WordPlay: Roman Power (Ῥώμη Ῥώμη), Part 2

In part 1 we explored the connection between power and Rome on the basic level of linguistics. In part 2 we will look at the Greek usage of ρώμη in the Bible.

Greek Evidence

How often was ρώμη used by ancient Greek authors? You can see for yourself here. While  ρώμη was not the most common word for “power” or “strength,” it was used by many authors. It was not a little known or idiosyncratic word.

LXX Evidence

Ῥώμη never occurs in the most widely accepted books of the OT. However, the Greek Bible (LXX) contains a number of writings that were not included in the Masoretic Hebrew canon. Do any of these books use the term ρώμη to indicate “strength”?

It turns out that they do, but it is very unusual. 1 Maccabees has the term 12 times, all of them denoting the city of Rome, while 2 and 3 Maccabees include the word as denoting “strength,” as does Proverbs 6:8.

Here is Proverbs 6:6-8 according to the LXX (the MT is missing most of v.8):

6 Go to the ant, O sluggard; and see, and emulate his ways, and become wiser than he.

7 For whereas he has no husbandry, nor any one to compel him, and is under no master,

8 he prepares food for himself in the summer, and lays by abundant store in harvest. Or go to the bee, and learn how diligent she is, and how earnestly she is engaged in her work; whose labours kings and private men use for health, and she is desired and respected by all:

though weak in body (τῇ ρώμῃ ἀσθενής),

she is advanced by honouring wisdom (τὴν σοφίαν τιμήσασα).

The juxtaposition of weakness (or sickness) of the “(strength of the) body” (ρώμῃ), is a key Pauline idea, as we will see, as well as the preeminence of wisdom over physical strength.

2 Maccabees 3:26 has ρώμῃ, and below is the fuller context of the passage (3:7-30):

7 Now when Apollonius came to the king, and had shewed him of the money whereof he was told, the king chose out Heliodorus his treasurer, and sent him with a commandment to bring him the foresaid money.

8 So forthwith Heliodorus took his journey; under a colour of visiting the cities of Celosyria and Phenice, but indeed to fulfil the king’s purpose.

9 And when he was come to Jerusalem, and had been courteously received of the high priest of the city, he told him what intelligence was given of the money, and declared wherefore he came, and asked if these things were so indeed.

10 Then the high priest told him that there was such money laid up for the relief of widows and fatherless children:

11 And that some of it belonged to Hircanus son of Tobias, a man of great dignity, and not as that wicked Simon had misinformed: the sum whereof in all was four hundred talents of silver, and two hundred of gold:

12 And that it was altogether impossible that such wrongs should be done unto them, that had committed it to the holiness of the place, and to the majesty and inviolable sanctity of the temple, honoured over all the world.

13 But Heliodorus, because of the king’s commandment given him, said, That in any wise it must be brought into the king’s treasury.

14 So at the day which he appointed he entered in to order this matter: wherefore there was no small agony throughout the whole city.

15 But the priests, prostrating themselves before the altar in their priests’ vestments, called unto heaven upon him that made a law concerning things given to he kept, that they should safely be preserved for such as had committed them to be kept.

16 Then whoso had looked the high priest in the face, it would have wounded his heart: for his countenance and the changing of his colour declared the inward agony of his mind.

17 For the man was so compassed with fear and horror of the body, that it was manifest to them that looked upon him, what sorrow he had now in his heart.

18 Others ran flocking out of their houses to the general supplication, because the place was like to come into contempt.

19 And the women, girt with sackcloth under their breasts, abounded in the streets, and the virgins that were kept in ran, some to the gates, and some to the walls, and others looked out of the windows.

20 And all, holding their hands toward heaven, made supplication.

21 Then it would have pitied a man to see the falling down of the multitude of all sorts, and the fear of the high priest being in such an agony.

 22 They then called upon the Almighty Lord to keep the things committed of trust safe and sure for those that had committed them.

23 Nevertheless Heliodorus executed that which was decreed.

24 Now as he was there present himself with his guard about the treasury, the Lord of spirits, and the Prince of all power, caused a great apparition, so that all that presumed to come in with him were astonished at the power of God (τοῦ Θεοῦ δύναμιν), and fainted, and were sore afraid.

25 For there appeared unto them an horse with a terrible rider upon him, and adorned with a very fair covering, and he ran fiercely, and smote at Heliodorus with his forefeet, and it seemed that he that sat upon the horse had complete harness of gold.

26 Moreover two other young men appeared before him, notable in strength (τῇ ρώμῃ), excellent in beauty, and comely in apparel, who stood by him on either side; and scourged him continually, and gave him many sore stripes.

27 And Heliodorus fell suddenly unto the ground, and was compassed with great darkness: but they that were with him took him up, and put him into a litter.

28 Thus him, that lately came with a great train and with all his guard into the said treasury, they carried out, being unable to help himself with his weapons: and manifestly they acknowledged the power of God.

29 For he by the hand of God was cast down, and lay speechless without all hope of life.

30 But they praised the Lord, that had miraculously honoured his own place: for the temple; which a little afore was full of fear and trouble, when the Almighty Lord appeared, was filled with joy and gladness.

 31 Then straightways certain of Heliodorus’ friends prayed Onias, that he would call upon the most High to grant him his life, who lay ready to give up the ghost.

32 So the high priest, suspecting lest the king should misconceive that some treachery had been done to Heliodorus by the Jews, offered a sacrifice for the health of the man.

33 Now as the high priest was making an atonement, the same young men in the same clothing appeared and stood beside Heliodorus, saying, Give Onias the high priest great thanks, insomuch as for his sake the Lord hath granted thee life:

34 And seeing that thou hast been scourged from heaven, declare unto all men the mighty power of God. And when they had spoken these words, they appeared no more.

35 So Heliodorus, after he had offered sacrifice unto the Lord, and made great vows unto him that had saved his life, and saluted Onias, returned with his host to the king.

Here again we have a juxtaposition of human power and hubris (Rome as represented by Heliodorus) and divine power (ρώμῃ as the two angels). Irony is added by the play off of Heliodorus’s name, which means “gift of the sun”: he is cast to the ground and surrounded by “great darkness.” The representative of the sun beaten and cast into darkness, showing that he is not truly ρώμῃ. He even is at the point of death and is saved only by the priest sacrificing to God on his behalf.

(note: this episode is quite similar in some aspects to the Damascus Road experience of Paul)

3 Maccabees 2:4 has the last instance of ρώμῃ. The book begins with the attempt of Antiochus to enter the Holy of Holies in Jerusalem (similar to the actions of Heliodorus above). The was a profanation of the Temple and greatly distressed the Jews. Chapter 2 reads:

1 Now was it that the high priest Simon bowed his knees over against the holy place, and spread out his hands in reverent form, and uttered the following supplication:

2 O Lord, Lord, King of the heavens, and Ruler of the whole creation, Holy among the holy, sole Governor, Almighty, give ear to us who are oppressed by a wicked and profane one, who exulteth in his confidence and strength.

3 It is thou, the Creator of all, the Lord of the universe, who art a righteous Governor, and judgest all who act with pride and insolence.

4 It was thou who didst destroy the former workers of unrighteousness, among whom were the giants, who trusted in their strength (ῥώμῃ) and hardihood, by covering them with a measureless flood.

5 It was thou who didst make the Sodomites, those workers of exceeding iniquity, men notorious for their vices, an example to after generations, when thou didst cover them with fire and brimstone.

6 Thou didst make known thy power when thou causedst the bold Pharaoh, the enslaver of thy people, to pass through the ordeal of many and diverse inflictions.

7 And thou rolledst the depths of the sea over him, when he made pursuit with chariots, and with a multitude of followers, and gavest a safe passage to those who put their trust in thee, the Lord of the whole creation.

8 These saw and felt the works of thine hands, and praised thee the Almighty.

9 Thou, O King, when thou createdst the illimitable and measureless earth, didst choose out this city: thou didst make this place sacred to thy name, albeit thou needest nothing: thou didst glorify it with thine illustrious presence, after constructing it to the glory of thy great and honourable name.

10 And thou didst promise, out of love to the people of Israel, that should we fall away from thee, and become afflicted, and then come to this house and pray, thou wouldest hear our prayer.

11 Verily thou art faithful and true.

12 And when thou didst often aid our fathers when hard pressed, and in low estate, and deliveredst them out of great dangers,

13 see now, holy King, how through our many and great sins we are borne down, and made subject to our enemies, and are become weak and powerless.

14 We being in this low condition, this bold and profane man seeks to dishonour this thine holy place, consecrated out of the earth to the name of thy Majesty.

15 Thy dwelling place, the heaven of heavens, is indeed unapproachable to men.

Again we have the contrast between earthly power and the power of God. In all 3 instances kings and/or representatives of kings are contrasted with the weak in body who are strong in wisdom. Human power is therefore set up as the antithesis of divine wisdom, which is the ultimate power of God.

NT Evidence

In the NT ρώμη always means Rome. While the OT literature was read in the Roman context in the 1st century, it preceded the rise of Roman power. But in the NT Rome was always in control. The play on words was therefore implicit. When Paul says that he “must also see Rome” (Acts 19:21) the reader also heard that he “must also see power.” Paul, whose “bodily presence is weak” (2 Cor. 10:10) is the antithesis of ρώμη both in terms of Rome and bodily strength. Jesus himself was made to look weak by the powerful Rome, yet just as we saw in Maccabees this weakness was overturned by the power of God and Roman power was put to shame but the risen Christ. Jesus and Paul both carry names that denote victory through weakness when coupled with their personal stories: Jesus (“YHWH saves”) is killed by Rome but saved by God, while Paul (“small one”) was formerly the powerful persecutor Saul (“desired one”) who became weak for the sake of the Gospel.

 

Conclusion

The idea that Rome was the world power and for all intents and purposes would remain so until it was conquered by God himself was reinforced in 1st century minds by the meaning of the term for Rome itself: it literally meant “power.” This power was human and fundamentally at odds with the power of God, who sided with the oppressed and powerless. The Davidic empire in the minds of readers was just that: it was only in their minds and their texts. It was tale told about the distant past, and one that fostered the hope that their current lack of power would somehow be reversed and a Davidic ruler would again emerge to vindicate Israel and their God.

This reversal, the readers were told, would be accomplished by God and would be a result of both God’s mercy and the turning of Israel to God. It was the apostasy and sin of Israel that had resulted in their current powerlessness, and their return to God that would usher in the Messianic age and the conquering of the power of men (Rome).

For the followers of Jesus, this teaching became reinterpreted after the Resurrection. Rome had conquered Jesus, and yet Jesus had emerged victorious days later by the power of God. The intervention of God in raising Jesus was exactly what the hope of Israel should have been, in retrospect. Not a military conquest, but a victory over death itself and the power of man to inflict death. The humble and powerless Jesus on the cross had been shown by God to be the exalted and powerful Christ at the right hand of God. The hope of Israel had been transferred to another plane and register. The very idea of power had been transformed, and this transformation had been exploited by Paul, who, like Jesus, made weakness a sign of power. Not just any weakness, mind you, but weakness in bodily strength (ρώμη) coupled with power in wisdom and humility. It was the ultimate rejection of Rome and all that Rome stood for. Rather than seeking a ρώμη Israel, Jesus and Paul taught by example that weakness (non-ρώμη) was more powerful than Rome (ρώμη). Rather than living and dying by the sword, they were to live and die by the sword of God, the Scriptures. The Messiah was to return and slay the enemies of God with “the sword of his mouth” (Rev. 19:15), and in the meantime it was the words from the mouth of God (Jesus) that the followers of God were to use to bring about his kingdom.

It was, therefore, no longer a problem that Rome appeared to be in control. Their power was superficial, given that God had demonstrated his ultimate power in raising Jesus from the dead. Let the ρώμη have their ρώμη, since believers in Jesus knew that YHWH saves, not Rome. David’s kingdom fell, Rome will fall, but the kingdom of God and his Christ had been instituted and would be fully realized in the future. It was only a matter of time until Rome saw the Divine Rome (ρώμη) coming on the clouds with great power to invest the faithful with the ρώμη of God and the age of peace, the true and eternal Pax Romana.

Worship in the New Testament

I’ve come across the claim that “worship” in the NT is either a) unique or b) ubiquitous. That is to say, some people claim that only Jesus is worshipped in the NT, while others claim that many people  are worshipped in the NT.

Both claims are flawed in that they seek to absolutize the evidence into a clear principle rather than following where the evidence leads. In the OT there are several instances of worship (basically bowing) being offered to humans as a sign of respect, yet the NT authors reframed the term to make it an action that is exclusively offered to God an Jesus in the positive sense, an offered to others in a negative (idolatrous) sense. So let’s look at worship (προσκυνέω) in the NT.

(note on methodology: We will concern ourselves only with occurrences of προσκυνέω, which may leave other occurrences of worship out of the mix, but is also an objective criterion for studying how the term was used formally.)

 

Usage by Author

We find the word 60x in the NT, divided thusly:

34x (57%) in the Gospels and Acts (Mt 13, Mk 2, Lk 3, Jn 12, Acts 4)

1x (2%) in the Pauline Epistles

24x (40%) in Revelation

2x (3%) in Hebrews

If we group John’s Gospel with Revelation, the usage by John accounts for 60% of the occurrences. Even if we consider the two texts to have different authors, it is worth noting that Revelation by far has the highest frequency of use, followed by John and Matthew. Mark, Luke, Paul, and Hebrews barely use the term. The 7 Catholic Epistles never use the term.

 

Usage by Object

To what or whom was the worship directed in the NT?

In Paul (1 Cor. 14:25) the object is God.

In Hebrews the first object of worship is the Son (1:6, citing Dt. 32:43)

“Rejoice, ye heavens, with him, and let all the angels of God worship him; rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people, and let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him; for he will avenge the blood of his sons, and he will render vengeance, and recompense justice to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him; and the Lord shall purge the land of his people.” (Brenton)

The second object is unidentified (11:21, citing Gen. 37:31)

“And he said, Swear to me; and he swore to him. And Israel did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff.” (Brenton).

In Mark the object is Jesus (2x, 100%), in both cases before the Resurrection.

In Matthew the objects are Jesus (11x, 85%), Satan (1x, 8%), and God (1x, 8%). The latter 2 are mentioned in the same passage (the temptation narrative), and only 2 of the 11 times that Jesus is the object of worship are post-Resurrection.

In Luke we have the same 2 instances from the temptation narrative that Matthew recounts, 1 for Satan and 1 for God. The only other instance is directed towards Jesus post-Resurrection.

In Acts we have 2 occurrences of worshipping (God) in Jerusalem/Temple, a mention of idol worship, and Peter being worshipped.

In John we have 11 references to worship of God (10 of which are in chapter 4), and 1 of worship of Jesus.

In Revelation the first object of (future) worship are the readers in Philadelphia (3:9)

” behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”

Primarily God is worshipped (10x, 42%), and the beast/image/dragon/demons are worshipped 11x (46%). An angel is worshipped 2x (8%), and in both cases the one worshipping (the author) was corrected by the angel for such behavior.

Overall in the NT, we see this breakdown of objects of worship:

God (27x, 45%)

Jesus (16x, 27%)

Satan/Beast/Demons/Idols (14x, 23%)

An Angel (2x, 3%)

Peter (1x, 2%)

 

Conclusions

A few remarks are in order.

First, positive worship accounts for 72% of occurrences, applied only to God and Jesus, while negative worship accounts for the other 28%.

The implication is that only God and Jesus are to be worshipped, according to NT usage. However, it should be added to this that Jesus is worshipped after the Resurrection only 3x, and the remaining 13x occur from his birth to his ministry. We cannot, therefore, conclude that Jesus was only to be worshipped as the triumphant resurrected Christ. His worship was instituted when he was an infant (Mt. 2 with the visit of the Magi).

We can also add that this does not mean that the resurrected Christ was worshipped with any frequency in the NT. Although the Gospel narratives have only a short account of Jesus post-Resurrection, we do not find in the writings of Paul, Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude any mention of worshipping Jesus, God, or any other entity. They are silent on the issue, which indicates that when Jesus was worshipped post-Resurrection, it was not a new development in the NT trajectories, but a continuation of the worship that Jesus received throughout his life.

The depiction of Jesus being worshipped is largely confined to the Gospel narratives, and accounts for 23% of the total usages in the NT, and 48% of the usages in the Gospels (with God coming in a close second place at 45%).

Outside of the Gospels only Hebrews speaks of worshipping Jesus (referenced as the Son of God), and the author does so through the application of Deuteronomic song (referencing God himself as YHWH and El) to Jesus. We can ad to this that the words were said to have been spoken (or sung) to the Israelites by Moses and Jesus the son of Nun (Dt. 32:44). The author of Hebrews clearly identified the Son of God as YHWH/El, and not simply as a son of God (since the song reads “let all the sons of God strengthen themselves in him.”)

We can conclude that worship in the NT is confined exclusively to Jesus and God. Other beings are worshipped (Satan, Peter, the Beast, idols, an angel) but theses occurrences are portrayed as negative. Only Jesus and his Father, God, are the proper objects of worship according to the NT authors.

Thanks for reading!

 

Was Jesus Really a Carpenter? Part V: Bezaleel Continued

In our last installment we saw that Bezaleel and Jesus shared some very specific characteristics, making their depictions in Exodus and Mark conspicuously similar. The first 3 of the 7 points below were explored, and now we will look points 4-6.

  1. He is from the tribe of Judah
  2. He is filled with the spirit of God
  3. He has wisdom, understanding, and knowledge
  4. God “called him by name”
  5. He is a builder of “the tabernacle of the congregation”
  6. He equips the priests with garments and anointing oil
  7. His name means “in the shadow of God”

God “Called Him by Name”

Bezaleel is introduced as being specifically “called by name,” and as we will see in point 7 his name is a significant one. For now we will focus on the calling itself.

Ex. 31 could have simply said that God chose Bezaleel, but instead God tells Moses that he called Bezaleel “by name.” This emphasis of a divine calling and a particular name is significant in that it sets Bezaleel apart from the other anonymous helpers who built the Tabernacle, and also from Aholiab, who is said to have been “given with him” (“him being Bezaleel). This man is mentioned only in Exodus, and only in the account of the building of the Tabernacle. His name means “father’s tent,” the ab being “father” (like Abba), a term used in the NT for God the Father, and ‘ohel beingtent, the term used for the Tabernacle. In other words, both of the named men are very special: Bezaleel is called by name by God himself, and Aholiab is given by God to Bezaleel. Both men’s names refer to the Tabernacle.

In Mark, the first action of Jesus is to be baptized by John, with the result being that the Spirit descends on him and a voice from heaven calls him “my Son.” This endorsement and naming at baptism in front of a prophet (John) recalls the “calling by name” of Bezaleel in the presence of Moses. God calls from heaven in the presence of the greatest prophet of the time, and instead of commissioning that prophet he calls an unknown character his “son.” This name (My beloved Son) is functional, just as the name of Bezaleel is functional.

Again we see the connection between Mark 6 and Mark 1 (as mentioned in #2), strengthened by the fact that the people were “astonished” (ἐκπλήσσω) by the teaching of Jesus in 1:22 and then astonished again by his teaching in 6:2. While this astonishment is repeated twice more in Mark, the initial occurrence is first repeated in Mark 6:2, forming a conceptual link between the two accounts.

We can add to this that the later 2 occurrences deal with Gentiles being astonished at Jesus’s teaching (7:37) and the Jews in Jerusalem being astonished at his teaching directly after Jesus seems to take control of the Temple in Jerusalem (11:18). Before this episode the Temple is never mentioned by Mark, drawing another connection between Jesus’s astonishing teachings and his identity as Temple builder called by God, as well as the inclusion of the Gentiles into true Temple worship. Jesus can take over the Temple because he is the architect of it, being the Son of God (Mark 1 and throughout) and the new Bezaleel (Mark 6).

To this we can add that “called by name” in the OT is almost exclusively used of people or the Ark or the Temple, all of which are called by the name of God. This means that those “called” are under the authority and protection of God. The Temple is the Temple of God, the people are the people of God.

Here are some of the more significant instances of this:

Isaiah 62:2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.

(alluded to in Revelation 2:17 and 3:12)

Isaiah 65:1 I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name.

(cited by Paul in Romans 10:21)

This last one is particularly significant because it is found in a passage in Mark we have already discussed:

Jeremiah 7:11 Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.

(cited by Jesus in Mark 11:17 when he seized control of the Temple)

Yet the phrase “called out by name” (ἀνακέκλημαι ἐξ ὀνόματος) is used in the OT only twice, both of which refer to God calling Bezaleel. He is totally unique in this way, just as God calls only Jesus his “son” in Mark (1:11, 9:7)

(note: the example in Esther 2:14 in the link above speaks of Esther not coming before the king “unless she should be called by name,” making this significantly different than Bezaleel’s call, not to mention that the [hypothetical] call would be by a king rather than by God.)

 

He is a Builder of “the Tabernacle of the Congregation”

We have already covered this identity of Bezaleel, as well as pointed out how Jesus was seen as accomplishing the same feat (building the Tabernacle) in a metaphorical way, through his teaching and ultimately through his sacrificial death and resurrection. This “built” the Church (the congregation).

The Greek in Ex. 31 is “τὴν σκηνὴν τοῦ μαρτυρίου”, which means “the tent of witness,” but also means “the Tabernacle of martyrdom.” Tent and tabernacle are synonyms, and martyr means witness. Here we find a play on words, where the witness of Jesus as being the Righteous One comes about through his martyrdom, which God honors by raising him from the dead. His body then becomes the tent of witness to the power of God, as well as a symbol for the Church.

Bezaleel also builds the candlestick, the Ark of the Covenant, and all of the cultic items used by the priests in the Tabernacle. These aren’t mention specifically by Mark, but if we recall the incident in the Temple where Jesus kicks out the moneychangers (Mark 11), he also forbid any “vessels” from being carried in the Temple. The term is σκεῦος, used by Mark only in this passage about the Temple and in a parable about the “house of a strong man.”

This term is important in that it refers to the vessels/equipment used in the Temple (it is used like the term “paraphenalia” or “equipment” today). In Exodus 31:7 the “furniture of the Tabernacle” is ὴν διασκευὴν τῆς σκηνῆς. It should also be noted that people were referred to as being a σκεῦος, as in Acts 9:15. Not only that, but σκηνή (tabernacle) seems to be derived from a combination of σκεῦος (vessel/tool) and σκιά (shadow/shade).

The only time that Mark uses the term σκηνή is in the following passage (Mark 9:2-8):

Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.

His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.

And Elijah appeared to them with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—

because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.

And a cloud came and overshadowed them; and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”

Suddenly, when they had looked around, they saw no one anymore, but only Jesus with themselves.

This is a particularly rich passage, especially when viewed with Bezaleel in mind.

  1. This is the only passage where Mark uses the term “tabernacle,” and Peter suggests that they build 3 of them. This does not happen, of course, but building the tabernacle is the work of Bezaleel, and so it was fitting that Peter does not build a tabernacle (or three) because this was to be the mission of Jesus alone.
  2. God calls Jesus his Son, just as he called Bezaleel by name. The correspondence is strengthened by the presence of Moses in both accounts.
  3. God calls Jesus his Son in Mark only here and in chapter 1, where instead of Moses being present, John the Baptist is present. But John the Baptist in Mark 1 is the forerunner of Christ, and in Mark 9:11-13 (immediately after the passage above) Elijah as the forerunner is discussed. So in both passages we have John as Elijah, meaning that both times Jesus is called “son” by God, John/Elijah is present.
  4. In both Mark 1, Mark 9, and Exodus 31 the one called (Jesus, Bezaleel) is thought by all to be a lesser figure than the prophet(s) present. Nevertheless, God calls the one who is thought to be inferior and declares him to be utterly unique.
  5. Just as Bezaleel alone can make the holy vestments of the priests, Jesus’s garment is changed miraculously “such as no launderer on earth” could accomplish.
  6. Just as Bezaleel means “in the shadow of God,” the cloud that God speaks from in Mark 9 “over-shadows“(ἐπι-σκιάζω) them and only Jesus remains. Only Jesus emerges from the shadow of God.

We can add to this that while Mark does not tell us what Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus about, Luke tells us that they were discussing his coming “decease” in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). The English translation obscures what is really being spoken of: the Greek is ἔξοδος, literally “exodus.” This is another connection to Bezaleel, and indicates that Luke read Mark 9 with an Exodus theme in mind. This word is never used elsewhere by Luke, or any of the other Gospel writers.

The passage tells us that Jesus is the unique one, called by God to build the Tabernacle in Jerusalem through his death. Moses does not have the wisdom or the calling to do it, only Jesus, called by name in the shadow of God.

 

He Equips the Priests with Garments and Anointing Oil

Bezaleel alone has the wisdom to make the priestly vestments and the anointing oil, both of which are considered extremely holy and miraculous. While Mark says nothing of priestly vestments (τὰς στολὰς in Ex. 31) he does mention Jesus’s “garment” (ἱμάτιον) which is miraculous in Mark 9 (discussed above) and elsewhere.

Granting that this is not the exact same Greek word, we nonetheless should recognize that Exodus itself uses various terms for the priestly vestments. Mark uses ἱμάτιον 12 times, while the entire NT uses it 62 times. In the context of the length of the NT, Mark’s usage has the highest rate of occurrence of the term, and we can add to this that Matthew (who uses the term 16 times) depends on Mark for all but 2 of the occurrences. Therefore this term is especially significant for Mark as opposed to the other NT writers.

Ex. 28:4 & 31, and 29:5 mention the vestments of the priests, using the term ποδήρη, which shows us that it is indeed a valid step to include other Greek terms as synonyms for τὰς στολὰς of Exodus 31. It follows from this that ἱμάτιον could be used as a term for the priest’s vestments, and this is confirmed by Lev. 21:10

And the priest that is chief among his brethren, the oil having been poured upon the head of the anointed one, and he having been consecrated to put on the garments (ἱμάτια), shall not take the mitre off his head, and shall not rend his garments (ἱμάτια).

This same usage is found in Numbers 8:7, 21 in describing the consecration of the priests and their vestments. In Numbers 20:28 we read that Aaron, just before his death, took off his ἱμάτια and gave it to his son as a sign of the transference of the high priesthood. It is thus shown very clearly that ἱμάτιον does denote the priestly vestments in the LXX.

Perhaps the most striking usage of the term can be found in Zechariah 3, which we will examine in a later post. For now, we can simply note that the term there refers to the vestments of the high priest Jesus(!) who re-establishes the priesthood in Jerusalem.

In the Mark, the term is used 7 times of the garments of Jesus, 5 of which are in the context of miracles. His clothes are holy, and the last occurrence of the word in Mark alludes to the prohibition of tearing the garment (ἱμάτια) of the high priest (Lev. 21:10). Mark 14:63 and Matthew 26:65 have the high priest breaking this prohibition during the trial of Jesus, although Mark uses the term χιτών while Matthew uses ἱμάτιον.

The oil of anointing that is put on the priests literally makes them a messiah (anointed one). It makes people and things holy, as opposed to the oil used for lamps or cooking. Mark alone recounts that Jesus’s disciples healed through oil, and only in 6:13, following directly after the Nazareth carpenter episode. This healing with oil accompanied their preaching of Jesus’s words, which for Mark brought holiness to the people and was a priestly work. It was laying the groundwork for the true Tabernacle.

Matthew and Luke both mention oil (6 times total) but never in the context of healing with it. This is significant because Jesus in ch.6 picks the Twelve and gives them power over unclean spirits (v.7). He then tells them to take nothing with them except sandals and a staff (v.8-9). It is then said that they preached, cast out spirits, and anointed with oil. It is therefore understood (or hinted at) that Jesus had also given them oil with which to anoint the sick. This anointing with oil is unique to Mark, and found only directly after Jesus is called a carpenter. Not only that, but the superiority of Jesus over the anointing oil is shown in v.5, where Jesus heals with his own hands while his disciples heal with anointing oil obtained from him. Just as the priests are made holy with the oil from the hands of Bezaleel, Jesus provides his disciples with oil to make the people holy. Both Jesus and Bezaleel are the sources of this holiness, by the calling of God.

 

Conclusion

Just as we saw in our previous post, Mark paints Jesus uniquely as the new Bazeleel. It is unbelievable that such unique and precise descriptions could have been made unintentionally, leading us to conclude that Mark did indeed construct his description of Jesus the Carpenter to mimic that of Bezaleel the Architect. This is the meaning of “carpenter” for Mark: the one who uniquely builds the true House of God. In our next posting we will take one last look at Bazaleel, examining what is probably the most striking aspect of his description. Once again, it is totally unique in the OT and corresponds to the unique identity of Jesus in the NT.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Wordplay: Moses, the Son Drawn From the Water

I’d like to start a series of reflections on wordplays in the Bible. It will not follow an alphabetical schema, but will be a conglomeration of individual wordplays and their relevance to the stories of the bible. We will begin with Moses.

Moses

Many people are familiar with the basic story of Moses: he is born in Egypt to Israelite parents at a time when the Pharaoh has ordered the slaughter of all Israelite male infants. He is seen by the daughter of Pharaoh and she rescues and names the child. She then has Moses be raised by his own mother until weaned, at which time he returns to the Egyptian royal court.

Of course, this Moses becomes the chief enemy of Pharaoh and he ultimately helps liberate the Israelites and brings them into the desert. He receives the 10 Commandments on Sinai, leads the people, and intercedes with God to forgive the sins of the people. He is, all in all, the hero of the Pentateuch, and considered traditionally to be its author.

Hebrew or Egyptian?

Moses is a strange hero: he is both Hebrew and Egyptian.

He was from Hebrew stock, and was weened by his mother. This was important, because the breastmilk that a child received was thought to be essential to proper development. We are not talking about scientific ideas of development, but ideas that deal with identity.

Until the Middle Ages it was commonly thought that breastmilk was transmuted blood. Not only are milk and blood both nutritious and important, but it was observed that when a woman is lactating she does not menstruate. It was concluded that breastmilk was transmuted blood, and at least hinted at that the developing child in utero was also transmuted blood, or at least that it was being fed by transmuted blood.

This meant that the child and the mother were “blood brothers,” in a sense. This is fairly meaningless in most cases, but in the case of a child being fed by a woman who was not his mother, this becomes important. Moses was not fed by the Egyptians, but but his mother. He was nourished by Hebrew milk, and he developed as a Hebrew.

Yet as he grew up in the Egyptian court all of his influences (foods) were Egyptian. Not just Egyptian, but also royal. He could have been seen by Hebrews at the time as clearly an Egyptian, and by Egyptians at the time as clearly Hebrew (although his Hebrew identity was in some sources hidden or oblique). In some senses he was accepted by both Hebrews and Egyptians, and in other senses he was rejected by both.

The Meaning of “Moses”

We have briefly seen sketches of the life of Moses without getting into much detail. Yet to understand the name of Moses we need to look at the original mention of “Moses” in the Bible.

“1 And there was a certain man of the tribe of Levi, who took to wife one of the daughters of Levi.  2 And she conceived, and bore a male child; and having seen that he was fair, they hid him three months.  3 And when they could no longer hide him, his mother took for him an ark, and besmeared it with bitumen, and cast the child into it, and put it in the ooze by the river.  4 And his sister was watching from a distance, to learn what would happen to him.  5 And the daughter of Pharao came down to the river to bathe; and her maids walked by the river’s side, and having seen the ark in the ooze, she sent her maid, and took it up.

6 And having opened it, she sees the babe weeping in the ark: and the daughter of Pharao had compassion on it, and said, This [is one] of the Hebrew’s children.  7 And his sister said to the daughter of Pharao, Wilt thou that I call to thee a nurse of the Hebrews, and shall she suckle the child for thee?  8 And the daughter of Pharao said, Go: and the young woman went, and called the mother of the child.  9 And the daughter of Pharao said to her, Take care of this child, and suckled it for me, and I will give thee the wages; and the woman took the child, and suckled it.  10 And when the boy was grown, she brought him to the daughter of Pharao, and he became her son; and she called his name, Moses, saying, I took him out of the water.” (Ex. 2:1-10)

The passage ends with the explanation of the name “Moses”: it appears to mean something like “I took him out of the water” simply by reading the English of verse 10. But does it really mean this?

The Hebrew is Mosheh (מֹשֶׁה), meaning “drawn.” It first appears in Ex. 2:10, as does the first instance of the Hebrew word is from: mashah (מָשָׁה), which also means “to draw.” So it seems that “Moses” means “to draw,” or a similar idea of to be saved, to be drawn out, etc. He has a fitting name for his role in the story, both in his infancy and his adulthood. He is drawn out of the water and saved, then draws the Israelites out of Egypt and the Red Sea, thereby saving them.

Let’s look again at Ex. 2:10, this time with some glosses on word meanings.

“And when the boy was grown, she brought him to the daughter of Pharao, and he became her son; and she called his name, Moses, saying, I took him out of the water.”

How does Moses become the son of Pharaoh’s daughter? It seems that this short phrase tells us that Moses until that time had been the son of his mother, but when older he actually became the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. It is at this point that we first hear the name of the child, Moses, and it is implied that this transfer of place (Hebrew home to Egyptian court) corresponds to a transfer in family (Hebrew mother to Egyptian mother), economic status/power/education (low to extremely high), and a transfer of name (from an anonymous child to Moses). This is a watershed moment for Moses.

Note that Moses is nursed by his Hebrew mother, but not named by her. This is very strange. It is also strange that Moses would be named by an Egyptian princess, but not so strange as the name being a Hebrew name, giving away the identity of the child. The Hebrews were hated by the Egyptian Pharaoh and people at this time. It makes no sense for an Egyptian to name an adopted Hebrew child (whom she saved from her father’s orders) with a Hebrew name. It is as if she named him according to how she found him, but in a foreign language of a hated people.

Yet it cannot be denied that “Moses” is a fitting name for him, since it alludes to how he was saved from death. So we could take the fact that he was given a Hebrew name as ironic or miraculous. This name would have surely given away his identity, which is the very reason why the Hebrews were being killed at the time. Perhaps this is a literary technique that lets the reader in on a secret while the characters do not seem to notice it. The Hebrew savior was in the court of Pharaoh all along, and obviously so by his name. Yet he is never discovered as being the real threat to the Egyptian throne.

This is the understanding I had of the situation until recently when I came across a most interesting fact: Moses is an Egyptian name.

Etymologies are always open to interpretation, but here there is a consensus that “Moses” is related to the Egyptian ms, meaning “son of.” For example, “Ramses” means “son of Ra.” Moses simply means “son of.”

Yet this is tricky, since the story was written in Hebrew, not Egyptian. On the other hand, Pharaoh’s daughter would have given him an Egyptian name under “normal” circumstances. Let’s look at verse 10 again:

“And when the boy was grown, she brought him to the daughter of Pharao, and he became her son; and she called his name, Moses, saying, I took him out of the water. ”

And now let’s fill in some of the foreign terms with their conceptual equivalents:

Moses as ms (moses): “And when the boy was grown, she brought him to the daughter of Pharao, and he became her moses; and she called his name, Moses, saying, I moses(ed) him out of the water.”

Moses as drawn out: “And when the boy was grown, she brought him to the daughter of Pharao, and he became her son; and she called his name, Drawn Out, saying, I drew him out of the water.”

Moses as son: “And when the boy was grown, she brought him to the daughter of Pharao, and he became her son; and she called his name, Son, saying, I gave birth to him out of the water.”

Drawing Out

We should mention here that the name Moses as “drawing out” is fitting, and indeed it fits a little too well. The root of the Hebrew word is mashah, a word found only 3 times in the Bible. Contrast this with the nearly 800 references to Moses in the Bible, and it becomes apparent just how rare this verb is in the biblical text. But what is really striking is the three usages of the verb.

We have already seen the first: Ex. 2:10 has Moses being named in an apparent reference to mashah as “drawing out.” When we look at the only 2 other occurrences of this verb, an obvious point comes across:

2 Samuel 22:17 “He sent from above, he took me; he drew me out of many waters;”

Psalm 18:16 “He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.”

The two passages are identical, but the strangeness doesn’t stop there. It turns out that 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 are identical in all 50 verses. 2 Samuel recounts the song of David that is Psalm 18.

This means that mashah as “drawing out” occurs in:

  1. Only 3 instances in the Bible
  2. Those 3 are reduced to 2 by eliminating duplication
  3. The first explains how Moses both survived and was named (Ex. 2)
  4. The second (and third) are clearly references to the first (Ex. 2)
  5. The “drawing out” is exclusively connected to “water” and God/Pharaoh’s daughter

The Psalm and 2 Samuel do not reference Moses per se, but the righteous person in the character of David. Moses is never mentioned, except in the usage of “drawing out,” which we have seen is almost unknown as a verb in the Bible. It only occurs in 2 separate stories, the first and most important of which is the saving/naming of Moses. It is intimately connected to the character of Moses.

Yet the strangeness does not end there, because the Egyptian interpretation of Moses is “son of.” This means that the connection to water is not coincidental, and can apply to both the Moses story and the song of David:

“He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.”

can be rendered

“He (the Lord) sent me (as an apostle) from the highest (heaven); he took me out; he drew me out of many waters.”

The imagery is both of salvation and birth. Bodies of water were dangerous, and being saved from the sea, flood, etc. was an important theme in the Bible. Yet we cannot ignore the fact that infants were thought to come from “heaven” in the sense that their souls were waiting in heaven until their bodies were prepared. They were then “delivered” into the world, but quite literally “drawn out from the waters” of the womb. Salvation and birth coincide here.

Interpretation

Moses, arguably the most important human in the Bible, is introduced in Exodus 2 as surviving miraculously. No super-human intervention is explicit, but the movement from imminent death by command of the Pharaoh to being incorporated into the very family of the Pharaoh is so unlikely that is it implicitly miraculous. The name Moses will dominate the book of Exodus and the entire Pentateuch, and it is here introduced as having a meaning defined by the narrative action.

As we have seen, the meaning of the name is double. He was named by an Egyptian, and the meaning of the name in Egyptian is “son of.” This indicates that Moses is the “son of” Egypt from their perspective. Yet Moses means “drawn out,” and the significance from the Hebrew perspective is that Moses was drawn out/delivered from the waters of birth, then put into the water and drawn out again from the Nile, then drawn out of the court of Pharaoh, and finally he draws out the Hebrew people from Egypt and the waters of the Red Sea. Moses is the Hebrew savior, and the one who is saved by God.

Ultimately Moses is the son of the Hebrews, and the son of God. He saves the Hebrews and just as he was adopted by Pharaoh’s house then by God, the Hebrews had been adopted by Pharaoh’s house (in the time of Joseph, centuries prior to the Exodus) and were then (re)adopted by God.

Given that Exodus was written in a culture where knowledge of basic Egyptian words would have been commonplace, it follows that the author is utilizing both the Hebrew and Egyptian meanings of “Moses” to define his character. His early life foreshadows who he will become and what he will accomplish.

Historical Considerations

You may be asking yourself whether the Moses’ name was really “Moses,” given that it serves a rhetorical purpose in the narrative. Was he perhaps named something else, but the author of Exodus changed his name to suit the story?

We simply cannot know, but there is little reason to think that he name was invented by the author. If Moses was raised as an Egyptian after an initial upbringing as a Hebrew (until perhaps 2-6 years old when he was weaned), then it could be assumed that his Egyptian name would have likely contained the element “son of” (ms). The irony of Moses being “son of” Egypt would have been welcomed by the author, as would the Hebrew meaning of the Egyptian word, being “drawn out.” The wordplay was too good to pass over (pun intended).

Compassion and Beauty

Two final issues should be noted here: the role of compassion and the typology of Moses as a holy person. Both are significant to the identity of Moses.

“Compassion” (חָמַל chamal) is found in the Pentateuch only twice: in Exodus 2:6 where the daughter of Pharaoh has compassion on the crying infant Moses, and Dt. 13:8. Below are verses 1-10 for context:

“1 Every word that I command you this day, it shalt thou observe to do: thou shalt not add to it, nor diminish from it.  2 And if there arise within thee a prophet, or one who dreams a dream, and he gives thee a sign or a wonder,  3 and the sign or the wonder come to pass which he spoke to thee, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye know not;  4 ye shall not hearken to the words of that prophet, or the dreamer of that dream, because the Lord thy God tries you, to know whether ye love your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  5 Ye shall follow the Lord your God, and fear him, and ye shall hear his voice, and attach yourselves to him.  6 And that prophet or that dreamer of a dream, shall die; for he has spoken to make thee err from the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, who redeemed thee from bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in: so shalt thou abolish the evil from among you.

7 And if thy brother by thy father or mother, or thy son, or daughter, or thy wife in thy bosom, or friend who is equal to thine own soul, entreat thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known,  8 of the gods of the nations that are round about you, who are near thee or at a distance from thee, from one end of the earth to the other;  9 thou shalt not consent to him, neither shalt thou hearken to him; and thine eye shall not spare him, thou shalt feel no regret for him, neither shalt thou at all protect him:  10 thou shalt surely report concerning him, and thy hands shall be upon him among the first to slay him, and the hands of all the people at the last.  11 And they shall stone him with stones, and he shall die, because he sought to draw thee away from the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

The passage is about false prophets. The first section is about prophets proper, who show signs and wonders and give messages. This is what Moses did, and he was the first to do so in the Bible (excepting possibly Joseph, the other Hebrew who was in the court of Pharaoh and the savior of Israel). If a prophet counsels idolatry, they are false and are to be killed. They are an anti-Moses, worthy to be killed rather than saved because they kill the people rather than saving them.

Then the focus shifts to “regular” people: family and friends. The reader is not to have compassion on them, but to kill them. The reason is the same, but the idea of pity is inserted because we are talking about family members and not leaders/prophets. This familial compassion is what saved Moses, but ironically it was done by an Egyptian whose act of “compassion” (suffering with) on the Hebrew was what led to the suffering (passion) of the Egyptians. The Israelites had suffered under the Egyptians, and by the compassion of Pharaoh’s daughter the Egyptians experienced a passion.

Yet the Israelites are not to make that same mistake. Their enemies, the idolaters, will kill them (spiritually) if they are sympathized with. They will be their downfall, just as Moses was the downfall of Egypt. Moses, of course, was worthy to be saved and the Egyptians were justly punished, while the false prophets are not worthy of salvation and those who spare them are worthy of punishment.

The second issue is the physical beauty of Moses. This is a common theme in the extra-canonical literature, but in the Pentateuch it is especially prominent in Joseph and Moses. These two characters are also the only ones who are part of the court of Pharaoh and both save Israel. It is stated that Moses’ mother “conceived, and bore a male child; and having seen that he was fair, they hid him three months.” She hid him seemingly because of his good looks, a quality so important that it was mentioned only after his gender. This probably also helped Pharaoh’s daughter pity him, since an ugly child is an object of derision rather than pity. Moses was attractive from birth, and this helped him survive. The same was said of Joseph, whose good looks figured prominently in his story.

Conclusion

Moses is “Moses,” whether that means that he is the “son of” Paharaoh’s daughter (the Egyptian perspective) or that he was “drawn out” of the water (the Hebrew perspective). Any way you look at it, he is “Moses.” While reckoned as a son of an Egyptian, he drew out the Hebrews from the chaotic waters of Egypt. He also made the Hebrews sons of God,  as we read in Hosea 11:1, which begins with a reference to the Exodus:

“Early in the morning were they cast off, the king of Israel has been cast off: for Israel is a child, and I loved him, and out of Egypt have I called his children.”

Here Israel is a child (νήπιος, na`ar), and this word is used in Exodus initially of Moses (2:6).

It is also noteworthy that the Epistle of Barnabas (1st c. AD) interprets the Promised Land imagery of “milk and honey” as applying to the feeding of infants. Just as honey and then milk is given to infants, so too the Promised Land (Jesus) is where we (as infants) are fed and will inherit. This feeding, of course, takes place after being “delivered” from the “waters” of the Red Sea. In some sense the people were born through the Red Sea and entered as infants into the Promised Land (after the wandering through the desert, of course). It is actually through Joshua (Jesus) that this infant image reaches its climax: Joshua circumcised the people, which was normally done only when the child was 8 days old. The circumcised males were in a sense reduced to infancy, celebrated the second Passover, crossed the Jordan River in the same way as they had crossed the Red Sea, and then entered the Land of Milk and Honey (infant’s food).

Note: Anybody with kids out there might be shocked that honey was considered to be the first thing that a newborn ate. Parents are warned to not feed their children honey until they are over a year old, because there is a risk of botulism. This was not the case in ancient times, or rather we can say that the ancient view was diametrically opposed to the modern one. Not only was honey given to infants, but it was given to them before milk. It was foundational.

Moses is introduced in the Bible as a child, special from birth, and destined to be saved and adopted, just as he works with God to save and adopt the Hebrews as the people of God. He is the son of God drawn out of the water in order to make Israel sons of God and draw them out of Egypt.

Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Book of Numbers: A Strange Relationship

Let’s turn our attention to a modern mythical story based on historical facts, “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

The connection to Numbers is initially shown in this fact: Balak and Belloq are names that differ essentially only in spelling. Belloq is pronounced “bell-ock” by Jones, while a French pronunciation would be “bell-o.” Balak is pronounced “ball-ock.” Hebrew words are fundamentally consonental, meaning that Balak and Balaam are from blk and blm. Jones’ pronunciation matches that of Balak, while the French pronunciation matches that of both Balak and Balaam. It seems that Balak evokes the story of him and Balaam, and the part of Balaam played in the movie is that of Belloq.

As you might recall, Balak the king called Balaam the magus to curse Israel. In Indiana Jones it is the Nazis who employ Belloq, the French archeologist. Like Balaam, Belloq is an expert and is a free agent, unconstrained by loyalties and ethics. Like Balaam, he wants power and fame. Like Balak, Hitler wants supernatural power to destroy his enemies (Israel and all “Jewish” ideas).

Belloq dresses as the Jewish high priest, and Balaam functions as the “high” priest that God speaks to. The communication with God, or rather all of the benefits that come with it, seems to be the motivation for Belloq’s actions. He, like Balaam, is a sinister but ambiguous figure. It is the king (Balak/Hitler) that is the real danger.

So it seems that Belloq is modeled after Balaam, and that his name derives from Balaam’s employer, Balak.

Here is a link to Belloq reciting prayers in Aramaic while dressed as the High Priest. He has the Ark opened, only to have it make his head explode.

Pro-American Rhetoric and Biblical Archeology

The movie was produced by an American from a Jewish background, and so modern (and ancient) Jewish traditions about Balaam and Balak are relevant, not to mention the setting of WWII, a time that has many ties to the dangers that Israel has faced throughout history.

The irony is that the real source of power in the movie is not God, nor the Ark, but the archeologists and America. The American archeologist (Jones) saves the day, as opposed to the evil French archeologist (Belloq). The Nazi’s lose the Ark and the Americans gain it. But the Americans treat it “appropriately”: as a relic from the past that has no place in their secular plans.

(correction: It was pointed out to me that Jones never “saves the day” in the movie, even though one might be left with that impression after watching it. The Nazis only gained the Ark through Jones, since they were digging in the wrong place before he intervened. Likewise, the Ark destroyed the Nazis when they opened it. Jones simply survived and cashed in on the find. The Ark was never really a power that the Nazis could manipulate. Yet it remains that the heroes are American and the villains German and French.)

Even though the archeologists affirm the reality of the Biblical stories (e.g. the Ark is real and has real power) there is no recognition that such stories are indeed true. The characters act as if what is really true is what they can affirm: the Ark exists, and for some reason it has power. The interpretation stops short of explaining the power of the Ark as stemming from the truth of the Biblical stories. Instead, the Biblical stories are awarded the status of having at least a shred of truth to them, since the Ark was found and it reflects the same Ark of the Bible. But the realm of truth is explicitly within the confines of archeology, not Scripture.

Belloq candidly tells Jones “You and I are very much alike: archeology is our religion.”

The Ark is of no real interest to the Americans, since the real power in the modern world cannot be from an ancient relic. The real power is the atomic bomb.

America stores the useless Ark and drops the atomic bombs to end WWII. The legends about the power of the Ark are indeed true, but irrelevant in the face of atomic power. WWII was, in reality, saved by atomic rather than divine power.

It is this same power that led to the reconquest of Canaan in the 20th century, the establishment of the State of Israel. It is this atomic power that keeps this country in existence, threatening the enemies of Israel like God used to threaten them in the Biblical stories. God is no longer needed, of course, now that we have real power to save ourselves.

The Samaritan Book of Jesus, the Apocalypse of John, and the Book of Numbers

The Samaritan Chronicle/Book of Joshua has a number of interesting features, one of which we will explore here. There is a problem with the mention of a certain “Balak” (spelled in most English translations as “Balac”) in Revelation 21:14.

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

What was this “stumblingblock”?

Our journey begins in the desert of Numbers 22-24, where Balak is first introduced and the traditional account is given. We will then look at the Jewish and Samaritan traditions associated with the story, concluding that Revelation 21 references a tradition not found in the canonical text of the Bible, but in extra-canonical Jewish traditions.

The Account in the Numbers

Numbers 22

1 And the children of Israel departed, and encamped on the west of Moab by Jordan toward Jericho.

2 And when Balac son of Sepphor saw all that Israel did to the Amorite,

3 then Moab feared the people exceedingly because they were many; and Moab was grieved before the face of the children of Israel.

4 And Moab said to the elders of Madiam, Now shall this assembly lick up all that are round about us, as a calf would lick up the green [herbs] of the field:– and Balac son of Sepphor was king of Moab at that time.

5 And he sent ambassadors to Balaam the son of Beor, to Phathura, which is on a river of the land of the sons of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, a people is come out of Egypt, and behold it has covered the face of the earth, and it has encamped close to me.

6 And now come, curse me this people, for it is stronger than we; if we may be able to smite some of them, and I will cast them out of the land: for I know that whomsoever thou dost bless, they are blessed, and whomsoever thou dost curse, they are cursed. 

Here we read that Balaam (whose name means “not of the people”) is summoned from Mesopotamia to the land of Canaan by the King of Moab, Balak (whose name means “destroyer”).

He is summoned because Israel has crossed the Jordan River after fleeing Egypt and they have destroyed the Amorites, leaving his people in a state of terror. Would the murderous Israelites claim Moab as their next victims?

Instead of waiting for the carnage, King Balak decides to hire the famous sorcerer/prophet/soothsayer Balaam to use his supernatural abilities to defeat Israel. Balaam had a proven reputation for doing such things successfully. King Balak resorts to this plan as a last ditch effort to avoid complete annihilation.

Below is an excerpt from the message from Balak to Balaam as found in the Samaritan Chronicle, chapter 3.

Perchance now, our condition will be improved through thy agency, and thou wilt curse this people, and wilt prevail over them and effect a change in present circumstances through thy renown which is spread abroad, and the dignity of thy authority in consequence of thy circumstances, riches and servants;

and there will be glory to us and to thee among all kings, in addition to what reward will be added unto this, in consideration for thy grand beneficence toward a people whom no country can obtain, and whose numbers are countless and beyond reckoning;

for thou wilt have prevented a multitude from being murdered by fire.

For the character and manner of this army is, that it is not restrained by a feeling of shame from an old man, nor does it accord protection to a woman, or have pity on a child, or show compassion toward an animal; for they do nothing else but murder with the sword, and stone to death with stones, and crucify, and burn with fire: yea, this is its custom, and it does not allow any mercy to be shown, or protection to be granted, unto any and it spares not even a leafless palm branch in its annihilating and destroying.

By God, O our master, hasten unto us, bringing with thee whatever is necessary, and be not wanting unto us in this matter which involves the preservation of life, and we will reward a good deed with its like, and an evil deed with its like. And now, peace.

The reader is conflicted on the issue of the killings. The Israelites are portrayed as murderous destroyers who will not have mercy even on the elderly and children. The crucify and burn people, and even treat animals in the same manner. They seem to fit the definition of Balak, “the destroyer.”

But they are also understood by the reader to be holy, or at least obedient to the orders of God. Balak’s offer of money and fame to be given to Balaam in return for his cursing of the Israelites is repugnant, but his plea “thou wilt have prevented a multitude from being murdered by fire” is hard to ignore. This man was desperate to prevent his people’s extermination, or so the story goes.

Another shocking aspect is that King Balak writes of “God, our master.” Is this the same God of the Israelites? It appears to be so, and the implication is that the Moabites, Midianites, and other Canaanites were not simply “ignorant pagans” but were people that should have known better than to serve idols. In some sense they knew God, although not to the extent of the Israelites.

This fits in with the reasons for the Canaanite conquest and slaughter: it was punishment on the Canaanites for their sins, not a reward to the Israelites for their virtues. The Israelites were told that if they worshipped idols they would be killed and expelled from the Land just as they killed and expelled the Canaanites. The land belonged to God, not the Canaanites or Israelites.

On the other hand, “God our master” is probably a translation of “El our Baal” rather than “El our Yahweh.” In either case, both “God” and “Master” are terms used for the Jewish God and the god/s of the Canaanites. The words are the same, but the references differ.

Balaam’s Response

I will treat with due respect your rights, and the rights of those who urge you on in this message;

but my action is controlled by the One whom I serve, if He gives me permission to go with you, I would accomplish your desire and the desire of those who urge you on in the message, and I would accomplish their (the children of Israil’s) destruction, and in the end complete their annihilation, and would leave unto you a memory, for which you would praise me to the end of the ages.

And now decide to lodge with me this night, and I will hear what shall be addressed unto me, and we will wholly act in accordance therewith, whether it be of good or evil. (Sam. Chron. 3)

Balaam is a difficult character to figure out. He is obviously evil, in that he is willing to curse Israel for money and (primarily) fame. He is already famous for cursing and blessing people, as well as interpreting dreams. His technique seems to have been to offer sacrifices and praise to God, and then await a message during his sleep. This smacks of idolatry, but it works! He claims that his actions are controlled by God, “the One whom I serve.”

For some reason God speaks to Balaam and Balaam repeats what the Lord has told him. He does not change the message or manufacture it himself, as false prophets do. He seems both righteous and unprincipled at the same time. One thing is for certain, and that is that God does indeed speak to Balaam.

Balaam’s Refusal

At first Balaam is told by God to refuse to go with the elders of Moab and Midian, because their request is against Israel (Num. 22:9-12). God is in the business of blessing Israel (at least at the moment). A second delegation is then sent to Balaam, and his response is this:

If Balac would give me his house full of silver and gold, I shall not be able to go beyond the word of the Lord God, to make it little or great in my mind. (Num. 22:8)

This is the stand of a true prophet. Again this is shocking since Balaam was not an Israelite, he lived in Mesopotamia, and he was associated with cursing for monetary gain. He is the one who is “not of the people,” and in this story it seems that he is both not of the Israelites and not of the Canaanites (Moab and Midian). He is from where Abraham’s original country, a land of both Eden and idolatry.

Balaam is a contradiction, and it is worth noting that “Baalim” and “Balaam” are very close phonetically, with Baalim being the plural of “Baal” (Lord) a deity worshipped by the Israelites which they inherited from the Canaanites. This idolatry leads to the split of the Kingdom of Israel, and the destruction of the Northern Kingdom, followed by the destruction of the Southern Kingdom and the Temple. This is the same idolatry that is foreshadowed in Numbers 25, directly following the Balaam/Balak story.

Israel and Judah then see their people deported to precisely where Balaam is from (Mesopotamia); their conquest of Canaan was all for nothing because they turned to idolatry. They followed the Baalim rather than Balaam. The Babylonians came just like Balaam, to do the will of God (destroying Israel and Judah, Samaria and Jerusalem, Bethel and the Temple). They Babylonians  cursed Israel and destroyed it, showing Israel to be no better than the Canaanites, but rather they were two peas in a pod, so to speak.

Balaam Accepts

After the arrival of the second delegation, Balaam receives this message from God:

20 And God came to Balaam by night, and said to him, If these men are come to call thee, rise and follow them; nevertheless the word which I shall speak to thee, it shalt thou do.

21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.

22 And God was very angry because he went; and the angel of the Lord rose up to withstand him. Now he had mounted his ass, and his two servants were with him.

23 And when the ass saw the angel of God standing opposite in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand, then the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and [Balaam] smote the ass with his staff to direct her in the way. (Num. 22-20-23)

This is the famous story of “Balaam’s Ass,” where eventually Balaam’s donkey speaks. We won’t delve into this aspect of the story, since we are looking at other considerations. It seems unusual that Balaam is told to go with the delegation, and then God is very angry with him for doing so.

He arrives in Canaan and goes with Balak to survey the Israelites from a mountain overlooking the plain. Balaam goes through his process of conjuring, but the result is that the Holy Spirit speaks to him parable that Israel will be blessed rather than cursed.

Again the reader’s expectations are challenged, in that the sacrifice and praise are from a Gentile sorcerer, and yet God honors the actions by speaking to him. This would be scandalous to a pious Jewish reader in antiquity, since even the High Priest of Israel could only enter the Holy of Holies once a year. The Holy of Holies was entered not just to smear the blood of the Yom Kippur sacrifice on the altar, but to be in the presence of the Dabar, the place that God spoke from.

The Dabar was another name for the Holy of Holies, and shows the function of the cultic space: to receive an oracle from God (dabar is approximately the same in meaning as “word,” or more specifically λογος). To hear from God was so unusual and holy that the most holy in Israel (the High Priest) could only enter once a year and he did so under fear of death. Balaam, on the other hand, has no qualms or fears about conjuring God with the intention of cursing Israel by their own God. To say that Balaam has chutzpah would be an understatement. He is remarkably comfortable with God, and is on speaking terms even though he isn’t (it appears) one of God’s “Chosen People.” Instead he is “chosen” by Balak, but God then chooses to use Balaam for his own ends. In this sense Balaam is doubly chosen, while remaining a pagan magus.

Balak then tells Balaam to move to a different spot and repeat the process. The altars are built, animals sacrificed, and again God speaks to Balaam a blessing on Israel rather than a curse. The following is an important part of the blessing:

For there is no divination in Jacob, nor enchantment in Israel; in season it shall be told to Jacob and Israel what God shall perform. (Num. 23:23)

The practices spoken against seem to describe what Balaam does, and it foreshadows the downfall of the Israelites in Numbers 25. But at this point in the story the Israelites are not idolaters, and so they are blessed. Balaam is also blessed, in that he has conversation with God yet again, and he survives.

King Balak is understandably upset at the messages given by Balaam, who in turn protests that he can only say what is told to him by God. King Balak suggests moving to a different location, and Balaam agrees. The sacrifices are made again, and again a propitious blessing is pronounced on Israel. This continues until the messages from God turn to curses on the Canaanites as well as messianic prophecies. All in all, four sets of prophecies/parables were given, all in favor of Israel and against the Cannanites.

Resignation

The only thing left for King Balak to do is complain and send Balaam home, which is exactly what he does. The story ends there. The situation has been decided, and Balak’s plan was foiled. He has only to await death for him and his people now.

But impending death has a way of motivating people. Did Balak really give up and go home at this point?

Numbers 25

Although the episode with Balak and Balaam seems to have ended in Numbers 25 with the return of both men to their respective homes, this reading is challenged by the following verses in Numbers 25.

1 And Israel sojourned in Sattin, and the people profaned itself by going a-whoring after the daughters of Moab.

2 And they called them to the sacrifices of their idols; and the people ate of their sacrifices, and worshiped their idols. 3 And Israel consecrated themselves to Beel-phegor; and the Lord was very angry with Israel.

The reader expects that when Balak goes home Moses and the Israelites will attack him. Instead we see that the statement in Numbers 24 that Israel did not practice divination is shown to now be false. The people have broken the essence of their covenant with God and have become like the Canaanites and Egyptians, worshipping idols. The story has taken a terrible turn.

4 And the Lord said to Moses, Take all the princes of the people, and make them examples [of judgment] for the Lord in the face of the sun, and the anger of the Lord shall be turned away from Israel.

5 And Moses said to the tribes of Israel, Slay ye every one his friend that is consecrated to Beel-phegor.

God tells Moses to basically crucify the leaders of the people, presumably as a punishment and a way of atoning for sin. Moses changes the message to that of killing all who worshipped the idols (although perhaps it amounts to the same thing). The deity they are said to have worshipped is “Beel-phegor,” or “Baalpeor” in the KJV. The name means “Baal (Lord) of Peor (the gap).” Here again we have the play on words between Balaam and Baal:

Balaam of Peor blesses Israel, and Israel blesses Baal of Peor.

The Gentile sorceror is righteous and listens to exactly what God tells him, while the circumcised and chosen Israelites do not listen to God and worship idols. The Israelites cannot be defeated by men or curses, unless such men or curses are from God. Their one strength is obedience to God, and their one weakness if infidelity towards God. Balaam, on the other hand, is obedient to God in spite of his character being associated with idolatry.

The account continues:

6 And, behold, a man of the children of Israel came and brought his brother to a Madianitish woman before Moses, and before all the congregation of the children of Israel; and they were weeping at the door of the tabernacle of witness.

7 And Phinees the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, and rose out of the midst of the congregation, and took a javelin in his hand,

8 and went in after the Israelitish man into the chamber, and pierced them both through, both the Israelitish man, and the woman through her womb; and the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.

9 And those that died in the plague were four and twenty thousand.

The actions of Phineas are ironic, in that the first wife of Moses, Zipporah, was the daughter of Midian’s priest. Moses left Midian to free Israel from Egypt, and now he returns to Midian to destroy it. We can add to this that King Balak is initially identified as “the son of Zippor.” The names are the same, and it is strange that Moses marries a foreign woman who is named after a foreign king. Not to mention that she is the daughter of the “priest of Midian,” who must have been a priest of Baalim (or so it would seem). Moses not only marries his daughter, but lives in Midian and shepherds his flock. Jethro (the priestly father-in-law) also seems to support the mission of Moses. He might be a priest outside of the Israelites, but he respects God nonetheless. He is ambiguous in this respect, like Balaam. Both are “pagan” religious leaders, at least in some sense.

Jethro, in fact, is shown in Exodus 18 to rejoice that the Israelites were led out of Egypt, and he even sacrifices to God. The Israelites eat from his sacrifice to God.

And Jethro the father-in-law of Moses took whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices for God, for Aaron and all the elders of Israel came to eat bread with the father-in-law of Moses before God. (Ex. 18:12)

It also casts the marriage of Moses to a Midianite woman Zipporah in a negative light, in that the context of this story associates idol worship with consorting with foreign women (a dominant theme in the OT). But Moses picked his bride and followed God alone, while the Israelites here were seduced by the women and so worshipped their gods. The deciding factor is fidelity to God, not ethnic heritage or tribal affiliation.

Finally, the 24,000 who died are said to have been killed by a plague, in contradiction to both the instructions of God (to crucify the leaders) and Moses (to have the tribes kill their brothers). The incident is a recapitulation of the Golden Calf incident, when Israel worshipped an idol while God was speaking to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The result was Moses telling the Levites to go through the camp killing people, and God struck the people with a plague (see Dt. 9). In Numbers 25 we have the same idolatry followed by almost indiscriminate killing by the command of Moses, followed by a plague by God.

Conclusion

Our introduction to the traditional account in the book of Numbers has come to an end. What remains is to explain why the author of Revelation wrote what he did.

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.

He obviously is referencing the actions in Numbers 25, but he is attributing them to Balaam and Balak, who are nowhere to be found in Numbers 25. How can this be explained? We will answer this question in a post to follow.