Friday, August 1, 2008

Observing the Sabbath and Universal Cultic Inclusion in Is. 56:1-8

For those of you who do not know, my research right now primarily investigates the various ways ancient Jews and Christians bring together holy space and holy time, particularly the Sanctuary and the Sabbath, focusing on priestly traditions or traditions that reflect upon or respond to such traditions (particularly P, H, and Ezekiel; Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; and Epistle to the Hebrews). Nonetheless, I was struck by the passage in Is. 56:1-8, which, although evincing some general conceptual similarities to P, H, and Ezekiel, takes a different tack in articulating how the Sabbath relates to the Sanctuary by universalizing the relationship.

In the priestly framework in the Priestly source of the Pentateuch (including the Holiness Code) and Ezekiel, improper reverence of the Sanctuary and lack of observance of the Sabbath, or their profanation, leads to being cut off from the community. The inverse corollary to this is that proper observance and reverence of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary leads to full inclusion and participation in the cultic life of the community. In these terms, Is. 56:1-8, the beginning of what is sometimes called Trito-Isaiah, brings the Sabbath and the Sanctuary together in a rather unique, yet complementary, way to the other Hebrew literature I have primarily investigated (P, H, and Ezekiel). The way the Sabbath and the Sanctuary are brought together, in itself, complements the views of P and Ezekiel: proper Sabbath observance and not profaning the Sabbath becomes the sin qua non of coming to the Sanctuary, here the “House of Prayer”— this Isaian passage, by the way, includes two of the ten instances of profaning the Sabbath in the Hebrew Bible. Stated another way, full cultic participation at the Sanctuary is the reward for observing the Sabbath. Yet Trito-Isaiah universalizes the relationship, allowing full cultic participation for Sabbath-observers who are Eunuchs and foreigners—a direct contradiction of Ezekiel’s and the Holiness School’s purity requirements. The “House of Prayer” is open to all who observe the Sabbath.

In the entire passage of Is. 56:1-8, the opening oracle to Trito-Isaiah, observing the Sabbath occurs three times (vv. 2, 4, 6) and profaning it twice (vv. 2, 6) (cf. Is. 58:13-14). In the passage, the Sabbath is paired with not doing evil generally (v. 2), doing pleasing things and keeping the covenant (v. 4), and holding fast the covenant (v. 6). Again, keeping the Sabbath is the only specific injunction mentioned. Throughout the passage, Sabbath, Sanctuary, and Covenant will be interwoven:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,

“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;

and let not the eunuch say,

“Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the LORD:

“To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,

who choose the things that please me

and hold fast my covenant

I will give in my house and within my walls

a monument and a name

better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

which shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD

to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD

and to be his servants,

everyone who keeps the sabbath and does not profane it

and holds fast my covenant—

these I will bring to my holy mountain

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and their sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for my house shall be called a house of prayer

for all peoples. (56:3-7)

In this Trito-Isaiah takes the Priestly source’s conception of the development of covenant to its logical conclusion: since the Mosaic covenant was given on Sinai alongside the instructions to build the Tabernacle already interwoven with the Sabbath, and, in fact, the Sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic covenant (Exod. 31:16-17). Since the Sabbath is a sign of the Covenant and the Sabbath and the Sanctuary are interrelated, keeping the Sabbath or Covenant has implications for maintaining the Sanctuary and its cult. In all of this, Trito-Isaiah is firmly ensconced in the developments found in the Priestly Source and, to a degree, in Ezekiel. Nonetheless, the passage takes this relationship between Covenant, Sabbath, and the Sanctuary to unexpected places.

There is a clear relationship between the Sabbath and the Sanctuary, but its specific configuration differs from P, H, and Ezekiel. More specifically, keeping the Sabbath and the Covenant of which it is a sign, one can approach and participate in the temple, the “house of prayer,” and its cultic life. Moreover, in quite a different twist on the history of their interrelationship, the oracle here universalizes the application. Both the eunuch and the foreigner receive rewards related to the temple, because they observed the sabbath and kept the covenant. The eunuch, whose source of progeny has been “cut off” will receive a monument and a name within “my house” (i.e., the temple). This monumental name is better than sons and daughters, and will not be “cut off,” or karet, the same word used for the punishment for profaning the Sabbath. Unlike those who profane the sabbath and are “cut off,” even a eunuch, who has no source of progeny and, therefore, a means of continuing his name, will receive a name in the temple that will not be “cut off.” In sum, unlike when one profanes the sabbath and they (and perhaps their progeny) are cut off from the cultic life of the community, by observing the Sabbath, even a eunuch can have a name that will endure within the temple and its cult and not be “cut off.”

Next, and this is quite an innovation, a foreigner who has “joined himself to the LORD,” can have full participation in the cult if that foreigner keeps the Sabbath and the Covenant. This passage shows some early signs of conversion. Whereas the Priestly source’s delineation of successive covenants moved from general to specific, from universal to just Israel, with covenants from Noah (with rainbow as the sign), Abraham (with circumcision), and Moses (with the Sabbath), Trito-Isaiah takes the final covenant with the Sabbath as its sign and applies it to everyone who chooses to observe it. By observing the Sabbath and the covenant, these foreign devotees to the LORD can come to the holy mountain, be “joyful” in the “house of prayer,” and offer burnt offerings and sacrifices upon the altar. The “house of prayer” is now open to all: “for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:7). Therefore, by keeping the Sabbath and covenant, the eunuch, in a reversal of the punishments for profaning the Sabbath, receives an enduring name that will not be “cut off” and the foreigner can come to the sanctuary on the holy mountain and fully participate in its cult.

This contrasts, indeed, with the pronouncements of Ezekiel, in which foreigners in the sanctuary profane it:

O house of Israel, let there by an end to all your abominations, in admitting foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning it. (Ezek. 44:6-7)

No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, of all the foreigners who are among the people of Israel, shall enter my sanctuary. (Ezek. 44:9)

Although resident aliens are accounted for, given an inheritance (Ezek. 47:22-3), they cannot participate in the temple and its cult. There may be a loophole, or perhaps an unforeseen development, since Ezekiel does not account for foreigners who keep the covenant and perhaps have become circumcised in heart and flesh. Nonetheless, Trito-Isaiah’s universalism is quite striking in contrast, taking a specific interrelationship between the Sabbath and the Sanctuary and making it applicable to all. Those who appear to be “cut off” from any progeny or “separated” from the cultic life of the temple will have those divisions rectified; if they keep the Sabbath (and do not profane it) and the Covenant, they shall be joined with the community, and have benefits in the sanctuary.

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