The double layered structural model and the concept of God

Up to now we have considered essentially the outer thematic and the structural construction of the Old Testament, but have not substantially touched the real nucleus of the whole: the concept of God in the Old Testament.

But, for the moment, let us first deal with an important, but merely auxiliary matter, the 'double layered image of a culture'. It implies the well-known fact, that cultures can not be considered as isolated units. They interact. In our case, two completely different cultures are meeting and mixing. A 'high' and a 'low' culture interact in the culturo-geographic area and during the period, in which the contents of the Old Testament are taking place. In analogy to similar conditions in our modern times we call these two levels 'first' and 'third' world. < 11> Egypt, at the time of the New Kingdom, was a very advanced civilisation, based on a centralised state system, with an educated administration and an organised army. It controlled and diffused centralised power with monuments and script. It disposed of a system of expanded traffic, had a tax system and had abundant international relationships.

In contrast to this 'first' world, Moses belonged to a population of nomadising shepherds and cattle-breeders. They were still organised under traditional tribal laws and were at that time spread over the whole Egypto-Assyrian corridor. Immigrated or abducted to Egypt, they worked on civilisational projects and prestige constructions, doing mostly physical labour. They were without rights in the Egyptian state, and they were plagued by Egyptians even by secretly ordered child theft. For Moses this means: he is on one hand extremely privileged by his first-world education and by his close contacts to the pharaonic court. On the other hand, however, he remains closely related to his tribal culture. This is documented clearly by his killing of an Egyptian man and in his following flight to the Sinai region.

Let us go back shortly to Moses curriculum at the beginning of the second book. It is surprisingly short. Only two - however significant - points are given. They stand antithetically. The book describes his entrance into (reed basket!) and departure from (killing an Egyptian man) the pharaonic court. We can assume surely, that, as an adopted son of a kingly daughter he received a highly ranked first-world education. And very likely he was trained for a position in the ministry of foreign affairs as a specialist for Hebrew matters. That Semites were educated for this purpose is also known from Egyptian sources. We can assume accordingly, that Moses knew the constitutional law of the New Kingdom quite well.

However, now this sudden flight! It leads Moses directly into a pastoral milieu. He stays near a fountain where 7 daughters of a shepherd regularly come to scoop water and have the sheep of their father drink. The girls are pestered by some men. Moses defends them and is invited by their father to his hut or tent. Marriage is arranged quickly. We learn about the tribe (Madianites), the name of Moses wife (Zippora), and that she bore Moses a son (Gersom), and, further, the name of the father-in-law (Jethro). In addition we hear something very important: Jethro is a priest. Of course this should not be confused with the pharaonic court, Moses guards sheep here. Jethros priesthood had nothing to do with the Egyptian imperial glamour. He had this function rather on the level of a nomadic tribal organisation of cattle breeders. Jethro was responsible for a small traditional sanctuary, which was associated to his house and to the corresponding kin. < 12>

Now, surprisingly quickly, the text leaps over to that strange event, which has evidently a fundamental meaning. It deals with the first revelation and Moses receives his state founding order.

Revelation is explicitly always the fundamental condition of any religion. But, surprisingly, this does not take place in any remote universe. It appears strangely paired with quite ordinary material conditions, the 'eternally burning thorn bush'. "Take your shoes off, this is a sanctuary." God speaks from the fire, respectively from this bush-sanctuary. This implies identity. The matter fits completely well into Jethro's shepherd world. The expression 'eternally burning' is a reference to cyclic renewal which served to preserve such sanctuaries in time, the bush is evidently artificial. One will easily remember the terminology of the ethnology of religion. The sanctuary's form and making relates doubtless to the type of cultic markers of which we have countless iconic and textual data widespread all over Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the so called 'life-trees' and the like (very clearly synthetical: the Assyrian 'life trees' and the Egyptian Djed column). <13>

In any case, as mentioned already, Moses receives here - in this culturally 'primitive' area - his foundation order, at the same time his (holy) founder staff. <14> This event is usually interpreted as a casual episode of marginal significance by both the Jewish as well as Christian doctrine. But now it proves as a key to the whole. The structural analogies of the mosaic books with the Egyptian imperial cult which we mentioned before, now gain new support. In their dominant parts the books 2 to 5 represent the developed level, the 'first world' part of the Mosaic constitution. But, to support this upper level in the eyes of the nomadic Hebrews and their tribally organised population, a shepherd cult was necessary.

Thus, Moses, in analogy to the Egyptian model of integrated local, provincial and imperial constitutions, used a local tradition, which, in the eyes of the people he led, were considered legitimate. In other words, he used Jethro's cult tradition. His shepherd sanctuary served him as the place of the first revelation and at the same time of the legitimation of his plan for a theocratically centralised 'first world' constitution. In short, Moses has synthesised two types of constitutions. Foundation tent and sacred thorn bush, first world and third world sanctuary. It is now not surprising, that the Old Testament uses two different names for God. Besides Jahwe - very likely a contemporary term - there is also the word Elohim, which is evidently older because of its more inclusive meaning. <15> Decisively important: Jethro uses the word Elohim, if he speaks of God!

If, what we have just described, gives difficulties to acknowledge today - from the view of post-scholastic metaphysics and ethics - in the time of Moses it must have been absolutely normal. How, otherwise, could it support quite reliably the whole constitution - at least in the eyes of the Hebrews of those times, except by giving Moses constitution the necessary temporal depth. Such syntheses of deities were also - as we tried to show, absolutely normal procedure in Egypt, both in the relationships between local and provincial gods, as well as in relation to the imperial system. They indicated superseding in terms of settlement history.

The first book: legitimation through temporal depth

Up to now we have rather neglected the first book. And, in fact, the books 2 - 5 are essential in our view. Very surprisingly the relationship between the first book and the rest (2 to 5), shows a strong parallel to Egypt too. The books two to five correspond to what we described as 'synchronous' element in the Egyptian example. In contrast to this the first book corresponds to the diachronical part. It forms the 'deep structure' with its reports on primordial conditions and world creations and thus legitimates synchronical cults and the synchronical part of theocratic constitutions.

Let us repeat: most provinces and cities of the New Kingdom in Egypt were related to primordial local origins through traditional or constructed lineages or genealogies of deities, which implied 'synthetic' combinations of gods (Eightness, Nineness) particularly in view of highly valued 'original' characteristics. As a rule, the lineages went back on local 'world creations', and terms like 'primordial heap' played an important role. In terms of settlement, they were evidently part or the territorio-semantic system based on local settlement foundations. These genealogies of gods and their heterogeneous synthetic combinations functioned as legitimation of the temples and their cults and the corresponding rulers, in short, they were the basics of 'theocratic' constitutions.

But, how can we explain the origins of the first book and particularly of its contents? Oversubtly said: it was an 'ethno-report'. It very likely corresponds to the modern recording of a verbal tradition. Moses recorded it in the house of his own father-in-law. <16>

Most important is doubtless the story of the arch-fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. On their account, the constitution, the treaty with God gains temporal depth. They can be localised fairly well. Abraham originated from Mesopotamia, from Charan. The same is valid for temporal aspects. In contrast to this the genealogies are rather stereotyped enumerations. In addition they show very excessive life durations. These, however, can now be understood as habitual temporal extensions in a system in which temporal depth legitimated political power. 'Deep roots' temporally, these were the essential implications of these genealogies.

Fairly clear is the 'list of populations'. It gives us many references about peoples and names of settlements or cities, which clearly relate to the Near Eastern cultural geography and history. The stories about the Babylonian tower and the flood and the arch of Noah too are clearly anchored in this domain. The history of creation appears now in a new light: on one hand it is - in structural analogy to the Egyptian model - legitimation of Moses 'synthesis of gods', that is, the Mosaic constitution. On the other hand it serves as classificational code. The (artificial) 'tree of life' in the sacred garden becomes most important. The settlement founding legend placed at the beginning of the book signals the character of the whole as a constitution.

That the so-called history of creation is structurally in fact a settlement founding legend, is suggested by a text of ancient Babylonia usually translated as a 'creation myth' too <17>. It shows basically the same elements in regard to the transition from chaos to an orderly world, but, this text is so explicitly clear in its meaning that today nobody would dare to stretch it temporally into macrocosmic dimensions. The 'chaos' corresponds to uncultured land which is turned into a cultivated settlement. The transition is focused on its demarcation. The reed-milieu of Mesopotamia is present. The text speaks clearly of an artifact made by Ea (or Marduk), a reed-work, a constructed place where a god rests. The concrete realism of the text indicates that in early phases of state foundation these 'primitive' types were realistically described, but that - with increasing monumentalisation and diffusion of central cults - the cultic and verbal traditions accumulated heterogeneous elements, their factual meaning became blurred. But the basic elements are there, the semantic and symbolic part, the life tree, the tree of knowledge and a figure (God, hero, founder) which ambivalently takes part in the act of 'creation' of a new world. If we assume that this type of cultic constitution was firmly established in the autonomous predynastic settlement structure, it becomes evident that the early state formations had to respect it and consolidated it with higher means on the higher level. In a wider sense this would support also our assumption, that the earliest Egyptian 'mythical' places of deities like 'primordial heap', or 'hill' were related to such settlement foundation.

Evidently this approach makes sense. It is clear now, it is historico-methodologically illegitimate to stretch these micro cosmically developed territorial legislations into modern universalistic dimensions. What counted for Moses was above all: in his time anybody clearly understood the constitutional implications. Namely, that this ancient foundation legend, the genealogies and the contract with the Hebrew God supported mainly and essentially a 'future world creation', the foundation of a Hebrew state in Canaan. <18>

The paradise garden would have to be described and interpreted in new ways, but this will be the subject of a later study. The 'tree' is interpreted as an artifact and put into the wider group of Near Eastern life trees and the like. Quite unusual hypotheses can be concluded for the identity of the partners, similarly for the so- called 'sin-fall'< 19>. Here too, therefore, we find new and quite plausible insights, if Moses is taken as an active person, his reports being motivated by his role as a state founder. Evidently he disposed quite freely of the possibilities in his time, but essentially followed then common norms. Thus the problem lies rather on our own side. We cannot understand this proximity of the religious to the political anymore. It is difficult for us to uncouple the successful scholastic attempts, to lift the ancient Near Eastern settlement legend of the Old Testament onto the modern macrocosmic dimensions. < 20>

The first written constitution

The following is a short summary of the most important points. Moses lives in a civilisational medium, in which 'religious' or theocratic state theories are known and discussed. He develops a particular sense for the structure of the territorial constitution of the Egyptian empire. He recognised very clearly the political connection between local, provincial and imperial state cults and their genealogically related godly systems. The essential point was the territorial meaning of the deities. Ancient Egypt was a system which had developed over more than 15 centuries. To this long development of balance it owed its relatively high stability. In contrast to this, it was doubtless a rather adventurous thing, to plan and project a constitutional system into a future and foreign territory inhabited by a rather multicultural population.

Evidently, Moses had the uppermost layer in his focus. He used the imperial state cult as prototype by translating the physical Egyptian constitution into his written form and, naturally, by making adjustments to Hebrew culture. Moses used this projection on the future as a form. His report is composed as a way, a procession towards a place, and this motive will later also legitimate the alliance (Exodus from Egypt). However, in the time of conception, the combination with a 'primitive' shepherd cult was essential. It logically initiates the second book. The first book supports this divine synthesis with genealogies and a Near Eastern settlement founding legend.

Doubtless, Moses has recognised the precarious fate of his people, and that tribal organisation in this culturo-geographical domain was at its end. Surely he knew the intimate connection between the imperial god and land ownership from next proximity. He certainly was familiar with the fact, that this new type of constitution formed the basis of a centralised agrarian economy, that it paved the way for new civilisatory potentials such as harbours, 'international' traffic and powerful defensive fortifications. Doubtless he was also convinced, that a sacral state constitution protected best the stately treasure houses, the palaces and temples.

Thus, with good reasons, the Old Testament can be examined primarily as an ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian type of theocratic constitution. Its verbal or written form can be taken as an extremely high abstraction from the Egyptian cult system and the physical conditions, by which these cults were characterised. This abstractive element was at the same time the essential precondition for the development and dissemination of the Hebrew constitution. The written fixation excluded the primary condition of topologically bound cults handed down over at least several thousand years: the physical presence of the deity.

The first written constitution, like a description, produced a highly reduced view of the colourful manifold of Egyptian cults and the vital culture related to them. It initially paved the way to an increasing de-ritualisation and social isolation of man focused on a merely written concept of God. In this abstracted form, 'belief' can also be arbitrarily used. This has scattered not only Judaism into the whole world, in another sense, it favoured also Christian diffusion. Finally this abstraction is also responsible for the spatial elasticity of its fundamental ideas ('god', 'world', 'creation'). It thus also became manipulatable.

Hebrew history in the proper sense, that is to say, the written history of the Hebrew, resp. Jewish and Israeli early empire is of secondary interest here. It functions mainly as confirmation of our constitutional hypothesis. Three kings set it up, this empire, secured it: Saul (1040-1010 BC), David (1010-970) and Solomon (970-935). A short while later we hear of the division of the state (929). Some marking points of this history are the first destruction of Jerusalem (586 BC), the abduction into the exile and the restoration time (Persian time from 539 BC), later in the Hellenistic (to around 60 BC) and Roman periods (new destruction of Jerusalem; 70 AD). Thus the Mosaic constitution exercises its power over centuries in Hebrew circles. However, this is not the place to discuss this. What is important here is the fact that this abstracted theocratic constitution becomes relevant in the West-Roman empire during the phase of its descent. And this is very important in the present discussion.