Moshe Greenberg; Suffering Servant; Relevance

1. Was the late Moshe Greenberg a conservative, a liberal, or something in between? Today, I read the introduction to his commentary, Ezekiel 1-20. On pages 14-15, he details the prophecies of Ezekiel that did not come to pass. According to Greenberg, contrary to Ezekiel’s predictions, Nebuchadnezzar did not destroy Tyre, Egypt did not experience a forty-year desolation and exile (Ezekiel 29:8-12), Babylon’s fall was not bloody (Ezekiel 21:36ff.), and Ezekiel’s vision of Israel’s restoration—which included a restored Davidic monarchy along with a specific type of temple—was not fulfilled.

Yet, Greenberg challenges the versions of higher-criticism that assume that the earliest sources lack complexity and nuance, and so must have been redacted and developed over time. As a result, if my impression is correct, Greenberg attributes more of the Book of Ezekiel to Ezekiel than certain scholars would. Moreover, Greenberg questions the scholarly tendency in which “Doom oracles that end with a glimpse of a better future are declared composites on the ground of psychological improbability” (20). As far as Greenberg is concerned, why couldn’t Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Ezekiel offer hope to the nation of Israel, even as their very universe was collapsing around them? Can faith ever trump psychological probability?

I also appreciate something that Greenberg says in his Acknowledgements: “After rendering thanks to God, who has sustained me to this day, and to my parents, who trained me up in the love of Torah…” Moshe Greenberg may not have been a fundamentalist, but he believed that he was sustained by God, and he was part of a community with a heritage of Torah.

That reminds me of something Dave H wrote under Rachel Held Evans’ post, Confessions of a Reluctant Stumbling Block:

Rachel what do you think about the idea that what a person believes maybe doesn’t matter much, because it’s not like a person can change what they believe anyway?

Maybe we aren’t Christians because of what our beliefs are, but instead we’re Christians because we’ve joined up with and committed to a certain community? It’s very tricky to pick through because it’s a new idea to me, but it’s one I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while. Just wondered what you think.

I often can’t help what I believe, but I can make a decision to become a part of a faith community, and maybe the faith of others will rub off on me. In Moshe Greenberg’s case, he was part of a community that valued the Torah—that drew from its wealth of stories and lessons. Fundamentalist or not, he remained in a particular community, and had a religious life therein.

2. I read Joseph Blenkinsopp’s introduction to his commentary, Isaiah 40-55. On page 120, Blenkinsopp states that an asam offering for the purpose of atonement could not be offered by the Israelites in exile, since they lacked a temple. Consequently, in exile, the suffering Servant “serves as a substitute for the sacrificial guilt offering…” Yet, on pages 76-81, Blenkinsopp’s point seems to be that the Servant Songs were inserted into Second Isaiah (Isaiah 40-55) during the time of Third Isaiah (Isaiah 56-66), which is dated to Israel’s post-exilic period. Blenkinsopp appears to identify the Servant as an apocalyptic community that was persecuted. Is his view that this post-exilic community was following an exilic Servant, whom it considered to be an offering for Israel’s sin?

3. In Midrash and Literature, I read Michael Fishbane’s essay, “Inner Biblical Exegesis”. This sentence on page 34 stood out to me:

Exegesis arises out of a practical crisis of some sort—the incomprehensibility of a word or a rule, or the failure of the covenantal tradition to engage its audience.

There are many times when I read the Bible and wonder what it has to do with anything, especially my life! But that’s why we have exegetes, especially ones with a spiritual, religious, or theological interest. They either make the text relevant, or (for the less cynical), they show how the text is relevant.

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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