One of the characteristics of G.K. Beale’s The Temple and the Mission of the Church is that he uses facts about Near Eastern temples and mythology as background for talking about the Israelite temple. It is a feature that some evangelical readers criticized in their reviews. One said that we could do without the non-biblical material.
Yet it brings out some very interesting stuff that, whether it exactly proves his point or not, is fascinating in its own right. For instance, he talks about how in Egypt there was a connection between idol worship and the divinity of the Pharaoh.
So texts say that the sun god, Re, gave lesser gods the ability to enter into stone idols placed in temples. This gives some insight into how some pagans viewed idol worship. It wasn’t that the idols were gods, but that they enshrined gods who existed on a higher plane.
A related idea was that the Pharaoh was a living image a god. One king said, “I am the essence of a god, the son of a god, the messenger of a god.” Beale says this throws light on the Genesis story about creation in the image of God.
In an Akkadian prayer he finds the idea that the king’s duty was to maintain the temple and to keep the gods happy by serving them and properly feeding them. In another Akkadian text from Babylon, he finds the idea that Marduk had created men on earth in the likeness of the gods he had created in heaven. Their purpose was to build temples to spread Marduk’s brightness throughout the earth.
Beale relates these ideas to the Bible’s narrative about Adam. According to Beale, God set up Adam as a priest/king in the sanctuary garden and then expelled him into the world to expand the sanctuary and spread the glory of God.
One could see this as not so much an expulsion as an inevitable and original mission of humanity. But Beale keeps close to his own tradition by saying that Adam failed in his job to be a good priest and guard of the garden and that Adam’s commission then got passed on to his descendants. It seems to me that this is not consistent. I mean, wasn’t God’s purpose to expand his glory all along? So the story of the Fall seems a slight interruption on the way to what would have needed to happen anyway.
The mission was passed on. Noah receives a command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9: 1 and 7). Abraham (Genesis 17:2 ff. and 26:4 and 24 among other passages) gets a similar mandate.
In the actual expansion into new places Beale sees sanctuary building. They put up tents (tabernacles). They build altars. They name the places with names like Beth-el, the house of God. Often they do this on a high place or mountain. God appears to them in these places.
“The patriarchs appear also to have built these worship areas as impermanent, miniature forms of sanctuaries that symbolically represented the notion that their progeny were to spread out to subdue the earth from a divine sanctuary in fulfillment of the commission in Genesis 1:26-28).”
He draws this point out in some detail concerning the narratives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But he admits that most scholars do not fully see the pattern that he does. He points out that later Jewish writings like Jubilees and some of the Qumran scrolls see Jacob’s shrine at Beth-el as temple building, a kind of rudimentary anticipation of the Jerusalem temple.
One thought I had was that Adam Zertal thought the stone enclosures around early Israelite holy sites represented the shape of a sandal. The shrines were stepping places in Israel’s expansion into Canaan. Beale sees all the sanctuaries as stepping places in God’s spreading his glory throughout the world.
Leaving Genesis, he also offers an interpretation of the Sinai encampment as a model of the temple’s three areas with an altar in the outer court at the base of the mountain, the inner court as the place part way up the mountain where the priests and 70 elders came (see Exodus 19), and the holy of holies as the top of the mountain where only Moses went and where the cloud of God’s presence dwelt.
The parallels that Beale points out are really there and they are intriguing. My question is whether he might not be pressing them into a mold that comes from an agenda more important to him than it was to the original authors. Anyway, I am enjoying this read.