Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Exile and repentance

The exile led to restoration and redemption. What role did repentance play and how did the people in exile seek repentance?

In the seventh petition of his dedication of the Temple prayer, King Solomon said:

“If they sin against thee--for there is no man who does not sin--and thou art angry with them, and dost give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near; yet if they lay it to heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent, and make supplication to thee in the land of their captors, saying, 'We have sinned, and have acted perversely and wickedly'; if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to thee toward their land, which thou gavest to their fathers, the city which thou hast chosen, and the house which I have built for thy name; then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place their prayer and their supplication, and maintain their cause and forgive thy people who have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions which they have committed against thee; and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are thy people, and thy heritage, which thou didst bring out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace).”

Whether or not you conclude that the dedication prayer of King Solomon, which included the word “captive” four times, was written during the exile, or the words of the 7th petition were added by a redactor, it is apparent that the exile or prophetic threat thereof, encouraged new thinking about how YHWH could be implored to help his people.

Moses Maimonides, the great philosopher and codifier of Jewish law, wrote that animal sacrifice dates back to the most ancient times, having been a common form of worship from the earliest days of man's need for religious expression and experience. The animal sacrificial services that were conducted, first in the tabernacle in the wilderness, and at Shiloh, and then at the Temple in Jerusalem, were part of the expressions of the human desire to come as close as possible to God. The Torah prescribes animal sacrifice to be conducted in the Temple as an integral part of the observance on many occasions, for both the individual and the community. No group in Judaism challenged the validity of the animal sacrificial system. Although there is isolated criticism of the sacrificial system in the writings of the prophets, a proper analysis of the passages suggests that Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah had questioned the sincerity of the worship of the people rather than condemned the practice.

It has been suggested that prayers, as service of the heart, replaced the animal sacrificial system that disappeared with the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. However we know from I & II Maccabees, that prayers, contemporaneous with the prayers of Qumran although written in Greek, were part of the religious life long before the destruction of the Temple and date to the Exile or earlier. Since the final redaction of the psalms has been dated as late as 200-180 BCE, the prayers of the psalms need to be reviewed along with I & II Maccabees and Qumran prayers in considering the origins of prayer and the related concept of repentance.

It is of crucial importance to be aware that by no means did the sacrifices serve as an end in themselves. For example, the sin offering, which was a minority of all the offerings brought in the Temple, was powerless to atone for sin unless it was accompanied by true repentance. At what point in time did the idea develop that sacrifices without repentance had no efficacy? Ben Sirach denied that the offerings of the wicked are efficacious or that a multitude of such offerings will atone for a wicked person who does not correct his behavior.

In the altered circumstances of the Exile, the earlier texts were reworked and reinterpreted so that they would comply more closely with the prevailing conditions. Many of the individual complaint psalms were reread at a later stage from a national point of view. Exilic and post-exilic theology can also be seen in the national emphases in Lamentations, the nomistic theology of the Deuteronomistic history and the servant songs of Deutero-Isaiah.

The period also experienced a debate on the question of faithful life in the land, with Ezra and Nehemiah offering an exclusionary, ethnocentric vision, God’s mercy to Nineveh in the book of Jonah providing a more open vision, the Maccabees’ dream of sovereignty free of foreign influence standing in contrast to a growing Diaspora which suggested that Israel might not need territory to be a people.

Theology changed to meet new circumstances.

Copyrighted 2006


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