Thursday, March 31, 2005

Shemini

[Insert standard Meredith warning here]

I've been thinking about God's Glory -- not as an attribute of God, but as the physical entity that appears to the people of Israel in Leviticus 9. It has been suggested that the phrase kevod Adonai, "the Glory of the Lord," was employed by the (late) priestly authors in an attempt to avoid anthrpomorphism. Their God was supposedly more transcendent than J's or E's, so it would have been inappropriate to speak of God Himself appearing before the Tent of Meeting, consuming sacrifices, and so forth.

A similar claim has been made regarding references in the deuteronomic/ deuteronomistic texts to God's "Name" dwelling in a place of his choosing. The latter claim is, however, being called into question on the basis of Akkadian cognates.* It is argued that in the ancient Near East, a one referred to a king's "name" the way English speakers might refer to his "majesty:" it is a circumlocution, to be sure, but ultimately, the referant is the king himself. (To take another example, it is the Pope, not his "holiness," who is currently receiving nourishment through a feeding tube, regardless of how his doctors may address him.)

It seems to me that the same is probably true of God's "glory," which is, after all, used interchangeably with God's proper name (compare Leviticus 9:4 to verses 6 and 23). In these texts, God Himself is in the "cloud of glory." Perhaps this cloud is a cloud of smoke with a divine fire burning at its center, similar to the pillar that guided the Israelites through the wilderness (although the pillar texts would seem to be J). This would (I think) make better sense of this scene, in which God descends and sends forth fire to consume the offerings with which He is presented, after which the people fall on their faces, having "seen" the Lord.

* See Sandra L. Richter's The Deuteronomistic History and the Name Theology (2002).

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