June 26, 2019

Dressing Like the Tabernacle

Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Exodus,Bible - OT - Leviticus :: Permalink

Sometimes Aaron the high priest wears his most glorious garments and sometimes he does not.

“Curiously,” says Carmen Imes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai),

Aaron was not to wear the most elaborate of his official vestments (breastpiece and ephod) when it would seem most appropriate to do so — while entering the Most Holy Place.

He wore them only when performing regular sacrifices and maintaining service in the Holy Place, implying that his representation of Israel to God pertained to the sacrificial system and the ongoing maintenance of the cult; he did not ‘bear the names’ of the sons of Israel into the Most Holy Place.

When he appeared in the Most Holy Place on the most holy day [i.e., the Day of Atonement], he had to come humbly, without status or pretense, and in so doing symbolize Israel’s undeserved access to YHWH’s presence (166).

He does, however, wear his turban with its inscription:

Most importantly, Aaron’s diadem signified what was true of the entire nation — namely, that they were “holy, belonging to YHWH.” On that basis, he appealed to YHWH for forgiveness of their sin (166).

But it’s also important to notice, as Imes does, the correspondence between Aaron’s garments and the tabernacle itself. In his full vestments, Aaron represents the whole tabernacle, turned inside out: linen on the inside, and a breastplate corresponding to the Most Holy Place on the outside. But on the Day of Atonement, Aaron wears clothing that corresponds, not to the Most Holy Place, but to the courtyard.

To wear only [‘arag] garments (cf. Exod 39:27), which corresponded to the outer curtains of the tabernacle courtyard, concretized Aaron’s mediatorial role. He brought the outer courtyard into the inner sanctum, representing every Israelite as he approached YHWH.

On regular days, Aaron did the reverse, in effect wearing the elaborate furnishings of the Most Holy Place as he moved about the Holy Place and the courtyard, representing the glory of YHWH to ordinary priests and laypeople via richly colored and ornamented fabrics, gold, and gemstones. This interpenetration of spheres was an essential component of Aaron’s ministry (166-167).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:05 pm | Discuss (1)
June 18, 2019

Fixed in His Memory

Category: Bible,Bible - OT - Judges :: Permalink

The thirteenth-century theologian Bonaventure once said that the difficulty with interpreting scripture accurately is needing to have so much of it memorized before one can even begin.

“No one will find this an easy task unless, by constant reading, he has fixed in his memory the text of the Bible to the very letter; not otherwise shall he ever have the ability to interpret Scripture.”

Bonaventure assumed that the Bible can only be understood in light of itself, and that┬ásuch understanding requires having a great deal of scripture in one’s memory so that, as one reads along, word associations and connections will leap to mind.

Our easy access to the printed word, so easy that now many of us have searchable copies of the Bible with us at all times on our phones and tablets, is a great gift, but such access discourages memory, meaning that we often miss the interconnectedness of the text.

When we read that an event in the biblical narrative took place at Shechem, most of us do not immediately remember all the other events that occurred at Shechem in the course of biblical history. The first writers, readers, and hearers of the text would have thought of those connections.

Those first writers, readers, and hearers were immersed in a great system of symbols that enriched their communication and their understanding of the world. Most of us are deaf to that system of symbols as we read the Bible, and we therefore miss large portions of the meaning.

When we read a story about Gideon putting out a fleece and inspecting the dew that had fallen or had not fallen on it, we need to be aware of the meaning of a fleece and the meaning of the dew if we are to hear all that was there for the first hearers.

I make no claim to having mastered this system of symbols, but I have caught enough hints of it to believe that it cannot be learned apart from approaching the Bible as a unified whole. — Laura Smit, Judges & Ruth, 7-8. (She’s quoting Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, trans. Jose de Vinck [Paterson, NJ: St Anthony Guild Press, 1963], 18.)

Posted by John Barach @ 10:44 am | Discuss (0)
June 5, 2019

Saying the Name

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics :: Permalink

Does the Third Word prohibit pronouncing the name “YHWH”?

That can hardly be the case. As Carmen Joy Imes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai) writes:

“The Psalms are replete with exhortations to know YHWH’s name (Ps 91:14), call on the name (Ps 63:5[4]; 105:1; 116:4), declare the name (Ps 22:23[22]), cause his name to be remembered (Ps 45:1 [17]), bless the name (Ps 100:4; 145:1), sing to his name (Ps 66:2; 68:5[4]), and praise and exalt the name (Ps 7:18[17]; 34:4[3]; 54:8[6]; 96:2; 113:1; 148:5)” (26n87).

But then she adds this:

“In addition, people of faith deliberately used the name by including YHWH theophorically in personal names. Biblical texts testify that Yahwistic theophoric names were common in Israel from the monarchic period forward. These echoes of the name ‘YHWH’ suggest that its pronunciation was not considered taboo, even in the exilic and post exilic periods” (26n87).

For instance, consider names like Joshua (“YHWH saves”), Hezekiah (“YHWH is strong”), Elijah (“My God is YHWH”), and, after the exile, Nehemiah (“YHWH has comforted”).

There’s no reason to think that godly Jews went around naming their children “Nehemiah” and then refusing to pronounce the last syllable because it is the name of God.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:08 pm | Discuss (1)
June 4, 2019

Taking YHWH’s Name

Category: Bible - OT - Deuteronomy,Bible - OT - Exodus,Ethics :: Permalink

What does the Third Commandment mean when it says not to “take the name of YHWH in vain”? It doesn’t say “Do not say the name.” It says not to take it in vain, using a verb that normally means “to pick up, take up, bear, carry around.”

Many treatments of this commandment assume that “take up the name” is an ellipsis, that is, that there are missing words. The full form, they say, should be “take up … on your lips,” so that the commandment has to do with swearing oaths or even just with speaking the name “YHWH.”

Others think it’s an ellipsis where what’s missing is “your hand,” so that the expression in full form is “lift up your hand in YHWH’s name.” Lifting up the hand in the Bible is sometimes a way of taking oaths. And again, this commandment is taken to prohibit certain kinds or ways of using YHWH’s name in taking oaths.

But what if there’s no ellipsis? What if it really is speaking of bearing or carrying around the name?

What’s interesting is that that exact expression does occur elsewhere in the Bible. As Carmen Joy Innes (Bearing YHWH’s Name at Sinai) says,

“The high priest was to ‘bear the names’ of the 12 tribes on his person to signify his role as their authorized representative before YHWH (Exod 28:29)” (2).

Innes goes on to explain the parallel:

“While he physically carried, or bore, their names, he served as an analog of Israel’s bearing of YHWH’s name, which was conferred on them by the high priest when he blessed them (Num 6:27). As YHWH’s chosen people and ‘kingdom of priests’ (Exod 19:5), they represented him among the nations” (2).

I learned to read the Third Commandment this way from Jim Jordan, and it’s also found in John Frame’s treatment of the Ten Commandments.

But — surprise! — you don’t find this passage about Aaron’s garments discussed in most treatments of the Third Commandment. In a footnote, Innes writes:

“Most interpreters routinely overlook these passages. For example, Miller … dismisses Exod 28 as ‘not relevant’ to the interpretation of the NC [Name Command] without explanation, even though the description of Aaron’s high priestly garments offers the closest lexical and contextual parallels to the NC” (2n5).

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