December 2 – Habakkuk the Prophet; Bibiana

Habakkuk the Prophet (fl. VII cent. BC(E)), eighth of the twelve minor prophets (collect them all!), is one of the most mysterious characters in the Hebrew Scriptures (after Bob, who is so obscure he doesn’t appear in the Bible at all[1]). All we know about him in Hebrew comes from the book that bears his name. This consist of two chapters of prophecy concerning the general state of wickedness, and the remedy, conquest by the Babylonians; and a third chapter in the form of a hymn. Net information about Habakkuk: his name.

In the Septuagint* (Bel and the Dragon) Habakkuk is called upon by an angel to deliver dinner to Daniel as he languishes in the lion’s den. When Habakkuk states (reasonably, I thought) he has no idea where Daniel is, does the angel call an Uber? Oh no. The angel grabs him by the hair of his head and hauls him off through the air. One can just hear Hab thinking, down the long centuries: “I knew I should have got that haircut last week.” The meal is delivered, and the angel drags Habakkuk back to Jerusalem. One of my Jewish sources describes it, and I do not kid, as “first historic record of a food delivery service with a half-hour guarantee.” I’ll write the comedy here, guys.

Where Scripture is mum, you can usually count on tradition to sing, and here is no exception. If you count three notes as a song. We are told: he rode out the destruction of Jerusalem in Arabia, he died at a great age (is any age really “great” to die at?), and his relics were found in the fifth century. These currently either reside in the Upper Galilee region of Israel in a nondescript XX century building, or in a curiously-shaped XII century (roughly) tomb in southeast Iran. I’m rooting for the Iran location because the tomb really is funky, a brown brick octagon with a roof like a crenelated cone.

The Rabbis held that Habbakuk 3:3 and 3:6 prove that the nation of Israel was the right one to receive the Law, either because God offered it to a bunch of other nations who refused, or just because. I can’t find anything like that there, but then I’m not an ancient rabbi.

Bibiana (d. ca. 361) (aka Vivian) was the daughter of a Roman prefect named Flavian. During the persecutions of Julian the Apostate, Flavian was tortured and sent into exile, where he died from his wounds, and his wife Dafrosa was beheaded. Vivian and her sister Demetria were handed over to a woman named Rufina, who tried to force them into prostitution, but they were uncooperative, as is befitting, I hope you’ll agree. They were stripped and locked in a house to die of starvation, but starvation refused to cooperate. They spent their time in prayer and fasting, which seems eminently reasonable, as they had no food. This went on a good while.

When it was discovered that they weren’t dying nearly as conveniently as had been hoped, they were brought before the governor, Apronianus (I refuse to gloss that name, but give you permission). Demetria confessed her faith and fell down dead, but Vivian was made of tougher stuff. When she refused to renounce her faith, Apronianus ordered her taken back to the house, tied to a pillar, and scourged, which she endured with constancy and joy. This finally accomplished what starvation had been loath to do. Her body was thrown to the dogs, but the dogs were as uncooperative as starvation, and after two days she was buried in the house. A series of churches were built on the site; the current one, Santa Bibiana, in 1624. It contains the aforementioned pillar and the relics of the martyrs Dafrosa, Demetria, and Vivian, which were discovered in a sarcophagus during the restoration and moved to an alabaster urn. A miraculous plant once grew on the church grounds; it had the power to cure headaches, for which reason Bibiana is (and I kid you not) the patroness of people suffering from hangovers.


[1] Indeed, I just made him up.