Archive for Mosaic Laws

A Priest’s Convenient Discovery

Posted in Atheist, belief, faith, Hebrew scripture, history, politics, random, religion, thoughts with tags , , , , on December 1, 2011 by chouck017894

(Political Purpose of Deuteronomy)

The biblical text known as Deuteronomy, inserted as the fifth book of holy scripture, was composed for political purposes in Jerusalem in the newly established little tribal kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE. The little kingdom of Israel to the north had fallen to Assyrian expansion, and the inspiration behind the priest-written text was that the people could be mobilized by giving them an emotional claim to a national identity.

Deuteronomy is the alleged second corpus juris (body of laws) that had purportedly been given to the Israelites through Moses prior to the Israelites entering the land of Canaan.  The delivery of the supplements to the original “laws” had supposedly taken place in the plains of Moab (generally placed in the 1400s BCE).  So the Israelites were not then in the “Promised Land,” and yet the book containing the second corpus of “laws” supposedly had been carried into and inflicted upon those who already inhabited the land of Canaan.  Those undisclosed laws had apparently been lugged around through the Israelite invasion ordeal, even though the Israelites were unaware that what they defended predetermined the framework for a national constitution of Israel that would rise generations later!

The major feature of the top-secret text was the promise from god—or a covenant between God and Israel—to serve as the basis for the Israelites lifestyle in Canaan.  In the time of Moses, remember, no center  of Israelite government or religion existed in Canaan, the “Promised Land,” and yet that “for your eyes only” text supposedly provided the basic summary of every citizen’s rights and duties.  Strangely, those god-ordained laws were not found until the Temple in Jerusalem was being remodeled in the seventh century BCE, which was after the kingdom of Israel to the north had fallen to the Assyrians—or around 700 years after the traditional timeframe accorded to Moses and the Exodus (c. 1576 BCE).  Unlike the Ten Commandments the additional laws conveyed to Moses apparently had not been written on stone.

Whoever the real author(s) was (most likely it was the High Priest named Hilkiah and his secretary Shapan), he undoubtedly built upon already existing traditions, refashioning the legends according to his own outline and political goals.  There is no doubt of the genius of the creator(s) of the 7th century BCE who updated the oral traditions, for the early folklore and stories were woven together so skillfully that the characters, such as Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., exuded individual distinctiveness.  Equally telling that priestly hands were at work on the text are often detected in the alleged exhortations of Moses, which can only be characterized as preaching the law in a reproachful manner.  The heavy amount of the “laws” are not what can be termed juridical, but primarily concerned religious instructions and regulations for worship, even a festival calendar, and admonitions designed to program the public with a sense of obligation and duty toward God, which—surprise!—cunningly placed the priests in absolute management position.

In 640 BCE, after the assassination of tribal king Amon of Judah, his 8-year old son Josiah became king—and the High Priest Hilkiah became the young king’s tutor.  The convenient “discovery” of the book of Law in this same general timeframe also happened to coincide with the rise of literacy that accompanied the influx of refugees from the fallen kingdom of Israel to the north.  With the arrival in Judah of expatriates from the kingdom of Israel the political atmosphere changed, and until this timeframe there had been little means of producing extensive sacred texts.  With young King Josiah being tutored by the High Priest Hilkiah, the stage was set to institute a unifying code of alleged god-ordained laws within the boundaries that were then being claimed as the kingdom of Judah.

Deuteronomy is the only book of the Pentateuch that asserts that it contains “words of the covenant” which Israelites were instructed to follow faithfully (Exodus 29:9).  Biblical scholars have pointed out that the literary form of the alleged covenant between Yahweh and his people as presented in Deuteronomy has striking similarity to the seventh century BCE Assyrian vassal treaties.  In those Assyrian models the subjected people’s’ rights and obligations were correspondingly detailed.  The major difference from the Assyrian model with the holy “covenant” laws allegedly discovered in the Temple wall at Jerusalem is that Yahweh is acknowledged as Sovereign (with the priests acting as his representatives).  Typical cult ordinances were then stressed such as followers of Yahweh were charged to have no transactions or social interaction, and no intermarriage whatever with the native inhabitants.

The book of Deuteronomy also prohibited numerous Canaanite rites that had been tolerated for generations—rites that included sense-stimulants such as prostitution, ritual sodomy, and use of idols upon which devotees could focus their attention.  After the so-called “second law” was revealed, the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings were compiled in conjunction with Deuteronomy.  The groundwork was then laid down in the plotted reform measures that the High Priest and his scribe sought to impose at that time.  Thus eight years after Josiah had become king in 622 BCE, the suggestible adolescent observed the first-ever Passover sacrifice in the national shrine in Jerusalem.  Holy politics had triumphed.

The imposed cult-like obligations and the emphasis that believers in Yahweh were the only virtuous people—always self-portrayed as surrounded by wickedness and evil and godlessness—insured that Judaism would live at variance not only with neighboring people, but with Nature and universal forces as well.  Over time that spiritual virus would also contaminate the devout affirmations of two later faith systems that would arise to further splinter the western understanding of man’s relationship to the creative forces around him.

Old Turmoil and New Belief

Posted in Atheism, Atheist, belief, culture, faith, history, random, religion, thoughts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on August 1, 2010 by chouck017894

It was not until about 300 BCE, in the Hellenistic period, that foreign observers began to write extensively about the laws, traditions and customs of the Jewish people.  The Greek skeptic, historian and philosopher Hecataeus of Abdera (4th century BCE) recorded observations of Jewish life in his work Peri Hyperborean.  Hecataeus noted with some wonderment the Jewish traditions which then lavished their priests with highest prestige, and he pondered over the Laws of Deuteronomy which prevailed over social legislation.  Indeed, the monarchy which had crystallized with King Josiah (d. 608? BCE) had been completely overshadowed by this 300 timeframe.  He sensed the irony in the fact that it had been during the reign of King Josiah that the book of Deuteronomy happened to have been “discovered” in the Temple wall in Jerusalem.

 Jews were more fanatically devoted to their God than most Pagan cultures that Hecataeus had encountered.  That difference was due principally to the Pagans having closer affiliations with nature in which they recognized the interlocking aspects at work within nature and respected those aspects as godlike in their own right.  The Jews, on the other hand, long dominated by priest-organizers, had been conditioned for generations through use of priestly writings from the time of King Josiah and so shared the belief in a composed history that starred Abraham as their God-blessed progenitor.  The priest-written history assured them that from the time of Abraham a whole string of Israelite ancestors could be claimed, all of whom had spoken directly with God.  The “history” of Exodus, for example, and the asserted inheritance of the Promised Land provided the elements for a shared identity for the people in a psychological manner that the mythologies of other cultures could not.  Thus conditioned for generations, the Jews shared law codes attributed to Moses—a whole battery of laws (613) which, strangely, as noted, had not been found until the time of King Josiah.  The unity of the Judean people was strongly anchored upon the priests’ holy narratives that provided the illusion of their faith’s historic past.

The priests of Yahweh, accomplished story-tellers, borrowed from extremely ancient cosmological teachings as the source from which they constructed Israelite “history.”  Mesopotamian and Persian religious epics, for instance, offered ancient cosmic secrets also, but these were not presented in a manner that seemed to be linked to a people’ personal history.  Neither did those epical myths particularly inspire principles of moral responsibility.  Similarly, the Greek myths of deities and epics of heroes were presented in metaphorical fashion, and were meant only to inspire by example.

After the conquest of the Near East c. 332 BCE by Alexander the Great, there was a gradual and steady increase of awareness and recognition of the Judeans (Jews) throughout the Mediterranean world.  By the time of the second century BCE there had evolved a questioning spirit among the Judean people, which resulted from association with Syrian culture after being conquered by Antiochus the Great in 198 BCE.  There was mounting dissatisfaction with the excesses of Antiochus and it eventually lead to outright revolt by the Maccabees under Mattathias, a priest.  (Maccabees are more properly referred to as Hasmoneans, from Hasmon, a name of an ancestor.)  The priest-inspired revolt went on, led by the priest’s son Judas, to conquer a large part of the land traditionally regarded as the land of Israel, and the Judean’s Law was forced upon the conquered inhabitants.  In 165 BCE Judas regained possession of Jerusalem and immediately purified and rededicated the Temple.  (This is celebrated even today in the Jewish Feast of the Dedication.)  Judas was later slain in battle against the successor of Antiochus, and Judas was succeeded by his brother Jonathan.  With this, under sufferance of other powers, the Hasmonean line of priest-rulers was established. 

But by the first century BCE the Maccabean kingship had degenerated due to petty squabbles.  The Roman Senate, at the insistence of Marcus Antonius and annoyed at the Jews’ narrow patriotism and self-righteousness, installed Herod as King of Judea in 39 BCE.  The Herodians were more of a political party than a priest-led religious sect.  Of course the Judeans were not particularly happy with that either.

It was this distinctive prickly characteristic of God’s chosen ones that apparently grew wearisome even to God, and so he made arrangements forthwith for his only begotten son to manifest into the troublesome little region on planet Earth.  Evidently nowhere else on Earth was there dire need of such a direct intrusion and supervision.  Thus in the incensed environment around one group of people in the world—a people troubled by resentful and unspiritual religious controversies and manipulated through elaborate religious ritual—Jesus came upon the local Near-East scene to bring holy adjustment to the entire world.