Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Living Oracles

“This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give to us.”

The living oracles in Acts refer specifically to the Ten Commandments, more broadly to the Torah, which were to be given to us. But as noted in the blog on the Samaritan Pentateuch, the Samaritans have their own version of the Ten Commandments and consequently their own view of “living oracles.”

Judaism had developed its own tradition of oracles. The Hebrew word for oracle is debir which by tradition has been translated as referring to the inner room of the temple which only the High Priest can enter. Debir first appears in I Kings 6:5, where the author describes Solomon's Temple: “Solomon also built a structure against the wall of the house, running round the walls of the house, both the nave and the inner sanctuary; and he made side chambers all around.” Verse 16 makes clear what this oracle in fact is: “He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the rafters, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary [oracle—debir], as the most holy place.” In this verse, “Holy of Holies” parallels debir, or "oracle," explaining what the oracle is. The oracle of God which speaks here is none other than the Most Holy Place.

The Samaritans did not recognize the Temple in Jerusalem as the house of God and thus did believe any living oracles could have been uttered therein. Thus Stephen has limited the definition of living oracles to the wilderness experience.

The origin of the word debir is also interesting. Debir was an oracle town and one of the eleven cities to the west of Hebron in the highlands of Judah. Caleb conquered the town and the region.

Temple worship attempted to replicate the theophany experience when God appeared and spoke to his people in the recitation of the Ten Commandments. The Temple included visual representations of manifestation of the glory of God. Gigantic olive-wood sculptures plated with gold stood in the debir or holy place. Keruvim were woven into the veil of the holy place and carved into the decorative woodwork of the temple.

The inner room of the temple which only the High Priest can enter is holy ground. The notion that certain areas are inherently holy is a pagan concept. No doubt the Samaritans found all of this to be objectable idolatry. The critical “host of heaven” remark made by Stephen earlier in his presentation included all of the decorative artwork of the Temple created to replicate the wilderness experience.

Copyrighted 2007


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