The Bible

243

Noah and The Bible

July 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Bible builds its literary foundations upon the themes of Knowledge and Sin, two topoi that are reflected again and again in various parables, allegories, and tales found within this sacred text. Genesis 9:20-27 exemplifies the synthesis of these ideas, the relatively short tale of Noah¹s drunkenness revealing a profound exploration of the underpinning Biblical themes. And yet while being a perfectly self-contained passage, the story of Noah incorporates other parts of Genesis within its ideological framework, creating a multi-leveled structure that is both autonomous of and indebted to its greater context.Both the structure of the passage and its concepts explore the Biblical theme of knowledge, making Noah¹s story a literal meditation on the idea, within a humanistic setting. The distinction of Noah being a ³man of the soil² is important within this context, because Adam and Eve dealt with the theme of Knowledge as well, but within a more supernatural, Godly environment (9:20). Thus the story of Noah is meant not as an etiological tale, but more as a morally-based allegory meant to render the concept of Knowledge more intimately understandable to the average person of faith. Noah¹s drunkenness from his wine leads to him laying ³uncovered in his tent,² a state of being that recalls Edenic associations with nakedness and Knowledge, reaffirming the connection between this passage and its place in Genesis (9:22). The climax of the scene comes when Ham ³[sees] the nakedness of his father, and [tells] his two brothers outside² (9:23). This moment, the second that Ham gains the knowledge of his father¹s naked figure, is pivotal in understanding the meaning of this passage. It illustrates not only the greater concept of Knowledge, but also outlines societal rules and norms regarding the interaction between father and son. The word ³saw² in the passage alone carries many levels of meaning, its usage an intrinsic allusion to when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of Knowledge and saw each other¹s nakedness for the first time. Thus this word, and its application, reveal to us that nakedness is a shameful thing, and thus Ham¹s knowledge of his father¹s nakedness is, in fact, a horrible thing, for the relationship between father and son should be one of respect, not of shame.The actions of Shem and Japheth also tells us that this event is shameful‹to dress their father, they ³[take] a garment, la[y] it on both their shoulders, and [walk] backward and [cover] the nakedness of their father; their faces [are] turned away, and they [do] not see their father¹s nakedness² (9:23). This blatant avoidance of the knowledge of nakedness illustrates to the reader how one should act in such a situation, for Noah¹s ultimate reaction to his sons reveals the merit of Shem and Japheth¹s actions‹Noah blesses them with good fortune, while Canaan, the son of Ham, is cursed to slavery. This punishment of the son reflects the generational tendencies of The Bible, and reveals once again the relation to Adam and Eve, and the cursed nature of their offspring, namely humanity.Sin is also a hugely important aspect of this passage, incorporated into the theme of Knowledge yet independent from it, in that sin is a later addition to Genesis in terms of thematic vocabulary. The idea of sin is a Christian element of the Bible, yet one cannot read it as a piece of literature without understanding the echoes of its fundamental effect upon its literary interpretation. Such word usage as ³cursed,² enforces the mental association with sin, as our cultural lexicon has created an undeniable like between those two ideas (9:25). The passage as a whole illustrates in a relatively simple way the sin of indulgence, as Noah¹s drunkenness creates terrible consequences, and Ham¹s knowledge forever wrecks his offspring. This allegorical passage is meant to both instruct and warn the reader, as many levels of sin are exposed. The selection works around the juxtapositions of images and words, as the voyeurism of Ham is offset by the exaggerated unseeing actions of Shem and Japheth, and the curse laid on Canaan is juxtaposed by the blessings given to his uncles. These independent sections of the passage work together to create a powerful tale of human behavior, one that is linked together with the Creation story, but provides more moralization than explanation.Thus both knowledge and sin are invoked as thematic directives behind this seemingly simple passage of Genesis, resulting in a deeply probing allegory of human society and family. The tale of Adam and Eve is referenced many times within the selection, from the description of Noah as ³a man of the soil,² to the more obvious allusions with the issue of nakedness (9:20). Thus this small passage is extremely significant to the Bible as a whole, tackling social custom and repeating biblical motifs to reveal a depth of meaning that parallels that of any other ³known² passage of the Bible.

Read more

283

The Scope of Wisdom: An Examination of Proverbs 20 and Ecclesiastes 1

June 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

Ecclesiastes and Proverbs both strive to examine wisdom and faith but approach these subjects on varying levels of existence. The individual person is approached differently in the two books, which enter into a dynamic discourse on the pursuit of understanding. Proverbs strives to instruct God’s creations, human beings, as they dwell on earth. But Ecclesiastes expands its scope to eradicate details like individual people. As though it is responding to the clunky instruction-book quality of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes poetically dismisses the insignificant concerns of mortal man. Its fatalistic, frustrated pondering is often in direct opposition to Proverbs hopeful warnings and calm faith. Proverbs is occupied by common, daily acts. Its subjects are earthbound and the language has a kind of familiar physicality that makes it accessible and penetrable. Ecclesiastes, on the other hand, dedicates itself to larger spaces with sweeping generalizations and all-encompassing terms. It is as though Ecclesiastes addresses the framework containing the subjects of Proverbs. This framework is the web of eternity, operating in cycles that consume the brief linear existences of Proverbs’ individual subjects. The linearity of Proverbs provides its logical reasoning, a manner of thinking that posits rational cause and effect. But the flowing, circular space of Ecclesiastes makes such logic seem oversimplified and basic. Side by side, Proverbs 20 and Ecclesiastes 1 (RSV) provide many examples of the contrasting nature of the two books. They propose different kinds of wisdom: wisdom that informs average daily life and wisdom that occupies impossibly lofty realms, where questions do not have answers and the terms are effectively intangible.A difference in scope is clearly established through the language of the two texts. The basic aspect of vocabulary, of word choice, is already one area of discrepancy. The terminology is simply different. The sense that Proverbs is more grounded in human experience is derived from references to objects and actions that consume average daily life. This is intended for those who ‘plow’ and ‘harvest’ (20:4), those who are subject to ‘a king who sits on a throne,’ (20:8) and those who are familiar with ‘weights,’ ‘scales,’ (20:23) and ‘wheel[s]’ (20:26). These physical references contribute to a sense of familiarity and physicality. Proverbs dwells in the active, working person, concerning itself with their every move. Ecclesiastes is not built on these kind of references. Instead, its vocabulary is one of a grander scale, full of untouchable and massive forces. Its objects are ‘the sun,’ (1:5) ‘the wind,’ (1:6) and ‘heaven’ (1:14). These are not places where the daily activities of Proverbs are a concern. They hover high above such tangible details and eradicate the simple human subject. The human becomes small and unworthy in the face of such sweeping terms. Ecclesiastes communicates a distinct impatience with the measly, earthbound individual, as though the human form is limiting in its corporeality. This is just the opposite of Proverbs, which continually identifies this body as its subject. Where the text of Proverbs is content to state ‘The hearing ear and the seeing eye/the LORD has made them both,’ (20:12) Ecclesiastes looks beyond the mere physical wonderment of this fact and complains ‘the eye is not satisfied with seeing,/nor the ear filled with hearing² (1:8). It is moments like these that truly set the two texts apart in terms of scope, even pitting them against each other. Ecclesiastes does not have the patience for the simple and obvious physical statements that characterize the language in Proverbs.Ecclesiastes soars above the grounded Proverbs in other qualities of the language. Another dissimilarity between the two sections is the use of metaphor. Proverbs 20 makes extensive use of metaphor, an aspect that seems essentially absent in Ecclesiastes 1. Again, this creates a sense of dwelling in heavy detail and attempting to connect with a living, breathing, and working audience. Metaphors like ‘The dread wrath of a king is like the growling of a lion,’ (20:2) and ‘The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water,’ (20:5) are making use of concrete and identifiable imagery to make a point. They reach out with distinct and identifiable things lifted from the real world. The average reader can use these references as tools to penetrate meaning. Ecclesiastes does not furnish its points with accessible terms. In its more ethereal and vague tone, it does not clarify with metaphors. Instead, imagery suggests deeper meaning without spelling it out. ‘All streams run to the sea,/but the sea is not full,’ (1:7) is certainly not simply about the geography of actual streams, but the infinite quality of time. The speaker creates a sense of eternity without specifying. This is one of many aspects making Ecclesiastes seem loftier, and thus less accessible than Proverbs. Instead of localizing the references, this speaker expands them until they are distinctly unspecific. The terms grow enough to become absolute and all-encompassing. For example, the word ‘All’ occurs constantly in Ecclesiastes 20. The chapter is characterized by phrases like ‘All is vanity,’ (1:2) ‘All streams run to the sea,’ (1:7) ‘All things are full of weariness,’ (1:8) ‘all that is done under heaven,’ (1:13) and ‘all who were over Jerusalem before me’ (1:16). By using referencing this totality, Ecclesiastes establishes a much grander scale for its subject. Details are eradicated by the sheer power of its questions and breadth of its scope. It refuses to attach specific meaning to specific things, or even narrow its subject down to the tangible world. The alternate title of ‘The Preacher’ is an apt description of Ecclesiastes authorial stance. While ‘Proverbs’ is a democratic set of ideas, placed deliberately among the people with the people as its subject, Ecclesiastes seems perched above and calling down from the pulpit.The individual human being is thus embraced by Proverbs and diminished by Ecclesiastes. Where Proverbs probes differences between individuals, Ecclesiastes eradicates differences through generalization. Proverbs makes distinctions between different types of people, building its small cast of characters. These include ‘king,’ (20:2) ‘fool,’ (20:3) ‘sluggard,’ (20:4) ‘child’ (20:11) and ‘stranger’ (20:16). It is not only in the list of types that individuality is lauded, but in the presence of variation among characters. Adjectives are used to classify varying kinds of men among the many, driving home the idea that humanity is a diverse and complex gathering of solitary creatures. We encounter ‘a man of understanding’ (20:5), ‘a faithful man,’ (20:6) ‘a righteous man,’ (20:7) and see a comparison between ‘young’ and ‘old’ men (20:29). By alluding to possibilities of personality, the philosophy of Proverbs is embracing the individual. The polar opposite of this attention is very clearly stated in Ecclesiastes. Human lives are not worthy of attention in a worldview that reminds us ‘A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever,’ (1:4) disposing in its opening lines of any concern for the singular human experience.The mortal world of Proverbs and the all-encompassing universal dilemmas of Ecclesiastes make use of dissimilar modes of reason and logic. In the metaphors of Proverbs, there is a characteristic rationality that is missing in the questions of Ecclesiastes. The concept of cause and effect is crucial in both the message and form of Proverbs. The rhythm of the book moves forward in a distinctly linear description of action and consequence, whether positive or negative. One such moral process is contained in ‘Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel’ (20:17). This plots an event along an obvious line. There are specific and logistical warnings such as ‘The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing’ (20:4). This idea contains the framework of seasonal time to ground it, and a distinct cause and effect that lends an accessible clarity to its point. Ecclesiastes throws a wrench in this clear line of thought, demanding ‘What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?’ (1:3). Ecclesiastes also directly counters the scheme of forward-moving linear time in its emphasis on cycles. There is no simple beginning and ending in descriptions like ‘The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises’ (1:5). In statements like these, the sentence carefully returns to the beginning instead of moving to a conclusion at the end. The form of the language mimics the circles it is describing. The entire book is woven of these overlapping cycles, operating outside of man’s empirical reasoning.The glorious scope and lofty subject matter of Ecclesiastes does not mean it reigns above Proverbs. Although the poetic flow of cycles in the universe is engaging and beautiful, the accessibility of Proverbs’ mortal concerns renders it an extremely powerful book. Proverbs is able to apply the ethereal and vague concept of ‘wisdom’ to action. This is a necessary entrance-point into the teachings of the Bible. Unlike The Preacher’s stance assumed by Ecclesiastes, the instructions of Proverbs put faith directly into the hands of the people. The inclusion of the individual human as a worthy subject sends a crucial message. Proverbs, through careful instruction and calm warning, suggests that there is hope for the person who acts in a certain way. But Ecclesiastes’ schema is a fatalistic and hopeless one, where the subject is simply left to ponder. The individual in search of wisdom lives by Proverbs and thinks by Ecclesiastes, turning inward through the teachings of one and gazing upward by grace of the other.

Read more

264

Matthew’s Continuity

June 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

The Book of Matthew, the first of the Gospels in the New Testament, appears to be directed towards the Hebrews to compel them to accept Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. As a result, the Book of Matthew is in many ways seemingly continuous of the Hebrew Scriptures. When reading the Book of Matthew, one immediately notices the lengthy recount of genealogy of “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matthew 1:1) starting from Abraham: “Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob…” (Matthew 1:2) and ending with Jesus Christ: “…and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:16) It is quite interesting how the Gospel according to Matthew approaches the issue of Christ with the retracing of birth and paternity of forty-two generations: “So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations” (Matthew 1:17). Jesus Christ is not related by blood to Joseph, and hence is not related by blood to David or Abraham. However, he is nevertheless referred to as “the son of David, the son of Abraham” in because the Book of Matthew attempts to establish continuity with the Old Testament. First, this serves to convince the Hebrews that the Messiah is, like them, a descendant of Abraham, the progenitor of the Hebrews. It also shows that Jesus is a descendant of royalty, David, as prophesized in the Old Testament “…a child has been born for us, a son given to us…his authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.” (Isaiah 9:6-7) Matthew reminds us of this many times throughout the Book, for example: “…two blind men followed him, crying loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David'” (9:27), and “all the crowds were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the Son of David?'” (12:23) Other fulfillments of Old Testament prophecies are common in the Book of Matthew. One such is the conception and subsequent naming of Christ: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel” (Matthew 1:23) prophesized by Isaiah “…the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14) And in Hosea, a part of the history of the Jews, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11.1), which refers to Exodus “thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22), is recapitulated when Joseph, following the instructions of an angel of God, brought Jesus and Mary out of Egypt. Jesus taught the crowds with parables, and fulfilled the prophecy “I will open my mouth in a parable” (Psalms 78:2). Jesus Christ told the crowds that John the Baptist was prophesized to be the return of the prophet Elijah: “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.” (Matthew 11:13-14) Isaiah also prophesized a Messiah who “borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (Isaiah 53:4). Jesus Christ was known for healing the sick. Chapters Eight and Nine of the Book of Matthew detail his many miracles. This brings up another major topic in both Matthew and the Old Testament Scriptures: miracles. In Exodus, God commanded Moses repeatedly to bring down harm against the Pharaoh and the Egyptians. For example, God said to Moses “…present yourself before Pharaoh…and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For if you will not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, and your people…” (Exodus 8:20-21) God, here seems to have Moses perform these miracles to prove his power: “You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord…” (Exodus 7:2-5) In Matthew, God again performs great miracles, this time through Jesus the Messiah in his ability to heal: “…a leper…knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.’ He stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matthew 8:2-3). God’s miracles in the New Testament, while they still serve to prove his greatness, are no longer vengeful, but compassionate (healing the sick, feeding the hungry, exorcising demons). God’s ways have undoubtedly changed in the Book of Matthew. This is not to say that Jesus wished for his followers to reject the ways of the past: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) He goes on to elaborate upon the old laws of the Hebrews: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…But I say to you…” He refers back repeatedly to the Ten Commandments given to Moses (in Exodus Chapter 20) to establish connections with the past.God continued to test faith in the Book of Matthew as he did in the Hebrew Scriptures. God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac: “Take your son, your only son Isaac…and offer his there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” (Genesis 22:2) When God was sure that Abraham is a true follower, God stops Abraham from killing his son: “for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” (Genesis 22:12) In Job, Satan (meaning “the accuser”), because he cannot battle with God directly, can tamper with God’s creation, namely man, and in this case, the righteous and faultless Job. Satan attempts to alienate God from man by accusing Job of being the worst of sinners because he worships God for self-serving reasons. God allows Satan to test Job by removing every indication that Job has God’s favor. Job does not curse God, but he is hurt because he feels that God has abandoned him. God eventually restores all that belonged to Job, and the Tempter Satan is silenced. Satan similarly tests Jesus in the desert: “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3) but Jesus, like Job, remained steadfast: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” Then the devil left him” (Matthew 4:10-11). Jesus, also like Job, at one point on the crucifix felt that God has abandoned him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)Many aspects of the Book of Matthew suggest that Jesus is presented as the new and greater Moses. Moses was very important to the Hebrews. He was deliverer of his people, lawgiver, and attributed to writing the first five books of the Old Testament. Jesus was teacher, lawgiver and judge, but most importantly the faithful Son of God, while Moses was only the faithful servant of God. Both Moses and Jesus dealt with the subject of redemption. God instructed Moses to say to the Israelites: “I am the Lord, and will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6) Redemption is mentioned again: “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed; you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.” (Exodus 15:13) But seemingly crucial to this idea of redemption is the adherence to God’s laws that were delivered to the people. God expected the laws to be obeyed and himself to be feared. Jesus, too, gives laws (in Matthew Chapters 5 and 6) but the purpose of his laws, and consequently, the idea of salvation, is different from that of the Hebrews. Jesus, because he is the Son of God, can forgive sins and acts as a direct agent of salvation. Obeisance of his laws is a testament of faith in God “whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me” (Matthew 10:40). If one loves Jesus, one will obey his laws, and Jesus will act on his behalf to attain salvation and reach “the kingdom of heaven.” This idea is further supported when after the resurrection of Christ, he appears to his disciples and says: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20) The last line of Matthew represents the compassion and timelessness crucial to the idea of Christ: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)The Book of Matthew has more references to the Old Testament Scriptures than any other book of the New Testament. The Book of Matthew seems very concerned with fulfilling prophesies from the Old Testament, which suggests that it was written towards a Jewish audience. The Old Testament again and again prophesized the advent of a Messiah who will save Israel and its people, and Jesus fulfills these prophesies in Matthew. The attempt of Matthew to establish itself in continuity with the Hebrew Scriptures (through the prophesies and recurring themes found in both the Old and New Testaments (tests of faith, salvation)) is in effect an attempt to convincingly introduce the idea of Jesus Christ to the Hebrews.

Read more

291

The Subtle Hand of God and the Female Archetype in the Book of Esther

May 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

Introduction: The Multi-Faceted Appeal of the Book of EstherThe book of Esther is one of the greatest pieces of literature in the Hebrew Bible. Its narrative is intricate, inventive, and colored with complex characters. It is the basis for the celebration of Purim and is highly popular, well loved by the devout, the scholarly, and the literate alike. But Esther is also one of the most contested books in the Hebrew Bible because of the two norms from which it deviates: the absence of God as a defined, active presence and the portrayal of a clever, industrious woman as the savior of the Jewish people. The additions in the Septuagint, which rescind or lessen aspects of these deviations, reveal interesting aspects of the anxiety the Hebrew Esther created among some Jewish (and, later, some Christian) readers. Here, in this beautiful and unique book, we see the most clear representation of God as truly an unconscious presence-never mentioned, but always there, guiding the actions of individuals and the Jewish people as a whole. We are given a female heroine, one who is an archetype of her own as she bends and challenges the female characters who have come before her. But even more profound then the book itself, perhaps, is the anxiety it causes. In the Greek book of Esther, God is added at every turn, and the role of Mordecai is conflated, revealing a certain discomfort by the revisers with the indistinct presence of God and a strong female heroine. However, these qualities make Esther one of the most intriguing texts for a psychoanalytic study of Jewish mythology.I. The Hidden God of EstherFrom a strictly narrative point of view, one of the driving forces of action in the Hebrew Esther is chance, or coincidence. If one reads Esther from a religious perspective, however, it is assumed that all of these coincidences are the work of divine providence and part of God’s ultimate plan, even though he is never mentioned in the Hebrew. At the crucial turning point of the narrative, Mordecai suggests to Esther, “Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just a time as this” (Esth 4.14). Later, his life is spared when the king’s insomnia leads him to happen, by chance, upon the mention of Mordecai saving his life he had forgotten (also by chance). Furthermore, it is implied that, even under the threat of the king’s decree, the Jewish people will be delivered: Haman’s wife warns him that his downfall is connected to the reward of Mordecai “the Jew” (Esth 6:13), and the lots Haman casts give him the month of Adar, the month in which Moses died. Haman takes this as a sign of favor on his part, while not realizing that it is also the month in which Moses was born. Finally, the conflict between Haman and Mordecai, while it begins as a clash of wills, can be traced back to Mordecai’s ancestor Kish and Haman’s ancestor Agag, symbolic of the statement that “the Lord will have war with Amalekites from generation to generation” (Ex 17.16). In fact, there are very few instances of deliberate action at all in the first half of the story. Everything is assumed, implicitly, to be guided by the hand of God.The presentation of these events wholly without mention of God himself, however, is what has made Esther so troubling to Jewish, and later Christian, readers: the Greek Esther that appears in the Septuagint, which will be discussed in-depth in the third section, attempts to modify the apparent absence of God. However, reading Esther through the lens of psychoanalysis, it becomes the primary book in the Hebrew Bible in which the nature of God as the unconscious is most explicit. Mordecai cryptically refers to an “other quarter,” interpreted by readers as God, but in highly peculiar language suggestive of a power waiting to be discovered and connected to (Esth 4.14). If one concedes to the idea that all coincidental occurrences and ironic rewards or punishments are the work of a divine plan, then, assuming the divine is a metaphor for the unconscious, the book of Esther shows how the characters therein are guided, redeemed, and destroyed by what Freud would consider their unconscious drives. Haman overestimates his own worth and his importance to the king, and for it, meets a bitter end of his own design. The king is almost comically forgetful, oblivious, and fickle, allowing himself to be manipulated by both Haman and Esther. And Esther, who is assumed in legend to be a symbol of the “hester panim” (the hiding of the divine’s face), can be seen both as the ego of the narrative, but also as the persona of God/the unconscious mind. Assuming Esther as the ego of the book, one could begin to attempt to construct an idea of her subconscious. Her self-image is that of a modest but beautiful young woman who begins the story as a mostly obedient and pious Jew (despite her neglect of Jewish Law, which is never addressed). Her Jewish identity would seem primarily secular or ethnic, except that one would assume that the religiosity of her “Jewishness” is the presence of God as her unconscious mind. In her subconscious, one might also find the king (her husband) and Haman, an adversary (and therefore, perhaps, a complex). There is also the shadow figure of Vashti, the openly rebellious queen whom Esther has replaced, and, of course, her uncle Mordecai. Esther and Mordecai can also be seen as anima and animus to each other. This is most obvious in the reverse of gender roles that occurs in the fourth chapter. Until this point, Esther had been subservient to her guardian and relied on him for aid and assistance, but when it becomes obvious that Esther is the only person who can sway the mind of the king, it is Mordecai who must depend on her and follow her orders. Esther’s transformation in this occurrence is only one of the intriguing shifts in gender distinct to the book of Esther.II. Esther and the Female ArchetypeEsther finds herself in a peculiar position in the Biblical cannon. Neither a clear-cut example of the “temptress” archetype of Eve, Delilah and Jezebel, nor the “good wife” of Sarah, Rebecca, and Ruth, she is a unique figure. Only the characterization of Judith–another stunningly beautiful, pious woman who delivers her people with her cunning intellect–owes much to Esther, and it is not surprising that both books have been challenged (the book of Judith is also considered apocrypha outside of Catholic traditions). Technically, Esther is primarily a symbol herself-an iconic heroine to the Jewish people-and her status as a person is secondary to this, but her character is still rich and well rounded, incorporating many different aspects of the women who have come before her. While Esther is the heroine of the story, the influence of the Eve archetype is still evident. Like Judith, Esther’s power lies in her beauty and her ability to manipulate the king through, it is implied, sexual tension. She wins her place as his wife, and later an important conference with him, through her remarkable beauty (unaided by cosmetic treatment, which highlights her exceptional temptress potential, but also her pious modesty) and instigates the defeat of Haman by arousing the King’s suspicion and jealousy. It is also important to note the relationship between Esther and the exiled queen, Vashti. Vashti is also assumed to be beautiful and dignified. However, it is her modesty (if one interprets Esth 1.11 as only the “royal crown”), or her pride, that cause her to fall out of favor with the king. While Esther’s manipulation is, like the workings of God, subtle and cunning, Vashti’s open rebellion ruins her. Esther’s cleverness also shows how very different she is from Eve, who is easily led, though makes her surprisingly like Delilah, who is also able to manipulate her husband but for sinister ends. It is most likely this quality of Esther’s heroism, combined with her gender and the ambiguity of the presence of God, that made the book so frightening to some, and therefore made the later additions seem necessary.III. The Underlying Anxiety in the Greek EstherIn addition to avoiding discussion of God directly, the Hebrew version of Esther also causes some distress by neglecting discussion of Jewish Law. Mordecai and Esther especially are portrayed as good, pious Jews, but food laws are ignored and the Sabbath is not kept, even though these practices were still important to Jews in exile. The additions to the Greek version attempt to address these issues in various ways, from small adjustments (Esther mentions not eating at the king’s table, God “[changes] the spirit of the king” [Add Esth 15.8]) and large ones (Mordecai is given a vision about the events to come, Esther and Mordecai offer long prayers to God). Mordecai is given a more central role with his dream as the first chapter and a more complex subplot involving the assassination attempt on the king. With these updates, two of the most unique and potentially offensive aspects of the Hebrew Esther are lessened. It should not go without saying, however, that the estimated date of the additions is relevant. It is assumed the additions date around 150-100 B.C.E., during the time of the Macabees, when the Jewish people were once again hoping to be delivered from oppression. Decrees issued in the king’s name are printed in their entirety (to add historical credence to the work), and the “otherness” of the Gentiles is amplified. The increased presence of God and the decrease in the ferocity of Jewish vengeance in chapter nine of the Hebrew reveal the feelings of desperation from a suffering people waiting for the aid of their god. It is telling, however, that the additions are ultimately not included in the Hebrew cannon.Conclusion: Esther and the Human ExperienceDespite all of the challenges and controversy surrounding Esther, it remains an intriguing book to scholars, and Purim, a celebration of life and victory, is one of the most light-hearted Jewish holidays. So what does this book, its intricacies, eccentricities, revisions and restorations tell us about the psychology of the Jewish people? The fact that the Hebrew canon preserved the “hidden miracle” of the original text, even with the difficulties it presents, reveals not only a profound trust in the divine, but a belief that human action is often necessary, especially when the face of God appears to be turned away. The actual nature of fate seems to transform once the protagonists, especially Esther, choose to become active. In this way, we see Esther and the Jewish people as a whole in the process of individuation. The book of Esther is not unlike a game of connect-the-dots: seemingly random occurrences mapped out before hand by a distant, all-knowing force, waiting for the player to take the initiative, pick up her pen, and see the larger picture emerge.

Read more

409

Book of Exodus: Message, Themes, Characters, and New Testament Context

April 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

Part 1: The Book of Exodus and its MessageIn his theory of forms, the philosopher Plato proposes that the objects and situations encountered in the mundane world are often indicative of a higher and fuller reality. While Plato did not have the Old Testament in mind when he wrote “The Republic”, his concept of reality speaks to the relationship between the highlight of Jewish scripture, Ve-eleh Shemoth, better known as “Exodus”, and the events that would eventually become the focus of Christianity. In many ways, the Exodus is the thematic well from which the rest of the Bible draws. In its pages, one finds the departure of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the revelation of the Law on Mount Sinai, the journey towards Canaan, and the beginnings of Judaic religious practice. As the cornerstone of Old Testament soteriology, Yahweh’s deliverance of His people from Egypt is a pivotal event in the unfolding of God’s covenant with Israel, as well as the theological archetype in which Christianity is rooted. Furthermore, the events of the Exodus precipitate the creation of the Torah, or Teaching, and thus can be viewed as the direct antecedent of later Jewish customs.The story of the Exodus is well-known, having been the subject of numerous films and books, but its causes reach deep into the narratives of the first book of the Torah, bere-sit, or “Genesis”, as it is called in the Pentateuch. There, Yahweh blesses Abraham with the promise that Abraham’s offspring will inherit the land of Canaan, establishing a nation through which the entire Earth will be blessed. This forms the bedrock of the covenant relationship between God and Abraham’s descendents, the children of Israel. Genesis 15, however, contains a more foreboding prophecy:13 And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; 14 And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.Thus, it was known as early as the time of the Patriarchs that Israel would endure a period of bondage in a foreign land before the covenant came to its fruition. The groundwork for this event is laid in Genesis 45, when Joseph moves the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel into Egypt, where they make their home in the northern region of Goshen. Over time, this small ethnic enclave grew to become a potential threat to Egyptian sovereignty. In order to allay his fears that the Israelites would betray Egypt in the event of a war, the Pharaoh of Exodus imposed the implacable chains of slavery on Joseph’s descendants, effectively preventing them from rebellion. When servitude proved ineffective, the Pharaoh added genocide to his program, ordering that all newborn Jewish males be slaughtered to prevent population growth amongst the Israelites. Placing an exact date on these events has proven futile, but most scholars believe that the Exodus took place during the first half of the 13th century, B.C. (LaSor, 59). Since the Biblical text does not explicitly mention the year in which the departure from Egypt took place, such exegesis has relied heavily on extra-biblical sources, as well as clues found in the text itself. Exodus 1:11 informs the reader that the Israelite slaves were responsible for the construction of the cities Pithom and Raameses (or Pi-Rameses), which were built sometime after 1290 B.C (LaSor, 59). This dating is further attested to by the “Israel Stele” (see Figure 1): a limestone monument erected c.1209 B.C. by Pharaoh Merneptah, which was unearthed in Thebes in 1896 (Wood). The stele, which boasts of the Pharaoh’s military victories in Canaan, includes the phrase: “Israel is wasted, bare of seed” (Dunn). Aside from being the earliest non-Biblical reference to the name “Israel”, the Stele demonstrates that the Israelites were established in the land of Canaan by 1209 B.C. (LaSor, 59). If this is true, then the Exodus would have taken place at least 40 years earlier, placing it in mid-1300s B.C. While this dating of the Exodus is still debated amongst scholars, it places the Exodus about two hundred years after the Hyksos period: a time when Egypt was dominated by foreign Semitic kings. The resulting xenophobia may account for the Pharaoh’s suspicion of the teeming Hebrew population.In the midst of this milieu, the Bible reports, God raised up the deliverer Moses to bring the Israelites out of bondage and lead them into the land of Canaan. Central to these events are the ten ominous plagues that Moses sends upon Egypt, which increase in severity as Pharaoh’s heart hardens. As William Sanford LaSor describes on pages 68 and 70 of Old Testament Survey, the literary form used in describing the plagues is to break them down into three groups of three. They follow this pattern: Before the first plague, Moses confronts Pharaoh by the river at dawn. Before the second plague, Moses and Aaron “come before” Pharaoh. Before the third plague, they do not appear before Pharaoh, but instead use a symbolic gesture. In Biblical numerology, the number three is associated with the Triune presence of God (Slick), so its triple presence in the plague story indicates the divine source of these calamities. Further, three times three brings up the number nine, which is paradoxically considered a number of judgment and blessing (Slick). That the plagues are ten in number indicates the completion of God’s plan of deliverance (Slick).As YHWH declares in Exodus 12:12, additional significance is added to the plagues because they are direct assaults on the nature-based deities of Egyptian religion. By attacking the elements themselves, God contrasts his power with Egyptian superstition (Pennington). The sacred Nile River is turned to blood in Exodus 7, for instance, and the sun revered as Aten, the supreme deity, by Egyptians (Pennington) is darkened in Exodus 10. Finally, the tenth plague – the death of Egypt’s firstborn – comes against Pharaoh himself, who was held by the Egyptians to be an incarnate god (Pennington), and the tyrant’s will is finally broken. This final plague precipitates the introduction of the festival of Passover in chapter 12, during which a year-old lamb is sacrificed and its blood placed upon the Israelites’ doorposts. Acting as a symbol of redemption, the blood serves as a signal for God to “pass over” the house upon which it was applied, thus sparing the Israelites’ firstborn from suffering the plague of death. The lamb’s meat was then quickly eaten along with unleavened bread and bitter herbs, and the Israelites prepared themselves for the coming journey, as described in Exodus 12:11. While some scholars argue that the Passover already existed as “a spring festival customary to shepherd people” (LaSor, 70), the events surrounding the tenth plague clearly elevated the importance of the paschal tradition, as is evidenced in the continued practice of the feast amongst contemporary Jews. Furthermore, the Passover is particularly important for Christians, who recognize it as a prefiguring of the blood of Christ. Communion, which is a central ritual of the Christian church, derives both its imagery and its use of unleavened bread from the Jewish Passover. For both Jews and Christians, the symbolism of the meal is indicative of God’s power to bring his people out of oppression.Exactly what route the Israelites followed after the Passover is not known, but indications of their route are related in passages such as Exodus 12:37; 13:17-14:4; and Numbers 33:5-8 (see Figure 2). In Exodus 13:17, the Bible states: “God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines.” Historically, “the way of the Philistines” referred to an efficient trade route that ran up the coast of Palestine, arriving at Canaan by way of the city of Gaza (LaSor, 61). Because this route was well-traveled and the site of numerous Egyptian fortresses and supply depots, it was to be avoided at all costs by the Israelite exiles (LaSor, 61). Instead, the Hebrews chose to trudge through the isolated “Way of the Wilderness” (Ex. 13:18), which ran through the “Wilderness of Shur” (15:22) in the Sinai Peninsula, eventually arriving at the fabled Mount Sinai.In most English Bibles, both Exodus 13:18 and Numbers 33:11 seem to suggest that a miraculous crossing of the Red Sea served as the starting point for the Israelites’ wanderings in the Sinai Desert. While the historicity of the parting of the waters is to be accepted on Faith, not all scholars agree that the traditional site of the miracle is accurate. In Hebrew, the name translated as “Red Sea” literally reads “Sea of Reeds”, leading some to conclude that the location of the water-crossing would have been one of the marshes near the present day Suez Canal (LaSor, 61). One can imagine that the wheels of the Egyptian chariots would have become mired in this muddy region, only to be swept away when the waters returned.Equally vague is the location of Mount Sinai, which traditional reckonings place near the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, where there lies a range of mountains that the Arabs call Jebel Musa, or “Mountain of Moses”. At this nexus of Heaven and Earth, Moses received the pivotal revelation that would later become the foundation of the Torah. Inscribed on two stone tablets and placed in the Ark of the Covenant, the Ten Commandments reveal God’s expectations for how His people should relate both to Him and to each other in the period following the Exodus. They are not the conditions by which the people were saved, but a response to having already been saved from Egypt. In literary form, they are similar to other legal codes of the Near East, such as Hammurabi’s Code from Babylon (LaSor, 73-72). Further, they mirror the style of a Near Eastern Suzerain Treaty, in that they codify the relations of a king (YHWH) and a vassal (Israel) in the form of an “I and Thou” dialogue (LaSor, 75).While commonly called “Commandments,” the revelations which Moses received on Mt. Sinai would more accurately be called ten “words” or “teachings”, as indicated by the Pentateuch’s use of the Greek word Decalogue (from “deka”, ten; and “logos”, word) (“The Ten Commandments”). Illustrating this point, the first teaching is “I am Yahweh your God”, which is believed to be the initial revelation of the Tetragrammaton YHWH (LaSor 67). Although English Bibles translate “Yahweh” as “Lord”, it is better understood as a derivative of the Hebrew verb haya, meaning “he is”. Thus, it is the third-person equivalent of the name revealed by God at the Burning Bush – “I AM”. “Lord” is substituted for YHWH, because the Tetragrammaton was not verbally pronounced out of fear of violating the commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain (LaSor 67). According to the Ten Commandments, YHWH is to be the only God of Israel, and idolatry is to be condemned. Although idol-worship was common at the time of the Exodus, the Decalogue’s prohibition of the practice demonstrates the unique emphasis that the Jewish worldview places on the relationship between man and God. “Graven images” are forbidden because God has already created humankind in His image in Genesis 1:26. Thus, from a Biblical perspective, the devotion and respect which one would give to an idol should instead be turned towards one’s fellow human beings, through the principals laid out in the rest of the Bible.To house the Ark of the Covenant and its sacred contents, the Israelites constructed a portable place of worship called a “Tabernacle”, the specifications of which are recorded in Exodus 25-40. With the introduction of the Tabernacle, the Jewish faith began its transition from the personal devotion of the Patriarchs to the formalized religion of the post-Exodus period. Perhaps this transition was spurred on by the idolatry of Exodus 32, which would have forced Moses to come to terms with the need for institutionalized religious practices. Surrounding the Tabernacle was a fence and an outer court, where burnt offerings were performed for the people. Beyond this stood the “Tent of Meeting,” the first room of which was called the “Holy Place”. Levitical Priests were permitted to enter this sanctuary, and it was here that the majority of priestly activity took place. Behind the Holy Place was a room called the “Holy of Holies”, which contained the Ark and was believed to be the literal dwelling place of God (Barrow). Only once per year, on Yom Kippur, was the High Priest permitted to enter this most sacred chamber with sacrificial blood on his hands. Aside from its role in the Day of Atonement, the Tabernacle foreshadows Christ in His role as God’s presence in the midst of humankind (Barrow). This foreshadowing is attested to in John 1:14, which is most accurately translated as: “the Word became flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us” (LaSor 76).Part 2: The Characters of ExodusParamount to the events of Exodus is the life and work of Moses, who is by turns a prophet, a lawgiver, a governor, and a savior. Deemed the penultimate prophet of Judaism, belief in Moses’ message is listed amongst Rambam’s 13 Essentials of the Jewish Faith (Rich). His writings, which comprise the Pentateuch, are revered by Jews above all other sacred writings. Because of this, he is traditionally called “Moshe Rabbeinu”, or Moses the Rabbi; a name that has a numerical value of 613 – the same number of “mitzvot”, or commandments, contained in the Torah (Rich). In addition, Jews consider Moses to be the only man to have seen God face-to-face (Deut. 34:10) and to have spoken directly with Him (Num. 12:8). For Christians, this tenant of Judaism is a foreshadowing of Jesus, who would assert that he and the Father (YHWH) are One. A Hebrew by birth, Moses escaped the Pharaoh’s death sentence when his clever mother (named Yocheved in Jewish tradition) and sister Miriam set him adrift in a small boat on the Nile River as a child. Discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter, he was given the name “Moses”, which derives from a root meaning “to draw out” (Ex. 2:10). According to most scholars, this name is Egyptian in origin (LaSor 65), but some speculate that Moshe (Moses) is actually a Hebrew translation of the Egyptian word “minios” “drawn out” (Rich). Exodus does not record the name of the Pharaoh who was ruling at this time, but tradition has associated him with Raameses II. Most scholars agree that the cities of Pitham and Pi-Raamses (Ex. 1:11) were built by Pharaoh Rameses II, making him the most common suspect as the Pharaoh of Exodus. If the widely accepted dating of the Exodus to the mid-13h century is correct, then Raameses II would almost certainly be the Pharaoh with which Moses contended. Alternate datings based on information in 1 Kings 6:1, however, have led other scholars to date the Exodus to 1447 B.C. (LaSor 60), which would disqualify Raameses II as Exodus’ Pharaoh. While the Pharaoh plays a villainous role in the narrative of Exodus, there is an important spiritual lesson that can be learned from his situation. After each plague, Pharaoh’s heart is said to be “hardened”, preventing him from responding to Moses’ demands. Perhaps this is intended as an illustration that when a person’s heart is closed to God, he or she is unable to hear His Words or properly respond to his Will. Regardless of Pharaoh’s nefarious reputation, it is probable that the lifestyle of his court was one of Moses’ earliest influences. Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses would have been highly educated, literate, and capable of military leadership (LaSor 65). This makes plausible the traditional designation of Moses as the author of the Torah, as well as his alleged administrative skills. A familiarity with the literary forms of the time is demonstrated in Exodus 15: 1-18, in which Moses composes a triumphant song to celebrate God’s deliverance of the Israelites at the “Sea of Reeds”. Significantly, the “Song of Moses” differs from other poetry of its time in that its focus is exclusively on YHWH, rather than the exploits of human champions and warriors (LaSor 72). This sensitivity to Hebrew culture is best explained by Exodus 2:7-10, which reports that Pharaoh’s daughter hired Moses’ mother to act as his nurse. It is reasonable to assume that Moses’ mother would have instilled in him an appreciation for his Hebrew heritage, if through nothing else than through the customs of her daily life. There is little doubt that Moses was poignantly aware of his ethnicity, as evidenced in his outrage at seeing a Hebrew slave beaten in Exodus 2:11-12. In his anger, the Bible tells us, Moses slew the Egyptian and then fled into the wilderness of Midian, where he took up residence with a local priest named Jethro. In Midian, Moses worked as a shepherd, tending Jethro’s flocks, and eventually married the priest’s Ethiopian daughter, Zipporah. It was during this period that Moses encountered the “Burning Bush” through which God spoke to him. After electing Moses to be His Prophet and Deliverer, God reveals to Moses one of the Divine Names: “I AM”. According to LaSor, page 66, a person’s name in ancient times was descriptive of their attributes, so God is here asserting his ontological superiority, as well as his nearness to and accessibility by his people. As is often the case, it is not clear why God chose Moses to act as his representative, especially when the Bible says in Exodus 4:10 that Moses was not an eloquent speaker. One Jewish midrash, as related in “Judaism 101” by Tracy R. Rich, speculates that Moses’ dedication to Jethro’s flocks of sheep was the trait that led YHWH to select him to guide the flocks of Israelites. The story, as Rich presents it, tells of a time when Moses was taking the sheep to the watering hole and one particular lamb did not come. Leaving the rest of the flock behind, Moses went back to the stray lamb, put it on his shoulders, and carried it to the water so that it could drink. While this story may be folklore, it profoundly parallels Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. This would be appropriate, because as a savior figure, Moses prefigures the work of Christ. Just as Moses delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, Christ released all of humanity from bondage in sin. While Moses’ relationship with God is astounding, his life was riddled with challenges. His lack of faith in receiving water from a stone prevented his entrance into the very Promised Land that he had worked so hard to reach (Num. 20:7-13). Precisely what transgression he committed in striking the stone twice to receive water is unclear, but it is typically understood as indicative of Moses’ impatience or frustration. In addition, I suggest two alternate explanations that might shed some light on the situation. One is that Moses’ aggravated statement in verse 10 – “must we fetch you water” – suggests that for a moment he thought of himself, rather than YHWH, as the source of blessing. The other possibility that occurs to me is that the smiting of the rock and the outpouring of water was meant to prefigure Jesus smitten on the cross, with the water flowing from his side (John 19:34). However, Jesus was smote only once and for all time, and thus Moses’ striking the rock twice ruins what could have been a Christological image. It may be easy to judge Moses for his eventual frustration with the journey out of Egypt, but considering the level of stress he was under, he performed remarkably – almost flawlessly – as a leader. Exodus 18:13-26 seems to indicate that he suffered immense pressure in trying to judge fairly all of the problems that arose among the Israelites, as hinted at by Jethro’s ominous observation that Moses would “surely wear away” if he did not seek administrative assistance (18:18). To alleviate the strain on Moses, Jethro suggested the institution of a basic judicial system – a proposal which Moses readily accepted. In addition, Moses regularly received help from Aaron, whom God appointed to serve as the Israelites’ spokesperson due to Moses’ lack of verbal gravitas (Ex 4:10). Working on the assumption that Aaron was Moses’ older brother, Jewish scholars believe Aaron was born prior to the slaughter of Hebrew children (Rich). Aside from his role as diplomat, Aaron also served as the first of the Levitical Priesthood, and functioned as the center of Israel’s religious life during the Exodus; thus, the meaning of his name, “exalted one” (Molloy 283). This role becomes especially important after the construction of the Tabernacle, when routine sacrifices and religious duties become central to Israelite life. As the High Priest, Aaron would have been the only individual permitted to enter the Holy of Holies and come into the direct presence of God with the Yom Kippur offering. In Jewish tradition, it is thought that Aaron’s success both as a priest and as a diplomat was due to his love for peace (Rich). Writing in the Talmud, the Rabbi Hillel is quoted as saying: “Be disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them near the Torah” (Rich). This sentiment is played out in Aaron’s role as intercessor on the Day of Atonement, making peace between the people and God for the coming year. Unfortunately, this trait may have been responsible for Aaron’s willingness to go along with the people’s desire to build the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Ex 32:22). Like Moses, Aaron did not enter the Land of Canaan, but died while traveling in the desert. Completing the three-part leadership team of the Exodus is Moses’ and Aaron’s elder sister, Miriam. Spoken of as a “prophetess” in Exodus 14:12, Miriam is the first woman in the Bible to be given this title and to be depicted in a leadership position. No doubt she was well-suited to the task, given her cleverness in engineering the events that saved Moses’ life in Exodus 2, as well as her courage in approaching Pharaoh’s daughter with the proposal that Moses’ mother serve as his nursemaid. What level of education she would have had as a Hebrew slave is unclear, but Exodus 15:20 indicates that she had some musical skill. Verse 21 describes Miriam as leading the women of Israel in song and dance, but the words of her song merely echo the first verse of Moses’ composition, suggesting that she did not write her own music.Like her brothers, Miriam enjoyed an impeccable relationship with YHWH, yet she erred during the journey to Canaan. Numbers relates how Miriam, along with Aaron, challenged Moses’ prophetic leadership and criticized his decision to marry an Ethiopian woman. Miriam’s name, which means “rebellion” (Molloy 283), seems to indicate that she was predisposed to antiauthoritarian tendencies. In response to her chronic complaining, God punished Miriam with leprosy, which resulted in her being “disfellowshiped” from the Israelite community . Fortunately, Aaron interceded on her behalf, and implored God to remove the disease from his sister. YHWH relented, and Miriam was accepted back into the Israelites’ camp, although she, too, was ultimately excluded from the Promised Land. One could make the argument that the story of Miriam’s leprosy contains Christological overtones sin results in a person’s separation from the community of believers, but the intercession of Christ (prefigured bere in Aaron) results in the restoration of the sinner.Part III: Evaluation – Exodus in a Christian ContextFor Christians, the ramifications of the Book of Exodus reach far beyond the Torah. As the Apostle Paul asserts in Colossians 2:17, the events of Jewish history are “the shadow of things to come” – like the silhouettes cast on the wall’s of Plato’s cave, they merely hint at the fullness of reality that is manifest in Christ. In Matthew 8:4, he explicitly instructs a man to present himself in the Temple and “offer the gift that Moses commanded.” In Matthew 17, Christ conferences with both Moses and the Hebrew prophet Elias during his supernatural transfiguration, and in Mark 12:26 Christ directly quotes from the “Book of Moses,” reciting an event from Exodus. Point by point, the life of Christ parallels and expands on the story of Exodus. Matthew makes this especially obvious in his Gospel, which was written for a Jewish audience (Middendorf 48). Matthew begins building his comparison in chapter 2, in which he reports that like Moses, Jesus’ childhood involved a narrow escape from a king’s massacre of young Jewish males. As a result, the family of Christ flees into Egypt, only to return to Judea after the death of King Herod. In verse 2:15, Matthew explicitly invokes the Exodus with a prophetic quote “out of Egypt I have called my son.” In Matthew 3:13, Jesus passes through the River Jordan by way of baptism, mirroring the passage through the Sea of Reeds. Immediately thereafter, he is driven into the wilderness (4:1), where he wanders for forty days and faces temptation. Clearly, the forty years that Israel spent in the wilderness was a foreshadowing of this event, although Christ improves upon the original story by resisting temptation, whereas Israel repeatedly falls into sin during its “wilderness experience”. Matthew’s use of Exodus as a model for the story of Christ reaches a crescendo in chapter 5, when Christ delivers the Sermon on the Mount. As the traditional name of the discourse implies, the placement of this event in Matthew’s narrative is intended to bring to mind Moses’ reception of the Law on Mt. Sinai. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals the Will of God for his people, just as Moses had done centuries earlier. Like Matthew, John also draws on the imagery of Exodus in the sixth chapter of his Gospel. In v.6:31, Christ compares himself to the manna which God provided the Israelites during their journeys in the desert. In calling Himself the “Bread of Life,” Jesus asserts that he is God’s provision to a spiritually starved humanity. Because of this, some scholars believe that the four words used to describe the manna in Exodus 16 (“small,” “round,” “white,” and “sweet”) contain Christological overtones (Jesus in the manna). Smallness indicates the humility that Christ showed in his ministry, particularly in his passion. Because a round circle has no beginning or ending, it may be taken as a metaphor for eternity, depicting the deity of Christ and his everlasting reign. Whiteness represents spiritual and moral purity, and sweetness uses the sense of taste to describe the joy that comes through Jesus’ presence. Like salvation, manna was a free gift given from Heaven as an expression of God’s covenant with his people. Exodus deals heavily with the theme of “covenant” established in Genesis. It represents the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and sets the stage for Israel’s invasion of the Land of Canaan. Many believe that Israel was delivered by obeying the Law, but this is incorrect. Notice the sequence of events: God delivers Israel first, and then the Law is given as a means of living in response to a salvation that has already been given. Thus, the doctrine of Sola Gratia is present even in the Torah. The final events of the departure from Egypt are strikingly sacramental in their imagery – the Israelites partake of unleavened bread (reminiscent of Communion) and then proceed through the sea, bringing to mind the waters of Baptism. Sequentially, the presentation of these images indicates their respective roles in the salvation process – the blood of the Passover Lamb brings salvation, the unleavened bread commemorates the event, and the passage through water marks the transition from slavery to freedom. In a broader sense, the Book of Exodus attests to the faithfulness of God, even in the face of doubt and backsliding. Called a “covenant narrative” (Motyer), the Exodus brings to fruition the pledges that God made to Abraham, while looking ahead to the glory of Christ. For contemporary readers living in an age of doubt, the epic redemption of the Israelites teaches believers that we can stand firmly on our covenant with the Lord, knowing that he will not renege on his promises. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1:10, God is the one “who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us.” Further, Exodus demonstrates that miracles often take time – sometimes as long as forty years – which requires a faith that is tempered with patience. Yet even in the face of chronic sin, as occurred during the Wilderness Wanderings, God remains faithful and does not abandon his elect. This, then, is the most enduring message of Exodus: that no matter how many years or how many sordid paths it may take, we can remain confident in the knowledge God will “never leave us, nor forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5).Works CitedBarrow, Martyn. The Tabernacle Homepage. 1995. The Domini Project. 3 March 2005. http://www.domini.org/cgi-sys/suspendedpage.cgi, James. “The Victory (Israeli) Stele of Merneptah.” Tour Egypt Guide for Travel, Modern and Ancient Egypt. 1996. Tour Egypt. 3 March 2005. http://www.touregypt.net/victorystele.htm”Jesus in the Manna.” Hope of Israel. 2005. The Hope of Israel Baptist Mission. 3 March 2005. , William Sanford. Old Testament Survey: Second Edition. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.Middendorf, Michael. Called by the Gospel: An Introduction to the New Testament. Irvine: Concordia University, 2004.Molloy, Michael. Experiencing the World’s Religions. Mcgraw Hill: California 2002.Pennington, G.K. “The Ten Plagues and Egypt’s Religion.” Does God Exist? Volume 25, Number 6, Nov/Dec, 1998. 3 March 2005. https://www.doesgodexist.org/, Tracy R. “Moses, Miriam, and Aaron.” Judaism FAQ. 2004. 3 March 2005. https://www.jewfaq.org/moshe.htm, Matthew. “Biblical Numerology.” Christian research and Apologetics Ministry. 2003. CARM. 3 March 2005. “The Ten Commandments.” Catholic Encyclopedia. 2003. New Advent. 3 March 2005. , Bryant G. “What Has Archaeology Taught Us About the Origins of Israel?” Christian Answers. 1995. Associates for Biblical Research. 3 March 2005.http://www.christiananswers.net/q-abr/abr-a015.html

Read more

301

Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors

April 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

Although Joseph is known for his coat of many colors, the true plurality of Joseph arises not from the appearance of his clothing, but from the multiplicity of roles that he assumes over the course of the biblical narrative. Joseph is both favored and hated, servant and master, Canaanite and Egyptian, naive and crafty, and, in the eyes of his father, both dead and alive. His story bears a strong resemblance to those of his forefathers, yet his relationship with God is profoundly different. Joseph, as the last of the patriarchs to be considered in Genesis, serves a unique function. Not only must he physically bring the Jews from Canaan to Egypt, but his story must symbolically bring the early, patriarchal relationship with God to a more contemporary level. Joseph’s faith in God’s plan ultimately leads him to success, despite the suffering he endures through much of the narrative. The tension between the traditional, patriarchal role and the role that Joseph eventually adopts is highlighted as his position as his father’s favorite child pushes him away from his forefathers’ roles as direct communicants with God, and toward becoming the father of only one of the twelve tribes of Israel.Joseph’s position as his father’s favorite quickly lands him in trouble with his brothers. This familial struggle serves as an early indicator of the duality that arises from the conflict between Joseph’s success and the actions of those who are meant to keep it from him. Joseph, because he is loved by his father “more than any of his other children” (book 37 chapter 3), suffers the consequence of intense wrath and jealousy at the hands of his father’s other sons. Perhaps innocently, Joseph fans the flames of his brothers’ hatred by embracing his elevated status. Joseph tells his brothers and father of his dream, in which representative images of his brothers “bowed down” (37, 3) before him. Demonstrating what can be interpreted as either naivete or mocking confidence in his father’s favoritism, he proceeds to relate a second, similar dream, even though his description of the first has already caused his brothers to hate him “yet more” (37, 9). His dreams, however, eventually lead even his father to protest, when Joseph relates a dream in which even Jacob himself, represented as “the sun” (37, 9), bows down before him.Joseph’s feelings of superiority are expressed in a number of other arenas. Jacob’s early favoritism immediately elevates his position. As Joseph further embraces his place as the presumed next in line to his father, he begins to separate himself from his brothers by ignoring his duties. He is the only one of Jacob’s sons to remain at home while his brothers are out “pasturing the flock at She’chem” (37, 13). Jacob advances the divide between Joseph and his brothers by placing him in an overseer-like position. He tells Joseph to rejoin his brothers in their work so that Joseph may “bring him word” (37, 14) of his brothers’ actions. Joseph sets out to join his brothers, but they overpower him and throw him into a pit, an action that reverses the elevated status of Joseph both physically and symbolically. Shortly after, he is picked up by a group of Midianite traders and eventually sold into slavery in Egypt, a fate that seems to contrast sharply with both his dreams and his earlier, master-like position over his brothers.This rapid reversal of fortune and position becomes a pattern that is repeated through much of the narrative. Having reached Egypt, Joseph oscillates between opposing positions, becoming both slave and master, as well as prisoner and jailer. Joseph reaches Egypt as a slave and is sold to Potiphar, an officer of the Pharaoh, as a servant. In the house of Potiphar, he becomes immediately successful. Potiphar sees that “the Lord was with [Joseph] and that the Lord caused all he did to prosper in his hands” (39, 2). He elevates Joseph to the position of “overseer of his house and put[s] him in charge of all that he [owns]” (39, 4-5). Joseph gains increasing influence in Potiphar’s house, eventually becoming as powerful as his master, who at this point has little concern for the affairs of the house other than “the food which he [eats]” (39, 6). However, the tides soon turn on Joseph. As Joseph assumes a role increasingly like that of master of the house, Potiphar’s wife begins to make advances. Joseph refuses, but Potiphar’s wife, distraught over Joseph’s rejection, turns Joseph’s goodness against him. She uses the garment Joseph left “in her hand” (39, 12) while fleeing her advances to incriminate him, telling the men of the household that Joseph came “to lie with [her]” (39, 14) and telling her husband that he came “to insult her” (39, 17). Like Joseph’s brothers, who superficially elevate themselves above Joseph by throwing him in a pit, Potiphar’s wife reestablishes her status by claiming that Joseph fled as soon as she “lifted up [her] voice” (39, 18). Potiphar, angered with Joseph, has the younger man sent to prison. Again, Joseph falls from what is essentially the highest rung of one environment to the very bottom of a new one.Joseph’s position over the course of his progression from Canaan, where he must deal with simple familial envy, to Egypt, where he is sold into slavery, to prison seems to grow progressively worse. However, Joseph manages to flourish despite the wrongs done to him. Even when he is thrown in prison, an event that arguably marks the lowest point of his journey, Joseph manages to rise to the top of his environment. Earning “favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (39, 21), Joseph is granted privileges and powers far beyond those of an ordinary prisoner. In an odd display of favoritism, the prison keeper commits “to Joseph’s care all of the prisoners” (39, 22). He reaches a position of authority and power that parallels his ascension from servant to near master in the house of Potiphar, eventually becoming responsible for “anything that [is] done” (39, 22) in the prison. His influence causes him to be elevated to what is essentially the post of the prison keeper. When the Pharaoh’s butler and baker are jailed for having offended the king, the “captain of the guard [charges] Joseph” with their care. Joseph, while still technically a prisoner, becomes the prison keeper.Through his interactions with the Pharaoh’s butler and the baker, Joseph manages to leave prison. He successfully interprets the meaning of the imprisoned servants’ dreams. This ability serves to demonstrate how Joseph’s success, although aided by God, is largely accomplished through his own cleverness. While dreams are biblically considered communications from God, Joseph has a unique talent at understanding them. This skill demonstrates both his close relationship with God and his cunning. After all he interprets “[comes] to pass” (41, 13), the impressed butler takes word of Joseph’s skill back to the Pharaoh, who is troubled by dreams that “none [of his magicians and wise men] could interpret” (41, 8). The Pharaoh brings him from jail and asks him also to interpret his dreams. From the Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph divines that Egypt must prepare for seven years of famine and advises the Pharaoh to appoint a “discreet and wise” (41, 33) man to oversee Egypt in preparation for it. Perhaps as a clever means of advocating himself for the post, he then gives further advice external to any information that could have been gleaned directly from the dream. Joseph gives the Pharaoh an extensive, detailed plan to combat the famine:Appoint overseers over the land, and take the fifth part of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of the Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine which are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine. (41, 34 36)Joseph’s success, though aided by the hand of God, is largely due to his intelligence. Impressed with Joseph and confident that God is with him “since God has shown [him] all this” (41, 39), the Pharaoh grants Joseph the position.In his new position, Joseph is accorded an extraordinary degree of power. The immediate trust the Pharaoh places in Joseph follows a pattern repeated through much of the narrative. Joseph continually rises to the level of his superiors, often assuming much of their authority and position and almost replacing the roles of those he is supposed to serve. This is a theme that is found even in Canaan, when Joseph remains at home while his brothers shepherd. Similarly, in the house of Potiphar, he nearly surpasses his master, at one point acknowledging that Potiphar “is not greater in his house than [he is]” (39, 9). In his position as aide to the Pharaoh, Joseph rises from subjugate to master as the Pharaoh places him “over [his] house” (41, 40), directs his people to “order themselves as [Joseph] command[s]” (41, 40) and tells Joseph that “only as regards the throne” (41, 40) will he remain greater than Joseph.In becoming “ruler over all the land of Egypt” (45, 26), Joseph demonstrates his ability to rise in status regardless of the hurdles placed before him. This success in the face of adversity is used to illustrate a more contemporary relationship with God, in which one can be favored in the eyes of God and simultaneously suffer. Joseph must work through numerous hardships, but because “the Lord [is] with Joseph” (39, 2), God “causes all that he [does] to prosper” (39, 4). Joseph’s accomplishments show that suffering does not necessarily take the form of divine punishment. Rather, Joseph’s struggles are part of God’s plan. As Joseph explains to his brothers after they beg for forgiveness for having wronged him, “you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (50, 19-20). Joseph, in excusing his brothers’ wrongs, demonstrates his belief that had they not occurred, the outcome of his life would be entirely different. He makes clear that it is only through the actions of his brothers was he brought to Egypt and thus able to rise to his ultimate position of power.Joseph’s suffering despite his favor in the eyes of God is contrasted with the suffering of those who commit sins against God. After Joseph is sold into slavery, the Biblical narrative tangentially focuses on the affairs of the family of Judah, one of the brothers who plotted against Joseph. Judah loses both his children due to their depravity. His first son, Er, is slain by God for being “wicked in the sight of the Lord” (38, 7), without further explanation. Er’s brother, Onan, also crosses God by refusing to impregnate Er’s widowed wife. In doing so, he neglects the customary “duty of a brother-in-law” (38, 8) out of a selfish knowledge “that the offspring would not be his” (38, 9). This failure to perform in the “morally correct” manner is found “displeasing in the sight of the Lord” (38, 10), so Onan, too, is slain. The brothers’ suffering differs profoundly from the hardships endured by Joseph. Unlike Joseph, whose suffering ultimately leads to a beneficial outcome, the punishment afflicting those who disobey God’s will is swift and severe.Joseph’s suffering can also be interpreted as forming a link between him and his forefathers. Considered the last patriarch, Joseph must prove himself to God in many of the same ways as those before him. However, his place is far from identical. Throughout the narrative, Joseph assumes a role that is both similar to and profoundly different from those of the other patriarchs. He undergoes many tasks that parallel those completed by the patriarchs before him to achieve his status, but never attains the same relationship with God as his ancestors. He maintains his place as a patriarch, but cultivates a unique relationship with God that serves largely to contemporize the Biblical relationship between an individual and God.Joseph must earn his place in much the same way as the other patriarchs. Like his forefathers, he must undergo trials to prove both his faith and his capacity to lead the Hebrew people before he can achieve his final position. The suffering he endures throughout the narrative can be viewed as a type of test. Like Abraham, who unquestioningly prepares to sacrifice Isaac on God’s demand, Joseph, despite the fact that his righteous actions appear only to lead to trouble, must continue to act morally and avoid temptation with the faith that God will eventually reward his good deeds. Joseph does so, even after his rejection of Potiphar’s wife is rewarded with a prison sentence. Joseph’s faith in God, however, is not enough. Joseph must also, like his father the patriarch Jacob, earn his position through a struggle with his brothers. He successfully earns his father’s love, both because he is “the son of [Jacob’s] old age” (37, 2) and because he cleverly sets himself above his brothers by bringing “an ill report of them to their father” (37, 2). As with Jacob, the resulting favoritism lands him in trouble. Just as Jacob was forced to flee his home to escape Esau’s anger, Joseph must leave Canaan because of the bitter feelings of his jealous brothers.While Joseph bears many similarities to the other patriarchs, he plays a strikingly different role. Joseph can be interpreted as the patriarch who begins to bridge the gap between ancient and contemporary relationships with God. God allows Joseph “to prosper” (39, 3), but Joseph, unlike the other patriarchs, never engages in a direct dialogue with God. God instead communicates with Joseph through dreams. Ultimately, Joseph’s ability to interpret these dreams allows him to assume his role as ruler of Egypt, a fact that demonstrates both his strong understanding of the ways of God, and God’s role in his success. The most striking difference between Joseph and the traditional patriarchs is the role he plays in carrying on his father’s legacy. While Joseph is, like the other patriarchs, the favored child, Joseph does not bear his father’s legacy alone. Unlike his forefathers, Joseph’s line ultimately becomes just one of “the twelve tribes of Israel” (49, 28).The reunion of the family of Israel coincides with an end to many of Joseph’s dualities. Through much of the narrative, Joseph shifts positions and nationalities. In many ways, this state of flux can be seen as representative of the larger transition of the Hebrews under Joseph. Joseph physically moves the Hebrews to Egypt, where they remain for many years. His story also marks a more spiritual transition: whereas God’s conversational relationships with the previous patriarchs can be seen as establishing the Hebrews as the “chosen people”, Joseph’s relationship with God demonstrates that dialogue is not a precondition to a relationship with God. Under Joseph, the people’s relationship to God is able to mature and meet a necessary, less direct state. Joseph’s more passive relationship with God sets a precedent that is followed for much of the remainder of the Bible.

Read more

276

The Book of Luke: How Does One Reach Heaven?

March 25, 2019 by Essay Writer

The book of Luke in the New Testament offers a promise of salvation. John the Baptist proclaims, from the book of Isaiah, that “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3.6). However, earlier in Luke, an angel says, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (2.14). These two quotes are among the many contradictions in Luke regarding how one is to find salvation. If God has favorites, then it would seem that not “all flesh” will go to heaven. Characters in the Bible wrestle with apparent inequalities of justice and how to guarantee a place in heaven. Although some parables in Luke appear to provide answers to this problem, there are conflicting examples that seem to indicate there is no clear way to reach heaven, and perhaps God intends for humans to not understand how.After reading the angel’s message that “those whom [God] favors” will live in peace, one could assume that in order to “be saved,” one must come into God’s favor, or at least be “with” him. However, that task is difficult, especially since it is unclear what it means to be “with” God. Jesus says, “Whoever is not against you is for you” (9.49). Therefore, it seems that anyone who is not against Jesus and God can reach salvation. What does Jesus mean by the word “against”, though? This could possibly be interpreted as doing harm to others or being in cooperation with the devil. Not only is this unclear, but later Jesus contradicts his statement and says, “Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters” (11.23). This statement seems to imply that it is not enough to simply not be against Jesus, but one must be “with” him. Even if we accept this latter statement, we still do not know how to be “with” Jesus.If we assume that those who are “with” Jesus are blessed, then we can assume that the poor, hungry, hated, excluded, and sick are “with” Jesus because he blesses them. In addition he says, “Woe to those who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (6.24). Jesus does not bless the rich and healthy, since they have already received rewards in this life. Therefore, it seems that they are not “with” him. It is troubling that Jesus seems to overlook individual characteristics here and simply promises “great rewards” to those who are disadvantaged now, but does not do the same for those who have advantages in this life. He sets guidelines for living a decent life and prohibits judgment of others and teaches people to love their enemies. Jesus claims “your reward will be great” (6.35) if these guidelines are followed. Which standard is more important? Does it matter whether one is rich or poor or sick or healthy as long as one lives a decent life? The story of Lazarus and the rich man (16.19-30) could confirm this. The story does not say that the rich man ever helped Lazarus or treated him equally. Therefore, the rich man could have been sent to Hades based on his lack of compassion, rather than simply for his wealth. However, the parable does not indicate that Lazarus was a decent human being either. Are we to assume that just because he was sick and poor he lived by the laws of Jesus? Jesus does insist “You cannot serve God and wealth” (16.13). Therefore, the rich man could not be “with” God, but there is no indication that Lazarus was. Perhaps there is not enough information to adequately analyze this story, but there seems to be a lack of justice and uncertainty as to how to be “with” the Lord and secure a place in heaven.Injustices are present in many stories of Luke, which further confuse how one is to be evaluated for salvation. Repentance is a major theme in Luke; it provides a way for sinners to redeem themselves and be saved. In the parable of the prodigal son, the son who sins only repents after he has squandered all his money and is left with nothing. He later humbles himself by saying, “I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (15.21). Repentance and humbling oneself seems to be necessary in order for sinners to enter heaven. The injustice is apparent in that it seems anyone can do almost anything that they want as long as they repent. They will be rejoiced over once they repent more so than those who have remained faithful to God. A metaphor of one lost sheep out of 99 being found is used to explain why heaven rejoices more over one repented sinner than over those who were never lost. Therefore, it appears that one way to be “with” God is to sin, and then truly repent and humble oneself. However, the question of how one who has not sinned can enter heaven still remains. Are those who never sin automatically let into heaven or must they fulfill a further requirements?Jesus promises salvation to those who are “with” him. Being “with” Jesus can be interpreted to mean abiding by the set of rules to live by that he establishes. He also seems to promise salvation to anyone who is poor, sick, lame, or excluded. The rich, however, are not promised heaven since they cannot serve both God and wealth. It is unclear how the average man is to gain favor and go to heaven, especially with so many contradictions. Perhaps Jesus and God intended that people not know how to reach salvation. Jesus warned his followers that “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it” (9.24). If humans know exactly how to reach salvation after this life, then they may only behave in those ways because they know it will bring them to heaven. Instead, those who learn the lessons of the Bible and “follow Moses” will be qualified for heaven and they will not even know it.

Read more

220

Joseph’s Unique Place in Genesis

February 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

The central, overarching story in Genesis is the account of the fathers of Israel, which contains the individual stories of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and finally Joseph. Although each account is compiled together, there is a fundamental shift in the authors’ presentation of God once the narrative of Joseph’s life begins. God is an active player, who speaks and even physically intercedes, in the lives of the first three Patriarchs as he directs their lives with his commands and promises. Within the story of Joseph’s life, however, from chapters thirty-seven through fifty with the exception of chapter thirty-eight, God is not an active character in the narrative. Divine influence on this fourth generation Hebrew is undeniable, since he is able to accurately interpret dreams and seems to innately know God’s will, but the deity never makes himself known to Joseph as he does to the man’s three predecessors. This shift in the role of God may simply indicate an author who is speaking from a tradition separate from the J or Priestly traditions, or it may be symbolic in that Joseph, while blessed, is not as close to God as his fathers. Regardless of the historical reasons, the story of Joseph’s life in the text of Genesis as a whole, from his first prophetic dreams to his royal burial in Egypt, stands apart from the rest of the account of the Patriarchs as Joseph establishes himself as a ruler among men in spite of his God’s silent role.Of Joseph’s three fathers, Abraham has the most interactive relationship with God beginning with his calling in chapter twelve, when God promises, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great…” (Gen. 12:2). From this point on, God is a ubiquitous character in Abraham’s life as he continually speaks to the old man. After revealing the promised land of Canaan (Gen. 13:14-17), God verbally seals his covenant with Abraham by changing his name from Abram, requiring circumcision and promising once again that in return for loyalty the man “…shall be the father of a multitude of nations.” (Gen. 17:4) Abraham has such a close relationship with God that he feels inclined to reason with the deity over the destruction of Sodom as he questions the justification of destroying a minority of righteous people who happen to live in an evil city (Gen. 18:23). This scene is the only time in Genesis when God’s judgement is directly called into question, and since Abraham, who is “…but dust and ashes,” (18:27) does not lose God’s favor by his questioning, he proves his exceptional status among men. Despite this elevated position, God feels it necessary to give Abraham the ultimate test as he requests the sacrifice of Isaac, his only son. After proving his loyalty to God, Abraham passes out of the narrative, and Isaac becomes the central Patriarch.In Isaac’s narrative, God speaks not only to him, but to his wife Rebekah as well. God’s presence is tangible enough for Rebekah to be able to go directly to him for answers when she feels the tension between Jacob and Esau in her womb (Gen. 25:22). Even Abraham had to wait for God to come to him, and while Rebekah’s inquiry does not necessarily make her more favored than her father-in-law, God’s answer indicates his participatory nature in this particular story. As for his interaction with Isaac himself, God comes to him twice with the same promise that he made to Abraham as he tells the man, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give to your descendants all these lands,” (Gen. 26:4). Aside from his dialogue with Isaac, the narrator of chapter twenty-six verses twelve to thirteen says that God is directly responsible for Isaac’s success during his stay with Abim’elech and the Philistines as “The LORD blessed him, and the man became rich.” When Isaac’s son Jacob reaches maturity, God continues his active and vocalized role in the lives of the Hebrews.God first addresses Jacob in a dream, reiterating the promise that he made to both Isaac and Abraham while assuring that he will bring Jacob back to Haran (Gen. 28:12-15). After Laban gives Jacob his two daughters, God steps in and selectively opens Leah’s womb before Rachel’s, and the latter is unable to bear children herself until God “…hearkened to her and opened her womb,” (Gen. 30:22). According to the text, without the deity’s intercession, Rachel would not have borne Joseph and Benjamin. Later, when Jacob flees Laban’s household, God once again acts on his behalf as he commands Laban to leave Jacob alone (Gen. 31:24). Jacob’s divine relationship continues and goes one step farther than his fathers’ when he becomes physically entangled with an angel of God. Even though the text does not say outright that his wrestling opponent is of divine origin, the being disappears before sunrise, which was an ancient indication of divinity (Gen. 32:26, p. 41, fn. 26). Finally, in chapter thirty-five, God commands Jacob to go to Bethel and safeguards his journey with “a terror,” and when the man arrives at his destination, God gives him his new name, Israel. From this point on, the nature of God’s character in the story of the Patriarchs changes from a vocal role to a silent one in which his presence is only acknowledged by the active characters instead of by his own voice or direct action.Joseph’s career begins with his two dreams that prophesy his ascendancy over his brothers. Although Jacob chides his son over these dreams of power, he recognizes their potential import, “…his father kept the saying in mind,” (Gen. 37:11). At this point, Joseph’s story has already diverted from the path of his fathers’, because while they are compelled directly by the voice of God, his divine relationship expresses itself more subtly through symbolic dreams. The extent of the narrator’s acknowledgement of God’s presence in this episode is to say that Joseph became successful because, “The LORD was with (him),” (Gen. 39:2). While Abraham’s worth was tested with a command from God himself to sacrifice Isaac, Joseph is tested with the deceit of Potiphar’s wife and the unjust prison sentence that followed, and the fourth Patriarch proves himself as he patiently waits for release. With indirect assistance from God that is only alluded to in the text with the question, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Gen. 40:8) Joseph propels his career by accurately interpreting the dreams of the butler, the baker and finally Pharaoh himself. Joseph does not receive commands or assurances from God that he had the ability to interpret dreams, he is able to simply do it.As the Prime Minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, Joseph ascended to a position of terrestrial power never attained by his forefathers. From this vantage, Joseph imposes a godlike test of righteousness upon his brothers without an explicit command from God himself, and his test forces his brothers to remember their greedy and jealous actions so that they seek forgiveness once he reveals himself. Joseph’s power is further demonstrated when by his own managerial capabilities, which are independent from God’s direct influence, he becomes a proficient administrator, who is able to successfully extend Egypt’s grain stores to last throughout the famine while providing for the surrounding territory as well. Through his land reforms, Joseph was able to feed the people of Egypt while essentially making them serfs for Pharaoh. Even though feudalism usually has negative connotations, the text indicates that the people, “…gained possessions in (Egypt), and were fruitful and multiplied exceedingly,” (Gen. 47:27). This land tenancy program also ultimately fits into God’s plan for the Israelites as he related it to Abraham, because they had to be subjugated before he could liberate them in Exodus. After Jacob dies in Egypt, Joseph’s brothers fear retribution, but he reveals his inherent knowledge of God’s will when he says, “Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today,” (Gen. 50:20). Throughout his career, Joseph followed God’s will with no direct contact between himself and the deity, and he gained more power over other humans than his fathers before him.Without access to extensive archaeological and anthropological data, which probably does not even exist, it is difficult to say if the story of Joseph was part of a separate tradition or even an excerpt from Egyptian history that was added to Genesis by the early editors of the Bible, but an analysis of the text itself reveals the basic difference between the God who speaks to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the divine spirit who serves as a supportive backdrop for Joseph. Perhaps the most important point to realize is the fact that these early writings are simply not consistent due to the influence of multiple authorship and regional legends and traditions. While one might draw the thematic conclusion that Joseph was not as close to God as Abraham, for example, the reverse could also be said; essentially, that Joseph is closer to God and knows him better, because he does not need to hear God’s voice in order to know what his will is. The text itself only provides one of Professor Williams’ “silent spots” for an answer, which leaves the accounts open to vast interpretation like every other part of the Bible. Taken as a cohesive story, the account of the Patriarchs can be said to outline a general development in the line of Abraham from God having to practically hold the hands of the grandfather, the father and the grandson to the divinely inspired intuition of the fourth generation. Whether one sees these chapters as accurate historical accounts of God’s relationship with man or as complicated myths that offer insights independent of religion, the stories provide an interesting and useful glimpse into human history.

Read more

296

The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Human Experience

January 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

As a philosophical treatise in which the author considers the meaning of man’s existence on earth, the Book of Ecclesiastes is an exceptional section of the Tanakh that differs from the traditional didactic narratives surrounding it. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes is concerned with the idea that no matter how a man chooses to live his life, in the end, his actions are in vain and have no lasting consequence because the world itself remains unaffected and essentially static. In light of this observation, the driving question of the work becomes “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” (Ecc. 1:3) By the end of the book, the author does not provide a traditional, concrete answer to this question, but the ambiguous solution can be found throughout the text as a whole. Consistently, the Preacher’s reasoning is based in what can be viewed as the inherent duality of life, which man is able to recognize and contemplate but not fully understand, and the inability to resolve this basic uncertainty leads the author to the simple conclusion that, “There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in his toil,” (Ecc. 2:24). The Preacher’s dialectic argument is as circular and static as the world he observes, and from this parallel, one can infer that life is meant to be ambiguous, and that every human being must do his best with what he is given by taking advantage of the present.Within the text, dichotomies arise out of what are seeming contradictions in the author’s claims as he makes statements such as, “I hated all my toil,” (Ecc. 2:18) and then goes on to say that enjoyment of toil is what is best for man. This apparent leap in logic is a result of the fact that the Preacher’s thought process cannot escape the dichotomy of life. He must consider hating toil before he can love it, because one emotion rises out of the other, “for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad,” (Ecc. 7:3). Light cannot exist without dark just as wisdom cannot exist without folly, because they compliment and define one another. Happiness and contentment would be inconceivable without the alternative of grief and hardship. In order to demonstrate this idea, the author makes unconventional claims such as, “Sorrow is better than laughter,” (Ecc. 7:3). Sorrow is not necessarily better than laughter, but laughter cannot be better than sorrow either, because they rely on one another for existence and are both inescapable characteristics of life. In his time on earth, a man cannot change the nature of existence; therefore he must accept both the good and the bad in turn. The opening verses of chapter three express this concept eloquently as the Preacher reasons that, “For everything there is a season… a time to be born, and a time to die,” (Ecc. 3:1-2) because God’s work “endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it,” (3:14). This inherent dichotomy is what makes the Preacher’s toil enjoyable, because he is a philosopher whose work takes place in the mind, and the ambiguity that he sees as being ordained by God is what gives substance to his thoughts. Near the beginning, in chapter four, verse two, he concludes that the dead are more fortunate than the living, but in chapter nine, “a living dog is better than a dead lion,” (v.4). His arguments qualify each other just as life and death go hand in hand. Recognizing the value of pairs, the Preacher translates the concept of duality into human relations.A rich man who has no companion with whom to share the fruit of his toil will experience only misery while he is alive since, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil,” (Ecc. 4:9). As one of God’s creations, human beings are naturally dichotomous and need a complimentary partner whether it is a close friend or spouse. According to the Preacher, a man cannot be secure by himself, “if two lie together, they are warm; but how can one be warm alone?” (Ecc. 4:11). Alone, a man is easily overcome, but with the bulwark of companionship that reflects the inherent nature of life, adversity can be withstood. This logic supports the idea that monogamous marriage is the foundation of human community as the opposite sexes support one another and are able to build a strong family unit off of this support. While interhuman relationships are easier for us to understand, the Preacher comes to the conclusion that, overall, mankind is only given the ability to recognize the presence of duality but not to fully comprehend its meaning or purpose, because only God knows the real truth of his creation.The ambiguous nature of life makes it by definition uncertain, and man must learn to live with this uncertainty, “for you know not what evil may happen on earth,” (Ecc. 11:2). Since the Preacher believes that all existence is the will of God, he sees beauty in doubt, but is also troubled by his inability to come to a firm resolution. He states, “(God) has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end,” (Ecc. 3:11). From the standpoint of a philosopher, these dilemmas are like clay for a potter, because they provide endless material with which to speculate and debate, but they can also be a troublesome burden for the curious human intellect, “For in much wisdom is much vexation,” (Ecc. 1:18). Once again, man is confronted by conflicting ideas. On the one hand, human beings are given a unique position among animals because we have the ability to reason, but that ability has limitations so that we really “do not know the work of God,” (Ecc. 11:5) and remain, essentially, as ignorant as beasts.As a whole, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes struggles with the notion that man’s knowledge is limited, but it also praises life’s ambiguity as the will of God who is seen as the omniscient creator. Ultimately, the faithful preacher comes to the conclusion that life is neither good nor bad, it simply is, because one side of the coin cannot exist without the other. Life would lose some of its preciousness if existence were merely one-dimensional. There would be no happiness, because there would be no sorrow, and there would be no joy in liberation, because there would be no oppression. It is difficult for humans as conscious beings to accept the more harsh and bitter aspects of the world, and this is one of the Preacher’s main concerns at first, but he seems to have resolved them for himself in the end. Ironically, his final resolution is that there is no real answer as to why human existence seems to be in vain and fleeting. Man must accept his fate or doom himself to mental anguish. Repeatedly, the Preacher states that, “all is vanity and a striving after wind,” (Ecc. 1:14) but in the end this conclusion is not as bleak as it sounds. While it is vain to presuppose that a man’s life is of such grand importance that it will affect the cycle of life, it can be healthy and comforting to accept this vanity as the Preacher does. If one accepts the fact that one’s deeds are not lasting, then the present can be enjoyed for what it is rather than what proud human aspirations feel it should be.Although this book seems more secular than the rest of the Tanakh due to its blatant questioning of the meaning and purpose of existence, in the end, the Preacher leaves the reader with a profession of faith in the beautiful complexity of the Creator as he admits that as a mortal man he is not meant to understand the ways of God. The process of his rationale is very scientific in nature as he considers all aspects of the problem of existence, but his reasoning falls back on religious conviction. This melding of rational philosophy and an acceptance of the inevitability of uncertainty seems confusing, but Ecclesiastes itself is confusing, because it is such an accurate reflection of the basic ambiguity of life, which leaves the book open to endless interpretation. Even from a non-religious viewpoint though, it cannot be denied that the author of this work had remarkable insight into the persistent enigma that is existence. In the end, the question “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (Ecc. 3:9) remains, but in acknowledging the fact that there is no straightforward answer to this question, the Preacher reminds his audience that all human ideas are mere speculation, and we should appreciate the short time that we have on earth, because all we really have is our present existence and all the wonderful complexities that give it depth and color.

Read more

181

Man’s Fundamental Reverence to the Supreme Being

January 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

The God of the Old Testament is no less omnipotent today. By definition, the theoretical notion of an all-consuming being points to human limitation and protects the God from being touched by constantly varying human perception. The ultimate, embodying force of the universe exists in and of itself; it is absolute, regardless of a human’s characterization and personification of God. The need to embrace a singular image of God comes naturally with human psyche, yet to fully comprehend what God is, was, and will always be exceeds human capability. As the Bible relates mankind’s historical plight to understand our place in God’s universe, what reads is not an account of the Lord’s evolving compassion, but a linear description of man’s gradual realization of an infinitely gracious God, supremely expansive in the air of existence. Inside the pages of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, man’s picture of the Lord takes on numerous forms. Each attempt to conceive the source of freely given grace represents the will to receive, to live properly and humbly in gratitude to the God that exists larger than life.Exhibiting the fundamental storyline to Judeo-Christian scripture, the Poetical and Wisdom Books of the Hebrew Bible illustrate the paradox of mankind’s affliction, as God’s breadth of mercy seems to fail in eliminating evil. The Book of Job presents an outwardly innocent man who nevertheless struggles to survive pain and tumult. As Job’s sudden misery leads him to question the justice of the universe, the Lord’s baffled response puts Job in his inherently sinful and lesser place in the structure of God’s world: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38: 4). In this Old Testament work, it is not God’s justification for Job’s treatment that matters, but how Job reacts in the face of an omnipotent force. Although angry with God, Job doesn’t repudiate the relationship; he only seeks a coherent explanation of God’s rationale. The Book of Job challenges the common ethical dynamics of crime and punishment, sin and retribution. Job suffers regardless of his innocence or guilt; while the lowly human desires the clarification he believes God owes him, God, in effect, owes him nothing, thus making His freely given grace infinitely sacred.Psalm 51 likewise emanates the superiority of the relationship between the ultimate life-giver and His lesser offspring. As Job faced the reality of his inherent sin and his intrinsic connection to God, so does Psalm 51 read, “my sin is ever before me…Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (3,5). Humans in the early biblical writings discover their undeniable dependence on the force that created them, thereby rooting mankind’s worth in God only. In gratitude, King David seeks to reciprocate God’s grace back to its divine source, resolving to “teach transgressors [His] ways” (13), and thus reflect the glorified “God of [his] salvation” (14).The Old Testament credits more to the character of God than His presupposed superiority. As the Bible presents evolving human discernment of the Lord in heaven, His personification develops from that of a righteous ruler for the exiled Israelites to a divine Father for the marginalized Christians of the first century. Within the Prophetic Books of the Hebrew Bible, God’s relationship with Hosea foreshadows His impending characterization as a Heavenly Father. God moves Hosea to foster familial love for an unfaithful wife, a situation which results in barefaced betrayal analogous to the Lord’s experience; as Hosea mourns his wife’s prostitution, the Lord explicates His corresponding situation, speaking in the words of a grievous parent: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… How can I hand you over, O Israel?” (Hosea 11: 1, 8). The people’s betrayal of God uncovers another instance in which humans are called to be timidly subordinate to their guardian on high, regardless of His affection. “They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion…his children shall come trembling from the west” (11: 10).Despite supposed shifts in the New Testament’s portrayal of the Lord, the prologue to the Book of John sustains the Jewish view of God’s sublime power. While drawing from the Jewish creation story, the writer of John simultaneously places Jesus back at the beginning of time, equal with the Father, and a definitive source of the universe. As David’s salvation was infinitely within grasp, so does Jesus encompass the human world in the Book of John: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:2-3). Here, the view of God’s ultimate power has not changed; Christianity’s differentiation from Judaism roots itself in the proclamation that Jesus and the Lord are one and the same. Regardless, the gospels make a similar call to individuals to live in gratitude to the source of their worth.Due to the framework of human perspective, Judeo-Christians are necessarily left with perceptions of God as a human, fatherly figure. The Bible offers an array of opportunities to differentiate, to compare and contrast the seemingly contradictory identities of God, formidable to ancient Israelites, and the Messiah–the living source of salvation–to early Christians. In all our efforts to perceive God as an all-powerful individual, we forget that only we are individuals, and God remains the ultimate body that is the source of all things. As God is believed by many to have created man in His image, man persistently idealizes a God that is accessible to human rationality. This God exhibits the comprehensible characteristics of an omnipotent ruler, a steadfast companion, a loving parent, such that the Bible represents the limitations of human consciousness and the historical inscrutability of God; yet through this literary chronology of Western society’s developing views toward the source of all things, God’s unconditional love for mankind presents itself in His unfailing effort to be comprehensible within the realm of human perception. Likewise, the various peoples of the Bible collectively exemplify humanity’s intrinsic subordination to their divine origin. The mystifying Father exceeds human intellect and infinitely encompasses the universe, as His children rest humbly in the palm of His hand.

Read more