like Achior, an Israelite
Part One (b)
Emphasises his Descent from Abraham
Damien F. Mackey
‘Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering,
and our ancestors could not find food’.
“Achior” of the Book of Judith was, as I have argued on various occasions, the Israelite Ahikar, a “nephew” of Tobit of the tribe of Naphtali (Tobit 1:1, 22).
However “Achior”, when informing “Holofernes” of the identification of the mountain folk who were resisting the Assyrian army – these folk, too, being Israelites – in a speech reminiscent of St. Stephen’s to the Sanhedrin, will, unlike Stephen, refer to ‘their ancestors’.
Stephen, on the other hand, will claim the same people as ‘our ancestors’.
Firstly, to “Achior”, who will declare (Judith 5:6-8):
‘These people are the descendants of some Babylonians who abandoned the ways of their ancestors in order to worship the God of heaven. Finally, they were driven out of their land because they refused to worship their ancestors’ gods. Then they fled to Mesopotamia, where they settled and lived for a long time’.
Stephen, by contrast, will proclaim (Acts 7:2-3, 11-12, 15, 18-19, 37-39, 44-45):
‘Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran. ‘Leave your country and your people,’ God said, ‘and go to the land I will show you.’
Then a famine struck all Egypt and Canaan, bringing great suffering, and our ancestors could not find food. When Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent our forefathers on their first visit.
Then Jacob went down to Egypt, where he and our ancestors died.
Then ‘a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing, came to power in Egypt. He dealt treacherously with our people and oppressed our ancestors by forcing them to throw out their newborn babies so that they would die.
This is the Moses who told the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your own people.’ He was in the assembly in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors; and he received living words to pass on to us. But our ancestors refused to obey him.
Our ancestors had the tabernacle of the covenant law with them in the wilderness. It had been made as God directed Moses, according to the pattern he had seen. After receiving the tabernacle, our ancestors under Joshua brought it with them when they took the land from the nations God drove out before them. …’.
It is at this point, however, that St. Stephen will make a dramatic switch of possessive pronoun. His former use of our ancestors now becomes – as Stephen reflects back upon those ancestors of his who had proven to be faithless – ‘your ancestors’ (Acts 7:51-53):
‘You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it’.