Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Shavuot and Sinai?

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Of Weeks, Pentecost, and Giving the Law (Philip Jenkins).
So in 150 BC, say, Shavuot did not commemorate Moses at Sinai. By 150 AD, it definitely did. When is the transition? If it was indeed after 70, how soon after 70?

There is considerable doubt whether Luke, writing in the 90s, intended such a context for Acts. Significantly, Peter’s great speech on that occasion really contains no Law-, Sinai-, or Moses-appropriate echoes, as it could easily have done, if indeed Luke was thinking along these lines. The only marginal exception in that speech is that the men who handed Jesus over for death are “wicked” or rather “lawless,” anomon.
I agree with Professor Jenkins that Luke does not explicitly associate the festival of Shavuot (Weeks, Pentecost) with the revelation of the Torah at Sinai in Acts chapter 2. That said, there is a good argument that the story in Acts draws on midrashic exegesis of the Sinai event which appears in later rabbinic literature.

In any case, an exegetical connection of Shavuot with Sinai appears well before Luke's time.

The Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, copies of which were found at Qumran and Masada, cover the first quarter of the sectarian solar year, with Shavuot occurring between Sabbaths 11 and 12. Songs 11 and 12 are influenced by the merkavah vision in Ezekiel 1 and by Psalm 68:17-20. The passage in Psalm 68 connects (at least in later exegesis) the merkavah vision with its mention of Sinai in v. 18.

At the time of Shavuot, the Songs draw on Ezekiel's merkavah vision (as does the later Jewish liturgy) and the Psalms passage that connects that vision with Sinai. That puts the connection easily as far back as the first century BCE.

I don't have a link for all of this, but I argue it in detail, with bibliography, in the "Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice" chapter in my book Liturgical Works (Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls 6; Eerdmans, 2000). The original insights came from David Halperin and Carol Newsom.

The Christian celebration of Pentecost (inspired by Acts 2) is this Sunday, 31 May. The Jewish festival of Shavuot begins this year at sundown on Thursday, 28 May.

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