Two weeks ago we left Moses fleeing Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave overseer (but looking around first to see if anyone was watching). We also digressed into speculating about whether he was somehow the illegitimate grandson of Pharaoh.
In any case, Moses is in no hurry to return to Egypt. He’s met a nice girl near a well in the desert and has started a family. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the Jewish people are still slaving away under Pharaoh. Remember, this is 400 years after Joseph and the family came over from Canaan during the famine.
Now the story gets interesting. God realizes something is amiss and speaks to Moses from a burning bush. In the ensuing dialogue, God informs Moses that his name is, “I Am.” The Chief Editor has heard several metaphysical explanations for this confusing phrase, none of which have been satisfying. But we ran across a theory this week in Quora that has some appeal.
- The Jews may have been more like Egyptians. The Jews have been in Egypt for 400+ years. Despite their best efforts at keeping themselves separate, after 400 years they have probably adopted a lot of Egyptian religious beliefs in multiple gods and the accompanying rituals.
- What’s God been doing? Meanwhile, the God who spoke from the burning bush was the same Jewish God that they worshipped 400 years earlier. He/She/It never really had a name other than God. So maybe God was miffed at Moses for even asking about the name thing.
- New world view. But this mono-God idea is going to be a hard sell to the Jewish people back in Egypt. Moses is going to have to first convince them on the idea of a God who calls himself “I Am” before approaching Pharaoh with the combination of miracles that we know is coming.
Fun genealogy fact: In another interesting genealogy twist in the Bible, we find out that Moses’ father (Amram) married his own aunt. That’s pretty creepy, and not brought up often in Sunday School class. But we suppose those things could happen when you live to be 130+.
Question of the week: Who was Moses’ first wife (she actually has a name), and what role did she play in the keeping God from killing Moses on the way back to Egypt?
Let’s continue with Joseph and his tenure in Egypt. In earlier posts we talked about Joseph’s experience with an Egyptian Mrs. Robinson, and how he avoided a long prison sentence through some nifty dream interpretations.
- One of these dream interpretations is done for the Pharaoh himself. It’s about having seven good harvest years followed by seven years of famine. And while he’s on a roll, Joseph plants the seed that he would be just the right guy to be put in charge of this food distribution. Because … y’know … he’s great at interpreting dreams.
- The seven good years happen. Things are pretty easy. Joseph gets to ride around in Pharaoh’s chariot. He’s given a wife (nameless as usual, but the father’s name is suspiciously close to Potiphar). And pretty much does nothing else. Then the famine happens. Joseph gets a side hustle going selling the excess grain back to the Egyptian people. He makes a ton of money. And apparently has no conscience.
- Let’s go metaphysical here. We can see the obvious parallels between Joseph’s comeback from being sold into slavery and Jesus’ resurrection. But 3BT Staff looked into some of the other metaphysical interpretations of the Joseph story. One article said that Joseph’s prediction of the famine is equivalent to Christ “taking pity on the hungers of the world by opening the granaries of divine mysteries that would nourish mankind.” OK, sure. But why leave out the symbolism of Joseph working the cash register selling grain back to the people who had produced the surplus in the first place?
This is a fun story to examine when we can step back from the sanitized summary we got back in Sunday School. There’s a lot more going on with Joseph than we might think. Next time we’ll bring in the brothers (including Judah — the one who went off with the sheep) and the others who sold Joseph into slavery.
Question of the week: Does Leviticus condemn Golden-doodles?
Short answer = yes. A couple of weeks ago we talked about how dry Leviticus was to read, and suggested that any future references to this part of the Old Testament would likely be left on the cutting room floor. It’s still really dry. But we ran across some interesting observations that we want to share this week.
- Why so many rules? Leviticus is full of specific rules for behavior and activities. At the time, the Jewish nation was settled in the midst of the rabble-rousing Canaanites. The rules were designed to make sure that the Israelites remained ‘different’ from all their neighbors. That is the reason for dietary restrictions, not working on Sunday, and … circumcision.
But then there’s Leviticus 19:19. You shall not let your animals breed with a different kind; you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials.
- What’s this about? These mixing restrictions are a little more difficult to get your mind around. One explanation the 3BT research staff found was that the mixing of animals was an attempt by man to interfere with God’s plan. Fair enough. Doodles would not have been approved.
- Regarding mixing of materials, one explanation we found was that wool was thetraditional fabric of the Jewish herder tribe, while linen was cloth favored by Egyptians. Not a good match.
Conundrum. But the research staff did not come across anything definitive at press time on these inter-mixing rules other than this was God’s law, and that was good enough. And … y’know, it is hard for the 21st century reader to go back into that time period, under those cultural conditions, and try to logically reconstruct it all. So we will leave it at that this week. Any help from the readership would be appreciated.
Next week: How (and when) did we get the 27 books of the New Testament?
Question of the week: Why Leviticus?
Related question of the week: Did you ever read Leviticus…all…the…way…through? Sure you did.
- Why all the sacrifices? Leviticus opens up with a lot of details about sacrificial offerings. A lot. But to really appreciate all those details, we have to understand that back in the day (and we’re talking 1,000 BCE or so), most people thought that gods in general would smite you if an offering was not done exactly right. We see that type of relationship in the early part of the Old Testament. Even though the Israelites were developing a new type of relationship to their God (Yahweh), they still incorporated sacrifices from the old world in their worship service.
- But why all the repetition? Because in these early times of Jewish history, people did not write things down. As we have discussed in previous 3BT editions, the first written versions of the Old Testament were not initiated until sometime around 500 BCE. Repetition makes it easier to recite stories in an oral tradition.
- Who reads it? Leviticus, as tedious as it is (and the Chief Editor is not planning on reading it in detail anytime soon), is a book that begins to bridge the gap between the old idea of a distant god and the Jewish concept of God as loving and connected. Even Paul in the New Testament referred to Leviticus as his tutor. From what we know about Paul, he probably did read it all…the…way…through.
Next week: What do some astronomers think about the Star of Bethlehem?
Question of the Week: Why did these Bible stories get written down in the first place?
- Creation Stories. The Israelites started putting together their written accounts during their exile after they were overthrown by the Babylonians. This was around 400-500 BCE. The Babylonians had a pretty violent creation story, involving their god Marduk ripping carcasses apart and using two pieces to form the earth. The Israelites did not want to embrace the same violent concept of creation. In fact, part of the process of keeping their tribe separate was to create a different creation story, one evolving from a basis of love and creativity.
- Exodus Stories. They also wrote down the Exodus story in this time period, which also happened a long time before the Babylonian exile. Note that the story of Moses and the Jewish nation in exile in Egypt was a parallel to the situation of the Jewish nation in Babylon.
- New Testament Stories. Turning to the New Testament (with the first books starting in around 50 CE with Paul’s letters), we find again the Jewish nation under the oppression of the Roman Empire. The New Testament was an attempt by the writers to instill a sense of dignity to their people, which again had been desecrated through the oppression of the Romans. This is what the gospel writers and Paul were both trying to do. Paul was all over the place in his letters, dealing with hair and women and who’s sleeping with who and all that. But then he throws in random comments such as “love is patient and kind.”
Research question the interns are working on: When was the last time God (or Yahweh) spoke directly to man? A recent lecture the Chief Editor was listening to said it was Job.