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'
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.
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.