Thursday, February 21, 2013

Targum on 1 Chronicles 21:15

I am currently teaching a graduate level course on the Historical Books. Last night we worked through 1 Chronicles.

While preparing for the course, I came across the Targum on 1 Chronicles 21:15.
“When he [God] was destroying it [Jerusalem], he observed the ashes of the binding of Isaac which were at the base of the altar, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham which he had set up with him on the mountain of worship; [he observed] the sanctuary-house which was above, where the souls of the righteous are, and the image of Jacob which was engraved on the throne of glory, and he repented in himself of the evil which he had planned.” (Tg. on 1 Chr 21:15).
This is a fascinating passage and I just wanted to briefly post something on it. Four items stand out:

1. God is said to have withheld his judgment on Jerusalem because of Abraham's act of offering Isaac, which prompted God's sworn covenant in Abraham in Genesis 22. 

Indeed, as Hahn shows in his fine commentary, Chronicles seems to make connection between the account of David's census in 1 Chronicles 21 and the Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son. Among other things, we can note the following:
  1. In 1 Chronicles, the site at which the angel appears to bring judgment because of David's census is later identified as Moriah (2 Chr 3:1), the very place where Abraham offered Isaac. The Jerusalem temple, located on Moriah, is therefore linked with Abraham's sacrificial worship upon the mountain. The Jerusalem cult then is a presented as a kind of "reminder" of Abraham's covenant-triggering obedience, conducted in the very place where Abraham announced, "The Lord will provide himself the lamb [for sacrifice]" (cf. Gen 22:8; cf. Gen 22:13-14).
  2. Both David and Abraham are said to have "lifted up" their "eyes" (Gen 22:4; 1 Chr 21:16)
  3. The language of testing is used both in reference to Abraham in Genesis and David's census in 1 Chronciles (cf. Gen 22:1; 1 Chr 29:17)
2. The "Mountain of Worship" here is linked with a mention of God in his heavenly temple. 

Specifically, God is located in the "sanctuary-house which was above. Here we see the tradition that the "mountain of worship", most naturally taken as a reference to the temple mount, is somehow linked to the heavenly worship of the true temple. 

3. The heavenly temple is the location of the souls of the just. 

Notably, the passage speaks of "the sanctuary-house which was above" as the place "where the souls of the righteous are." Here we see something similar to that found in Revelation 6 where the "souls" are "under the altar". 

4. The "image of Jacob" is said to be "engraved" on God's heavenly throne. 

The righteous have their names inscribed in heaven, specifically on God's throne. I can't help but think here of the ark of the covenant, also identified as throne / "mercy seat". There, of course, we find images of heavenly creatures--angels. The Targum has the image of Jacob engraved on God's heavenly throne. Is the idea that he is in heaven as well? 

What do you think?


John H. said...

Point 4 particularly stood out to me. I'm not certain it's saying that Jacob is in heaven. I think maybe it is saying what the Temple is saying by it's own design. Namely, it is pointing towards a heavenly future heavenly reality for Jacob, just as the Temple itself points toward a future heavenly Jerusalem.

Michael Barber said...

That's a very thoughtful and plausible read. Thanks!

Nick said...

With respect to the limbo of the fathers, I think this is good evidence for predestination: e.g., the just engraved in Heaven = the just known to God from eternity.

It also makes for interesting eschatology: is the resting place of the just on the border of Heaven? Did the fate of the dead develop over time in Jewish Tradition? How about its relationship to the Doctrine on the fate of the just before the Redemption of man?

Brad Henry said...

Or, following my brother's comment above, what if the engraving of the picture on the throne is no mere decoration but exemplifying that which constitutes the very throne. It is picturing its establishment. In a sense, Jacob's sacrifice is, to use Wright's phrase, 'how God became king'...on Zion/Moriah...Golgotha.

Dim Bulb said...

Dr. Barber, you and others in this combox may find the following excerpt from an article by Andrei Orlov, "From Apocalypticism to Merkabah Mysticism: Studies in the Slavonic Pseudepigrapha (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, 114; Leiden: Brill, 2007)"

Vince C said...

"Here we see something similar to that found in Revelation 6 where the "souls" are "under the altar". "

This also calls to mind something I heard Dr. Hahn say on his classic audio series on the Book of Revelation. Quoting, I believe, a work called "Legends of Ancient Jerusalem"[?], he mentioned that the entrance to Sheol, the place of the dead before heaven was opened by Christ's death and resurrection, was located on the temple mount and sealed off with a large stone. Anybody else remember this?

De Maria said...

The Targums were written after Christ had established the Church, correct? In the first centuries a.d.? If so, this indicates that the ancient Jews had much in common with Catholic Theology.

That is logical because both derive from the same Theological Tradition.

The comment, the sanctuary-house which was above takes me to Gal:26.

The comment of the heavenly temple where the souls of the just are takes me back to Heb 12:21-24.

The image of Jacob on the heavenly Throne to Rev 4:4, where the elders (Patriarchs?) surround the Throne.

The comment about God remembering the ashes of Isaac, brings to mind the Cross of Christ. And if God remembers the ashes the virtual sacrifice of Abraham's son, how much more does He remember the true Passion and Death of His only begotten Son?

De Maria said...

Correction, Gal 4:26
But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.

Caroline said...

It seems to me that this Targum is referring God remembering His covenants with Abraham and Isaac through the presence of the ashes of the binding, and remembering His covenant with Jacob through the presence of the image on the throne. (In a somewhat similar manner, God remembers the Eternal Covenant when He sees the Body and Blood of Christ offered in the Eucharistic Sacrifice--at least this is what it makes me ponder.) Additionally, in this Targum God is observing the dwelling place of the righteous dead, in whose company would be included these three great patriarchs. Altogether, it seems a rather elaborate way to say that God REMEMBERED His promises and was faithful to keep them. But there is also the intriguing idea that certain physical objects and locations actually are instrumental in "reminding" God of His promises and are thus linked with true worship in some manner.

The idea of the mountaintop being the place of encounter with the divine is prevalent in the mythology of the Ancient Near East, but it is also a theme used throughout the Old and New Testaments. I was just thinking about this as I read over Sunday's Gospel--the Transfiguration. When God teaches His people and displays His glory (in many ways, including the Crucifixion and Ascension), it is very often on a mountaintop.