Sunday, August 13, 2006

 

"I've Come to Praise the Temple, not to Bury It": Eikev, the Early Authorship of Leviticus and the Deuteronomic Authorship of the "Appendices" to Judg

I'm really starting to embrace modern Source Criticism. There is nothing really inherently un-Jewish about it, anyway. The idea of the law coming to Moses at Sinai is what Ibsen would have called the "vital lie" of Jewish Orthodoxy. And the Rabbis of the Talmud themselves engaged in source criticism of a sort, some of which is preserved in our Torah scroll as we have it: there was a theory that the Torah originally consisted of Seven, rather than Five books. And that fragments of the other two books, which are sometimes marked distinctively in the Torah scroll or chanted in a distinguishable manner, have been integrated into the Five books we have.

Anyway, reading Parshas Eikev this past Shabbos got me to thinking about some authorship issues. Modern scholars differ in when the Priestly School that wrote Leviticus was active. Some hold that, even if centralized worship at the Temple was common long before the Deuteronomic school was active, it was that school which mandated such centralized worship, i.e. in verses we read in Parshas Eikev. However, it seems to me that Leviticus contains plenty of evidence that it was promulgated to ensure the centralization of worship eventually in Jerusalem. On the other hand, the Deuteronomic Book of Judges places emphasis on worship at Shiloh, and represents a nostalgia almost for a long lost Rachelite tradition, also present in the plaintive verses of Jeremiah. The way I see it, J and E evolved along with Israelite society: as Israelite society coalesced at the close of that middle/late Bronze age dark ages, it needed a history upon which to hang its growing national unity as well as to explain how it was that, e.g. the numerically dominant "oldest brother" tribe of Reuben was not the most politically powerful but rather the political power was coalescing around Judah as well as the "Rachel" tribes, etc. This history also explained the displacement of those Egyptianized locals, whose Northern Brethren as the Phoenicians dominated trade as the Mediterranean emerged from its dark age: most of the Torah and even the earliest written elements of the Prophetic and Deuteronomic histories of Israel can be thought of then as what would have happened if the same stories which, when told from the perspective of the Romanized Britainic tribes coalesced into the King Arthur legends, were told from the point of view of the Anglo-Saxons.

Unlike the archetypal Indo-European cultures, however, the Israelite culture seems to have, judging from the treatment of "Levi" in the J and E sources, had an un-touchable, rather than exalted, priesthood along the lines of the Osu among the Ibo. The priests were condemned to landlessness by the sins of their ancestors and were ritually unclean due to their being responsible for treating contagious illness. However, as Israel centralized, worship also centralized which necessitated a change in status of the priesthood. The Priestly Code, presumably, evolves from that change, and hence it, and the centralized sacrificial cult it describes, are likely almost as old as the J and E sources. One can argue that the influence of the Priestly Code in Judaism has been missed because it is often only read as the Code for the Sacrificial Cult, which is, due to the wisdom of the Deuteronomists and their Rabbinic spiritual heirs, not active currently. However, the real upshot of the Priestly Code is not only the Holiness code per se but the transformation of the priesthood by associating the separateness of the unclean with Holiness, even at the level of a double meaning of the word Kadosh. The "leper", shatnes and the like are still "unclean" but those who handle them are no longer the outcasts but the most important to society.

Many Christians, e.g., have seen a conflict between Levitical teachings and the teachings of Jesus: but I would urge my Christian readership to note that the two are actually very similar (although many of those who have a so-called "Levitical orientation" in Christianity completely miss the key points of Leviticus). Indeed, it may be the case that before later Christian tradition sought to identify Jesus as the secular "Davidic" messiah, proto-Christian sectarian Jews eagerly awaiting for a Priestly Messiah to overthrow the corrupt, pro-Roman Sadduceic priesthood controlling the Temple, would have found messianic character in someone who taught "the last shall be the first" (what happened to the Levites as Israel centralized) and, with his brother in a Moses/Aaron like pair, took over the Temple.

Pace Mark Anthony, the Deuteronomist "comes to praise the Temple, not to bury it" and with the same intended irony, IMHO, as had Mark Anthony in Shakespeare's play. In forbidding de-centralized sacrifices at a time when the lead Deuteronomist, Jeremiah also prophesized the fall of that centralized worship, the Deuteronomic school must have realized they were, in praising worship at the Temple, burying, at least temporarily, the sacrificial cult. They quite rightly understood that if Judaism were to survive in a foreign land, it could not be based on a sacrificial system, which could easily be corrupted by polytheistic influences, but rather it must be based on something else. By anachronistically emphasizing the spiritual threat of the Canaanite religion and associating local sacrificial offerings with such a threat, the Deuteronomic school voiced its concern that should local sacrifice occur in any land which was not Jewish, whether it was the pre-Israelite land of Canaan or the foreign land of Babylonia, it would be a conduit away from, rather than toward God. Thus, the Deuteronomist did not mandate centralized worship because he wanted to end de-centralized worship in Judah, as part of some political power play or as part of a religious revival or other such as many have speculated but rather, IMHO, he mandated the centralization of the sacrificial cult because he feared what would happen if a de-centralized sacrificial cult were to appear in Babylon: it would seem as a way to continue the worship of Hashem in the customary manner of Judea, but it would in fact be a pernicious means of assimilation. Perhaps the take-home message for today is that sometimes those who seem to be the defenders of the faith really are the pernicious, if not intending to be, deceivers away from the faith.

Another interesting thing about Eikev is how it introduces the mandate to centralized worship: with the phrase "every man does as he pleases". This phrase, in a different tense, appears in the introduction to the "appendices" to the book of Judges. Some have argued that the Deuteronomist, who seems to have written the rest of Judges, did not write these add-ons. However, the commonality of this one phrase suggests that the add-ons were inserted by the Deuteronomic school in order to illustrate the chaos ensuing when everyone does as he pleases. These "appendices" may not fit the style of Judges and may not be part of that Book's otherwise rather coherent narrative, but they do fit the motivations of the Deuteronomic school and suggest, IMHO, a common authorship.

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