Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ordination - Evidence in the Pre New Testament Context - Old Testament Part II

As we mentioned last time, we determined that only one Old Testament practice could possibly have had some impact on the New Testament community as a setting apart custom: the laying on of hands. A lexical analysis for this practice in the Old Testament results in the identification of three terms that, when associated with the term for hand, yad, or with the term for right hand, yamin, come into play in this discussion. The terms are: samakh,[1] sim,[2] and shith.[3] In his classic chapter on the laying on of hands, Daube lumps sim and shith into the same category, due to their synonymous use in the narration of Jacob’s blessing of Joseph’s sons,[4] and contrasts them with samakh. His rationale is based on lexical differences, where he emphasizes a perceived physical difference; his understanding of samakh involves “leaning one’s hands upon someboyad or something,”[5] versus the placing of one’s hands as understood in the use of the other two terms. For Daube, the difference between the samakh terminology and the sim / shith terminology is substantial and can be summarized as follows:

The first kind of imposition is applied to certain offerings, to Levites at their consecration (which was in the nature of an offering by the people), to Joshua at his ordination by Moses and to a criminal convicted of a capital offence. It indicates, we suggest, the pouring of one’s personality into another being, the creation of a representative or substitute. . . . The second kind of imposition is applied in blessing and, to some extent, in healing. It indicates the transference of something other than, or less than, the personality; it means the employment of a special, supernatural faculty of one’s hands.[6]

The validity of Daube’s conclusions on this terminology will be discussed later. The current task is to take a closer look at their Old Testament usage due to its possible connections with the New Testament practices. Let us therefore briefly deal with each term, one at a time. Out of the eighteen appropriate constructions of sim and yad or yamin, and the four appropriate constructions of shith and yad or yamin, none are of interest to the present discussion, for even though we see the laying on of hands in Genesis 47:17-18 as a symbol of blessing, it is not related to a setting aside, installation, consecration, dedication, commissioning, or ordination. On the other hand, out of the twenty-five appropriate constructions of samakh and yad, there are four uses of interest to this research: Numbers 8:10; 27:18, 23; and Deuteronomy 34:9. In the next post we will look these passages and their use of samakh.

Go to Part III

[1] Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon [BDB] (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004), s.v. samakh. BDB simply defines it as “lean, lay, rest, support, uphold, sustain.” It is used 47 times in the Old Testament, 25 of which are associated in some way with dy, the term for hand. The majority (18) of these 25 uses deal with the sacrificial system and the laying on of hands on an animal offering. One use is the laying on of hands on the blasphemer about to be stoned (Lev 24:14).

[2] BDB defines sim as “put, place, set.” It is used 552 times in the Old Testament, 18 of which are associated in some way with dy, the term for hand, or with yamin, the term for right hand.

[3] BDB defines shith as put, set. It is used 80 times in the Old Testament, 4 of which are associated in some way with dy, the term for hand, or with yamin, the term for right hand.

[4] David Daube, The New Testament and Rabbinical Judaism (London: Athlone Press, 1956; reprint, Salem: Ayer Company, 1992), 225. Daube’s argument is based on the fact that in Genesis 48:17 Jacob laid (shith) his right hand on the head of Ephraim, but in Genesis 48:18 Joseph complains and tells his father to put (sim) his right hand on the head of Manasseh.

[5] Ibid.; emphasis mine. Here he states that “the rite of ‘leaning one’s hands upon somebody or something’ involves the exercise of some force and the force is concentrated at the base of the hand, near the joint.”

[6] Ibid. Daube, from this point on, looks at Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament witness and proceeds to categorize all the cases of imposition of hands into these two categories he has created from what he gleaned from his Old Testament lexical study. Daube never makes a strong case for limiting the field to these two categories, and I believe he errs in importing his understanding associated with these two categories into the New Testament, and he especially errs in forcing New Testament passages into these two categories which the terminology and context of the New Testament do not support.

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