Archive for October, 2008

Sinai and Zion: II

October 29, 2008

A few days ago I heard a stimulating lecture by Craig Evans, renowned NT scholar, from Acadia Divinity College. He was addressing NT connections with the community at Qumran. He made the point that the Essene community there never amounted to probably more than 100 at one time, but that there were probably thousands more living in various communities throughout Judea. So the question was asked, Why is there never any mention of them in the NT, and why did Jesus not encounter them in his travels? Evans argued that it was probably because the Essenes, living strictly by the Torah, would have been totally scandalized by Jesus and his violation of taboos. His neglect of washing before eating, his fraternization with sinners and tax collectors, his profanation of the Sabbath–all these would have clearly put Jesus beyond the pale of even being considered a holy man. If the Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus’ behaviour, what would the Essenes have thought! They did not even operate on the same assumptions. For example, when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, he justifies his action by saying that even his accusatory audience would help get an animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath. This argument wouldn’t have worked with the Essenes, as they specifically address this matter and argue that the animal must remain in the ditch since to help it out would be to violate the Sabbath (CD 11:13014).

My point is simply this: Jesus operated with a more inclusive concept of Torah, a more liberating one, which seemed to move out into the world while the Essenes operated with a more exclusive concept of Torah, which separated them from the world. One moved over barriers while the other erected barriers. They both probably used the same Bible. I wonder if the reason for the different views had to do with the different perception of the significance of the present moment. Although they were both sensitive to the eschatological thrust of the scriptures, one focussed on Sinai, the other on Zion. I wonder if this same feature is true when we look at the various movements within Christianity: some are more isolationist and separatist, the other is more expansive and mission-oriented. A student of mine recently wondered about holiness and said that a true conception of holiness was to enlarge the place of God’s presence while a false conception was to narrow the place of human presence.

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Sinai Torah versus Zion Torah

October 29, 2008

I have been just reading and thinking about the whole relation between Sinai and Zion. Hartmut Gese’s chapter on The Law in his book Essays in Biblical Theology is extremely stimulating. Charles Scobie’s book on biblical theology has some interesting thoughts on this subject as well (The Ways of our God , pp. 517-550, 760-772). Gese makes the point that the Torah given at Sinai was given to one nation and there was an exclusive emphasis on it– a wall of separation was erected between the Holy and the Unholy. When the covenant was made and the atonement was made, representatives of Israel were allowed to ascend the mountain and eat and drink with God. The text clearly says that they saw God and were not harmed (24). They had unbroken fellowship with their Creator. Incidentally if you want to read an excellent book on Exodus 19-24 from a biblical theological perspective, I commend the Australian John Davies’. recent monograph, A Royal Priesthood: Literary and Intertextual Perspectives on an Image of Israel in Exodus 19:6 (JSOTSup, 395). It views this communion as a return to the Garden paradise in Eden. At any rate, to return to Gese, he sees the great banquet on Mount Zion at which all the nations have been gathered in Isaiah (25) as the eschatological projection of Sinai. But now there is a stress on inclusion rather than exclusion as holiness has permeated everything–it has knocked down all barriers. Thus death–the epitome of the unclean and unholy –has been eliminated forever. Here is the context for the inclusive Zion Torah, which seeks to embrace all (cf. Is. 2:1-5, 42:1-6). Gese develops the idea further in the NT on the Sermon on the Mount, where there is the fulfillment of this Zion Torah in the teaching of Jesus of Nazereth. But it is in Jesus’ life in particular, where this movement of holiness smashing down all barriers is effectively seen. He dares to touch the leper, he is touched by the contaminated woman, he touches the dead and raises them. His death brings about the radical cleansing for all on the day of atonement. And He sends his disciples into all the world, for he is its Lord. Great thoughts.

Announcing T. Desmond Alexander’s From Eden to the New Jerusalem

October 20, 2008

I have profited more than I can say from Desi Alexander’s essays, his work on the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, and especially his books The Servant King and From Paradise to the Promised Land, so I am eager to dive into his latest book, which arrived in my mailbox just moments ago, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: Exploring God’s Plan for Life on Earth.

Congratulations to our co-contributor on this new book!