Full Text for Exodus- Volume 16B - Could you talk at greater length about how the biblical view of time differs from that of other religions in the ancient world? (Video)

ROUGHLY EDITED COPY CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY EDUCATION NETWORK EXODUS DR. DAVID ADAMS #16B Captioning Provided By: Caption First, Inc. 10 E. 22nd Street Suite 304 Lombard, IL 60148 800-825-5234 *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. *** >> You mentioned two major ways that the religion of the Old Testament is radically different from that of its ancient neighbors: The concept of the relationship of the gods to nature and the concept of time. Could you talk at greater length about how the biblical view of time differs from that of other religions in the ancient world? >> Thank you for reminding me of that, David. I intended to do that. I just got so carried away talking about the concept of nature that I forgot all about the concept of time. But actually the concept of time is very important in shaping not only their understanding of reality but also the way that they practiced their faith in the day-to-day living. Now, if we were to do what we did before and start with modern man and ask modern man how they understood time, we would probably simply get a straight line. You know, most modern people think of time as simply a sequence of events, one following after the other. Now, some people would believe that there's a beginning to time and some an end to time at some point in the future. And there are those who would believe that time really has no beginning and will have no end. But they would still tend to picture it as a line regardless of what they thought on those issues. In the ancient world, however, they did not think of time primarily as a line or as a sequence of events. Rather they thought of time as a circle or as a cycle might be a better way of describing it. In fact, they understood that there were sort of cycles within cycles as it were. The basic cycle was the month. And beyond that, of course, we have the cycle of the seasons. And especially the cycle of the year in which the seasons hang together. And beyond the year, we have cycles of ages, you know, where groups of years sort of repeat themselves, as well. Interestingly, there is no weekly cycle outside the Bible. No religion, no culture in the ancient world, observed anything that was equivalent to the Sabbath in Israel. There was no weekly festival. There were monthly festivals and annual festivals but no weekly festivals in the ancient world outside of Israel. So I suppose we can say without too much contradiction that the fact that we here in the west today celebrate weekends every weekend is a sign of our dependence upon the biblical understanding of the world. This weekly cycle that we call the week with a weekend is a biblical concept. Not a concept that occurs outside the Bible in the ancient world at all. That illustrates for us the fact that the Bible does recognize circles of time, as well. But we'll come back to the biblical view in a moment. Because the Bible understands those in a substantially different way than the ancient world did. Turning back to the mythopoeic view of time, the myth making view, the typical cycle, the primary cycle, was that of the year. And the year would begin with what we might call the New Year's Festival, which is usually associated with creation. And the reason that it's associated with creation is that at the new year, the emphasis is on assuring that the gods would maintain control of the cosmos, this orderly progress of things in the coming year. And so they celebrated the fact that the gods conquered creation at the beginning of the year because they wanted the gods to continue to maintain that order within creation in the year that's to come. At the same time, in Mesopotamia particularly, the New Year's Festival was also the time of the enthronement of the king. Because the king is the embodiment of the authority of the gods within the realm of nature. And so if you want the authority of the gods to be established and assured in the coming year, that authority is reflected in the authority of the king. So as you celebrate the Creation Festival, you also celebrate the enthronement of the king. And so usually at the New Year's Festival there's both a creation element and a royal element where the king is sort of confirmed or celebrated on his thrown for the coming year. This New Year's or Creation Festival is then followed as the year proceeds through various festivals that have to do with growing and harvest. And in Egypt in particular there's an important part of the year that we call the inundation, that part where the waters of the Nile flood. And that's an important part of the cycle of the seasons within Egypt, as well. To a lesser extent within Mesopotamia with the flooding of the Tigris and the Euphrates. But anyway, the year proceeds through the harvest and in the portion of the year that nothing grows that we call winter. And that's understood by them as a sort of threat of the powers of chaos to reemerge and to overthrow the orderliness of creation. And so that takes us back again to the New Year's Creation Enthronement Festival. And this was the way they understood time to proceed in this circular fashion. That's rather different from the biblical view of time, which is not like that mythopoeic view that is purely circular. Although, we've already mentioned that the Bible has within it a sense of cyclicalness, a sense of the repetition of events. Most people if you asked them what the biblical view of time is, they'll go back to the straight line idea. And that's sort of mostly true. Because the Bible does believe that there is a beginning. So the first word in the book of Genesis is ***beret sheth in Hebrew, at the start or at the beginning. Usually we translate in the beginning because that's the way they did it in the King James. And the Bible also understands that there is an end of time. The Greek term ***esca aton points to that end point when time will cease. But the biblical view is not that there's a straight line between the beginning and the end. But rather that there is progress that kind of proceeds in a cyclical or circular pattern so that we move from beginning to end. It's not just completely cyclical and goes nowhere. But rather, there is motion from beginning to end. But that motion doesn't proceed in quite a straight line but more like a series of loops. This is important for understanding biblical prophesy and also for typology. Because in the biblical concept of time, there are certain points in time, certain events and places and things and persons that correspond to other events, persons and places and things. Sort of like in this cycle there's a connecting point between this point on the cycle and a future point. Now, they are connected. But they are not the same. Because time has progressed and the cycles have moved on. But they do correspond to one another. And that's connected to this biblical idea of typology. The big difference is that in the Bible, creation is what we might call teleological, t e l e o l o g i c a l. Teleological. It moves towards a goal. It moves toward a ***telas in Greek, a goal. And the goal is the goal set by God in creation. So it's not just circular. But rather, it has cycles that move through until they reach the end that God has ordained for time. So the biblical view is radically different from the view of the ancient near east with regard to time as well as with regard to space. There's perhaps one more thing that we ought to mention about the circularity of time. And this sort of brings it back to also the concept of space. One of the most important aspects of the circularity of time in the ancient near east is it was connected to the growing season, the agricultural year. Because they lived in a society that was basically centered around agriculture. If things didn't grow, they didn't live. And so the fertility of the earth is a very important aspect of ancient near eastern religion. So much so that the New Year's Enthronement Festival is also a time where the fertility cult becomes an important part of the annual celebration. Now, when we today hear about the fertility cult in the ancient near east, we tend to think of this in terms of morality. We tend to hear about the -- you know, the temple prostitutes. And we think what immoral people they were. But we need to understand that they didn't think of this temple prostitution and the fertility cult that went along with it as having anything to do with sex per se. What it had to do with was the fertility of the earth. So if they want the gods to ensure that the earth is fertile in the coming year, the way they do that is by having the king, who is the presence of the gods here within the realm of nature, engage in a fertility act in the temple, either with the queen acting as the high priestess or with one of the high priestesses who was also a temple prostitute. And in this sexual act, the king would fertilize the earth, the queen or the temple prostitute, the priestess. And this would in some way ensure that the gods would do likewise and that the earth would be fertilized through the activity of the gods. And this would ensure the fertility of the earth in the coming year and maintain the cycle of the agricultural seasons and ensure that mankind could survive another year through the production of food. And this also extended down off to the individual level. And so, you know, as a farmer, I might be especially concerned about my plot of land and whether it would be fertile or not. So I would go to my local temple and engage in the appropriate offerings and have a fertility sexual act with the local temple prostitute or priestess. And as a result, I would believe that my act of fertilizing the priestess would ensure that the gods would fertilize my land and so my farm would also be fertile and productive in the coming year. So when we hear about the -- you know, this fertility cult in the ancient near east, we think of it in terms of more. But that's not the way that they understood it at all in the ancient world. In fact, in the Bible and in most other ancient near eastern languages, there's more than one word for prostitute. In the Bible there are two words. There's the word ***zorna, which is what we might say a common prostitute. And ***kadasha, holy woman, a term for a priestess or a cultic prostitute. And it's often the case not later in the Bible but in some of the earlier stages of the scripture that a sexual act with a cultic prostitute was not understood to be immoral in the same way that a sexual act with a common prostitute was. We can see this in the book of Genesis with the account of Judah and Tamar. You may remember the story from Genesis there. Tamar was his daughter-in-law. Her husband had died and Judah had promised to provide her one of his other sons as a replacement husband for the one who died. But he failed to do that. And so Tamar was determined to get her rights. And so she dressed up as a temple prostitute and tricked Judah into engaging in sex with her and got a piece of his property and later went back to him and showed it to him and sort of disgraced him. And he made amends then for his failure to keep his promise. Now, this isn't necessarily the moral of the story. But this story illustrates for us the fact that Judah was not thought to be immoral because he engaged in a sexual act with a cultic prostitute. He's not condemned in the story for that. He's condemned in the story because he made a promise to his daughter-in-law that he failed to keep. And that's the reason that he's condemned. That's the thing of which he later repents. But engaging in a sexual act with a ***kudasha or holy woman or sacral prostitute was not a matter for which he was condemned in those days. Later on after the giving of the Ten Commandments, after the prohibition against worshiping other gods in the book of Exodus, such an act would have been thought to have been sinful. And he would have been condemned for it. But not in those early days. So as you can see, these concepts of sacred time and sacred space have a very significant effect not only on what we might call abstract theology but also on the way in which religion was practiced every day in the ancient world. In Mesopotamia and in Egypt, space and time are thought to be sacred because they are intrinsically connected with the realm of the divine. What happens within this world of space reflects what happens in the divine realm of space. What happens in the cycle of time within the realm of nature reflects the orderliness and the cycle of time within the realm of the gods. Within Israel by contrast there's a completely different view. Space and time are not sacred in and of themselves. Space is only sacred when God chooses to appear there as he does on Mount Sinai or in the tabernacle or in the temple. And time is only sacred because God has set it apart for his own use as in the Sabbath and as in when he established certain festivals for Israel to observe in his worship. These are different concepts, fundamentally different concepts of space and time. And so again, we are reminded that it doesn't -- the external similarities within Israel and its ancient near eastern neighbors sometimes disguise the fact that the underlying theology, the underlying understanding, is fundamentally and radically different between the Bible and the ancient near east. *** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ***