Letter to Grace Uberlaw continued:
To make heads or tails of this whole business we are going to need a slightly longer trip into the history of Israel, Judaism/Rabbinic Phariseeism and Christianity. We are going to have to set the Wayback machine for about 1,500 BC.
1Kings 6: 1 says that the Exodus, the escape of the descendants of Israel from slavery in Egypt, happened 480 years before Solomon built the temple in Jerusalem in 957 BC. That would put the date of Exodus around 1446 BC, but scholars who consider the Exodus a real event place it around 1250–1200 BC.
There is a very fascinating and very garbled reminiscence of the Exodus in the writing of the Greek historian Hecataeus of Abdera around 300BC. He wrote that the Egyptians blamed a plague on foreigners whom they drove out of Egypt. Their leader, Moses led them into the land of Canaan. Still more interesting (and more garbled) are the writings of Manetho, an Egyptian historian (also around 300 BC) who is quoted by the Jewish historian Josephus (37-100 AD). Manetho wrote about the Hyksos, a despised foreign people from Asia. They conquered Egypt but were eventually expelled by the indigenous Egyptians. When they were expelled they founded the city of Jerusalem and its Temple. In a second story Manetho says that 80,000 lepers and other unclean foreigners led by the priest Osarseph, united with the Hyksos in Jerusalem in an attempt to take over Egypt, but again, the pharaoh and his son chased them out of Egypt. Osarseph finally gives these lepers a code of law. The name Osarseph sounds like a combination of the names Moses and Joseph. Who knows?
All that said, the most ancient archaeological reference to Israel is found on the Stele of Merneptah. A stele is a kind of stone plaque on which kings, particularly Egyptian kings, loved to point out how wonderful and victorious they were. The Pharaoh Merneptah reigning from 1213 to 1203 BC brags on this particular stele that he had conquered the Libyans but the stele also throws in a few other conquests in case you weren’t that impressed by conquest of Libya. “Canaan has been plundered into every sort of woe. Ashkelon has been overcome. Gezer has been captured. Yano'am is made non-existent. Israel is laid waste and his seed is not.” Merneptah should visit Rogers Park or Skokie, if he thinks that Israel is no more. Merneptah claims to have defeated Israel in about 1210 BC. If Israel actually left Egypt in 1250 BC and wandered 40 years in the desert, they would not even have finished unpacking their suit cases before Merneptah obliterated them.
My point is this; it seems that Israel was well established in the hill country of Canaan (present day Israel) by 1210 BC. Another interesting detail is hinted at by the song of Miriam. It is the most archaic Hebrew text in the Bible. More usually called the “Shiryat Hayam,” the “Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15:1–18). It recounts the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptians and the crossing of the Red Sea. The style of its Hebrew comes from before 1,000 BC. We still sing it at our Easter Vigil Mass. It is a marvel that a song written at least 3,100 years ago, recounting an event that may have happed 3,500 years ago will be sung in Skokie, Illinois next week as we remember the event. Songs are easy to remember and persist for centuries even with their archaic language. All of us know that beloved old English song, “Sumer is a cumin in, lude sing cuku.” Well, at least I know it. It is medieval English at least 800 years old. Songs persist. This would hint that the song of the sea was written well before the building of the temple. It may date to the Exodus in 1500 BC. (or 1250?)
There was in fact an Exodus. Moses in fact received the law. It may not have happened exactly the way we remember it from the classic 1956 film “Exodus” starring Charlton Heston, Yule Brenner, Edward G. Robinson and that smoldering femme fatale, Ann Baxter. We all assume that Rameses the Great, (Yul Brenner) was the pharaoh of the Exodus, and therefore the Exodus had to happen around 1250 BC when Yul Brenner, I mean Rameses, was pharaoh of Egypt. This is of course because they built the city of Pi-Ramses. There is a slight detail worth mentioning. The city of Rameses existed for centuries before Pharaoh Rameses was born. Rameses like many politicians enjoyed naming other people’s accomplishments after himself. Three things should be remembered. Israel was well established in Canaan by 1200 BC, the Song of the Sea detailing the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt by means of a miracle goes way back and finally something happened that later Egyptians wanted to spin: Israel didn’t escape, we threw them out!
The Bible sometimes presents history that is poetic and telescoped, but it does present history. The Exodus and the gift of the law created Israel and have sustained Israel. Our relation to the Law of Moses is one of the great themes of the Bible. This law commanded that building of an ark, the “ahron” into which were placed the stone tablets of the law which Moses had received from Heaven. This ahron was carefully veiled and placed inside the inner chamber of a special tent called the “mishkan”, or the “dwelling.” This tent is called the tabernacle in English, a word that means “little hut” or “little dwelling” in Latin. It’s the same word we Catholics use for the box in which we reserve the Holy Eucharist. That was then surrounded by a large roofless structure made of fabric called the tent of meeting, or the sanctuary.
The ahron/ark travelled with the people in the desert and eventually came to the city of Shiloh in central Canaan, about twenty miles north of Jerusalem. About 1,000 BC, David brought the ahron/ark to Jerusalem his new capital, and his son Solomon built the Temple to house the ahron/ark in imitation of the tabernacle and the sanctuary that accompanied them in the desert. The law in the ark in the tabernacle in the temple, like Russian nesting dolls, are the foundation of all things Jewish and Christian.
As far as Rabbinic Phariseeism/Judaism is concerned, the ark is gone, the tabernacle is gone, the temple is gone. Only the law endures. As far as traditional Orthodox and Catholic Christianity is concerned they are not gone, Jesus, the Messiah is the law come to life, the womb of the Virgin Mary was a living ark, we are the tabernacle made of living stones where the presence of God dwells and we are the temple that is a house of prayer for all nations. The things seen in the desert and housed in Jerusalem were just foreshadowings of the true temple made of living stones, the Church, the Israel of God.
Next week: More about the Pharisees. They really were and are a fascinating bunch.