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From our blog -- Tuesday, 26 July 2016
Excarnation and Invention II

Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 65-68

Continuing with the ideas of excarntaion and the invention of a normative past, Assmann picks up:

This explains why the Torah must, if it is to replace the monarchy, take over the authory to create laws (and it achieve this, as is welll known, by causing G-d to appear as law giver) and history. It achieves the latter by starting with the Creation, and instead of a list of kings, it provides a genealogy, the sequence of geerations from Adam to Moses. History frames, or rather "detemines," the law. What determines the law is what I call the "nomative past."

G-d establishes His authority through reason: the Israelites ae to obey the law because they were slaves in Egypt. The Exodus constitutes both normative and founding history that frames and anchors the law. Assmann says the the Torah is not just excarnated, it is also situated within a nomative history framework that esablishes its meaning and authority.

Assmann then uses the narrative of King Josiah's religious reform or restoration. A 'book', perhaps recognisable as Deuteronomy, is discovered and used to initiate the reform - this is not just a collection of laws and traditions, it is a comprehensive codification and enforcement.

Josiah's reform was political as well as cultic: it was a revolutionary, national liberation movement whose semantics were typical of such movements in the sense that it combined the memory of a forgotten tradition of one's own with an exclusion of outsiders that was justified by reference to that memory. Under Josiah the Kingdom of Judah was able to throw off te Assyrian yoke before succumbing subsequently to a far harsher Babylonian overlordship. The turning point of Josiah's reign occured in this brief period of respite, autonomy and memory.

Assmann points out that many scholars interpret the whole episodeas a reconstruction inspired by the subsequent exile, when there was no king to make and enforce law. He sums up his proposal:

The monarchy is not abolished in Deuteronomy, but it is domesticated and reined in by religiously based norms that have always been associayed with the name of Moses andd which now - around 622 of after 587 - were codified, perhaps for the first time, in a comprehensive book. This was the first step towards forming a canon.

An impressive argument based, of course, on certain dating assumptions, but let's see how his logic develops in the next stimulus.

Posted By Jonathan, 8:00am Comment Comments: 0