Pluralistic Exclusivism

For my academic reading today, I didn’t start the books that I said I may begin in my post, “Elohim” for “YHWH”: Is This Significant?.  The reason is that, on Tuesday, I’ll probably go to the downtown public library to check out some other books that I will read.  Then, at a later point, I’ll come back to the ones I checked out at the Hebrew Union College library, for I can have those out longer.

I’m still plugging along in Sara Japhet’s The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and Its Place in Biblical Thought.  I want to interact with something she says on page 52:

We may conclude from this survey that the references in Chronicles to the question of monotheism are infrequent and indirect.  Declarations that the LORD alone is God are rare and do not appear in the book’s key speeches.  Apart from a few vestiges of the popular view, passages in which the gods of the nations are accorded a real existence, Chronicles asserts that YHWH is the only God, ruler and governor of the world.  However, we find no new formulations or emphasis of this conviction in the recounting of events, nor does monotheism inspire any reworking or recasting of the source material.  We must therefore assume that, for the writer or his generation, the subject was of little interest; an equilibrium in Israelite religious conviction—including the matter of other religions—had already been established.

According to Japhet, the Chronicler doesn’t really care about the issue of monotheism—of Israel’s God being the one true God, while the gods of the other nations do not exist.  The Chronicler asserts monotheism in a few places, but he also preserves passages affirming that the LORD is above the other gods, which acknowledges their existence.  Why didn’t the Chronicler try to iron this stuff out?  Japhet’s answer is that he didn’t care a great deal about the issue. 

And, on a related issue, she also maintains that the Chronicler was not a missionary: he didn’t care whether or not the other nations accepted the Israelite God.  As Japhet states on page 53: …the phrase in Hezekiah’s prayer—“that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou, O LORD, art God alone (2 Kings 19:19)—and many others of its kind found in the rest of the Bible are missing in Chronicles.  (Japhet mentions II Chronicles 6:33 as an exception, but it draws from I Kings 8:43).

I’ll take Japhet’s word on this for the time being.  In the Persian period, there were exclusivist voices.  In Ezra-Nehemiah, the returning exiles do not accept Samaritan assistance in rebuilding the temple (although they receive donations from other nations).  They also try to clamp down on intermarriage and exlude certain foreigners from their midst.  They are becoming more insular, perhaps because they think that will keep them pure and prevent another exile.  And is there a chance that they didn’t want to come across as people who looked down on other nations, who believed that everyone on the face of the earth should believe as they do?  They were in their land at the favor of the Persians, who were religiously tolerant, believing that the gods of the nations were legitimate.  Perhaps the returning exiles didn’t want to appear square against such a pluralistic background.  Sure, they as Jews would worship the LORD alone, but they weren’t about to insist that others do so!

But there were more inclusivist voices in the Persian period, such as Second-Third Isaiah, who looked forward to the time when all the nations would worship YHWH.  Was the Chronicler in the more exclusivist school, which, ironically, may have been more compatible with the pluralistic attitudes of the period?  

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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