Monday, August 03, 2009

Kinship By Covenant, Part 1: Will the Real Mosaic Covenant Please Stand Up?

As some of you know, I have been reading through Scott Hahn’s recently published doctoral dissertation Kinship By Covenant, and I would like to begin a series of posts considering Hahn’s claims. It’s a hefty volume and I will not be going over every detail, but will stick the stuff I find most interesting.

A quick observation before we jump in: I have been reading the book somewhat defensively, always waiting for some Catholic zinger to be thrown in my face when I’m least expecting it. Like, "So in conclusion, from the evidence adduced concerning the nature of ancient Near Eastern Hittite suzerain-vassal treaties, we clearly see that the Pope is the boss of us, and that Mary’s body was whisked away to heaven. The End." But so far, nothing. The book is primarily exegetical in focus, so the reader will have to do some dot-connecting on his own to determine what systematic conclusions Hahn is putting forth (if any). Now I haven’t finished it yet, but thus far the grinding of any Catholic axes is only implicit and not explicit.

The first bit of interesting exegesis concerns the nature of the Mosaic covenants. Now I expect that some of you are wondering if my use of the plural for of "covenants" is a typo. It’s not. As Kinship By Covenant progresses, it becomes clear that one of Hahn’s key points is that the covenant made with Israel at Sinai (Exod. 19-24) and the covenant made in the book of Deuteronomy are distinct covenants with very different emphases. He writes:

Thus, the two accounts of the Mosaic covenant (Exodus and Deuteronomy) are actually complementary records of two different covenants distinguishable in time and space.... The Exodus narrative of the Sinai covenant accentuates the familial bond which was formed by the covenant ritual (Exod. 24:1-11); whereas the Deuteronomic covenant—ratified by oaths replete with curse-threats (see Deut. 27)—reconfigures that relationship in terms of suzerain-father and vassal-son (p. 65).

Deuteronomy serves to reconfigure the familial bond between Yahweh and Israel in terms of vassalage (i.e., a treaty-type covenant between a suzerain-father and a rebellious vassal-son).... Deuteronomy implicitly recasts the filial status of Israel into a more servile form... (p. 66).
The evidence Hahn adduces for this claim includes: (1) Deut. 29:1 explicitly states that the covenants made at Horeb with the first generation and at Moab with the second generation are different, separated not only by location, but also by forty years time; (2) The Sinai covenant law was to be kept—inaccessibly—inside the ark in the Holy of Holies, whereas the Deuteronomic law was kept by the Levites "by the side of the ark" (Deut. 31:25-26); (3) The purpose of the additional Deuteronomic covenant was directly related to Israel’s idolatrous apostasy at Beth-peor (Num. 25), which was a sin as heinous for the second generation as the golden calf episode was for the first (Exod. 32); (4) Further characteristics of the Deuteronomic covenant include the fact that it was given in order to punish and then restore Israel; it includes many more layers of mediation between Yahweh and Israel than did the Sinai covenant; its focus is primarily upon curses for disobedience, the committal of which is a foregone conclusion (27:9-26; 28:15-68); and it serves to constitute the nation as a theocracy with a centralized cultic ministry.
In my next post I will draw out some implications of Hahn’s exegesis, but for now, let’s discuss what we’ve seen so far. Do you agree with this distinction? Can you anticipate where he’s going with it?