Last week there was a symposium here in Durham on ‘The Giving of the Torah at Sinai’. It was primarily focused on later interpretations and appropriations of this event. The participants focused mainly on Jewish writings (Philo, Josephus, apocrypha, DSS, rabbinic Judaism, etc.), but there was also a good mixture of Christian and patristic papers as well. It was interesting to see how later biblical and (especially) post-biblical writers appropriate Moses or Sinai in order to bolster the validity of their new revelation or interpretation.

Although I was just a postgrad tagging along, I got to hear several good papers and meet a few interesting people. In particular, there was a paper by George Van Kooten (Univ. of Groningen) on “Why Did Paul Include an Exegesis of Exod 3 in 2 Cor 3?” He focused on the connection between the sophists use of Moses as a prototype (?) of good sophistry so Paul responds against their use of letters of recommendation and the use of Moses in this way. A particularly compelling paper was that of Matthias Henze (Rice Univ.), “A Lamp Lit at Sinai: Eschatology and Torah in 2 Baruch”. He argued that though 2 Baruch is apocalyptic in nature it was much more main stream than people recognize because it doesn’t have the us/them polemic than many apocalyptic writings do.

I also met Andrei Orlov (Marquette Univ.), who is a co-chair of the New Testament Mysticism Project Seminar. Hopefully, my thoughts will be organised enough by the time they get around to Paul. He at least seemed interested in my topic as relavant to what they’re doing. He also introduced me to a patristics guy also from Marquette–Alexander Golitzen. He had a couple of good recommendations for patristic sources that would be very relevant to what I’m doing.

The keynote address was given by James Kugel (Bar-Ilan Univ. and Harvard Univ.)–“Some Unanticipated Consequences of the Sinai Revelation: A Religion of Laws”. He gave a popular level paper regarding the development of laws/legalism in Judaism. His basic thesis related to the human management of the divine-human relationship. He argued that the early Hebrews viewed an encounter with a very anthropomorphic God as a frightening and life-disturbing/changing event. The encounter wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was NOT something one would seek. Later, two separate but related systems developed–temple worship and the legal system to help manage the interaction with God. These allowed a formal way to interact with God, so it was more controlled but also more regular. Van Kooten asked afterwards about his perspective on the New Perspective, and he said you could potentially call Judaism a system of grace, but in reallity it’s about laws, especially post-70 with the rise to prominence of rabbinic Judaism.

All-in-all, I thought it was a good use of 2 or 3 days. It also helped keep me up on 2nd Temple Judaism since it isn’t much in focus in my project.

Sinai Symposium Programme