Jon Levenson on the Historical Prologue of the Treaty

An Entry into the Jewish BibleJewish OT scholar Jon Levenson again shines as he discusses the suzerainty treaty/covenant in the ancient Near East/OT.  Here he is speaking specifically of the historical prologue.  This is worth reading a few times!

“Israel began to infer and to affirm her identity by telling a story.  To be sure, the story has implications that can be stated as propositions.  For example, the intended implication of the historical prologue is that YHWH is faithful, that Israel can rely on God as a vassal must rely upon his suzerain.  But Israel does not begin with the statement that YHWH is faithful; she infers it from a story.  And unlike the statement, the story is not universal.  It is Israel’s story, with all the particularities of time, place, and dramatis personae one associates with a story and avoids in a statement that aims at universal applicability.”

“In other words, if there is a universal truth of the sort philosophers and even some religions aim to state, Israel seems to have thought that such truth will come through the medium of history, through the structure of public knowledge, through time, and not in spite of these.  History, the arena of public events (as opposed to private, mystical revelation and to philosophical speculation), and time are not illusions or distractions from essential reality.  They are means to the knowledge of God.  The historical prologue is a miniature theology of history” (Jon D. Levenson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible [New York: Harper Collins, 1985], 39-40).

Wow.  This statement has huge implications for systematic theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, and so forth.  Similarly, notice how Brueggemann talks about “strong verbs:” the OT focus on verbs, he says, “commits us in profound ways to a narrative portrayal of Yahweh, in which Yahweh is the one who is said to have done these deeds” (Walter Brueggeman, Theology of the Old Testament [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997], 145).

shane lems

sunnyside wa