Jews, Christians, and the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures by Alice Ogden Bellis, Joel S. Kaminsky

By Alice Ogden Bellis, Joel S. Kaminsky

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And Nahaliel is split into two words wlxn (they inherited) and la (God), which in this midrash is understood to mean that Israel inherited eternal life from God through the gift of the Torah. This reading builds upon the rabbinic understanding of Prov 3:18. While this verse describes wisdom as “a tree of life to those who lay hold of her,” in the rabbinic mind wisdom is just another name for Torah. 21 Then the last location of Num 21:19 receives exegetical attention. Bamoth is also split into two words and understood as twm ab (death came), when Israel committed idolatry in Exod 32:4.

But in any case these collections “present us with the earliest traditions assigned to tannaim” (Irving Mandelbaum, “Tannaitic Exegesis of the Golden Calf Episode,” A Tribute to Geza Vermes [ed. Philip Davies and Richard White; JSOTSup 100; Sheffield,: JSOT Press, 1990], 220 n. 4). Interestingly enough, Mandelbaum finds substantial differences between the Tannaitic discussions of the golden calf episode and those attributed to amoraic sources. In particular, he sees the Tannaitic sources as much more critical of Israel’s idolatrous behavior while the amoraic midrashim introduce a variety of mitigating explanations that function in an apologetic manner.

In this midrash the rabbis are troubled by the final a in the last word rather than the expected h. ” However, they still pun on the meaning “to change” by indicating that God changed the words applied to the people of Israel. While they never indicate which words God had originally applied to Israel, it is quite probable that it was Ps 82:6, a verse that the Mekilta offers as proof that Israel had once attained immortality at Sinai. And of course Israel’s fall from her state of sharing in the light of the Shechinah and the immortality it implies is supported by citing Ps 82:7.

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