Friday, July 3, 2015

Trying to get at the Intended Audience

The First Five books, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, are traditionally held to have been composed by the same person, and specifically to have been written by Moses, but whether the prophet himself put style to scroll is not my interest today. Rather, since what theologians traditionally call the "literal" meaning of scripture is what the Author first intended his audience to understand, it might help to have also some idea of who the intended audience is and how they understood things.

Particularly, I want to get at the point that, even if written by Moses the Prophet in Exodus, the books of Moses are not principally written for the specific Children of Israel who followed him out of Egypt. According to Exodus, a great many of these died in the Desert, before the books could logically have been finished. Rather, the earliest reasonable intended audience for the Books of Moses (which we might almost call the Books of the Desert) would be those Children of Israel who followed Joshua without Moses out of the Desert over the river Jordan. To them, in particular, the literalistic history would be as fresh in oral teaching as anyone thought important enough to recall, but the theological meaning of it would need to be revealed.

And that is why we are not primarily interested in the question of how literalistic'ly the events of Exodus are described (how much poetically and how much prose) (or whether they happened at all — for in some way they surely did happen) because This Is Not Why These Books Were Written, and it is not why they were written because historians are not who they were written for. Neither is it why, once having been written, they come to be Canon. One can form similar considerations of the Flood, vs. "older" instances of the Flood trope, e.g. Gilgamesh — yes, other people wrote about such things, and real floods have happened, but that is not why it is scripture.

The reason the books were written, and the reason they are Canon, is to proclaim — to reveal — that God's Chosen people got lost among the pagans, and yet in the fullness of time He called them out of their exile; that in coming out of exile, they would have trusted to their own wisdom and so became lost in the Desert, and yet God taught them how (this is the Law) to get through the Desert, and still more, fed and watered them more than mere justice; that when they were opposed beyond their strength, still He protected them, so long as they kept to his commands. So much is certainly true in plain history, but more: the same is true in every ordinary human soul.


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