Exodus 14-15 and Piya, Why Ecclesiastes and Job?, Original Sin

1.  I’m continuing to read Steven Weitzman’s Song and Story in Biblical Narrative.  Weitzman refers to the scholarly argument that the “Song of the Sea” in Exodus 15 “contains motifs used in Egyptian royal propaganda to represent the king’s military might” (30).  For example, vv 6, 16 discuss the power of God’s arm in battle, “an image used routinely in Egyptian battle accounts, both verbal and iconic, to represent the king’s might in combat.”  According to some scholars, Exodus 15 alludes to Egyptian themes to taunt the Egyptians: “You think your king’s arm is so tough!  Well, our God’s arm just whipped your behind!”

Weitzman compares Exodus 14-15 with the eighth century B.C.E. Piya Stele, from Egypt (see The Victory Stela of King Piankhy (Piye) 747-716 BC).  I can’t say that I’m following his argument completely, but I’ll give it a stab.  In the Piya Stele, Piya’s soldiers go out to fight the enemies, then Piya takes action himself.  There are also songs celebrating Piya’s victory.

Similarly, in Exodus 14-15, we see something similar.  In Exodus 14, God acts indirectly—through Moses, or a pillar of cloud and fire (which Weitzman says occur also in ancient Near Eastern and Greek battle stories).  In Exodus 15, however, God is portrayed as the one who directly whips Pharaoh, then there are songs celebrating God’s victory and right to rule.

According to Weitzman, the Piya Stela and Exodus 14-15 are trying to accomplish a similar task.  The Piya Stela is seeking to justify Piya’s right to rule on the basis of his strength, even though he didn’t personally participate in the battle.  And God is somewhat absent in Exodus 14, in the sense that God is unseen, and you can only behold the effects of what he does; plus, Exodus 14 is leery about anthropomorphizing the deity.  Consequently, Exodus 15 serves to say that “God defeated our enemies,” thereby justifying God’s right to rule.

On page 30, I think I see what may be Weitzman’s agenda: he takes on the scholarly consensus that the poems were composed before the stories, by different authors.  He may be aiming for a more synchronic approach, one that treats the poetry as intertwined with the story, as occurs in the Piya Stele (perhaps).

2.  I read the Anchor Bible Dictionary article on the Book of Ecclesiastes, written by James Crenshaw.  He appears to date the book to the third century B.C.E.  For him, something challenged the wisdom consensus in Israel, the view that God created the world according to a moral order, in which the righteous prosper and the wicked experience ruin.  That’s why we have books that argue against this claim, such as Job and Ecclesiastes.  And it didn’t just occur in Israel, Crenshaw points out, for similar literature appeared elsewhere in the ancient Near East, such as the suicidal “Dialogue between the Master and his Slave.”

On the one hand, Crenshaw says that an injustice could have precipitated the revolt against traditional wisdom ideology.  On the other hand, Crenshaw states that Ecclesiastes may have gotten its ideas from Hellenistic concepts, such as absurdity and chance.

I wonder what stimulated people to question the notion that God consistently punished the wicked and rewarded the righteous.  Ecclesiastes 4:1 mentions oppression by people in power.  Could this be a reference to the Ptolemies?  Maybe there were Israelites at the time who felt that they were obeying God as best as they could and didn’t deserve foreign oppression.  Sure, God punished them justly for their idolatry with the Babylonians and the Persians, but the exile was now over, and they had repented.  Why was a foreign power still oppressing them?

And this taste of injustice may have opened their eyes to life’s injustice in general: Why do people suffer, or work hard for so little?  That’s how it happened with Job: he moved from criticizing God for his own suffering, onto lamenting the fact that others suffer unjustly (see my post, Job and Tobit).  And Hellenistic beliefs about chance and absurdity may have given them the vocabulary or concepts to express their confusion.

3.  At Latin mass this morning, we had political priest.  He encouraged us to help the people of Haiti, yet he attributed the recent earthquake to original sin.  Because Adam and Eve sinned, he said, we have diseases and earthquakes.  I’m not sure if he was saying God is punishing people, for he portrayed God as ready to help; for the priest, the fault for natural evil rests with human beings, not God.  Does that mean that Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God led naturally to the disorder in God’s creation, without God’s direct intervention?

Personally, I don’t understand how original sin changed the natural order.  Did God create fault lines after Adam and Eve ate the fruit?

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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