Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Pentateuch

This past winter, before the hectic semester began, I took notes from the enjoyable article on the Pentateuch in the New Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary. The author, R. W. L. Moberly, discusses issues of interpretation and content. For instance, narrative tensions can be found throughout the various books. Isaac’s blessing of his two sons (Genesis 27) implies that Isaac was near death; but Isaac died years later, after Jacob returns from his fourteen years with Laban (Genesis 29:15-30, 35:27-29) (p. 432). The number of Israelites who left Egypt seem to be a comparatively smaller group---that can be accommodated by twelve springs and by water produced from a rock (Ex. 15:27, 17:6). But elsewhere the narrative describes the group as 600,000 men on food, not including women and children, or nearly two millions people (p. 433).

Another contrast is the status of women: Exodus 20:17 places “wife” after “house,” while the corresponding commandment in Deuteronomy (5:21) places wife before house. Similarly, Deuteronomy 22:22 makes a woman accountable for her actions, although in Genesis, when Sarah is taken into Pharaoh’s harem (and later Abimelech’s), it is Abraham who is accountable (Genesis 12:18-19, 20:10) (p. 433).

Still another contrast is the difference between the Ten Commandments, usually in small details, but notably in the difference between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions of the Sabbath commandment, where two different reasons for the commandment are given (Ex. 20:11, Deut. 5;15) (p. 433).

The article lists several similar examples, reflecting the different traditions that have been brought together in the writing and editing of what became the canonical text. But I was particularly interested in points made in the section "Genesis as ‘the Old Testament of the Old Testament’" (p. 434-435). The focus is on the fact that, in Exodus 3:13-15, God reveals the divine name to Moses as a new name, and in Exodus 6:2-3, it is stated that the patriarchs knew God, not as YHWH but as El Shaddai. But in Genesis, God uses the divine name (Gen. 15:7, 28:13), and the name is frequently used throughout the book (p. 434).

A possible explanation is that, for the hypothesized writers named as the Elohist and the Priestly sources, the divine name was made known to Moses but not before, while the source called the Jahwist used the divine name all along, in Genesis 2, in Gen. 4:26, and so on. Still, these different traditions were preserved together when Genesis was written. (Another explanation is that the divine name was familiar to the authors and used in the test, even if it is anachronistic: p. 435.)

Moberly writes that the divine name becomes attached to the covenant of Moses and therefore to holiness and exclusivity (as in Exodus 12, where the Egyptians did not known the true God.) And yet, the Lord named by the divine name YHWH is traditionally called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob---Moses' forebearers. As Moberly puts it, “The one God can apparently be known in markedly different ways. This poses the ancient problem: how should one recognize as religiously authoritative material that is full of religious practices different from or even forbidden by Mosaic torah (compare, e.g., Jacob’s setting up a pillar in Gene. 28:18 with the strong prohbition of such in Deut. 16:22)?” (p. 435).

Moberly suggests that the patriarchs “become types and/or figures of Israel” for instance, Abraham’s journey to Egypt. The Abraham stories aren’t rewritten to reflect later religious realities but they remain authoritative heritage for Israel. Christians, of course, do the same thing in their interepretation of Abraham, Moses, and other aspects of the Old Testament (p 435).

Another interesting point made in the article concerns the Shema, not only Deut. 6:4-5 but also Deut. 6:6-9. Christians tend to ignore 6-9 as Jewish practices. Yet Christians feel scriptural obligations to follow other teachings of scripture (as in the "do this" of 1 Cor. 11:23-26, et al.). It’s just that Christians have appropriated other practices for their own heritage. "Of course, some Christians traditionally have practiced equivalent to those of Deut. 6:6-9, most obviously int he regular recital of the Lord's Prayer and in the display of the prime Christian symbol of the cross---often on a necklace but also over the gates of critics in the historic Christian empire of Byzantium, where they symbolically depicted the identity and allegiance of the place one was entering, just as Deut. 6:9 envisages the working of the Shema doing for Israel's homes (private space) and cities (public space). Deuteronomy does not envisage the recital and display of an equivalent to the Shema, but of the Shema itself. Yet Christians only receive Deuteronomy as part of the larger canon of Scripture… and that makes the difference" (p. 437).

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