Friday, February 6, 2009

Atheist Devotional Reflections on תּוֹרַת יְהוָה

Psalm 19:8-11

vs.

Hebrew

English (APV)

8

תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה, מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ; עֵדוּת יְהוָה נֶאֱמָנָה, מַחְכִּימַת פֶּתִי.

The Torah of YHWH is spotless, restoring the soul; the testimony of YHWH is established, making wise the simple.

9

פִּקּוּדֵי יְהוָה יְשָׁרִים, מְשַׂמְּחֵי-לֵב; מִצְוַת יְהוָה בָּרָה, מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם.

The precepts of HWH are straight, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of YHWH is pure, enlightening the eyes.

10

יִרְאַת יְהוָה, טְהוֹרָה--עוֹמֶדֶת לָעַד: מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יְהוָה אֱמֶת; צָדְקוּ יַחְדָּו.

The fear of YHWH is clean, standing to futurity; the judgments of YHWH are truthful, righteous altogether.

11

הַנֶּחֱמָדִים--מִזָּהָב, וּמִפַּז רָב; וּמְתוּקִים מִדְּבַשׁ, וְנֹפֶת צוּפִים.

More to be desired are they then gold, and much fine gold, and sweeter than honey, and the honey comb.

The present structure of the book of Psalms begins with a meditation in Psalm 1 on the man who meditates on the Torah (Law) of YHWH (Yahweh, Jehovah, IaHUaH, etc.). Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible and the longest Psalm waxes eloquent as an ode to the qualities of the Torah of YHWH. Psalm 19 is then another ode to the reveled Torah of YHWH. The selection of Psalm 1, Psalm 19, and Psalm 119 as celebratory meditations on the Torah are obviously intentional, and they reflect the post-Exilic fascination with the Mosaic Torah.

As an ongoing feature of this blog, I will offer regular posts related to the Torah of YHWH. The Torah is "the Law" in common Christian parlance. Canonically, it is the Pentateuch which consists of the "five books of Moses"--Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. In Jewish terminology, Torah is larger than the canonical corpus or the "Written Law" as it includes the "Oral Law." My dealings with the Torah will relate to the "Written Law." I do this because I have found that the "Oral Law" though a significant source of Jewish identity and culture, is not exegetical. In other words, the "Oral Law" interpretations of the "Written Law" often burden the text with questions and/or legal issues that are not relevant to compositional contexts.

The term "Torah" though often translated as "Law" is better translated as "doctrine," "teaching," or "instruction." The term "Law" often carries negative connotations of legalism or whatnot that a Christian reader often will load it with. It may invoke images, for example, of the inferior, Jewish "old law" replaced with the "law of Christ." In fact the Christian reader might read my posts, critical as they are of Torah ethics, and find it easy to exonerate her God from the negative implications of Torah ethics. She might claim, "Jesus abolished the Law," or some other claim to distance from the "old law." If the Christian truly does believe that the Torah is inspired of God, even though she might believe that it is practically abolished for today, she is still asked to consider why her God would legislate ethically defunct precepts.

Psalm 19 makes the overarching claim that the Torah of YHWH (תּוֹרַת יְהוָה) is perfect or spotless. The term for "perfect" or "spotless" is the same used ceremonially in the Torah when a sacrificial animals is described. The animal must be spotless or without maculation. Torah in 19:8 refers to entire corpus of written Law. The passage from here breaks the Torah into additional categories. They are listed as follows with descriptors:

Testimony of YHWH (עֵדוּת יְהוָה )

established, making wise the simple

Precepts of YHWH (פִּקּוּדֵי יְהוָה )

straight, rejoicing the heart

Commandment of YHWH(מִצְוַת יְהוָה )

pure, enlightening the eyes

Judgments of YHWH (מִשְׁפְּטֵי-יְהוָה )

truthful, righteous altogether

In our examination of Pentateuchal or Torah legalities and ethics, I will subject each to the above matrix of perfection, surety (establishment), straightness, purity, and truthfulness. It might just be found that we agree with the statement of "God" in Ezekiel,

וְגַם-אֲנִי נָתַתִּי לָהֶם, חֻקִּים לֹא טוֹבִים; וּמִשְׁפָּטִים--לֹא יִחְיוּ, בָּהֶם

Wherefore I gave unto them statutes [that were] not good, and judgments by which they should not live.

2 comments:

  1. Hello Scrip,

    I can actually read some of these Hebrew words now! The book by Benner (Learn to Read Biblical Hebrew) is excellent for beginners like me.

    Okay, bring on your arguments, I will try to prepare for them.

    By the way, just so your readers know, the context of the verse in Ezekiel 20 relates that God gave the Israelites over to their rejection of His ways, thus the reference to "statutes not good" that they would embrace in opposition to His righteous ways....which I assume you are about to throw fiery darts of doubt at. Can you give me a heads-up about what is to come, so I can begin researching?

    On an unrelated subject, do you think the Hebrew word "tachash" could refer to a sea cow similar to the gentle, grass eating manatees that "badgered" me in my canoe in Florida? These creatures would have been easy to catch and their hides a suitable waterproof covering for the tabernacle. I am pretty much convinced of it, especially when I read that they are known by naturalists as "Halicore Tabernaculi".......

    Source: Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary.....

    Badger

    this word is found in Ex. 25:5; 26:14; 35:7, 23; 36:19; 39:34; Num. 4:6, etc.

    The tabernacle was covered with badgers' skins; the shoes of women were also made of them (Ezek. 16:10). Our translators seem to have been misled by the similarity in sound of the Hebrew _tachash_ and the Latin _taxus_, "a badger." The revisers have correctly substituted "seal skins." The Arabs of the Sinaitic peninsula apply the name _tucash_ to the seals and dugongs which are common in the Red Sea, and the skins of which are largely used as leather and for sandals. Though the badger is common in Palestine, and might occur in the wilderness, its small hide would have been useless as a tent covering. The dugong, very plentiful in the shallow waters on the shores of the Red Sea, is a marine animal from 12 to 30 feet long, something between a whale and a seal, never leaving the water, but very easily caught. It grazes on seaweed, and is known by
    naturalists as Halicore tabernaculi.

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  2. Hey Tandi,

    I think I prefer the sea cow reading of "tacash." It is odd, though, that the unclean hide of an unclean animal would be used to construct the holy place. Thoughts?

    Also, I would prefer not to divulge the passages that I have in mind as I don't want to discuss them apart from a post. I am very happy that you can read some of the Hebrew now. It takes time, but eventually you will pick up on regular Hebrew patterns (especially in the Torah) that will make the reading even easier.

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