Monday, February 16, 2009

Monday Hebrews Writing: Defining Monotheism

Blogging raises a number of issues for me. Does it hinder my put out in terms of permanent writing? Does it keep me from getting work or family responsibilities done? I've tried to argue to myself that what I do here helps me with my writing and thinking.

Certainly I have written a number of things on this blog that are now in print and wouldn't have otherwise existed. But I'd also have to admit that a number of projects seem stymied and blogging takes away from them. Even working through a book like Dunn's takes hours that I might otherwise spend writing and only dipping into books as appropriate.

So I need to spend more blog time writing things I'm writing. It actually helps me write. Just the thought that someone out there might be reading along helps motivate me in a way sitting in front of a silent screen of Microsoft Word doesn't. It even seems to flow better.

So I'm setting aside Mondays for the foreseeable future toward the writing of my stymied Hebrews book. Today we join chapter 3 in progress, "Hebrews and Monotheism," on page 17, second paragraph:
The earliest example—although the specific word worship does not appear—is the seating of Moses on God’s heavenly throne in the Exagōgē of Ezekiel the Tragedian. Ezekiel’s Exagōgē dates to around 200BC. In it, God hands over his scepter to Moses, withdraws from his heavenly throne and has Moses mount it, then hands him the crown (74-75). Then a multitude of stars bow down before him (79-80).

Bauckham is quite keen to show that “[w]hat the dream means is something other than what it says.”[1] The throne dream is meant to explain Exodus 7:1, where God says he will make Moses “god” to Pharaoh. It figuratively portrays the role that Moses will play as ruler of Israel and was never meant to imply that Moses literally would ever take God’s heavenly throne.

Certainly Bauckham is correct in the bulk of his understanding of the Exagōgē. Where we might accuse him of over-reading the text is when he finds great significance in the fact that God vacates his throne before Moses sits on it.[2] For Bauckham, this is a point of great importance. Part of the unique monotheism of Judaism for Bauckham is the implication that only God can sit on the divine throne. For someone else to sit there, God would have to remove himself. Further, the fact that Moses realizes this fact contributes to the terror he experiences when he awakes from the dream.

None of these claims are necessitated by the text itself. They have an air of plausibility, but they seem to fill in gaps in the text itself on the basis of conclusions Bauckham has drawn from outside the Exagōgē, such as his sense of what all Jews of the period might have considered appropriate in relation to God’s throne. On the other hand, if Artapanas and Aristeas are any indication, Egyptian Judaism at this time was apparently far less scrupulous about the contours of monotheism than Jews at other times in other contexts. In short, Bauckham and other interpreters likely have more of a problem with Moses sitting on God’s throne than Egyptian Jews at the time might have.

[1] Jesus and the God of Israel, 167.
[2] Jesus and the God of Israel, 168-69.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

I believe in today's climate of fundamental religious zeal which undermines rational thought and demands "obedience" to the point of death, that "defining exclusivist claims" via monotheism is not the appropriate way to go.

Just today it was reported that a 37 year old Muslim woman was beheaded for filing for divorce! The man is being charged with 2nd degree murder!

I think this is appropriate, as religious freedom cannot allow subversion of "law", which in a free society protects individual rights. That means that personal issues are personal issues, and therefore, cannot be mandated by a religious tradition.

My heart rings with hope whenever our free society upholds the rule of law, as otherwise, we are in for a free for all, which we see in many other countries!

Ken Schenck said...

Maybe true... has nothing whatsoever to do with the post...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think that how one understands how government should work, or "be", and how leaders lead and how God "interacts' in the world is an important one in today's climate where the Taliban exerts absolute control over the interpretation of "lawful" behavior and ruling others in absolute control by the "text" of the Koran. This is not our form of government.

Just today on NPR I heard about someone who did research on our Founding Fathers, unfortunately, I was in the car doing some errands, so I did not hear all of it...He said that our both sides, the religious and the secular make claims that their side is the "right" interpretation of our Founding Fathers. He said the appropirate interretation is allowing faith to "be", free without defining it. He went on to outline the religious persecution that happened in the colonies, as these people had meant to set up their own "tradition" within protestantism, apart from the Catholic Church...etc....

So, yes, I believe when you talk of Pharoah, oppression, deliverance, Moses, and leadership, you are speaking of government and power. I don't think that the way to approach other forms of government it like Moses example, as in "God says"...etc...that spritualizes the political...

Clifford B. Kvidahl said...

Dr. Schenck,

I have a great interest in Hebrews and was wondering what your book is about? That is if your at liberty to tell me. Thanks.


Ken Schenck said...

This post probably gives the gist.

Keith Drury said...

I understand exactly what you say about "public writing." Before blogging existed I used to print off whatever I wrote that day so Sharon could read it--just so I could have a real live person respond --thus avoiding writing that had to wait a year or more before any breathing person responded. So... here's my response--Keep at it--I love your Hebrews stuff... frankly I never really was much interested in Hebrews until you cam on the scene (shame on me).. so thanks for being so faithful at putting your thingts into words and submitting them to "immediate peer review" even though (when it comes to Hebrews) most of us aren't really your "peers."