Monday, May 18, 2015

"Literal" meaning

for we handed on to you what we also received...

That is, I'm not making this up: the "literal" meaning of scripture, the most basic and oldest true sense isn't identically the first meaning that would spring to your mind or mine, but the one the insipired author had in mind. That is, it helps to know the author and something of their character. For instance, the author of Exodus is pretty-universally held to be the same human person as the author of Genesis (and of Genesis 1-3 in particular). Anyways, the literal meaning of such a passage in Exodus as
And when [Moses] was in his journey, in the inn, the Lord met him, and would have killed him
need not be that the Lord sought to kill Moses. Could the Lord seek to kill Moses and fail? And it certainly doesn't mean there was a Prancing Pony by Barliman Butterbur in Northwest Sinai. The literal meaning of the next,
Immediately Sephora took a very sharp stone, and circumcised the foreskin of her son, and touched his feet and said: A bloody spouse art thou to me. And [the Lord] let [Moses] go after she had said "A bloody spouse art thou to me", because of the circumcision.
need not be that the Lord absolutely requires the mutilation of all the man-children of Abraham, whether of root stock or grafted on. Indeed the First Council (of Jerusalem) clarified that what are called the works of the Old Law (from circumcision through Temple Sacrifice) do not bind the Body of Christ, and indeed may not be fitting for all its members, even those works that are still gramatical.

Whatever the literal meaning, here is a plain narative actually present in the sequence: while Moses had accepted his vocation at least so far as returning towards Egypt (and so putting himself in danger's way), yet he had not formed such an interior faith as he would choose to join his own children to the children of Israel; and yet, somehow, his wife the stranger had sufficient faith to supply what was wanting in Moses, and, most amazing, this did satisfy the Lord. We can later consider (i.e., I won't just now) the relative necessity of circumcision itself, whether it is an essential part of this text or if it only means inclusion in Israel, and all that. It would be sufficient, however, to understand the text, that the Lord required of Moses that he raise his own children as Israelites, and Moses (or Sephora) understood that this must include their circumcision.

(We might well wonder by what grace Sephora was able to "immediately [find] a very sharp stone", which must have been a very sharp stone indeed, though inns are supposed to be well-supplied houses...)


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