Saturday, April 03, 2010
The Jewish religious cycle is completing its key sequence that leads from The New Year of Rosh Hoshanana near the Autumn Equinox to the holiday of Passover near the Spring Equinox. This may be seen as a progression that leads from devotion to the Law through reminding God of the mutuality of the covenant, as in you love us and promise to protect us right?, past survival against ruthless and tempting authorities, in Hanukkah and Purim, to the assertion of national and individual freedom. The sequence is a little rough to me. Passover celebrates the triumph of the community enduring through faith and being bound closer to the Law, a return to the theme of the beginning at the New Year. Only at the start the topics of individual and group responsibility are explored in the religious sphere of the formal worship service and at the end it is the survival of the family, the individual's closest support unit that is celebrated in the home. In between the lesson is to survive by rejecting those earthly cult leaders, of the Seleucids, the Persians and the Romans, who would draw them into becoming subjects of earthly power and vanity. These culminate in the triumph over Pharaoh and departure from his doomed tyranny.
The interesting thing here is that the rejection of rivals to God's authority did not result in the replacement of foreign secular or religious establishments by the native Jewish alternative. While a Kingdom was established God warned that it was an imperfect form of government, to which he reluctantly assented, and sovereignty remained rooted in local communal identities. The priesthood while important never reduced the community to a simple theocracy, perhaps showing that the assent to the secular office of the King was part of a clever divine plan all along. After the fall of the Temple the religious office was filled by locally approved teachers or rabbis, who are not priests. Communities were essentially self governing and no earthly authority was seen as transcendent.
Cult like figures, such as Sabbattai Zevi, have arisen periodically but were always viewed as disreputable distractions. Most Jews 2,000 years ago probably viewed Paul's efforts similarly.