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#Exodus 39:1-31

Making the priestly garments

This section is basically a near-verbatim fulfillment of the instructions from Exod 28, which isn’t so surprising. What’s interesting here is this repeated phrase, “as YHWH had commanded Moses,” which shows up seven times.
What makes this otherwise pretty standard phrase interesting here is that in all of the Tabernacle construction preceding this, that phrase had appeared only once - and that in the late section we just read, in the summary statement of 38:22.
Suddenly it appears after basically every subsection in this chapter - and seven times, which is a number that we’re trained as biblical readers to sit up and take notice of. (It doesn’t always mean something. But it is a semi-regular structuring device, as probably here.)
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#Exodus 38:21-31

A little accounting

It’s not that lists and numbers and adding are foreign to the priestly story - far from it - but this section seems, to my eye at least, patently a later insertion. It both interrupts and contradicts its context.
At the beginning of the construction section, the Israelites were to bring all of their materials to make all the Tabernacle stuff. But here we’re getting an accounting before they’re done - they haven’t made the priestly garments yet.
You might say, sure, but they’ve made all the stuff that uses the precious metals, so that’s why this is here. But they haven’t, actually: the priestly garments require gold too, plenty of it.
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#Exodus 37:1-38:20

Bezalel gets to work

Here we have the long description of everything that Bezalel, master craftsman, made for the Tabernacle. Which is to say, all the good stuff, basically in descending order of awesomeness. (Okay, holiness.)
He starts with the ark, which resides in the innermost sanctum; then the table and the menorah and the incense altar, which are in the chamber just outside the ark. All of these are made of gold, which signals their status and sanctity.
Then it's on to the copper stuff outside the sanctum, in the courtyard: the altar for burnt offerings and the wash basin. And here we encounter what is decidedly one of the weirdest details in the whole thing: the wash basin and its stand are made from...women's mirrors?
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#Exodus 32:1-6

The golden calf

Let’s get the story straight here:

Despite what you may have heard or read, the sin of the golden calf was not idolatry or apostasy.

Come and see.
What is it that prompts the people to make the calf? It’s not the absence of YHWH, who was never just hanging around the camp anyway. It’s the absence of Moses - without whom their access to the deity is eliminated. They don’t need a new god - YHWH hasn’t changed.
What they need is a new conduit to the deity. Specifically, they’re stuck in the middle of the wilderness and need someone, or something, to lead them through. We don’t know what happened to Moses, they say. You don’t replace Moses with a different god. They didn’t worship him.
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#Exodus 31:12-17


Why does P feel the need to put the sabbath law here? (We might actually ask why P has a sabbath law at all, if we were being cheeky, but I’ll let it slide.) But why here, in the Tabernacle blueprint section?
The rabbinic-style answer would be that here all Israel is working at building the Tabernacle, so they need to know to stop on the seventh day. Which is also why the categories of work forbidden on Shabbat are aligned with those needed to build the Tabernacle.
There’s something to that - at least, the sense that this is an all-Israel venture, and the sabbath is too, while the ritual laws to come in Leviticus are almost entirely about individuals.
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#Exodus 31:1-11


This is really just a long-ish section of YHWH telling Moses that a couple of dudes, Bezalel and Oholiab, are going to be the lead craftsmen for the Tabernacle, with help from whoever is similarly gifted. My question is: who is Bezalel?
I don’t mean in the narrative world: we get his full two-generation genealogy and his tribal affiliation, and we know what his function in the story is. I mean more like, where did he come from in the tradition?
He’s known only to P, which is sensible, since only P has the whole Tabernacle thing. But where does P get the name, the genealogy, the tribal affiliation? Is it just invented entirely? Is it some old tradition among the priests? Was the name written in graffiti on the altar?
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#Exodus 27:1-8

The sacrificial altar

For the center of activity in the Tabernacle, the altar doesn't get any special attention here - fewer verses devoted to it than to the court in the next section, for example. And there are aspects of it here that, well, don't matter much.
Why does it need to have a mesh grating? I don't know. It just does, okay? The poles and the hollowness - well, those are for carrying the thing, but they have no other function.
All of this just to say: what we're doing here is describing the objects in the Tabernacle - bringing them solidly into the mind of the reader. There's going to be chapters and chapters of what to do with them, especially with this one.
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#Exodus 26:31-37

What...the curtains?

The sacred space in the Tabernacle is marked off by the fancy curtains, made of the rarest colors - blue, crimson, and purple - and the finest weaves and designs. These are basically the doors - remember, the desert Tabernacle is a tent.
Hey remember that bit in the Ten Commandments that some people think means that you couldn’t have any images of anything anywhere in ancient Israel? Explain the depictions of the cherubs declaring the curtain in the holiest space in Israel, then. (Don’t really try, please.)
I said before that gradations of holiness in the Tabernacle are signaled by the metals used in its construction, and here’s a good example. Silver sockets for the inner curtain, copper for the outer curtain. Is it super important? No. Is it a thoughtful detail? Sure.
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#Exodus 26:1-30

The walls of the Tabernacle

Okay, it’s true - this might be the most boring material in the entire Pentateuch. And it’s Passover tonight, so let’s not get carried away with some massive thread here. Two quick points:
It somehow became a thing for people to translate the words ערת תחשים, for the upper covering of the Tabernacle, as “dolphin skin.” The skin part is right - the dolphin part is pretty unthinkable. Serious attempts have been made to defend this idea, but I just can’t buy it.
The NRSV has “fine leather” here, which is a cop-out, but which at least isn’t embarrassing. Dolphin skins - I mean, come on. In the middle of the damn desert? Just mind-boggling.
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#Exodus 25:23-30

The table

If the ark and its cover are the place where YHWH sits, the table is...well, the place where YHWH eats and drinks. Yeah, I said it.
It’s a gold table with gold drinking vessels and you’re supposed to put bread on it. Later Jewish interpretation went to great lengths to describe how the bread was to be laid out, and changed weekly, etc., but the Bible doesn’t give us any of that.
All we know is that there is supposed to be bread and wine on the table in the inner sanctum of YHWH’s dwelling place, the Tabernacle, and for sure no one else is eating and drinking in there.
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#Exodus 25:17-22

The cover for the ark

Or, if you’re being old-timey about it, the “mercy seat.” I find that translation funny - like, as if “mercy seat” is a known thing, and Moses should just make one. Hey, make a mercy seat. It’s, you know, not a thing.
The translation “mercy seat” comes from the notion that the Hebrew name, כפרת, comes from the same root that means “atone” (though the jump from there to “mercy” has a pretty goyish ring to me, I must admit). The idea would be that from here YHWH accepts atonement for sins.
But that isn’t what the text says, here or anywhere else either. P is pretty clear about what this thing is for: it’s the precise spot in the inner sanctum of the Tabernacle where YHWH physically exists, and from where YHWH speaks to Moses (cf. Exod 30:6; Num 7:89).
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#Exodus 25:10-17

The ark

Don’t get excited - this isn’t the ark of the covenant. Well, it is, sort of. But it isn’t. Let me explain (briefly).
P will never call it the ark of the covenant, because in P there’s no covenant here, and no covenant gets put inside the ark. That’s only in D, and that’s the only function of D’s ark: to hold the tablets of the Decalogue in the sanctuary.
This ark only seems like the ark of the covenant because it’s what we picture when we think of it (thanks, Indiana Jones): gold, with the poles extending out to carry the thing. Not the simple wooden box of D. (That’s the ark of a carpenter. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
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#Exodus 25:1-9

The Tabernacle: Introduction

Welcome to the wonderful world of P, where generations fly by in just a few words, but where we can devote six chapters to the incredibly detailed instructions for building and furnishing the Tabernacle.
This stuff is dense and difficult at times and boring - but it’s also the heart of the priestly document, the necessary prerequisite for all the priestly ritual instructions and broader worldview.
And at the heart of the Tabernacle blueprint is the idea we have right here at the beginning: Israel will make a sacred place, a מקדש, and YHWH will dwell in their midst. This isn’t metaphorical - it’s as literal as it gets. The Tabernacle is YHWH’s home, and he will live there.
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#Exodus 24:15-18

Moses goes back up the mountain...twice

If we’ve been following along with the various theophanies - the visually oriented fire and smoke of J, and the auditory thunder and clouds of E - then some of what we find here is...odd.
The first line makes perfect sense in our E story. God just told Moses to go up the mountain, Moses just made plans for who would be in charge while he was gone, and here in 24:15, up he goes. And the cloud is of course good E too - this is how YHWH shows up, here and elsewhere.
Suddenly, though, it gets weird. The “presence of YHWH?” That’s a new term for God. (Not just new to this story - basically new to the entire Bible. Yes, it’s in Exodus 16, but we learned that that bit has been displaced from its original position later in Numbers, remember?)
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#Exodus 24:12-14

Tablets...of what?

God tells Moses to come up the mountain and get from God the tablets “and the torah and the commandment” that God has inscribed to instruct the Israelites. This verse has troubled people forever, and with good reason.
So first let’s decide what story we’re in. It has to be E: not only is E the only story with any content that could be called instruction, in J Moses is already on top of the mountain, while in E he’s down below with the people sacrificing.
Add to that the presence of Joshua, who is unknown to J in the Pentateuch, and Moses’s old pals Aaron and Hur, whom we last met holding up Moses’s hands while Joshua fought the Amalekites back in Exod 17, and we should feel pretty good about the E identification.
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#Exodus 24:1-11

The covenant...and a picnic?

As we return to the narrative from the laws of the Covenant Code, we are immediately faced with problems. This is a classic little section for compositional analysis, and it revolves mostly around where Moses is supposed to be.
When we left Moses canonically, of course, he was up on the mountain receiving the laws of the Covenant Code. So when we start here in 24:1 with instructions for Moses to ascend, that should be a red flag.
It’s only made worse when God goes on to say that not just Moses, but a bunch of the people he left behind down at the bottom of the mountain should ascend with him. It seems pretty clear that Moses isn’t where Moses ought to be.
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#Exodus 23:20-33

Instructions for conquest

Finished now with the laws proper, YHWH returns at the end of the Covenant Code to the narrative situation, the Israelites who are about to travel through the wilderness and soon come to Canaan. (Yes, soon - there’s no 40 years in E.)
YHWH promises Israel a divine messenger to lead the way. This will be important for us later, because the sources disagree quite sharply over how and whether the Israelites have any divine accompaniment through the wilderness. But E is consistent: YHWH sends a messenger.
Among the things that the sources differ about, how the conquest will happen is often overlooked (though not by my teacher Baruch Schwartz, who has a lovely essay entitled “Re-examining the Fate of the ‘Canaanites’ in the Torah Traditions”).
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#Exodus 22:15-16

So you seduced a virgin...

It’s not a coincidence that this law follows on the ones about what happens if your neighbor’s property gets damaged while in your possession. Because this law is pretty much about property damage. Just the property is the girl.
This law is the equivalent of “you broke it, you buy it” where the thing you’re breaking and buying is a person. The girl’s value is attached to her virginity. She’s worth more that way. You remove that from her, and she’s a tougher sell for her father.
(Just to be provocative for fun: the word used here for virgin, בתולה, is, you know, the word for virgin. As opposed to the other word that’s used in Isaiah 7:14.m, which, you know, doesn’t mean virgin. Okay back to our regularly scheduled programming.)
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#Exodus 22:6-14

Laws about evidence and testimony

The ostensible topics here have to do with what happens when you have something belonging to your neighbor in your possession, and something bad happens to it. Which is fine and all. But that’s not the really interesting part.
The basic setup is that a thief steals your neighbor’s stuff from your house. Now if the thief is caught, he pays double like normal (see 21:3). Easy. But if he’s not caught, now it’s just your word that it was stolen by someone else - rather than by you, you dirty rat.
And this is where it gets interesting. The owner doesn’t know what happened to his stuff - it was with you. You can’t prove it was stolen: the thief got away. The owner has every right to claim compensation from you, but it wasn’t your fault; you weren’t negligent.
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#Exodus 29:19-23

The altar law

A sort of preface to the Covenant Code proper, the first thing YHWH says to Moses is, in canonical terms, perhaps also the most controversial. Sacrifice wherever you wish, build your altars in multiple different ways - that’s confusing!
The only way to make sense of it canonically is to understand it as referring exclusively to the period between the entrance into the land and the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. Which is possible, I suppose, but is sort of a weird thing to say at this point.
In the wilderness, of course, the people are (again, canonically) only to sacrifice at the Tabernacle in the midst of the camp, with its single exclusive very differently-constructed altar. And of course once the Temple is built that’s the sole place of worship.
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#Exodus 20:16

The eighth commandment

You shall not bear false witness.

Despite nearly two millennia of interpretation, this commandment isn’t just some fancy biblical language for the broad category of “lying.” It actually is about what it says: being a witness. In court.
You can’t violate this commandment in private. Witnessing was a public act. (Remembering that witnessing here means saying something, not seeing something.) It’s not regular old lying or deceit - there’s a different Hebrew word for that, and there’s no biblical law against it.
This is, simply, a law against perjury. Why would such a thing be in the Ten Commandments? Seems awfully specific (which is why, I think, everyone from Origen and Augustine on wanted to expand the meaning). But there are multiple biblical laws about testimony, for good reason.
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God bless America again!
*1.Oneness in theology
*2.Apostolic in Doctrine
*3.Pentecostal in experience
*4.Holiness in lifestyle
*5.Christ-like in character"
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1/ OK a few more #Exodus thoughts (because I'm going through a mountain of parsha stuff amidst all my other writing) connected to the #DvarTorah here about the nameless collective-compassionate action of the multitude being the engine of the salvation.
2/ It struck me to link to another conundrum (kinda like the large plague frog in the room): how Pharaoh has his free will removed

So, the nameless action could be a purposeful contrast to the singular powerful individual who normally is history's focus.…
3/ IMO God manipulates Pharaoh in order to prevent one person making too much of a difference!

This ties into another larger point I often make about the culpability of the Egyptians & how actually they, not Pharaoh, are the focus of the plagues.
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26.01/ Week twenty-six, Jan. 9-15, 2021, begins here.

Last week's thread is here:
26.02/ Maggie H reports: "I asked for comment from the WH on the chants to hang Mike Pence. 'We strongly condemn all calls to violence, including those against any member of this administration,' said Judd Deere, a WH spokesman" & I love this response:
26.03/ Dr. Perry is right on the money here:
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