Monday, 25 July 2016
Excarnation and Invention I
Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 65-68
Assman's first canonisation stimulus is: The Excarnation of Laws and the Invention of a Normative Past.
The first step from tradition to writing, and beyond that to the canon, takes place in the context of the codification of laws. I link it tentatively to the ebd of the seventh century, the age of King Josiah.
Assmann argues that a book of laws is, by itself, not a legal code or a statute book; it has "no prescriptive, absolutely binding character." It is a aid to memory, a record of particular judgements or decisions and relies on an authoritative publication - what he terms excarnation - from a figure of authority, such as a king - to authenticate and enforce the laws contained in the book.
Where there is a king, one of whose main duties is to issue laws and put them into effect, no legal code is required: that would improperly restrict the king's own legislative competence. In a sence, then, a legal code may be said to replace the king.
This is Assmann's point: that the Torah replaces the king. The writing is not simply case law, but the royal decree which is codified as the word of G-d. Assmann claims that the Torah can replace the king because it includes two things that normally belong to the king: legislative authority and time or history. In the ANE, time started again with each king's reign and king-lists anchored the current king as the latest successor of divinely appointed authority.