Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reflections on SBL: Otto gives a stimulating talk on the Pentateuch

Much of the significance of SBL comes in private interaction between scholars outside of the official sessions. In fact, between the meetings we had with colleagues, it was especially hard this year to take in many of the sessions. One I did get to attend featured Eckart Otto, a very famous "elder statesmen" of Pentateuchal studies. Otto gave an impassioned appeal for greater attention to the Pentateuchal narrative when interpreting Pentateuchal law. He argued that the narrative has an intentional "hermeneutical function" that guides the reader into understanding the relative significance of the various codes of law present in the Pentateuch.

I resonated with Otto's basic message. After all, when Paul says that the "law was added because of transgression" (Galatians 3:19) or Jesus says that "Moses permitted ... for the hardness of your hearts," I think both are examples of allowing the Pentateuchal narrative to supply a hermeneutical (interpretive) function. To wit, both Jesus and Paul observe that some of the law of the Pentateuch was given in response to, or in consideration of, the failures of the people of Israel to live up to God's highest ideals for them. Therefore, not all of these laws are universally binding moral norms.

In any event, I believe it will be a good thing for Pentateuchal studies if more scholars heed Otto's call for greater attention to the narrative context of law.


Anonymous said...

In 2 Maccabees 3, the temple is identified with the people, and vica-versa. The people are holy, the Temple is holy, so God dose not permit the temple to be defiled. However, in 2 Maccabees 5:17-18, the temple, again identified with the people and vica-versa, is defiled because the people are defiled, i.e., on account of their sins. Hence, the temple and the people are inseparable in Judaism: without a temple, there is no people, and, without a people, there is no temple.

This, it seems, ties in with Jesus and the Catholic Church: Jesus and the Church are One because Jesus is the New Temple and the Church is His New People. Because Jesus is Holy, so is the Church Holy. The sins of the people do not defile Jesus because He has, as the Lamb, taken them upon Himself and been sacrificed once and for all on the Holy Cross.

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sophie said...

Since before there was a temple considered as the most sacred. Showing reverence will help maintain the holiness.