Saturday, April 30, 2011

Psalm 22

For my weekly quiet time today, I'll be blogging about Psalm 22 and its interpreters.

For Christians, I'm probably a week late, for Psalm 22 is a Psalm that's read on Good Friday, as elements of Psalm 22 are considered to be a prophecy of Jesus Christ's crucifixion. Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1 on the cross in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34, and John 19:24 applies Psalm 22:18 to the soldiers casting lots for Jesus' robe. For Jews who observe Purim (which was March 19-20 this year), however, I'm more than a month late, for, on Purim, Jews relate Psalm 22 to the story of Esther and God's deliverance of the Jewish people from their enemies who sought to annihilate them.

In this post, I'll address three issues:

1. Did the Psalmist in Psalm 22 consider himself a sinner---which would be problematic for Christians who treat Psalm 22 as a prophecy about Jesus Christ, whom they regard as sinless? Christians were the very ones who wrestled with this issue, for they used the Septuagint. In the Masoretic Text for Psalm 22:1, the Psalmist says that God is far from his salvation, the words of his groaning. The word for "my groaning" in the Hebrew text is sha-agti. The Septuagint, however, sees that as shagati, "my transgression", and so the translator for the Septuagint thinks that the Psalmist in v 1 means that the account of his transgressions is far from his salvation. (I draw here from Brenton's translation.) The implication is probably that the Psalmist's guilt from his transgressions is hindering God from saving him.

Augustine's solution to this problem was that v 1 is the speech of the old man whom Jesus Christ bore on the cross. In this view (if I'm understanding it correctly), Jesus was identifying with sinners on the cross, and so he speaks as if he were a sinner, when he actually was not. The fourth century Antiochian exegete, Theodore of Mopsuestia, had a different point of view, however. Theodore did not think that Psalm 22 was a prophecy about Jesus Christ, but rather that it concerned David's afflictions during the rebellion of Absalom, which were God's punishment of David for his sin with Bathsheba. Theodore maintains that Jesus quoted the Psalm to express his piety and his feelings about his passion, but that the Psalm itself was not a prophecy of Jesus' crucifixion. Theodore's position was condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople, and by Pope Nigilius in the sixth century C.E. The church did not restrict Psalm 22's application to Christ's, but it rejected Theodore's position that it was not a prophecy about Jesus.

2. In Jewish-Christian debates, v 16 is an important verse. The Masoretic has "like a lion (ka-ari) my hands and my feet", whereas the Septuagint has "they pierced my hands and feet". And even this point is a generalization, for there are Masoretic manuscripts that have ka'aru or karu (which are verbs) rather than ka-ari ("like a lion"); the Dead Sea Scrolls also have the verb ka-aru.

I've heard evangelical Christians wax eloquent about how v 16 is obviously a prophecy about Jesus Christ. Their spiel goes like this: "There was no crucifixion in the time that this Psalm was written, so how could the Psalmist talk about a man's hands and feet being pierced? He must have been divinely inspired, which was how he saw the future! V 16 is proof that the Psalm was prophesying the crucifixion of Jesus! The Bible is obviously God's word because it made a prediction that came to pass, and Jesus is obviously the Messiah because he was predicted centuries before in the Old Testament. " And there are Jewish apologists who lean hard on v 16 having ka-ari, "like a lion", rather than a verb for piercing. Because "like a lion my hands and my feet" makes little sense, some Jewish interpreters supply other words into the verse to produce something coherent. The medieval Jewish exegete Rashi, for example, interprets v 16 to mean that the Psalmist's hands and feet are like a lion's prey. Then there are Jewish interpretations that don't regard ka-ari as "like a lion". The medieval Midrash on the Psalms includes the view that the word is related to ka-ar---which means repulsive---indicating that v 16 is saying that the Psalmist's hands and feet are repulsive. Another view in Midrash on the Psalms read ka-ari in light of the Greek word chara---which means "blessing"---the meaning here being that the Psalmist's enemies were favored at his hands and his feet. A Jewish professor of mine emended the text to karu, "to tie up".

But there are times when a Christian interpreter may prefer "like a lion" in v 16, whereas a Jewish interpreter rejects that interpretation. E.W. Bullinger, for example, reads v 16 in light of Isaiah 38:13, which is the only other place that the Hebrew Bible has ka-ari. (Numbers 24:9 and Ezekiel 22:25 also have it, but, there, the vowel under the k is different from what Isaiah 38:13 and Psalm 22:16 have.) Isaiah 38:13 says "like a lion thus he will break all my bones", and Bullinger thinks that we should supply ye-shaver ("he will break) for Psalm 22:16. But Michael Brown quotes Franz Delitzsch's commentary on the Psalms, which states that a Masoretic note indicates that the Masoretes thought that we should not assume that Isaiah 38:13 and Psalm 22:16 mean the same thing ("like a lion") by ka-ari. Delitzsch refers to a midrash that interprets k'ry "in the Psalm as a verb used of marking with conjuring, magic characters." The Midrash must regard ka-ari as related to applying pressure to the hands and the feet, but not as a thorough piercing through them. Rather, in this view, it's inscribing magic characters on them.

I'm probably coming across as someone who views the Jewish interpretations as a stretch, as if the obvious meaning of Psalm 22:16 is "they pierced my hands and feet." But my impression is that we really don't know what ka-aru (the verb in several Masoretic manuscrips and the Dead Sea Scrolls) means, for the root only appears in Psalm 22:16. So where did the Septuagint get "they pierced"? Maybe ka-aru indeed means "they pierced", but, alternatively, the Septuagint could have drawn from Hebrew manuscripts that had the word k-r-h ("dig"), or k-w-r ("pierce, bore"). (Peter Craigie mentions these possibilities in his commentary on Psalms 1-50.)

The Intervarsity Press Bible Background Commentary is instructive in its comments on this verse. It doesn't seem to care for "pierced" because "The Hebrew verb, traditionally translated as 'pierced,' occurs only here and can only be translated that way if it is emended." It doesn't care for "like a lion" because some scholars have interpreted that to mean that the Psalmist's hands and feet are tied to a pole "as a captured lion would be", when there is no evidence that lions were transported in that manner. This commentary looks to Syrian and Akkadian cognates that mean "shrink or shrivel" and refers to Akkadian medical texts that describe the hands and feet as shrunken. And perhaps that interpretation is right, for vv 15-17 do seem to describe the Psalmist as diseased, in some manner.

3. What I like about Psalm 22 is that it's about the Psalmist drawing on the accounts of God's deliverance in the past for his comfort, and also hoping to become a testimony to God's deliverance for his descendants. It's interesting (and cozy) to envision people talking about God's work in the life of their great-great grandfather, who passed on his heritage of faith to his children.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Concluding Lemche's Early Israel

I finished up Niels Peter Lemche's Early Israel. I have four items:

1. On pages 329-336, Lemche talks about the Sea of Reeds and Exodus 15. He argues against S.I.L. Norin, whose position is that the union of the Exodus with the Sea of Reeds story, as well as the "victory hymn" in Exodus 15:1b-18, "date from the period of the Judges, that is, from a period less than one hundred years after the original historical event." Norin thinks that the combination of history with mythology (in this case, chaos-kampf, the battle between a deity and the sea, or a sea-monster) was present early on "in the history of the tradition", whereas many other scholars have maintained that such a combination of history and myth came about in the exile, for we see it in Second Isaiah. For Norin, however, the combination only reappeared in exile, after a period in which the Deuteronomists demythologized the Sea of Reeds story.

I'm not going to spend a lot of time detailing Lemche's response to Norin, for, quite frankly, I don't get Norin's argumentation---he wants to tie the mythologization of the Sea of Reeds story to Egyptian chaos-kampf legends, presumably because that would mean that the Moses group from Egypt composed it (or so I assume is Norin's position). Yet, Norin also says that Exodus 15 reflects the "Northwest Semitic Ba'al myth."

What I do want to do is to make some points about dating when it comes to the Sea of Reeds story and Exodus 15. A reason that some have held that Exodus 15:1b-18 is quite ancient is that it contains archaic tems, such as zu. But, as Lemche points out, that particular term also shows up in later literature, such as the exilic Second Isaiah (Isaiah 42:24; 43:21). Lemche thinks that Exodus 15:17 is crucial for the dating of the passage. It mentions the sanctuary, which Lemche and others take to be Jerusalem. So we have a southern poem that talks about the Exodus. But, according to Lemche, the South (Judah) did not know about the Exodus and the splitting of the Sea of Reeds until 722 B.C.E., when the refugees from Northern Israel (which had just been destroyed by the Assyrians) brought those traditions down to Judah, since the Exodus was a Northern tradition (as it shows up in Hosea). So the song in Exodus 15 had to come after 722 B.C.E. And yet, according to Lemche, Exodus 15 doesn't reveal any Deuteronomistic features, and so it had to precede the time of Deuteronomistic influence (which was during the reign of Josiah). Consequently, Lemche says that the first half of the seventh century is a reasonable date for the hymn.

One more point: On page 333, Lemche briefly summarizes the views of Brevard Childs and G.W. Coats on the connection of the Sea of Reeds story with the Exodus. For Childs and Coats, the story of the Sea of Reeds was originally attached to the wilderness stories, all of which served to tell about God's protection of Israel from danger. But P, who later reworked "the Exodus and desert period materials", attached the Sea of Reeds story to the Exodus. What basis Childs and Coats had for this, I have no idea. (Maybe I'll read an article and write a post about it). On pages 142-143 of The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel, though, Thomas Thompson presents the idea that, before its final redaction, the Exodus story ended with the slaughter of the Egyptian firstborn (since God says in Exodus 11:1 that he will bring one more plague, the death of the firstborn), meaning that the destruction of the Egyptian army in the sea was added later. Thompson states on page 144 that "The narrative about the crossing of the Red Sea is connected with the Passover narrative by means of the passage in Exod. 13.20-22."

But Thompson appears to differ from Childs and Coats. Childs and Coats believe that the Sea of Reeds story was a part of the wilderness story, and was later connected to the Exodus story by the priest. But what Thompson argues is that, in Exodus 14, the base story says that God hardened Pharaoh's heart and delivered the Israelites himself, whereas the secondary (added) elements highlighted the role of Moses, as well as presented the Israelites complaining. What's odd is that God hardening the Pharaoh's heart is repeatedly in the Exodus story, whereas the Israelites complaining is in the wilderness stories. If the base narrative talked about God hardening the Pharaoh's heart but not the Israelites complaining, that sounds to me like the Sea of Reeds story would have been a part of the Exodus narrative, not the wilderness narrative.

2. On pages 376-377, Lemche offers his view on the Documentary Hypothesis. Essentially, he says that there were a number of theological movements from the time of Josiah's reform through the exile, meaning that the Deuteronomists were not the only game in town. Rather, there were different theological movements, such as J. Psalm 44, according to Lemche on page 356, was an exilic Psalm that knew of the Deuteronomistic "view of history", yet disagreed with it, affirming that Israel did not disobey God's covenant (contra the Deuteronomists, who held that Israel was being punished for sin). So there were different points of view.

Lemche disagrees with the idea that J was composed during the time of the United Monarchy, which some have argued on the basis of J's emphasis on Judah, the tribe of King David. For Lemche, J could have focused on Judah after the division of the United Monarchy, through the exile, and even after the exile---for J was from Judah, and thus naturally exalted Judah (page 364). As Lemche notes, Chronicles mentions Judah and excises stuff about Northern Israel, but most scholars view the Chronicler as post-exilic. Moreover, Lemche doubts that the United Monarchy could have produced J because, in his eyes, the South was unaware of traditions such as the Exodus until 722, when the North brought them down to the South.

So were the Yahwist and the Deuteronomists mere contemporaries, writing their own works, without supplementing each other? Lemche states on page 377 that the Yahwist could have supplemented the Deuteronomistic narrative with a "concrete expression...concerning the promise to the fathers", and a later "phase of Deuteronomistic redaction" worked that theme "into the Deuteronomistic literature", after which "the theme was also adopted by the Priestly tradition." So, even if Lemche doesn't think that the Deuteronomistic ideas were dominant from the time of Josiah's reform through the exile, he does appear to hold that the Deuteronomists gained a measure of power at some point---enough to edit elements of the Hebrew Bible and for the Jews to accept their contribution.

3. On page 383, Lemche presents his view on oral tradition---and the attempts to discover the earliest one, presumably because that gives one access to the historical event behind it. Lemche agrees with John Van Seters that the oral traditions in the Abraham narrative originally were not even about Abraham, but the Yahwist made them about Abraham. That must be why Lemche says on page 417 that Van Seters maintains that J created the Abraham traditions in exile---even though, in Abraham in History and Tradition---Van Seters uses Olrik to identify pre-Yahwist oral traditions in the Abraham narrative. And so, if we have oral traditions that aren't about anyone specific, how can we date them---or arrive at anything historical through them?

4. As in Ancient Israel, Lemche believes that ancient Israel came about when Canaanite peasants left Canaanite city-states and became Hapiru, or refugees---and came to the central hills. In Early Israel, Lemche offers more support for this claim, for he notes that, during the Amarna period, the king of Byblos (in Phoenicia) says that peasants working for the state are emigrating (page 427), indicating that this sort of thing happened. Moreover, archeology indicates that the Late Bronze Age was a time of poverty---for there isn't much quantity of imports, plus the pottery is poor in quality. Lemche factors into the equation Egypt's wars, which stifled trade and must have resulted in a heavier tax burden for the Egyptian provinces (such as the Canaanite city-states). So there were reasons that peasants left the Canaanite city-states. Contra many scholars of his time, however, Lemche did not regard the fleeing Hapiru as nomads, for how could nomads tend their herds in the forests of the central hills (though Lemche says elsewhere in the book that the Hapiru could have easily cleared the forests by setting a fire)?

In Early Israel, Lemche expresses problems with the notion that Israel was a united amphictyony or confederation of tribes prior to the time of the United Monarchy, which emerged in the tenth century. And yet, does not the thirteenth century Merneptah Stele refer to a people "Israel", indicating that they were one unit? On page 431, Lemche wrestles with this issue. He says that we "have no way of knowing how many of the OT tribes may have belonged to such a coalition", but he speculates that it may have consisted of the Rachel tribes, which could have been "independent tribes within some kind of league", or as "secondary segments of a primary unit called Israel." So there was some sort of amphictyony or confederation, in Lemche's view?

Tigay and Weinfeld on Passing through the Fire

I've been reading Jeffrey Tigay's excurses in his Jewish Publication Society commentary on Deuteronomy. What I like is Tigay's clear explanation of the different scholarly positions on issues.

In this post, I'll talk about Tigay's excursus on "Child Sacrifice and Passing Children through Fire". According to Tigay, there is evidence that "special precincts in Phoenician colonies, such as Carthage", practiced child sacrifice (page 464). In Carthage, there are urns that contained the charred bones of children and animals. Many of the urns date to the eighth-second centuries B.C.E. and "are buried beneath steles inscribed with dedications to the gods, thanking them for answering the offerers' prayers" (page 464). Moreover, the Phoenician precincts have cemeteries where "human burials are limited to children" (page 464).

But did Canaan have child sacrifice, as the Hebrew Bible may state? According to Tigay, thirteenth century B.C.E. Egyptian reliefs that show "besieged Canaanite cities" depict Canaanites "praying toward heaven and dropping the bodies of dead children, who had apparently been sacrificed, over the walls" (page 464). But these children apparently had not been burned. Still, the Canaanites were offering their children to the gods so that the gods would deliver them. They were showing the gods that they meant business by offering people who were of value to them---their very own children.

But there is debate about whether or not passages such as Deuteronomy 18:10---which forbids passing children through fire---is even about child sacrifice. The phrase (in the participle form) is ma'avir ba-esh ("causing to pass in the fire"). The phrase can entail sacrifice, for Exodus 13:11-13 uses it in reference to sacrificing the firstborn of cattle to God (while humans are redeemed). At the same time, Israelites could give a child to God by "consecrating him to serve God in the sanctuary", as Hannah did with Samuel (I Samuel 1:11) (page 465).

Moreover, passing something through fire does not necessarily mean burning it up, for "In Numbers 31:23 it refers to nondestructive purging of utensils; though they are brought into contact with fire, they are not consumed" (page 465). Tigay states that some scholars, therefore, think that passages such as Deuteronomy 18:10 are about people passing their children between rows of fire---or having the children leap over the fire---in order to be consecrated to the deity "as servants or worshipers, or for a magical purpose such as purification or divination" (page 465). Tigay cites examples of such a practice: In Orissa, India, people walk over hot coals to test their faith in the deity's (in this case, Kali's) ability to protect them, or to receive healing for themselves or others.

Was the child in Canaan offered to the god as a burnt sacrifice, or was he consecrated to the god through fire in a non-lethal fashion?

On page 216 of Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, Moshe Weinfeld supports the "non-lethal consecration" view. He states that, in a few neo-Assyrian documents, burning the first son is not literal but rather a consecration of the child to Adad, the weather god. Moreover, according to Weinfeld, the worship of Molech was the product of Assyrian influence, for, in II Kings 16:3, Ahaz of Judah is the first in Judah to pass his son through fire, and Ahaz was the one who "opened the door to Assyrian influence through his treaty with Tiglath-Pilesar (2 Kgs. 16:7)" (page 216).

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Continuing My Way Through Lemche's Early Israel

For my write-up today of Niels Peter Lemche's Early Israel, I have three items:

1. Lemche talks at length about whether ancient Israel consisted primarily of nuclear families, or extended families. On the basis of archaeology and the Hebrew Bible, he tends to go with nuclear families---which could be headed by a father, or could include other units, such as the woman of Tekoa and her son, or Tamar and her son. From archaeology, Lemche observes that ancient Israelite houses are not that big and thus could not contain multitudes of family members. And, in the Hebrew Bible, Lemche notices that sons stay with their fathers and take care of the herds until they marry and start their own houses. A possible counter-example is Jacob and his sons, but Lemche argues that these stories present the sons of Jacob as heading their own nuclear families, even though they maintain a social connection with Jacob. Lemche also says that, in the current Near East, there is a preference for the extended family, but that usually isn't realizable. I don't know what Lemche's point is in all of this, but I liked this discussion because it illustrated Genesis 2:24, which says that a man shall leave his parents and cling to his wife.

2. Lemche talks about the dating of three things: tribal shifts, Joshua 13-19, and the incorporation of local stories into a pan-Israelite context.

On pages 283-285, Lemche refers to tribal shifts: Reuben moving from Benjamin and becoming absorbed into the Gadites (Lemche thinks that Reuben's territory in the Hebrew Bible is ideal rather than historical, for that was Moabite territory, and the ninth century Mesha Stele from Moab mentions Gad, but not Reuben); Manasseh's absorption of Gilead and Machir in such a manner that Gilead is subordinated to Machir; the fusion of Ephraim and Manasseh into "Joseph"; the assimilation of Caleb, Jerahmeel, and Othniel into Judah; and "Ephraimite expansion into Manassite territory". Many have argued that such shifts were pre-monarchical because "they do not believe the Israelite tribes continued to exist after the formation of the state", but Lemche thinks that they could have occurred under the monarchy, for "a central authority will not have been overly concerned with whether Israelite NN belonged to tribe A or to tribe B, as long as he paid his taxes and did not exploit his tribal affiliations to undertake political activities detrimental to the state."

On pages 286-288, Lemche discusses the dating of Joshua 13-19, which concerns the territory of the twelve tribes of Israel. Some have dated Joshua 13-19 to the time of the United Monarchy, which is when "such a description of the territory of the twelve tribes of Israel would have been topical." Lemche thinks that this proposal is better than dating it to the time of the Judges, when Israel did not even possess all of the territory that Joshua 13-19 enumerates. But Lemche believes that there are three problems with a United Monarchy date: Joshua 13-19 assumes that Israel possessed Philistine territory, which was not the case during the United Monarchy; Joshua 13-19 is not precise about "the borders of Ephraim and Manasseh towards the coast", which, for Lemche, wouldn't have been the case had it been composed in the time of David; and Joshua 13-19 lacks information on Issachar. Lemche says that the boundaries appear to be ideal, and so Joshua 13-19 may reflect the time of Josiah, with his program of national renewal. Lemche thinks that P could have later appropriated the list, but he doubts that Joshua 13-19 was post-exilic, for there were no tribes in that period. Lemche also refers to other possible authors of Joshua 13-19 whom scholars have proposed: the Deuteronomist (Noth); the Q aspect of the P source (Wellhausen); P, or a writer imitating P; P, J, and E.

On page 293, Lemche talks about the incorporation of local traditions into a pan-Israelite context. Many assumed that this took place in Israel's pre-monarchical period, when (according to them) the twelve tribes of Israel were combined into an amphictyony that was organized around a central sanctuary (or, for Gottwald, they were united in a confederation that was more formative for Israelite identity than the amphictyony was for Greek identity in ancient Greece). But Lemche offers other possibilities: It could have happened under the United Monarchy, or it could have been done by Judah after the collapse of the United Monarchy, as Judah sought to promote a united Israel under the Davidic ruler. Or it could have occurred under Josiah, who expanded into the North, or during the exile, for a pan-Israelite view of history "gave rise to expectations of the reestablishment of the Israelite kingdom after the end of the exile."

3. On pages 308-328, Lemche discusses the question of how much the prophets knew about Israel's traditions, as they are manifested in the Pentateuch. His conclusion is that the eighth century Northern prophets (Hosea and Amos) know about some version of the traditions, whereas the eighth century Southern prophets (i.e., Isaiah) do not. In past posts, I've wondered how scholars who make this claim deal with Isaiah 10:23-26 and 11:15-16, which reveal a clear knowledge of the Exodus. Lemche says that there is "general agreement" that these passages "are late and inauthentic; they may even be of postexilic date" (page 314).

In the seventh century, according to Lemche, Jeremiah manifests knowledge of traditions, but he appears to rely on Hosea, and his view of the Exodus and Settlement is unlike what is in the Pentateuch and the Book of Joshua. For the sixth century, "Ezekiel's use of early history is concentrated in his preaching in Ezek. 20", and this resembles P. The exilic Second Isaiah knows of the Exodus, but he does not talk about it much, but rather uses it to promote a new Exodus. And the post-exilic prophets don't talk much about Israel's early history. Lemche says that the Deuteronomists were concerned about the lacunae in the prophets concerning Israel's early history, and so they added things to Amos and Jeremiah.

I'd like to refer to two examples in Lemche's discussion in order to illustrate some source critical-techniques, as well as to remind myself of scholarly views on certain issues.

First, on pages 310-311, Lemche talks about Amos 5:25 and Jeremiah 7:21ff. Both of these are passages that deny that Israel offered sacrifices to God in the wilderness. Wellhausen argued that these passages were prophetic and pre-dated P, who held that there indeed were sacrifices in the wilderness. Lemche attributes these passages to the Deuteronomist---and says that they're similar to the Deuteronomist's argument in II Samuel 7:6 against David building the Temple. (For Amos 5:25, Lemche says that this verse doesn't fit in with its context. And, on page 318, Lemche says that Jeremiah did not write Jeremiah 7:21ff. because Jeremiah ordinarily doesn't denounce the Yahwist cult, and, when he does, he depends on the "far more pronounced criticisms of Isaiah", such as Isaiah 1:11f.) Lemche's discussion reminded me of what John Hobbins said in his post on Jeremiah 7:

"Weinfeld points out that Jeremiah belonged to a current which objected to attributing any instruction whatsoever about whole-offering and sacrifice to 'the day,' broadly understood, in which God brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Thus, in the book of Deuteronomy, the Ten Words alone are reported to have been given at Sinai/Horeb (Deut 5). Subsidiary instruction is given a generation hence, in the plains of Moab (Deut 6-30). The legal corpus proper, including instruction about whole-offerings and sacrifice, is found at a significant remove from the Ten Words (Deut 5), in Deut 12-26."

For Weinfeld, Deuteronomy says that there were no sacrifices in the wilderness, for Israel received instructions about them after their wilderness experience---when they were on the plains of Moab. Is that the sort of view that we encounter in Amos 5:25 and Jeremiah 7:21ff.? And would such a similarity support these passages being Deuteronomistic additions?

I'd like to note, though, that Lemche does not regard the wilderness tradition in Jeremiah 2:2-3---which romanticizes Israel's wilderness experience---as Deuteronomistic, for it "displays no signs of Deuteronomistic influence" (page 317). But Lemche does think that this passage is referring to Hosea 2:17.

Second, on pages 315-316, Lemche asks if Micah 6:4-5 is Deuteronomistic or by a "postexilic redactor who wrote in Deuteronomistic style." An argument for the latter is "The positive evaluation of Miriam and Aaron in v 4b, that is, as being on a par with Moses, is not fully congruent with the descriptions of Miriam and Aaron in Deuteronomy." And yet, the passage uses clearly Deuteronomistic terminology, such as the word p-d-h and beyt avadim, plus v 5 appears to presuppose "the Deuteronomistic edition of Jos 3-5" regarding Balaam and the Jordan. Micah 6:4-5 overlaps with Deuteronomy, and yet differs from it, which is why some have argued that it is a post-Deuteronomistic addition that imitates Deuteronomistic style.

No Decalogue in J?

One of John Van Seters' main arguments in Life of Moses is that J used Deuteronomy as a source, rather than vice versa. Regarding J's use of Deuteronomy 4-5 in Exodus 19-20, Van Seters argues that J rigidly follows the sequence of events in Deuteronomy 4-5---even though Deuteronomy does not regard those events as chronologically ordered, but rather as Moses' retrospective musings on the past. The result is that J creates a narrative that doesn't always make sense---the Israelites agree to obey what God has already commanded before God has even delivered his commandments---and also that J makes Moses go up and down the mountain a bunch of times---and Van Seters' argument is that J is giving Moses a separate mountain trip for interactions that Deuteronomy says Moses had with God (Deuteronomy 4:10-14).

Van Seters also contends that J replaces God's divine voice in the theophany with a trumpet blast to provide an etiology for the use of the shofar in the cult. Moreover, for Van Seters, J does not present God speaking directly to the people, for J wants to confirm Moses' role as mediator. In J, Moses receives the commandments from God to communicate them to the people. But what were these commandments? I am unclear about whether or not Van Seters includes the Decalogue in his definition of God's commandments in J. On page 276, he says that the Decalogue does not fit into the Yahwist's scheme, but, on page 279, he says that, in J, additional commandments are given at Sinai. But, if there is no Decalogue in J, are those commandments (the Covenant Code) really additional?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lemche on Memory, Gottwald

I'm continuing my way through Niels Peter Lemche's Early Israel. In this post, I have two items:

1. On pages 136-137, Lemche states the following:

"Nomadic societies are usually a-historical, which means that with the exception of a few rather general features they do not recall historical events which are more than a few generations old. Moreover, such memories as are preserved tend to take the form of historical legends...Nor does the village often have any clear understanding of the history of the society in question. Should one undertake to compare the sort of recollections it is possible to encounter with those preserved by other sources (i.e., sources whose origin lies outside of the village in question, such as national archives or travelogues), one soon discovers that such sources do not necessarily agree with one another."

When I went to Israel in 2006, I listened to a presentation by a scholar, who criticized the form/traditio-critical method of such scholars as Gunkel and Noth. She argued that, in ancient societies (and maybe she was more specific about this), historical memory only lasted for 120 years, and so it's unlikely that the Hebrew Bible contains oral legends that were faithfully and accurately transmitted for a long period of time before they were written down. Some of us were wondering where she got her "120 years" figure. It turns out that Lemche makes a similar sort of argument. I don't know what his evidence is---though he does spend a lot of pages looking at twentieth century nomadic societies and villages. Has he actually compared nomadic stories with more official sources?

(UPDATE: On page 22 of Lemche's Prelude to Israel's Past, I found more information on this. Lemche cites a book by Patricia Kirkpatrick, who was actually the person I heard in Israel. According to Lemche, her claim, which is "Based upon modern data", is that "oral traditions cannot survive for more than 150 years.")

Where I stand on this, I do not know. I acknowledge Thomas Thompson's argument that a story can have variations, making it questionable that we can arrive at an "ancient account." At the same time, I'm also sensitive to the argument of people like James Hoffmeier and William Dever that the Bible contains material that looks quite ancient, in that it reflects ancient times.

2. Lemche's book is largely a critique of Norman Gottwald's peasant revolt model, which says that Israel was started by revolting Canaanite peasants. Although, so far, I only have pieces of Lemche's critique, I want to mention some times when Lemche takes a swipe at Gottwald, or Gottwald's scholarly predecessor, Mendenhall.

On page 153, Lemche criticizes Gottwald and Mendenhall for portraying pastoral nomads as peaceful, noting that they could actually be "bellicose" and "difficult for state authorities to deal with." When the state couldn't deal with the nomads, often what happened was that "peasant communities disintegrated and substantial areas became nomadic." Lemche's general model---at least what I saw in Ancient Israel---was that peasants became refugees who fled to the central hills and started Israel. Is Lemche leading us to that conclusion in Early Israel?

On pages 167-168, Lemche says that peasants do not necessarily have to revolt, which may be a critique of Gottwald in that Lemche is saying that, just because the peasants were poor and in debt, that didn't mean that they revolted, for many peasants endure their tough situation. But Lemche also makes the point that reform and revolution are often encouraged from outside of the peasantry---by cities and elites. Is his point here that the peasants wouldn't have initiated a revolt and started Israel on their own, for they needed outside encouragement---which they would be unlikely to have received, for why would the cities want them to leave and go to the central hills? I don't know.

In Chapter 3, "Egalitarianism and Segmentation", Lemche takes on two of Gottwald's views on tribal society. First, Gottwald thinks that segmented societies---societies that are segmented into tribes and families---are egalitarian, whereas Gottwald argues that tribal societies can have ranks and authorities (although he also says that there may not be an authority to judge between the segments, which brought to my mind the kinsman justice that we see in the Hebrew Bible, in which a kinsman of a slain person takes the law into his own hands). Second, Gottwald thought that true tribal societies were exogamous---tribes forming defensive bonds with other tribes by means of intermarriage. Lemche appears to acknowledge that this happened, and for good reason, but he also says that "the Middle East is dominated by endogomous marriage practices"---people marrying only within the tribe. So Lemche is against Gottwald's generalizations.

I can somewhat understand how Gottwald's first characterization of tribes fits in with his peasant revolt model, for Gottwald thought that Israel was an egalitarian society---an alternative to the hierarchical Canaanite city-states. But I have no idea how his second characterization relates to his peasant revolt model.

J Follows Deuteronomy and Messes Up His Chronology

I'm continuing my series on John Van Seters' treatment of Exodus 19-20 in Life of Moses. I'm doing this one bite at a time. In this post, I'll be trying to understand Van Seters' argument on pages 272-273.

I'll start with something that Van Seters says on page 272:

"First of all, it has always seemed curious that the theophany in Ex. 19:16-19; 20:18-21 and the subsequent giving of the law in 20:22ff. should be preceded by an earlier dialogue between God and Moses (19:3-6) in which it is assumed that the covenant, including a series of laws, has already been given that the people agree to obey (vs. 7f.)."

The idea here may be that the Israelites say in 19:8---before the law is given in 20:22ff.---that they will obey all of the words that the LORD has spoken, which is past tense, indicating that 19:8 regards the law as already given. So there is a tension within the chapter: 19:3-8 regards the law as already given, before the law actually is given in 20:22ff. Now onto another quote:

"Yet if we compare Exodus 19 in terms of its structure with Deut. 5:1ff., we find in the latter an exhortation by Moses to keep the laws that are then associated with the covenant at Horeb, and this reference to laws and covenant comes before the recounting of the actual event of theophany and the giving of the commandments in vs. 4ff. Of course in Deuteronomy the speech of Moses is all recapitulation of past events mixed with present exhortation so that the order of these items does not constitute a problem."

Van Seters' point here is that, in Deuteronomy 5, Moses says that the LORD made a covenant with the Israelites right before Moses talks about the theophany and the terms of the covenant: the Ten Commandments. But this makes sense in Deuteronomy 5: Moses is saying that Israel made that covenant, right before he describes what that covenant actually was---meaning that Moses is making a statement before he illustrates it. That works when Moses is recounting the past---for he doesn't have to relate everything in chronological order. But it doesn't make sense in Exodus 19---where people consent to the covenant by agreeing to obey what the LORD has said, before the LORD even gives the terms of the covenant that they are to obey.

Van Seters also compares Exodus 19 with Deuteronomy 4. There is a pattern:

1. Moses exhorts (or is to exhort) the people by appealing to a historical event (Baal-Peor in Deuteronomy 4, the Exodus in Exodus 19), followed by a command to obey (Deuteronomy 4:1-8; Exodus 19:3-4).

2. Israel is presented as special, or as having the potential to become special, if she obeys (Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Exodus 19:5-6).

3. Theophany and law-giving.

Van Seters thinks that J is following the pattern of Deuteronomy, with the result that havoc is created in J's narrative sequencing. In Deuteronomy 4-5, Moses is recounting the past, and he's not always relating events in chronological order. He's giving an exhortation based on events, and so chronological order does not concern him. His focus is on theme. But J tries to follow the sequence of events in Deuteronomy 4-5, with the result that he creates incongruity: the Israelites agree to obey words that God has spoken, before God has even spoken them.

That's interesting. I will say, though, that J has a little bit of chronological sensitivity in Exodus 19. In Exodus 19:4, he refers to the Exodus rather than the Baal-Peor incident (which is the historical event that Deuteronomy 4:3 cites), for the Baal-Peor incident has not happened yet.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Albright on the Conquest

I'm continuing my way through Niels Peter Lemche's Early Israel. In this post, I'll talk about William Foxwell Albright's views on the historicity of the biblical Conquest narratives, which Lemche discusses on pages 56-57. I'll also consult an article by conservative scholar Bryant Wood, which explains the basis for the rise and the fall of Albright's archaeological defense of the Conquest's historicity, as well as William Dever's article in the Anchor Bible Dictionary on "Israel, History of (Archaeology and the Israelite 'Conquest)".

I'll start with Lemche's summary on page 57:

" general, according to Albright and his disciples, Palestinian archaeology reveals numerous layers of destruction which must date from the Israelite conquest of the places in question. They also maintain that we are now confronted with a new material culture, as evidenced by a new type of pottery, a new sort of house, plus a materially poorer culture in those regions which were rebuilt after the destruction. According to Albright the last was the result of the fact that in this period Israelite society did not tolerate slavery; all Israelites were free men who might not be compelled to do corvee labor. Thus it was not possible for a corvee leadership, whose authority in Israel's earliest period was limited, to re-establish the labor system of the Late Bronze Age, in which slave states and conscripted local residents were made to construct palaces and fortifications."

So Albright thought that there were destruction layers in Palestine from the thirteenth century, the time of Joshua (for Albright), and that Israelite material culture was different from that of Canaan. But, according to Lemche, Albright did not believe that "the Israelite conquest was total", for he held that "Israel only reached the ascendancy over the rest of the land of Canaan after laborious wars with the remaining Canaanites over a long period of time."

One objection that can be raised against the biblical Conquest narrative is that the archaeological record shows that some of the cities that Joshua supposedly conquered---particularly Jericho and Ai---were long unoccupied by the time that Joshua allegedly arrived in Canaan, namely, the Late Bronze Age. But Albright actually had responses to this objection, according to Lemche. On Jericho, which "demonstrably contains no sign of occupation in precisely [the] period [in which Joshua arrived,] Albright argues that such evidence has been 'washed away' by erosion." Regarding Ai, Albright contends that Joshua 8 applies to Ai the conquest of a nearby city, Bethel, for which there appear to be destruction layers from the time of Joshua. According to Lemche's summary of Albright's position, "There has been an exchange of names between Bethel and Ai, so that the conquest of Bethel has now been transferred to Ai" in the Book of Joshua.

(UPDATE: On pages 390 and 403 of Early Israel, Lemche refers to evidence that Jericho and Ai were inhabited by some people in the Late Bronze Age, even though Jericho was un-walled.)

William Dever identifies another problem with the conquest narrative in Joshua: "It is obvious that of the nearly 20 identifiable [Late Bronze]/Iron I sites that the biblical writers claim were forcibly taken by the Israelites under Joshua or his immediate successors, only Bethel and Hazor have any archaeological claims to destructions, i.e., historical claims supported by extrabiblical evidence. And even here, there is no conclusive data to support the notion that Israelites were the agents of destruction. (The new evidence dating the destruction of Lachish VI to Rameses III or later, ca. 1150 B.C., is much too late...)." So, according to Dever, there is no evidence that the Israelites in the Late Bronze Age destroyed most of the Canaanite cities mentioned in the Conquest narrative---or that the cities were destroyed by anyone in that time, for that matter.

But Wood says that Albright referred to specific cities that he thought were destroyed by Joshua in the thirteenth century B.C.E., on the basis of destruction layers: "Tell Beit Mirsim, which he identified as Debir, Beitin, identified as Bethel, and Lachish." But, according to Wood, later scholars concluded that Debir and Beitin were not destroyed in the thirteenth century B.C.E.:

"For the 13th century exodus-conquest theory to be valid, the Palestinian destructions would have to occur prior to the fourth year of Merneptah, ca. 1210 BC, as Israel was settled in Canaan by this time according to Merneptah's famous stela. A detailed analysis of the pottery associated with the destruction levels of Tell Beit Mirsim and Beitin, however, reveals that these sites were destroyed in the early 12th century, probably at the hands of the Philistines, ca. 1177 BC. Inscriptional evidence found at Lachish in the 1970s indicates that it was destroyed even later, ca. 1160 BC. Recent excavations at Hazor, on the other hand, have sustained the ca. 1230 BC date for the demise of the Late Bronze Age city."

So, whereas the Book of Joshua presents the Israelite defeat of these cities preceding their habitation of Canaan, the archaeological record shows that Debir, Bethel, and Lachish were destroyed in the twelfth century B.C.E., which is after Israel was a nation in Palestine, as one can see from the thirteenth century Merneptah Stela.

So, according to Wood, this is where the "destruction layers" part of Albright's argument for the historicity of the Conquest fell apart. Unfortunately, I've read Christian apologists who still appeal to Albright as an authority, apparently unaware that later archaeologists disagree with his conclusions. But there are plenty of conservative scholars who have argued that the collapse of Albright's argument does not mean that the Conquest did not happen: it could have occurred earlier than the thirteenth century, or the Israelites could have inhabited Canaanite cities rather than destroying them (see Deuteronomy 6:10).

(I should also note that, for some reason, Dever says that Bethel was destroyed at the end of Late Bronze II. But, if Hoffmeier's chart in Ancient Israel and Sinai is correct, then 1177 B.C.E. is Iron Age I, not Late Bronze II. Do Dever and Wood disagree on the date of Bethel's destruction, or does Dever date Late Bronze Age II differently from Hoffmeier? The latter appears to be the case, for Dever states that, "apart from imports or Philistine Bichrome ware, it is often difficult to distinguish 13th from 12th century pottery", and "not even the appearance of iron provides a firm criterion for the beginning of the 'Iron' Age, since iron begins as early as the 14th century B.C. but comes into common use only in the 11th-1oth century B.C.", plus "its connection with the new technology and culture is more debated than ever in recent research". So Dever appears to think that the line separating the Late Bronze Age from the Iron Age is rather tenuous.)

Now let's turn to the second part of Albright's argument about the Conquest: the distinct material culture of the Israelites---the new type of house, new pottery style, and poorer material culture of the "regions...rebuilt after the destruction." First of all, there is doubt that the Israelites replaced the Canaanites in the region that became Israel, the central hills, for the idea of Lemche and many others is that the central hills were largely uninhabited before the Israelites occupied them in Iron I. Second, many have argued that we know that the Israelites were actually Canaanites because their Iron I material culture overlaps with that of the Late Bronze Canaanites. (Remember that the Israelite sites show up in the central hills during the Iron I Period.) What is the basis for this argument? Dever discusses this issue.

According to Dever, Israelite material culture either overlaps with Late Bronze Age Canaanite culture, or is a development of it. The pottery is virtually identical, and even the Israelite "collar rim storejar" looks like a "variant" of a Late Bronze-Iron I storejar, only with "a reenforcing band around the neck", plus it also appears in Late Bronze and "non-Israelites sites both in Palestine and the Transjordan." The four-room "Israelite" house has "a few prototypes" in the Late Bronze Period, and it is also "known in non-Israelite Iron I sites both in Palestine and in Transjordan." Even "hillside terraces, rock-hewn cisterns, and stone-lined silos...have clear antecedents in the MB-LB Age, and even earlier". So Dever believes that the Iron I central hill sites have clear Canaanite features, or reflect a development of things that existed in Canaanite culture.

And yet, Dever agrees with Albright that ancient Israel is different from Canaan in certain areas: in its settlement patterns, which appear to reflect a kinship-based egalitarianism with clans and tribes, and also in its "almost total shift to a nonurban, agrarian economy and social structure".

I should note that some conservatives have responded that the Israelites could have absorbed elements of Canaanite culture, as the Hebrew Bible says occurred in the case of Canaanite religion. So why couldn't this have happened with other aspects of Canaanite culture, such as pottery? Again, many conservatives argue that, just because Albright was wrong on Israelite culture being radically distinct from Canaanite culture, that doesn't mean that the Hebrew Bible's wrong.

Van Seters on J and E in Exodus 19

I'm continuing my series on John Van Seters' discussion of Exodus 19-20 in Life of Moses. Yesterday, I talked about Van Seters' division of sources for those chapters. In this post, I'll quote Van Seters' summary of the traditional Documentary Hypothesis' characterization of J and E in Exodus 19-20, as well as his critique of that approach. On page 250, Van Seters states the following:

"The major source-critical problem lies in an effort to find two parallel strands, J and E, in [19:]10-20. Thus in J (vs. 11-13a, 15, 18, 20) the mountain is sealed off as sacred, and Yahweh descends on it while Moses alone ascends to the deity. The theophany is volcanic in nature. In E (vs. 10, 13b-14, 16-17, 19) God dwells on the mountain, and the people are allowed to approach it while Moses remains with the people. The theophany is that of a storm. As Wilhelm Rudolph has seen, however, there are problems with this division. The divine names cannot be used as a criterion for separating sources in Exodus 19. Since Yahweh calls to Moses from the mountain (v. 3b J or Dtr), this implies that he dwells there, as in E. In v. 9a (J) Yahweh states that the people will witness his speaking with Moses, and this happens in v. 19 (E). The theophany imagery is also mixed where the 'anan appears in both sources, and the imagery in 20:18 (E) is a mixture of storm and volcanic phenomena."

I'll add to this that it's odd that E presents the Israelites as having more access to God than J does, considering that E highlights mediators between humans and God---angels, prophets. I agree with R.N. Whybray that trying to identify sources through their alleged characteristics is not reliable, for it's not consistently applied.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Starting Lemche's Early Israel

I started Niels Peter Lemche's Early Israel. What I read so far is a critique of the "peasant revolt" model of G.E. Mendenhall and Norman Gottwald, which posits that Israel was a result of peasant revolts in Canaanite city-states. That means that the Israelites were originally Canaanites, although Mendenhall (and I believe Gottwald) acknowledged that a "Moses" group that came from Egypt and encountered Yahweh in Sinai could have attached itself to Israel, contributing Yahwism to it; moreover, Gottwald eventually said that Syrian nomads could have come to Palestine and become part of Israel. For Mendenhall, the revolting Canaanite peasants conquered the Canaanite city-states, making the Conquest an inner-Canaanite phenomenon. Gottwald, however, thought that the peasants failed at their revolt and went to the central hills, away from the Canaanite city-states; after all, Judges does not present a full-scale Conquest, as we see in Joshua, but rather portrays individual tribes fighting battles, and the Canaanites remaining with the Israelites.

Lemche's critique of the "peasant revolt" model is that it is circular---it does not flow from evidence, but is rather an assumption. Plus, Lemche asks why the Bible says that the Israelites came from Egypt, if they came from a revolt in Canaan. I was puzzled by Lemche's critique of the "peasant revolt" model because, in Ancient Israel, he essentially argues that the Israelites were Canaanite peasants who became hapiru, or outlaws, which is what Mendenhall argued as well. Whether or not Lemche changed his position between Early Israel and Ancient Israel, I will have to see as I read Early Israel.

So far, however, my hunch is "no." For one, on page 28, he says that the Hebrew Bible contains a later understanding of Israelite origins and history. If that is the case, then it would not necessarily be problematic for the Hebrew Bible to say that Israel came from Egypt, when in actuality Israel consisted largely of people who were Canaanites, for the Hebrew Bible was presenting a much later view on Israel's origins, not what really happened. (Still, I should note that, on pages 255-256 of Ancient Israel, Lemche entertains the possibility that Yahwism was the contribution of Levites who came from Sinai, which could explain why in Palestine they were "treated like foreigners, in that they [were] forbidden to own land." Like many scholars, Lemche is open to the idea that groups outside of Canaan joined themselves to Israel and contributed what became prominent elements of Israelite religion.)

Second, on page 30 of Early Israel, Lemche disagrees with part of A.J. Hauser's critique of Mendenhall, the part that said that peasants left their city-states to serve another king, not to become hapiru. According to Lemche, there were peasants who became hapiru in a "no man's land". Similarly, in Ancient Israel, Lemche argued that refugees could not go to another Canaanite city-states, for the city-states agreed not to accept refugees; otherwise, their own people could leave!

Third, on page 32 of Early Israel, Lemche acknowledges that he has proposed his own model for the emergence of the hapiru, but that even his model is a guess because the "lack of written sources" "during the period between Amarna and the formation of the Israelite state". So I suppose he's in the same boat as Mendenhall and Gottwald, right? We'll see!

Van Seters' Source Division of Exodus 19-20

One bite at a time, I'm going to try to understand John Van Seters' view on Exodus 19-20 in his Life of Moses. In this post, I will feature his division of sources, which is on page 251. J will be italicized, and P will be in boldface. I will use the King James Version.

Exodus 19

1In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

2For they were departed from Rephidim, and were come to the desert of Sinai, and had pitched in the wilderness; and there Israel camped before the mount.

3And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;

4Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.

5Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

6And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.

7And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the LORD commanded him.

8And all the people answered together, and said, All that the LORD hath spoken we will do. And Moses returned the words of the people unto the LORD.

9And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.

10And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,

11And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

12And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:

13There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live: when the trumpet soundeth long, they shall come up to the mount.

14And Moses went down from the mount unto the people, and sanctified the people; and they washed their clothes.

15And he said unto the people, Be ready against the third day: come not at your wives.

16And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled.

17And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.

18And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

20And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

21And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

22And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.

23And Moses said unto the LORD, The people cannot come up to mount Sinai: for thou chargedst us, saying, Set bounds about the mount, and sanctify it.

24And the LORD said unto him, Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them.

25So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.

Exodus 20

1And God spake all these words, saying,

2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:

10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:

11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

13Thou shalt not kill.

14Thou shalt not commit adultery.

15Thou shalt not steal.

16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

18And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off.

19And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.

20And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not.

21And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

22And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.

23Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.

24An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

25And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.

26Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

COMMENTS: In my recent post on Raymond Collins' article about the "Ten Commandments" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary, I noted that Collins believes that Exodus 20:18 followed Exodus 19:25, since, if the Decalogue in Exodus 20:1-17 followed Exodus 19:25, we have Moses speaking to the people, as God interrupts him to give Israel the Ten Commandments---which is awkward. It appears that Van Seters' division of sources retains that particular problem, for he attributes Exodus 19:20-20:17 to P. But he has his reasons for doing so, which he discusses on pages 250-251. Here are some of them:

First, there appears to be a tension between God wanting Moses to sanctify the people so that they can approach Mount Sinai (vv 10-11, 13b, which Van Seters attributes to J), and God not wanting the people to approach the holy mountain at all (vv 12-13a). Van Seters attributes the latter view to P, and he associates Exodus 19:20-25 with P rather than J, for Exodus 19:20-25 talks about restrictions and the priests.

Second, "v. 20 repeats the statement of v. 18 about Yahweh coming down", and so Van Seters attributes those verses to different sources: v 18 is J, and v 20 is P.

Third, Van Seters actually does seem to admit that his division of sources has Moses "still going up and down the mountain in the middle of the theophany"---but he thinks that the "interest here is Priestly, even to the point of anticipating the later laws regarding the holiness of the sanctuary and priestly office." What I take to be Van Seters' argument is this: Moses goes down to speak with the people about God's restrictions on access to the mountain, even while God is giving the Ten Commandments. So the theophany is occurring, even while Moses enforces regulations regarding the holiness of God's sanctuary (in this case, Mount Sinai). Or perhaps one can argue that Moses goes down to tell the people to get away from the mountain, and then God speaks---meaning that Moses was preparing the Israelites for God to give the Ten Commandments.

I'll stop here, for now, but there's a good chance that I'll revisit Van Seters on the issue of Exodus 19-20.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter 2011

I just came back from Easter services! Here are some things that stood out to me:

1. One of the congregants recited the poem, "What Would You Do If Jesus Came to Your House?" I was impressed that the congregant memorized this poem, but I had issues with its picture of Jesus. The poem appeared to be saying that we'd behave ourselves if Jesus came to our homes. We'd say grace before meals. We wouldn't have the same magazines lying around. If we had friends who were ungodly, we wouldn't introduce them to Jesus---which shows that they probably shouldn't be our friends in the first place. The poem didn't mention cussing, but I suppose that we wouldn't say cuss words in Jesus' presence. And we'd rearrange our priorities were Jesus to come to visit.

What's ironic is that Jesus hung around with rough people. Simon Peter was a fisherman. Jesus also hung around with tax-collectors and prostitutes. And Jesus was a working man. Why should we assume that Jesus would be disappointed were he to come to our homes and see us in rushed conversation about work? There was a period of time when Jesus worked, plus even his life of ministry wasn't always a picnic. So I'm sure that Jesus is well aware of how stressful our lives can be. Would Jesus be judging us, or would he be serving us---and not serving us in a condescending manner of "Look how righteous I am, for I am serving you"---but serving us as part of the team?

The poem said that we'd give Jesus our best room. What makes the author of the poem think that Jesus would even demand the best room? I can see Jesus not wanting us to uproot our lives just to make him feel comfortable.

The poem asked if we'd be glad to see Jesus go. To be honest, if Jesus is anything like this poem implies, the answer is "yes"!

Some people make the same point as the poem when it comes to the TV shows that we watch. "Would you watch Desperate Housewives if Jesus were in the room?", people ask. My question is, "Why not?" I doubt that he'd approve of the behavior of some of the characters, but I can picture him recognizing that the show reflects a search for spirituality. People act as if Jesus was the type who was easily offended, but, again, he hung out with rough people (which is not to say that Jesus loved the not-so-rough people less)! He probably didn't talk dirty, but I don't think that he got bent out of shape when somebody else did so in his presence!

I think that Jesus was someone who encouraged people to do the right thing---by modeling righteousness, and by saying things that had rich value. Unlike some Christians, he probably didn't beat people over the head---unless they really needed that (as did some of the corrupt and oppressive religious leaders of his day).

2. I enjoyed the pastor's sermon. The pastor told a story about a woman who wanted to hear some good news. Overall, the pastor was presenting Easter as a day about new beginnings---a time of new life. An example he gave was that we can choose to forgive. And, somehow, this new beginning is tied into the resurrection of Jesus.

I'm not sure if I see things this way. Like that woman, though, I desire to hear some good news. And I can imagine how happy the disciples were when they learned that Jesus was alive. Something that stood out to me in the liturgy was how Jesus appeared to individuals---such as Peter. I was reading a counter-apologetic piece this week, and it was comparing Jesus' appearance to the 500 that Paul mentions in I Corinthians 15 to Mary appearing to the multitudes: Why should we assume that the former happened, while the latter did not? That's a fair question. But it interests me that, in the Gospel's resurrection stories and I Corinthians 15, Jesus does more than appear to a multitude; rather, he interacts with individuals, just as he did before he died. I don't know how much apologetic value this insight has, and I don't plan to debate it here---so abusive trolls can keep their comments to themselves. But this thought did occur to me this morning as we read I Corinthians 15.

3. A lady in the congregation said that, this past year, she found that she still had the faith that she lost. I appreciated her honesty.

More on Writing and Code-Names

I have a couple of items on topics that have appeared more than once on this blog: writing and the Hebrew Bible's use of code-names for nations.

1. On page 155-156 of Prelude to Israel's Past, Niels Peter Lemche says that third-second millennium Syria and Palestine "concerned themselves mainly with the vicissitudes of everyday life", meaning that "few people could afford the luxury of literature", and "traditions were transmitted primarily in oral form". That is why "third and second millennia Syria and Palestine have yielded no specimens of the official literary genres comparable to those unearthed throughout Mesopotamia: state treaties, royal decrees, or inscriptions that related grand tales of mighty kings and their heroism." Moreover, on page 166, Lemche states that "both Syria and Palestine lacked an extensive, educated middle class that would have paid for written literary works."

But Lemche does acknowledge the existence of Bronze Age Syrian writings, such as the Idrimi Inscription and Ugaritic poetry about Aqhat, Kirta, and Baal---writings that are incomplete. Why were these thing written down? On page 177, Lemche talks about the settings of written literature in Mesopotamia and Greece:

"The Mesopotamians developed their literature in scribal academies under the direction of trained scholars. The Greeks also used written literature for two purposes: as school textbooks and---as in the case of the Homeric epics---to safeguard the correct wording from changes made during oral recitation."

But Lemche appears to be baffled about why there are written Ugaritic works. On pages 173-174, he says that societies like Ugarit composed and passed on their epics orally. Lemche does not think that Ugaritic society wrote down their epics because there was danger and they wanted to "preserve them for posterity", for "the reign of Niqmaddu II was relatively uneventful." And so he settles on the idea that, as in Mesopotamia, the poems were "teaching models in scribal academies", which would explain the mistakes in them: a student was making errors!

2. One more item (in this post) on writing, before I talk a little about code-names! On page 227 of A History of Prophecy in Israel, Joseph Blenkinsopp states: "Once prophecies delivered in an earlier epoch were available in writing, the emphasis would tend to be less on direct inspired utterance and more on the inspired interpretation of past prophecy." The implication here is that there was a time gap between the prophecies being spoken and the prophecies being written. I'm not sure what to do with that, but it looks like something important to note.

On pages 232 and 238, Blenkinsopp says that, in Zechariah and Isaiah 27, Assyria and Egypt are code-words for the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, respectively. That makes sense for Zechariah, which obviously has a post-exilic setting (that refers to Zerubbabel), and Assyria (as far as I know) was not a major power then. Also, Egypt was where the Ptolemies were. But I wonder how to distinguish code-names from real names. When, say, Isaiah mentions Assyria, how can I know that the passage is referring to Assyria, and is thus pre-exilic, or that it's a code-name for a nation during Israel's exilic or post-exilic periods?


My longtime readers probably know that---every year during the Days of Unleavened Bread---I watch Moses movies and blog about them. Last year, Moses movies prompted me to do a little research into Egyptian religion as well as similarities between the story of baby Moses' rescue and similar stories in the ancient Near East (e.g., Sargon).

Today, I was watching the Ben Kingsley movie about Moses, and the scene in which Jethro advises Moses to set up courts so as to alleviate his (Moses') burden stood out to me. It's interesting how Moses movies that have this particular scene like to use it. In the 2006 Ten Commandments movie, Jethro (depicted by Omar Sharif) tells Moses to watch his back, as well as gives Moses an opportunity to make some profound theological points, and to relate to Jethro his relationship with God as he attempts to lead the people. The scene also allows Moses to see his wife and his son---which highlights that God chose Moses for a hard life, devoid of family, for Moses instead had to spend his time leading the people. (Of course, in the Bible, Moses had a wife who was with him on the journey, who was the object of complaints by Miriam and Aaron in Numbers 12.)

In the Moses movie starring Ben Kingsley, Jethro advises Moses to set up courts, as well as states that the Israelites need to learn to do the commandments out of choice, not because a God is threatening them. Jethro asks if Moses and the Israelites are exchanging Egyptian taskmasters on earth for a taskmaster in the heavens. At first, this may look like modern pop theology, but it actually echoes a Jewish tradition. There is a Jewish tradition that states that God actually valued the Jews' stand for him during the time of Esther more than their consent to the covenant at Sinai, for, at Sinai, they agreed to the covenant under duress---there was thunder and lightning, and, in one midrash, God was even holding Mount Sinai over their heads, threatening to drop it on them if they refused the covenant! During the time of Esther, however, the Jews affirmed their heritage, even when they were threatened with death for doing so.

But back to the story of Jethro's visit: in the movies that actually have this scene (and many do not), the scene allows for reflection on the part of the characters on what has come before, as well as presents Moses with a new insight. In the 2006 Ten Commandments movie, Moses gets to reflect on how he has interacted with God up to that point. He learns that he shouldn't exactly be so trusting of the people around him, for there are people who are seeking to overthrow him (which actually was the case in the biblical narratives). And he is hit hard with the burden of his mission. In Moses, Moses gets to tell Jethro what has occurred up to that point, and he also receives an insight about proper service to God---service that comes from choice, not force. I'm not sure how that insight plays into the rest of the movie, though.

A question that hit me as I watched the Jethro scene in Moses was this: Why does the Hebrew Bible have a scene about Jethro's visit? In a class that I took a long time ago, the teacher's assistant told us that the author of Deuteronomy 1 did not like Exodus 18's story about the foreigner Jethro being the source of Israel's court system. Okay, but why did someone invent that story in the first place? And how did John Van Seters interact with this issue, since he believes that J interacted with Deuteronomy as a source, not vice versa? Why would J take a story in which Moses came up with the court system, and say instead that it was Jethro's idea?

Van Seters addresses these questions in his Life of Moses. Van Seters states that Exodus 18 has "led to speculation about Midianite origins, not only of the courts, but of Israelite religion as a whole, the so-called Kenite hypothesis" (page 208). So why is it that some believe that Exodus 18 exists as a story in the Hebrew Bible? Because the Midianites had an influence on Israelite religion (either through Moses, or otherwise), and Exodus 18 was reflecting that fact. But Deuteronomy did not like that idea, and thus took Jethro out of the picture, according to many scholars (but not Van Seters).

For Van Seters, J (not E, in Van Seters' interpretation) transforms Deuteronomy's etiology of the Israelite court system into a story about Jethro's visit for two reasons: First, J, like his contemporary Second Isaiah, likes to stress the universalistic worship of God, and the story of a foreigner acknowledging the God of Israel after hearing of his great deeds fits well with that. (According to Van Seters, J doesn't even mind Jethro offering sacrifices in Exodus 18, for J does not believe that Aaron was a priest, but only the second-in-command. Since J regarded Jethro as the only priest in the story, of course Jethro is the one offering sacrifices!) And, second, Exodus 18 makes a connection between the later parts of the Moses story and the earlier parts. I guess that it's good to see a familiar face!

Another issue that hit me as I watched all of the Moses movies this year was the location of Mount Sinai. In the movies, Moses goes to Midian and encounters God on the holy mountain, which was in Midian. In the Ten Commandments movie starring Charlton Heston, for example, Jethro apparently is a priest because the mountain of God is in his country. Midian is located in modern Saudi Arabia. And yet, there are many people who do not believe that Sinai was there, but rather in the region between Egypt and Palestine. That would make more sense, wouldn't it? Israel goes from Egypt, to Sinai on the way to Palestine, and finally to Palestine, rather than taking a southern detour to Midian?

I recalled that James Hoffmeier addresses this issue in Ancient Israel in Sinai. Hoffmeier believes that Sinai was in the region between Egypt and Palestine. On pages 121-122, Hoffmeier addresses arguments that it was in Midian. First of all, Hoffmeier states that the Midianites moved around. We see this in the biblical narrative, in which the Midianites are in Arabah and the southern Transjordan (see Numbers 22, 25, 31). In southern Jordan, Late Bronze Midianite pottery has been found. And people could tend flocks far from home, which Hoffmeier thinks is the case in Genesis 37, in which (according to Hoffmeier) Jacob's sons graze the flocks 71.5 miles from home. Hoffmeier even says on page 142 that, "during the dry and hot summer months the Bedouin moved to the higher elevations where foliage and water could be found long after plants had dried up in the lower regions", which may "explain why Moses would be grazing his father-in-law's flocks in the area of the mountain of God (Exod. 3:1)." So Moses could be with Midianites and yet not be in Midian when he encountered God at Sinai---or he could even be away from the Midianites, as he tends their flocks outside of Midian.

This brings me to Hoffmeier's second point: Hoffmeier does not think that the Moses story says that Moses was in Midian when he encountered God at Horeb. Exodus 4:18 says that Moses went back to Jethro after the theophany, which could imply (for Hoffmeier) that Moses was returning to Midian. And, in Numbers 10:29-32, when Moses at Sinai asks Hobab (another name for his father-in-law) to serve as a guide to the Israelites in Canaan, Hobab declines, saying that he will go back to his own land and kindred. Since Hobab was away from his own land when he was at Sinai, that suggests to Hoffmeier that "Midian and Sinai were distinct but adjacent territories" (page 122).

But didn't Paul say in Galatians 4:25 that Sinai was in Arabia? How would a conservative Christian like Hoffmeier handle that? Hoffmeier argues that "the term Arabia as used in Greco-Roman times included Sinai" (page 130). That's why the "Septuagint of Genesis 46:34...locates the Land of Goshen beside or in Arabia (i.e., Sinai)" (page 130), even though Goshen was in the northeast delta, which is not what today is considered to be Arabia. On page 40, Hoffmeier provides further documentation that the region between Egypt and Palestine was called Arabia: Herodotus calls it that, and there is first millennium B.C.E. textual evidence that Arabs were in "the areas of southern Palestine and Transjordan, and Sinai." So, when Paul in Galatians 4:25 said that Mount Sinai was in Arabia, he didn't necessarily mean what we consider to be Arabia---or he does not limit "Arabia" to the land of modern Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Psalm 21

For my weekly quiet time this Sabbath, I will blog about Psalm 21.

The Book of Psalms is not just about individuals needing God's help and giving God thanks once they receive it. There is a bigger picture. In Psalm 21, the Israelites talk about the king---how God strengthens the king for battle against Israel's aggressive enemies, gives the king his heart's desire (which could be victory in battle), prolongs the king's life (probably by preserving it on the battlefield), glorifies the king, gives the king blessing, and makes the king happy through God's presence. The king trusts in the LORD, and God's love for him is not shakeable. Scholars (such as Peter Craigie) have speculated that the setting for this Psalm was a celebration of the renewal or anniversary of the king's coronation.

The king is a hero to Israel. He fights on behalf of the people, which is for their well-being, since the nation probably wouldn't be too happy if her enemies could ransack her land and enslave her to foreign tyranny. And so, in a sense, the king's well-being is the nation's well-being. But the king still gets good things for himself out of the deal: glory, long life, blessing, God's presence and love. Being rather selfish, I can read this Psalm and wonder why I should care whether or not the national leader is glorified---just so long as the leader is serving my needs. But God wants me to think beyond myself. The national leader, when he's doing his job right, is bringing blessing to the entire nation, which means that I am benefiting. And yet, the national leader deserves at least some credit and blessing for himself for fulfilling this role.

Moshe Weinfeld makes a similar point in his Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School. On page 33, Weinfeld states regarding the creed in Deuteronomy 26:3-10:

"It would have been more in keeping with the circumstances if the farmer presenting the first crops of his soil had expressed his gratitude to Jahweh for the fecundity and bounty with which his plot had been blessed. Instead he is ordered to repeat a set form of thanksgiving recalling the great religio-historical events (the Exodus and the inheritance of the land of Canaan) in Israelite history, in which the blessing of the farmer's produce, there being ceremonially offered, receives but scant attention."

According to Weinfeld, Deuteronomy wanted the farmer to look at a bigger picture than his crops when he offered his firstfruits. Deuteronomy desired for the farmer to direct his attention towards God's interaction with Israel as a whole---the foundational elements of Israel's national story.

In my opinion and the opinion of others, it's for the same sort of reason that the Lord's prayer is structured as it is: the first part is about God and God's purposes---the sanctity of God's name and God's plan to conform the earth to his righteous will---whereas the second part concerns God meeting our physical and spiritual needs (i.e., food, forgiveness, avoidance of temptation, deliverance from evil). Indeed, the first part (God's agenda) can benefit us, for the sanctity of God's name and the spread of God's kingdom can coincide with righteousness and justice, plus we should remember that we're not asking an abstract deity to sanctify his name and to spread his kingdom, for the prayer is directed to "our Father". But the sanctity of God's name and the spread of God's kingdom are much larger than us, and they entail the glorification of someone other than ourselves. Moreover, it's important to note that, when we pray the Lord's prayer, we are speaking in the first-person plural: "Our Father", "Give us", "Forgive us", "Lead us not". We do not say "my", "I" or "me", but "our", "we", and "us". The prayer exhorts us to remember that we are not the only ones who need God's help, for God is concerned for his entire creation, and there are other people besides us who need food and spiritual guidance.

Psalm 21, Deuteronomy 26:3-10, and the Lord's prayer call me to look above and beyond myself as an individual, and to remember the bigger picture of what God is doing, as God desires the well-being, not only of me, but of his entire creation. That's why some Christians prefer to replace the Romans Road method of witnessing---which emphasizes individual repentance and God's forgiveness of individuals---with the Colossians Road method, which focuses on God's cosmic work of reconciling all of creation with himself and how God wants people to become a part of that.

On this holy week, we celebrate God as a hero: Jews remember that God humbled the pride of Egypt and delivered his people from oppressive slavery, demonstrating to the nations that he is God. Christians reflect on how Jesus Christ died on the cross to deliver us from sin, and rose from the dead to defeat death and to give us new life. It's good for me to admire someone who, not only wants to help me, but also seeks to help all of creation. On holy week, I look beyond myself on one whom I consider to be admirable, God the Father and Jesus Christ.

I really enjoyed my reading of the medieval Midrash on the Psalms, for, in its treatment of Psalm 21, there was talk about the Messiah. The Messiah was presented as one who would deliver Israel and smite her enemies (such as Edom), which gave Jews hope as they suffered in the Diaspora. But there was also a larger vision: that the Messiah would teach the nations thirty commandments (the six commandments given to Adam, along with twenty-four others, including the booth, the palm-branch, and tefillin), as God himself teaches Israel the Torah (Isaiah 11:10; 59:13); that the Messiah will punish the wicked with the words of his mouth, for he will have the authority to command the angel of death and to summon locusts.

While Judaism does not regard the Messiah as God, I did see in Midrash on the Psalms the view that God will share his glory with the Messiah, for Psalm 21:6 says that God places honor and majesty on the king. And, according to the Midrash, God has done the same sort of thing for other biblical characters. He called Moses by his own name, saying that he will make Moses God to Pharaoh (Exodus 7:1). He calls the throne of Solomon the throne of the LORD (I Chronicles 29:23). He let Elijah ride in his own chariot (II Kings 2:1). Similarly, the Messiah will reign as God's representative, and he (and also Jerusalem) will be called by God's name (Jeremiah 23:6; Ezekiel 48:35). Many Christian apologists look at passages about the eschatological Davidic king in the Hebrew Bible, see divine characteristics, and conclude that the Hebrew Bible predicted that the Messiah would be God. But certain Jewish interpreters have a different approach: they believe that the Messiah will share God's glory, but will not be God himself.

In a sense, the faith with which I grew up---Armstrongism---looked at the bigger picture of God perfecting the cosmos and solving national and international problems. We looked for the intervention of the Messiah, whom we regarded as Jesus Christ. But, in my opinion, that sort of eschatology encouraged its adherents to devalue the present world---while sitting back and waiting for God to come and fix things. My impression was also that there wasn't a great deal of emphasis on God loving each person individually. I'd like to have a balanced faith---one that acknowledges God's love for me on a personal level, while also remembering that God loves the cosmos.

Friday, April 22, 2011

For Earth Day 2011

For Earth Day, I'd like to quote from pages 84-85 of C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms. Lewis is discussing Psalm 104:

"Of course this appreciation of, almost this sympathy with, creatures useless or hurtful or wholly irrelevant to man, is not our modern 'kindness to animals'. This is a virtue most easily practiced by those who have never, tired and hungry, had to work with animals for a bare living, and who inhabit a country where all dangerous wild beasts have been exterminated. The Jewish feeling, however, is vivid, fresh, and impartial. In Norse stories a pestilent creature such as a dragon tends to be conceived as the enemy not only of men but of gods. In classical stories, more disquietedly, it tends to be sent by a god for the destruction of men whom he has a grudge against. The Psalmist's clear objective view---noting the lions and whales side by side with men and men's cattle---is unusual. And I think it is certainly reached through the idea of God as creator and sustainer of all. In 104, 21, the point about the lions is that they, like us, 'do seek their meat from God'. All these creatures, like us, 'wait upon' God at feeding time (27). It is the same in 147, 9; though the raven was an unclean bird to Jews, God 'feedeth the young ravens that call upon him'. The thought which gives these creatures a place in the Psalmist's gusto for nature is surely obvious. They are our fellow-dependents; we all, lions, storks, ravens, whales---live, as our fathers said, 'at God's charges', and the mention of all equally redounds to His praise."

Finishing Lemche's Ancient Israel

I finished Niels Peter Lemche's Ancient Israel. I have four items:

1. I was disappointed with something that Lemche said on page 216:

"The Old Testament mentions a few examples of human sacrifice; thus, for example, in 2 Kings 3, king Mesha of Moab sacrifices his son in time of dire need. The story, however, can hardly be regarded as a historical report, since it is part of the legendary Elijah-Elisha cycle. Similar considerations apply to the narrative about Jephthah's daughter (Judg. 11.34-40), who had to be sacrificed by her father in fulfillment of a 'vow' when he returned from war and she was the first to greet him on his return. The story is a fairytale, a legend which had travelled throughout the cultures in the Mediterranean region. Moreover, neither of the two narratives can be claimed to be concerned with sacrifices of the first-born; in both tales the point is quite different."

What I disliked about Lemche's statement here was that he appeared to dismiss the value of these stories in teaching us about human sacrifice in ancient Israel. So the stories may not be historical. They still may tell us that human sacrifice was on the radar of Israelite writers, meaning that it was a reality in ancient Israel and the ancient Near East.

In other cases, Lemche says that a story may be unhistorical, and yet present a historical reality. On pages 134-135, he says that the story in Judges 9 about Abimelech is "obviously more of a saga than a historical account", and yet it may still portray a historical reality---that "the tribe of Manasseh may have known a more authoritative leadership figure than was provided by the groups of 'elders.'" Because the story about Naboth in I Kings 21 is part of the Elijah legends, Lemche does not believe that it can "be used as a direct historical source relevant to events in the days of Ahab, that is, in the first half of the ninth century BCE" (page 151). But he does think that the story may reveal the historical "change in power relationships between the state and the traditional social structure to the advantage of the state", as well as the "arbitrariness [of] the royal administration...for which the ordinary Israelite had no remedy" (page 151). So why can't the stories of Mesha and Jephthah be portraying a historical reality in the area of human sacrifice---even if the details of the stories themselves did not actually happen in history?

(Regarding Lemche's position on whether or not ancient Israel had human sacrifice, on page 217, he seems to express agnosticism about the extent of the practice---whether or not it was limited to the elites.)

2. On pages 212-213, Lemche speculates about the Ark of the Covenant. He says that it could have been a throne for the deity with "mythological beings"---"the type of throne that was well known in the Near East"---and it went with the Israelites into battle. David retrieved it, and Solomon housed it in the Temple. In exile, however, there emerged the idea that the Ark was a box constructed by Moses for the Law---which promoted the Law as Mosaic.

I would like to write a post about the Ark of the Covenant at some point because I wonder what scholars say about its origins. I'm also curious as to whether or not other nations had a portable sanctuary for God when they went out to battle, such as an idol.

3. On pages 218-219, Lemche talks about the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. Lemche refers to a scholarly view that the Passover "celebrated the birth of the young animals" and was thus from the nomadic Israelites, whereas the Days of Unleavened Bread "celebrated the barley harvest" and was thus from the agrarian Canaanites. Lemche entertains the possibility that nomadic Israelites kept Passover and agrarian Israelites kept the Days of Unleavened Bread, but he settles on the view that both were observed in "the Israelite villages of the pre-national period (and presumably long before the Bronze Age society)". But, for Lemche, Josiah was the one who made the barley and animal festivals into "one of Israel's great historically founded pilgrimage festivals" (see II Kings 23:22).

4. I like something that Lemche says on pages 254-255 about God's revelation of himself to Elijah in I Kings 19, in which the LORD was not in the thunderstorm, but rather in the still small voice:

"One might say that a religion which described Yahweh as the god who brought water for the fields had no use for a Yahweh who 'strips the bark off the trees' (Ps. 29.9) and, likewise, that a religion which praised Yahweh as the maintainer of the cosmos did not require a Yahweh who manifested himself in an earthquake."

This actually fits with today---Earth Day. Like Rosemary Ruether, did the author of I Kings 19 want a God who was more ecologically-friendly?

Collins on the Decalogue

In this post, I'll write about the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, according to Raymond Collins in his article on the "Ten Commandments" in the Anchor Bible Dictionary. Collins states the following:

"Each of the biblical versions of the Ten Commandments is postexilic in its present form. Most scholars agree that Exod 20:1-17 interrupts the Exodus narrative (Exod 20:18 relates to the theophany at Sinai and continues Exod 19:25). Thus the present relationship of the Ten Commandments to Sinai is considered to result from relatively late redactional work upon the Exodus narrative."

Why does Collins regard the Ten Commandments as post-exilic? In his comments on the Fifth Commandment ("Honor your father and your mother"), Collins states that "During the postexilic period the commandment was particularly significant because of the importance of society's seniors in passing along the traditions of the people", and he notes that wisdom traditions (Proverbs 1-9 and Sirach 3:1-16) "elaborate on the implications of the commandment." But I am not convinced that this is a sufficient basis to regard the Ten Commandments as post-exilic. I can't really refute it, but I'd like to see a stronger basis than a command which highlights a principle that would be a reasonable precept in all sorts of time periods.

Collins later says that the Ten Commandments are "rarely cited in the Hebrew Bible (Hos 4:1; Jer 7:9)", but Collins does not then argue that this is because the Ten Commandments are late, or post-exilic. So I don't know why Collins regards the Ten Commandments as post-exilic.

As for his claim (and the claim of many scholars) that the Ten Commandments were inserted into the Exodus narrative, that makes sense. The Ten Commandments appear awkward within their context. Exodus 19:25 says that Moses went down to the people and spoke to them, and then Exodus 20:1 has God speaking the Ten Commandments. So Moses went down from the mountain, spoke to the people, and then God interrupted Moses by speaking the Ten Commandments? I can see Collins' point that Exodus 20:18 follows Exodus 19:25 much more smoothly than Exodus 20:1-17 does: Moses goes down and speaks to the people (presumably to keep them from approaching to look at God, which would bring death---see v 21), the people saw the thunder and heard the trumpet blast and wanted Moses rather than God to speak with them, Moses exhorts the people that God is teaching them the fear of God to discourage them from sin, the people stand afar off, and Moses goes into the thick darkness to hear God's commands---which are the Covenant Code.

What are scholarly ideas about the origin of the Decalogue? Collins describes some views. One view is that the Decalogue was based on social morality that was promoted by the eighth century prophets and Jeremiah (who was from the seventh century). Another scholar believed in four redactions of the commandments: the Elohist's in the eighth century (the time of Amos and Hosea), the Yahwist's (from Hezekiah's day), the Deuteronomist's (which is seen in Deuteronomy 5), and the priest's (who expands the Sabbath command in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15). But this view appears to hold that the Decalogue had its roots in the northern Elohist tradition.

Sigmund Mowinckel located the Decalogue in the cult, viewing it as an entrance liturgy for worship---of the sort that we encounter in Psalms 15 and 24 (and Psalm 15 has ten moral prerequisites). And Mowinckel could point to appeals to Decalogue precepts in the Psalms---as in Psalm 50:16-20 and 81:9-10.

G.E. Mendenhall thought that the Decalogue was similar to second millennium Hittite vassal treaties, which required that both parties to the agreement receive a tablet---which is what happens in the biblical Decalogue story, only the Israelites receive a copy of the covenant stipulations.

E. Gerstenberger located the Decalogue in clan ethics. And Anthony Phillips said that the Decalogue was a summary of Israel's criminal code, which makes sense to me, since the Pentateuch has commands against idolatry, murder, adultery, dishonoring parents, etc.

I'll probably revisit the issue of the Decalogue, since I need to iron things out some more.

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