O! ROT! Part V

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While Part IV of this series covered the Exodus itself, this post will focus on the Sinai covenant.  This will be the last post in the series for a while, as I'd like to take a break and cover some other topics.

The importance of the covenant formed at Sinai is that it established a formal relationship between the people and their deity as divine liberator.  "...the deity had liberated them, and now constituted the group as his people; so their proper response was to obey his commands and laws in running their corporate and individual lives as his subjects."1

The Tabernacle

We begin with archaeological background related to the tabernacle.  If there were no tabernacle-like structures during the time of the exodus and/or if tabernacles were common during or after the exile, this would lend credence to "critical orthodoxy," which, as we have seen, claims that Judaism as it appears in the Bible was invented during the exile.  However, if there are analogous structures during the time of the exodus or before, then it is entirely possible that there was a tabernacle, later to be replaced by Solomon's temple.

As it turns out, there is a fair precedent of tabernacles, both sacred and secular, in the 3rd, early 2nd, and late 2nd millenia.  Two in particular were discovered in the 1920s at the Giza pyramids in the tomb of a queen of Egypt.  Being in a tomb, they were still intact (except for the cloth), though dismantled - one secular, one sacred.  There are also pictures and writings of tabernacles, both in Egypt and Ugarit.

The closest analogue to the biblical tabernacle was the tent set up by Ramesses II on the eve of the Battle of Qadesh, shown in the temple war scenes he erected.  "His rectangular tent (like the tabernacle) was divided into two parts, with an outer room twice the length of the inner room of the king himself.  In some representations the inner room has figures of divine falcons facing each other and shadowing the royal name with their wings, much as the cherubim did for the cover of that ark in the tabernacle.  The outer court with palisade sets the king's tent apart precisely as did the curtained-off court of the tabernacle.  Both courts were rectangular, in strong contrast to first-millennium usage, when Assyrian camps were regularly round or oval, more economical of space.  Any Hebrew account of first-millennium date should have had a round, not rectangular, court.  Egypt's four army divisions would have camped on the four sides of the king's enclosure, like the four groups of three tribes each on the four sides of the tabernacle court."2

The Jewish tabernacle was very modest in size, with a maximum scale of 15 by 45 feet; in comparison, the personal temple of Ramesses II was much larger - 200 by 600 feet.  As far as transportation, six wagons and twelve oxen (Num. 7:3-8) seems feasible.  Ramesses IV in a massive expedition of 8,300 people used ten wagons and several oxen for each wagon.

Within the tabernacle sat the Ark of the Covenant.  The ark is very similar to that of a box from Tutankhamun's tomb; further, the idea of an empty sacred throne is not without precedent, as depictions in the Deir el-Bahri temple show a portable but empty "lion throne", with the invisible or absent occupant symbolized by a feather fan.

As far as personnel, inductions, rituals, and offerings, there are some similarities between those found in the OT to contemporary peoples.  The rituals and celebrations in the Hebrew festival calendar are by no means out of the realm of possibility, as Egypt had far more elaborate celebration calendars.

There are far too many other points of comparison to mention.  "Thus, for the Sinai tabernacle, in retrospect, we possess a considerable - and growing - amount of valuable comparative data that favor the hypothesis that a small but well-decorated dismountable tent shrine (based on usages of its time) accompanied the Hebrews from Sinai to Canaan, its rituals being of appropriate modesty in extent and format."3

The Covenant

Kitchen traces the development of treaty, law, and covenant, splitting it into six chronological phases.  "It is vitally important to understand that the documents of each phase are sharply different in format and full content from those in the phases before and after them.  There is no ambiguity.  Only II has traits that reappear in V.  Thus this sequence presents us with a very clear and precise framework for dating further examples such as newly excavated and published finds, and also the Sinai covenant."4

There are some eighty to ninety documents of this type from the ancient Near East; because of the sheer number, it is impossible for me to summarize adequately, so I can only give you the conclusion.  "Sinai and its two renewals - especially the version in Deuteronomy - belong squarely within phase V, within 1400-1200, and no other date.  The impartial and very extensive evidence sets this matter beyond any further dispute.  It is not  my creation, it is inherent in the mass of original documents themselves, and so cannot be gainsaid, if the brute facts are to be respected."5

Now, the implications of this conclusion are important.  The first is simply that there is no way out from the facts.  Second, the characteristic format strongly suggests the writer came from a royal court, as private citizens had no access to such formatting and style of formal documents.  So it could not have been made by the delusion leader of some runaway slaves who have little to no understanding of formal writing.  The conclusion is obvious; the leader must have been educated, and probably in an Egyptian court.  The biblical account of Moses' upbringing is certainly a plausible explanation.

Third, "that the bulk of Deuteronomy in form and content is irrevocably tied to usage in the late second millennium is a fact that clashes horribly with the hallowed speculations about the origins and history of 'Deuteronomic' thought that have been developed across two hundred years, and in particular with the last sixty years and with the 'minimalism' of the last decade or so."6  Here Kitchen provides the most thorough summary and critique of the Documentary Hypothesis (a.k.a. the Wellhausen Hypothesis).  We've touched on it several times throughout these reports, so it might have been difficult to get a grasp on the theory.  Here's my own brief summary.  First, it should be noted that the theory is essentially a priori, as it depends solely on the biblical text itself, not any external evidence such as archaeology.  The idea is that the book of Deuteronomy was written in the seventh century, and that this sparked the reforms of Josiah in 621.  This then formed the thinking of the prophets and writers that followed, in the end producing a continuous 'Deuteronomic History' from Moses down to the Babylonian exile.  So, based on this theory, it is all either adapted history to fit the theology or completely fabricated 'history' molded by the theology.  There are many other details, but that's the basic gist.  Needless to say, under the scrutiny of actual historical inquiry, it fails catastrophically.  See Kitchen's book for a summary of its many shortcomings.7

Fourth and finally, an interesting discrepancy emerges.  The form of the covenant is clearly 2nd millennium, yet the actual language of the Hebrew recorded in the Bible is not from that period; it is from somewhat later.  Further, there are large sections in which Moses is referred to in the third person, and if Moses were to have written the entire Torah, there are some of the awkward issues such as his recording his own death.8  Kitchen's take is that 1) some of the passages were written by a scribe in third-personalize dictation, 2) others represent a write-up of the text either a short time after the events described or after Moses' death, and 3) the entirety of the work was transcribed many times, with grammatical and spelling changes made to modernize the text.  This was a universal practice in the ANE, and the scribes were very accurate.  We have Egyptian, Mesopotamian (Sumerian and Akkadian), Hittite, Ugarite, and other texts exemplifying this.

To end the chapter, Kitchen summarizes previous discussion about the dating of the exodus (found in report #5), and pegs the date of the exodus at 1260/1250BC.

1.  Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, p. 274
2.  Ibid., p. 278
3.  Ibid., p. 283
4.  Ibid., p. 285
5.  Ibid., p. 287-8
6.  Ibid., p. 299
7.  That's not so say OROT is the only source to find such a critique.  There are others as well.  One of the more well known works that critiques the Documentary Hypothesis is the aptly named book, The Documentary Hypothesis, by Umberto Cassuto.  The book is a bit dated, as the hypothesis has been adjusted in the decades since the lectures that form the basis of the book were given, but it is still a valuable resource.
8.  Incidentally, these are at least some of the issues that lead to the Documentary Hypothesis.
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