"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Ancient Hebrew text puts religious liberty in proper perspective

In this post-Easter, post-Purim season, it it helpful to remember that politics is downstream of culture, as Russell Kirk used to observe, and culture is downstream of cult (in the classical sense of religious observance). With that in mind, here's an interesting story about a Hebrew text discovered a few years years ago: Bible Possibly Written Centuries Earlier, Text Suggests. The image at left is a copy of that text.

The text is written on a pottery shard and dates to the reign of King David in the 10th century B.C. It is identifiable as Hebrew, and contains a series of religious injunctions about caring for the poor and the marginalized: windows, orphans and even slaves. The text on the shard does not directly come from an existing biblical book, but it definitely puts forward a set of biblical themes, starting with worship of the Lord and then moving on to talk about what flows from that worship in our interactions with each other, particularly those without standing in society. As the article linked above translates the text:
1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
Why is this important? Many modern scholars thought that Hebrew writing didn't originate until sometime after the 6th century B.C. This discovery indicates that written Hebrew is several hundred years older at least than was previously assumed. And it shows the link between worship of the God of Israel and the need to strive to care for the weakest among us.

The biblical mandate for people to reach out to care for their neighbors is not something bolted on to the Bible's message. It was there from the beginning in Israelite society, the society from which the language of the Hebrew scriptures originated. From the beginning, the call to faith in Israel was not just a call to worship God, but to serve him by serving the poor, the orphans & the strangers in our midst. Religious liberty is not just the freedom to worship God, it is the freedom to serve him with all our heart & mind.

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