Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Crunch Time!

I'll be leaving for New York City today, since I'll be taking my Hebrew Bible comprehensive examination tomorrow. I'm hoping that my books and notes will fit into my backpack!

Yesterday, I took a particular approach to studying: I researched questions that came to my mind. Who wrote the Covenant Code, according to scholars? (Answer: the Elohist, yet others date it to eighth century Judah.) Why did Gerhard Von Rad believe that the Sinai covenant was a theme commemorated on Sukkoth? (Answer: I don't know, but he maintains that it was celebrated at Shechem, since the covenant ceremony in Joshua 24 at Shechem looks like the covenant made at Sinai.) Did E. Knauf really think that Hebrew was an artificial language invented in the post-exilic period? (Answer: Lemche says that, according to Knauf, Hebrew was no longer a living language in the post-exilic period, and so the Hebrew of the Hebrew Bible was constructed to serve as a literary language.) What, according to Brian Peckham, was Isaiah's problem with J's notion of covenant? (Answer: Isaiah disliked J's notion that worship was all that mattered, and Isaiah also rebuked Hezekiah for trusting in Egypt rather than God, prompting the Deuteronomist to defend Hezekiah as a man of faith---after, in his eyes, God's approval of Hezekiah was made manifest by the defeat of Sennacherib.) And what was that pre-exilic artifact in which the God YHWH was invisible? (Answer: A tenth century terra cota from Taanach, a Northern Israelite city.)

Whether or not these answers are totally adequate, I do not know, but at least they're in my mind so that I can use them on the exam, if necessary. Google books was really helpful yesterday, as was the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

In terms of how I will study today, first of all, I printed out all of my blog-posts that I wrote to prepare for this exam, and so I will consult some of them, whenever I feel a need to solidify my knowledge on a particular book. I also have the notes that I took on the books that I read. Second, I'm taking the book, Sources of the Pentateuch, which contains how Martin Noth divided up the Pentateuch into J, E, P, and later redactors. I want to get an idea of what in the Pentateuch belonged to whom, according to a prominent version of the Documentary Hypothesis. Even though the standard Documentary Hypothesis is not the only game in town, it's still helpful for me to know it when I'm taking an exam in Hebrew Bible. And, third, I'm taking a few books on the Psalms, so that I can read about certain Psalms that may be on the test.

This is a nerve-wracking experience. Sometimes, I feel confident. Other times, I feel like I know nothing! But I hope to walk into that exam knowing enough to pass!

After I take my Hebrew Bible exam, I'll be studying for my exam in rabbinics, and so I may blog about that topic as I study. That test will be a week and a half after my Hebrew Bible one! Even after I finish the rabbinics exam, however, I will still read books on the Hebrew Bible and rabbinics and blog about them---until I learned whether I passed or not! And, even then, I may still blog about those kinds of books, for I'm hoping to start writing book reviews for publication, so that I can get some publication experience on my CV.

I won't be publishing comments until tomorrow evening, which is when I'll be back from New York City. Talk with you later!

Davies on Post-Exilic Israel

I'm rereading Philip Davies' Scribes and Schools. Here are three items:

1. On pages 63-64, Davies argues that scribal activity continued in Judah during the exile---since "Taxes, records, and correspondence were still needed"---but that the scribes in Judah were overwhelmed by the scribes returning from exile claiming to be the new Israel. In Babylon, there were probably Judahite scribes who "became scribes and officials in Babylon, serving other kings and, indeed, other deities". We can tell that the scriptural canon reflects the ideology of the returnees, for the canon "reflects an experience of coming into Judah from elsewhere as a pure race, under threat of contamination from the indigenous population". My impression is that Davies believes that the shape of the Hebrew Bible occurred in the post-exilic period, under the auspices of these returnees, who were backed by the Persians. One reason that Davies does not think that "a substantial corpus of classical literary works" emerged in Israel's monarchic period was that there was "imperial surveillance by the Assyrians, to which scribal activity was no doubt subject for most of the time."

This may be relevant to certain debates within biblical scholarship. When biblical writings talk about the threat of exile, what is their Sitz im Leben? Are these exilic or post-exilic writings that are talking about an exile that has occurred, or are they pre-exilic writings that are expressing anxiety about the threat of a future exile? When biblical literature (such as First Isaiah) criticizes the Assyrians, is that literature from the actual time of the Assyrians, or is it a post-exilic reflection on the time when the Assyrians were a threat to Israel? If the Assyrians were monitoring Judahite scribal activity in the pre-exilic period, then they probably wouldn't tolerate literature that criticized them.

2. On page 85, Davies says that Deuteronomy very well might be "the earliest official writing in the extant Judean canon." And, on pages 93-99, Davies talks about what he believes is the date of Deuteronomy. Davies states that the terminum ad quem for Deuteronomy is 100 B.C.E., by which time there was a schism between the Jews and the Samaritan community. A generation earlier, John Hyrcanus "destroyed the Gerizim temple". The Pentateuch of the Samaritans "does not differ in any structural way from the Judean one", and Davies' assumption here is probably that the Samaritans would have borrowed the writings of the Judeans before the schism. After the schism, the Pentateuch was already a significant part of Samaritan culture, and so the Samaritans retained it.

Many scholars date Deuteronomy to the time of Josiah in the seventh century B.C.E., but Davies disagrees. One reason is that Deuteronomy's stigmatization of the native Canaanites and promotion of war against them would not make sense in the monarchical period, for "states do not create a civil war among the king's taxpaying subjects." Deuteronomy presents immigrants coming into Canaan and settling---even as they are surrounded by a socially distinct indigenous population---and, for Davies, that fits the post-exilic period. Another reason that the seventh century B.C.E. is not an appropriate context for Deuteronomy's origin is that Deuteronomy presents the priests judging and supervising warfare, even as it severely limits the authority of the king---who becomes someone who merely reads scrolls and avoids accumulation of wealth. How would that fit the monarchic period---in which kings judged, led battles, and accumulated wealth? According to Davies, Deuteronomy 17's insistence that the king be an Israelite rather than foreign is a reference to the Persian emperor, and the "king" stands for the "considerably weakened colonial governor, subject to the authority of the priesthood and servant of their temple and their god." For Davies, Deuteronomy reflects a time when the Persians took the place of the monarchy, and so a Jewish community viewed the priests as its leaders.

Davies calls the story of the discovery of the scroll under Josiah as well as the Josianic reform a "complete fiction", for monarchs ordinarily did not intervene in popular religion. The story of Josiah served to give Deuteronomy antiquity, and to present Deuteronomy as the book that predicted the exile, meaning that post-exilic Israel could find security by obeying the laws of Deuteronomy.

3. A criticism of biblical minimalists (such as Davies) is that they are skeptical about the historicity of the parts of the Hebrew Bible that narrate Israel's pre-exilic history, even as they accept the parts of the Hebrew Bible about Israel's post-exilic history---such as the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. But pages 99-102 present a different picture. Davies argues that Ezra and Nehemiah represent separate and different traditions about the origin of Judaism. Ezra highlights the importance of the law of Moses, whereas Nehemiah is a political leader. At some point, the traditions were merged---for, in Nehemiah 9, both Ezra and Nehemiah participate in the covenant ceremony.

What is the evidence that Ezra and Nehemiah reflected separate origin traditions? First of all, the two characters only appear together in Nehemiah 9. Second, Ben Sira and II Maccabees---both from the second century B.C.E.---mention Nehemiah but not Ezra. Davies concludes that the combination of the traditions, therefore, "is no earlier than the second century B.C.E." Davies thinks that the figure of Ezra does not reflect the fifth-fourth centuries B.C.E., but rather a scribe such as Ben Sira in the second century B.C.E., who studied the law of the Most High. Regarding Nehemiah, Davies dates that tradition to the fourth-second century B.C.E. Because the Book of Nehemiah is so anti-Samaritan, it may post-date "the separation of the Judean and Samarian Yahwistic communities and the building of the Samari[t]an temple."

Monday, May 30, 2011

Levenson on John 3:16, Von Rad, and Redactors

In this post, I'll be going through Jon Levenson's The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism and highlighting passages that stood out to me.

1. On pages 17-18, Levenson says that there is continuity and discontinuity between the Hebrew Bible and John 3:16. Areas of continuity include the notion that God has a son (the Davidic monarch in Psalm 2:7); that an Israelite father must give his firstborn son to God, presumably as a sacrifice (Exodus 22:28-29); and that one can offer his son out of love (Levenson mentions the akedah of Genesis 22). Areas of discontinuity are that there are few places in the Hebrew Bible in which the king of Israel is the biological or adoptive son of God, and the Deuteronomic conception of the monarchy is "thoroughly nonmythological" and "instrumental" (Deuteronomy 17:14-20; 28:36; I Samuel 8:10-22); that there is a gulf between human beings and God, according to I Samuel 15:29 and Hosea 11:9; that God's wife and children are metaphorical, not literal (Deuteronomy 14:1; Hosea 1-3); and that there are many places in which the Hebrew Bible condemns the sacrifice of children (Exodus 13:13; 34:20; Leviticus 20:2-5) and considers such a practice to be "emblematic of idolatry" (Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 16:20-21). Actually, according to Levenson, there is a greater parallel between John 3:16 and Canaanite mythology: "Indeed, a Phoenician source tells us of El's own sacrifice of two of his sons, Yadid and Mot, and in Ugaritic myth, the divine father El hands over the younger god Baal for bondage but also, in another text, rejoices when Baal is raised from the dead." Levenson's point in this discussion is the Hebrew Bible is not univocal, and that it is both continuous and also discontinuous with its re-contextualizations, namely, Judaism and Christianity.

2. On pages 24-25, Levenson discusses Gerhard Von Rad. Von Rad believed that there were two sets of tradition underneath the "earliest documents of the Hexateuch" (Genesis-Joshua). One was connected with the Feast of Booths and "centered on the experience at Sinai and the proclamation of cultic law." The other was associated with Pentecost and focused on the settlement of the Promised Land, "a tradition in which the exodus was of prime import." Von Rad appealed to texts that talked about "the story of descent into Egypt, enslavement, liberation, and the assumption of the land without any mention of the revelation at Sinai" (see Deuteronomy 26:5-9; Joshua 24:2-13; I Samuel 12:8). Yet, there are also texts that combine the two traditions (Nehemiah 9; Psalm 106). According to Von Rad, the Yahwist (J) during the United Monarchy merged the two traditions by incorporating the Sinai tradition into the tradition on settlement. Levenson believes that something ideological is going on here---that Von Rad is separating Law from Gospel and is subordinating the Law to soteriology, as Paul did. This somewhat took me aback because the first place that I learned about the idea that the Sinai tradition was absent in certain creeds of the Hebrew Bible was at Hebrew Union College---and the professor's argument in that case was that the Sinai tradition was late.

Interestingly, there are occasions in which Levenson sees significance in the absence of Sinai from certain traditions in the Hebrew Bible. On page 107, Levenson states that "The prophets did not preach a book or show any awareness that God had revealed one to Moses on Mount Sinai". Levenson here attempts to distinguish the religion within the Hebrew Bible from the religion of the Hebrew Bible---for the religion of the Hebrew Bible only came about after the Hebrew Bible was completed. Levenson may believe that there were laws that at some point were attributed to God's revelation from Mount Sinai, an attribution that combined law with covenant by making the laws into personal commandments from God (page 27).

On pages 36-37, Levenson says that certain literature in the Hebrew Bible---such as Proverbs, Qoheleth, and Song of Songs---may have been unaware of pentateuchal traditions, such as the Exodus and Sinai. His argument here is against Christian biblical theologians who have sought a common theme that runs throughout the entire Hebrew Bible. According to Levenson, Christianity has a tendency towards systematization and a search for unity, whereas Judaism is more open to plurality (page 56). Levenson attributes this difference to rabbinic Judaism lacking "the apocalyptic urgency of apostolic Christianity", which meant that "the rabbis were not generally disposed to identify events or institutions from their own time as the definitive fulfillment of biblical texts" (page 39); rather, the rabbis felt free to apply the biblical text to all sorts of people and things. In any case, Levenson questions the fruitfulness of attempts by Christian biblical theologians to find a common theme that runs throughout the Hebrew Bible. One thread that some have claimed to identify is God's covenant with Israel, but, as Levenson points out, this theme does not really appear in Proverbs, Qoheleth, and Song of Songs.

I want to turn now to Levenson's discussion of Von Rad's approach to Genesis 15:6, which affirms that God reckoned Abraham's faith to him as righteousness. Von Rad argued that Genesis 15:6 was a spiritualization of what took place in the cult. In the cult, a priest could pronounce the will of God on a matter, as when he declares a man unclean in Leviticus 13:8. Leviticus 7:18 says that a sacrifice of well-being that is eaten on the third day is an abomination and will not be reckoned to the offerer. Leviticus 17:4 affirms that bloodguilt will be reckoned to the one who slaughters an animal but does not offer it to the LORD. So the cult had a concept of certain states being reckoned to people, and the verb in Leviticus 7:18 and 17:4, chasah, is what appears in Genesis 15:6. Von Rad concluded that Genesis 15:6 spiritualizes what occurred in the cult: Abraham is reckoned as righteous apart from a cultic intermediary, solely on the basis of his faith.

Levenson on page 60 disagrees with Von Rad's interpretation: "The facts that cult and priesthood were not spiritualized away in the Hebrew Bible and that righteousness could be imputed not only for faith, but also for observance (e.g., Deut 6:25 and Ps 106:31), are ignored." I agree with Levenson that, in the Hebrew Bible, people are reckoned as righteous for acts other than faith. Faith is one act that can lead a person to be reckoned as righteous, but it's not the only one. But, unlike Levenson, I would say that cult and priesthood indeed are spiritualized in the Hebrew Bible. Psalms 50-51 refer to sacrifices in spiritual terms---such as a broken spirit, or thanksgiving. In Hosea 14:2, the speakers ask God to receive the calves of their lips---which indicates that prayer is being treated as animal sacrifices. I wouldn't be surprised if an author in the exile (though I do not know when Von Rad dated Genesis 15:6) sought to compensate for the destruction of Israel's cult by spiritualizing it---by affirming that Judahites could get what they once received in the cult by means of faith.

3. On page 78, Levenson offers interesting thoughts on redactors: "...it is also quite possible that the redactors of the Pentateuch worked more like anthologizers unaware of the problems their labors posed, law being for them a matter of customary practice unrelated to current exegesis. Perhaps, instead, they wanted us to pick one code over the others in the smorgasbord of law that they provided, or perhaps they thought of Deuteronomy as the final and therefore normative statement."

Levenson's argument in this particular essay appears to be against a "pick-and-choose" approach to the Hebrew Bible that views some things as theologically normative, while dismissing other things. But, if the biblical text is diverse (which Levenson acknowledges), on what can we base a synchronic reading? On the intention of the redactor? Levenson has shown that we can't really know what that was! Is the reader-response of religious communities a legitimate basis for a synchronic approach to the Bible---as we see how they have read the Bible as a whole?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Never Alone

At church this morning, the sermon was good. It was about loneliness, and how Jesus Christ lives inside of us. As the hymn by the Gaithers goes: "Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. Because he lives, all fear is gone. Because I know he holds the future. And life is worth the living just because he lives." But the pastor told us the back story about the Gaithers' writing of this hymn. He said that they were living during the "God is dead" trend as well as the upheavals of the 1960's, and they wondered if they should have a child in that kind of environment. But they were comforted by their belief in Jesus' resurrection and God's presence with them, and so they had the faith to face the future.

The pastor told other stories as well. One story he told was about special education students who were using computers at their school, which helped them to improve their academic skills. The principal did not have faith in them, and so he excluded them from an experimental program that involved the computers. But their teacher did have faith in them, which is why she had them use the computers. One special education student named Raymond, who was from a dysfunctional family and who showed hardly any academic promise, demonstrated a remarkable amount of academic progress as he used the computer. When he was asked why, he replied, "Everybody calls me a retard, but the computer calls me Raymond."

This story was meaningful to me because it reminded me of the importance of using people's names. As social skills coach Deb Fine has said, people love the sounds of their own names! I think that the purpose of this story within the sermon was that, as an analogy, the story can illustrate that God loves us, values us, and knows us by name, even though we may be a blip on the radar of the rest of the world---or even if others scorn us. The pastor talked about these sorts of themes in his sermon.

At the beginning of his sermon, the pastor told us a story about actor Martin Sheen. During the making of the movie Apocalypse Now, Martin Sheen was in the hospital, and he was worried that he might not be able to fulfill his obligations for the movie. When his wife told him that it was just a movie, however, he became more relaxed, and he quickly recovered.

The pastor asked us if we ever wished that life would be just a movie. When we are young, we want to fast-forward to a life of independence. There are times when we may want to pause life so we can keep the good times. When we are old, we may desire to slow down life so that we can live it a little longer. And then there are things that we may want to redo---and so we wish life had a "rewind" button. I think that the lesson here was that, wherever we may be in life, we can take comfort that Jesus Christ lives inside of us.

The pastor also talked about soldiers in war who found comfort in their faith. I have heard that there are no atheists in foxholes---but I doubt that's this is completely accurate, for I have read of atheists in foxholes, and their lack of belief in an afterlife motivated them to stay alive during battle. But faith does give strength and comfort to people in the heat of battle.

But I wonder something: What kind of faith? Is it faith in a God who sends most of the world to hell for not being Christian, or is it a more generic kind of faith---a faith in a loving, benevolent, and wise higher power---the sort of faith that I see on such shows as Little House on the Prairie? Speaking for myself, I'd have a hard time deriving comfort from the critical, wrathful God who is in certain passages of the Bible and also in some conservative Christian circles. But I can gain some comfort from a more generic sort of God---one who does not send people to hell for holding the wrong beliefs, or refuse to hear some people's prayers because they are not living a particular sort of way. I think of Ronald Reagan's conception of God. His daughter, Patti, said that her father told her that she can always talk to God, however she may be living her life. I seriously doubt that Reagan was telling his daughter that how she lived did not matter to him or to God. Rather, he was saying that God is always there---as a loving and compassionate friend.

I believe that God loves each of us, even if we're not living the right way. But God wants us to live the right way because that's what is best for us. But he won't shun us until we get our acts together. It would be impossible for me to have faith in any other kind of God, for, if God will have nothing to do with me until I get my act together, or "repent", then God will never have anything to do with me, for my act will never be totally together!

I'll be taking my Hebrew Bible comprehensive exam this week, and I appreciated my pastor's prayer for me. He asked that I might read the questions and know how to answer them. I like how he phrased that. The first time that I took this exam, I read the questions, and then my reaction was "duh." I didn't know what exactly to say, and so I wrote all over the place. This time around, I hope that I can write cogent, organized, and well-informed essays. I've been asking God to help me to pass my exams, for I don't want to pay another $1,200 for the candidacy fee this coming semester. But I wonder: Why I should trust that God will answer my prayer---when there are tornadoes in America taking away people's lives and property? Still, in my opinion, when it comes to prayer---for myself or for others---it doesn't hurt to try.

My Experience with The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism

I'm reading Jon Levenson's The Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, and Historical Criticism.

If I wanted my friends and relatives outside of the realm of academic biblical studies to understand me better, I'd give them this book---or some variation of it, since this book may require some background information. I know that I didn't really understand it the first time that I read it!

I find that being a student of religion at an academic institution is not particularly easy. My friends and many of my relatives have a conception of what it means to study the Bible: it means to know and to understand God's will. They may see what I'm doing as valuable (before they read my blog posts on historical criticism, that is) because they think that, in learning more about the Bible, I'm coming to understand the mind of God, and I'm making myself into someone who can help others to learn more about the Bible, and thus understand the mind of God.

But, within the academic community, the presupposition is different. Ideas that are taken for granted by many of my friends and relatives are not taken for granted at school. Does the Hebrew Bible foreshadow the New Testament, for example? That is not presupposed at my school. Is the Hebrew Bible considered to be inerrant? No. Is what I learn in academia about the Bible spiritually edifying? In many cases, it is not. Is the Hebrew Bible the univocal word of God, or a record of different voices that often contradict each other? Usually, the latter is the view that I hear or read in academia.

Don't get me wrong. There are conservative scholars. At my school, most of the graduate students are conservative Christians---in some capacity, for some are more conservative than others. Many of them are able to do good scholarship without violating their religious beliefs on biblical inerrancy, or infallibility. They may focus on languages, or on text criticism. They may approach a biblical text from a literary standpoint, or see how the Hebrew Bible and the ancient Near East address a topic. Or they may go on an apologetics route of countering liberal biblical scholarship. One does not have to split the biblical text into numerous pieces to do good scholarship. (I should note, however, that there are many Christian colleagues at my school who do not bypass historical-criticism, since they're not bound to a belief in biblical inerrancy.)

But there are many times when I wonder something about biblical scholarship: What's the point? There was a time when biblical scholarship inspired me, and I desired to learn more about the Bible because I'd then have greater access to the mind of God. I'd receive inspiration and clarity on how I could better live my life. But is that what I have gotten from biblical scholarship? Some of you have read my posts on my readings. I've learned that the biblical writings contain concepts that are also present in other parts of the ancient Near East, even as far as Greece! I've encountered ideas---some plausible, and some that appear rather arbitrary---about biblical authorship, as the biblical text is believed to manifest editorial and redactional layers, or sources, or fragments. And then, even when I come across an idea that is inspiring---such as John Van Seters' notion that the Yahwist was encouraging Israel that God still loved her, even though she had broken his law---I wonder what that has to do with me, since the Hebrew Bible appears to be somebody else's mail. And another thought goes through my mind: Why should I accept the Yahwist's theology, when he is one theological voice among others?

I've wished that my wrestling with the biblical text would actually go somewhere, but there are times when I wonder if it actually is.

There was a time when my approach was to attempt to refute what I considered to be liberal approaches to the Hebrew Bible. Whereas historical-criticism split the text into different pieces---or, if you wish, identified the different pieces---I opted for Brevard Childs' canonical approach, which had a more holistic view of the biblical text. I thought that historical-criticism was just another school of thought, with its own presuppositions, and that its presuppositions were no more authoritative than my own.

And, believe it or not, I saw Jon Levenson's book here as ammunition. Against Paul Hanson, who said that we should go with the liberating parts of Scripture rather than the oppressive parts, Levenson upheld a concept of "literary simultaneity" and criticized cherry-picking from Scripture. Whereas some viewed historical-criticism as a way to bring Jews and Christians together by offering them neutral territory for biblical exegesis, Levenson contended that historical-criticism was not neutral but undercut Judaism and Christianity. Levenson even presented the academic community as if it were similar to religious communities---with the desire to convert people (into liberals) and the power to marginalize voices that it did not deem acceptable. He said that the academic study of the Bible and the languages got support because of the importance that religious people ascribe to the Bible---and I enjoyed seeing this swipe at the academic community, part of which appeared to have a disdain for the religious. And, as a political conservative during my Harvard days (which was when I first read parts of Levenson's book), I applauded Levenson's critique of Marxism and liberation theology in his last chapter.

But I differed with Levenson on a significant issue: Whereas he did not believe that the Hebrew Bible foreshadowed the New Testament, I did. I thought that my belief could be supported. How did I feel about Levenson's treatment of supersessionism---the notion that the church replaced the Jewish people as God's chosen? I agreed with Levenson that Christian scholars tended to mis-characterize Judaism---viewing it as primarily legalistic when there was another dimension to it. I also appreciated Levenson's swipes at Wellhausen, for, as a conservative Christian, I did not care for Wellhausen's historical-criticism. But I didn't really accept Levenson's critique of supersessionism, for it seemed to me that he was portraying a belief in Christianity as supersessionist. I did not think that supersessionism had to lead to the persecution of the Jewish people---even though there were prominent Christians in history who certainly took it in that direction---for the New Testament commanded love for everybody.

Somewhere within the process of me being a conservative to me becoming whatever I am today, I began to feel the impact of criticisms of the Bible that I had earlier dismissed, and I wondered if Levenson actually addressed them adequately. For example, Paul Hanson said that we should go with the liberating parts of the Hebrew Bible while the more oppressive parts serve as a foil. Levenson had problems with that picking-and-choosing approach. Does that mean that we should accept parts of the Hebrew Bible that offend our moral sensitivity---parts that even conservative Christians try to downplay, whitewash, or explain away? Levenson talks about the defense of slavery prior to the American Civil War, and how it drew from the Bible. He also says that, within the Exodus story, God's opposition to slavery was not as much of a motivating factor in God's deliverance of Israel as God's commitment to his promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What exactly am I supposed to do with that?

In my reading this time around, my reaction to Levenson's book is different in some areas, and it's the same in other areas. In my conservative days, I thought Levenson was arguing that historical-criticism is in a community that has its own presuppositions---which are no more authoritative than the presuppositions of Judaism and Christianity. Nowadays, he does not appear to me to be saying that. He agrees with the premises of historical-criticism that there are a variety of voices within the Bible, that some of them contradict each other, and that the voices are not always even aware of each other. These concepts are supported by the evidence, in his opinion. But he distinguishes between the writings that are within what we now call the Bible, and the religious treatments of the Bible itself. He refers to the medieval Jewish distinction between the literal sense of the text (the peshat), and the religious application of the Bible, which doesn't always go with the writings' literal sense. There is a difference between the meanings of the various writings within the Bible, and the subsequent interpretation and application of the Bible---which tend to treat the Bible as more than the sum of its parts. I have two reactions to this. First, why should I accept the interpretation and application of the biblical writings as authoritative, when they're not faithful to what the texts actually mean? Second, how one puts together the different pieces of the Bible into a theology or legal system is a subjective process, for people will prioritize some voices over others. It's inevitable! Even Levenson notes an example in which Talmudic rabbis try to harmonize contradictory laws in the Torah, and they come up with something that is not a law in the Torah, but a different law altogether.

I'm still not completely satisfied with how Levenson handles the objectionable parts of the Bible. He says that societies have elements that we consider to be liberating and that we deem oppressive. That was even true of Hammurabi's Code, so why should we be surprised when we find that sort of thing in the Hebrew Bible? Levenson says on page 74 that rabbinic Judaism considers certain laws to be inapplicable because Israel is not in her land, and that "the effect of this legal reasoning is to make slavery within the covenant people obsolete in the present epoch." But that doesn't make me feel better, for the implication of this could be that God still tolerated slavery, which could be re-instituted were Israel to get control of her land (which has partly happened) and the Torah were to be made the national constitution. In his essay, "Exodus and Liberation", Levenson appeared to be much more sensitive to the humanitarian implications of slavery than I remembered from my previous readings of the essay. He said that God was moved by his people's plight and remembered his covenant with the patriarchs---which means that God had humanitarian and covenantal reasons for the Exodus, and that, therefore, God can be moved by the plight of any slave, even a non-Israelite. Levenson also referred to Maimonides' statement that a Jewish slavemaster should treat his slave with kindness. In my opinion, this does not resolve the problem of the Bible sanctioning slavery. Maybe there is no resolution. But what I think I may be able to get out of Maimonides is this: Why not just go with kindness?

How about the issue of supersessionism? I think that it's important to expose the anti-Jewish elements of the writings of Wellhausen and others. But I don't believe that those elements are sufficient reason to dismiss Wellhausen's scenario on the Hebrew Bible: JE was followed by D, which was followed by P. And Levenson, to his credit, does talk about other critiques of Wellhausen, such as the criticism that Wellhausen's model is too linear, and that biblical diversity may be due to different socio-political communities that produced the Bible, not so much chronology. I have problems with saying that Wellhausen had no right to view P and Judaism as more rigid and legalistic than the Yahwism of pre-exilic Israel, for we're all entitled to our opinion, and we all prefer some systems of thought over others. But I do agree with Levenson that criticisms of Judaism from German biblical scholars were not fair, for they did not interact much with the rabbinic sources themselves. I prefer to critique scholars on whether or not their scholarship is valid and accurate, not on whether or not their thoughts led to atrocities. Atrocities are wrong, independently of what scholars say.

I'll close by saying why I think Levenson's book is important. There is a tension within many people who study the Bible within an academic setting, as they learn things that either go against their religion, or that appear to have little (or nothing) to do with their religion. This book highlights that issue. It also demonstrates that not everyone views the Hebrew Bible in the same way, for Jews and Christians both took the Hebrew Bible in certain directions---some of which overlapped with each other, and some of which differed.

Mettinger on Mowinckel's Critics

In this post, I'll be looking at Tryggve Mettinger's discussion of critiques of Sigmund Mowinckel in In Search of God.

A significant element of Sigmund Mowinckel's interpretation of the Psalms was the autumn New Year's festival, which was about the enthronement of the LORD as king. According to Mowinckel, the Israelite New Year's festival had three elements: "(a) the chaos battle and creation of the world, (b) the battles with the enemies of Zion, and (c) the Lord's accession to the throne" (page 120). For Mowinckel, the Israelite New Year's festival was like the Babylonian New Year's festival, "which diverse archaeological finds had made accessible", and which focused on the god's defeat of chaos before becoming king. In a sense, it also resembled the later Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah, which concerned such themes as God's kingship, creation, and "the final judgment" (page 119).

Mettinger states that continental (which I take to be the continent of Europe) and U.S. biblical scholarship had problems with Mowinckel for at least three reasons. First of all, Karl Barth's theology was influential since the 1930's, and that tended to marginalize "comparisons with other ancient religions" (page 120). The festivals, therefore, were taken to be about particular features of Israelite salvation history, such as the Exodus and the Covenant---as we see in Gerhard Von Rad's work. By contrast, Mettinger (in defending Mowinckel) affirms that the festival focused on the chaos battle and creation, "while neither the exodus nor the covenant played any important part in the festival in pre-exilic Jerusalem" (page 121). Mettinger also states that the festival focused on the "battle against the enemies of Zion and the judgment of the peoples (the point of departure for OT eschatology)", and the "enthronement of the Lord, which was probably realized as a procession in which the ark was led up to the temple (cf. Pss 24 and 47)" (page 121).

Second, Mowinckel's opponents felt that Mowinckel's scenario "subjected YHWH to the cyclical course of the dying and rising god" (page 120). They thought that the festival focused on such themes as the covenant and "the election of Zion and of the Davidic line", not YHWH dying and rising in a natural cycle. And, indeed, there were people who developed Mowinckel's ideas in the direction of applying the festival to the dying and rising god. Geo Widengren, for example, affirmed that the dying and rising god was "a central part of the festival of YHWH's enthronement" (Mettinger's summary on part 120). (According to Mettinger, Mowinckel's ideas were more popular in England and Scandinavia than in mainland Europe and the United States.) But Mowinckel did not believe this. And there's no evidence that the Babylonian New Year's festival was even about the dying and rising god. Essentially, scholars combined two texts in their attempt to describe the Babylonian festival, but, according to Peter Welten, "the texts in question did not belong to the ritual texts of the New Year festival, nor did they necessarily characterize Marduk as a dying and rising god" (Mettinger's summary on page 120).

Third, while Mowinckel affirmed that the expression "YHWH malak" meant "Yahweh has become king", which implies a New Year's festival, some of Mowinckel's critics thought that it meant "Yahweh is king," which implies, not that Yahweh has become king after defeating chaos, but that he always is king. Mettinger acknowledges that "Both translations are philologically possible" (page 121). But Mettinger states that the expression "malak YHWH" tends to mean "Yahweh has become king", as one can see in such passages as II Samuel 15:10; I Kings 1:11; Isaiah 24:23; and Micah 4:7. This expression occurs in Psalm 47:8(9) and Isaiah 52:7. For Mettinger, critics' attempts to account for passages in which "malak YHWH" means "YHWH has become king" are forced. Mettinger agrees with Mowinckel, therefore, that ancient Israel had a New Year's festival in which the LORD was declared to have become king.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Don't Interrupt the Exodus-Conquest Story!

My Hebrew Bible comp is rapidly approaching. I have read a lot of books over these past five months, as my regular readers know. But I have also read some book reviews. This afternoon, I was reading Sam Wheeler's review of Frank Moore Cross' Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. The following stood out to me:

"Cross argues forcefully against Noth, Von Rad, and others for the original inclusion of the Sinai-covenant traditions in the Exodus-Conquest complex. The position he adopts is essentially that defended by Weiser and others that the Sinai traditions in their present place in the epic traditions are indeed 'secondary,' since their earlier and rightful place was at the close of the cultic recitation of the magnolia Dei in a covenant renewal ceremony like that in Joshua 23 (p. 85). Cross ingeniously turns Noth's method of separating themes against Noth himself by showing first that the types of 'divine law-giver' (El) and storm god (Baal) are distinct; and second, linking the Exodus events, particularly the victory at the Sea of Reeds, with Baal imagery and forms of manifestation. It is not hard to show that the earliest epic accounts of the Sinai events (JE) already contain a combination of El imagery (lawgiver, covenant god) and Baal imagery (Victor at the Sea, manifest in the clouds); that is to say, the Sinai account in itself already links in its imagery Exodus and Sinai events (pp. 177-86)."

I read the "Prologomena" in Cross' book today. I may have to read more of the book to get a better understanding of what Sam Wheeler is talking about. Whether or not I will have time to do that, I will have to see, for there are other things that I want to review in the next few days. But I'll write about what I got out of the "Prologemena," even though I had a tough time comprehending it.

The reason that the above statement by Wheeler stood out to me was that the absence from Sinai from certain biblical traditions has been something salient that I have learned over the past seven years. A professor of mine at Hebrew Union College pointed out narrations of Israel's history within the Hebrew Bible that omit any reference to Sinai, which is odd, considering how significant Sinai is in the Pentateuch. His conclusion is that the Sinai tradition was later than those narrations---and he argues that there is a Diasporic context for the Sinai tradition. But I learned from reading his book that Gerhard Von Rad also noticed the absence of Sinai from narrations of Israel's history, and Von Rad concluded that the Sinai tradition was independent and was incorporated into the history of Israel at a particular time. Then, recently, I read in a book by Jon Levenson that Von Rad argued that Sinai was celebrated during Sukkot, whereas the Exodus-Conquest was commemorated during Pentecost---which is what we see in the Credo in Deuteronomy 26:5-10 (which does not mention Sinai). Under the United Monarchy, Von Rad contended, the Sinai and the Exodus-Conquest stories were brought together by J.

But how does Cross address the issue of Sinai's absence in the Hebrew Bible from certain narrations of Israel's history? On pages 85-86, he tackles this question. Cross affirms that the order that we see in the Pentateuch---of Exodus, Sinai covenant, and Conquest---"is based on older historical memory". But, within the cult, there was a different order: the Exodus-Conquest was celebrated, and that was followed by a covenant ceremony. For Cross, Joshua 24 and Exodus 15 were used at sanctuaries (Shechem and Gilgal, respectively), and then there was a ceremony of covenant renewal, which "displaced the Sinaitic traditions." Cross states that "there is evidence in some early traditions that the march of the Divine Warrior from the South or the Wars of Yahweh tended to dominate the cultic reenactment of the magnalia Dei." Early traditions preferred to focus on the Divine Warrior, and we see passages about the Divine Warrior coming from the South in Exodus 15:1-18; Deuteronomy 33:1-3, 26-29; Judges 5:4-5; and Habakkuk 3:3-7. The Exodus-Conquest story fits nicely into that, and so cults preferred to talk about the Exodus-Conquest---which is about Yahweh as Divine Warrior---without interrupting their story in the middle with the Sinai covenant (though I wonder how Cross would account for Deuteronomy 33:1-3, which concerns the giving of the law). They preferred to save the covenant part for the end. And Cross sees in Exodus 34:10-27 (J) an indication of this: God tells Moses about the Conquest and what the Israelites are to do in the Promised Land, and then the covenant involving law takes place.

Cross does not appear to separate Sinai from the Exodus-Conquest,. He believes that, early on, El's role as lawgiver and Baal's role as conqueror of the sea were combined in Yahweh, the God of Israel.

Psalm 26, Self-Righteousness, and the Company We Keep

For my weekly quiet time this week, I'll be blogging about Psalm 26 and its interpreters.

Psalms like this used to give me problems because the Psalmist appears to be so self-righteous in them. And they appear to give others problems as well. John MacArthur makes clear that the Psalmist in Psalm 26:1 is not claiming to be morally perfect when he asks God to judge and to test him, but rather is saying that he's innocent of legal charges that enemies have made against him. While Christian scholars who have had issues with Psalms such as Psalms 26 have asserted that these sorts of Psalms foreshadow the self-righteousness that Judaism supposedly promotes, Jewish interpreters I've read also struggle with the apparent self-righteousness of the Psalms. They may say that David is boldly asking God to test him, and then David falls flat on his face when God tests him with Bath-sheba and he fails. The idea here is that David shouldn't have been so presumptuous and self-righteous. The medieval exegete Rashi actually interpreted parts of Psalm 17---in which the Psalmist appeals to his own righteousness---to mean that the Psalmist acknowledges his sinfulness and asks God to look only at the good things he has done, not the bad (see my post here).

I've encountered a similar approach among Jewish interpreters to Psalm 26. In response to v 1, in which the Psalmist asks God to judge him, Rashi cites Psalm 143:2, where the Psalmist requests that God not enter into judgment with him, since no human being is righteous in God's sight. Rashi attempts to harmonize these passages, saying that David wants God to judge him in comparison with the wicked, not in comparison with the righteous. David certainly feels that he is better than the wicked---for example, he doesn't celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles with a stolen lulav (Rashi's interpretation of Psalm 26:6)! But he doesn't think that he's as good as the righteous. He acknowledges his imperfection.

The nineteenth century German Orthodox rabbi Samuel Raphael Hirsch interprets tzarpah in Psalm 26:2 as "cleanse" rather than "scrutinize." According to this interpretation, David is not asking God to scrutinize him to see that he is righteous; rather, David wants God to cleanse him of his impurities. And the root can have that meaning. The root does mean to test or to try, but it can also relate to purging away dross (Proverbs 25:4; Isaiah 1:25). When gold is put into the fire, two things happen: the gold survives and is shown to be gold, and dross is purged away. Some biblical passages focus on the first, which implies that God is seeing that his servants are truly righteous when he puts them through the fire, and they pass the test. Others prefer to highlight the second, which indicates that God's servants have unrighteousness, and God is putting them through the fire to purify them.

(I should note that the same sort of issue may be going on in Psalm 26:6, where the Psalmist affirms that he washes his hands in innocence. Is the Psalmist saying that he is purifying himself so that he can be innocent---which implies that he is a sinner who needs to be cleansed? Or, by washing his hands, is he making a statement that he is already innocent---as Pilate may have been doing in Matthew 27:24, when he washed his hands and declared that he was innocent of Jesus' blood?)

In Psalm 26:9, the Psalmist asks God not to take away his life along with the sinful and the bloodthirsty. According to the medieval Jewish exegete Abraham Ibn-Ezra, David here is hoping and praying that circumstances won't cause him to stumble into the company of the wicked. For Ibn-Ezra, David is not being self-righteous, but he's acknowledging that he's vulnerable to sin and can easily fall into the company of the wicked if certain circumstances occur. David is dependent on God, not on himself.

At the same time, Jewish interpreters appear to acknowledge that David, in some sense, was righteous. The Psalmist says in Psalm 26:12 that his feet are on a just path. And, as I look at the Psalm, I see that the Psalmist chooses to put himself in good territory: he dwells in the house of the LORD, where he can behold God's beauty (v 8), rather than the assembly of the deceitful, hypocrites, evildoers, and the wicked (vv 4-5). The Psalmist may have his imperfections, but he chooses to plant himself in good soil.

I'd like to comment on the Psalmist's statements that he abhors the company of the wicked. That appears to be rather snobbish. Also, such a sentiment seems to contradict the example of Jesus, who associated with tax-collectors and sinners (e.g., Matthew 9:11). But it overlaps in some sense with Paul, who declared that bad company corrupts good morals (I Corinthians 15:33), and that a Christian should not eat with a so-called brother who is a fornicator, covetous person, extortioner, idolater, drunkard, or idolater (I Corinthians 5:11). At the same time, Paul also appears to assert that such a policy does not apply to how believers relate to the world, for they'd have to remove themselves from the world were they to avoid non-Christians who are idolaters, fornicators, covetous people, or extortioners (I Corinthians 5:9-10)!

C.S. Lewis has an excellent chapter on this topic in Reflections on the Psalms. It's entitled "Connivance". When I first read this chapter over a decade ago, it didn't mean much to me. But I could definitely relate to it this time around! Lewis talks about how many of us try to associate with people whom we know to be scum-bags---simply because those scum-bags happen to be prominent and influential. On page 72, Lewis describes the attitudes that one might encounter among such an elite:

"We shall hear vile stories told as funny; not merely licentious stories but (to me far more serious and less noticed) stories which the teller could not be telling unless he was betraying someone's confidence. We shall hear infamous detraction of the absent, often disguised as pity or humour. Things we hold sacred will be mocked. Cruelty will be slyly advocated by the assumption that its only opposite is 'sentimentality'. The very presuppositions of any possible good life---all disinterested motives, all heroism, all genuine forgiveness---will be, not explicitly denied (for then the matter could be discussed), but assumed to be phantasmal, idiotic, believed in only by children."

Lewis acknowledges that navigating such a social wilderness can be quite delicate. A Christian may not want to laugh at jokes at such an occasion, because then she'd be communicating that she approves of those types of attitudes. On the other hand, she doesn't want to continually express disagreement throughout the conversation, for then she'd be seen as a prig. Lewis suggests that silence may be a good policy in those sorts of situations.

I can understand the point that bad company can corrupt good morals. I wouldn't necessarily say that the solution is to hang out with Christians all of the time, for even Christians can have the attitudes that C.S. Lewis criticizes: judgmentalism, betraying secrets, cynicism about those who may be trying to do good, a snide attitude towards "sentimentality" (or, for them, political liberalism). But what about the friendly womanizer who isn't really a bad person, but who is obsessed with sex? Surely Psalm 26 and Paul are not talking about him when they refer to bad company, are they, since they're discussing those who deliberately seek to hurt others? People who don't save sex for marriage aren't necessarily evil---for they can be nice people. And yet, Paul criticizes fornicaters. And, according to biblical scholar Patrick Miller, Psalm 26:10 refers to evil devices (zimmah), a term that often (but not always) concerns acts of sexual immortality (Leviticus 18:17; 19:29; 20:14; Job 31:11; Jeremiah 13:27)---such as sleeping with a mother and her daughter, or prostitution, or adultery. I'm reminded of Galatians 6:1, which exhorts Christians to restore those who have been overtaken in a fault, in a spirit of meekness, and yet to be careful lest they themselves be tempted. There seems to be a fine line between being careful about habits and attitudes that we can pick up in our company, and (on the negative side) acting like judgmental snobs.

I said at the beginning of this post that Psalms like Psalm 26 "used" to give me problems because, in them, the Psalmist came across as self-righteous. Why don't they give me a problem anymore? I think that a big reason is that the Psalms are not monolithic. Some express what appears to be self-righteousness, and yet, at least sometimes, that may just be the Psalmist declaring that he is innocent of charges leveled against him. Psalm 26 seems to be a declaration of innocence, for v 6 mentions innocence, and yet the Psalmist is also affirming that he has lived a just life---and he invites God to scrutinize him and see that this is so. At other times, however, the Psalmist does not appeal to his own righteousness, but he throws himself completely on the love and mercy of God. And then there are times when he confesses his sinfulness and his need for forgiveness. Some homileticists have argued that the Psalms in which David appeals to his righteousness reflect the time when he was on the run from Saul---when Saul was acting as if David were evil, when David was actually trying to do the right thing: he was not seeking to usurp the throne of Israel, he loved Saul, etc. The Psalms about David throwing himself on God's mercy, however, are attributed by some to the time when David was on the run from Absalom: David could not appeal to his own righteousness then, for he realized that he was being punished for his sin concerning Bath-sheba and her husband, Uriah. And so, at that time, he threw himself on God's mercy.

Psalms like Psalm 26 do not give me a problem nowadays because I recognize that they are a part of a larger picture of the Psalmist's attitude. Sure, there are times when we feel that the world is treating us unfairly, even though we are trying to do the right thing. We want recognition for the things we do right, and, because the world does not always give us validation, we seek it from God. But there are other times when we look at ourselves and see bankruptcy, and we acknowledge our need for God's forgiveness. In both cases, we're seeking God's love.

A final point: after looking at the whole debate about whether Psalm 26 manifests an attitude of self-righteousness or not, I want to look at v 3. There, the Psalmist affirms that he has been mindful of God's unfailing love and has relied on God's faithfulness. There is a degree of justification by grace through faith in Psalm 26!

Completing Crusemann

I finished Frank Crusemann's The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law. In this post, I'll talk some about Crusemann's dating of what he calls "The Priestly Writing".

On page 301, Crusemann states regarding P: "A picture of life in the diaspora was created by means of ritual activity like the abstention from eating blood, circumcision, passover as a celebration of the beginning of freedom, and participation in the sabbath..."

So, for Crusemann, there are elements of P that were relevant to the exile: their aim was to show exiled Jews how to be righteous before God, even though they technically were not with God (who, prior to the exile, dwelt with the Israelites in the land of Israel by means of the sanctuary). But what about P's laws regarding the cult? Were they relevant to Israel in exile, who did not have a cult? Crusemann's argument on pages 310-311 appears to be that the priests were reflecting on what led to the exile, and they concluded that the Israelites' accumulation of guilt in the land was a significant culprit. According to P, the rituals of the Day of Atonement were intended to correct that. For Crusemann, P was reflecting on guilt and atonement on account of the exile.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Crusemann on the Am Ha-Aretz, Real Law, and Asylum

I'm continuing my way through Frank Crusemann's The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law. I have three items from today's reading.

1. Crusemann highlights the role of the am ha-aretz (the people of the land) in promoting the Book of Deuteronomy. In II Kings 21:24, the am ha-aretz set young Josiah on the throne of Judah, after conspirators had overthrown King Amon. Until Josiah came of age, the am ha-aretz was in charge, and thus needed to develop a constitution. That's where the Book of Deuteronomy entered the picture. The Book of Deuteronomy benefited landowners, of which the am ha-aretz largely consisted. The centralization of worship at a central sanctuary meant that Judean landowners no longer had to give offerings to local shrines. Deuteronomy also freed farmers from the "burden of two-thirds of the previous tithe-tax (Deut 14:22ff.)" (page 231). Deuteronomy also advocated a severely limited monarchy and did not require compulsory labor (which took farmers from their fields). Moreover, if a farmer "were forced to borrow because of sickness in the family, poor harvest, drought, warfare, legal problems or other factors, thus making him dependent on a stronger and wealthier neighbor, he no longer needed to pay interest upon the loan" (page 231). And the Book of Deuteronomy was given an origin in the distant past to provide it with divine authority.

2. As you can see in the first item, Crusemann holds that the Book of Deuteronomy was intended to be a functioning constitution for Judah. Yesterday, if you read my post about Crusemann, you got a taste of Crusemann's view on the Covenant Code: that it contained real laws that impacted real people (sometimes negatively). There are scholars who argue that the Covenant Code and the Book of Deuteronomy are idealistic---not actual laws. The implications of this argument could be that these codes were developed in exile---when Jews could develop an "ideal" constitution that wouldn't relate to real life, since they were no longer the rulers or possessors of their own land---but there are scholars who believe that even the Code of Hammurabi was not a real law code that was applied in real life, for courts do not refer to its laws, the code is not comprehensive (it does not deal with marriage, for example), plus the king may have written it simply to convince the god that he was a just ruler. Against the argument that the Covenant Code was idealistic because it does not always prescribe a specific penalty for crimes, Crusemann responds that law-codes can contain apodictic laws, which do not mention penalties.

3. I want to write about Crusemann's argument on asylum on pages 174-177. Essentially, Crusemann argues that the law of asylum in Exodus 21:13ff. places shrines under judicial authority. People fled to shrines for asylum after committing crimes, but Exodus 21:13ff. says that the only ones who can take refuge there are those who killed someone accidentally---an act of God. The judicial authorities made the determination as to whether the taking of life was intentional or unintentional, meaning that shrines no longer had absolute control over who could take asylum there. According to Crusemann, "Ancient Near Eastern law had never articulated such a difference [between intentional and unintentional killing], and at best had only made rudimentary efforts" (page 175). But the Greeks did make such a distinction in the seventh century B.C.E. (a century before the Covenant Code), for Draco's reform sought to protect those who unintentionally killed someone from the victim's next-of-kin.

Nicholson on Blum, Part 2

In this post, I'll talk about what Ernst Nicholson says on page 173 about Erhard Blum's views regarding KD, a Deuteronomist in the early post-exilic period. Remember that Blum's argument is that the Deuteronomist added a redactional layer to stories in the Pentateuch, and a priest (KP) later added another layer.

On what does Blum base his identification of a KD layer in the Pentateuch? Essentially, he notices similarities between parts of the Tetrateuch and Deuteronomy or the Deuteronomistic History. For example, in Exodus 14:13, 31 and I Samuel 12:16-18 (from the Deuteronomist), there are parallels: people believe in a man of God after seeing a wonder from the LORD. But Nicholson contends that similarity with the Deuteronomist does not make a work Deuteronomistic, for a non-Deuteronomistic work can imitate Deuteronomistic language.

Blum maintains that KD has a significant hand in the Sinai pericope and the seventy elders stories. For Blum, KD begins with Genesis 12:1-3 and ends with Israel's dwelling in the wilderness. Regarding the primeval tradition (Genesis 1-11), Blum attributes that to the priest, who "utilized some older written tradition."

UPDATE: I've learned that Blum actually distinguishes KD from the Deuteronomist, for he believes that KD was later---an heir to the tradition of the Deuteronomistic School.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Crusemann on Mosaic Courts, Deuteronomistic Additions to the Cultic Decalogue, and Unjust Mishpatim

For my write-up today of Frank Crusemann's The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law, I have three items:

1. On page 107, Crusemann states: "There probably was a Mosaically legitimized institution during the monarchic period that made a decisive contribution to the establishment of a legal system independent of the state and royalty." In the post-exilic period, however, "Moses" was the rubric under which different traditions were united, the Torah could "survive all institutions", and tradition could be renewed. But, regarding the pre-exilic monarchic period, "Moses" was used to legitimize a court system---which we see in II Chronicles 19 that King Jehosophat sanctioned, but which (according to Crusemann) was independent of the monarchy. It consisted of judges, priests, and heads of families, and there is evidence in the Deuteronomic law of its existence. Crusemann states on page 98 that this court spoke in the name of Moses and handled "the Israelite law originating ultimately from God" (page 98).

2. On pages 118-119, Crusemann talks about the scholarly argument that there are Deuteronomistic additions to Exodus 34, which contains the cultic Decalogue:

"This, of course, raises the question to what extent is it legitimate to use literary criticism on phrases and expressions like 'take care that...' simply because they are found only or predominantly in Deuteronomy or in deuteronomistic texts. This eliminates the possibility that this might be, for example, an early deuteronomistic text. What justification is there to regard phrases such as 'jealous God'...which appears next to the unique 'jealous YHWH'...in verse 14 as only an addition, because it is otherwise found only in Deuteronomy and the Decalogue? The stylistically impressive doubling in verse 14 is then destroyed. By what right do we exclude as deuteronomistic the formula already found in Hosea, 'your God;' or the designation, though not word-for-word at least present in substance in pre-deuteronomistic material, of another temple besides Jerusalem as 'house of God?'"

Crusemann's argument is that not everything that is identified as a Deuteronomistic addition to Exodus 34 necessarily is that, for the Deuteronomistic terminology either appears in non-Deuteronomistic material, or Crusemann can envision a non-Deuteronomist using it (i.e., "take care that"). But Crusemann is open to accepting v 25b as Deuteronomistic. That verse refers to a chag---a pilgrimage festival---which, for Crusemann, assumes a central cultic place, a significant feature of Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic thought.

3. On pages 166-167, Crusemann states that the Mishpatim of the Covenant Code are the Jerusalem Court's legal code and contain some of the unjust decrees that Isaiah in the eighth century lambasted in Isaiah 10:1-4. The Mishpatim presume debt slavery, allow fathers to sell their daughters, have marriage laws that could put people into permanent slavery (since a slave would have to stay with his master to keep his wife and children), and distinguish the free man with rights (the ish) from the slave. But there is another part of the Covenant Code, the mercy law, which concerns compassion for the aliens. This became an issue after 722, when Northern Israelites fled to Judah because the Assyrians devastated Northern Israel.

Mowinckel on Psalm 82

In Psalm 82, the topic is God's judgment of the unjust gods of the divine assembly. What is the setting for these Psalms?

I looked up what Sigmund Mowinckel said on Psalm 82 in The Psalms in Israel's Worship, and he dated the Psalm to the late monarchy, "when Israel (Judah) was for a long time under the supremacy of Assyria or Babylonia" (I:221). In enthronement festivals such as the ones in Babylon, Mowinckel affirms, the divine assembly payed homage to the triumphant deity, and Yahweh in the Israelite festival divided the nations among the gods. But Psalm 82 makes the divine assembly into a judgment hall, as Israel anticipates God judging the pagan gods of their oppressors.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Crusemann on Sinai

I started Frank Crusemann's The Torah: Theology and Social History of Old Testament Law. In this post, I will talk about his chronicle of the development of the concept of Torah: law given from Mount Sinai (or Horeb). On pages 55-56, Crusemann summarizes his arguments on how and why the Torah came to Sinai.

In the earliest documents, Crusemann argues, God came from Mount Sinai "to save his people" (page 55). And God did this more than once. The Exodus was initiated on Sinai (Exodus 3). In Judges 5:4ff., God, called "this one of Sinai", came from Edom to deliver his people through Deborah. And, on Horeb, "punishment as well as rescue were promulgated until into the period of the Aramean war (1 Kg 19) (page 55). But there was not yet a conception that law was given on Mount Sinai. Rather, in Exodus 18, the Israelite legal system was set up as a result of advice from a Midianite, not God.

But Exodus 32-34---the story of the Golden Calf---is where the Mount of God is connected with law. Exodus 32-34 polemicizes against the Jeroboam cult and presents forgiveness "in the narrative form of cultic renewal" (page 56). The North had fallen in 722, and there was a Decalogue with cultic regulations (see Exodus 34---which talks about such things as the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, etc.) that was to offer Israel a future---something that the fall of the North made Israel think seriously about. In the exilic period, priestly texts then clustered around the Golden Calf story---as we see with Exodus 25-31, 35ff., which concerns the construction of the Tabernacle. These texts are the "foundation of the postexilic temple" (page 56).

At some point, someone added to Deuteronomy chapters 5 and 9ff. As a consequence, the Decalogue we're all used to replaced the cultic Exodus 34 one---or such was the goal of the person inserting those chapters. On page 49, Crusemann traces this move to a shift from a cultic focus to a socio-political focus during the Ezra-Nehemiah period, as the concern was "for the political and legal autonomy of Judaism (or the province of Judah) in the framework of the Persian empire." And, in a sense, Deuteronomy 5 and 9 tie Moses' speech in Moab detailing the laws of Israel back to the mountain of Horeb---as if Moses in Moab were resuming God's speech from there. When the Tetrateuch was connected with Deuteronomy, the Decalogue was placed way before the priestly texts in Exodus "to make a legal basis for Persian-period Judaism" (page 56). The connection of law with Sinai, Crusemann argues, occurred so it could be an "alternative to royal law and cult" (page 57). When the monarchy was no longer there to serve as a basis for law, law was traced back to Sinai. But Sinaitic revelation is so central in the Pentateuch because it was a late concept that was incorporated into it and made central.

That's my understanding so far of Frank Crusemann's views of how Sinai became associated with the giving of the Torah.

Revisiting Rendtorff's Covenant Formula

I may return to my series on Blum in the future. Right now, I want to write some on Rolf Rendtorff's Covenant Formula. I'm not entirely satisfied with my posts on that book, so I decided to read a couple of book reviews to see what the book's main argument was. Essentially, Rendtorff was looking at the formula of "You will be my people, and I will be your God" throughout the Hebrew Bible. He prefers a synchronic approach because that is more conducive to theological analysis, and he argues that biblical authors inserted the Covenant Formula at crucial stages in Israel's history to affirm God's commitment to Israel: Circumcision (Genesis 17, which is P), Sinai/Horeb (P, Deuteronomy), and the promise of a new covenant (Jeremiah 31). I don't think that this book contradicts other things that Rendtorff has written: that independent units were combined under the rubric of God's promises, and that someone united the patriarchal story with the Exodus story. Rendtorff's point appears to be that an editor inserted the Covenant Formula into the Tetrateuch for theological purposes.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nicholson on Blum

I may do a series of posts on the scholarship of Erhard Blum. For the time being, I'll draw from Ernest Nicholson's The Pentateuch in the Twentieth Century, but I may eventually draw from other sources as well.

On page 98, Nicholson sums up Blum's overall argument: Blum "argues that a Deuteronomistic redactor of the early post-exilic years reworked a pre-exilic 'history of the time of Moses', joining it with a (pre-Priestly) narrative of the patriarchs. This Deuteronomistic work (KD) subsequently underwent a Priestly redaction (KP) which gave us the Pentateuch substantially as we have it. For Blum, therefore, as for Rendtorff, the notion of continuous and originally independent sources such as J, E, and P must be abandoned."

When reading Blum or reading about his work, I get intimidated when I see "KD" and "KP", for I'm not accustomed to those designations. But I need to remember that I'm just dealing here with the Deuteronomist and P. Whereas many scholars date the Deuteronomist to the time of Josiah, or to the exile, or to both, however, Blum dates the Deuteronomist to the early post-exilic period. For Blum, the Deuteronomist joined stories about Moses with the pre-priestly narrative of the patriarchs (which I take to mean that there are also priestly, or perhaps post-priestly, stories about the patriarchs). I vaguely recall from Farewell to the Yahwist that Blum modified his position in areas, but his position on the Documentary Hypothesis is the same: he does not think that there is a J source or an E source that runs through the patriarchal and the Moses stories, for his very point is that the patriarchal and the Moses stories were separate and independent---and were brought together at a stage of redaction.

On pages 116-118, Nicholson presents an example of this. In Genesis 25-33, there is an "originally independent narrative about Jacob" that includes "the cult foundation legend of Bethel in Genesis 28:10-19 (without the promises in vv. 13-15) and the Jacob-Esau-Laban narratives in chapters 25:19ff.; 27-33" (page 116). The Jacob-Esau-Laban narrative was combined with Genesis 28:10ff. (the foundation of Bethel) "by means of Jacob's vows in 28:20-2 and the theme of reconciliation between Jacob and Esau" (page 116). According to Blum, this occurred under Jeroboam I, for Jeroboam exalted the site of Bethel and, as an Ephraimite, elevated Joseph. In Genesis 33, the story of Jacob's reconciliation with Esau, Joseph is presented as special to Jacob.

In the eighth century, the Joseph story (Genesis 37-50) was composed, and it was later combined with the Jacob story. After the fall in Northern Israel in 721 B.C.E., "this northern Israelite complex was given a Judaean orientation by the incorporation of chapters 38 (the story of Tamar) and 49 (the blessing of Jacob) both of which give prominence to Judah among the sons of Jacob" (page 117).

Then, according to Blum, the Jacob-Joseph complex was combined with the originally independent Abraham-Lot complex, which is Genesis 13, 18-19 and focuses on the people descended from Abraham and Lot. For Blum, we do not have the beginning of this story, and Genesis 12:1-9 (the land promise and Abraham's migration) does not count because it presupposes the larger patriarchal narrative, and the Abraham-Lot stories appear to be out of place with that. But the Abraham-Lot complex was combined with the Jacob-Joseph complex through the promises in Genesis 13:14-17 and 28:13-15. According to Blum, this occurred between the fall of Northern Israel and the destruction of Judah in 586 B.C.E., and this was also when the promise speeches emerged. Other independent stories were added during the exile---Genesis 12:10-20 (Abraham in Egypt); 16 (Hagar); 21:8-21 (expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael); 22 (the akedah); and 26 (Isaac and Abimelech). Meanwhile, "the theme of the promises to the patriarchs was extended to other contexts in Genesis 12-50."

The Deuteronomist then connected the patriarchal narrative with "the other major tradition complexes in the Pentateuch" (i.e., the Exodus, the Conquest) by means of Genesis 15 (which mentions the Exodus and Conquest) and 24 (the story of Rebecca). Then P added tables of generations and chronological notices.

UPDATE: I’ve learned that Blum actually distinguishes KD from the Deuteronomist, for he believes that KD was later—an heir to the tradition of the Deuteronomistic School.

Theological Points from Kaiser

In this post, I'll be talking about a few points in Otto Kaiser's commentary on Isaiah 1-12.

1. On pages 25-26, Kaiser talks about Isaiah 2, in which the nations of the earth come to Zion to learn God's ways and God's Torah. Kaiser interprets the "Torah" here, "not merely [as] the legal ordinances given in the five books of Moses, but, in the same way as the 'word of Yahweh', also the words of God that at various times are uttered by priests and prophets" (page 27). The nations are coming to Zion to hear from God---through God's mediators. Isaiah 2 says that these events will occur in the latter days---be-acharit. According to Kaiser, this is not an apocalyptic concept about the end of human history, but it does refer to the "consummation of history." My impression is that the difference between apocalypticism and Isaiah 2 is that apocalypticism envisions the present creation being destroyed so that God can make a new heavens and a new earth, whereas Isaiah 2 presents God intervening in the present order and working events towards his own glory and the good of Israel and the nations.

But the term be-acharit intrigues me because I grew up in a denomination that emphasized prophecies about the "last days"---which were basically interpreted to be the Twentieth Century (and, now, the Twenty-First Century). When Genesis 49 talked about events of the latter days, that was taken to refer to Israel (which the Armstrongs saw as the United States, Britain, countries in Europe, and the Jewish people) in the days soon before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This was an important piece of evidence for "British Israelism"---the notion that the United States and Great Britain were tribes of Israel---for Genesis 49 presents Joseph as powerful, which fit the United States and Britain in the "latter days". But, when I looked at commentaries, I saw a different interpretation: that the prominence of Joseph concerned the power of the Northern Kingdom of Israel before its fall in 722 B.C.E. In this scenario, be-acharit was interpreted to mean "days to come", not "in the latter days". "Days to come" does not have to mean the time before the end, or the consummation of history. As I look at the use of the term in the Hebrew Bible, I see it used in reference to such events as the restoration of Israel from exile, or the restoration of other nations (Elam). I suppose that the prophets saw those sorts of events as eschatological---though the restoration itself, which we see in Ezra-Nehemiah---did not occur with a lot of fanfare.

On page 30, Kaiser states that Christians cannot accept Isaiah 2 as it is presented. Whereas Isaiah 2 highlights the cult in Zion, Christians believe that God can be worshiped anywhere (John 4:19-24). But Kaiser affirms that we can get an important point from this passage: "It testifies that if man is seized by the reality of God, he realizes that he is called not to violence and suffering, but to a peaceful and just life with other men, in which alone human life can be fulfilled." My impression from reading the New Testament is that some of the "eschatological" (if you will) parts of the prophets are held to be fulfilled in the church age (John 6:45; 7:38; maybe I Thessalonians 4:9), whereas other aspects are for the future. Is this faithful to the original meaning of the prophets? I don't think so. The prophets depict situations regarding Israel and the nations---so why does the New Testament come along and spiritualize those things? But I do believe that an encounter with God should lead to at least some transformation in a person's life: from violence and strife to love. Does this work in my life? I think I'm better with a relationship with God than without one. But I wish I had more love and peace.

2. On pages 65-66, Kaiser presents a vivid picture of social injustice in ancient Judah. According to Kaiser, the foreign policy of King Uzziah of Judah brought money into the land---in the form of tribute and trade. An upperclass developed, and it bought up one farmer after another. The farmers could not "find a new living as traders", and so they were "totally dependent upon large capitalists." Ownership was in the hands of a few people---in contrast with the vision in Leviticus 25, in which all Israelites had land. Meanwhile, the nobility was drinking alcohol in the morning--putting themselves in a state in which they were "incapable of any serious work (cf. Eccles. 10.16; Acts 2:13-15" (page 67).

3. On page 127, Kaiser offers insight into the mindset of ancient times regarding the harvest: "For the people of that time, the harvest possessed a much more pointed significance than at the present day, where the food supply, at least in time of peace and in Europe, has become almost independent of the seasons. Then, as for many people today in other parts of the world, it signifies the end of a long period of hunger." This, as well as other passages in Kaiser's book, made me think about faith. In Isaiah 7, Isaiah doesn't want Ahaz to make alliances but rather to trust God's election of the Davidic dynasty for the safety of his nation---an election that the king celebrated or commemorated. People in search of guidance consulted the dead because they felt that the dead shared in the gods' knowledge; God, however, wanted the Israelites to consult him. People performed rituals regarding the death and resurrection of a god because their lives depended on the harvest; certain Yahwists, however, boldly proclaimed that the Israelites should trust and obey God for the harvest.

I admit that I have an arm-chair approach to religion and theology: I see all these views out there, and I don't know what's right. But I'm not too worried about where my next meal is coming from. Back then, people were told that their security depended on having the right religion. Come to think of it, even people today are told that---which is why people try to live good lives to avoid pain and to prosper. I don't know if my prosperity depends on me having the right religion. But I try to trust that there is a God who is loving. I hope that he blesses me in my circumstances, but I also try to take comfort in the idea that he loves me, whatever my circumstances may be.

4. On page 152, Kaiser states: "Whether the enemy attains his goal of conquering the capital, or whether he meets his end here, depends upon whether the people of Jerusalem at last honestly repent (cf. 31.6) and recognize that their help is from God and not from the cavalry of Egypt (cf. 30.16; 31.1-3)." That was how I read First Isaiah when I did my weekly quiet time through Isaiah in 1999-2000: Will Judah trust in God's protection of Judah and Jerusalem---and recognize that her security comes through a relationship with God---or will she trust in idols and alliances with foreign nations? Fortunately, Hezekiah made the right decision, and Jerusalem was saved!

But this summary of First Isaiah runs into bumps. For example, if Israel's paradise was to come if she repented, then why didn't it come? If God's judgment of Israel was to precede Israel becoming a paradise, as God rebuilt Israel on a holy remnant, as we see in parts of First Isaiah, then wouldn't it have been better had Israel continued in sin rather than doing the right thing?

Conditionality can be a way to absolve Isaiah from being a false prophet: if his predictions don't come true, then one can say this was because of Israel's behavior, on which God's activity is contingent. But Kaiser states that Isaiah was sure that his predictions would come to pass---so sure that he named his son "a remnant shall return." Isaiah did not fear that people would look at his son and remember Isaiah making a false prophecy. He was certain that a remnant would return, and so he named his son accordingly. What room is there for conditionality, here?

Did a remnant return? Some of Isaiah's prophecies in Isaiah 7-8 came to pass. The Syro-Phoenician alliance did collapse, and so Ahaz was not overthrown by it. And, indeed, Assyria did wreak devastation on Judah. I do not know if the people of Judah were reduced to nomads eating butter and honey---as Isaiah predicted in Isaiah 7. But that may have happened. Was there a remnant? Yes, in the sense that Judahites (including Jerusalem) survived Assyria's onslaught. Isaiah 7:4, 31-32 mentions a remnant, and this was when Hezekiah was hoping that Jerusalem would survive Assyria's invasion. Isaiah's prediction of a remnant came true. But did that result in paradise? No. However, Kaiser's point about interpolations is that Isaiah's predictions were not believed to be limited to the time of Isaiah, for they applied to Israel since that time. And, if the text was not clear on this, an interpolator added something to make it clear.

5. Kaiser believes that Isaiah 1-12 is divinely inspired, on some level. He even thinks that the Christian church fulfills some of the prophecies in the book. But he also holds that Isaiah was limited in his insights. As we saw yesterday, Kaiser dates the parts of Isaiah 1-12 about a widespread Diaspora to Israel's Hellenistic Period, for such a Diaspora did not exist in Isaiah's day. Conservatives could respond that Isaiah---under divine inspiration---was able to see the future. Fair enough. But wouldn't Isaiah also want to communicate with the audience of his own cultural context? Would mentioning something that was not on any of their radars be good communication?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Kaiser on Interpolations to Isaiah

I finished Otto Kaiser's commentary from the 1960's on Isaiah 1-12. My goal in this post is to address a question: Why does Kaiser attribute certain passages in the Book of Isaiah to Isaiah, but other passages to a later redactor or interpolator? Tomorrow, I'll get into cool points Kaiser makes that actually highlight the meaning of the text.

In Isaiah 1:2-9, there is a chastisement of Judah for her rebellion against the LORD, a remark about the desolation of the country and its cities, and an expression of wonder that God left survivors, thereby preventing Judah from becoming like Sodom and Gomorrah. Kaiser thinks that this passage was placed in its prominent position within the book at a late stage in the Book of Isaiah's formation. The passage appears to be a summary in that "it seems to contain in a concise form the whole legacy of the prophet to posterity: it is only thanks to the grace of God that Israel has not wholly succumbed to the judgment which has threatened it time and time again since the days of Isaiah" (page 6). My initial impression is that Kaiser is arguing that Isaiah 1:2-9 is late because it is retrospective and appears to be a summary of the prophet's ministry and its outcome, but Kaiser then says that it is a "prophetic oracle belonging to a previous age" (page 6), indicating that a later scribe did not create it, but used it---meaning it was earlier. Kaiser also states that the later scribe presents Isaiah 1:2-9 "as a valid interpretation of the situation in his own community, living in the expectation of the final judgment" (page 6).

On at least three occasions---on pages 19, 35-36, and 71---Kaiser attributes an oracle to the prophet Isaiah in the eighth century B.C.E. because it appears to present Judah in a state of security and prosperity. The oracles on the capitalistic or political oppression of the poor (i.e., in Isaiah 10) are dated to the eighth century, as are the passages in which God tells Judah not to be so smug, for she will experience divine wrath. I suppose that, in the exilic and the post-exilic periods, Judah was less smug, considering all that she had experienced. But Kaiser affirms on page 35 that the eighth century was a time when Judah and Israel enlarged their territories and achieved "an increase in economic prosperity".

In Isaiah 1:25-26, God promises that he will purify Jerusalem's dross and later restore her judges and the city itself. Then, vv 27-28 states that Zion and those in her who turn will be redeemed by justice and righteousness, but evildoers and those who forsake the LORD will be consumed. Kaiser believes that vv 27-28 are exilic, and that these verses affirmed even in exile that "God's promise and God's threat are still in force" (page 21), meaning that the Jews should turn to god to be restored. My problem with this is that v 27 says that "her turners"---Zion's---will be redeemed in righteousness. Are the exiles "her turners" when they do not even live in Zion?

Isaiah 2:2-5 describes the establishment of the house of the LORD, Gentiles going to Zion to learn God's ways, and peace, as destructive objects of warfare are converted into tools for agriculture. Kaiser thinks that Isaiah 2:2-5 was "interpolated in a later, probably post-exilic redaction, for the sake of [its] use in worship, so that the word spoken by the prophet in the past might be kept alive for the contemporary congregation" (page 23). On pages 29-30, Kaiser explains more what he means. He notes that Isaiah 2:2-5 comes before Isaiah's prophecies of warning, and this indicates that "this congregation lacks everything which is promised here" (page 29). Kaiser believes that Isaiah 2:2-5 was written down and "joined to the scrolls containing the genuine prophecies of Isaiah" in the post-exilic period, for the expectations of Isaiah 2:2-5 "exceed even those of [the exilic] Deutero-Isaiah" (page 19). The message of Isaiah 2:5 ("let us walk in the light of the LORD"), according to Kaiser, is that the Judahites are to walk securely in the light of the LORD, unafraid of their enemies, the same way that one walks securely under the light of the sun. The idea is that the Judahites should realize that they are still God's people, even with the exile, and they should obey the will of God. On page 25, however, Kaiser states that Isaiah 2:2-5 was used in pre-exilic worship. He doesn't believe that Isaiah or Micah (whose book has a similar oracle in Micah 4:1-4) wrote it, but that their books contain two versions of a common oracle. Kaiser argues that Isaiah 2:2-5 does not mesh with the oracles of Isaiah that are authentic, for Isaiah 2:2-5 talks about "the battle between the nations" (page 25).

In Isaiah 3:1-9, there is a prophetic description of the desolation of Judah, followed by vv 10-11, which affirm that it is well with the righteous but ill with the wicked. Kaiser states on page 40 that "In verses 9b-11, a later voice is heard in words which individualize the idea of judgment for pastoral purposes, whereas in the poem that comes from Isaiah himself, the anger of God ultimately falls upon the whole people (cf. 3.12; 5.13)." For Kaiser, the individualistic nature of vv 10-11 does not mesh with Isaiah's more communal focus.

In Isaiah 4:2-6, there is a prediction of restoration: that those left in Jerusalem will be called holy, and that the LORD will create a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night over Mount Zion after judgment has cleansed the filth and blood-guilt of Jerusalem. Kaiser acknowledges that Isaiah himself had a sense of hope, which we see in Isaiah 7:3---where Isaiah's own son is called Shear-Yashuv, "a remnant shall return." But Kaiser thinks that Isaiah 4:2-6 breaks the rhythm of the text---and my guess is that this is because 4:1 is negative, and then 4:2 has "in that day" followed by a positive prophecy. The transition from negative to positive is not smooth, and so Isaiah 4:2-6 may have been inserted by a scribe who wanted to add a note of restoration. Kaiser says that a pre-exilic date for Isaiah 4:2-6 is reasonable, for "Verse 3 assumes that the great and purifying judgment of God has not yet begun" (page 53). But he opts for a post-exilic date---even as late as the third-early second centuries B.C.E. The setting he envisions is that the post-exilic community has just experienced exile, and yet it does not consider itself to be all that holy, and so it envisions yet another judgment. (At least that is my impression of what Kaiser is saying on page 54.) And yet, Kaiser says on page 85 that things were added to Isaiah to comfort the post-exilic community---to encourage her (after the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy about the exile) that she is holy and that God's promises will be fulfilled.

Isaiah 7:8-9 says that Damascus is the head of Aram and Rezin the head of Damascus---that Ephraim will be broken within 65 years and be without a people---and that Samaria is the head of Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah the head of Samaria. Kaiser thinks that the part about Ephraim being broken and without a people is awkward in the text (in that it interrupts the text's train of thought) and is thus an interpolation. He believes that the interpolation refers to an event in 671 B.C.E., when "Esar-haddon settled a foreign ruling class in Samaria" (page 94)

I want to turn now to Kaiser's argument that Assyria in certain (not all) parts of Isaiah is an allegory for the Seleucids in the third century B.C.E. Kaiser makes this claim for the first time on pages 142-143. He thinks that Isaiah 10:12 (which says that the LORD, after finishing his work on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, will punish the arrogance of the king of Assyria) is an interpolation because it interrupts the king of Assyria's boast, which picks right back up in v 13. Although Kaiser appears to hold that Isaiah 10:5-15 is about Sargon, he says that v 12 is a "cryptic reference to the Seleucid rule" (page 143). On pages 145-146, Kaiser argues that Isaiah 10:17 is about the Seleucids. He says that v 17 does not fit into its context that well because, whereas v 16 posits a long death, v 17 says that the destruction will come in one day. Kaiser states that someone inserted v 17 in order to affirm that God would destroy the contemporary oppressors of Israel---the Seleucids---as God overthrew Israel's previous enemies, and this was to be "read in the course of worship" (page 146). Why else would somebody add that little oracle of judgment?, Kaiser appears to wonder. Regarding Isaiah 24:24-27a, Kaiser notes the references to other passages of Scripture (passages in Isaiah, the Exodus story, the Gideon story) and says that Isaiah 24:24-27a "breathes the atmosphere of a zealous study of the scripture" (page 149). He maintains that the passage was designed to prepare a remnant in the congregation to endure God's wrath---and he speculates that its setting was the time of the Seleucids, for whom the Assyrians became a "cryptic name."

On page 164, Kaiser argues that Isaiah 11:10-16 is post-exilic. It assumes a widespread Jewish diaspora, which was primarily true in the post-exilic period, especially during the time of the Diadachoi (although Kaiser acknowledges that the stage had been set for such a Diaspora since 722 for Northern Israel and 586 for Judah---and Joel 3:6 even mentions that the Philistines and Phoenicians sold people from Judah into slavery in Greek lands). According to Kaiser, v 13 is about the Samaritan schism in the third century B.C.E.. For Kaiser, the references to God's coming deliverance of Judah and her exiles from Egypt and Assyria concerns the Ptolemies (in Egypt) and the Seleucids (for whom Assyria is a code-name). (Note: v 13 just says that Judah is oppressed, and Kaiser concludes that the oppressors are Egypt and Assyria. But vv 11, 15-16 predict the return of the exiles from those two countries.) Whereas Isaiah focused on those staying behind in Judah as the remnant (Isaiah 6:13; 7:3; 10:20-22), Isaiah 11:10-16 is conscious of Diaspora Judaism---and it appears to echo Second Isaiah's prophecy of return from a foreign land (though I wonder how Kaiser would interpret the "return" part of Isaiah's son, "a remnant shall return"); consequently, it is not Isaian but came after Isaiah. And there is a prophecy about a second David---which would resonate in a time that lacked a Davidic monarch.

I want to note one more thing: Kaiser cites Isaiah 19:23f. on page 143, when he is talking about Assyria being an allegory for the Seleucids in certain passages. That passage is about the joining of Israel with Assyria and Egypt in worship. For Kaiser, is this about the unity of Jews---those in Palestine with those in the Diaspora? Or is it saying that the Seleucids and the Ptolemies will worship the true God after God judges them?

A while back, I wrote about Niels Peter Lemche's argument that Isaiah did not know about the Exodus, and that the references to the Exodus in First Isaiah are from a later hand. I learned from Kaiser at least one scholarly rationale for that point of view. I don't know whether or not Kaiser thinks that Isaiah knows about the Exodus. But he dates the references to the Exodus in Isaiah 1-12 to Israel's post-exilic period.

The Settlement of the Transjordan, Part 3

This will be my last post on Jacob Milgrom's Excursus 70 in his Jewish Publication Society commentary on the Book of Numbers. The excursus is entitled "The Settlement of Transjordan (chap. 32)". My last two posts have been about the settlement of Reuben and Gad in the Transjordan, but this post will concern the settlement of the half-tribe of Manasseh there.

Numbers 32:39-42 presents Manassites taking territory in the Transjordan, and such passages as Numbers 34:14-15; Deuteronomy 3:13-15; 4:43; 29:7; Joshua 1:12; 12:6; 13:29; 14:3; 17:1-16; and 18:7 hold that the Manassite settlement in the Transjordan occurred in the time of Moses. And yet, Joshua 17:14-18 has a different picture, when one reads it together with Deuteronomy 3:13: the Josephites settled in the Cisjordan (the mainland of Canaan) and did not have enough room, and so some of them "were told by Joshua to clear the forests in the land of the refa'im, who (according to Deut. 3:13) lived in upper Transjordan" (page 496). Consequently, Milgrom asserts that there is scholarly consensus that Manassites moved to the Transjordan during the time of the judges. (Why not Joshua?)

But the Septuagint does not mention the Rephaim in its version of Joshua 17:14-18, and so it presents the Manassites clearing forests, not fighting Rephaim. M.H. Segal concludes that the Israelites must have already possessed the land, if all the Manassites had to do was clear forests, without fighting for the land. But Milgrom has another suggestion: that "Gad and Reuben requested land that had already been conquered by all Israel, whereas the Manassite clans conducted their own campaigns of conquest. Hence, they did not ask for Moses' permission but for his ratification, which he then granted (v. 40; Deut. 3:13-15)" (page 496). Milgrom seems to be saying that the Manassites took territory in the Transjordan, and Moses ratified that. But I'm unclear as to how that reconciles the apparent contradiction between the Manassite conquest of the Transjordan occurring in the time of Moses, and it happening during the time of Joshua---unless Milgrom's claim is that the Manassites took the Transjordan under Moses, and, later under Joshua, Manassites in the Cisjordan expanded into the Transjordan by clearing forests of still uninhabited territory.

Milgrom then says that the phrase "half-tribe of Manasseh" is an interpolation in places. In Joshua 22, Manasseh is mentioned along with Gad and Reuben as Transjordanian tribes, except that vv 25, 33-34 mention only Reuben and Gad. For Milgrom, that shows that "half-tribe of Manasseh" was interpolated sometime after Manassite clans had entered the Transjordan.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Things That Took Me Aback in the Liturgy

Church was interesting this morning. Here are some passages from the liturgy, along with my commentary:

1. "Loving God, we confess that too often we see others serving You in ways that appear excessive and extravagant to us. We criticize, scold, and pass judgment upon others, as if we could limit the abundant ways that they express their love and service to You. Forgive us, we pray, for our short-sightedness and sin. Help us to recognize that there are a variety of ways for diverse people to express their faithfulness and love to You. Amen."

This prayer took me aback, for I wondered what exactly it was saying. But my hunch is that it was preparing us for the sermon. The sermon was by a guest speaker, who talked about Christian women in nineteenth century America. These women stood against slavery and alcohol and for women's suffrage. They did not believe that slavery was the social order that God desired, and, rather than viewing "Canaan" solely in terms of a blissful afterlife, they tried to bring "Canaan" to people here on earth.

Different people have different callings in life. Others may not appreciate those callings, but that doesn't make them unimportant. And I may not understand the callings of others, but they are important to somebody.

2. "We remember Mary and Martha, sisters who served in very different ways. We are grateful for their acts of service."

This took me aback because Martha has gotten a bad rap in Luke 10 and in modern Christian culture. And maybe Martha in Luke 10 should have relaxed a little because Jesus and his disciples were not overly demanding as guests. But where would we be without our Marthas, the women who cook and serve? And yet, it's good to help out so that the Marthas can take a break!

3. "We remember Sarah and Hagar, women whose lives were curiously intertwined and who, in their own ways, put their faith in a gracious God who would provide for them."

And they didn't even like each other! Yet, both of them were valuable to God and are to be commended for their faith. I should realize that there is some good even in people whom I do not like, and who do not like me.

4. "Our God forgives us, even when we have been unforgiving of others."

This took me aback because it appears to contradict Scriptures that say that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others (Matthew 6:14-15; 18:23-35). What the author of that prayer does with those Scriptures, I have no idea. But the prayer makes sense: I'm human, but God is divine and is thus more able to forgive than I am. But I hope that God can give me the strength to forgive.

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