24 July 2012

Speaking truth to stupid

I've spent the last three weeks, since the latest post, catching a cold and passing it on to my wife, watching in bewilderment the disgraceful show many Romanian politicians and some Romanian media figures are putting on these days, discovering the new, controversial HBO series The Newsroom, taking a short trip to the Jurassic Coast, meeting old friends for the first time, and savoring leisurely, at dusk, the exquisite French food one finds at Thierry Tomasin's decadent Angelus. And yes, we have booked tickets to another Royal Albert Hall event - the late night, late August Whitacre concert. Fingers crossed.

The current Romanian PM is, ironically, a former prosecutor who has recently been shown to have plagiarized his PhD dissertation and who has orchestrated a parliamentary putsch. His actions and complete lack of moral rectitude serve to remind much of Europe that my native country is still a fledgling democracy, caught between its communist past (single-party politics, nationalist demagoguery, vilification of opposition) and its seemingly unending present as a banana republic (kleptocracy, endemic corruption, a disabled justice system). By the way, a comparison between recent developments in both Romania and Paraguay (the June ousting of president Lugo) would probably be quite revealing. 

The real drama, though, is not that those in power don't spend much time in front of a truthful mirror (part of the Romanian press has laudably reflected correctly the nature of intentions and machinations on both sides of the political dispute, and the real stakes), but that a worrying majority of the public, old and young, has not had a chance to learn anything about democracy and to internalize its values. Many still respond to puerile dichotomies (one figure or another is always distributed in the role of “the embodiment of evil"), to ritualistic violence (in language or actual public gesticulation), to a carnivalesque reversal of semantics (the thief brags about his honesty, the cowardly accuses others of his own unmentionable sin). It remains to be seen if speaking truth to stupid actually helps.

04 July 2012

Times and means of rapprochement (III)

Another exaggeration in Gane's treatment of Leviticus 16 is the emphasis on Yom Kippurim as a day of judgment. Not only is the rabbinic tradition ambiguous in this regard (Rosh Hashanah being strongly associated with the idea of judgment), but one could also take into account passages like Exodus 12:15 and Numbers 9:13, that imply a Paschal judgment (under the same threat of kareth as in Lev. 23:29-30). Covenantal loyalty was not to be tested only by the strictures of Yom Kippurim. But this is a minor point.

More significantly, Gane contends that טמאה ,פשע ,חטאת and עון are distinct categories of evil, with different ritual trajectories (cf. Lev. 16:16.21). This presupposes a level of terminological specialization that is simply lacking in the Pentateuch (or elsewhere in the Tanakh, for that matter). פשע for instance is nowhere associated with “high-handed" crimes (etymology does not suffice), while it is frequently used interchangeably with חטאת or עון (from Gn. 31:36 to Ps. 51:3-5 to Micah 7:18). Gane's thesis also relies on an erroneous syntactical judgment: he cites Lev. 11:46 in support of his claim that לכל־חטאתם in Lev. 16:16.21 is enumerative, not resumptive. But in 11:46, the lamed is clearly genitival, extending the argument of the constructus תורת, and decisively preceded by a conjunctive waw. In 16:16.21, the lamed breaks the syntactical sequence (as in Lev. 5:3; 11:42; 22:5) and is obviously appositive. Finally, maybe the only reason why the טמאה of Lev. 16:16 is replaced by עון in 16:21 derives from the fact that uncleanness cannot be properly confessed (the hitpael of ידה).

Since I've mentioned the category of “high-handed" sins, I should point out the fact that one instance where Gane is wrong precisely for being a Milgromite, and not (only) an Adventist, is his rejection of the idea that the death of those who defile the sanctuary eliminates any need for further atonement. The legal principle of elimination of offenses through capital punishment is upheld in passages such as Num. 35:33 and 1 Sam. 25:39 (Nabal's crime fatally returns on its perpetrator). By the way, if “the guilt of innocent blood" had to be promptly eliminated from the land of Israel (the NRSV of Deut. 21:9), why would YHWH have tolerated a full year of accumulation of “toxic waste" at his very sanctuary? And if God's justice was vindicated only by shedding forgiven guilt (i.e. the guilt of forgiving) once a year, did God have a right to forgive in the first place?