Tuesday, April 29, 2014

I Will Write

Exodus 34 shows us something spectacular and unappreciated about the religion of Moses.

First, Moses' ascension to the mountain (he spends 40 days fasting in the presence of the Lord) results in him having the appearance of God.  In his descent, he shines.

Second, in Moses' time on the mountain, he performs the tasks that God performs.  The first time around, God speaks the ten commandments and then He writes them with His own finger.  When He invites Moses up, God says that God will write the commandments again.  Then, in what seems like a craftsman's apprenticeship, Moses remains in the presence of the Lord and writes the commandments himself.

On the mountain, Moses becomes divine.  Does this shed light on Jesus' 40 days fasting in the wilderness?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Bookshelf: Deuteronomy

We've talked in class about the theory that Deuteronomy is a document created late in the Monarchy by assembling earlier sources and writing new material in the (fictitious) name of Moses, in order to define and propagandize a revolutionary movement that centralized religious authority and changed the nature of official Israelite religion, writing over the stories of the patriarchs and claiming that the things they did (building their own altars, performing their own sacrifices, worshipping at high places and sacred trees, entering into sacred places, and above all, seeing God) were pagan Canaanite acts.

This theory (in multiple variants) is at the bedrock bottom of modern biblical criticism.  That doesn't mean it's right, but it's also consistent with Nephi's horrible account of the rewriting of the Israelite record (the revisionists remove plain and precious things from the record; the tree that is the city Jerusalem and also the Virgin mother is the most precious thing), so we should take it seriously.

To date, this understanding has had approximately zero impact on Mormon Sunday Schools.  If you want to explore it, your on your own; so here are some books to start with:

Again, there are many more books on this key topic.  These are just the ones I own.  A good introduction to the Old Testament (by "good" I really mean not tied to any church, but especially not Evangelical) will also give you some background.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Every One Which Sought the Lord

In class and on this blog we have seen repeatedly that the religion of the patriarchs is the religion of meeting God.  This same religion continues into the Mosaic period, at least as recounted in Exodus.  Anyone of the camp of Israel can seek the Lord; they do it in the tabernacle, which is named in Hebrew 'ohel mo'ed.  This is sometimes translated as the Tent of the Congregation, but can also be read the Tent of Meeting.  Meeting whom?  Meeting God.

Exodus 33 also provides us an image that is echoed in Benjamin's speech (and which I think is more relevant comparison than Lot and Sodom).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bookshelf: the Divine Woman

Here are some excellent books on the subject of Israel's Divine Woman.  Shame that none of them are written by Mormons.

There are many others on the subject; these are just the books that happen to be in my library.

These are not fringe voices or fringe ideas.  Mainstream biblical scholarship (by which I mean scholarship not tied to seminaries, and specifically scholarship that is not Evangelical), in part because of the force of archaeological evidence, is increasingly accepting the idea that Israel knew a divine mother as well as a divine father.

This should not surprise us.  We have Nephi and Eliza R. Snow.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Come Up to Me in the Mount

I have noted before in class, and also in Plain and Precious Things, I think Exodus 24 shows a feast in the temple, the same feast with the Lord that is shown in Psalm 23, Genesis 14, Matthew 6, and 1 Nephi 8.

What I only noticed on this re-reading (this is why I have to read this stuff over and over again; I am dense) is that the feast of Exodus 24 happens in three-part sacred space, and the feast is in the middle of the three parts, exactly as in the Sermon on the Mount (where Matthew 5 is the first room, Matthew 6 is the second, and Matthew 7 is the third).

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Bookshelf: Cornelis Van Dam

Cornelis Van Dam's recent monograph The Urim and Thummim: A Means of Revelation in Ancient Israel is a great resource for understanding the UT in the OT.  It also opens up certain Book of Mormon passages: if you look closely, you'll see that, although the UT isn't mentioned, a couple of episodes in Alma track with the language of UT use exactly (high priest, gift of prophecy, national crisis, inquire of the Lord, possible indications of use in secluded / consecrated space, etc.), suggesting that the Nephites used the Urim and Thummim not only to translate, but also to make military decisions.  See, e.g., Alma 16:5-6 and Alma 43:23-24.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Three Times a Year

Exodus 23 has some interesting glimpses into what the religion of Israel was before the reformers got hold of it.

Exodus 23:14-17 sets out the requirement that three times a year the men of Israel went to the temple.  Even as the KJV translates it, the fact that they appear in the presence of the Lord three times a year is interesting.  But since "presence" is literally pen, "face," and "appear" could also be read "see," there's an even more provocative possibility: that three times a year, the men of Israel saw the face of the Lord.

Exodus 23:25 is also very suggestive.  To "serve" here is 'avadtem, meaning worship in liturgy, perform ordinances.  What ordinance is it?  It appears to be an ordinance in which the Lord will bless the people's bread and water (cf. Matthew 6).  The LXX here adds "wine," suggesting that the Greek-speaking Jews of Alexandria knew that this was a specific ordinance being referred to, and that ordinance, as they knew it, was a feast of bread and wine.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Bookshelf: Bible Dictionaries

Our Bible Dictionary is a work of scholarship.  It has the great advantage of including information from the other standard works, and the serious limitations of short length, committee authorship, and the necessity of maintaining a strictly orthodox point of view at all times (being published, as it is, by the church).  Here are some other English Bible Dictionaries you might consult, for longer, broader-ranging articles, with more diverse viewpoints:

The who's-yer-daddy of English BDs is the Anchor Bible Dictionary.  Six volumes, authoritative, expensive.  If you don't have the will to plunk down $300 for a used copy, you can always consult it in the library when you have a specific research project.

Smaller but more affordable is the HarperCollins BD.  I have and use this one.  Its advantages over the Anchor are portability, accessibility (it's written less for the scholar and more for the general user), and much more illustration.

I don't have the Eerdmans, but they're a reputable publisher doing mainstream scholarship, so this is probably a good one.

Regardless of which one you consult, remember that any article you look up is written by a scholar, and subject to that scholar's views and limitations.  Dictionaries aren't always right, but they can be a good first source to consult.  The larger the dictionary, the longer the articles, and the more the articles will point out disagreeing points of view and primary sources.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Shall Surely Make Restitution

Exodus 22 contains a number of laws governing situations in which one Israelite will be required to make restitution to another (for instance, if your animal gets into someone else's field (v. 4), if a fire on your land spreads to a neighbor's (v. 5), if an animal in your care is stolen (v. 11)).

In English, this stuff is dry and doesn't seem relevant, but a look at the Hebrew shows something interesting.  "Restitution" comes from the root SH-L-M, and the repeated phrases in Exodus 22 are yeshalem (he shall make restitution) and shalem yeshalem (he's really going to make restitution, emphatic).  Restitution is paying back, making whole, redeeming.

This is really interesting, because I think that Matthew 5:48 in Hebrew, as Nephi knew it, had people pronounced shalems as they transitioned to the second room of the temple.  With Exodus 22 as the background, one of the associations the initiates made must have been that they were becoming redeemers.  Similarly, Melchizedek, melekh shalem, must have been heard to be the redeeming king, as well as the initiated king and the peaceable king.