Monday, January 31, 2011

Central and Local

I started Bernard Levinson's Deuteronomy and the Hermeneutics of Legal Innovation.

Levinson argues that Deuteronomy was associated with King Josiah of Judah's "centralization and purification of the cultus in 622 B.C.E., as narrated in 2 Kings 22-23" (9). Against scholars who maintain that Josiah was a fictional character invented in the exilic or post-exilic period---as a depiction of an idealistic king---Levinson contends that the embarrassing nature of the story in II Kings 22-23 shows that Josiah wasn't just made up. Levinson states:

"Throughout the Deuteronomistic History, the editor evaluates kings according to their conformity to a standard of legal righteousness. For that same editor suddenly to confess that the lawbook that served as the basis for his evaluations was in fact completely unknown and only belatedly discovered, and then only by chance, threatens to jeopardize the credibility of the entire enterprise...The anomaly is best explained under the premise that the narrative core of 2 Kings 22-23 is the work of a preexilic editor who sought to legitimate the introduction of a new set of laws and to sanction Josiah's cultic and political initiatives." (10)

For Levinson, had an exilic or post-exilic Deuteronomist simply made up the Josiah story out of whole-cloth, he wouldn't have presented the Law of Moses being discovered suddenly during the reign of Josiah, for that undercuts his claim that the previous kings of Judah were evaluated according to their obedience to that law. The Deuteronomist would not have made up that embarrassing detail, and so it must have been true.

Levinson's book is about how centralization impacted various issues. King Josiah banned sanctuaries throughout Judah and commanded worship to occur only at one central sanctuary, the one in Jerusalem, and Deuteronomy supported this agenda. But Deuteronomy had to interact with respected laws, the Covenant Code and other laws in what we know as the Pentateuch, in order to legitimize the agenda of centralization. These laws recognized and promoted the existence of local cults. Deuteronomy could not simply dismiss them, for they were respected, and so it went the route of rewriting and reinterpreting them. The altars of Exodus 20:24 were interpreted in Deuteronomy 12 as temporary---God permitted them before Israel had attained rest, but, once she gets rest from her enemies, she is to worship only at the place that God shall choose---the central sanctuary. The Covenant Code talked about judicial oaths at local sanctuaries, but, once those were abolished in the Deuteronomic reform, another judicial system would have to be set up, which Deuteronomy laid out. Prior to Deuteronomy, the Passover was a household apotropaic rite, and the Days of Unleavened Bread entailed a pilgrimage to the local cult. But Deuteronomy changed that, mandating that the Passover be slaughtered at the central sanctuary, not at home.

But, for Deuteronomy, centralization was not an absolute, perhaps because its authors realized that they could not totally dismantle localization, which was highly regarded by the people. Consequently, in Deuteronomy 12, the local slaughtering of meat is permitted. In Deuteronomy 16:18, there is a provision for local courts. According to Deuteronomy 16, the Passover had to be sacrificed at the central sanctuary, but the Days of Unleavened Bread were to be observed locally (in the Israelites' tents). On pages 49-50, Levinson states:

"In the face of the dismantling of the countryside cultus begun by Hezekiah and intensified by Josiah, it was crucial for the Deuteronomic authors to establish for the citizens of Judah that the loss of the local altars did not entail complete loss of local access to God or, more seriously, that God had abandoned the local sphere. They went out of their way to provide the local sphere with its own integrity. Yahweh continues to be active and to grant his blessing there."

When I was an evangelical, trying to find some practical application from Deuteronomy's insistence on a central sanctuary, the lesson I drew was that Christians should go to church and gather with other believers---recognizing that they are part of a larger body. They should not limit their worship to their one-on-one relationship with God, as present as God was in that. I had issues with this, however, because I tended to feel alone in church or fellowship settings. That's why I appreciate something that Levinson notes on page 91, whether or not it addresses my concern:

"The Israelite would originally have observed the festivals at the local sanctuary, which would have been part of his community and where he would have been known. Deuteronomy's command to undertake a pilgrimage to the central sanctuary to observe these festivals had to involve immense social displacement; not only would the new site have been unfamiliar, but the celebrant would himself be unknown in the Temple precincts. He would be surrounded by others alien to him, themselves feeling equally alien. The new command, therefore, would contribute to a breakdown of the local cultus and to a decrease in the dominance of the clan networks in conventional religious life. Deuteronomy replaces these with a corporate religion. The citizenry becomes constituted as a national religious polity as it now begins to celebrate the festivals at a single time, at a single place, and as a single body."

I'm reminded by this quote of how good it is to fit in somewhere, and yet we need to be reminded that there is a human race outside of our own cliques.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


At the Presbyterian Church this morning, the title of the sermon was "You Can Be Happy."

The sermon had some things that I've heard in other settings, but also some unexpected twists and turns. The pastor referred to a celebrity who had a lot of earthly riches, and yet this celebrity said that he wasn't happy. I've encountered this sort of motif in other places. Herbert Armstrong referred to a rich man who had lots of money, and yet he lamented that he couldn't hold together a marriage. There are movies and television shows that say that money cannot buy happiness. When churches appeal to this motif, I think they're advertising: they're saying that people don't get happiness by pursuing what the world offers, but rather by embracing and following the faith of the church. And, throughout this service, the following things were presented as the path to happiness: praising God for his blessings, a touch from God, times of solitude with God, and service to God.

Do I buy that? To an extent. I am definitely discontent with aspects of my life, but I definitely appreciate my blessings, especially when I realize that I can lose them. As far as a touch from God goes, I'm not sure if I can control that. There are Christians and other theists who experience what they consider to be a clear touch from God---a sign of God's love and care. I'd like to think that a touch from God for me is whenever I read, hear, or experience something that makes me feel better and strong enough to keep on keeping on---it doesn't have to be out of the ordinary. But I have issues with expecting that sort of thing from God because what about the times when I don't feel God or anything good in my life---when I am lonely and feel hopeless? Where is God's touch at those times? On times of solitude with God, I do find that talking with God throughout the day helps me to get through it with more inner tranquility. On service to God, I can look back at the time when I did church work and Intervarsity work and say that I did not feel fulfilled doing that stuff. I felt more fulfilled working at a food pantry when I was in high school. I think my problem is that evangelicals like to dramatize service---in their eyes, it's not enough for me to give a message, but I have to be powerful and demonstrate the anointing of the Holy Spirit, bringing souls to Christ. But helping people at a food pantry is more low-key, and so I find it more fulfilling.

For me, having a religious life is not enough for happiness. I was religious through much of my life, but that didn't make me happy. What made me happy was when I continued my relationship with God, but also learned some social skills so that I wasn't alienating everyone around me. I can't say that everyone likes me now---academia, and I'd say a lot of society in general---are very cynical places that set conditions on their love. But praying to God when much of the world was against me did not make me happy. I needed to learn some social skills.

I don't like making happiness conditional on externals, for what will happen when those externals go away? Will I fall into utter despair? This sort of question makes me reluctant to enjoy externals, when I actually should feel free to enjoy them. There are externals that make me happy. Christ living within me does not make me happy all of the time. It hasn't in the past. But when you combine that with going to a work-place that has friendly people, or being around family and cute kitties, then there's a recipe for my happiness. Living away from home, I had a hard time being happy amidst a cold world, especially since I came home to an empty apartment. Prayer helped me to cope, but it didn't make me happy. Now, there are still times when I feel alienated in the outside world, but I come home to family and some nice kitty cats.

Where the pastor's sermon went on an unexpected turn was when he said that Jesus had many of the things that the world says would make us happy: fame, popularity, etc. I'm not sure where the pastor was going with this. Maybe his point was that Jesus did not find happiness in these things. Rather, he found it in his relationship with God, in service to others, etc. Maybe if I was as sure that God exists and loves me as Jesus was, I would be happy. As far as service to others goes, even Jesus saw a need to go on personal retreats, or on retreats with his disciples, so continual service did not make him happy. But, even though Jesus was social, Jesus himself felt alienation, especially since many did not appreciate him, and his own disciples did not understand him. But was Jesus happy? If so, why?

North and South

I finished up Jon Levenson's Sinai and Zion today. In this post, I want to discuss Levenson's view on the Sinai and the Zion traditions as they relate to Northern and Southern Israel.

Many biblical scholars hold that the Sinai tradition was prominent in the North---where they believe that the Book of Deuteronomy originated---whereas the Zion tradition and the concept of an eternal monarchy were stronger in the South. According to this view, the North was a place where anti-monarchical religious sentiment flourished, as we can see in the Book of Hosea, a Northern prophet (Hosea 5:1; 8:10; 10:3-4; 13:10-11). The king was believed to be subordinate to the laws of Sinai, and he was second-class to the prophets, who anointed kings. We see this in I Kings' narrative about the North, in which Elijah and Elisha anoint kings of Northern Israel, or prophesy the fall of kings for their disobedience of God. Horeb was also a bigger tradition in the North, for Elijah fled there. This is the sort of ideology that is in the Book of Deuteronomy, for Deuteronomy 17 displays a snide attitude towards any king who might rule over Israel, as well as conditions the king's rule on observance of the covenant. Deuteronomy 18 contains the North's emphasis on prophecy, as it presents the prophet as the successor of Moses. These are factors that have led many scholars to conclude that Deuteronomy originated in the North. While the North elevated the laws of Horeb over the king, the South, by contrast, held that the Davidic dynasty was eternal (II Samuel 7; Psalm 89), and emphasized Zion over Sinai.

Levenson's argument is that things are more complicated than that. For one, there are Southern prophets who emphasize Sinai. Micah, a Southern prophet, refers to principles that recall laws in the Torah, as he denounces land fraud, sorcery, and iconography, as well as associates idolatry with harlotry. Amos, who spoke to the North, actually came from the South. Moreover, even the passages about the eternity and unconditional nature of the Davidic covenant (II Samuel 7; Psalm 89) hold that the king can be chastised for sin, which Levenson seems to define as the violation of a law given at Sinai. And a prophet anointed David to be king, which, in the collective mindset of the ancient world, meant that the prophet also anointed all of David's offspring as well. And so the South had elements of Sinai.

And, while the North did not talk about Zion, it may have had a belief in an eternal dynasty. Moshe Weinfeld notes that perpetual grants are given to people for a display of zeal, as was the case with God's award of Phinehas with a perpetual priesthood in Numbers 25, for his slaughter of an idolatrous couple. Why wouldn't Jehu be awarded a covenant of a perpetual dynasty for his zeal in slaughtering the prophets of Baal? Maybe that would explain why Northern Israelites were so angry when Amos predicted the end of Jehu's line (Amos 7:10-11). This strikes me as speculation, but I do want to note that, in I Kings 11:38, God promises to build Jeroboam a sure house, as God did for David, provided that Jeroboam observe God's commandments. So the idea of an eternal dynasty was applicable to the North as well, but Jeroboam blew it.

I enjoyed Levenson's discussion of the Book of Micah. Levenson considers its core to date to the eighth century for two reasons: "First, the emphasis upon Bethlehem rather than Jerusalem as the ancestral city of the coming ruler...would seem to imply the continued vitality of the relations among clans in Judah" (198), which was a pre-exilic reality. And, second, Micah reflects fear of the Assyrians, who were a major threat in the eighth century B.C.E.

But does Sinai conflict with Zion in the Book of Micah? Micah 3:12 states that Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, whereas 5:5 portrays the king delivering Israel from the Assyrians. Does the promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty and Zion's inviolability cancel out God's threat of destruction, which is rooted in the Sinaitic covenant? Levenson doesn't think so, for he states that the promise follows the punishment, rather than averting it. That means that Israel's restoration comes after the curses of the covenant have "been actualized."

Levenson's conclusion is that we see criticisms of monarchy in the North and the South, for both had clashes between the city and the countryside, and the establishment and independent prophets.

Levenson makes an interesting point on pages 203-204, in a footnote. He says that scholars present the North as anti-establishment and the South as supportive of an eternal monarchy and priestly liturgy because they are Protestant, and they favor the North, which they equate with Protestantism. The South, however, they equate with Roman Catholicism. Levenson likes to identify bias in scholarship, as when he talks about the anti-Judaism sub-text of Wellhausen's views on the history of Israelite religion (which is fine to note, as long as Wellhausen's arguments are taken seriously and not merely dismissed as the product of bias). I'm not sure if Levenson is correct about why scholars appear to favor the North, but his statement took me aback because so much of the Hebrew Bible favors the South over the North. The South has good kings, and the right sanctuary. The North has bad kings, and the wrong sanctuary!

David Aaron's point in Etched in Stone is that the concept of Sinai was late, for it does not appear in so much of the Hebrew Bible. What Levenson associates with "Sinai" in the prophets is a moral standard that God uses to judge Israel. The prophets do not explicitly mention Sinai, however. Aaron may attribute the principles that Micah upholds to elements of Israel's cultural repertory, rather than to laws in the Torah as we understand it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Psalm 9

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will write about Psalm 9. Psalm 9 expresses confidence that God will judge the wicked and the nations that forget God, even as he vindicates the oppressed.

The superscription on this Psalm contains the words Almuth labben. What exactly does this phrase mean? It depends on how one divides the words!

1. One way to divide the words is as Al Muth La-ben. That means "concerning death to the son." And so some believe that this Psalm is about the death of a son. What son? Here are some possibilities that people have proposed:

a. Absalom. The idea here is that David was rejoicing over the defeat of his son, Absalom. The problem here is that David was sad when Absalom died (II Samuel 18:33).

b. David's son by Bathsheba. In the medieval Midrash on the Psalms, we read an opinion of the Rabbis: "As long as that [other] son of his was alive, David knew that the heart of the Holy One, blessed be He, was angry with him, but when the son died David knew that the heart of the Holy One, blessed be He, became tender toward him" (Braude's translation). If the rabbis are taking into consideration the overall Psalm in their interpretation of its superscription, their idea may be that David now has assurance that God will deliver him and Israel from their enemies, for David had already experienced the worst of God's chastisement when his son by Bathsheba died. That would give David strength through the hard times that were coming up.

c. Israel, God's son (Exodus 4:23). The Midrash on the Psalms says that God decrees death for his son, Israel, and yet that decree is revoked when Israel repents. When Israel is assured of God's mercy to her, that may comfort her with the realization that God will deliver her from her enemies.

d. Jesus, the son of God. This is an interpretation that some Christians have, though, interestingly, John Gill rejects it because he does not think that it fits the Psalm's subject matter (not that this has stopped him from making Christological applications before). The idea here may be that God in 70 C.E. judged the religious system that put Jesus to death, and that God will judge other enemies of Jesus.

e. God's people, who are his children. Both Jews and Christians apply this Psalm to the martyrdom of holy people. I see in Augustine, John Gill, and Jimmy Swaggart a belief that Psalm 9-10 are about God's judgment of the Antichrist, who persecutes God's people.

2. A related view is that the phrase concerns the death of Labben. That could be an enemy of David named Labben, or David's enemy Nabal, who was supposedly like the vile Laban (according to one interpretation). Then there's the opinion that the Psalm concerns the death of la-beyn---to the one between. In this interpretation, the Psalm is about the defeat of David's enemy, Goliath, who stood between the camp of Israel and that of the Philistines.

3. Another approach is to treat Almuth as one word, which means "secret," from the root ayin-lamed-mem. Here are some places where interpreters have gone with that:

a. The Midrash on the Psalms presents a view that it means a fault is hidden to God's son, Israel, but God forgives that unwitting sin on Yom Kippur. Again, Israel receiving forgiveness from God indicates that she has his favor, and thus can trust that he will deliver her from her persecutors.

b. Luther says that the Almuth are saints who have hidden faith and are dead to the world. He may mean that Christians' lives are hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3), and that they have died to the world (Galatians 6:14). The idea may be that Christians are secure and hidden in Christ, whatever or whoever may come against them. I wonder if Psalm 9:9 can be relevant to this sort of view: God is a refuge for the oppressed, which means that he hides them and keeps them safe from the oppressor.

c. Psalm 9:12 says that God makes inquiry about blood, and that he does not forget the cry of the humble. Could that be related to Almuth? Interpreters talk about the wicked committing their murders and their oppressive acts in secret, but they do not explicitly tie that concept to the word Almuth. Maybe the idea is that God is uncovering secrets concerning his children, namely, their being victims at the hands of the powerful, who can cover their deeds. Or it could be that God takes notice of those whom society normally overlooks---who are hidden to the world---the poor, the vulnerable, the humble, etc.

4. There are other ideas. Some think that the superscription is merely saying that the Psalm should be sung to a certain tune. Another idea is that the "Ben" of the superscription is a Levitical singer named Ben, who appears in I Chronicles 15:18. Then some repoint Almuth as Alamoth, "virgins," asserting that the Psalm is sung by female singers (see Song of Songs 1:3), or that Alamoth refers to a musical instrument (I Chronicles 15:20). Psalm 46 is a Psalm with a superscription that contains the word Alamoth.

Rereading Sinai and Zion

I'm reading Jon Levenson's Sinai and Zion right now. It's been years since I've read it, and this reading is different from my previous readings. In my previous readings, I had a hard time understanding Levenson's argument, plus I could not see his theological biases, which others around me were claiming to identify. In my mind, I was just reading dry and detached scholarship---which came as a shock to me when I took his classes and found him to be a funny, animated lecturer, with a sensitivity to the religious aspects of Judaism! In my current reading, however, his prose is a lot clearer and much more engaging to me, and some of his writing sounds like preaching, even though his approach to the Hebrew Bible is far from fundamentalist. (He acknowledges the diversity of the biblical writings, says that theological meaning was attached to events rather than intrinsic to them, highlights the viewpoint in the Hebrew Bible that there was more than one god, etc.)

I've seen this most in his section on Sinai. Levenson interprets the Sinai covenant in light of second millennium B.C.E. Hittite treaties, in which people swore allegiance to a Lord, and were thus forbidden to serve other lords. This is why the Sinai covenant emphasizes that Israel must serve the LORD alone---it's not because the other gods do not exist, but rather because she is bound to the LORD. Moreover, while Levenson does not hold that Moses wrote the entire Pentateuch, he does believe that there is an important principle in the ascription of the Pentateuch to Moses: it makes obedience to the Torah a matter of serving a personal God, who revealed his will for Israel to Moses, rather than one of submission to a mere set of rules. Therefore, Israelites cannot pick and choose what laws they will observe, for they are not bound to an abstract rationality, but rather to their God, with whom each and every Israelite is in a covenant that he must continually affirm. That means that Israelites must trust God enough to obey God's rules, even the ones that make no apparent sense.

Levenson does not appear to be as homiletical in his section on Zion, at least not so far. But I'm struggling somewhat to understand his argument. Levenson cites Isaiah 14:12-15, which presents the assembly of the gods as occurring on the top of Mount Zaphon, which, in Psalm 48:3, refers to Mount Zion. But the assembly of the gods was not on Zion, right?

Sure, there was a temple there that housed God's presence. Even after the temple was destroyed, there was a belief that God still dwelt on Zion (according to Levenson), for prayers were directed by Jewish exiles in the direction of the holy mountain (I Kings 8:28-29; Daniel 6:11). There may have been a belief that Zion was special, even by those who lived there before David took it over, for, as Levenson notes, the Jebusites in II Samuel 5:6-7 view Jerusalem as impenetrable---which could be because they thought that it had divine protection (pages 93-94). But Zion was not literally heaven---a place where the gods met, as Mount Olympus was to some Greeks. Granted, the temple was a symbol of the cosmos, as Levenson argues, and what's interesting in Isaiah 6 (according to Levenson) is that the temple comes alive---it actually transforms into the heavenly reality to which it points, as Isaiah sees not only statues and representations of angels, but real ones. But Zion was not literally heaven, for buildings were there---whether they were standing or (after the destruction of Jerusalem) in ruins.

So I'm slightly confused on this point.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Finishing Up Hoffmeier

I finished James Hoffmeier's Ancient Israel in Sinai. Here are the Hoffmeier points that stood out to me:

1. In my post,Wellhausen's Chronology of Sources, I discussed a defense of the historicity of the Tabernacle by David Heagel, which appeared in The Fundamentals during the 1920's. Heagel argued that the Tabernacle resembles elements of ancient Egyptian religion and culture, and he also appealed to the part of the Pentateuchal story that says that the Tabernacle was made of Shittim wood, which was specific to the Negev, the Arabah, and Sinai---the location where the Pentateuchal story places the Israelites when God commands them to build the Tabernacle. For Heagel, the story is authentic in its narration of the past, for its details demonstrate that Israelites who left Egypt and dwelt in the wilderness built a Tabernacle before they entered Canaan.

Decades later, Hoffmeier goes this route as well, only with more knowledge about Egyptian language, religion, history, and culture than Heagel had. Overall, Hoffmeier does an excellent job. But I wonder how Hoffmeier's claim that the Israelites borrowed from the culture and religion of ancient Egypt would play out among conservative Christians---who may like the way that Hoffmeier defends the historicity of the biblical narratives against centrist and liberal scholars, and yet may feel uncomfortable with the notion that the ancient Israelites got ideas from Egypt rather than direct revelation from God.

For example, on page 233, Hoffmeier argues that ancient Israel's prohibition on eating pork most likely came from Egyptian rather than Canaanite influence, as part of his thesis that the Israelites came from Egypt, rather than being indigenous Canaanites. In Egypt, pigs were held to be unclean, even though they were eaten by a lot of people. In Canaan, however, they were just eaten, no questions asked. For Hoffmeier, Israel's ban on pork consumption most likely was the effect of her sojourn in Egypt. Why not answer his puzzle by saying that Israel's law against eating pork came from God's direct command?

On page 239, he actually goes that route: answering a puzzle with "God did it." After noticing the scholarly failure to find the origins of the name of YHWH (in Egypt, in Ugarit, etc.), he resorts to the conclusion that Israel got the name from God himself---on Sinai. He calls this the "phenomenological perspective," which often appears to mean that he accepts the worldview of the biblical narrative, even on the issue of supernatural intervention. I wonder, though, if he extends that sort of courtesy to the supernatural claims of other religions and cultures.

There were a couple of times when Hoffmeier's appeal to Egyptian influence on Israel actually allowed him to come up with interesting ways to explain details of the biblical narrative. On page 173, Hoffmeier asks why God commanded the Israelites in Exodus 16 to keep the Sabbath, soon after their departure from Egypt. His solution was that the Israelites were accustomed to the Egyptian week---which had ten days, eight of which were for work---and so God tried to get them on track---on the Israelite week of seven days.

On pages 229-230, Hoffmeier wrestles with the rebellion of Korah in Numbers 16-17. Many scholars view this story as an Aaronic priestly attempt to put down rival Levites, but Korah does not say that non-Aaronic Levites should be priests; rather, Korah says that all Israel is holy. Hoffmeier argues that Korah is not saying that he should have special priestly privileges as a Levite, but rather that he should have them as a former Egyptian cleric---for "Korah" means "bald" or "shaved head," which was true of certain Egyptian clerics.

I'm not sure how these arguments sit with me, but they're interesting.

2. It was also interesting to see Hoffmeier's interaction with scholars in this book. On pages 214-215, he cites Carol Meyers as a scholar who acknowledges some historicity behind the biblical traditions about Israel's sojourn in the wilderness, and her construction of the Tabernacle while she was there. Against those who question that the ancient Israelites had the resources or the talents to create in the wilderness a magnificent Tabernacle with all its implements (Wellhausen makes this sort of argument), Meyers notes that some nomads specialized in metallurgy, and that art and technology were known in the Late Bronze Age, the setting that the Bible may present for the Exodus (according to Hoffmeier, and perhaps Meyers). I never tagged Meyers as a maximalist, but, then again, all I've really read from her is her comments on Haggai and Zechariah.

On page 217, Hoffmeier combats an argument from S. David Sperling, whom I had at Jewish Theological Seminary for an excellent Genesis course. Sperling argues that Exodus 28:42 dates to the fifth century because it presents the priest in pants, and pants "are only attested beginning in the Persian Period." (This is Hoffmeier's summary of Sperling's argument.) But Hoffmeier cites other examples of pants, which occur before the Persian Period: King Tut (fourteenth century B.C.E.), linen garments from New Kingdom Egypt (sixteenth century-eleventh century B.C.E.), and King Sennacherib (eighth century B.C.E.).

On page 234, Hoffmeier interacts with the scholarship of Sharon Keller, an Egyptologist whose class I took at Jewish Theological Seminary. Although she was far from conservative, she recommended Hoffmeier to me because she considered him a good scholar. Keller argues that the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:23-26 parallels a third millennium Egyptian prayer more than Mesopotamian prayers. Hoffmeier likes this because it fits well into his argument that ancient Israel was in Egypt.

Overall, I enjoyed this book.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Archaeologically Invisible

I'm continuing my way through James Hoffmeier's Ancient Israel in Sinai. The book has a lot of good information---such as evidence that the biblical writings attributed by scholars to "P" reflect knowledge of thirteenth century Egyptian terminology rather than the fifth century B.C.E. (the date that Wellhausen assigned to P), and that covenant formulas in the Pentateuch resemble early Hittite covenants rather first millennium B.C.E. Neo-Assyrian covenants (which, unlike the Hittite treaties and the biblical covenants, lack a historical prologue and blessings, page 192). Hoffmeier's point is that the Exodus and wilderness stories date close to the time about which they are narrating---the late second millennium B.C.E.---rather than the first millennium B.C.E.

What I want to talk about in this post, however, is Hoffmeier's discussion on pages 150-159, which is the reason that I actually bought the book. In 2004, I did a presentation on the historicity of the Exodus for a class at Jewish Theological Seminary. Two of the books that I read were Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman's The Bible Unearthed, and James Hoffmeier's Israel in Egypt. Finkelstein and Silberman argued that there is no archaeological trace of a vast number of people in the Sinai and wilderness regions during the alleged time frame of Israel's sojourn. Their point was that the Bible is historically-inaccurate on this point. Hoffmeier made a number of good arguments for the plausibility of a historical Exodus in Israel in Egypt, but he did not address that issue, which was a smoking-gun for Finkelstein and Silberman. But I heard that he had a book coming out on Sinai and the wilderness stories, and so I looked forward to buying it.

As hard as I was on Hoffmeier yesterday---due in part to my anti-conservative Christian mood---I must say today that Hoffmeier's discussion on pages 150-159 did not disappoint. Hoffmeier actually uses Finkelstein's own words to buttress his own argument that the absence of archaeological evidence does not preclude that there were Israelites at Sinai and the wilderness. The Israelites were nomads, and even Finkelstein admits that the nomadic lifestyle is "archaeologically invisible" and does not leave an "archaeological footprint." The reason is (according to Finkelstein) that "nomadic societies do not establish permanent houses, and the constant migration permits them to move only minimal belongings[; m]oreover, their limited resources do not facilitate the creation of a flourishing material culture that could leave rich archaeological finds." A few pages later, Hoffmeier offers additional reasons that the nomadic lifestyle is hard to trace archaeologically: ancient Near Eastern nomads used skins for tents and to transport liquids, and nomads Hoffmeier observed tend to move their fire holes, rather than marking them and keeping them in one place.

Hoffmeier also refers to examples of incidents in which a text asserts that there were people in a certain place at a certain time, and yet there is no archaeological trace of that:

"By way of analogy, the annals of Thutmose III and the Kadesh inscriptions of Ramesses II report the pitching of Egyptian camps on these respective campaigns. From the Gebel Barkal stela, we learn that Thutmose's siege of Megiddo lasted seven months. In the case of Ramesses II, we have several portrayals of his tent camp...Even given the prolonged period of the Egyptian siege at Megiddo, with thousands of soldiers and hundreds of horses from the chariots present, no archaeological evidence of this camp has been discovered, despite a century of excavations and exploration at Megiddo. The same is true of Tell Nebi Mend (Kadesh), where a Roman-period encampment has been found, but no evidence of Ramesses II's encampment." (151-152)

But don't Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 1:1-3 number the adult Israelite males at 600,000 (or, actually, the Numbers passage has 603,550)? Wouldn't that many people have left an archaeological trace? Hoffmeier doesn't address this question with reference to Israel's sojourn in the wilderness, but, on page 155, he acknowledges that, "Regardless of when one might date the exodus and nature of the entry of the Israelites into Canaan during the Late Bronze Age, if millions of people had arrived the archaeological record would surely attest to such an influx." Hoffmeier also mentions other problems with holding that 600,000 adult Israelite males left Egypt. For one, that army vastly outnumbers other armies in the ancient Near East, so why exactly were the Israelites afraid of the Egyptians (who sent 600 chariots), or the Canaanites? Hoffmeier appears to go with an alternative interpretation of eleph (usually translated in English versions as "thousand")---as a military unit (I Samuel 17:18). That means that Israel had 600 military units. That may work, but how would one interpret the figure in Numbers 1:1-3 in light of that? That there were 603 military units, plus 550 other Israelite males?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hoffmeier's Argument from Silence?

I'm continuing my way through James Hoffmeier's Ancient Israel in Sinai.

Perhaps Hoffmeier's strongest argument so far occurs on pages 56-57. Hoffmeier argues that the occurrence of the city-name of Ramesses in Exodus 1:11, 12:37, and Numbers 33:3 indicates that the texts are either preserving a memory from 1270-1120 B.C.E., or they are that old, for the city of Pi-Ramesses only flourished during those years. Hoffmeier seems to go with the view that they are old---as in, dating to the second millennium B.C.E. (which is the date of the Exodus, placing the documents close to the time of the event that they discuss).

Hoffmeier doesn't agree with Egyptologist Donald Redford that the authors of those passages were drawing from their knowledge of first millennium B.C.E. Ramesside cults, which (for Redford) would place the date of these stories in the first millennium B.C.E. For one, Hoffmeier argues, these passages do not reflect knowledge of first millennium B.C.E. Egypt, for they do not refer to the prominent city of that time, Zoan, or Tanis, whereas Psalm 78, a first millennium text, actually does mention Zoan. For Hoffmeier, had the authors of Exodus 1:11, 12:37, and Numbers 33:3 drawn from something in first millennium Egypt, they would have mentioned Tanis, or Zoan.

Second, Hoffmeier states that, "if we assume that seventh- and sixth-century Judean travelers brought the name Rameses back to Judah, [a problem is] that these foreigners would not have been permitted to enter Egyptian temple precincts, where they would have seen these old relics."

Hoffmeier also disputes Egyptologist Donald Redford's claim that Pi-Ramesses was an early term for the city, whereas the Pi was dropped later, which, indicates for Redford that the Exodus story was late. Hoffmeier presents counter-examples, in which the names of cities occur without a Pi in early sources, while late sources have a Pi.

This is a fairly decent argument---not that I know much about Egypt. But what's ironic is that Hoffmeier uses an argument from silence---the Exodus story and the wilderness itinerary do not refer to Zoan or Tanis, and therefore they most likely don't date to the first millennium B.C.E. But, on pages 19-20, Hoffmeier excoriates historical-critics who argue from silence:

"Furthermore, von Rad's reason for late-dating the Sinai episodes because of their absence in the creed of Deuteronomy 26 is an argument from silence. The absence of evidence proves little. It is, in fact, negative evidence. Historian David Hackett Fischer observes that in writing history, 'evidence must always be affirmative. Negative evidence is a contradiction in terms---it is not evidence at all.'"

One thing I came to appreciate in my reading of Julius Wellhausen was that the argument from silence looms large in higher criticism of the Bible. Why don't we see the Tabernacle that much in the biblical historiographic narratives? Wellhausen's answer is that the authors of these stories didn't know about the Tabernacle, for it hadn't been invented yet. Why doesn't Ezekiel appeal to the laws in the Pentateuch to justify the superiority of the Aaronides over other Levites? For Wellhausen, the reason was that the priest had not yet written down those laws, and so Ezekiel was unaware of them. The idea is that, had the authors known about these concepts, they would have certainly included them.

Even though Hoffmeier lambastes historical critics for using arguments from silence, he himself uses that sort of approach when he says that the Exodus story and the wilderness itinerary must be early because they don't mention Tanis or Zoan---which implies that, had the authors lived in the first millennium B.C.E., they would certainly have mentioned those cities. But who says? Maybe they chose not to, for whatever reason. Why do authors have to conform to our expectations?

That's not to say that the argument from silence never works. I think Wellhausen raises some good questions about the absence of the Tabernacle in so much of the biblical historiographic narrative. Why was the ark separated from the Tabernacle for so long? It never seems to dawn on the characters in these stories to put the ark in the Tabernacle! If they had known about the Tabernacle, would that be the case?

I want to cite something else in Hoffmeier's book that irritated me. On page 31, Hoffmeier states that "there is a tendency to accept the historicity of a non-Hebrew story that refers to divine intervention, while dismissing a biblical counterpart, or searching for a natural explanation..." An example he mentions is when an Egyptologist accepts the historicity of a section of the Merneptah stele that refers to a miracle: the enemy chieftain was captured! Um, excuse me, but that's not in the same category as the parting of the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds), or of the sun and moon standing still! No natural law is being suspended in that part of the Merneptah stele! Rather, there's an event in battle, and the stele is attributing that to the divine. Why not accept that the event took place, when it doesn't violate natural laws? By contrast, I wonder if Hoffmeier accepts non-biblical miracle stories---in which natural law is actually violated. If so, good for him! If not, then he's the one with the double standard.

Not that I'd debate Hoffmeier, for he knows far more about the Hebrew Bible and Egypt than I do.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sinai in Hosea and Amos?

I started James Hoffmeier's Ancient Israel in Sinai: The Evidence for the Authenticity of the Wilderness Tradition. You can tell from the title that Hoffmeier is a conservative scholar. And yet, I know of centrist and liberal scholars who respect his scholarship.

I want to mention a point in one of his endnotes. On page 259, Hoffmeier states the following:

"The evidence for the lateness of the wilderness tradition, according to Albertz, is the absence of references to the Sinai theophany in the early prophets. I would disagree and point to Hosea 13:5: 'It was I who knew you in the wilderness.' The reference of 'know'...refers to the intimate relationship God established with Israel by means of the Sinai covenant. The idea is developed in more detail in Hosea 2:14-20, in which Israel's covenant relationship with God will be reestablished by YHWH, who will bring Israel to the wilderness. Similarly, Amos (3:1-2) uses the word 'know' in the same manner as Hosea."

In Etched in Stone, which I blogged through a couple of weeks ago, David Aaron argues that the Sinai tradition is late because it hardly ever appears outside of the Pentateuch, and, in the few cases that it does appear, Dr. Aaron argues that it's an interpolation---on such grounds as the contexts of the passages, and for other reasons. Indeed, the passages that Hoffmeier cites from Hosea and Amos do not explicitly mention Sinai. But Hoffmeier's point is that they refer to a covenant between God and Israel in the wilderness---a covenant, a marriage. Hoffmeier appears to hold that this can only be read in light of the Sinai stories.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Wellhausen on Daniel 12:2 and the Date of J

I finished Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena. In this post, I want to comment on two issues. First, I'll pick out something from today's reading that stood out to me. Second, I'll discuss Wellhausen's date for the Yahwist source (J).

1. In terms of today's reading---which was actually from Wellhausen's article on "Israel" in the Encyclopedia Britannica---something from page 508 stood out to me: "The Book of Daniel says nothing about a general resurrection, but speaks in fact only of a resurrection of the martyrs and a punishment of the wicked after death." I take this to mean that Daniel 12:2 speaks of the resurrection of the Jewish martyrs and their persecutors---not of all humanity. And, indeed, the passage states that many who sleep shall rise. "Many" doesn't necessarily mean "all."

2. Regarding the date of the Yahwist, I had often heard that Wellhausen---or at least the Documentary Hypothesis---dated the Yahwist to the time of David or Solomon. Richard Elliott Friedman dates him later, however, specifically between 848-722 B.C.E. For Friedman, it was written before 722 B.C.E.---the time when the Assyrians conquered Northern Israel---because it mentions the dispersion of Simeon and Levi but not of the other tribes. And it was written after 848 B.C.E. because it refers to Edom declaring independence from Judah (Genesis 27:40), which occurred between 848-842 B.C.E.

In my reading of Wellhausen, I could not find a solid date for J. He dated Deuteronomy to the reign of Josiah in the seventh century B.C.E., while also affirming that the Deuteronomist was active in exile. He dated P to Israel's exilic and post-exilic periods. But I couldn't find an exact time for J. But I'll share what I did find.

On page 308, Wellhausen states: "And finally we cannot believe barbarians to have indulged in reflections of the advantages and disadvantages of civilisation. The materials of Genesis ii.iii. can hardly have been imported before the time of Solomon. Where they came from we can scarcely guess; it would be most natural to think of the Phoenicians or the Canaanites generally, and this theory is favoured by Gen. iv. But in JE Babel is regarded as the last home of the primitive human race, Eden and Nod having preceded it; and the Hebrews probably derived the legend in the last instance from Babylon."

The Yahwist, in the primeval history of Genesis, reflects upon the value of cities and settlement as compared to nomadism. God rejects Cain's fruit offering---which is from the sedentary occupation of agriculture (not in the sense that farmers sit down, but in that they sow and reap in a certain location where they have settled)---but he accepts Abel's sheep offering---which reflects Abel's nomadic lifestyle as a herdsman. Cain is the father of cities and culture. In ancient Near Eastern legends about the flood, culture (i.e., music) is preserved, but such is not the case in the biblical flood story. Consequently, there are biblical scholars who conclude that the primeval history in Genesis romanticizes a nomadic lifestyle at the expense of a sedentary one. Wellhausen's point is that this sort of reflection would have occurred when there was something with which the Israelites could compare the nomadic lifestyle. For Wellhausen, this sort of situation came about only when Solomon had established Israelite civilization.

I'm not sure what ramifications the origin of the Babel story would have for Wellhausen's date of J. If Israel derived the Babel story from Babylon, does that make J exilic---since that was the time when Israel had a closer connection with Babylon? I don't think that Wellhausen dates J to the exile, however, for he holds that J contains a primitive form of worship. Would J have had this if it had come after Deuteronomy, which was pre-exilic and more structured in the area of worship? My understanding is that Wellhausen thinks that Deuteronomy actually interacted with the Book of J! So Wellhausen must have thought that J was pre-exilic.

On page 338, Wellhausen says something else about the date of J: "In the Jehovist the present everywhere shines through, he in no way conceals his own age; we are told that Babylon is the great world-city, that the Assyrian Empire is in existence, with the cities of Nineveh and Calah and Resen; that the Canaanites had once dwelt in Palestine, but had long been absorbed in the Israelites."

As far as I know, Assyria was not a problem for Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon, nor was Babylon. That came later, so I doubt that Wellhausen is dating J to the time of David and Solomon. Moreover, the Canaanites had not "long been absorbed in the Israelites" during the time of Solomon, as far as Wellhausen is concerned, for my understanding is that Wellhausen believes that the absorption began in the time of King Solomon. So I'd say that Wellhausen dates J to the ninth century, or later in the pre-exilic period.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Knocking at the Door

At the Presbyterian church this morning, the bulletin had a prayer that stood out to me:

"O Lord God, who does ever stand at the closed doors of the hearts of men and women, knocking and seeking entrance, give me the grace to open to You. Give me open ears that I may hear your voice. Give me an open mind that I may receive your truth. Give me open eyes that I may see opportunities for service. Now, as I bow before you in prayer, purge from me all idle thoughts and a sluggish will. As you have promised to come into the hearts and lives of those who will receive You, enter my heart today. Guide my thoughts and control my will. Grant that others may see Christ in what I do and hear Him in what I say. In Jesus' name. Amen."

I especially liked the part about "Give me open eyes that I may see opportunities for service." I often go into situations thinking about myself, and I don't know what exactly I can do to help others. But, if God or others can guide me on this, then I can know what to do. In the meantime, I should practice offering people help if they appear to need it.

How about the part about "Give me open ears that I may hear your voice"? I have a slight problem with this. When God's "voice" has been presented within Christianity (not in this church, per se, which emphasizes God's compassion and love, but rather in conservative Christianity) as "obey this or else," "believe this way or you will burn in hell forever and ever," "you're not serving God because you're not an extrovert reaching out to others," "gay people can't pursue committed relationships," or "God is loving, but God is also just," then why would I want open ears that I might hear God's voice? How would I even identify God's voice? By whether or not it accords with the harsh teachings of conservative Christianity and parts of the Bible? I'm cool with trying to be open to constructive ways to see a situation---to good guidance. If that is being open to God's voice, fine! But here's another issue: I don't like to be dogmatic about something being the voice of God. How would I even know it's God? Maybe it's from me---either my wishful thinking, or my tendency to be too hard on myself.

On the idle thoughts and sluggish will parts, I see little problem with idle thoughts. They can be fun! But I find them problematic when they interfere with my work. On being sluggish, I don't feel compelled to be overly active. I think that there can be low-key ways to serve.

I'm not big on anyone guiding my thoughts or controlling my will, or people seeing Christ in me. I prefer to be an individual who is being guided by God in life, with the freedom to say "no," without God ditching me. Part of that was actually the point of the children's service this morning (which was taught by the pastor and his puppet, Jake): we're all different and can contribute in different ways.

Here's another thought that I had while singing the hymns and listening to the sermon: Do I believe that Jesus is standing at the door of my heart and knocking, ready to offer me comfort and guidance? I haven't seen that sort of thing all that often in my life, even in the days when I was less cynical and was more of a believer. Moreover, sometimes, in my mind, I see Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet whose prediction of an imminent kingdom of God failed. What makes Christians think that he was more than that? I also have a hard time relating to the Jesus who was presented at church---in a picture of a white, blonde-haired Jesus knocking on the door. What is that person even like? And how does one even know Jesus? I only know about him from what I read in a book. How can I be intimate with that? It's like being "intimate" or having a personal relationship with Tom Sawyer.

But I enjoyed the prayer and the pastor's message this morning because it overlapped with a discussion that I read on a message board, in which a person asked what a personal relationship with Jesus was. A Christian responded that Jesus is like the wind: he's out there, and he's around us. That overlapped somewhat with the pastor's message this morning: Jesus is continually knocking. (And I especially appreciated that he did not say that Jesus may go away if we don't open the door---garbage that I have actually heard in conservative Christian circles). The point is that Jesus is there. I don't have to make him be there through my thoughts. I think, though, that the pastor was sort of going in that direction, in one part of his sermon---when he said that lack of belief and a hard-heart can hinder Jesus' presence, or something like that. That doesn't resonate with me a great deal. I'd like to think that Jesus---or God---is communicating to humanity, and it's up to us to accept what he says, or to reject it. But Jesus is still there.

This was a difficult post to write, so pardon my unclarity!

Wellhausen on the Decalogue and David's Sincerity

I'm still in Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena. Today, I want to mention two things in my reading that stood out to me.

First, on page 486 (which is actually Wellhausen's article on "Israel" in the Encyclopedia Britannica), Wellhausen states the following:

"We possess one document dating from Manasseh's time in Micah vi.1-vii.6. Here, where the lawlessness and utter disregard of every moral restraint in Judah are set in a hideous light, the prophetic point of view, as contrasted with the new refinements in worship, attains also its simplest and purest expression. Perhaps to this period the Decalogue also, which is so eloquently silent in regard to cultus, is to be assigned."

Many of the Ten Commandments appear to be rather obvious. I mean, don't most cultures tell people not to kill or steal? It's not surprising that the priestly author of Exodus 34 (according to some scholars) inserted a version of the Ten Commandments that highlighted Israelite ethnicity and religion: the Ten Commandments that we know as such are so obvious---at least most of them are. Why would the Israelites need to be told not to kill and steal, and for that to be made an integral part of their covenant? Wellhausen's speculation is that the Decalogue came about when such moral laws were flagrantly violated---during the time of King Manasseh. And the Decalogue contains nothing about cult because it was part of a movement that elevated morality above ritual. This was a time when people needed to be told not to kill or steal.

Second, on page 455-456 (which is still his Encyclopedia article), Wellhausen states regarding David: "In like manner it is unjust to hold him responsible for the deaths of Abner and Amasa, or to attribute to him any conspiracy with the hierocracy for the destruction of Saul, and thus to deprive him of the authorship of the elegy in 2 Sam. 1, which certainly was not the work of a hypocrite."

This reminds me somewhat of C.S. Lewis' "Lord, Liar, Lunatic" argument. Lewis says that Jesus is Lord because he's not a liar or a lunatic in his claim to be God. One reason, for Lewis, that Jesus was not a liar or a lunatic was because his words were so profound---because he spoke as no one before him spoke. I'm not a big fan of apologetics that appeal to that sort of pious reasoning. Wellhausen does the same sort of thing when he is swayed by II Samuel 1. At the same time, it is moving to see one of the formative figures of higher criticism being touched by something in the text---seeing, not just a bunch of sources, but a cry of sincerity.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Psalm 8

For my weekly quiet time this week, we'll be studying Psalm 8. In this post, I want to comment on the meaning of Gittith in the superscription, using that as a fulcrum with which to interpret the Psalm as a whole.

The superscription of Psalm 8 says that the Psalm is according to Gittith. What does the word "Gittith" mean? Some say it's a melody. Some say it's a harp associated with Gath, and those who view David as the author of this Psalm assert that he learned about this harp when he was in Philistia during his flight from Saul. Others associate the term with Obed-Edom the Gittite (II Samuel 6:10), who had the ark for a while; another view is that the term relates to Gittite guards, or the Levites of Gath-rimmon, a city of refuge where Levites dwelt (Joshua 21:24-25; I Chronicles 6:64-69). Then there's the view that the term is connected with Goliath the Gittite. The idea here may be the Psalm 8:2 says that God uses infants to defeat the mighty, and, in the David and Goliath story of I Samuel 17, Goliath---the champion of the Philistines, the enemy of Israel---is killed by a mere shepherd boy with a slingshot.

Another idea is that the term is related to the Hebrew word gath, which means winepress. Some say this means that the Psalm was sung at the Feast of Tabernacles, a time of harvest, celebrating God as creator and as one who regards human beings, enough to grant them dominion over nature. Others notice that the Hebrew Bible describes judgment in terms of God treading grapes (Isaiah 63:3; 51:33). For those who go on this route, the Psalm is talking about God's judgment of Israel's enemies and his redemption of Israel. Psalm 8 is about the limitations of human beings in the face of God's majesty, which is known throughout the earth. When God redeems Israel and judges her enemies, human beings will be abased, and the LORD alone will be exalted (Isaiah 2:11; 5:16; Ezekiel 38:18, 21-23).

As usual, E.W. Bullinger relates the superscription to the previous Psalm, Psalm 7, and he does the same for the other Gittith Psalms. Rather than applying the term Gittith to Psalms 81 and 84, as most scholars do, he connects it with Psalms 80 and 83. Bullinger states that the term Gittith is "relating to the Feast of Tabernacles...because it commemorated safe dwelling after deliverance," probably because the Feast of Tabernacles commemorates God's protection of Israel in the wilderness after the Exodus, when the Israelites dwelt in booths, or sukkoth (Leviticus 23:42-43); moreover, in Isaiah 4:6, God promises one day to shelter Israel from the elements in a sukkah. My opinion is that, contra Bullinger, the term Gittith can relate to Psalms 8, 81, and 84, and still be about safety after peril, for those Psalms touch on that issue in their own way. I read a commentator who noted that Psalm 8 comes after some pretty intense Psalms about danger, and the hope that God will deliver the Psalmist from it. If that is the case, then I like how the Psalmist calmly reflects upon God's greatness, God's care for humanity, and God's use of the weak things of the world to confound the mighty---after his time of turmoil, within and without.

Wellhausen on Creation, the Wilderness, and P's Vocabulary

My reading of Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena today covered some interesting issues. Much of my reading was about the contribution of P and J (or JE) to the Pentateuch (or, actually, one of the chapters was about the Hexateuch). Wellhausen indicates in parts of his book that he believes that the priest (and, by the way, he holds that there were two levels of P---one was the Book of Sources, and the other was the priest) worked with JE in front of him, and so he may think that P was one of the redactors, rather than an independent document that was linked with the other sources by another redactor. At the same time, Wellhausen also says that P had an ideology that contradicted elements of JE. For example, according to Wellhausen, P's creation story does not have a Fall, for he did not believe that children should be punished for the sins of their parents. Wellhausen differs from a professor of mine, who also thought that P added his own creation account to JE: for my professor, P, by doing so, was creating a story about a Fall, by presenting an ideal state from which Adam and Eve fell. For my professor, P was supplementing JE in this case, not seeking to undermine it.

I was interested in Wellhausen's discussion of the wilderness narrative, for I may have to answer again a question on my Bible comp about the wilderness, and, quite frankly, I did not entirely know the source criticism for the wilderness narratives the first time that I took it. I still don't know what source has the complaint stories---that's something that I may want to find out from Richard Elliott Friedman's Who Wrote the Bible?, for he offers his view as to who wrote what parts of the Pentateuch. But what I did get from Wellhausen is that JE presented Moses as a shepherd of Israel, who helped provide for God's people in the wilderness. E had the story of the Golden Calf, perhaps because the Elohist was a Northern priest who claimed descent from Moses, and so he wanted to undermine Aaron; moreover, "these are your gods," which occurs in the Jeroboam story, also appears in the Golden Calf story, and so the Elohist was probably speaking against Jeroboam's calves. (Wellhausen doesn't present these as motivations for the Elohist, but he just says that the Elohist wrote the Golden Calf story).

J had the story in which Dathan and Abiram revolted against Moses, perhaps to show how the tribe of Reuben fell; but P added Korah into the equation, making it a story about Levitical revolts against the one whom P deemed to be the legitimate priest, Aaron. P highlights the importance of Aaron throughout his contribution, whereas, at a certain stage of J, Aaron is not even a character. P also promotes the Sabbath through the manna story, confronts intermarriage through the story of the Midianite women, and does not lean heavily on war. According to Wellhausen, this reflects the exilic and post-exilic periods, when the priests tried to prevent assimilation, and when war was out of the question for Israel.

Another interesting point: In previous posts, I talked about Avi Hurvitz, who posited on the basis of P's vocabulary that P was pre-exilic (see, for example, here). But Wellhausen has the same tactic, only he notices words in P that occur primarily in exilic and later biblical books (e.g., raqia, q-t-r).

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wellhausen, Gideon, and the Ephod

I'm continuing my way through Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena. Today, I read (among other things) his chapter on Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Wellhausen's position seems to be that these books contain independent stories, but they are overlaid with Deuteronomistic ideology---which rebukes Israel for worshiping other gods. Although Wellhausen associates the Book of Deuteronomy with the seventh century B.C.E. reign of Josiah in Judah, he says that the Deuteronomists existed during the exile.

Here's an example, even though I'm not sure if Wellhausen is identifying the redaction as Deuteronomistic. On pages 239-240, Wellhausen discusses the story in Judges 8:22-27, in which Gideon accepts gold from Israelites and makes an ephod, after which Israel spiritually whored, and which became a snare to Gideon's house. Wellhausen states that "Studer will thus be correct in his assertion that the old tradition could not see anything in Gideon's refusing the gold for himself and dedicating it to God but a fine proof of his unselfishness and piety, and that in viii.22-27 we have a secondary product, in which the original features of the story are distorted so as to make them suit later tastes." According to Wellhausen, the original story portrayed Gideon as good for donating the gold to the worship of God, but a later hand presented Gideon's act as evil.

Wellhausen does not really document his claim, except to say that "when we consider the testimony of Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah, such images were even in the Assyrian period a regular part of the belongings of the 'houses of God' not only in Samaria but in Judah as well." Since ephods were acceptable in early layers of biblical literature, that may indicate that the original story did not deem Gideon to be wrong in donating gold to make an ephod. Wellhausen may have in mind a passage such as Hosea 3:4, which predicts that Northern Israel will be without a sacrifice, image, ephod, and teraphim. David Aaron argues that Hosea is predicting the collapse of the Israelite cult, not criticizing the contents of that cult, which was like that of most cults---it has an ephod, teraphim, etc. Even righteous Judah had graven images---the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant---and God not only approved of this, but commanded it. Moreover, there are passages in which David consults or wears an ephod (I Samuel 23:6-9; 30:7; II Samuel 6:14). Apparently, ephods were not considered to be wrong at a certain layer of ancient Israelite religion!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More Exilic Stuff (For Wellhausen)

I'm continuing my way through Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena. In today's reading, Wellhausen argues that the exile influenced the priestly author on issues such as festivals and the Sabbath.

For example, the priest interpreted the Feast of Tabernacles in light of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness, a historical event. Prior to this, the festival was viewed primarily as agricultural, as we can see in Deuteronomy. But the agriculture of the land of Israel did not matter to the Israelites when they were in exile, and so the priest embraced a historical interpretation of the festivals. The priest also invented Yom Kippur, which does not appear outside of the Pentateuch, but "first begins to show itself in embryo during the exile" (page 110), in the Book of Ezekiel, an exilic book (Ezekiel 45:18-20). This was when the Israelites felt especially guilty.

The Sabbath, according to Wellhausen, was for some time in pre-exilic Israel a new moon festival, for Amos 8:5 appears to parallel the new moon with the Sabbath day; but it became a weekly day of rest. There was no law that limited an Israelite's travel to a "Sabbath day's journey" on the Sabbath, however, for II Kings 4:22-23 implies that a woman could travel farther than that if it were the Sabbath. Hosea 2 indicates that there was a view that the Sabbath could not be observed outside of the land of Israel. The priest, however, in an attempt to protect Israel from assimilation in exile, highlighted the Sabbath and made it stricter.

On the historical interpretation of festivals, Wellhausen acknowledges that Deuteronomy, which was pre-exilic, already associated the Passover with the Exodus (Deuteronomy 16:1-2), as did the pre-exilic Jehovist, but the priest took that a step farther: he made the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread into historical facts within the narrative. As Wellhausen says on page 102:

"It is not because Jehovah smote the firstborn of Egypt that the passover is afterwards instituted; on the contrary, it is instituted beforehand, at the moment of the exodus, in order that the firstborn of Israel may be spared. Thus not only is a historical motive applied for the custom; its beginning is itself raised to the dignity of a historical fact upon which the feast rests,---the shadow elsewhere thrown only by another historical event becomes substantial and casts itself. The state of matters in the case of the unleavened cakes is very similar. Instead of having it as the occasion and object to keep in remembrance the hasty midnight departure in which the travellers were compelled to carry with them their dough unleavened as it was (Exod. xii.34), in the Priestly Code they are also spoken of as having been enjoined beforehand (xii.15 seq.), and thus the festival is celebrating in commemoration of itself; in other words, not only is a historical motive attached to it, it is itself made a historical fact."

According to Wellhausen, the priest sought to make the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread more important by suggesting that they were more than a commemoration of historical events. Rather, for the priest, they were commanded by God before those events even took place.

Wellhausen also talks about the history of the Israelite clergy. He points out that there are times in the Hebrew Bible when the cultic rules are rather lax. Gentiles could serve in a capacity in the cult. Israelite kings wore ephods, offered sacrifices, and blessed the people. Samuel could serve in the Tabernacle, even though he wasn't part of a priestly family (until the Chronicler made him such). The Levites gained prominence at some point, and the Deuteronomists viewed all Levites as equal. When the Levites were brought to Jerusalem as a result of Josiah's reform in the seventh century B.C.E., however, they were subordinated to the Zadokites, who were the Jerusalem priests. In exile and post-exile, the Zadokites continued to claim authority by saying that the line of Aaron was special, and the stories in the Pentateuch about Korah were designed to put down levitical contenders against the Aaronic line. For Wellhausen, the laws that prioritize Aaron did not exist prior to the exile, for, when Ezekiel attempts to single out the Zadokites as the legitimate officiants at the altar, he does not refer to specific laws. For Wellhausen, that is because they did not exist yet, and would come about later than the exilic writing of Ezekiel.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wellhausen's Chronology of Sources

I started Julius Wellhausen's Prolegomena to the History of Ancient Israel, his landmark nineteenth century work of biblical scholarship that divided the Pentateuch into four sources: J (the Yahwist), E (the Elohist), D (the Deuteronomist), and, finally, P (the priest). At the outset, what struck me about the book was that he appeared to be joining a discussion about sources that was already in progress, rather than starting the discussion himself. For example, he was trying to refute a scholar's notion that the priestly source was pre-exilic. Apparently, the debate was not just between Wellhausen and those who believed that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, for there were others who did not think that Moses wrote it, yet they had different ideas about its composition than Wellhausen.

In terms of the order in which Wellhausen believes that the sources were written, my impression so far is that it goes as follows: First, there was the Yahwist source, who believed that the Israelites could sacrifice anywhere that God revealed himself, or conduct their religious celebrations close to their homes. According to Wellhausen, we see in the Pentateuch stories in which the patriarchs and other biblical heroes set up altars and sacrificed in a variety of places, and Exodus 20:24-26 tells the Israelites to build an altar of earth or stone, and God will come to them in every place where he will record his name; this altar is unlike the altar of the priestly sources---the bronze one---so this must be a source that is different. For Wellhausen, the theme of worshiping at multiple authors is characteristic of the Yahwist, who supports freedom in worship.

Then, there are prophets, such as Hosea, Amos, and Isaiah, who (according to Wellhausen) do not oppose the existence of the high places---the multiple sanctuaries---but rather disapprove of the idolatry, the immorality, and the hypocrisy that are there. We don't see here the desire for a central sanctuary that is characteristic of the Deuteronomist and P, so, for Wellhausen, these prophets were prior to those authors.

Then there's the Deuteronomist. I'm not entirely sure when Wellhausen thinks that the Book of Deuteronomy was written, but he holds that Josiah attempted to implement its reforms in Judah during the seventh century B.C.E. The Deuteronomist promotes centralization, perhaps out of a desire to eliminate idolatry, and he vehemently contends against the existence of the high places, which shows that he's writing in a time when they were still a problem for him. For Wellhausen, that would fit Judah's pre-exilic period.

Then there's the priest, who is exilic and post-exilic. Unlike the Deuteronomist, he does not fight against high places in favor of a central sanctuary, but he simply assumes that the central sanctuary is where worship is to take place. According to Wellhausen, this fits the post-exilic period, even though the priests may have written in exile the laws that they planned to implement after Israel's restoration.

Wellhausen acknowledges that there were sacrifices in Israel's pre-exilic period, but he denies that they were tied to Moses, for Amos 5:25 and Jeremiah 7:22 acted like sacrifices were not even a part of Israel's sojourn in the wilderness after the Exodus (contra what we see in Leviticus and Numbers); rather, in Israel's pre-exilic period, sacrifices were merely seen as a way to satisfy the God of Israel, not as part of the law of Moses.

According to Wellhausen, the priests of the exilic and post-exilic periods developed nuances in the sacrificial system and tied the sacrifices to Moses. They even projected the Temple onto the wilderness by inventing the Tabernacle! Do you wonder why the Tabernacle is so absent from the historiographic books in the Hebrew Bible? Why is the ark so often apart from the Tabernacle, when (according to Wellhausen) "according to the law, the two things belong necessarily to one another" (page 41)? Why is the ark separated for so long from the Tabernacle---going from one place to the next, with no one even thinking of putting the ark inside of the Tabernacle? Why did David feel a need to pitch a tent for the ark of the Covenant in II Samuel 6, when he could have put it in the Tabernacle? And why does I Kings 3:2-3 apologize for Solomon offering sacrifices at the high place of Gibeon, if God's Tabernacle was there, as I Chronicles 1:39 states? Wellhausen's answer is that the historiographic books did not know about the Tabernacle, for they were written before the priests invented it. (The Chronicler wrote after P, so he knew about it.) And, when we see the tent of meeting in the historiographic books, Wellhausen chalks that up to interpolation.

On a side note, I read a piece in The Fundamentals (from the 1920's) that attempted to refute Wellhausen's arguments on the Tabernacle---on archaeological, textual, and text-critical grounds. It's by David Heagel, and it's entitled "The Tabernacle in the Wilderness: Did It Exist?" Some of his arguments were good. Some of them were bad. And I did not really know how to evaluate his archaeological arguments. But, leaving that aside, one thing that caught my eye was when Heagel said the following:

"So also, if we are to believe in the testimonies of ancient Egyptian monuments and the results of modern Egyptian explorations, there is many a resemblance which can be found to exist between matters connected with old Egyptian temples, their structure; furniture, priesthood and services, and other like matters appertaining to the Tabernacle. Indeed, some of these resemblances go so far in their minute details as to an arrangement of buildings according to the points of compass — a peculiarity which was found both in Egypt and in connection with the Tabernacle; different apartments in the structure, graded according to sanctity; the possession of a sacred ark or chest, peculiarly built and located; strange winged figures, which as existing in the Tabernacle were called "cherubim;" a gradation of the priests; priestly dress and ornaments; the breast-plate and mitre worn by the high-priest; different animals offered in sacrifice; the burning of incense, etc., that the impression left upon the mind of a person who knows about these things as existing in ancient Egypt and then reads in the Bible about similar matters connected with the Tabernacle is, that whoever wrote this Biblical account must himself have been in Egypt and have seen the old Egyptian worship and temples, in order to make his record conform in so many respects to what was found in that country."

Heagel is arguing that the Tabernacle existed because it resembled stuff in Egypt, which was where the Bible says that the Israelites were shortly before they made it. Heagel wants to boost the historicity of the Bible. But, in the process, Heagel says that there are similarities between Israel's religious system and that of Egypt. That sounds pretty liberal for The Fundamentals! Some conservatives get outraged at the notion that the Torah draws from Hammurabi, but David Heagel says that it copied from Egypt! And why does Heagel say that the Israelites got their religious architecture and system from Egypt? Why would they need to copy it, if God was the one revealing it to them? Heagel waxes eloquent with his fundamentalist rhetoric, and then he says something so liberal! For shame.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Vicarious Atonement in Isaiah 53?

This will be my final post on Fredrik Hagglund's Isaiah 53 in the Light of Homecoming and Exile. For my previous posts on this book, see here, and here.

As we've seen in my previous posts, Hagglund argues that the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is the exiled Jews, whereas the speakers in the chapter---the ones who reflect on how the Servant was good and suffered unjustly, whereas they were bad---are the Jews who stayed behind in Palestine.

Hagglund does not believe that the Servant atones for the sins of the speakers by suffering (or dying) vicariously for them. Indeed, he believes that the Servant suffers vicariously: the exiled Jews suffered in exile, whereas the Jews who stayed behind in Palestine did not experience God's punishment, even though they deserved it. But Hagglund denies that the vicarious suffering of the exiled Jews had any atoning value, in the eyes of the author of Isaiah 53. For Hagglund, the message of Second Isaiah is that God forgives Israel for his own sake (Isaiah 48:11), and because Israel is precious to him (Isaiah 43:4), not because God was appeased by the sacrifice of the Servant.

How, then, does Hagglund deal with certain verses in Isaiah 53 that appear to imply that the Servant is atoning for the sins of others? Like R.N. Whybray, Hagglund holds that v 5 means that the Servant was wounded from (as a result of) the transgressions of the speakers, not for them. According to Hagglund's interpretation, on account of the sins of the Israelites in the land, God punished the nation with exile, which innocent Israelites experienced. As far as Hagglund is concerned, when v 5 says that "in his stripes there is healing for us," that does not mean that the speakers were healed through the atonement brought about by the Servant's stripes; rather, the speakers are expressing awe that the innocent Servant was being beaten, whereas they (the guilty ones) were being healed. For Hagglund, the stripes do not cause the healing; rather, the speakers are contrasting their own situation with that of the Servant.

When v 6 says that the LORD laid on the Servant the aon of us all, Hagglund interprets that to mean that the Servant is suffering the consequences of the speakers' iniquity (aon can mean iniquity and the punishment for it), not that the Servant is atoning for the speakers.

When v 10 says that the Servant will be an asham, Hagglund views that as "guilt," not "guilt offering." On page 72, Hagglund appears to suggest that v 10 means that the speakers once viewed the Servant as guilty, but they have changed their minds. Hagglund also disagrees with the view that v 11 means that the Servant will justify many; appealing to Isaiah 50:8, Hagglund says that Isaiah 53:11 should be translated as "the righteous one, my servant, will show himself righteous before the many." Hagglund views yatzdiq as an internal hiphil (cp. Psalm 35:26; II Chronicles 26:8---which Waltke and O' Connor cite).

Hagglund disagrees with the view that v 12 means that the Servant will intercede for the transgressors, for he notes that the Servant of Isaiah 53 is silent, which (for Hagglund) precludes him praying to God on behalf of the speakers. Hagglund translates that part of v 12 to say that the Servant "intervened for the transgressors," which (for Hagglund) means that the Servant "has suffered the consequences of the actions of others, in spite of what...the servant [has] done for these others" (80). But I'm not sure what Hagglund believes the Servant has done for the others. Hagglund's point seems to be that the Servant suffered unjustly, but, in Hagglund's scenario, his suffering had no atoning value. Then again, Hagglund does make the point that the Servant's suffering has provoked the speakers to recognize and confess their own sin and to turn to God. That sounds to me like a "moral influence" view of the atonement!

That brings me to my next point: I don't understand one of Hagglund's interpretations. On page 94, Hagglund says regarding v 11 (in which the Servant bears iniquities):

""...Isaiah 53 describes the people in exile as a sheep that transports the sins from the land, just as the scapegoat in Lev 16:22, who bears away the sins of the people. Isa 53 is not a scapegoat ritual. The similarity lies in the removal of guilt from the community and not in a vicarious or atoning suffering."

So is Hagglund saying that the Servant performed an act of atonement, in that he carried the guilt of Israel away from the land? That doesn't mesh with Hagglund's view that, in Second Isaiah, God forgave Israel unilaterally---out of his love for Israel and a regard for his own name, not in response to an act of atonement.

This was an interesting book to read. I like alternative ways of reading the text. But Hagglund doesn't convince me in a couple of areas.

Monday, January 17, 2011

For Martin Luther King Day

"We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies."

---Martin Luther King, Jr.

Imposing Unity?

I read a couple of articles recently. The first one was Gerald Sheppard's "Canonization: Hearing the Voice of the Same God through Historically Dissimilar Traditions," which was in the January 1, 1982 issue of Interpretation. The second was John Piper's "Authority and Meaning of the Christian Canon: A Response to Gerald Sheppard on Canon Criticism," which appeared in the September 2, 1976 Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. (This was back when he was a meek Bible professor.)

1. To be honest, I'm not sure what Sheppard's main argument was, but his article contained material that (in my opinion) was quite rich. I appreciated the opening line of his article, which was that "Investigations of the early order of the canonical material in the name of unity show that the unity displayed lies more in the hermeneutical principles used than in the material itself." Many people believe that there is an over-arching message of the Bible. Several Christians sum up the Bible as a story of humanity's separation from God, and God bridging that gap by sending Jesus Christ to atone for people's sins and to reconcile them with God. Some think that the main message of the Bible is social justice. Some think it's Torah.

But does the Bible have an over-arching theme? Sheppard's point in his articles is that people put together the diverse books of the Bible to make certain points. Post-exilic Judaism, for example, subordinated everything to the Torah, which it defined as the Pentateuch. (Well, the Jews who produced Jubilees probably didn't see the Pentateuch as the Torah, for they had their own alternative Torah. But there were Jews who had a high regard for the Pentateuch.) The Pentateuch was put first in the Bible, and the other books followed it. The impression that leaves with us is that the other books of the Bible comment on the Pentateuch. When Proverbs refers to "Torah" or to "wisdom," much of post-exilic Judaism assumed that to mean the laws of the Pentateuch. The same goes for the times that Psalms and prophetic books talk about the "law." When these books refer to the "Torah," however, they may not have had in mind the Pentateuch---which they may not have even known about, at least in any form that is recognizable to us. Jeremiah 7:22 denies that God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice after he brought them out of Egypt, which contradicts the Book of Leviticus and Numbers. But post-exilic Jews imposed an order, or a unity, upon the biblical books---which were books that were quite diverse from each other.

The same goes for Christianity, Sheppard contends. Paul offered a version of Christianity that was rather negative about the law, and those who ordered the books of the Bible chose not to start out the New Testament with Paul's writings. Rather, they started out with the Gospel of Matthew, which was quite pro-Torah. The epistle of James comes after the letters of Paul, and, within the New Testament, it serves to balance out Paul's pro-grace, anti-law position. We have diverse books---from Jewish Christianity, and from Paul, who got a revelation in the wilderness. But Christian communities imposed a unity upon them by putting them in a certain order.

My impression is that Sheppard does not consider this canonical process to be a bad thing. He believes that the diverse parts of the Bible should be in dialogue with one another---in the sense that we consider the different voices and balance them out with each other (or something like that). That brings me to the Piper article.

2. Piper critiques the canon criticism of Brevard Childs and Gerald Sheppard. According to Piper, the position of Sheppard is that God is behind the process of canonization. But Piper feels that Sheppard roots the canon's authority in the religious community rather than the text itself, and that Sheppard fails to highlight the grammatical-historical meaning of the biblical texts. Instead, for Piper, Sheppard relies on religious subjectivism: God revealing stuff to believers through the Bible, rather than believers trying to determine the text's meaning by looking at grammar, history, and context. And Piper distinguishes the grammatical-historical approach from historical-criticism, which he believes tries to get behind the text, rather than drawing from the text itself.

I agree with Piper's criticism of locating authority in religious communities. I've often wondered why communities are so great, that we should regard them as authorities. They have flaws, just like anything else that's human. Moreover, I wonder how Sheppard would address the different ways that religious communities canonize the texts. As he noted in his own article, Palestinian Judaism ordered the books of the Hebrew Bible according to an ideology that was different from that of Christians: it focused on Torah, whereas Christianity was concerned with Christ. The way that Christians order the Old Testament actually sets the stage for Christ: Malachi ends by talking about Elijah coming, and, at the beginning of the New Testament, in strolls John the Baptist, the Elijah who is to come! Palestinian Judaism, however, ends the Hebrew Bible with the Jews' restoration from exile in II Chronicles---the message being that God will restore his exiled people. (I'm not sure how Hellenistic Judaism ended the Hebrew Bible---with Malachi, or with Chronicles.) Which canon does God support?

I thought that Piper was a little hard on the historical-critical method. I acknowledge that there are aspects of historical-criticism that are flamboyantly speculative. But recognizing that the Bible has diverse voices is, well, letting the Bible speak for itself. What does Piper prefer? Using mental gymnastics to harmonize biblical contradictions, imposing a unity that is not there?

I'll stop here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Theodicy, Us, Them, and Us

I went to the Presbyterian Church this morning. This time, the passing of the peace part went a little more smoothly for me. Ordinarily, I dread that part, since it's social, and I tend to feel uncomfortable and alienated in social situations. But, this morning, I knew someone from last week, plus a couple of people told me that they recognized me from last week, which was good. (This is a small church.) So I didn't feel as alienated. I also liked how the pastor tried to shake hands with everyone before the service.

We had a guest speaker (I'll call him "Bob"), who works for a children's mission in Peru. He told us about kids who were loners or were violent on account of their painful experiences. One of the kids was violent, but, after talking with him, Bob learned that the kid's mother had tried to poison him and his brother. There was also a teenage girl at the mission, and she was a loner. The other young people and even the staff did not like her. But Bob learned from her that she had lost her mother. Her Mom bled to death in a hospital in Peru, for the doctors could not operate when the hospital lost electricity. As Bob noted, hospitals in Peru are poorer than those in the United States.

Bob said that Jesus calls us to love people, regardless of their flaws, for that is what Jesus did. Bob then asked why God allows suffering, and he suggested that God may permit it so that we could have the same broken-hearted attitude towards suffering that he has. In my opinion, theodicies in general are inadequate. My problem with Bob's theodicy is that it presents those who suffer as guinea pigs for our own personal growth---"our" meaning those who are better off economically.

But I would slightly rephrase Bob's theodicy by saying that suffering gives all of us an opportunity to band together and help each other. This shifts the approach from one of "We prosperous Westerners need to help those in the Third World," to one of "We all need to help each other." People in the Third World should get help from the prosperous West, but also from others in the Third World. In my opinion, it should not be a matter of "us" (the helpers) and "them" (the helped), but rather of "us." This should occur on an individual level, but systems that are conducive to the health and well-being of all should also be promoted and created.

I agree that suffering gives all of us an opportunity to develop an attitude and a lifestyle of compassion. Does God permit suffering to permit that to happen? Admittedly, there are casualties to this sort of set-up. I wonder why there are so many people who were born into lives that are so hard---maybe even unlivable---or who suddenly find themselves in those kinds of situations. I can understand why many atheists feel that no theodicy is adequate---that to come up with a theodicy as to why God permits suffering is to present suffering as if it's acceptable. But I hope that we can all come together on the goal to alleviate suffering in the world. Not everyone is called to go into foreign countries. I think I'd have a hard time in the Third World! But I think it's important for me to realize that there is a lot of suffering and death in the world. Realizing this is a step towards doing my part to address that suffering.

Finishing Biblical Ambiguities

In my reading today of Biblical Ambiguities, David Aaron contends that the prohibition against images for worship was political: it was designed to prevent the existence of competing cults, for, if people could set up their own private sanctuaries (i.e., Micah in Judges 17), that would undermine the main sanctuary. That certain authors whose writings made the Bible had little problem with the main sanctuary (or, more accurately, the sanctuary that they believed should be central) having graven images is evident within the Hebrew Bible itself. The ark of the covenant had graven cherubim, and it housed the divine, for it was considered the very presence of God in battle. Regarding the Golden Calf narrative, Dr. Aaron says that it's about the elevation of Aaron and the Levites. Aaron is not punished, and the problem occurs when the Golden Calf gets outside of his control. But the Levites save the day, at least at a certain stage of the story's development. In Etched in Stone, however, Dr. Aaron argues that the Golden Calf story was written by marginal priests, and I think that he dates them to Judah's diaspora. But the whole part about aniconism being about politics is in Biblical Ambiguities and Etched in Stone.

There are similarities and differences between Biblical Ambiguities and Etched in Stone. In Biblical Ambiguities, as in Etched in Stone, Dr. Aaron questioned the tendency of biblical scholars to just assume that the biblical narrative is historical; he also believed that the anti-monarchical voice in the Hebrew Bible is post-exilic, telling an Israel without a king that it did not need a king. He states that "there is no objective evidence to allow us to date any biblical passage to a pre-monarchical period," although he says that the Hebrew Bible may have material that dates to the tenth century---only it wasn't yet incorporated into what we "recognize as the biblical narrative" (46). But there are some differences. On page 177 of Biblical Ambiguities, he appears to argue that covenant documents were deposited "by the divine effigy," as occurred in the ancient Near East. I take the divine effigy to be the ark. He says that this occurred "As there formed the tribal confederacies that eventually came to be Israel". I'm not sure when he dates this, but the ark is not presented as present any longer in the biblical stories about Israel's post-exilic periods, so are the ark traditions pre-exilic, according to Dr. Aaron? If so, then he's more open to dating stuff to Judah's pre-exilic period in Biblical Ambiguities.

I really enjoyed the conclusion, in which Dr. Aaron said that ambiguity challenges authority, and that Job and Qoheleth, though their appeals to experience, confronted the attempts to create religious monopolies (through an appeal to revelation, for example). Well, Qoheleth did this more, since the Book of Job has the divine voice. But we see in those books a notion that the usual religious platitudes did not wash. That's how I often feel when I hear Christian platitudes. They may work for some, but they've never worked for me.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Psalm 7

For my weekly quiet time today, I'll be writing about my study of Psalm 7, which is a Psalm of deliverance. I'll be looking at four issues: the meaning of Shiggaion, the identity of Cush, the kidneys of Psalm 7:10, and textual criticism of Psalm 7:11.

1. Psalm 7 is called a Shiggaion of David. (Even E.W. Bullinger applies this superscription to Psalm 7, rather than to Psalm 6, contradicting his usual practice of relating the superscription to the previous Psalm.) What is a Shiggaion? As with many of the terms in the Psalms' superscriptions, there are various ideas about the meaning of the term Shiggaion. We'll look at two of them. The first interpretation of Shiggaion is that it comes from the Hebrew root sh-g-h, "to go astray," or "to reel." What's that have to do with Psalm 7? One proposal is that sh-g-h relates to Psalm 7 in that the Psalm wanders and meanders in its message and style, as an expression of worry and anguish. Another proposal is that it concerns the moral state of the world or the circumstances of the Psalmist, both of which are unstable. A Jewish idea, which I encountered in the medieval Midrash on the Psalms and also in Rashi, is that a Shiggaion is about a mistaken prayer that was made in haste. Either it's the mistaken prayer itself, or it's a prayer designed to counteract a mistaken prayer that was made. In the Midrash on the Psalms, Rabbi Hinena says that Psalm 7 was a mistaken prayer of David, in that it was made impulsively. The reason it was mistaken was that David rejoiced over the fall of Saul, when Proverbs 24:17 prohibits people to rejoice at the fall of their enemies. Rashi, however, says that Psalm 7 was David's attempt to counteract a mistaken prayer that he had made: David said that he preferred to fall into enemy hands than for his dynasty to end, and Psalm 7 was David saying that he didn't really mean that---that, come to think of it, he could actually use God's deliverance!

The second interpretation of Shiggaion is that it relates to crying out in anguish. E.W. Bullinger says that the term is from the Hebrew word sha'ag, "to roar." And Sigmund Mowinckel ties Shiggaion to the Akkadian word shegu, which is a Psalm of lamentation. The idea is that Shiggaion means that the Psalmist in Psalm 7 is crying out in anguish, or lamenting, which he is.

2. The superscription of the Psalm states that it concerns Cush, the Benjaminite. Who was Cush? Here, we'll look at three proposals. The first view is that Cush was Saul, which means that Psalm 7 is David's prayer that God might deliver him from King Saul, who is pursuing him. This interpretation is big in Jewish treatments of Psalm 7. According to David Braude's note in the Midrash on the Psalms, the idea is that David is calling Saul "Cush" "as a circumlocution for King Saul because of the danger in cursing the king by name." (Braude doesn't cite Exodus 22:28, which prohibits Israelites from cursing rulers, but I wonder if it is relevant.) Some Jewish interpreters say that David chose the name "Cush" for Saul because David was comparing Saul to a Cushite, or African: a Cushite (or an Egyptian) woman slanders Joseph in Genesis 29, and Saul slanders David in I Samuel 22:8; Jeremiah 13:23 says that a Cushite cannot change his skin-color, and Saul cannot change his hatred of David; a Cushite has dark skin, and Saul does dark deeds; Moses' wife Zipporah was called a Cushite in Numbers 12:1 when she really wasn't because, "just as a Cushite woman is different in that her skin is black, so Zipporah was different in that her deeds were good." Similarly, Saul stood apart from other men because he was so good looking, which was why the ladies of I Samuel 9:11-13 were talking to him at length rather than getting to the point in answering his question: they wanted to keep looking at his beauty!

The second view on the identity of Cush is that he was a Benjaminite named Cush---pure and simple! David had Benjaminite enemies, who were upset that David had replaced Saul, a Benjaminite (II Samuel 16:5; 20:1). Charles Spurgeon proposes that Cush was a Benjaminite who was telling King Saul that David was disloyal to him, when David was actually loyal to King Saul. Many modern scholars (who are not homilists, as Spurgeon was) agree that Psalm 7 is about a person who is falsely slandered as having broken a covenant, for, in Psalm 7:4, the Psalmist emphatically denies that he has repaid his friend with evil or helped his enemy (who is probably his friend's enemy, for, in covenants, the friends of your friends were your friends, and the enemies of your friend were your enemies). Spurgeon proposes a setting in which such a statement could have been made: David was in covenant with Saul, and David was being accused by Cush of breaking that covenant.

The third view on the identity of Cush is that he was Chushai, the person in II Samuel 15-17 who helps David out when Absalom revolts against him; basically, Chushai infiltrates Absalom's camp and gives Absalom some bad advice, which Absalom follows (to his downfall). Augustine and Theodore of Mopsuestia are Christian exegetes who relate Psalm 7 to the incident of Absalom's revolt against David, as well as Ahithophel's treachery against the king. Remember that the superscription says that the Psalm concerns the words of Cush: it doesn't say whether Cush was David's friend or enemy! That ambiguity allows Augustine and Theodore to view Cush as a friend of David---as Chushai.

3. In Psalm 7:9, the Psalmist says that God tests the minds and hearts (according to various English translations). The word translated as "hearts" or "minds" is kilayim, which refer to the kidneys. An orthodox Jewish commentary, the Artscroll, remarks that "In Biblical imagery, the kidneys are the seat of human counsel." I wonder how the orthodox Jewish author of this note deals with that, since many orthodox Jews are very conservative in their interpretation of the Bible: does he believe that the Bible is errant on this point, or that v 9's spiritual truth is valid, even though its literal truth is false? Or does he see the kidneys as a figure of speech, denying that the Psalmist is meaning kilayim in its literal sense? Incidentally, one of the eighteenth century commentators whom Charles Spurgeon features says that the Psalmist means that his emotions are affecting his kidneys, which I take to refer to the bad stomach pains we get when we're sad, worried, or mad (which the Psalmist clearly is). But the point of Psalm 7:9 is that God tries the kidneys, not that his emotions are affecting them: the Psalmist wants God to look at his innermost self and see that he is innocent of the charges of which he is being accused.

4. The Hebrew of Psalm 7:11 states that God is angry every day, whereas the Septuagint of the verse says that he does not inflict wrath every day. I think that the difference is due to how the text is being pointed. The Masoretes are pointing the Hebrew a-l as "El," "God" (thus "God is angry every day"), whereas the Septuagint is treating the word as "al," "not" (thus "he is not angry every day"). Is the Psalmist in Psalm 7:11 expressing the hope that God will punish his enemies, or is he trying to assure himself that God will have mercy on him, notwithstanding his sins, and will thus deliver him from his oppressors? A friend of mine suggested that the Septuagint may have been going with the "patient God" rather than the "wrathful God" in its interpretation of v 11 in order to appease the Gentiles, who were subjugating Israel, and didn't want to hear about a God who would defeat them. Against my desires, I tend to go with the "wrathful God" interpretation because the following verses, vv 12-17, express the confidence that God will punish the Psalmist's enemies. Moreover, I don't really see anything about divine forgiveness of sins in this particular Psalm, for the Psalmist is confident that God will find him innocent of the accusations against him, which would imply that he doesn't need forgiveness--- unless he's concerned about other things that God might discover when God tries his kidneys!

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