I have read to the end of Exodus and into Leviticus. They smoothly run each to each other, as if written at the same time, by the same author (like the Harry Potter books!) I wanted to know if this was correct, so did some online research. I learned that yes, they had been written, supposedly by a priest, and were therefore labelled by scholars as having been written by the source ‘P’. The first five books of our modern Bible make up the Pentateuch- the first of three divisions in the Hebrew Bible.
Now, what I didn’t know, is that actually, there were probably lots more of these early books. They are full of rules and measurements and descriptions (so I, for one, am not sorry they no longer exist.) However, it would mean that the Jewish religion, which is the basis of my Christian religion (and also seems to overlap hugely with Islam) went through some changes. Initially, it would be very ritual based – all the instructions were clearly laid out in multiple books. Then, in about 600 BCE, the babylonians attacked, and destroyed pretty much everything they could, including all the holy books. At the time of the attack, someone must have grabbed what they could carry, and managed to save the books that exist today. The Jews were taken into exile to Babylon, and their religion would have had to be more in their hearts, and less in their rituals. Those texts that they managed to save would have been incredibly special, and they began to view them as sacred (things always seem more precious when we only have a tiny bit). They would have studied these texts, trying to remember the parts that had been lost, striving to make sense of what remained. It had become a text based religion, but most of those texts were missing.
I found this enlightening. It explains why later Jewish scholars, those who lived hundreds of years later during New Testament times, focussed so much on the letter of the law. Something precious had been snatched from their culture, so they were clinging to the remnant (and had rather lost their focus of what it was actually for along the way.) The books we now have, though incredibly boring to read today, held huge significance. But they were only a fragment. We should remember that, when quoting a few Bible verses to prove a point – we too only have a fragment. They help to point us towards God, they are not the absolute last and complete word of God. Especially when translated into English. God has to be the focus, not our own understanding of the words of our holy book.
But, back to basics. The end of Exodus is full of instructions for the construction and use of the tabernacle. It is not a thrilling read. There’s one part, when Moses finally constructs the tabernacle in Chapter 40, which reminds me so much of camping as a child. We had a big family tent, and we had to all help sort the poles, then my parents screwed the basic shape together. We all had to stand at a corner (except my little brother, who was fairly useless) and when my Dad gave the signal, we raised the tent. When the poles were in place, the canvas was draped over the top. Something similar happened with the tabernacle. (I have no clever message relating to this, it just reminded me of camping as a child!)
The end of Exodus talks again about the cloud being in the tent, and when it rose up, the people packed up and followed it. At night, it was full of fire. I can find no natural reason for this, it was a physical miracle that all the people could see. Perhaps they needed to see, to be sure. They had messed up once, and made a golden calf to worship instead of God. Now God was making it easier for them, giving them something they couldn’t ignore to remind them who he was. I guess he does that with us too. I have (more than a few times) messed up, done things I shouldn’t, lost sight of what I believe. God always made it easy to go back to him, he helps us follow him, if we will let him.
I’ll discuss Leviticus in my next Bible blog. It’s bound to be thrilling…..
Thanks for reading.