Thursday, October 21, 2010

Moses the Great Artist

It is absolutely amazing to me that there are so many experts on the New Testament and so few people interested in Irenaeus. That's like being the guy that goes to the football game every Sunday to eat the hotdogs. Maybe its because I am Jewish but I don't understand the fixation with the gospel. I guess the 'Jewish thing' is a bad example because Jews also fixate on the Torah rather than Moses. Yet it interestingly that same is not true with the Samaritans. The Samaritans are very focused on the author of their most holy text. That's why I have taken such a profound interest in the Samaritan tradition. It's more sensible that Judaism.

My point is that it wasn't just the ancient pagans who had an art religion. The Hebrew religion clearly originally started as a literary veneration. That's why the Jews are called 'the people of the book' in Arabic.

Just think about it. The Jews didn't say that God wrote the whole Torah originally. The earliest position was that the ten utterances (the Ten Commandments for you Gentiles) came from heaven. This is the Samaritan position but it was also the position of the ancient Jewish Sadducees too.

God's finger inscribed the words on the tablets given to Moses with fire. But think about that for a moment. Indeed stop listening to the internal dialogue going on in your heads for just a moment and just think about the implications of that understanding.

Only the ten utterances came from God. The rest of the six hundred and three commandments were written on the authority of Moses. This was the original position of the Israelite religion.

Indeed if you look at the Pentateuch narrative you get a number of examples of Moses acting on his own authority. Consider, for example, Moses' ascent to Mount Sinai:

They arrived in the wilderness of Sinai at the beginning of the third month. Israel encamped there in front of the mountain, and Moses went up to God" (Exodus 19:2-3).

Now it is not mentioned here that God told Moses to ascend. According to the Zohar, Moses ascended on his own authority: "Rabbi Jose said, 'from here the Sages derived the principle 'one who comes to purify himself is given assistance,'[BT Shabbat 104a] for it is said 'and Moses went up to God' and immediately afterwards 'The Lord called to him.'"[Zohar Yitro 79b] According to this, Moses' ascent preceded the divine speech. Hizkuni also brings the following interpretation: "and some explain that he went up on his own to inquire of God how they should worship Him, so as to fulfill what God had said to him: 'when you have freed the people from Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain' (Exodus 3:12)  This point of view, which was apparently known to Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra, was also accepted by Nahmanides, and by Rabbi Isaac Abravanel.

The point I am trying to emphasize with all this is that in the earliest core of the Hebrew religion this is a glimmer of the idea of Moses the artist.  The understanding that Moses acted independent of God.  That most of the Torah was his creation - was written on his authority rather than that of God.  This understanding might sound utterly heretical to some but the it is ultimately more honest that what we are used to with traditional religious interpretation. 

I get much the same sense from Clement's Letter to Theodore.  If Mark was supposed to have written a holy text, let's hear something about his role in preserving the text.  Let's get the sense that a tradition developed around his 'second Torah,' his revelation from heaven.  It seems to me to be utterly unnatural to have four Christian gospels and one Christian Church.  One would expect to find four churches attached to four gospels but in the end there is only one real historical tradition in Christianity - that associated with Mark at Alexandria.  Everything else is fraudulent in Christianity.

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