his arms like thread.
Delilah said to him, ‘You are still making a fool of me, still lying to me. Tell me: how can you be bound?’ He said, ‘Take the seven loose locks of my hair, weave them into the warp, and drive them tight with the beater; then I shall become no stronger than any other man.’ So she lulled him to sleep, wove the seven loose locks of his hair into the warp, drove them tight with the beater, and cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He woke from sleep and pulled away the warp and the loom with it.
She said to him, ‘How can you say you love me when you do not confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and have not told me what gives you your great strength.’ She so pestered him with these words day after day, pressing him hard and wearying him to death, that he told her the whole secret. ‘No razor has touched my head,’ he said, ‘because I am a Nazirite, consecrated to God from the day of my birth. If my head were shaved, then my strength would leave me, and I should become no stronger than any other man.’
Delilah realized that he had told her his secret, and she sent word to the lords of the Philistines: ‘Come up at once,’ she said; ‘he has told me his secret.’ The lords of the Philistines came, bringing the money with them.
She lulled Samson to sleep on her lap, and then summoned a man to shave the seven locks of his hair. She was now making him helpless. When his strength had left him, she cried, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He woke from his sleep and thought, ‘I will go out as usual and shake myself’; he did not know that the Lord had left him. Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes, and brought him down toGaza. There they bound him with bronze fetters, and he was set to grinding grain in the prison. But his hair, after it had been shaved, began to grow again.
The lords of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to their god Dagon, and to rejoice and say, ‘Our god has delivered into our hands Samson our enemy.’
The people, when they saw him, praised their god, chanting: ‘Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the scourge of our land who piled it with our dead.’
When they grew merry, they said, ‘Call Samson, and let him entertain us.’ When Samson was summoned from prison, he was a source of entertainment to them. They then stood him between the pillars, and Samson said to the boy who led him by the hand, ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars which support the temple, so that I may lean against them.’ The temple was full of men and women, and all the lords of the Philistines were there, and there were about three thousand men and women on the roof watching the entertainment.
Samson cried to the Lord and said, ‘Remember me, Lord God, remember me: for this one occasion, God, give me strength, and let me at one stroke be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.’ He put his arms round the two central pillars which supported the temple, his right arm round one and his left round the other and, bracing himself, he said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ Then Samson leaned forward with all his might, and the temple crashed down on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those he had killed in his life.
I SAMUEL—II SAMUEL
Saul and his Armor-Bearer
The Philistines engaged Israel in battle, and the Israelites were routed, leaving their dead on Mount Gilboa. The Philistines closely pursued Saul and his sons, and Jonathan, Adinadab, and Malchishua, the sons of Saul, were killed. The battle went hard for Saul, and when the archers caught up with him they wounded him severely. He said to his armour-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and run me through, so that these uncircumcised brutes may not come and taunt me and make sport of me.’ But the armour-bearer refused; he dared not do it. Thereupon Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armour-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him. So they died together on that day, Saul, his three sons, and his armour-bearer, as well as all his men. When the Israelites in the neighborhood of the valley and of the Jordan saw that the other Israelites had fled and that Saul and his sons had perished, they fled likewise, abandoning their towns; and the Philistines moved in and occupied them.
Next day, when the Philistines came to strip the slain, they found Saul and his three sons lying dead on Mount Gilboa. They cut off his head and stripped him of his armour; then they sent messengers through the length and breadth of their land to carry the good news to idols and people alike. They deposited his armour in the temple of Ashtorethand nailed his body on the wall of Beth-shan. When the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, all the warriors among them set out and journeyed through the night to recover the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Beth-shan. They brought them back to Jabesh and burned them; they took the bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and for seven days they fasted.
AFTER Saul’s death David returned from his victory over the Amalekites and spent two days in Ziklag. On the third day a man came from Saul’s camp; his clothes were torn and there was dust on his head. Coming into David’s presence he fell to the ground and did obeisance. David asked him where he had come from, and he replied, ‘I have escaped from the Israelite camp.’ David said, ‘What is the news? Tell me.’ ‘The army has been driven from the field,’ he answered, ‘many have fallen in battle, and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead.’ David said to the young man who brought the news, ‘How do you know that Saul and Jonathan are dead?’ He answered, ‘It so happened that I was onMountGilboaand saw Saul leaning on his spear with the chariots and horsemen closing in on him. He turned and, seeing me, called to me. I said, “What is it, sir?” He asked me who I was, and I said, “An Amalekite.” He said to me, “Come and stand over me and dispatch me. I still live, but the throes of death have seized me.” So I stood over him and dealt him the death blow, for I knew that, stricken as he was, he could not live. Then I took the crown from his head and the armlet from his arm, and I have brought them here to you, my lord.’ At that David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept, and they fasted till evening because Saul and Jonathan his son and the army of the Lord and the house of Israel had fallen in battle.
David said to the young man who brought him the news. ‘Where do you come from?’ and he answered, ‘I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite.’ ‘How is it’, said David, ‘that you were not afraid to raise your hand to kill the Lord’s anointed?’ Summoning one of his own young men he ordered him to fall upon the Amalekite. The young man struck him down and he died. David said, ‘Your blood be on your own head; for out of your own mouth you condemned yourself by saying, “I killed the LORD’s anointed.”’
THE BOOK OF JOB
The Sufferings of Job
THERE lived in the land of Uz a man of blameless and upright life named Job, who feared God and set his face against wrongdoing. He had seven sons and three daughters; and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she-donkeys, together with a large number of slaves. Thus Job was the greatest man in all the East.
His sons used to meet together and give, each in turn, a banquet in his own house, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. Then, when a round of banquets was over, Job would send for his children and sanctify them, rising early in the morning and sacrificing a whole offering for each of them; for he thought that they might somehow have sinned against God and committed blasphemy in their hearts. This Job did regularly.
The day came when the members of the court of heaven took their places in the presence of the LORD, and the Adversary, Satan, was there among them. The LORD asked him where he had been. ‘Ranging over the earth’, said the Adversary, ‘from end to end.’
The LORD asked him, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? You will find no one like him on earth, a man of blameless and upright life, who fears God and sets his face against wrongdoing.’ ‘Has not Job good reason to be godfearing?’ answered the Adversary.
‘Have you not hedged him round on every side with your protection, him and his family and all his possessions? Whatever he does you bless, and everywhere his herds have increased beyond measure. But just stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and see if he will not curse you to your face.’
‘Very well,’ said the LORD. ‘All that he has is in your power; only the man himself you must not touch.’ With that the Adversary left the LORD’s presence.
On the day when Job’s sons and daughters were eating and drinking in the eldest brother’s house, a messenger came to Job and said, ‘The oxen were ploughing and the donkeys were grazing near them, when the Sabaeans swooped down and carried them off, after putting the herdsmen to the sword; only I have escaped to bring you the news.’
While he was still speaking, another messenger arrived and said, ‘God’s fire flashed from heaven, striking the sheep and the shepherds and burning them up; only I have escaped to bring you the news.’ While he was still speaking, another arrived and said, ‘The Chaldaeans, three bands of them, have made a raid on the camels and carried them off, after putting those tending them to the sword; only I have escaped to bring you the news.’ While this man was speaking, yet another arrived and said, ‘Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking in their eldest brother’s house, when suddenly a whirlwind swept across from the desert and struck the four corners of the house, which fell on the young people. They are dead, and only I have escaped to bring you the news.’
At this Job stood up, tore his cloak, shaved his head, and threw himself prostrate on the ground, saying:
‘Naked I came from the womb,
naked I shall return whence I came.
The LORD gives and the LORD takes away;
blessed be the name of the LORD.’
Throughout all this Job did not sin, nor did he ascribe any fault to God.
Once again the day came when the members of the court of heaven took their places in the presence of the LORD, and the Adversary was there among them. The LORD enquired where he had been. ‘Ranging over the earth’, said the Adversary, ‘from end to end.’ The LORD asked, ‘Have you considered my servant Job? You will find no one like him on earth, a man of blameless and upright life, who fears God and sets his face against wrongdoing. You incited me to ruin him without cause, but he still holds fast to his integrity.’ The Adversary replied, ‘Skin for skin! To save himself there is nothing a man will withhold. But just reach out your hand and touch his bones and his flesh, and see if he will not curse you to your face.’ The LORD said to the Adversary, ‘So be it. He is in your power; only spare his life.’
When the Adversary left the LORD’s presence, he afflicted Job with running sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head, and Job took a piece of a broken pot to scratch himself as he sat among the ashes. His wife said to him, ‘Why do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God, and die!’
He answered, ‘You talk as any impious woman might talk. If we accept good from God, shall we not accept evil?’ Throughout all this, Job did not utter one sinful word.
When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz of Teman, Bildad of Shuah, and Zophar of Naamah, heard of all these calamities which had overtaken him, they set out from their homes, arranging to go and condole with him and comfort him. But when they first saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him; they wept aloud, tore their cloaks, and tossed dust into the air over their heads.
For seven days and seven nights they sat beside him on the ground, and none of them spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
Job’s complaint to God
AFTER this Job broke his silence and cursed the day of his birth:
Perish the day when I was born, and the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived’!
May that day turn to darkness;
may God above not look for it,
nor light of dawn shine on it.
May gloom and deep darkness claim it again;
May cloud smother that day, blackness eclipse its sun.
May blind darkness swallow up that night!
May it not be counted among the days of the year
or reckoned in the cycle of the months.
May that night be barren for ever,
may no cry of joy be heard in it.
Let it be cursed by those whose spells bind the sea monster,
who have the skill to tame Leviathan.
May no star shine out in its twilight;
may it wait for a dawn that never breaks,
and never see the eyelids of the morning,
because it did not shut the doors of the womb that bore me
and keep trouble away from my sight.
Why was I not stillborn,
Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?
Why was I ever laid on my mother’s Knees
or put to suck at her breasts?
Or why was I not concealed like an untimely birth,
like an infant who never saw the light?
For now I should be lying in the quiet grave,
asleep in death, at rest
with kings and their earthly counselors
who built for themselves cities now laid waste,
or with princes rich in gold
whose houses were replete with silver.
There the wicked chafe no more,
there the tired labourer takes his ease;
the captive too finds peace there,
no slave-driver’s voice reaches him;
high and low alike are there,
even the slave, free from his master.
Why should the sufferer be born to see the light?
Why is life given to those who find it so bitter?
They long for death but it does not come,
they seek it more eagerly than hidden treasure.
They are glad when they reach the grave;
when they come to the tomb they exult.
Why should a man be born to wander blindly,
hedged about by God on every side?
Sighing is for me all my food;
groans pour from me in a torrent.
Every terror that haunted me has caught up with me.
There is no peace of mind, no quiet for me;
trouble comes, and I have no rest. . . .
. . . Does not every mortal have hard service on earth,
and are not his days like those of a hired labourer,
like those of a slave longing for the shade
or a servant kept waiting for his wages?
So months of futility are my portion,
troubled nights are my lot.
When I lie down, I think,
‘When will it be day, that I may rise?’
But the night drags on,
and I do nothing but toss till dawn.
My body is infested with worms,
and scabs cover my skin;
it is cracked and discharging.
My days pass more swiftly than a weaver’s shuttle
and come to an end as the thread of life runs out.
Remember that my life is but a breath of wind;
I shall never again see good times.
The eye that now sees me will behold me no more;
under your very eyes I shall vanish.
As a cloud breaks up and disperses,
so no one who goes down to Sheol ever comes back;
he never returns to his house,
and his abode knows him no more.
But I cannot hold my peace;
I shall speak out in my anguish of spirit
and complain in my bitterness of soul.
Am I the monster of the deep, am I the sea serpent,
that you set a watch over me?
When I think that my bed will comfort me,
that sleep will receive my complaint,
you terrify me with dreams
and affright me through visions.
I would rather be choked outright;
death would be better than these sufferings of mine.
I am in despair, I have no desire to live;
let me alone, for my days are but a breath.
What is man, that you make much of him
and turn your thoughts towards him,
only to punish him morning after morning
or to test him every hour of the day?
Will you not look away from me for an instant,
leave me long enough to swallow my spittle?
If I have sinned, what harm can I do you,
you watcher of the human heart?
Why have you made me your target?
Why have I become a burden to you?
Why do you not pardon my offence
and take away my guilt?
For soon I shall lie in the dust of the grave;
you may seek me, but I shall be no more.
God is not as I am, not someone I can challenge,
and say, ‘Let us confront one another in court.’
If only there were one to arbitrate between us
and impose his authority on us both,
so that God might take his rod from my back,
and terror of him might not come on me suddenly.
I should then speak out without fear of him,
for I know I am not what I am thought to be.
I am sickened of life . . .
You granted me life and continuing favour,
and your providence watched over my spirit.
Yet this was the secret purpose of your heart,
and I know what was your intent:
that, if I sinned, you would be watching me
and would not absolve me of my guilt.
If indeed I am wicked, all the worse for me!
If I am upright, I cannot hold up my head;
I am filled with shame and steeped in my affliction.
If I am proud as a lion, you hunt me down
and confront me again with marvelous power;
you renew your onslaught on me,
and with mounting anger against me
bring fresh forces to the attack.
Why did you bring me out of the womb?
Better if I had expired and no one had set eyes on me,
if I had been carried from womb to grave
and were as though I had not been born.
Is not my life short and fleeting?
Let me be, that I may be happy for a moment,
before I depart to a land of gloom,
a land of deepest darkness, never to return,
a land of dense darkness and disorder,
increasing darkness lit by no ray of light.
Then Job resumed his discourse
I swear by the living God, who has denied me justice,
by the Almighty, who has filled me with bitterness,
that so long as there is any life left in me
and the breath of God is in my nostrils,
no untrue word will pass my lips,
nor will my tongue utter any falsehood.
Far be it from me to concede that you are right!
Till I cease to be, I shall not abandon my claim of innocence.
I maintain and shall never give up the rightness of my cause;
so long as I live, I shall not change.
God’s answer and Job’s submission
THEN the LORD answered Job out of the tempest:
Who is this who darkens counsel
with words devoid of knowledge?
Brace yourself and stand up like a man;
I shall put questions to you, and you must answer.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, if you know and understand.
Who fixed its dimensions? Surely you know!
Who stretched a measuring line over it?
On what do its supporting pillars rest?
Who set its corner-stone in place,
while the morning stars sang in chorus
and the sons of God all shouted for joy?. . .
Who supported the sea at its birth,
when it burst in flood from the womb—
when I wrapped it in a blanket of cloud
and swaddled it in dense fog,
when I established its bounds,
set its barred doors in place,
and said, ‘Thus far may you come but no farther;
here your surging waves must halt’?
In all your life have you ever called up the dawn
or assigned the morning its place?
Have you taught it to grasp the fringes of the earth
and shake the Dog-star from the sky;
to bring up the horizon in relief as clay under a seal,
until all things stand out like the folds of a cloak,
when the light of the Dog-star is dimmed
and the stars of the Navigator’s Line go out one by one?
Have you gone down to the springs of the sea
or walked in the unfathomable deep?
Have the portals of death been revealed to you?
Have you seen the door-keepers of the place of darkness?
Have you comprehended the vast expanse on the world?
Tell me all this, if you know.
Job answered the LORD
I know that you can do all things
and that no purpose is beyond you.
You ask: Who is this obscuring counsel yet lacking knowledge?
But I have spoken of things
which I have not understood,
things too wonderful for me to know.
Listen, and let me speak. You said:
I shall put questions to you, and you must answer.
I knew of you then only by report,
but now I see you with my own eyes.
Therefore I yield,
repenting in dust and ashes.
WHEN the LORD had finished speaking to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My anger is aroused against you and your two friends, because, unlike my servant Job, you have not spoken as you ought about me.
Now take seven bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job and offer a whole-offering for yourselves, and he will intercede for you. I shall surely show him favour by not being harsh with you because you have not spoken as you ought about me, as he has done.’
Then Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and carried out the Lord’s command, and the Lord showed favour to Job when he had interceded for his friends.
The LORD restored Job’s fortunes, and gave him twice the possessions he had before . . . Job lived another hundred and forty years; he saw his sons and his grandsons to four generations, and he died at a very great age.
Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego and the Fiery Furnace
In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and laid siege to it. The LORD delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his power, together with all that was left of the vessels of the house of God; and he carried them off to the land of Shinar, to the temple of his god, where he deposited the vessels in the treasury. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to take certain of the Israelite exiles, of the blood royal and of the nobility, who were to be young men of good looks and bodily without fault, at home in all branches of knowledge, well-informed, intelligent, and fit for service in the royal court; and he was to instruct them in the literature and language of the Chaldaeans. The king assigned them a daily allowance of food and wine from the royal table. Their training was to last for three years, and at the end of that time they would enter the royal service.
Among them there were certain young men from Judah called Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; but the master of the eunuchs gave them new names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah Shadrach, Mishael Meshach and Azariah Abednego. Now Daniel determined not to contaminate himself by touching the food and wine assigned to him by the king, and he begged the master of the eunuchs not to make him do so. God made the master show kindness and goodwill to Daniel, and he said to him, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king: he has assigned you your food and drink, and if he sees you looking dejected, unlike the other young men of your own age, it will cost me my head.’ Then Daniel said to the guard whom the master of the eunuchs had put in charge of Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah and himself, ‘Submit us to this test for ten days. Give us only vegetables to eat and water to drink; then compare our looks with those of the young men who have lived on the food assigned by the king, and be guided in your treatment of us by what you see.’ The guard listened to what they said and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days they looked healthier and were better nourished than all the young men who had lived on the food assigned them by the king. So the guard took away the assignment of food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them only the vegetables.
To all four of these young men God had given knowledge and understanding of books and learning of every kind, while Daniel had a gift for interpreting visions and dreams of every kind. The time came which the king had fixed for introducing the young men to court, and the master of the eunuchs brought them into the presence of Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them and found none of them to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the royal service. Whenever the king consulted them on any matter calling for insight and judgement, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and exorcists in his whole kingdom. Now Daniel was there till the first year of King Cyrus.
In the second year of his reign Nebuchadnezzar had dreams, and his mind was so troubled that he could not sleep. Then the king gave orders to summon the magicians, exorcists, sorcerers, and Chaldaeans to tell him what he had dreamt. They came in and stood in the royal presence, and the king said to them, ‘I have had a dream and my mind has been troubled to know what my dream was.’ The Chaldaeans, speaking in Aramaic, said, ‘Long live the king! Tell us what you dreamt and we will tell you the interpretation.’ The king answered. ‘This is my declared intention. If you do not tell me both dream and interpretation, you shall be torn in pieces and your houses shall be forfeit. But if you can tell me the dream and the interpretation, you will be richly rewarded and loaded with honours. Tell me, therefore, the dream and its interpretation.’ They answered a second time, ‘Let the king tell his servants the dream, and we will tell him the interpretation.’ The king answered, ‘It is clear to me that you are trying to gain time, because you see that my intention has been declared. If you do not make known to me the dream, there is one law that applies to you, and one only. What is more, you have agreed among yourselves to tell me a pack of lies to my face in the hope that with time things may alter. Tell me the dream, therefore, and I shall know that you can give me the interpretation.’ The Chaldaeans answered in the presence of the king, ‘Nobody on earth can tell your majesty what you wish to know; no great king or prince has ever made such a demand of magician, exorcist, or Chaldaean. What your majesty requires of us is too hard; there is no one but the gods, who dwell remote from mortal men, who can give you the answer.’ At this the king lost his temper and in a great rage ordered the death of all the wise men of Babylon. A decree was issued that the wise men were to be executed, and accordingly men were sent to fetch Daniel and his companions for execution.
When Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, was setting out to execute the wise men ofBabylon, Daniel approached him cautiously and with discretion and said, ‘Sir, you represent the king; why has his majesty issued such a peremptory decree?’ Arioch explained everything; so Daniel went in to the king’s presence and begged for a certain time by which he would give the king the interpretation. Then Daniel went home and told the whole story to his companions, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They should ask the God of heaven in his mercy, he said, to disclose this secret, so that they and he with the rest of the wise men of Babylon should not be put to death. Then in a vision by night the secret was revealed to Daniel, and he blessed the God of heaven in these words:
Blessed be God’s name from age to age,
for all wisdom and power are his.
He changes seasons and times;
he deposes kings and sets them up;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and all their store of knowledge to
the men who know;
he reveals deep mysteries;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light has its dwelling with him.
To thee, God of my fathers, I give
thanks and praise,
for thou hast given me wisdom and power;
thou hast now revealed to me what we asked,
and told us what the king is
concerned to know.
Daniel therefore went to Arioch who had been charged by the king to put to death the wise men of Babylon and said to him, ‘Do not put the wise men of Babylon to death. Take me into the king’s presence, and I will now tell him the interpretation of the dream.’ Arioch in great trepidation brought Daniel before the king and said to him, ‘I have found among the Jewish exiles a man who will make known to your majesty the interpretation of your dream.’ Thereupon the king said to Daniel (who was also called Belteshazzar), ‘Can you tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?’ Daniel answered in the king’s presence, ‘The secret about which your majesty inquires no wise man, exorcist, magician, or diviner can disclose to you. But there is in heaven a god who reveals secrets, and he has told King Nebuchadnezzar what is to be at the end of this age. This is the dream and these the visions that came into your head: the thoughts that came to you, O king, as you lay on your bed, were thoughts of things to come, and the revealer of secrets has made known to you what is to be. This secret has been revealed to me not because I am wise beyond all living men, but because your majesty is to know the interpretation and understand the thoughts which have entered you mind.
‘As you watched, O king, you saw a great image. This image, huge and dazzling, towered before you, fearful to behold. The head of the image was of fine gold, its breast and arms of silver, its belly and thighs of bronze,e its legs of iron, its feet part iron and part clay. While you looked, a stone was hewn from a mountain, not by human hands; it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay and shattered them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, were all shattered to fragments and were swept away like chaff before the wind from a threshing floor in summer, until no trace of them remained. But the stone which struck the image grew into a great mountain filling the whole earth. That was the dream. We shall now tell your majesty the interpretation. You, O king, king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom with all its power, authority, and honour; in whose hands he has placed men and beasts and birds of the air, wherever they dwell, granting you sovereignty over them all—you are that head of gold. After you there shall arise another kingdom, inferior to yours, and yet a third kingdom, of bronze, which shall have sovereignty over the whole world. And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron; as iron shatters and destroys all things, it shall break and shatter the whole earth. As, in your vision, the feet and toes were part potter’s clay and part iron, it shall be a divided kingdom. Its core shall be partly of iron just as you saw iron mixed with the common clay; as the toes were part iron and part clay, the kingdom shall be partly strong and partly brittle. As, in your vision, the iron was mixed with common clay, so shall men mix with each other by intermarriage, but such alliances shall not be stable: iron does not mix with clay. In the period of those kings the God of heaven will establish a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; that kingdom shall never pass to another people; it shall shatter and make an end of all these kingdoms, while it shall itself endure for ever. This is the meaning of your vision of the stone being hewn from a mountain, not by human hands, and then shattering the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold. The mighty God has made known to your majesty what is to be hereafter. The dream is sure and the interpretation to be trusted.’
Then King Nebuchadnezzar prostrated himself and worshipped Daniel, and gave orders that sacrifices and soothing offerings should be made to him. ‘Truly,’ he said, ‘your god is indeed God of gods and Lord over kings, a revealer of secrets, since you have been able to reveal this secret.’ Then the king promoted Daniel, bestowed on him many rich gifts, and made him regent over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men ofBabylon. Moreover at Daniel’s request the king put Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in charge of the administration of the province of Babylon. Daniel himself, however, remained at court.
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet broad. He had it set up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent out a summons to assemble the satraps, prefects, viceroys, counselors, treasurers, judges, chief constables, and all governors of provinces to attend the dedication of the image which he had set up. So they assembled—the satraps, prefects, viceroys, counselors, treasurers, judges, chief constables, and all governors of provinces—for the dedication of the image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up; and they stood before the image which Nebuchadnezzar had set up. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, ‘O peoples and nations of every language, you are commanded, when you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, triangle, dulcimer, music, and singing of every kind, to prostrate yourselves and worship the golden image which King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not prostrate himself and worship shall forthwith be thrown into a blazing furnace.’ Accordingly, no sooner did all the peoples hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, triangle, dulcimer, music, and singing of every kind, than all the peoples and nations of every language prostrated themselves and worshipped the golden image which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.
It was then that certain Chaldaeans came forward and brought a charge against the Jews. They said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Long live the king! Your majesty has issued an order that every man who hears the sound of horn, pipe, zither, triangle, dulcimer, music, and singing of every kind shall fall down and worship the image of gold. Whoever does not do so shall be thrown into a blazing furnace. There are certain Jews, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whom you have put in charge of the administration of the province of Babylon. These men, your majesty, have taken no notice of your command; they do not serve your god, nor do they worship the golden image which you have set up.’ Then in rage and fury Nebuchadnezzar ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to be fetched, and they were brought into the king’s presence. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my god or worship the golden image which I have set up? If you are ready at once to prostrate yourselves when you hear the sound of horn, pipe, zither, triangle, dulcimer, music, and singing of every kind, and to worship the image that I have set up, well and good. But if you do not worship it, you shall forthwith be thrown in to the blazing furnace; and what god is there that can save you from my power?’ Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego said to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘We have no need to answer you on this matter. If there is a god who is able to save us from the blazing furnace, it is our God whom we serve, and he will save us from your power, O king; but if not, be it known to your majesty that we will neither serve your god nor worship the golden image that you have set up.’
Then Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his face was distorted with anger. He gave orders that the furnace should be heated up to seven times its usual heat, and commanded some of the strongest men in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. Then those men in their trousers, their shirts, and their hats and all their other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. Because the king’s order was urgent and the furnace exceedingly hot, the men who were carrying Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were killed by the flames that leapt out; and those three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell bound into the blazing furnace.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was amazed and sprang to his feet in great trepidation. He said to his courtiers, ‘Was it not three men whom we threw bound into the fire?’ They answered the king, ‘Assuredly, your majesty.’ He answered, ‘Yet I see four men walking about in the fire free and unharmed; and the fourth looks like a god.’ Nebuchadnezzar approached the door of the blazing furnace and said to the men, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out, come here.’ Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, prefects, viceroys, and the king’s courtiers gathered round and saw how the fire had had no power to harm the bodies of these men; the hair of their heads had not been singed, their trousers were untouched, and no smell of fire lingered about them.
Then Nebuchadnezzar spoke out, ‘Blessed is the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. He has sent his angel to save his servants who put their trust in him, who disobeyed the royal command and were willing to yield themselves to the fire rather than to serve or worship any god other than their own God. I therefore issue a decree that any man, to whatever people or nation he belongs, whatever his language, if he speaks blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, shall be torn to pieces and his house shall be forfeit; for there is no other god who can save men in this way.’ Then the king advanced the fortunes of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
The Suicide of Razis
A man call Razis, a member of the Jerusalem senate, was denounced to Nicanor. He was a patriot and very highly spoken of, one who for his loyalty was known as Father of the Jews. In the early days of the revolt he had stood trial for practicing the Jewish religion, and with no hesitation had risked life and limb for that cause. Nicanor, wishing to demonstrate his hostility towards the Jews, sent more than five hundred soldiers to arrest Razis; he reckoned that this would be a severe blow to the Jews. The tower of his house was on the point of being captured by this mob of soldiers, the outer gate was being forced, and there were calls for fire to burn down the inner doors, when Razis, beset on every side, turned his sword on himself; he preferred to die nobly rather than fall into the hands of evil men and be subjected to gross humiliation. With everything happening so quickly, he misjudged the stroke and, now that troops were pouring through the doorways, he ran up without hesitation on to the wall and heroically threw himself down into the crowd. They hurriedly gave way and he fell to the ground in the space they left. He was still breathing and still ablaze with courage; streaming with blood and severely wounded as he was, he picked himself up and dashed through the crowd. Finally, standing on a sheer rock, and now completely drained of blood, he tore out his entrails and with both hands flung them at the crowd. And thus, invoking him who disposes of life and breath to give them back to him again, he died.