Saturday, November 14, 2009

Genesis Rabbah I.IV: First Things First

Sometimes I think I picked the wrong corpus of texts to study. Don't get me wrong - I like Hebrew Bible a lot - but reading later interpretations of the Hebrew Bible can be a lot more fun. Studying how the New Testament, or the sectarian Dead Sea Scrolls, or rabbinic literature interpret the Hebrew Bible is exciting. Their Scripture-drenched worldview and ability to creatively weave texts together is fascinating.

Continuing on with Genesis Rabbah, we find Genesis 1:1 and Proverbs 8:22 intersecting again in section I.IV, but here the connection between Torah and wisdom is already established and assumed right away.

ו׳ דברים קדמו לבריית עולם. יש מהם שנבראו ויש מהם שעלו במחשבה להבראות. התורה וכסא הכבוד נבראו. התורה דכת׳ י״י קנני ראשית (משלי ח כב). כסא כבוד דכת׳ נכון כסאך מאז וג׳ (תהלים צג ב). האבות עלו במחשבה להבראות דכת׳ כבכורה בתאנה בראשיתה ראיתי אבותיכם (הושע ט י). ישראל עלו במחשבה דכת׳ זכור עדתך קנית קדם (תהלים עד ב). בית המקדש עלה במחשבה דכת׳ כסא כבוד מרום מראשון מקום מקדשנו (ירמיה יז יב). שם המשיח עלה במחשבה דכת׳ לפני שמש ינון שמו (תהלים עב יז

Six things existed before the creation of the world. Some were created and some of them were planned for creation.

The Torah and the throne of glory were created.

1. The Torah, as it is written, “The LORD made me, the beginning” (Prov. 8:22).

2. The throne of glory, as it is written, “Your throne is established from of old, etc.” (Psa. 93:2).

3. The fathers were considered in the plan to be created, as it is written, “Like the first fruit on the fig tree in its first season (lit. “her beginning”) I saw your fathers” (Hos. 9:10).

4. Israel was considered in the plan, as it is written, “Remember your congregation which you acquired beforehand” (Psa. 74:2).

5. The Temple was considered in the plan, as it is written, “Throne of glory on high from the beginning, place of our sanctuary” (Jer. 17:12).

6. The name of the Messiah was planned, as it is written, “Let his name be established before the sun” (Psa. 72:17).

The textual connections that link all of these verses to creation, or, more accurately, to the time before creation, are striking for their creativity. Hosea 9:10, for example, uses the catch-word "beginning", but in context, it clearly refers to the beginning of the fig tree's ability to bear fruit, not the ultimate beginning of all things. The intention to create Israel is very important, and here, it appears to link through sharing the verb קנה "to acquire, create" with Prov. 8:22. Jeremiah 17:12 should be the best support for the existence of the "throne of glory" as it is in the only example I could find of that exact phrase in the Hebrew Bible, but the rabbis use it to support the existence of the Temple. This language likely reflects the belief that the earthly temple was merely a copy or reflection of God's heavenly abode. But using Jer. 17:12 makes it seem like the throne of glory = Temple. So do we really only have 5 things?

As this section continues, the rabbis begin to argue over which one of these things existing before everything else existed before all the others.

To be continued

1 comment:

  1. This pre-planning will be significant for later midrashim. The Throne of Glory carried a representation of the Patriarchs, so it was necessary for their existence to be pre-planned. The site of the Temple was pre-planned because it was the place from where Adam's constituent earth was gathered and Isaac was bound. I also think I recall a midrash about the whole world having been created from it, but I don't know if that's part of the same exegesis. Anyway, the point is that all these things were fore-ordained and the Temple didn't just happen to be built over the threshing floor of Araunah.