2011The terminology of suzerainty relations in the second millennium B.C.E. may also illuminate a very charged theological concept in the Bible, the notion of Israel as a chosen people. The biblical term used in reference to Israel as “chosen” is sègūllâ (Exod 19:5). (The work might also be related to the akkadiana sikiltu meaning possession) In a Ugaritic document, a favored vassal of the king of Ugarit is called the sglt of his sovereign. Importantly, the term implies both subordination and distinction.68 Indeed, this tension between distinction and subordination seems to be implicit in the first biblical reference to “chosenness.” It is in the opening verses of the covenant narrative of Exodus 19: “Now, then, if you will obey me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession [ sègūllâ ] among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine” (19:5). Entering into covenant renders Israel a subordinate. But Israel is promised favored status among God’s subordinates, when faithful to the terms of the subordination treaty. Many of the Hittite subordination treaties also delineate the responsibilities of the sovereign toward the subordinate: protection against invasion; a pledge to honor the heir of the subordinate king; cementing the alliance through royal marriage; the grant of land; a pledge to support the subordinate king even if his own people request his deposal.69 Typically, the sovereign pledges to furnish the subordinate with sustenance. Mutual affective and supportive gestures are often an integral part of these political treaties.70 In like fashion, the Sinai narratives are explicit about God’s responsibilities as sovereign to protect Israel the subordinate (e.g. Exod 20:7, 12; 23:20–33; Deut 6:10–11).
Berman, Joshua A.. Created Equal (pp. 34-35). Oxford University Press. 2011 Kindle Edition.
The Problem for Moderns
A truly rational and universal God , it is maintained , could not do anything so arbitrary as to " choose " one particular group out of mankind as a whole . . . . God is the God of all alike , and , therefore , cannot make distinctions between nations and peoples . To this added the moral argument that the doctrine of " chosenness " is little better than crude ethnocentrism , in which a particular group regards itself as the center of the universe and develops doctrines that will flatter its pride and minister to its glory . the biblical notion of election have had difficulty freeing themselves of certain deeply ingrained Enlightenment biases such as the tendency to favor the universal over the particular , an essay by Jorge Pixley advocates a newfound appreciation for biblical particularism . He sees God's election of the Jewish people as a biblical endorsement of the modern ethic " that the survival of peoples with their own particularities is a human value " and that we must build " societies in which ' all can find a place . 'Pixley has reconfigured the Bible's highly particularistic idea of Israel's election into a distributive universalism that views every human culture as elect .
Yet I Loved Jacob: Reclaiming the Biblical Concept of Election (English Edition) Kindle Edition
The Reform prayer book adopted by the Berlin Reform Congregation in 1844 , The concept of holiness and of a special vocation arising from this has become entirely foreign to us , as has the idea of an intimate covenant between God and Israel which is to remain significant for all eternity . Human character and dignity , and God's image within us — these alone are signs of chosenness .
The most serious Jewish critic of election theology was Mordecai Kaplan , the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism . 18 Kaplan felt that the traditional idea of Jewish election was no longer defensible and that modern Jews " must be prepared not only to foster their nationhood but to see in nationhood as such , whether it be their own or that of any other people , the call of the spirit . By this they will achieve revaluation of the doctrine of election . "the feminist thinker Judith Plaskow , have called for the rejection of the notion of election and suggested replacing it with the rather weak notion of Jewish distinctness .
My suspicion is that the most elaborate statements on Israel's election , found in books like Deuteronomy are in fact later texts that are drawing out the deeper implications from Israel's core narratives such as the sibling stories in Genesis , stories that gave rise to Israel's earliest sense of herself . These four narratives of sibling rivalry have much to say about Israel's understanding of her chosenness . Moreover , as the reader will soon see , these individual stories are linked to one another , and taken together they contain a sustained and profound exposition of the biblical concept of election .
to demonstrate that the four rivalry stories in Genesis are an extended meditation on the concept of election , which seeks to give a full articulation and defense of this powerful idea , even while it highlights many of the problems flowing from it .
the Hebrew Bible's propensity for favoring one sibling , family , or nation over another is rooted in a worldview dominated by scarcity , which inherently engenders violence against " the other . "the text of Genesis critiques the notion of favoritism by portraying the family strife such favoritism brings in its wake .
while some modern commentators condemn the human favoritism of characters like Jacob because it is harsh and unfair , almost all commentators accept the same unfairness when it comes from the divine realm . Few commentators have bothered to articulate why such unfair favoritism should be unacceptable when humans engage in it , while the same unwarranted partiality is acceptable when it comes from God .
Cain and Abel
Internal biblical evidence suggests that one should read this as the first of many stories about brotherly struggles set off by God's mysterious choice to elevate one brother to preeminence , sometimes in consonance with a parental choice to favor the same child .
No matter how fairly things are divided up , soon enough one person will outshine another and human jealousy will be unleashed the elder brother , Cain , whom one would expect to be favored by the rule of primogeniture , 9 is overshadowed by the second - born Abel .
it is clear that the general thrust of verses 6 - 7 is a warning to Cain to control his jealous reaction .
That Cain and God are having an intimate conversation suggests that the non - acceptance of Cain's offering does not mean that Cain is utterly alienated from God or somehow cursed , but only that he is not specially blessed .
Gen 4 already indicates that those who are not divinely favored must learn to accept that God's blessing flows through the world in mysterious ways that , while merciful , are not , strictly speaking , equitable .
when one looks at the larger theology articulated by the full range of sibling stories , one discovers that often the non - elect also receive some form of blessing .the blessing of the non - elect is frequently brought about by their relationship to the elect .
Cain's elimination of God's elect does not leave him occupying that role .
with Gen 4 : 16 at an earlier redactional point . This verse tells us that not only does Cain's murder of Abel , God's elect , fail to gain him the elect's position , which he jealously wished to assume , but the status of the elect instead passes to the latest born son Seth , who , as the text reports , is Abel's replacement . Thus , God's mysterious tendency to favor certain people remains unabated , offering evidence that the point of these stories is not to critique God for having elevated one brother over the other , but to critique the all too human propensity to become hateful and hurtful toward those whom God favors .
fact that the first narrative to struggle with the issue of election is so lopsidedly preoccupied with the non - elect strongly indicates that the concept of election was never assumed to be only for the benefit of the elect , but it was always about God's plan for the whole world , the elect and the non - elect alike .
it may be more accurate to speak of divine favoring rather than divine election here .
the mysterious divine elevation of the younger sibling over the elder ,
the fact that such divine favoritism does not signal that the non - chosen is alienated from God ,
violence against the elect gains nothing for the non
elect because it does not eliminate God's propensity to continue to favor some over others .
Ishmael and Issac, Hagar and Sara
purview of God's blessings , nor does it claim that the elect escaped all hardship . The concept of election is more nuanced , and these nuances need fuller attention than they frequently receive . The motif of the child born to a barren woman is one marker used to indicate that the child who is eventually born to such a mother both comes from and belongs to God .
The near - death experience erases any claim by the human parents , who in each case surrendered the child to his death , thus allowing for God to claim the surviving person for himself in an uncontested fashion . 19 Not only is the child produced by God , but he now belongs to God as well .
bridge between the trope of the barren woman and that of the endangered child .
even when human actions are ultimately seen as part of God's providential plan , sometimes so much so that they are described as being authorized by God , this does not mean that those actions occur in a vacuum and entail no consequences
Being chosen often implies that such a child will be exposed to danger by God or other relatives , as well as posing a danger to those not chosen . Thus , Isaac's chosen status leads to his near sacrifice by Abraham as well as to Ishmael's exile and near death . In some sense this idea was already present in Gen 4 when Abel's favored status provokes Cain to kill him , resulting in Cain's exile .
themes of endangerment , family strife , and reconciliation
The oracle makes much more sense if it is announcing that the normal societal expectation that favored the elder child was being challenged .
The additional detail that Rebekah favors Jacob gives the reader a hint that in this instance , too , the sibling rivalry will be mirrored by an adult rivalry , this time between a husband and a wife rather than between co - wives .
Jacob and Esau
the grammar of Gen 25 : 23b can support the reading " the elder , the younger will serve , " just as easily as it can the usual translation " the elder will serve the younger . " The oracle makes much more sense if it is announcing that the normal societal expectation that favored the elder child was being challenged .
The additional detail that Rebekah favors Jacob gives the reader a hint that in this instance , too , the sibling rivalry will be mirrored by an adult rivalry , this time between a husband and a wife rather than between co - wives .
Jacob's having to suffer a ruse analogous to the one he employed on Isaac when Laban swaps Leah for Rachel
Toward the end of Genesis , a physically blind Jacob , calling to mind the state of Isaac when he gave his final blessing ( Gen 27 : 1 ) , rejects Joseph's attempt to imitate Isaac's preference for the elder when he gives the younger Ephraim primacy over his older brother Manasseh in spite of Joseph's
the characteristics that Jacob exhibits might not have been viewed as assets in a culture like ancient Israel's , in which one might survive only by a bit of trickery .
blessings do not insulate one from all future suffering . To attribute Jacob's later suffering primarily to his interference with God's elective plans seems to miss the point that God's elect tend to endure great suffering regardless of their previous behavior ( Gen 4 ; 22 ) .
the other election of the younger over the elder sibling that occurs within this narrative , that of Rachel over Leah . in his abode they do not elevate the younger over the elder ( Gen 29 : 26 ) , a
The notion that the tension generated by divine favoritism can be mitigated or eventually overcome is a component of the election tradition that is deepened in each subsequent story .
The question of how the narrative portrays the relationship between Jacob and Esau at the end of the story is important because it may shed light on how the final redactor of Genesis imagined the ways in which election might affect relations between the chosen and the nonchosen , or at least one possible model of such a relationship .
The idea that the rivalry is not only between siblings but can be family - wide receives further validation here . Not only do both Rebekah and Isaac participate in such family strife by choosing a favorite child , but Jacob gets directly caught in similar familial dynamics in Mesopotamia . Here not only do Rachel and Leah jealously compete for his attention , but Jacob's feud with Laban and Laban's sons ends up alienating Rachel and Leah from their birth family .
Joseph and his brothers
he is the elder son of Rachel , the second , younger but favored wife of Jacob .
appears to be highly favored by God , as demonstrated by his beauty , his clear leadership qualities , his ability to have prophetic dreams , as well as his wisdom to interpret other people's dreams and dispense good advice .
initially he misunderstands and misuses his chosen status .
brothers ' hatred is further deepened by Jacob's favoritism and particularly by Joseph's tendency to flaunt his favored status .
All the characters in the early part of the narrative act from selfish motives , and each tends to react to the other party in the worst ways ,
Joseph's elect status puts him in the second highest rank in both Jacob's and Potiphar's houses ( later he occupies this same position in Pharaoh's house too ) . Yet each time Joseph is in a high - status position a downfall occurs ,
If , as on the more standard reading , Joseph was utterly innocent , this narrative suggests that giftedness , even if properly used , can attract the wrong type of attention and bring in its wake jealousy and danger for the chosen one . On the other hand , if Joseph contributed to his own downfall by not living up to his full potential , then this narrative once more demonstrates that the special attention God lavishes on the elect carries within it a danger for the chosen who are held accountable for even minor missteps .
Once he begins to use his gifts to help others who are in desperate straits he is on a path that eventually allows him to reap the benefits of his chosenness
The Joseph story strongly emphasizes the connection between election and service , stressing that election carries with it a duty to help others . But while the narrative views service as the fulfillment of election , election exists prior to any service and appears to abide even through a failure to perform such service .
It seems likely the biblical author is indicating that both Judah and Joseph mature as characters through an incident involving charges of inappropriate sexual activity within the household where each lives .
Toward the end of the Joseph story , Joseph in many ways appears to function as a stand - in for God , like God , wants to see whether it is possible for a group of non - favored brothers fully to accept that the gifts people receive in life are never fairly distributed , especially the love and favor received from parents or from God . Each relationship is unique , and the Bible seems to say that some receive greater gifts in life than others ( cf . Matt 25 : 14 - 30 ) .
In some sense God's special love for Israel reveals God's ability to connect to humans in a much more profound and intimate way than the assertion that God has a generic and equal love for all humans .
Because a father is not an impartial judge but a loving parent and because a human father is a human being with his own personality , it is inevitable that he will find himself more compatible with some of his children than others and , to speak very plainly , love some more than others .
The mystery of Israel's election thus turns out to be the guarantee of the fatherhood of God toward all peoples , elect and nonelect , Jew and gentile .
Then Joseph said to his brothers , " Come closer to me . " And they came closer . He said , " I am your brother , Joseph , whom you sold into Egypt . And now do not be distressed , or angry with yourselves , because you sold me here ; for God sent me before you to preserve life . For the famine has been in the land these two years ; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest . God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth , and to keep alive for you many survivors . " ( Gen 45 : 4 - 7 )
This story articulates a theology of election that illuminates not only the relations Israel's election is bound up with Israel's special responsibilities of divine service , which are of benefit for the world as a whole . a modern concern for balanced power in all relationships into an ancient text that did not share such concerns . an interlocking rotation between stories involving a single mother who bears rivalrous children and those involving rival wives who bear rival children . if one hopes to see God's face and thus receive God's blessing , one must be reconciled with one's brother .
all these stories follow a common pattern in which the elder brother ( or multiple brothers in the case of Joseph and Solomon ) , whom one would usually expect to be favored by the rule of primogeniture , seems to be overshadowed by the second born .
God appears to favor individuals not favored by human convention .
why does a highly tradition - bound culture like that found in much of the Hebrew Bible contain images of a deity who does not abide by the norms held dear by the community , and even enshrined within its own divinely ordained laws ( Deut 21 : 15 - 17 ) ? the Bible's " underdog motif . " the question remains as to why a society would enshrine such a motif as a central part of its identity . Here it seems difficult to escape the conclusion that this motif's prominence is in good measure driven by Israel's perception of herself in relation to her older , venerable , and more dominant neighbors , Egypt and Mesopotamia .
it seems that at least part of the stress on the underdog motif , particularly the way in which younger brothers supersede their elders by divine choice , is connected to Israel's sense of her late - born status .
in a number of them the younger sibling who eventually triumphs is portrayed as a character who , at least for a time , is seriously flawed . God's mysterious election of the youngest child , even when he is flawed , must certainly reflect a deep - seated Israelite perception that their nation is blessed , but has not earned this blessedness primarily through merit .
The ability to sense one's chosenness and also to see one's character flaws is perhaps one of the greatest achievements of the Israelite religious mind .
a sense of ultimate meaning for one's nation , but it does so in ways that mitigate movement toward an unfettered imperialism and triumphalism . undeserved chosenness .... the divine favor bestowed in election is not to be used for selfaggrandizement . Rather , election reaches its fruition in a humble , yet exalted , divine service that benefits the elect and the non - elect alike .
those not chosen can learn to accept and live with the mysterious unfairness inherent in a world shaped by God's gracious love .
In light of parallels with Late Bronze Age (fifteenth to thirteenth centuries B.C.E.) suzerainty treaties, the covenant narratives implicitly suggest that the whole of Israel—not its king, not his retinue, not the priests—bears the status of a subordinate king entered into treaty with a sovereign king,
in Mesopotamian religion of the third millennium onward, the rejection of monotheism as we conceive
of it today was based in their conception not solely of nature but also of the polity, according to the logic of correspondences. Enlil, like his earthly counterparts, ruled by delegating responsibilities to lesser dignitaries and functionaries. He presided, like his earthly counterpart, over a large assembly.
It is important to stress that in Ugarit, kinship and kingship go hand in hand, that is, to be king over all is to be father over all as well. The genealogical metaphor of “father”
The second level of the pantheon, the active deities, included the divine royal children, the seventy sons of Athirat. As in the earthly realm, these sons inhabited their own respective houses, and they are often depicted in conflict with one another.
the king is legitimate because he has been chosen by God. The concluding phrase of the psalm, in which God says, “You are My son, I have fathered you this day” (v. 7), does not imply deification of the king. The phrase “You are my son” is a legal term found in the Code of Hammurabi, implying adoption.
I maintain that it is in covenant, properly conceived, that we may discern a radically new understanding of the cosmic role of the common man within the thought systems of the ancient Near East, one that constituted the basis of an egalitarian social order.
The Bible articulates the relationship between God and Israel as one between a great king and a lesser king engaged in just such a treaty.
Their use of history as a source to chronicle the beneficence of the sovereign as a basis for gratitude and loyalty on the part of the subordinate is nearly unique to this corpora of ancient Near Eastern treaty texts.
Before the delineation of the laws themselves, we find the following introduction (Exod 20:1–2): “God spoke all these words, saying: ‘I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.’ ” Notice the moral or legal basis on which God enjoins the children of Israel. He identifies himself not as the God who created heaven and earth but as the God who bestowed a great favor on the “kingdom” of Israel,
many of the treaties restrict the political activity of the subordinate king. He may enter alliance only with the sovereign. One Hittite treaty warns the vassal of punishment: “if you [do not seek] the well being [of Hatti and] the hand of [the Great King of Hatti], but (rather) you seek the well-being of another … thereby you will break the oath.”
The demand for exclusive fealty underlies the phrase in the Decalogue that pronounces God to be a “jealous god” (Exod 20:5).61 With the exception of the short-lived Aten revolution in Egypt, no other Near Eastern religion had posited the notion of a god who demanded exclusive loyalty.
To love, in the political terms of the ancient Near East, is to demonstrate loyalty. In the El Amarna letters (fourteenth century B.C.E.), the King of Byblos (in Phoenicia, present-day Lebanon) writes to the Pharaoh about the rebellion in his own city: “Behold the city! Half of it loves the sons of ‘Abd-Asir-ta [who fostered the rebellion]; half of it (loves) my lord.”
Berman, Joshua A.. Created Equal (p. 9). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
In his study of honor and shame in ancient Near Eastern covenant relations , Saul Olyan has shown that whereas the master owes no honor to his servant , inscriptions from Mari and the Amarna archives reveal that honor is a commodity bestowed in both directions between sovereign and subordinate in political treaty making .
In this vein , we find in the El Amarna correspondence a letter to Pharaoh from one vassal complaining that he has received less honor from Pharaoh than has another vassal . In one of the Hittite self - subjugation treaties ,a subordinate king named Sunashshura of Kizzuwatna is mandated to appear at regular intervals in the court of the Hittite sovereign . The treaty reads , “ Sunashshura must come before his majesty and look on the face of his majesty . As soon as he comes before his majesty , the noblemen of his majesty [ will rise ] from their seats . No one will remain seated above him . ”the Bible sought complementary paradigms through which to articulate the human - divine encounter in a radically new way . It sought out the metaphor of Late Bronze Age treaty making , for in it honor was a commodity reciprocally bestowed
between sovereign and subordinate . The implications are that within the biblical notion of covenant , God honors man even as man honors God .
Thus we may posit that to some degree , the subordinate king with whom God forms a political treaty is , in fact , the common man of Israel ; that every man in Israel is to view himself as having the status of a king conferred on him — a subordinate king who serves under the protection of , and in gratitude to , a divine sovereign Loyalty to a sovereign implicitly meant to the exclusion of treaties with other powers . Now we see that these terms may also be understood as expressions of the marriage paradigm for the God - Israel relationship .
As Yohanan Muffs has put it , the new idea in the Bible is not the idea of a single God — a notion that apparently had existed in Egypt in the fourteenth century B.C.E — but the idea of God as a personality who seeks a relationship of mutuality with human agents .
The laws of holiness enjoined on each member of Israel concerning "as i have commanded you" thus refers to what was commanded to tbe priests, not (as Rashi would have us believe, commanded to usin an oral law) the consumption of meat ( Exod 22 : 30 ; Deut 14 : 21 ) are similar to those elsewhere especially prescribed for the priests ( Lev 22 : 8 ; Ezek 44 : 31 ) .
If much of biblical writing reveals an ambivalent attitude toward the notion of monarchy , I would suggest it is not because of a fear of the Almighty being marginalized . Rather , these texts reflect a fear that a strong monarchy would result in the marginalizing of the common man .
Much attention has been focused on the prerequisite of Deuteronomy 17 : 15 that the king may not be an outsider . 36 But what seems no less informative is a second emphasis that stems from the wording of the injunction : “ Be sure to set a king over yourself , one of your own brethren ; you must not set a foreigner over you , one who is not your brethren . ” The “ brethren ” requirement not only excludes non - Israelites but also implies that any Israelite male may be appointed for the task . Lineage is of no concern here , because the only lineage that counts is that the candidate be one who stands in covenant with the Almighty — that is to say , everybody . He need only be a “ brother , ” that is , a citizen like everyone else , a term mentioned twice in this verse . Potentially , any citizen may serve as king .
In many cultures of the ancient Near East , the king was considered the son of God , with the implication of adoption , or election . Deuteronomy , too , speaks of the sons of God — but these statements refer to Israel as a whole ( 14 : 1 ; 32 : 6 , 18 ) and pointedly not the king , even though the topos of the Israelite king as the elected son of God appears elsewhere ( 2 Sam 7 : 14 – 20 ; Ps 2 : 7 ) . The royal ideology of the ancient Near East is here nationalized : as the “ sons of God , ” all
Israelites have the status elsewhere accorded only to the king .
The notion that each citizen is called on to recognize a socioreligious identity that transcends kinship underlies the law of Deuteronomy 14 : 1 – 2 : You are sons of the Lord your God . You shall not gash yourselves or shave the front of your heads in mourning for the dead . For you are a people consecrated to the Lord your God : the Lord your God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be His treasured people .
The implication here is that although every individual has bloodlines that dictate his genealogical identity , that identity is superseded by Israel’s collective filial relation to God . The use of the trope of the son - or sons - of - God in this fashion represents a further relocation of an ancient Near Eastern motif of royal theology within the covenantal theology of the Bible .