Monday, June 23, 2008

Mt. Sinai, the Temple and the Lord's Supper

I highly recommend John Davies, A Royal Priesthood: Literary and Intertextual Perspectives on an Image of Israel in Exodus 19:6 (JSOTSup, 395; London: T & T Clark, 2004)--an excellent treatment of the Exodus material.

Among other things, I love what he says on page 137: “The events of Exodus 19-24 seem to serve as a paradigm for that cult, or to put it another way, the sanctuary cult models what it means for Israel to be a royal priesthood.”
He's right on. In fact, a close analysis of Exodus' account of the Sinai experience reveals something ancient Jews made more explicit in later works, namely, that Sinai was a proto-Temple.
Let me explain.
The graded holiness of the Tabernacle (i.e., the holy of holies [=most holy], the holy place, and the outer court [=least holy] reflects the Sinai experience. Most of the Israelites remained at the foot of the mountain (Exod 19:12, 23). The leaders were permitted to ascend upwards (Exod 19:22). However, Moses alone was allowed access into the cloud at the top (Exod 24:2). See Mary Douglas, Leviticus as Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 59:
“Both Sinai and the Tabernacle evidence a tripartite division. The summit corresponds to the inner sanctum, or Holy of Holies. The second zone, partway up the mountain, is the equivalent of the Tabernacle’s outer sanctum, or Holy Place. The third zone, at the foot of the mountain, is analogous to the outer court. As with the Tabernacle, the three distinct zones of Sinai feature three gradations of holiness in descending order. Just as Moses alone may ascend to the peak of the mountain, so all but one are barred from the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle.
(Of course, implicit in this is another idea made explicit in later Jewish literature--Moses’ priesthood!)
Likewise, see Göran Larsson, Bound for Freedom: The Book of Exodus in Jewish and Christian Traditions (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 134:
“Just as here at Sinai, there came to be an area to which all of Israel had access, another reserved for the priests, and finally an inner ‘holy of holies’ into which only the high priest could enter… The model for this division is found already here, and the tabernacle becomes an important way of carrying the Sinai experience forward during the subsequent wanderings…”
Key to all of this is the covenant ratification ceremony of Exodus 24--a passage Jesus' likely alludes to at the Last Supper:
Mark 14:23: "And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (cf. Matt 26:28).

Exod 24:8:
"And Moses took the blood and threw it upon the people, and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” [Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on this verse reads, "This is the blood of the covenant"].
Much could be said here [wait for my dissertation!], but suffice it to say, if Jesus is linking the Eucharist with Exodus 24 the implications are huge.
If the Sinai experience was a Temple experience in which God's presence came to be with His people, how much more real is God's presence with His people in the Eucharistic celebration?


Peter Kirk said...

If the Sinai experience was a Temple experience in which God's presence came to be with His people, how much more real is God's presence with His people in the Eucharistic celebration?

I see your point. At Sinai the presence of God was real. But it was not located in the blood which was sprinkled. Similarly at the Lord's Supper the presence of God is real but is not located in the elements.

Brant Pitre said...

Thanks for responding, Peter,
but if you're correct, then why was Moses and the elders entry into God's presence atop the mountain explicitly tied to them eating and drinking? "They beheld God, and ate and drank" (Exod 24:11).

Isn't this intriguing: what is it that they ate and drank? My suspicion is that it is the "Bread of the Presence" (!) described just a few verses later (see Exod 25:23-30), which was offered with wine (cf. the "flagons" for pouring "libations.") The Tabernacle was meant to recapitulate the heavenly banquet atop Sinai.

Now, if the "Presence" (Hb panim) of God is located in the elements of the "Bread (and wine) of the Presence" in the Old Testament (Lev 24:1-8), then how much more in the New? This seems especially so when Jesus identifies the elements as his "body" and "blood," the latter of which was where "the life" was (cf. Lev 7:11).

Also, If Jesus' presence is not "in the elements" (as you put it), then is the old Covenant "Bread of the Presence" greater than the new? If so, then why does Jesus say that if you don't eat his "flesh" and drink his "blood," then "you have no life in you" (John 6:53). How can the "life" of Jesus be 'in' the elements but not his presence?

Just some food for thought; would love to hear what you think.

Anonymous said...

Just to respond to the first poster, yes indeed Christ is present when ever two or three are gathered together in His name: He is present very much at the recitation of the hours of the Divine Office for example, the very prayer of the Church. But the Eucharist is different: there Christ is present not merely amongst us in some real yet indefinable way, but much more concrete, under the accidents of bread and wine. If He was merely present at the Eucharist in the same way He is present at services, then the elements would be somewhat superfluous! They are not symbolic teaching aids, but the very vehicles of the divine presence itself: offered up in sacrifice, the fire of the Paraclete descends upon them, such that the substance of bread and wine burns up, such that they become the very Blood and Body of Our Redeemer, for us to feast upon to our healing or to our condemnation.

And Brant, you've got to stop posting all these juicy titbits! The level of excitement and anticpation you're creating out here with regard to your forthcoming second book is getting difficult to contain! (And the same goes for your dissertation Michael, which I hope can get published quickly as a book once you've finished!).

I've long been fascinated by Sinai as temple. Could the elders with Moses be connected with Jesus' 70?

Michael Barber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michael Barber said...


Great point. I'll have to respond in another post. Thanks so much for your comment.


Thanks for dropping in. I think you're right. There is something unique about the presence of the Lord in the Eucharistic celebration.


Thanks as always for your comment. I'm working on a post on Hebrews
where I build on what you just said.

Peter Kirk said...

Brant, thanks for the response, and Michael, thanks for the promise of one!

I have understood the Bread of the Presence as being bread which is put in the presence of the Lord, i.e. in the Tabernacle or Temple, not bread which contains his presence. And I find support for this in Leviticus 24:6, which I will quote in simplified transliteration for ease: vesamta 'otam ... `al hashulxan hatahor lipne YHWH, literally "and put them ... on the pure table to the presence of the LORD". I know most translations end this "before the LORD" (actually RSV and NRSV omit these words, presumably in error), but the lipne is a form of panim, the word Brant renders "Presence". So the loaves are in the presence of the Lord because they have been put on the pure table, so because of their location, not because of any prayer of consecration.

kentuckyliz said...

Well, then, by the same reasoning, wouldn't the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies every Yom Kippur be referred to as the Priest of the Presence?


Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.

Of course the Jews listening thought it wasn't kosher to eat human flesh and drink human blood. How can this be? After they questioned him, Jesus strengthened his position even more firmly with an oath formula: Amen, Amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you! Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.

No symbolic meaning there. Jesus lost many disciples that day who could not accept this unkosher teaching, and they left him. It is also the beginning of the doubt and turning away of Judas Iscariot.

Not believing in Jesus' real presence in the Eucharist and refusing to eat (gnaw, munch) him, like Judas? Or having faith like the other stumped apostles and disciples, that Jesus will clarify this strange teaching...which he does at the Last Supper...being willing to believe beyond appearances, mere bread and wine, a mere Galilean the son of Joseph. Just as there was more than met the eye in the person of Christ when he walked this earth, there is more than meets the eye in the Body and the Blood hidden under the appearances of bread and wine.

They call it faith for a reason.

When the God-Man Jesus swears an oath, I take him at his word, because he can neither deceive nor be deceived. God cannot lie. Any time God swears by Himself and takes on all the responsibility of the sworn covenant, um, I trust Him.

It's just the plain meaning of Holy Scripture, no gymnastics required.

kentuckyliz said...

Same token, it's not called the Law of the Presence, the Ark of the Presence, the Staff of the Presence.

Anonymous said...

But liz, the high priest bore the tetragrammaton on his forehead at Yom Kippur, he pronounced the divine name when he came out, and everyone fell to their feet to worship. The high priest was understood as in some way manifesting the divine presence in human form, which is why everyone fell down in worship. He came out not "in" the name of the LORD, but "with" the name of the LORD. The utterance of the divine name at Yom Kippur was held to renew the creation, the Word going forth from the throne to make all things new.