Study Questions for the reading assignment for Monday, September 24:
How is Moses characterized in the biblical text? What is his relationship to God? Please compare the call narratives of Moses in Exodus 3–4 and 6.
What is Yhwh’s motivation for bringing Israel out of Egypt? How do the prose (Exodus 14) and poetic accounts (Exodus 15) of the event at the Reed Sea differ?
Compare the portrayal of Yhwh in Exodus 15 with the portrayal of Baal as described in the Coogan reading. What characteristics do the depictions of Yhwh and Baal have in common? In what ways does Exodus 15 recall the “combat myth” in Enuma Elish?
What are the attitudes toward slavery in Exodus 21:1–11, Deuteronomy 15, and Leviticus 25? How do the slave laws in Deuteronomy 15:12–18 revise or update the slave laws in Exodus 21? What motivations does the Deuteronomic author offer for these revisions? How does Leviticus 25:39–55 further develop the slave laws found in Exodus and Deuteronomy? What rationale does the author provide for these revisions? What is the relationship between Israel’s slave laws and the exodus?
Study Question for the reading assignment for Wednesday, September 26:
What are the leadership problems that Moses faced? What roles does Moses play in Exodus 16–20? Please compare the reading from Exodus and the reading from Numbers. Who is at fault in the episode of the Golden Calf?
Reading Questions for Sinai & Zion by Jon D. Levenson
The following is designed to help you understand what is important in each section of Sinai & Zion. We have provided a summary of the chapters that you were not required to read and study questions (to guide you) for those sections that you are assigned to read. We will be reading additional passages of this book later in the course, so it is important to understand this week’s reading not only for this week’s assignment but also as a basis for future work.
Introduction (pp. 1–12)
Please read the brief reading guide, “The Theology of the Hebrew Bible in Two Mountains,” at the end of this week’s Study Guide (i.e., at the end of this document). Questions on I.1 The Sinaitic Experience or the Traditions about It? (pp. 15–19)
What does Levenson mean when he writes, “It is my contention, however, that the historical question about Sinai, as important as it is in some contexts, misses the point about the significance of this material in the religion of Israel” (p.17)? Why is it important to bear this in mind as readers of the story of Mt. Sinai?
Summary of I.2 YHWH’s Home in No-Man’s Land (pp. 19–23)
One reason that we cannot precisely locate Mt. Sinai is that the descriptions in the Hebrew Bible suggest that the mountain is in a “no-man’s land,” not tied to any specific, fixed, human-created boundaries. The mountain seems to be placed in a desert area and therefore, for the Israelites, it represents freedom (as opposed to the slavery of Egypt).
Questions on I.3 Sinai and the Covenant Formulary (pp. 23–36)
How is the covenant established between Yhwhand Israel similar, in terms of language and structure, to other treaties from the ancient Near East? In what ways is it different? What might these similarities and differences say about the Israelite understanding of their relationship with Yhwh?
Study Questions for the reading assignment for Section:
** Please remember to read the Passover Haggadah from the right-facing page to the left-facing page (which is how Hebrew and Aramaic are read.) **
What does Exodus 12–13 say about the observance of Passover?
What biblical themes are emphasized in the Passover Haggadah? What specific texts are quoted or alluded to?
In what ways did later texts that retell and interpret the exodus, like the New Testament and the Haggadah, make changes to the “plain sense” of the biblical text? What is the effect of these particular interpretations and changes?
How does the Passover Haggadah’s retelling of the exodus story reshape the biblical account in Exodus 12–15 and to what effect? Consider, for example: The Four Questions (Glatzer, The Passover Haggadah, p. 21), the three obligations of Passover (pp. 47–49), the role of Moses in both texts, and the Haggadah’s expansion of particular Scriptural verses (the last two paragraphs of p. 37).
What is the significance of “acts of remembrance” in the Pentateuchal account of the first Passover? How is this theme continued and extended in the passages from the New Testament and the Haggadah? What are the connections between remembering, reenactment, and personal identification?
Note that Moses does not appear in these selections from the Passover Haggadah—or, indeed, anywhere else in the Haggadah. Contrast this to the version in Exodus 12–15, where Moses appears to play a significant role. How does this “omission” in the retelling affect the emphasis and meaning of the later text?
What role does food symbolism play in each of the later interpretations?
Writing assignment for Section:
Please write a 2 page essay on the following:
What role does the memory of the exodus play in Deuteronomy 6–7?
In preparing to formulate your claim (or thesis), please reread the account of the first exodus in the book of Exodus 12–15. Then read Deuteronomy 6–7, which is meant to be part of the speech that Moses delivers on his deathbed, after the exodus but before Israel has entered the land. Consider differences in how the exodus is presented in Exodus 12–15 and in Deuteronomy 6–7. What new significance does the exodus take on as it is retold in Deuteronomy 6-7? Note where memory appears and how it functions in Deuteronomy 6–7. How is this new generation of Israelites, on the verge of entering the land, told (in Deuteronomy 6–7) to remember that event and to what end?
Again, your essay should include a short introduction with a clear and concise claim (thesis); cited textual evidence that develops and supports your argument; and a conclusion. Please look over “Tips for Writing Successful Response Papers,” which is available on WordPress (under “Study Guides”).
The Theology of the Hebrew Bible in a Nutshell Two Mountains
In Sinai and Zion, Jon Levenson attempts to synthesize the theology of the Hebrew Bible into a coherent picture of what ancient Israel thought about Yhwh and her relationship to Yhwh. This attempt to understand the Hebrew Bible through its many diverse passages, concepts, and historical data as having some kind of unified message is known as biblical theology. (Of course, as a Jewish scholar, for whom the twenty-two books of the Tanakh make up the whole canon of scripture, Levenson does not consider the New Testament when he investigates biblical theology in Sinai and Zion).
When Levenson wrote Sinai and Zion in the 1980’s, he was responding to the very one-sided picture, if not outright distortion, that Christian biblical theology had made of the Hebrew Bible. Because Christians have dominated biblical theology in the modern academy for over two centuries, theology of the Hebrew Bible has rarely taken the Hebrew Bible on its own terms apart from the New Testament or Christian presuppositions. For example, Levenson points out the negative view that many Christian scholars have had toward the Mosaic Law. Julius Wellhausen, who put forth the Documentary Hypothesis, for instance, saw the Law as a deadening force for religion. For Jews, on the other hand, the Law is in fact a gift from God to be received and obeyed with joy.
In Sinai and Zion, therefore, Levenson uses the image of the “two mountains” (hence the title) to reorient the student of the Hebrew Bible toward a more positive appreciation of its theology. These two mountains—Sinai and Zion—each represent a stream of theology in ancient Israel: one associated with Torah and one associated with Temple. What Levenson calls “Sinai theology” is associated with the Torah, because Yhwh gave the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. “Zion theology” is associated with the Temple, because when the land was settled, the Temple was built on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem, and Israel believed that Yhwh dwelled there. Levenson points out that for much of Israel’s history, Torah and Temple represented two different ways of thinking about and relating to Yhwh. You will notice that some texts and figures in the Hebrew Bible are aligned more closely with either Sinai or Zion theology. Eventually, the two theologies fused together as a result of the Temple’s destruction and the Babylonian exile. In fact, Sinai theology came to play a greater role because it was more dependent on practice than place. Sinai theology—for example, keeping the commandments—could be kept almost anywhere, even in exile. But Zion theology was dependent upon the Temple in Jerusalem. However, the traces of both theologies can be detected in later Jewish writings.
One of the most important organizing principles for the theology of the Hebrew Bible, according to Levenson, is the concept of covenant. And just as we have two different theologies in the Bible, one based on Sinai and one on the Temple, each theology was associated with a different kind of covenant: a Suzerainty Treaty lies behind the covenant at Sinai and a Covenant of Grant lies behind the covenant at Zion, respectively. It will be very important to follow the descriptions of these ancient Near Eastern conventions in Sinai and Zion; what do the differences between Suzerainty Treaties and the Covenants of Grant tell us about the distinctions between Sinai and Zion? Levenson’s comparison between the different covenants and the theologies they represent allows him to wrestle with some of the most fundamental tensions and contradictions that appear in the Hebrew Bible. Is Yhwh an approachable God or not? Is Yhwh’s relationship to Israel most fundamentally marked by divine initiative or human response? Is Yhwh’s commitment to Israel conditional or unconditional? How is it that Yhwh can be said to dwell on Mt. Zion in the Temple, yet prayers and service can be offered from elsewhere—even in exile?
The two mountains and the two kinds of covenant allow Levenson to explain how different representations of ancient Israel’s theology coexist in the same canon, and even in the same documents. Sometimes the tensions can be understood as two sides of the same coin (see his discussion of Psalm 15 and holiness); at other times the reader will have to leave the tensions unresolved. Ultimately, Sinai and Zion is the author’s attempt to present the Hebrew Bible as a canonical whole. However, treating it as a whole does not mean it simply speaks with one voice. By focusing on two mountains, and therefore two theologies, Levenson’s book maintains the rich diversity of theological reflectionin the Hebrew Bible, yet shows how it comes together to form a Jewish Bible that is intelligible on its own terms.