Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Why was the early church persecuted?

I'm off to Holland for a few days. Before I drive off, here's an interesting excerpt from N.T. Wright's The New Testament and the People of God. I have certain theological issues with Wright's approach to Biblical exegesis (e.g. I don't think "worldview" = "theology" - I find that rather "anthropocentric", and I disagree with his the way he appropriates both the Old and the New Testaments for the contemporary church), but the guy's a stellar historian and eloquent to match. The following is interesting food for thought:

But why was the early church persecuted? Why is any group persecuted? We have already looked at the pagan persecutions, and the answer at first sight is various: because Nero wanted a scapegoat; because the Christians were suspected of secret vice; because they were atheists; because they would not do the required homage to the emperor. All of these make sense, and are clearly part of the sufficient condition for persecution in each instance; but they do not quite explain the regularity of the persecution, nor the apparent frequency of people, not themselves in authority, informing against Christians. Lots of cults in the empire practised vice, whether secretly or openly; plenty of people had eccentric theological views; some, like Cynic philosophers, made light of their obligations to the authorities. The Christians came into all of those categories in the popular mind, but none of them is big enough to do justice to the evidence.
What we seem to be faced with is the existence of a community which was perceived to be subverting the normal social and cultural life of the empire precisely by its quasi-familial, quasi-ethnic life as a community. Evidence of similar phenomena abounds in our own time. A member of a tight-knit Roman Catholic community in rural Quebec becomes a Baptist; his house is burned down, he has to flee the village, and the police do nothing. A Protestant pastor in Northern Ireland makes a gesture of reconciliation, on Christmas Day, towards the Roman Catholic priest on the other side of the square; he receives death threats, at the communion rail, from senior members of his own congregation. A Muslim boy in the occupied West Bank, cared for in a Christian hospital, converts, and is unable to return to his family because they will kill him. A Jewish woman is told that if she becomes a Christian her right to live in Israel will be called into question. When communities react like this, it can only be because they feel that their very foundations are being shaken. Mere belief—acceptance of certain propositional statements—is not enough to elicit such violence. People believe all sorts of odd things and are tolerated. When, however, belief is regarded as an index of subversion, everything changes. The fact of widespread persecution, regarded by both pagans and Christians as the normal state of affairs within a century of the beginnings of Christianity, is powerful evidence of the sort of thing that Christianity was, and was perceived to be. It was a new family, a ‘third race’, neither Jew nor Gentile but ‘in Christ’. Its very existence threatened the foundational assumptions of pagan society. In Crossan’s happy phrase, apropos Matthew’s story that Pilate’s wife had troubled dreams on the night of Jesus’ trial,

That never happened, of course, but it was true nonetheless. It was a most propitious time for the Roman Empire to start having nightmares.

But why did Jews persecute Christians? Were they not both in the same boat—branded as atheists, regarded as the scum of the earth, scorned when doing badly and resented when doing well? The answer here clearly lies in the ferocity of polemic between different pressure-groups, parties and/or sects within the same parent body. Sibling rivalry is fiercest when the siblings have an inheritance to share, or when one feels that another is ruining the chances of any of them inheriting it at all. Reading between Paul’s lines, that seems to have been what was going on in his case at least. The Pharisees’ programme of Torah-intensification was radically questioned by the Christian movement, not because they threw open their doors to Gentiles (lots of Jews ate with Gentiles; there was, as we saw in chapter 8, something of a regular sliding scale of assimilation, and so far as we know the Pharisees did not use violence to curb it), but because they claimed that precisely in doing so they were celebrating the fulfilment of Israel’s long-cherished hopes. This has a direct analogue in Paul’s surely deliberate irony in 1 Corinthians 7:19: neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, since what matters is keeping the god-given commandments, of which of course circumcision is one. There are some things that can only be expressed through such irony and apparent contradiction, and I suspect that the early Christian claim is one of them: the claim, that is, to be acting in accordance with the whole divine purpose for Israel, precisely in dismantling those aspects of traditional praxis, and in disregarding those traditional symbols, by which for centuries Jews had ordered their lives.
Here we reach the heart of it. What evokes persecution is precisely that which challenges a worldview, that which up-ends a symbolic universe. It is somewhat threatening to other first-century Jews to regard your community as the true Temple, and perhaps it is just as well to keep such ideas within the walls of an enclosed community in the desert; but since the belief, as held in Qumran, involves an intensification of Torah, the vicarious purification of the Land, the fierce defence of the race, and the dream of an eventually rebuilt and purified physical Temple in Jerusalem itself, one can imagine Pharisees debating it vigorously but not seeking authority from the chief priests to exterminate it. It embodied, after all, too many of the central worldview-features. The equivalent belief as held within Christianity seems to have had no such redeeming features. No new Temple would replace Herod’s, since the real and final replacement was Jesus and his people. No intensified Torah would define this community, since its sole definition was its Jesus-belief. No Land claimed its allegiance, and no Holy City could function for it as Jerusalem did for mainline Jews; Land had now been transposed into World, and the Holy City was the new Jerusalem, which, as some Jewish apocalyptic writers had envisaged, would appear, like the horses and chariots of fire around Elisha, becoming true on earth as it was in heaven. Racial identity was irrelevant; the story of this new community was traced back to Adam, not just to Abraham, and a memory was preserved of Jesus’ forerunner declaring that Israel’s god could raise up children for Abraham from the very stones. Once we understand how worldviews function, we can see that the Jewish neighbours of early Christians must have regarded them, not as a lover of Monet regards a lover of Picasso, but as a lover of painting regards one who deliberately sets fire to art galleries—and who claims to do so in the service of Art.
I therefore suggest that the beginning of the break between mainline Judaism and nascent Christianity came not with AD 70, not with some shakily reconstructed decree promulgated by the historically dubious ‘Council of Jamnia’, but with the very early days in which a young Pharisee named Saul believed it his divine calling to obtain authority to attack and harry the little sect. Analogies within the Jewish world suggest that this pattern is correct. The deep divisions between the Essenes and the Hasmoneans on the one hand, and the Pharisees on the other, emerge bit by bit in the Essene writings, and yet the actual splits which produced them clearly occurred at specific times which considerably antedate those writings. So, too, the even deeper division between those who claimed to be the heirs of the scriptural promises on the basis of Temple, Land, Torah and race, and those who claimed the same thing on the basis of Jesus and his spirit, goes back behind any writings or decrees which we possess or can guess at, to the moment when some hitherto frightened and puzzled Jews came to the conclusion that Israel’s hope, the resurrection from the dead, the return from exile, the forgiveness of sins, had all come true in a rush in Jesus, who had been crucified. This, it should be noted carefully within present debate, does not make Christianity anti-Jewish, any more than the Essenes, the Pharisees, or any other sect or group, were anti-Jewish.
The church, then, lived under pressure from the very first. It is perhaps this, as much as anything else, which kept it united when so many other pressures might have driven it towards division.

Wright, N. T. (1992). The New Testament and the People of God (449–452). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Biblical canon and Biblical referentiality

It is often claimed that Childs' canonical approach rests on the presupposition that the Biblical Canon is a hermeneutically sealed, self-referential unit (e.g. Barr and Barton). To be honest, I'm not entirely sure how anyone could come to that conclusion on the basis of Childs' actual exegetical work, but even in theory Childs has explicitly rejected this misunderstanding. For Childs, the unity of the canon does not exist within a neat "narrative world" that has no connection to the complexities of extrinsic reality (rather like a fantasy novel which we can believe in while reading it but which has limited connection to extrinsic reality). In fact, precisely the opposite is the case! The unity of the canon consists precisely in its extra-canonical referent. This referent is God, and as such it is as complex a reality as one can image (if "complex" is the right word; it makes God sound like a puzzle to be solved ... ). Given the nature of this extra-textual reality, it is necessary that the full voice of the canon be brought to bear in trying to apprehend and respond to it (or Him) adequately. Here is Childs in his own words (in response to Barr's critique of his Introduction; the key phrase here is "the fullness of extrinsic reality"):

I certainly confirm that Israel's faith was grounded in anterior reality. First in oral tradition and subsequently in written form Israel bore testimony to God's redemptive intervention on its behalf. These events of divine deliverance were not simply recorded, but continually re-interpreted throughout history. Israel actively shaped its traditions while at the same time being formed by the very material being transmitted.

Because of the peculiar nature of Israel's tradition which is reflected in the multi-layered testimony of the canonical text to this sacred history, there is no direct access to the fullness of that extrinsic reality on which the faith was grounded apart from Israel's own testimony. One important purpose of establishing a normative canon was to mark the special relationship of the community to these witnesses.

... The central point to be made is that the nature of Israel's testimony to historical events varies greatly and that extrinsic reality can be represented in innumerable ways ... .” (Childs, “Response,” 53, 56).

Thursday, 15 July 2010

How do Isaiah 31:4 and 5 cohere?

Isa 31:4 flatly contradicts Isa 31:5:

4. For thus the LORD said to me,

As a lion or a young lion growls over its prey,

and—when a band of shepherds is called out against it—

is not terrified by their shouting

or daunted at their noise,

so the LORD of hosts will come down

to fight upon Mount Zion and upon its hill.

5 Like birds hovering overhead, so the LORD of hosts

will protect Jerusalem;

he will protect and deliver it,

he will spare and rescue it.

The continuity between the verses is the issue of the Lord's relation to Jerusalem, yet the Lord himself is presented as having two contradictory postures.Verse 4 compares him to an attacking lion in a thoroughly hostile action, whereas v. 5 reverses his relation to Jerusalem by means of a simile of hovering birds that shield against danger. There is no warning in the text for the "jump," so how do we explain and interpret this odd juxtaposition? In his Isaiah commentary, Brevard Childs provides an answer which looks to the broader canonical context, factors the reality of God into the equation, and draws out theological implications:

the key to the tension is first given the parable in 28:23-29, which discloses the strangeness of God's purpose with Israel. This theme is then developed further in both chapters 29 and 30, and continued in chapter 31. The major point is that the Isaianic message does not consist of a tension between pessimistic and optimistic opinions of the prophet, or between competing redactional construals or earlier and later periods. Such a developmental trajectory renders an understanding of the true dimensions of the text virtually impossible. Rather, the issue is a complex theological one that emerged already in the prologue of the book (1:2-3). How is such a lack of understanding of God by Israel possible? Increasingly in the reflective style of the sage, chapters 28-33 focus on the folly of Israel in rejecting the merciful intervention of God, which can only result in utter destruction. Yet from the disclosure of God's revelation of his purpose in creation, there remains an unswerving hope of salvation that is fully incomprehensible to human sinfulness, blinded as it is in folly and arrogance. The prophet does not offer a systematic theological tractate, but a profound struggle with a continuing encounter with God that resonate through the entire corpus as a consistent witness. Israel's judgment and Israel's redemption cohere in God's purpose even when it often appears mysterious and incomprehensible to human logic. [*]

[*] Childs, Isaiah, 233-234.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The historical Isaiah and the canonical process

In my last few posts dealing with Childs' approach to exegesis, I have tried to illustrate that the question of authorship is important to Childs, despite what his critics claim. Admittedly, the author and his intentions are of relative importance to the meaning of the canonical (i.e. editorially enriched) form of the text. The final form has acquired an integrity of its own over against its prior stages. Nevertheless, it is of paramount importance to the validity of Childs' canonical approach that the final form of the text stands in some kind of theological continuity with what went before. It is a theological Fortschreibung, not an ideological Umschreibung. You can see his concern for this kind of continuity in his treatment of the relation between the historical Isaiah and the book that bears his name (though see also my thread Retrospective Reading of Old Testament Prophets):

Thus, there was a historical Isaiah whose preaching has been preserved in the document bearing his name. Childs references the work of H. G. M. Williamson, who claims that nearly all the parts of chapter 1 are derived from a prior written form of the words of Isaiah himself.1 Though he finds the theory speculative, Childs judges that it is helpful in showing the high level of continuity of chapter 1 with the preaching of Isaiah.2 Again, the historical prophet preached in oracles of various genres, such as accusation, invective, torah instruction, trial summons, dirge, and promise.3 These oral proclamations were collected into literary compilations which developed as the oracles were added. Within the larger narrative framework of the prophet's proclamation, clear components emerged, namely God's plan for Israel's judgement, signs of a promised faithful remnant, and the ultimate judgement of Assyria. These components were repeated and reinforced throughout chapters 1—12 within a constantly recurring pattern, even when the relationship remained often fragmentary. Again, these elements existed at the primary level of the tradition, though they appeared in strikingly different ways in the collection (cf. the exegesis of, e.g., chapters 1, 6, 7). Their development, then, was a matter of dialectic. On the one hand, faithful editors responded to the oracles, which were a major force in determining the shape of the larger composition.4 On the other hand, these expansions and additional commentary emerged within the context of interpreting new communal experiences, a process called Fortschreibung (editorial expansion). This process of expansion and enrichment had an end point with the establishment of a stabilized form.5

Isaiah 33 reflects a similar case. This chapter consists of very different liturgical forms which have been shaped into a unified presentation of Isaiah's vision of the future after the threat from the great enemy has been overcome. Childs is no longer as confident as he was in his Exodus commentary about our ability to reconstruct the Sitz im Leben of these forms. In his opinion, Gunkel's cultic theories are at best a brilliant piece of speculation.6 He is more confident, however, about our ability to perceive the work of the editors who have reshaped these forms into a literary composition. In short, the classic Isaianic pattern outlined above has been represented by an intertextual reuse of prior prophetic and psalmnic tradition. These traditions have been joined into a holistic interpretation with events taken from Israel's continuing experience with God. In the context of the narrative sequence of chapters 28-32, earlier Isaianic oracles are reused to reinterpret the events leading up to the attack on Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah.7 Childs concludes from this that the context for interpretation should be the text's synchronic setting within the book,8 though this conclusion is a derivative of the intentionality of the editors and the new genre of the text (Spiegeltext)9 rather than an appeal to postmodern epistemology.

1H.G.M. Williamson, “Relocating Isaiah 1:2-9,” in Writing and Reading the Scroll of Isaiah (ed. C.C. Broyles and C. Evans; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997), 263-277.

2Childs, Isaiah, 16.

3In contrast to the majority of interpreters, Childs believes that promise oracles were part of the original message. Cf. Childs, Isaiah, 215: “There is no compelling evidence to suggest that only the message of judgement was primary and that the element of promise was always secondary from a later redaction.”

4Childs, Isaiah, 215.

5Childs, Isaiah, 216.

6H. Gunkel, “Jesaia 33, eine prophetische Liturgie,” Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 42 (1924), 177-208.

7Childs, Isaiah, 245.

8Childs, Isaiah, 246.

9The phrase is Beuken's, in “Jesaja 33 als Spiegeltext im Jesajabuch,” Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses 67 (1991), 5-35. Childs claims that Beuken's theory rivals Gunkel's in its significance.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Eine Andacht für meine Schwiegereltern (Psalm 34)

My parents-in-law are so-called "Russian Germans," descendants from German immigrants to the Volga region in the 17th Century. These immigrants set up independent rural communities where their language and religion was preserved and where they prospered economically. During the Russian Revolution they suffered a first wave of persecution. Their crimes where manifold: they were private land owners, they were wealthy, they were largely religious, and they were German (for Stalin, ethnicity was already a problem to be eradicated before the onset of WWII). Through a process of brutal intimidation, murder, rape and forced expropriation these communities were gradually decimated and sent into forced labour. My wife's father was already born in a Siberian work camp (1938). The outbreak of the Second World War gave more fuel to the fire. In addition to the aforementioned crimes: the Germans were now "the enemy," by definition "Nazis." My wife's mother-in-law was born in the Ukraine in 1939, after expropriation and expulsion but before deportation to Siberia. I won't recount their fascinating tales (though a book ought to be written at some point). Their persecution continued right up until the 1970's (they were only allowed to leave their villages after the '50s, but even then their religious faith and ethnicity hindered them from progressing in society), when, after years of struggle, brave demonstration and international pressure, my wife's parents joined the first wave of "returnees" to Germany in 1977 (Germany is the only country in the world apart from Israel to have a "law of return"). They had to leave everything behind, including savings, and start from scratch.

Last year my mother-in-law celebrated her sixtieth birthday in the midst of a large and blessed family (6 children; the 10th grandchild - courtesy of us - is on the way :)). I did the "Andacht," based on Psalm 34, and this is what I said (their names have been changed):

Psalm 34, 1-11.18-20.23

Ein Psalm Davids—als er seinen Verstand vor Abimelech verstellte, dieser ihn vertrieb und er wegging.

Ich will den herrn loben allezeit;

sein Lob soll immerdar in meinem Munde sein.

Meine Seele soll sich rühmen des Herrn,

daß es die Elenden hören und sich freuen.

Preiset mit mir den Herrn

und laßt uns miteinander seinen Namen erhöhen!

Als ich den Herrn suchte, antwortete er mir

und errettete mich aus aller meiner Furcht.

Die auf ihn sehen werden strahlen vor Freude,

und ihr Angesicht soll nicht schamrot werden.

Als einer im Elend rief, hörte der Herr

und half ihm aus allen seinen Nöten.

Der Engel des Herrn lagert sich um die her, die ihn fürchten,

und hilft ihnen heraus.

Schmecket und sehet, wie freundlich der Herr ist.

Wohl dem, der auf ihn trauet!

Fürchtet den Herrn, ihr seine Heiligen!

Denn die ih fürchten, haben keinen Mangel.

Reiche müssen darben und hungern;

aber die den Herrn suchen,

haben keinen Mangel an irgendeinem Gut.

Wenn die Gerechten schreien, so hört der Herr

und errettet sie aus all ihrer Not.

Der Herr ist nahe denen, die zerbrochenen Herzens sind,

und hilft denen, die ein zerschlagenes Gemüt haben.

Der Gerechte muß viel erleiden,

aber aus alledem hilft ihm der Herr.

Der Herr erlöst das Leben seiner Knechte,

und alle, die auf ihn trauen, werden frei von Schuld.

Liebe Lilly, lieber Peter,

David wurde von Samuel schon im 1. Sam 16 als König gesalbt, nachdem Gott Saul für seine Sünde verworfen hat. Ab diesem Zeitpunkt war David in Gottes Augen schon der wahre König von Israel. Nichtdestotrotz, hat es lange gedauert bevor diese Wirklichkeit sichtbar werden konnte. Inzwischen wurde David von Saul durch ganz Israel gejagt. David musste viel in seinem Leben leiden, und ich kann mir vorstellen, dass es ihm schwer gefallen ist zu glauben, dass er der wahre König war. Er war der König, aber für lange blieb es nur eine Verheißung. Er war schon gesalbt, aber noch nicht eingesetzt. Dieser Psalm ist in dieser Situation enstanden—diese spannungsvolle Zeit zwischen der Verklärung seiner Königschaft und das sichtbare Eintreten dessen Wirklichkeit. Die Geschichte können wir nachlesen im 1. Sam 21:10-15:

Und David machte sich auf und floh an jenem Tage vor Saul und kam zu Achis, dem König von Gat. Da sprachen Achis' Knechte zu ihm: Ist das nicht David, der König des Landes? Ist das nicht der, von welchem sie im Reigen Sangen: “Saul hat seine Tausend geschlagen, David aber seine Zehntausend!” Diese Worte nahm sich David zu Herzen und fürchtete sich sehr vor Achis, dem König zu Gat. Und er verstellte sich vor ihnen und raste unter ihren Händen und kratzte an den Türflügeln, und ließ den Speichel in seinen Bart fließen. Da sprach Achis zu seinen Knechten: Ihr seht doch, daß der Mann verrückt ist? Was bringt ihr ihn denn zu mir? Fehlt es mir etwa an Verrückten, daß ihr diesen Mann hergebracht habt, damit er gegen mich tobe? Sollte der in mien Haus kommen?

Der wahre König Israels sucht Zuflucht vor dem Falschen. Er muss sich vor den Heiden verrückt verhalten, um überhaupt überleben zu können. Was für ein Paradox! Wieso lässt Gott das zu? Irgendwie ist Davids Erfahrung ein geheimnisvolles Muster für alle Kinder Gottes —Königskinder, die so leben müssen, als ob diese Wirklichkeit gar nicht stimmen würde. Laut der Bibel, sind alle von uns in diesem Raum Gottes Kinder. Wir werden eines Tages leuchten wie die Sterne und neben unserem Vater auf Thronen sitzen. Er wird uns eine Krone geben und reine, weiße Kleider. Diese zukünftige Wirklichkeit gilt uns jetzt. Wir sind jetzt Könige, auch wenn es nicht so aussieht. Auch wenn es leicht ist zu glauben, dass die dunklen Mächten dieser Welt die wahren Herrscher sind. Dieses können wir von David lernen: nicht aufzugeben, an unsere wahre Identität zu glauben; “am Ball” bleiben, in Gehorsam und Vertrauen, bis die Wirklichkeit eintritt.

Aber David hat uns viel mehr zu sagen! Wir können viel mehr von ihm lernen. Nicht nur hat er an der Verheißung festgehalten, trotz seiner alltäglichen Erfahrungen, er hat auch immer wieder “geschmeckt, dass der Herr gut ist” (Ps 34, 9). Auch bevor er König wurde, hat er erfahren, dass der Herr ihm antwortete und ihn errettete (V. 5). Wie David müssen wir oft durch das finstere Todestal gehen, bevor wir endlich ans Ziel kommen. Aber, wie wir in diesem Psalm sehen, gab es immer wieder Hoffnungszeichen. Der Herr handelt! Auch jetzt, vor der Vollendung aller Dinge, kann Gott uns erretten “aus aller unser Furcht” (V. 6). Auch im Jammertal des Lebens gibt es genug Gelegenheiten für unsere Gesichter zu strahlen (V. 6). Wir sind nicht allein und dürfen erfahren, dass Gott wirklich bei denen ist, “die ihn fürchten”.

David hat mal gelitten, mal gejubelt. Und was tut er, wenn er jubelt? In diesem Psalm sehen wir, dass er an diejenigen denkt, die elend sind! Wie er sagt: “Meine Seele rühme sich des Herrn; die Elenden sollen es hören und sich freuen” (V. 3). Seine Heilserfahrung wird zum Anlass, diejenigen zu ermutigen, die immer noch im Dunkeln sitzen. Er kann ihr Leid vielleicht nicht theologisch erklären; er kann keine einfache Antwort geben, wieso sie so elend sind. Aber er kann aus eigener Erfahrung sagen: “Bleib am Ball! Gebt nicht auf! Suchet den Herrn mit aller Kraft und er wird Handeln. Ich weiß es und verspreche es euch!” Und so wird David, durch sein Leid hindurch, zum Vorbild für Andere, die seinen schwierigen Weg noch nicht gegangen sind. Sie können auf ihn schauen und Hoffnung bekommen, dass Gott auch für sie eintreten wird.

Und das, liebe Lilly und Peter, seid ihr für uns. Ihr habt vielleicht nicht viel gelernt in der russischen Schule, aber ihr habt viel gelernt in der Schule des Lebens—und Gott war euer Lehrer. Deshalb danken wir euch, dass ihr, wie David, nicht aufgegeben habt, nie vergessen habt, wer ihr wirklich seid und dadurch ein Licht geworden seid für eine neue Generation. Ich hoffe und bete, dass wir das auch werden können für unsere Kinder. Die Welt braucht solche Menschen.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The tradition history of the office of Moses: Childs' take

In my current series of posts (summarized here), I'm working through examples of Brevard Childs' exegesis, as found in his two commentaries: Exodus and Isaiah. We are currently interested in Childs' understanding of the particular profile of the various tradents of Israel's sacred traditions. In my last two posts (first here, then here), this was expressed in primarily source-critical categories (with a bit of editing thrown in). We concluded that these tradents were motivated by theological concerns. But this theological agenda pervades more than literary documents and their later redaction. According to Childs, a theological concern - often understood in cultic categories - was operative at all levels of the tradition, including the oral stage. Here is my summary of his complex treatment of the tradition history of the office of Moses [I should add that as Childs' career unfolded, he became increasingly sceptical about our ability to make these kinds of hypotheses. Nevertheless, as we shall see, he retained his commitment to the idea that the canonical process was inherently theological]:

Israel's witnesses did not only take the form of literary interpreters of tradition. If one digs back even further, Childs believes, there is evidence of cultic rituals and sacred offices (Childs often gives precedence to the oral stage as being of more significance for the current shape of the text than the interweaving of various sources1). His most complex theory concerns the existence of two forms of the Mosaic office rooted within ancient Israel's cultic institutions, the traditions of which were later combined at an oral stage of development before the prophetic authors of the source documents provided their own additional literary stamp.2 These two religious institutions are deduced from two conflicting narrative sequences. In the first, the people are terrified by the theophany of God at Sinai and request Moses to serve as mediator (20:18-20). God accepts the proposal and mediates the law through him. Then on the basis of the divine commands Moses leads the people in a ceremony in which the covenant is ratified (24:3-8). The ritual consists in a rehearsal of the law, a commitment by the people, and a rite involving blood manipulation which seals the pact.

On the other hand, there is a conflicting story in which God himself legitimates Moses, a decision planned from the outset by God (19:9). Later, Moses alone is given the commandments and on the basis of these laws God makes a covenant with Moses on behalf of Israel (34:27). In this tradition the people do not participate in a covenant ceremony of ratification but are simply informed by Moses of the covenant (34:32). Central to this pattern is that God's direct revelation—face to face—adheres to Moses alone and not to the people.

The stereotyped nature of these stories leads Childs (along with Mowinckel and von Rad) to the conclusion that they do not simply describe a historical event. Rather, they have a cultic stamp and function as aetiologies for the establishment of an ongoing office within an institution. Though both offices share prophetic and priestly characteristics, they differ in their institutional locations.3 In short, the first form of the Sinai tradition “had its setting in the covenant renewal festival in which Moses functioned as the prototype of covenant mediator between God and the people.”4 The second sequence also represents an office (see the frequentative tense in 34:34), though this time anchored in the institution of the tent of meeting (ch. 33), which parallels Sinai in its function as the site of divine theophanies. In this office, Moses speaks to God “face to face” and is represented as a "continual vehicle of the will of God,” a “continuous medium of revelation,”5 as well as an intercessor (34:7, 9; ) and recipient of the divine spirit (Deut 31).

In the later history of tradition, the institution of the tent of meeting declined, to be absorbed by covenant renewal tradition. This dominant form of the tradition has given the overall structure to the present Sinai narrative in Exodus 19-24. This process was only intensified by the author of Deuteronomy, who has completely overshadowed the tent tradition. Nevertheless, the tent tradition has not been completely eliminated. It still enriches the Deuteronomic concept of the office, as now a major feature of Moses' function is his intercession for the people (Deut 9:13-21;25-29). Finally, in the Priestly theology one can trace another diverging development. The vocabulary of the old tent of meeting tradition has been absorbed into the Jerusalem theology. The tent has now become identified with the tabernacle (מִּשְׁכָּן). The LORD now dwells in the sanctuary and the cloud and glory reflect the permanent divine presence. “Nevertheless, the priestly school retained its sense of continuity with the older tent tradition and continued to afford a channel for preserving traditions of Moses' office which were found in the tent tradition, such as the shining face of Ex.34.29ff.”6

The final set of tradents are the redactors, who have attempted to bring these disparate though interrelated traditions-turned-source documents into a unified narrative. Thus, in the sealing of the covenant narrative (24:1-18), Childs identifies the following signs of harmonization:7

  1. whereas v. 1a speaks of the ascent of the elders in a way which seems to disregard Moses' special role as mediator, vv. 1b-2 have altered the original impact of the verse so that Moses' unique role is not diminished.

  2. Originally there were two different accounts of the covenant ceremony. That described above and one involving a covenant meal. In order to harmonize the two, vv. 1-2 and 9-11 have been joined to vv. 3-8, so that the meal now functions as a culmination of a single rite.

  3. v. 2 had singled out the special role of Moses. This element is now joined by a literary redactor to vv. 3-8, 12-14 in order to produce the effect of different stages in a series of ascents up the mountain. Verse 2 provides a point from which to make a smooth tradition to the command in v. 12.

1See Childs' handling of sources vs tradition-history on pp. 7-8; 184-186; 274-284; 321-326.

2Childs, Exodus, 344-360.

3Childs, Exodus, 357.

4Childs, Exodus, 355.

5Childs, Exodus, 356.

6Childs, Exodus, 359.

7Childs, Exouds, 502.