Torah Study Notes 3-2-13

March 1, 2013
P 606 Haftarah First Kings: This is the first month of Adar. The Torah portion is the story of the Golden Calf.
18:1 This conversation is similar to that between Moses and Pharaoh. There has been a drought and Elijah has been warning the king that his sins would cause God’s anger and hence the draught. Ahab and Elijah are well known tropes in the OT. Ahab has been married to Jezebel. All of the rulers in First Kings are villains. Israel was over-run by the Assyrians whereas Judah survived. The writer is suggesting that the kingdom was overrun because of the sins of its leaders. Even when Judah was overrun by Nebuchadnezzar it still persisted in exile and was then restored. This was likely written before Judah was overrun in about the year 600 BCE. N. was an imperialist who wanted hegemony over a large number of petty kingdoms. The Assyrians were conquerors who destroyed the Northern Kingdom.
When the Bible was pulled together into a sacred text about 450 BCE the exile has occurred as well as the return and the construction of the Temple. Even then it was understood that society was very structured with very little mobility. These accounts were likely held up as object lessons – the mistakes of the past – that would be informative as to reconstructing government. Here, the lesson is that the higher you are in leadership the greater are your responsibilities. LLant:: Who is really in charge here? PG: Prophets were a definite group within ancient societies. There is the nobility, priests, artisans, peasants, military, physicians and prophets. CL: There are analogies from ancient China at about the same time in the Warring States period and in the other states leading up to consolidation during the Chin Dynasty. PG: Prophets were there to deal with spiritual pain – more like social workers today. Elijah is a mythic representative of a smaller but real class of prophets who could speak truth to power – confronting a high priest or king. Their role was shamanistic. But they are often aware that their words would not be heard right away.
Note that Ahab is much more interested in preserving his material wealth during the famine – than in sustaining the people.
18:7 God tells Obadiah to tell Ahab that Elijah is coming. Obadiah knows that Ahab will kill him because Ahab is obsessed with finding and destroying Elijah. Obadiah is effectively a mole – a double agent who purported to work with Ahab but was really with Elijah.
8:16 Ahab went to meet Elijah who charges Ahab with turning away from the rule of God.
8:20 The test between God and Baal as to who is the real God. The people have been “hopping between two opinions.” LL: The use of the word :opinions” seems problematic to me. It might better be “ideas” or religions.
8:25 The people prepare the bulls and call upon Baal. Elijah mocks them when Baal does not respond. What was really the difference between Israel’s perception of God and the rest of the world? It wasn’t just monotheism – it was a God who was interested in the affairs of humanity – who would actively intervene in human affairs. Most cultures considered gods to be capricious and uncaring. The world was hostile and uncompromising but the Israelites recognized that there was also concern and kindness. Some scholars say that there would be no lasting democracy without monotheism. CL: Democracy started in Greece without monotheism. See John Rawls – and Dershowitz on the genesis of democracy.: 2000: The Genesis of Justice: Ten Stories of Biblical Injustice that Led to the Ten Commandments and Modern Law. Warner Books. ISBN 978-0-446-67677-9.
8:30 Elijah prepares a bull for sacrifice. It all looks like a spectacular magic act. God sends lightening and consumes the bull. It is a performance filled with symbolism – the twelve stones – the afternoon sacrifice preceded by a meal. Elijah has called upon God for correcting an error: turning their hearts backward. Belief in God is not to come easily – it is a challenge. The rest of the story is not here but we can assume that there will be more back-sliding. This questioning continues to this day.

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  1. ibritter

     /  March 23, 2013

    Prophets like Elijah prove themselves through their interpretations by virtue of relevance and accuracy. In other words, what they call out highlights the meaning of God’s events. But is there any causation? And, if there was not the prophet would God have not performed the act, on the premise that the people would have failed to see the significance? Assumably God’s presence has no need for prophets. In other words, God is around with or without the prophet. By the same token, it seems that religion would be void without the prophet. Doesn’t it seem profoundly that without the prophet we would still have God, but without the prophet we wouldn’t have religion?

  2. llewis1124

     /  March 25, 2013

    Thanks for the comment Bob. I think you may be getting into a theological thicket in separating God and Religion. I don’t see how there can be one without the other in Judaism but I will certainly defer to the Rabbi on that point. As to the place of Elijah – and prophets generally – I see him more as an instrument or messanger of God.


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