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This week we finish the book of Numbers.  The Israelites have come to the river Jordan, and are getting ready to enter the promised land.  Moses takes care of some unfinished business - going over some laws, a battle of vengeance against Midian.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad ask permission to settle in Transjordan instead of crossing the river, and after they assure Moses that they will take part in the conquest of the promised land, providing vanguard troops, they are allowed to leave their families and their cattle in cities already conquered.  The apportionment of the land is reviewed, including an addition to the inheritence of land by daughters when there are no sons - and Zelophahad's daughters agree to marry within their clan so that the land does not pass from the tribe.

So now we are about to read about the crossing of the Jordan and the conquest of the promised land, right?

Oh, wait...

This double reading ends the story begun in the book of Exodus of the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and it makes sense for it to be a stopping place or a prelude to the story of Joshua.  In fact, some scholars believe that the Pentateuch should really be a Hexateuch, including the book of Joshua.  Others have said that the Torah should end here, with the end of Numbers, and that the book of Deuteronomy should be attached to the Deuteronomic histories (the Lesser Prophets in the Jewish canon) since it matches them in style and probably of the time of its writing.

But of course, neither of these is the case.  Torah consists of the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers - and Deuteronomy, which we will begin reading next week.

Every year our liturgical cycle ends with Deuteronomy, and goes back to In the beginning.  The land is promised but never achieved, except for the settling of the tribes of Reuben and Gad (and later half of the tribe of Menassus) in the parsha Masei, at the end of Numbers.  And of course, this is not in the promised land itself.

In the spring I began to lead a study group on the Deuteronomic histories* which got through Joshua and part of Judges.  I plan to resume this in the fall.  We began with a discussion of the purpose of histories in the world until the past 200 or so years.  It is only then that we began to view history as the study of what happened.  Before then, history always had a purpose, usually to exalt the leaders, and to denigrate the previous leaders, whoever they were.  Revisionists go back to the Egyptians who changed the names of leaders in inscriptions describing battles.  Actual history always includes a point of view.  (There was a brief discussion in a recent diary about the revisionism in Shakespeare's Richard III.)

So we are left on the margin of history, poised to see what happens next - only we will not see what happens next until much later.  In an election year, we are all poised on the margin of history, and all we can do is work and plan for what happens next.

Shabbat shalom.

*In the Jewish canon, histories are not a separate entity.  The Deuteronomic histories include Joshua, Judges, I and II Samuel and I and II Kings.  Interestingly, this is actually closer to a chronological presentation of the books, since other books included with these histories in other canons were written much later.


Originally posted to Elders of Zion on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 02:13 PM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 02:13:52 PM PDT

  •  There's good revisionism and bad revisionism (5+ / 0-)

    Good revisionism takes a closer look at the historical FACTS and reappraises the conventional wisdom.  For example, Neville Chamberlain and Warren Harding are two reviled figures in British and American history, but I have taken a second look at both of them.  Chamberlain radically changed his view of Hitler when Hitler tore up the Munich Pact and occupied what was left of Czechoslovakia, and from that day until his death just 1 1/2 years later there was no stronger opponent of Nazism, and that includes Churchill.  Besides, the Munich Pact taught the British public there was no alternative to war, and the British knew they had to fight and die to stop a greater evil.

    And despite Teapot Dome and his many girl friends and corrrupt Justice Department, Harding single handedly ended the Red Scare, including releasing Eugene Debs from prison.  He urged the White South to allow blacks to vote, supported international disarmament, and moderate Progressive initiatives such as efforts to prohibit child labor.

    By contrast, bad revisionism invents facts.  The Tea Baggers are very guilty of this, inventing all kinds of things the writers of the Constitution supposedly did but didn't, such as establishing Christianity as the national religion.

    Thanks Ramara and Shabbat Shalom.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 02:48:43 PM PDT

    •  I'm reading (5+ / 0-)

      Robert Caro's Master of the Senate.  And right now he's looking at Johnson and civil rights - personal, public, compassion and ambition.  People are complex - but some people are more complex than others.

      Thanks for the info on Chamberlain and Harding.

      Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

      by ramara on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 02:54:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  One more nice thing about Harding (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        slksfca, ramara, mapamp, blueyedace2, mayim

        When he was accused of having black ancestors, his response was "as far as I know it's not true, but, if it were, that would be OK as long as they were good people."  That was quite a bold thing to say in 1920.  

        A decade and a half later, FDR would give the same answer when he was accused of having Jewish ancestors.

        "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

        by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jul 20, 2012 at 03:08:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  interesting in a symbolic sense (0+ / 0-)

    and no doubt someone has written and commented on it before...the idea of never getting to the promised land...that the promise is always alive for us spiritually seems significant to me...making progress, advancing or growing spiritually as a process and as a journey and as a goal to which to dedicate one's life.

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