Posts Tagged ‘Torah’

458 B.C., when Iranians and Jews worked together

June 20, 2015

The God of Providence sees to it that his people have opportunity for historical renewal when it becomes necessary.

Such is the lesson that this Christian believer distills from my reading of a scholarly treatise in biblical history and theology, written by Kyong-Jin Lee: The Authority and Authorization of Torah in the Persian Period,  (Peeters 2011)

Now I am no scholar. However, I am a student of history; I have appreciated this book, and managed to learn from it, even though it was written mainly for academic scholars.

Professor Lee explores the working relationship between 5th-century BCE Achaemenid rulers and the the local priests whose leadership legitimatized Persian channels of authority throughout their vassal countries.

Following well-worn paths of scholarly research, Kyong-Jin Lee examines several case studies in which the ancient Persian kings and their appointees consistently worked within pre-existing channels of local authority, religious and political, to collectively maintain a Pax Persicus. Her exegesis reveals a modus operandi of very practical Persian administrations. Regional satrapies, appointed by the Achaemenid King, generally sought to understand how each vassal state had habitually operated religiously and politically. Then the dutiful satraps  acted in an informed manner to legislate effectively. Utilizing native leadership, the Achaemenids would work to construct productive channels for effective localized administrations. Thus a network of King-appointed priests or governors worked to maintain peace and order throughout the Persian empire.

Through Kyong-Jin Lee’s careful analysis of steles and documentary fragments from Egypt and Asia Minor antiquity, a consistently Persian legislative approach to governing emerges for the reader. It is inclusive, cooperative and ultimately pragmatic. Her chosen precedent case studies help the reader gain understanding about  the main object of Lee’s study: the working relationship between king Artaxerxes and his emissary to the Jews of Jerusalem, Ezra the scribe. About ~458 BCE.

This Christian reader has little experience navigating the meticulous academic exegeses of such scholars as Peter Frei, Joseph Blenkinsopp, Lisbeth Fried, Juha Pakkala and other noteworthy scholars upon whose research Kyong-Jin Lee builds her case. Nevertheless, I must say:

Reading this book has been quite a learning experience for me.

Circa the 5th-century BCE, the rise of the Achaemenid Persians under the conquerors Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, brought about new political conditions favorable for the Jewish people, who had been deported to Babylon about seventy years earlier by Nebuchadnezzar. By an edict of the Persian king Artaxerxes, the Babylonian Jewish scribe Ezra was commissioned to travel to Judea on a fact-finding mission which eventually became a Persian-backed restoration of Jewish religious practice in Jerusalem. Imagine that. This development contributed not only to political stability in the Judean “beyond the River” satrapy, but incidentally also contributed (Providentially, from my faith perspective) to Torah, and later the written Bible.

So I find my 21st-century Biblical reader-self feeling cognitive gratitude to these Persian monarchs of long ago–Cyrus, Darius, Artaxerxes, whose benevolent rulership facilitated a rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and hence the continuing worship of Y__H. Therefore, this believer infers this historical lesson:

After a time of great trial–an era of captivity and chastisement under an oppressive (the Babylonian) empire– the God of history can arrange for the restoration of his people. He can raise up foreign potentates to facilitate their homeland aliyah, and thereby allow the ministrations of the loving, Providential God to continue among them through the ages, right up to the time of his supreme Sacrifice for the good of us all, such a time as then and now, when a Passover lamb would no longer be necessary.


Dust of the Ground, Elements of the Earth

October 21, 2012

In his best-selling book, the Torah, which was later expanded to become the Bible, Moses wrote that God formed man from the dust of the ground.

In his best-selling book, the Origin of Species, which was later expanded to become a basis for evolutionary science, Darwin posited that man descended through natural selection from the elements of the earth.

What’s the difference between these two traditions?

Mainly, the difference is that word “God.”

Either way you look at it, mankind has a pretty muddy past, and probably a muddled future. However, if you accept the inclusion of “God”  in your cosmology,  your chances of getting cleaned up are probably better.

Glass half-Full

“The Peril of too Fierce a Zealotry”

June 12, 2010

We adherents to Abrahamic monotheism have a lot to talk about.
Let’s compare the concept of God as One (not many) to a tree that was planted long ago. We’ll think of it as, say, an olive tree.
Abraham had carried the seed stock from Mesopotamia, and planted it on a dusty site near the Jordan River. But the plant didn’t really produce much until Moses came along later and fertilized it with a rich historical accounting of deliverance from slavery, and a set of laws.
That Judeo-culture has proliferated widely over four thousand years or so, and still flourishes prolifically today in the dry, rich soil in which it was planted, so to speak.

Moses made his legacy especially potent by sowing into Jewish history the powerful story of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery.
Having escaped that bondage, however, the Jewish people found themselves out in the desert without Egyptian comforts and provisions. It was a very difficult and perilous situation for a million or so people to endure.   Moses reported in his Torah that at one point, he and his brother, Aaron, had a bloody rebellion on their hands.

The  authority issues in that long-ago rebellion of Korah’s followers against Moses eventually culminated in a demonstration of God’s appointment of who would carry the “holy fire” of the altar, and divine leadership. As it turned out, Moses and Aaron came through the ordeal carrying the fire of God’s revealed will to perpetual generations, while the rebels were rejected by God in subsequent earth-shaking events.

That series of events, known as Korah’s rebellion (Numbers chapter 16) is a thorny subject for any scholar or believer to explain. Nevertheless, the young Adele Cohen recently accepted that challenge as a part of her bat mitzvah. Roger Cohen shared a bit of  his daughter’s ceremonious Torah-talking in his NYT column last Thursday.

The young lady perceptively pointed out to her congregation that God had had some trouble relating to his people, so he appointed Moses and Aaron as intermediaries. 12-year-old Adele  said: “In my opinion that is the main reason that God has Moses and Aaron, to help Him understand the human race and help fix conflicts in a calm and rational way.”

When I read that, I was thinking: if  God had become a man, instead of just speaking through one, he might have had a better time composing a message that we humans could get a hold of.

Adele’s father, Roger, on the other had, had his cognitive wheels turning around contemporary events, as he listened carefully to his daughter’s discourse. The ever-vigilant columnist was considering her youthful counsel as it might peradventure pertain to Israel’s present predicament, especially this week’s hot spot, the  Mavi Marvara incident. When she had finished speaking, the rabbi elaborated upon her subject of how God gets his messages across to his people.

Rabbi Bachman compared God’s word to a fire.  He said, “..if you get too far from it you freeze, but if you draw too near to it you burn…The word of God can actually destroy you if you get too close.”
That seems to be what’s happening to the Israeli zealots now. They are destroying their own legitimacy, undermining their own authority. Roger, sitting there in a receptive mode, muses that they are “modern-day absolutists…cleaving too close to the fire” of what God is reported to have said. The IDF have taken their self-appointed fire-bearing too far.

Better to lighten up and allow us other sons of Abraham to have a say in the matter.

Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.