Monday, June 4, 2012

The Christian Moses: Moses the Seer and Christian Authority

In a previous post, I laid out a preliminary hypothesis of why Christians were increasingly appropriating Moses' visions on Mount Sinai and to what ends:  asking the questions of "what did early Christians say Moses saw on the mountain?" and "why does it matter?"; that is, exegesis and its social implications.  I want to elaborate that working hypothesis a little bit, with the understanding that it is a working hypothesis--a general guide to my research and something that will, most likely, change as I accumulate more sources.  

Whenever I have noted to others that early Christian authors make Moses a proto-Christian or that, according to early Christian literature, that in his visions he foresees Christ or, somehow, more directly encounters Christ, the inevitable response is “of course they do.”  But I think an important dimension is often overlooked in this response:  that by making Moses not just a proto-Christian seer, but, being the prophet par excellence, he is being offered as the ideal Christians should emulate.  Still….of course….they do…  In this response, however, he will not just be co-opted as the ideal Christian, but as the ideal Christian leader; he is mobilized exegetically, especially his visions upon the mountain.  His sexual abstention to see God is invoked by Christian monastics, and, as the episcopacy increasingly is taken over by monks, it too would invoke the example of Moses for their own practices and the powers and authority that accrues to them through those practices laid down by Moses.  In his actual ascent upon the mountain to mediate between God and the people, Moses enters into the dark cloud and see the “pattern of the Tabernacle,” allowing him to see, enter, and comprehend the very essence of all things, whether God (dark cloud) or cosmos (“pattern”):  by seeing the very form of God (Num. 12:8), he becomes the ideal for the Chrisitan seer.  He is not just any Christian seer, but those at the height of the hierarchy (literally speaking).  Noting Moses’ unique status, they claim it for their own to now stand between God/Christ and the people/church.  Co-opting Moses’ visionary abilities, they highlight those abilities even greater than their more ambivalent Christian predecessors in a double-move to reinforce their own authority.  Building upon trends in the New Testament, this occurs in three interrelated maneuvers that lead to a fourth post-New Testament claim:
1.     Jesus as prophet like Moses; Moses as proto-Christ (this is all over the place, but most often in Gospels, most patently in Matthew; see also Acts).  Jesus picks up on Moses’ intermediary role, as one who gives and interprets God’s covenant, and stands between God and the people.  In a way, this justifies Jesus' authority and provides continuity.
2.      Moses the visionary who sees and does not see.  In NT, Moses does not see God; no one sees God, but the Son (except in Hebrews 11).  Once denying all access to God except through son, and concurrently noting that Moses received law through angels; then Moses is demoted as Christ is promoted, even as Moses is praised as an exemplary prophet who foreshadows Christ throughout.  Moses' visions are suppressed in order to promote Christ as greater.
3.     If Moses and Christ are not always fully models of each other, we also have concurrent traditions of Moses as proto-Christian (the flip side are that Christians can emulate Moses).  Moses can foresee Christ (either through interpretation of law, or literally).  He also acts as Christians ought to act (Hebrews).  His “proto-Christian” status is especially highlighted in Hebrews, but, interestingly, Hebrews who carefully delineates the differences between Moses and Christ as servant and Son respectively restores Moses’ visionary abilities in ways not found in other NT texts.  Having already claimed that the Son was greater in chapter 3 (citing the same verse in Numbers that claims Moses was ideal seer), Moses could then see the invisible God in chapter 11 and endure suffering for Christ.
4.     Especially as we move in the post-NT period, we find a reaffirmation and reassertion (and sometimes amplification) of Moses’ visionary abilities among those who would be considered orthodox in later years (interestingly, not so much among, for example, Gnostic works), but now it is not that he sees God, but sees Christ (something that might lie behind the affirmation in Hebrews, but it left implicit at best there).  This happens in multiple ways:  he foresees Christ; he literally sees Christ (and anytime anyone claims to see God, they see Christ pre-incarnate); and the weird thing on the mountain where Moses’ ascent to Mt Sinai and Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain is the same event (not a foreshadowing, not a typology, but the same event), bending the laws of space and time.  Once Moses is the seer of Christ, he can be set up as the model of a mediator between God and people again, but no longer God and Israel, but Christ and the Church.  Thereby, he becomes the perfect model for early Christian leaders, who mediate between God and the people.  In this way, he is not just co-opted as a proto-Christian; as an analogy, or even as an exemplary model to follow (although he is all of these):  he is the justification for Christian clerical authority—they can invoke him as a proto-mediator of whom they are now the current iterations.  Once this fourth piece is in place, the exegetical mobilizations explode--even to the point that his role "as god" (Exod. 7:1) will be reaffirmed!

No comments: