Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Defending Trumah and Tezaveh

We're in the boring season. The sea has been split, the Jews have been brought out of Egypt, and after 4 months of fascinating parsha stories, we're about to hit the dessert.

DH aficionados say that the sudden break in the action after the big FX scene at Sinai is proof that the book of Exodus, at least, was cobbled together by many hands. In particular, they say the stories are J and E, but the descriptions of the Tabernacle are P, reasoning that only priestly writers would be quite so interested in their own institution. [Yes, they muster other evidence, too, evidence like linguistics, content, continuity and language choices.] They say that the inclusion of the Tabernacle description was an exercise in vocational vanity, and one having no literary merit.

Robert Alter (who?) has a long essay [here page 304] which argues against this position. In sum, he says that to an ancient audience the pageantry of Trumah and Tezaveh (the two parshiot that seem to interrupt the narrative) was every bit as exciting as a car chase is to us. Though Alter believes that an editor (or school) finalized the Pentateuch, he insists that, for the most part, they brought forth a literary whole that hangs together as a work of art. His analogy, in fact, are the cathedrals of Europe, created over centuries by many hands, but cohesive works of great power all the same.

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