Friday, February 28, 2014

The Herald of the Gods

This is a fragment from a Ugaritic epic called Kirta (as translated in Stories from Ancient Canaan):

El has heard your speech--it is like El's:
You are wise, like the Bull, the Kind One.
Call to Ilisha, the herald god,
Ilisha, the herald of Baal's house,
and his wives, the herald goddesses...

At Ugarit, Ilisha was the "herald of Baal's house."  In the worship of the visionary men, Elijah preceded the Lord as Dawn and called those who waited for him in darkness to make straight his paths.  Elijah (Elias) was Yahweh's herald.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Lady Under the Tree

One of Israel's great heroes from the time of the judges is Deborah.  She's a prophetess, and she dwells under a tree.  The KJV also says she's the "wife of Lapidoth," but that may be a mistranslation.  As Methodist scholar Margaret Barker has pointed out (Margaret will merit her own bookshelf entries at some point, for sure), "Lapidoth" nowhere else appears as a man's name, and it doesn't look like a man's name -- it looks like a feminine plural, meaning "torches" or "flashing lights.  This makes Deborah the prophetess, the "woman of flashing lights," who dwells under a tree.  All of this is really, really interesting.

It turns out there's another Deborah, and I, at least, had totally forgotten her.  She only appears in one verse in the Bible, when she dies.  We're told three things about her:

  1. She is Rachel's wetnurse (and since Benjamin isn't born yet, this can only mean that she nursed Joseph, which ties her to the royal lineage of the northern kingdom and also to the ancestry of the Book of Mormon prophets).
  2. She is buried under a tree (in the LXX, she dies under the tree -- very slight difference), in an event so important the tree merits a name... it's a special tree.  
  3. Her name is Deborah.  This name is interesting, because it's the Hebrew word for "honey-bee."  Here we get into a whole bunch of old and interesting associations, including the titles of Pharaoh (one of which, nswt-bjtj, means "he of the sedge and the bee"), the story of Joseph and Asenath (Joseph's bride is covered with honey bees... scroll down to chapter 16) and the packing priorities of the Jaredites.
All this looks to me like one of the ancient symbols of Israel's divine woman (along with the sacred tree, the tree of life) was the honey bee.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Bookshelf: Henri Frankfort

Henri Frankfort's classic Kingship and the Gods is another book on Egypt you must read, especially if you're looking for the ordinances and spiritual ideas underpinning what's going on in the Book of Mormon and the Old Testament.

Frankfort compares Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Israelite ideas about kingship.  I think his analysis of Israelite ideas is misguided, in that he relies too much on one point of view present in ancient Israel's history, and that is the late and revisionist point of view of the Deuteronomist.  The real interest here is Egypt: look for what he has to say about the Egyptian rites of kingship, including temple feasts of bread and beer and the divine embrace across the temple veil between the living king and the dead one.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Temple Roots of Tithing

The first appearance in the OT of the institution of tithing is in Genesis 14.  Abram pays tithing to Melchizedek ("my king is righteousness"), the shalem (peaceable) king (Alma knows this pun), after a feast of bread and wine.  This is a temple passage, also shown in the Sermon on the Mount: those who hunger and thirst after righteousness (Melchizedek) are filled when they share a feast with God (the Lord, Melchizedek).

Jacob also pays tithing.  He commits to it after an experience in which he sees God and angels ascending and descending to and from "heaven," sets up a standing stone and anoints it, makes the covenant of Abraham, changes the name of the place from "Ulam Luz" (the KJV mysteriously drops "Ulam," which is the name of the first room of the temple) to Beth-El (the "house of God," which he also describes as the "gate of heaven"), and agrees that God will keep him in the way and give him bread and clothing.  The result of this covenant will be shalom, "peace."  This is also manifestly a temple passage.

Finally, Malachi's famous passage about tithing is set in a context in which the Israelites are chastised for abandoning the Lord's true pattern of worship.  They are promised (warned?) that the Lord still appears, and that he will do so, as he has always done, in his temple, preceded by an angel priest.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Bookshelf: Israel and Egypt

Ugarit is Israel's nearest neighbor in space and time, but Egypt was also hugely influential.  William Dever argues for the importance in the makeup of Israel of a group of people identifying themselves as the descendants of Joseph, and bearing Egyptian traditions... Nephi tells us the same thing.  So it behooves us to look a little bit at Egypt, and especially at Egypt during the period of Israel's history.

I suggest Kenneth Kitchen's The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt and Donald Redford's Egypt, Canaan, and Israel in Ancient Times.  You'll find Book of Mormon names, political patterns, and the background for the Nephites' concerns about priestcraft as a form of government.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Peace and Salvation

In Genesis 26, the description of the covenant-making feast between Abimelech and Isaac contains an intriguing translation point.  In verses 29 and 31, the word shalom appears, translated by the KJV both times as "peace."

Provocatively, the LXX translates the first instance as eirene ("peace"), but translates the second instead as soteria ("salvation").  This suggests that the soter ("savior"), a title the NT gives to Jesus, is the bringer of "peace," the Lord who appears in worship of the peaceable ones / the peace offerings.

Post-Script on Cain: the Angel of the Lord

The Targums are old Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible.  Like the LXX, they were written for ancient communities of Israelites who no longer spoke Hebrew as their native language, and like the LXX, they can differ significantly from the MT.  Sometimes the differences come because of error, but often the differences come because the translators understood the Hebrew passage differently than we do and inserted commentary, or because they were looking at a more ancient and different Hebrew text than we have today.

You can read English translations of the Targums online here.  You can also buy physical books on Amazon.

I have observed that Genesis and Moses both seem to identify Cain as a priest.  It turns out that the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan adds another element that suggests we should think of Cain this way.  At this link you can find the first six chapters of Genesis; scroll down to chapter IV and read the Targum's translation of Genesis 4:1:

And Adam knew Hava his wife, who had desired the Angel; and she conceived, and bare Kain; and she said, I have acquired a man, the Angel of the Lord.

The Angel Eve desired in the Targum was Sammael, the angel of death, who appeared in Genesis 3 beside the tree of knowledge as Eve ate.  But the man Eve acquired, the Angel of the Lord, is Cain.  Remember: stars = angels = priests.

Friday, February 7, 2014

In this Place

Genesis 22:14 is translated badly in the KJV.  The Hebrew is ambiguous, but the Greek clearly says "On the mountain, the Lord appeared."  The Hebrew can also be read this way, and some translations have done so (although other translations are worse than the KJV -- the Revised English Bible inserts the word "provided").

Two things: one, the religion of Abraham is a religion in which people see the Lord.  Two, either an appearance of the Lord happened and was not described or else the "angel of the Lord" of verse 11 is the same person as the Lord.  In fact, the Hebrew here can be read "the Angel Yahweh," and since Angel just means a messenger, that shouldn't shock us... but it may not be how we're used to reading the OT.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Israel -- the One Who Sees God

Philo makes a number of interpretations repeatedly.  One is that Israel means "the one who sees God" and therefore the "Man of Vision" or the "race that has vision" (The Confusion of Tongues, XX, XXVIII, XXXI).  For Philo, "Israel" meant the "visionary men." John Chrysostom (Homilies 58), St. Augustine (City of God 16:39), and an old Christian document called On the Origin of the World (one of the Nag Hammadi texts) know the same meaning.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Bookshelf: Philo Judaeus

Philo was an Egyptian Jew who was a generation older than Jesus.  His writings have survived, I suspect in part because we have generally asked the wrong questions when reading them, and not realized the significance of things Philo says.

Philo writes to convince educated Greeks that his religion is acceptable, and if you read his books for the argument they make, they're boring, and relevant only to classicists and maybe intellectual historians.  The interesting way to read Philo, the way we generally don't do it, is to ignore his strained analogies and instead ask what must Philo's religion be like, for this analogy to make sense?

Let me quote one excerpt, by way of example:

...if there be any as yet unfit to be called a Son of God, let him press to take his place under God's First-born, the Word, who holds the eldership among the angels, their ruler as it were.  And many names are his, for he is called "the Beginning," and the Name of God, and His Word, and the Man after His image...  (from The Confusion of Tongues, XXVIII)

God has a firstborn son among many sons, who are the angels, and among whose numbers people can aspire to be.  This firstborn Son is also called the Word and the Name, and appears to be in some way connected with Adam.  Whatever Philo believes, it isn't Judaism, as we know it.

You can get a cheap one-volume English translation of all Philo's writings.  The Loeb Classical Library also publishes bilingual Greek-English editions -- Philo fills ten volumes.