Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Pekudei and "Pious Fraud"

Since the beginning of the new Daf Yomi cycle, there's been some talk among J-bloggers about "getting in on the action." I don't imagine that I could handle Daf Yomi. (DH and I are learning Tractate Berachot together; it's all I can hope that we'll finish by the next seven-year cycle.) There is, however, another Jewish cycle with which I'd like to become more involved: the weekly Torah reading.

I thought of doing this around Simchat Torah, but there's no good reason not to start now. Here is the plan: each week, I'll post a little something related (however loosely) to the Torah portion and/ or Haftarah. These posts may deal with historical-critical, grammatical, or philospohical issues; I expect that they'll be very quirky. Hopefully, they'll be interesting to at least a few people other than me.

Here's one for this week's portion, Pekudei:

Pekudei is one of a series of parshiyot that focus on the Tabernacle, a tent-shrine said to have been transported by the Israelites throughout their wanderings in the wilderness. For years, I've wondered idly about the historicity of the Tabernacle. Critical scholars generally agree that it is quite out of place in the wilderness setting assigned to it by the biblical narrative. All the same, the Bible's description of the Tabernacle is so detailed that I find it difficult to believe that it is no more than a "pious fraud" of a later age, as Graf and Wellhausen suggested. (DH thinks I might change my mind if I read The Silmerillion, but it's not exactly at the top of my reading list.)

More recently, scholars such as Frank Moore Cross, Richard Elliott Friedman, and Menahem Haran have argued that the descriptions of the Tabernacle do, in fact, have some historical basis. Cross argues (quite plausibly, to my mind) that the descriptions come from plans for the tent-shrine erected by David to house the Ark of the Covenant when it was moved to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:17). Later, the authors of the Priestly Source (P) incorporated the plans into the narrative of the wilderness wanderings.*

Cross' theory is much more in keeping with my conception of biblical historiography than the Graf-Wellhausen proposal. While I can certainly accept that the biblical authors were often loose with their sources and highly imaginative in their reconstructions of history, I find it difficult to accept that they were responsible for conscious fraudulence, pious or otherwise.

*See Cross, F. M., "The Tabernacle: A Study From an Archaeological and Historical Approach," in Biblical Archaeologist, 10 no 3 S 1947, p 45-68, and
Cross, F. M. "The Priestly Tabernacle in the Light of Recent Research," in Temples and High Places in Biblical Times,
Nelson Glueck School of Biblical Archaeology of Hebrew UnionCollege-Jewish Institute of Religion, c1981.

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