Aram and Edom, Levitical Ministers, What’s God Want?

1. Benjamin Kedar, “The Latin Translations,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 309.

“First one may mention those blunders of the translators that can be explained only from the Hebrew. The [Old Latin] has Edom for Aram (2 Chr 20:2)–correctly rendered ‘Syria’ by the LXX and Vg–due to a confusion of the Hebrew letters Res and Dalet that especially resemble each other.”

In my post, Code-Words, Justin on Eternal Punishment/Immortal Soul, Destabilizing, I referred to scholars who believe that the Syriac Peshitta substitute “Edom” for “Aram” (Syria) to avoid offending the Syrians, in whose midst some Jews lived. That’s a strong possibility. But could it be possible that it did so because, like the Old Latin, it misidentified a Resh as a Daleth? It can happen! A reader may think that he sees a bump behind the Resh, making it a Daleth. Or perhaps the manuscipt he’s using has a Daleth. One problem I have with the deliberate-substitution-to-avoid-offending-the-Syrians view is that the Bible only shows that the Syrians used to be Israel’s enemies, and even that is mixed. Sometimes, the Syrians are the Israelite’s friends, or at least they’re not hostile. Would the Syrians get offended if they heard the Israelites saying that Israel and Syria were enemies at some point?

At the same time, history has implications for the present. How we present certain people in the past can seriously offend people today. So the deliberate-substitution-et al. view still makes some sense.

2. Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 646.

Clement (first-second century C.E.) “represents the Levitical priesthood as a type of the Christian teaching office, and insists with the greatest decision on outward unity, fixed order, and obedience to church rulers.”

Armstrongites have maintained that their ministers are Levites. Sometimes, they used a racial argument, for I’ve heard that Herbert Armstrong claimed actual descent from the tribe of Levi. At other times, they appealed to New Testament authority. When Paul is telling the Corinthian church that he deserves to receive payment from them, he appeals to the priests of the Old Testament: “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is sacrificed on the altar?” (I Corinthians 9:13). Some interpret this to mean that Paul equates the ministers of the New Testament with the Levites of the Old.

What’s at stake here? Primarily tithing. The Torah says that the Israelites should give tithes to the priests and the Levites. Sometimes, the whole “ministers are Levites” spiel can degenerate into the absurd. A relative of mine told me a story about a couple that brought fruits and vegetables to the church. The minister demanded that he have the first pick, since he was a Levite and didn’t have an inheritance. My relative thought, “You dummy! Which of us here does have an inheritance?” To their credit, the couple said that the minister could have the first pick, but they weren’t going to bring any more fruits and vegetables to church. And, predictably, the minister told them they had a bad attitude. On well!

Schaff seems to be referring to I Clement 40-41 (in the BibleWorks version). I’m not sure if Clement is equating the ministry with the Levitical priesthood, as much as he’s saying that God established an order. That was the case in the Hebrew Bible, and it’s also the case in the New Testament. For Paul, there may be an analogy between the Old Testament priests and the ministers of the church, but that doesn’t amount to an equation. Paul also likened himself and other ministers to an ox that treads out the corn.

I may read the Catholic Catechism at some point. I wonder if it equates the Old Testament and New Testament priesthoods?

3. H. Loewe, “Introduction,” A Rabbinic Anthology, ed. C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1938) lxxxii.

“We are not bound by the utterance of every single Rabbi who is mentioned in the Talmud…There is a great difference between the authority which Christians ascribe to the Gospels and that which Jews assign to Rabbinic literature. Nahmanides, in 1263, did not hesitate to proclaim that a Jew was at liberty to reject haggadic interpretations, though, naturally, he allowed to Haggadah great ethical value.”

Ever since I’ve done my daily quiet time outside of the Jewish/Protestant canon, I’ve wondered about the basis for religious authority. Can I get anything out of the Deuterocanonical writings and the Koran, if I don’t believe that God inspired them? Part of me says “yes,” the same way that I get good lessons from Joan of Arcadia and Desperate Housewives, even though they’re not divinely-inspired (as Desperate Housewives‘ mainstreaming of homosexuality demonstrates). But part of me says “no,” since they make clear claims about God, and I’m not sure if I can trust them, if they’re not divinely-inspired.

Maybe I can acknowledge that they testify to their experience. Perhaps, but people can misinterpret their experiences. Plus there’s the question of whom I should believe. Jesus in John 8:24 says those who don’t believe he’s I AM (God) will die in their sins. My impression as I read the Koran is that it consigns Christians who believe in Jesus’ deity to hell (Sura 5:72-73–see Does Islam Believe Jews and Christians Are Saved? and The Anonymous Muslim, as well as the comments). One source says we go to hell for not believing in Jesus’ divinity, and another says the opposite. Which is right? And how do we know?

What is God’s view on how we can please him? There are Old Testament passages that emphasize repentance and doing the right thing. Isaiah 1:16-18 states: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (NRSV). Ezekiel 18:27-28 has, “Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die.” In these passages, the path to atonement is doing good and not evil.

But Paul says that belief in Christ is essential to salvation. He doesn’t even think that a person can do good apart from Christ! “For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law–indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8). You want to know where hard-core evangelical exclusivists get their idea that good non-believers will go to hell? (Of course, they’d deny that they’re actually “good”). One source is Paul.

Islam, Judaism, and Christianity base their soteriologies on something in Scripture. Islam and Judaism continue the Hebrew Bible’s trajectory that repentance and good deeds lead to atonement, which means non-Christians can be saved. Christians, however, focus on the Hebrew Bible’s claim that God needs to circumcise people’s hearts and actually make them subservient to God’s law (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:32-33; Ezekiel 11:19-20; 36:24-28). Who is right? I have a hard time thinking, “Oh, I can get something edifying from all of these views.” This is a crucial issue. It relates to whether one spends eternity in heaven or hell (assuming eternal torment)!

What does God want, and how can we know?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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