Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Understanding Masoretic Exodus as a Late Anti-Heretical 'Proof Text' Against the Two Powers Doctrine

I have consulted with Benny Tsedaka and asked him what the Samaritan interpretation of Exodus 20 is - i.e. how do they reconcile the implications of two divine voices, one speaking from the fire on Sinai and the other 'coming from heaven' in the original reading of the material that they preserve.  Emboldened text means material only found in Deuteronomy, underlined text denotes things found neither in Masoretic Exodus nor Deuteronomy, red text denotes the back to back acknowledgement that divine voices were speaking both on the mountain and in heaven during the Sinai experience in the restored Exodus narrative.

The original Samaritan Exodus narrative - beginning at chapter 19 - reads:
On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai.  After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.”

So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.  The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said. And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not approach the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain is to be put to death. They are to be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on them. No person or animal shall be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they approach the mountain.”

After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes.  Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.

As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.  The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish.  Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”

Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’” The Lord replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.”

So Moses went down to the people and told them.  All the people heard the thunderclaps and the sound of the horn, and saw the torches, and the mountain smoking and when all the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. And they said to Moses, “The Lord our God has just shown us his presence and his greatness, and we have heard his Voice from out of the fire, we have seen this day that man may live though God has spoken to him. Let us not die then for this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. For what mortal ever heard the voice of the living God speak out of the fire as we did, and lived? You go closer and hear all that the Lord our God says, then you speak to us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and obey, but let not The God speak to us lest we die. Moses answered the people, “Be not afraid for The God has come only in order to test you and in order that the fear of Him may be ever with you, so that you do not go astray."

So the people remained at a distance while Moses approached the thick cloud where The God was. The Lord spoke to Moses saying, “I have heard the sound of this people’s words which they spoke to you, they did well to speak that. May they always be of such a mind to revere me and follow all my commandments, that it may go well with them and with their children forever. I will raise up a prophet for them from among their own people, like yourself: I will put my words in his mouth and he will speak to them all that I command him, and if anybody fails to heed the words he speaks in My name, I Myself will call him to account. But any prophet who presumes to speak in My name an oracle which I do not command him to utter, or who speaks in the name of other gods that prophet shall die. And should you ask yourself, “How can we recognize an oracle which the Lord did not utter?” – if the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and the word does not come true, that word was not spoken by the Lord; the prophet has uttered it presumptuously, do not stand in dread of him. Go say to them “Return to your tents.” But you remain here with me, and I will speak to you the whole instruction – the laws and the norms – which you will teach them – for them to observe in the land that I am giving them to possess."

The Lord spoke to Moses saying, “Speak to the Israelites, ‘You yourselves saw that I spoke to you from the very heavens. With me therefore, you shall not make any gods of silver, nor shall you make for yourselves any gods of gold. Make for me an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in the place I have caused my name to mentioned there I will come to you and bless you. And if you make for me an altar of stones, do not build it of hewn stones, for by wielding your tool upon them you have profaned them. Do not ascend my altar by steps that your nakedness may not be exposed upon it
As the reader can clearly see, the Masoretic Bible has been seemingly deliberately arranged to have the presence of the two powers 'divided' into the two books - viz. Exodus and Deuteronomy.  In other words, in Exodus the text only makes reference to the Israelites hearing the voice of God from heaven, any reference to them also hearing the voice from the fire as a second presence, has been relegated to the Masoretic text of Deuteronomy.  While one can still argue that Deuteronomy contains both 'voices' it is interesting that the mekhilata effectively use the lack of the second voice 'from the fire' against those who argue for 'two powers.'  In other words, Masoretic Exodus was a proof text against the two powers claims.  Perhaps it was deliberately constructed this way.

The one and only Samaritan exegete Marqe (c. 2nd century CE) interprets the passage in the way we would expect - once we understand that 'gevurah' (= might) is a coded reference for the second power:
Exalted for ever is this holy prophet, to whom the Lord of divinity said "Lo I am coming to speak with you and may also believe you for ever" (Ex. xix. 9). Great was the morning of Mount Sinai, the morning of the third day, in which exceedingly great tremblings were manifest - hosts and powers and foundations and angels, thunderings and lightnings, lights and fire blazing to the heart of heaven, the cloud of which we have just spoken, by reason of the great prophet Moses, the Man of God. He dwelt on Mount Sinai and the Lord called to Moses with great might and Moses went up; He addressed him face to face. There the cloud glorified him. When his Lord came to him in it, He made him to hear the voice calling from the midst of the fire - "I am the Lord your God" (Ex xx.2; Targ) ... The powers supported him, the forces comforted him, the Glory came to meet him; the great Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him and proclaimed the Ten Words (Ex. xx) with the mouth of divinity. The Lord's peace be upon Moses the Man, who achieved a high degree which no other man has possessed (lit. 'sat')

I even think that early Christianity reflects part of the original Samaritan mystical interest (evident through Marqe's writings) where gevurah, as is well known to Kabbalists to this day, has a numerological value of 216 (i.e. threescore 6 or '6 x 6 x 6').  In other words, 'the number of the beast' is in fact, the number of 'Jesus' in the original 'Samaritan' interpretation of the Bible.

Email stephan.h.huller@gmail.com with comments or questions.

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