Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sailhamer: The Adding of Laws in the Pentateuch


Well, Sailhamer may write long introductions, but he sure knows hows to get you hooked.  When considering the composition of the three legal codes of the Pentateuch he argues that the Mosaic law was added to the Sinai covenant as a consequence of Israel's transgressions. (p42)  So the structure of Exodus-Leviticus looks a little like this:
  1. Sinai Covenant, Ex 19-31, original covenant >>>
  2. Golden calf incident, Ex 32-33, priestly indiscretion >>>
  3. Priestly Code, Ex 35- Lev16, extra laws >>>
  4. Goat idols, Lev 17:1-9, popular indiscretion >>>
  5. Holiness code, Lev17-25, extra laws
All of which serves to agree with Gal 3:19, where Paul states:  "What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions . . ." (NIV)  For Sailhamer the giving of the law is thus an act of God's grace (not a punishment) because it is God's remedy for the Israel's  breaking of the covenant (p48). All of which is really interesting, but it does ignore lots of larger narrative interuptions to the law codes and puts a lot of weight on the goat idols/demons which in Leviticus seem like more of an aside that a central interpretive signpost.  That said, Sailhamer is just sketching his arguments at the moment so he may well address these issues later in the book.

Personally, as a father of young children, I like this scheme because it is true to life.  At home we do not create new rules till the kids' behaviour demands it. In our house, as in Sailhamer's scheme, rules are purely pedagogical. The default setting is freedom and grace. However, the jury is out at this stage over whether or not this really works as an explanation of the laws in Exodus-Leviticus.

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