The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, one of the most earth-shattering experiences in the entire Bible, fused a rag-tag collection of fleeing former slaves into a people and spawned a moral system that undergirds Western civilization. So important is the Decalogue that it is recorded twice: once at the beginning of the Israelites’ journey in the desert and again just before their entry into Canaan. David Noel Freedman has now identified another role for these cardinal commandments: Woven through the books of the Hebrew Bible, from Exodus through Kings, is a heretofore undiscovered pattern of violations of each of the commandments, a pattern that leads ultimately to the Israelites’ expulsion from their land and exile in Babylonia. Freedman discerns in this pattern the deliberate hand of an editor at work. He tracks the violations, one by one and book by book, in “The Nine Commandments.” Nine Commandments, you ask? See the article to find out which one is absent—and why.
The handiwork of an editor is something Freedman is eminently qualified to recognize. As general editor of the Anchor Bible Series, the distinguished Old Testament scholar has supervised the publication of 47 volumes of commentaries on the Bible. He also wrote, with F. I. Andersen, the Hosea volume in the Anchor series. Freedman is Arthur F. Thurnau professor of biblical studies at the University of Michigan and also holds an endowed chair in Hebrew biblical studies at University of California at San Diego. A member of BR’s editorial advisory board, Freedman last appeared in these pages in April 1988 with “Is It Possible to Understand the Book of Job?” This winter, David Noel Freedman, one of the most esteemed lecturers at BAS seminars, will teach for us at a three-day seminar in San Diego.
The life of the apostle Paul is a story without an ending. Was he executed? Did he die of natural causes? Or, as Arthur J. Droge asks, “Did Paul Commit Suicide?” Although unreliable sources—the falsely attributed second letter to Timothy and the apocryphal Acts of Paul—indicate that Paul was executed, the book of Acts ends with Paul under house arrest in Rome. The strange inconclusiveness of Acts and Paul’s own words suggest the possibility that Paul committed suicide, a deed that the people of his day regarded as justified under some circumstances.
Droge, who received his Ph.D. in 1984, serves as assistant professor of New Testament and early Christian literature at the University of Chicago. His main area of scholarly interest concerns the origin and history of early Christianity, especially its interaction with the Jewish, Greek and Roman intellectual traditions. Author of Homer or Moses? Early Christian Interpretation of the History of Culture (1988), Droge is now writing a book (with James Tabor) about suicide among Jews and Christians in antiquity, to be published by Harper & Row in 1990.
For all their achievements, the great civilizations of the past—with one crucial exception—never developed a sense of history. Within the ancient Mesopotamian or Egyptian empires, for example, stories about how one event led to another, and how those events might have influenced the present, simply were not told. Only the ancient Israelites viewed reality through the focusing lens of history. Jacob Licht, in “The Hebrew Bible Contains the Oldest Surviving History,” explains how this sensibility helped shape the contents of the Hebrew Bible, examining in detail the thrice-told tale of Saul’s anointment as king of Israel. In this seeming redundancy Licht discovers a historian struggling to give coherent shape to multiple narratives, some favorable to their subject, others, unflattering. The result, Licht writes, is an extraordinarily honest and brave feat of scholarship.
Jacob Licht is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and teaches Bible at Tel Aviv University. He was born in Vienna in 1922; in 1939 he was deported by the SS to Poland but managed to escape and reach Palestine the following year. After fighting in Israel’s War of Independence, Licht pursued his doctorate, which he received in 1957 with a dissertation on the Thanksgiving Scroll, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. He has written extensively on the Scrolls and is currently concentrating on Old Testament studies, with a commentary on Numbers in progress.
The standard caricature of a religious eccentric shows a man wearing a robe and carrying a sign with an eschatological warning: the end of the world is at hand. Such a sentiment is, of course, a gross simplification of a doctrine important to both the Old and New 003Testaments, as F. F. Bruce explains in this issue’s Glossary entry.
F. F. Bruce was the Rylands Professor of biblical criticism at the University of Manchester, England, until his retirement in 1978. Among his many books are Second Thoughts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit and Jesus and Paul: Places They Knew. Bruce is a Fellow of the British Academy and received its prestigious Burkitt Medal in Biblical Studies in 1979. He is a member of BR’s Editorial Advisory Board.
With a modicum of words, Genesis 22 recounts the Akedah (Hebrew for “binding”), the extraordinary trial of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah. This attempted human sacrifice—aborted only at the last instant—has generated a sea of commentary. Jack Riemer, in “The Binding of Isaac,” reviews a recent addition to this literature, Jo Milgrom’s The Akedah: A Primary Symbol in Jewish Thought and Art, a compendium not only of post-biblical texts on the subject but also the first systematic treatment of the Akedah in western art.
Riemer is rabbi of Congregation Beth David in Miami, Florida. He edited Jewish Reflections on Death and co-edited Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury, both published by Schocken Books.
In this month’s My View department, “How the Archaic Becomes Contemporary,” Kenneth R. R. Gros Louis hopefully salvages some value from the wreck of modern American education. He shows how—in one college course at least—the use of the Bible and other religious, philosophical and literary texts has profoundly changed the thinking of some of his students—for the better.
Gros Louis began teaching English and comparative literature at Indiana University in 1964 and now serves as vice president of the university and chancellor of the Bloomington campus. The author of the two-volume work, Literary Interpretations of Biblical Narrative (Abingdon, 1974, 1982), he is a community as well as an academic activist; he serves on the board of directors of county and state libraries, Blue Cross and the United Way. Gross Louis’s article in the premier issue of BR, “Different Ways of Looking at the Birth of Jesus,” was a co-winner of the first Fellner Award for the best BR article of 1985 and 1986.
The giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, one of the most earth-shattering experiences in the entire Bible, fused a rag-tag collection of fleeing former slaves into a people and spawned a moral system that undergirds Western civilization. So important is the Decalogue that it is recorded twice: once at the beginning of the Israelites’ journey in the desert and again just before their entry into Canaan. David Noel Freedman has now identified another role for these cardinal commandments: Woven through the books of the Hebrew Bible, from Exodus through Kings, is a heretofore undiscovered pattern of violations […]