Monday, May 20, 2013

Reboot the Pentateuch: Series Conclusion

This is part 20 of 20 in a series about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In it we will explore the context of the book, specifically its relationship to the Egyptian culture of its day.

Click here to read the entire series.

I hope that this series has been as useful for you as it has been for me. Long, in-depth studies like this are actually the toughest thing for me to write: due to their nature, I generally write them weeks (or months) in advance, doing 5-6 in one go. This in turn takes a huge effort up front, and (generally) they are among the least-read and commented upon of my posts. So I often find myself, halfway through, regretting having started the series and feeling like no one but me is getting anything from them.

That said, even if literally no one reads these words but me, I can honestly say that I am far better for having done this series. I for one did not know all that I learned through commentaries and reflection in this series, and I now have a much different view of the works of Moses than I had when I began.

Key Learnings

To me, the key learnings from this series all revolved around context: you wouldn't read a phone book the same way as an owner's manual for your car or as a book of poems...and you need to take that same mindset into account when reading the Scripture.

This is particularly true of the books of Moses, for the Pentateuch is a combination of a variety of different purposes and styles--and failure to understand this is a big, big mistake. Few books in the Bible are misunderstood worse than the Pentateuch, if taken out of context.

With that in mind, I felt that there were several key findings from this series, which I hope you take with you in the future:

1. Genesis 1 should be read as a direct refutation of the Egyptian cosmology, proving that there is only one God (YHWH) and that the objects of nature (moon, river, sea, etc.) are things, not competing gods.

2.  And, consequently to #1, Genesis 1 is not written in the style of a history or scientific text, but rather as a Creation Song meant to give glory to God and disprove the Egyptian gods. To read too much into it about dating the Earth would be a tragic mistake.

3.  The book of Genesis is a collection of ten Sagas handed down to Moses and selected by the Spirit--not an exhaustive history of everything that ever happened in the entire world. There are gaps in the record, and that is okay. Its point is to show how the Hebrews ended up in Egypt, despite having been promised land in Canaan.

4.  A key feature of Genesis--showing up both in Genesis 1 and in the story of Joseph--is that man is supposed to be the Vizier/governor of God on Earth. In Egyptian society, the Pharaoh held this role and slaves were nothing in the gods' eyes. Moses' writing to the freed-slave Hebrews shows the opposite: that not only is man special among Creation, but the Hebrews are a special subset even of mankind.

5.  Exodus through Deuteronomy are meant to be read together, and show how God builds a nation and kingdom to Him.

6.  The plagues were chosen to show that God has authority over the alleged Egyptian gods, to prove to the Hebrews that YHWH was indeed real and powerful. Each plague applies to one particular Egyptian god.

7.  The Jewish religion was not invented until Moses led God's people out of slavery, and the Laws associated with it are a covenant between their descendants and Him--not the world at large. Leviticus holds a record of many of these rules.

8.  That said, the Council of Jerusalem in the first century AD agreed that in Jesus' teaching, Gentile Christians are responsible for upholding two portion of Jewish law:  bans against idolatry, and bans against sexual immorality.

9.  The overwhelming feeling of God's design of the Jewish religion is one of being set apart. To approach the Creator of the universe is not something to be done lightly: one should examine himself, prepare himself, and understand that he walks on sacred ground. The worship building was designed to set one apart from the world, with unique sights, sounds, and smells--when one entered, he knew he was engaging with God. (Unlike the modern church today, which goes out of its way to seek samenesswith everything around us, and feel no different from a mall or concert auditorium.)

10.  Deuteronomy is a formal legal document, outlining the suzerain covenant between God and man in the most direct method possible. If you wish to understand Torah, Deuteronomy is the best place to look: basically, it is the "key text" of all of Moses' writings. Everything from Genesis through Numbers is summed up in it.