Hey, say it again, Moses – the book of Deuteronomy

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The name Deuteronomy in Greek means second law: it catches something about the nature of the book. It is a retelling of the story of the previous three books, Exodus through to Numbers. It is, in that sense, a republication of the law – a second edition. It takes the stylised form of a very long farewell address by Moses at the end of his life, looking forward to what he will not see: the final entry of the people into the promised land.

It serves also as a pivot in the Bible, looking back to the other books of the law, and forward to the history which will follow, Joshua through to Second Kings. That history has clearly been edited by someone (or some people) who wanted to draw attention to some of the themes of Deuteronomy. Key to those themes is a presentation of two ways: a way of life and a way of death. The idea of constructing moral instruction around two ways is a common theme of the ancient world.

Two ways: “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” Deut 30:15
Continue reading “Hey, say it again, Moses – the book of Deuteronomy”

When people called God by name

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

Some years back, in 1995, Joan Osborne sang:

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?

One of Us: written by Eric Bazilian, sung by Joan Osborne on the album Relish

At some point in their history, not only did the Jewish people believe, as they still do, that God has a special, holy and personal name, but they did indeed, it seems use it to his “face” – that is, they addressed him by that name.

In Saturday’s post on the book of Exodus, I said I would add an extra post about God’s name. The scriptures use various names for God. Near the beginning of the Exodus story, however, is the encounter Moses has with God at the burning bush. (Exodus 3:1-15) There God identifies himself with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the same God that their ancestors worshipped, and is known through the stories people tell about them.

Continue reading “When people called God by name”

Exodus: Plagues and prohibitions

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

The second book of the bible launches into the story of Moses. It very quickly bridges the gap between the story as we left it at the end of Genesis, (with the favoured Israelites living in the nicest part of Egypt) and the point where the story of Moses begins (with the descendants of those Israelites all fully enslaved by the Egyptian Pharaoh).

We begin with Moses’ birth. The story of the midwives is a masterpiece of subversive humour as the slave-race outwits the master-race (a similar sly humour pervades the story of the plagues). From there the text skips through his upbringing in Pharaoh’s household, to the story of his first attempt to take action in favour of his birth nation. Attempting to defend a fellow-Israelite, he kills an Egyptian, then flees in fear for his life. In the desert he encounters God in a burning bush1 and receives the commission to lead Israel out of slavery from Egypt to a distant promised land.

Continue reading “Exodus: Plagues and prohibitions”