Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Holiness of space

Stephen makes a very important argument about the holiness of space. Stephen has recognized that the Samaritans have emphasized the importance of the holiness of space in their Tenth Commandment, a concept that is absent in the MT version of the Ten Commandments. Commentators have focused on the argument that Stephen is objecting to the building of a temple citing verse 48 that “the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands” when the reality is that Stephen is objecting to the very concept of holiness of space. The notion that certain areas are inherently holy is a pagan concept.

Verse 33 with its directive “Take off the shoes from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground” more accurately expresses the viewpoint of Stephen. This spot was only holy because the Lord was speaking to Moses. This spot lost its holiness when the theophany of the burning bush concluded. The Lord did not direct Moses to construct anything at this unknown spot. As Nahum Sarna stated: “It is solely the theophany that temporarily imparts sanctity to the site, rendering it inaccessible to man.”

The Tenth Commandment of the Samaritans reflects the Samaritans greater interest, relative to the Judeans, in the holiness of space and their space on Mount Gerizim. Judaism, perhaps due to the destruction of the Temple, has since 70 CE emphasized the holiness of time, including the Sabbath and the festivals. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” is the first instance in scripture where the word “holy” is used. There is nothing in the record of creation set forth in Genesis identifying any object in space with the quality of holiness.

Two additional verses uttered by Stephen provide additional support for the argument that Stephen was criticizing the holiness of space. “Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” The first part is from Isaiah 66:1. These two verses follow “Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands” and demonstrates since everything was made by God, nothing made by man could be made holy.

Stephen, if he were a Samaritan, would not have been critical of the theology of the holiness of space embraced by the Samaritans. Stephen was probably not a Samaritan in good standing but he was certainly knowledgeable about the SP. Stephen used his knowledge of the SP and the beliefs of the Samaritans to develop his devastating attack. Thus it appears that Stephen has challenged a belief structure held by both the Samaritans and the Judeans at the time of his speech. This viewpoint was certainly radical when expressed by Stephen in 37 CE.

This finding may also suggest that the final revisions of the MT occurred after the destruction of the Temple and that the Samaritan Pentateuch is older than believed. This finding is supported by the observation of Moses Gaster that the Septuagint version of Exodus 20 is inexplicably closer to the SP than to the MT.

The last paragraph of my Geography of Salvation noted that the Samaritan Commandment about sacred space and place provided Stephen the inspiration for his last speech. He equated the making of the golden calf with the construction of the temple. Stephen also recognized that two related beliefs were idolatrous: that God resided in the Temple created by man and that the Holy of Holies was holy ground. It sanctified a pagan concept that certain areas are inherently holy. The audience understood the implications of the speech. They considered what Stephen said to be blasphemous. No wonder that stoned Stephen.

My comments in Geography of Salvation, Samaritan Pentateuch, Living Oracles, and the Holiness of Space have demonstrated that there is in fact a theological significance to the Samaritan influences noted in Stephen’s last speech.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2007


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