Benjamin Sommer (“Reflecting on Moses,” JBL 18 [1999] 601-624) thinks that Numbers 11 weaves together two sources, with very different descriptions of Moses. In narrative A, Moses is petulant, angry, despises his role as leader of Israel, wishes for death. According to B, he is an exemplary prophet, concerned for Israel’s welfare, humble in response to rivals (Eldad and Medad) and criticism (Aaron and Miriam, ch. 12). He suggests that Calvin harmonizes these two presentations by inserting a missing plot point:… Read more

In a discussion of the Ten Words (Systematic Theology, II) argues that the “second table” applies to all polities. I have doubts about the “second table” notion, and also about the plausibility of separating the last six words from the first four. Still, Jenson has some penetrating things to say about the “second table” as “natural law.” Applied to those who are not part of the narrative of exodus, “the commandments state minimum conditions: no society can subsist in which… Read more

Israel’s sanctuaries were dramatically different from those of other nations. There was no image of Yahweh. The priests maintained Yahweh’s house, but His presence was either invisible or so intense that it was unapproachable. The aniconic worship of Israel was a standing reminder that their God is a different sort of God. What does that mean? What kind of God forbids us to worship Him in images? In Deuteronomy 4, Moses reinforces this commandment by reminding Israel that they didn’t… Read more

During the Second Temple period, the Talmud says, “the temptation for idolatry was slaughtered” (quoted in Haberthal and Margalit, Idolatry, 2). Then the fight returned, with Maimonides. Now, though, idolatry was a contrast-concept to a new conception of God. Halberthal and Margalit summarize: “The central effort of philosophical religion is the attempt to attain a proper metaphysical conception of God. This conception not only is a necessary condition for the worship of God but also constitutes the high point of… Read more

The First of the Ten Words speaks to the question of whom we worship: We are to have no other gods before the face of Yahweh. The Second Word had to do with how we worship: We are to approach God as He commands us to approach Him. The Second Word is sometimes misunderstood. It has gotten tangled up in debates about whether or not we can paint or draw pictures, or make sculptures, of Jesus, or of God the… Read more

There are Ten Words, but they are grouped in several different ways. The first two commandments stand out from the rest. Only in the first three commandments does the Lord speak in the first person (FW Farrar): “I am Yahweh your God . . . thou shalt have no other gods before My face”; “for I Yahweh your God am a jealous God.” From then third word on, Yahweh speaks in the third person. Each of the first five words… Read more

A little over a year ago, I wrote the following in a post reflecting on the Hebrew term tabnit, used in Exodus and Chronicles to describe the heavenly “pattern” of the sanctuary: “Deuteronomy 4:16-18 uses the word five times, not of a ‘model’ or ‘plan’ but of likenesses made according to a plan or model. Yahweh prohibits Israel from making and venerating a tabnit of male or female, animals, birds, creeping things, or fish (note the Genesis 1 classification of creatures). Here… Read more

Franz Rosenzweig didn’t buy Maimonides philosophical critique of the Bible’s anthropomorphism. In 1928, he wrote a short essay on the topic and, in the summary of Leora Batnitzky (Idolatry and Representation) he “argues that the tendency to rationalize away biblical anthropomorphisms . . . is both dishonest and a misunderstanding of the Bible” (21). He charges that “the very term ‘anthropomorphism’ is laden with rationalist prejudice. Properly speaking, Rosenzweig argues, there is no ‘anthropomorphism’ in the Bible. Rather, ‘the anthropomorphisms… Read more

In Theology and the First Theory of Sacrifice, Ivan Strenski recounts an epochal shift in the study of religion, and of sacrifice in particular, that took place in the France of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At the time, the “lions” of the field of religion were openly Christian liberal theologians: “They had achieved an enormous degree of prestige for themselves in higher education with their establishment of the national center of the study of religion in the… Read more

Jason Josephson-Storm (Myth of Disenchantment) offers this potted history of modern physics: “Even as Descartes liberated an autonomous realm for the thinking subject, his mechanism denied action  at a distance and rejected the concept of the void. But this form of corpuscular mechanism was disrupted by Newton’s emphasis on occult forces like gravity, which produced action at a distance and also in some versions required constant divine or angelic intervention. Later natural philosophers worked to eliminate these, but as soon… Read more

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