Sunday, December 18, 2005

Obedience and a historical reason for why.

One of the major themes of the Old Testament is the demand for the followers of Yahweh to be obedient to him, above all else. They were told, in no uncertain terms, to be obedient to Yahweh and all his demands, no matter how horrifyingly destructive or cruel, no matter how non-sensical or counterintuitive they might be. Throughout the texts, unquestioning obedience is demanded.

One then must ask: how would one know if one is being obedient to Yahweh? In the stories of David vs Saul, we find Saul doing what he thinks is right, as far as he can discern. He is listening to his heart and doing the things that it tells him are right. And yet, it is this very point that displeases Yahweh. What is 'right' is not what matters. Yahweh demands obedience to him, Yahweh, and 'right' or 'good' does not enter the picture. Saul is not to trust his own mind, nor his own heart. His personal understanding or concepts of 'right' have no importance. So, from where is Saul supposed to hear the voice of Yahweh so that he can be obedient to it? ...Samuel.

But Samuel no longer is alive. How are we, the readers, and how was the originally intended audience for these texts to find their Samuel — the voice of Yahweh? For, like Saul, we are not to listen to our own mind or heart. Yahweh would be displeased with that. We must find our Samuel. But, who exactly is our Samuel? How do we know which Samuel to follow, for there will be many opportunistic con-artists jumping out of the woodwork eager to lead those of us seeking Yahweh's voice — seeking our Samuel. These false-prophets will not refuse to make all our decisions for us and manage our lives and our pocketbooks for their own benefit. How are we to discern such 'false-Samuels' from the one true voice of Yahweh?

The original audience of these texts had an answer. The text would not have been written as it was unless there was a clear answer. Obviously, whoever was writing the text claimed to be that voice of Yahweh. The texts, with this theme of total obedience to Yahweh, was a political power-grab by those who could make a claim to be 'Samuel' for their generation. What are the Old Testament texts as we know them but a clear body of evidence that an emerging political force was staking their claim to power, and laying the foundations for a nation under their control.

From The Mythic Past, p.294:
"The Hebrew Bible that we know underwent a considerable revision some time after the rededication of the Jerusalem temple in 164 BCE. .... This theology has its first secure context in the intellectually charged movement of nationalism that followed the Maccabean revolt, and that centred itself on the traditions around the temple at some time after this rededication."

It is interesting that Thompson also says (same page, but in an earlier paragraph):
"It implies that the author of II Maccabees knows of no stable collection of written tradition that survived the Maccabean wars intact. In this chapter of II Maccabees, [II Maccabees 4] dedicated to a recounting of the survival of tradition past, neither the traditions of Ezra's law-giving nor that of Nehemiah's library are any longer accessible. Only Judas Maccabee's efforts preserved what is now seen as a fragmented past. In itself, this text offers us a serious argument against understanding the final formation of the Bible much earlier than the end of the second century BCE. This is the appropriate date for the original text that II Maccabees claims to epitomize. Perhaps, our Bible should not be dated before some time in the first century BCE, when II Maccabees itself seems to have been written. Its writer, at least knows no such Bible."

The OT text was compiled for a specific group of people, and it very much appears that this act occurred far more recently than we have been led to believe. It was done with a specific political intent; making the demand for unquestioning obedience is an explicity political act, whether couched in 'religious' terminology or not. What we hear in these texts is the voice of those who were claiming absolute power over a targeted group of people. Someone or some group was making their claim to being the voice of God, to being Samuel, in order to seize power or consolidate their claim to it.


david said...

Okay. The Hebrew scriptures are shot through with ancient, and now long irrelevant power plays. The so-called "Word of God" has been craeted in by through stupid human power games.

Same is likely true of the gospels btw. And George Fox's Journal for you Quakers out there. And for that matter The Oxford English Dictionary and the US Constitution.

Now what do we do about it?

Ed said...

"Now what do we do about it?"

Thanks kwakersaur, excellent question.

What I want to do is try and figure out exactly who it was that wrote the Old Testament, and why.

I think there is a story underneath that is extremely fascinating, and hardly even guessed at.

(perhaps in the second half of your comment you are being cute/sarcastic? The Oxford English Dictionary and the US Constitution were 'created in and by stupid human power games'...?)

Anyway, back to the question of what do we do: I think we need to see the possibility that someone was 'nation-building', for want of a better term, and they were using religion as the main tool, and this occurred very recently: after 200 BCE.

There is a very interesting article, written by Basil Chamberlain called The Invention of a New Religion, about an aspect of recent Japanese history that few know about. If it happened in Japan, it could have happened in Palestine, too.