Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Invisible Hand

We'll get back to the Jerusalem posts soon--there are some dynamite pictures coming. For now, though, I just couldn't resist...

One of the reasons I love my work so much is because it often gives me the opportunity to read and learn about things that I am interested in but that would otherwise be neglected. As I was reading the Humble Inquiry (1749) of Jonathan Edwards while doing research for the second chapter of my dissertation, I stumbled across the following thought-provoking quote:

"...that [the Israelites vocally renewed their covenant] before they partook of the Passover (which indeed was one of their sacrifices) or entered into the sanctuary for communion in the temple worship, is confirmed by the words of Hezekiah when he proclaimed a Passover, II Chron. 30:8, 'Now be ye not stiffnecked as your fathers were; but yield yourselves unto the Lord' (in the Hebrew, 'give the hand to the Lord') 'and enter into his sanctuary which he hath sanctified forever, and serve the Lord your God.' 'To give the hand,' seems to be a Hebrew phrase for entering into covenant, or obliging themselves by covenant. Ezra 10:19, 'And they gave their hands, that they would put away their wives.'" (204-05)

There are a number of insights revealed by this bit of textual analysis, not least of them being the notion that Passover was an occasion on which individual covenants were made and received in the temple (that's what 'sanctuary' refers to in II Chron. 30:8), not just a corporate renewal, which it can appear to be. Most interesting to me, however, was that the phrase 'give the hand unto the Lord and enter into his holy place within the temple' had been robbed of its physicality--the hand had become invisible, so to speak. I immediately suspected that this was not the only Old Testament passage in which the hand had been made invisible, and further searching has confirmed this belief. (Incidentally, I'd like to put in a big plug for the website blueletterbible.org, where you can get literal translations of the Hebrew and Greek texts by searching for a bible verse and then clicking on the blue "C" icon next to it.) I haven't by any means found all of the instances in which literal references to the hand have been removed from the biblical text, but there is one usage in particular that occurs repeatedly that I think is worth mentioning.

In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and other biblical books, we repeatedly read phrases that look like this: "And thou shalt put [the special temple clothing] upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office" (Exodus 28:41; see also Ex. 29:9, 29, 33, 35; 32:29; Lev. 8:33, 16:32, 21:10; Num. 3:3). In this context we understand the word consecrate to mean something like "set Aaron and his sons apart, and make them sacred" so that they can officiate as priests. But the Hebrew phrase that the King James translators have rendered consecrate is quite different. The literal translation would be "anoint them, and fill their hands, and sanctify them." Here, as in II Chron. 30:8, the hand has been removed from the text. I'll let each of you ponder as to what the hands of Aaron and his sons were being filled with, but I think the following image from Hugh Nibley's Temple and Cosmos helpful enough that I took the time to scan it for you (if you click on the image, it will be big enough for you to read the caption).



Enjoy pondering, and I'd love to hear if you find any additional instances in which the hand has become invisible within the biblical text.

1 comment:

Jo Jo said...

I'll never know if there are other instances, I expect that you'll find those for me, however I did know this already. Miss you! Looking forward to seeing you this week. P.S. bring your games ;-)