Sunday, November 16, 2014

The rock that followed them

One of Peter Enns's prooftexts for denying the inerrancy/historicity of Scripture is his take on 1 Cor 10:4. Beale has a skillful rebuttal:

However, I'd like to approach the issue from a different angle. 

i) There's a circular quality to Enns's position. He regards Paul's interpretation as a fictional gloss on a fictional event. Therefore, he doesn't bother to ask what this would mean if, in fact, the Exodus really happened, as well as miracles by which God sustained the Israelites in the wilderness.

ii) The number of Israelites is disputed. But whatever the figure, the Sinai desert had insufficient food and water to naturally support the Israelites. They needed drinking water on a regular basis. What else did they have to drink? Wine production wasn't an option of a nomadic party in the desert. Maybe they could drink goat milk, but that wouldn't be enough. And, in any case, that only pushes the same problem back a step, for livestock required sources of water no less than the Israelites. Admittedly, livestock can drink water that's undrinkable for humans. 

There might be the occasional flashflood, but that's rare. Not a steady source of water. Same thing with seasonal wadis. Perhaps there were a few scattered oases in the Sinai. I don't know that for a fact. If there were, that would be prime real estate, jealously guarded by the locals. Not just there for the taking. That's my operating assumption.

On the face of it, it would take a miracle–indeed, repeated miracles–to supply the Israelites with enough drinking water throughout their 40-year slog. 

iii) In that respect, there's a parallel between a miraculous food supply and a miraculous water supply. Exod 16 records the onset of the manna while Josh 5:12 records the cessation of the manna. In-between, it's understood that God provided them with this miraculous foodstuff on a regular basis, without the Pentateuch having to chronicle that fact. 

iv) There are, moreover, tight textual parallels between the miraculous provision of manna (Exod 16; Num 11; Deut 8:3,16) and the miraculous provision of water (Exod 17:6; Num 20:8-11; Deut 8:15). Food and water go together. If the manna was a repeated miracle, so was the water. 

v) Finally, the two episodes narrating miraculous water from the rock (Exod 17; Num 20) bookend the wilderness wandering. The first episode occurs during the first year of the wilderness wandering while the second episode occurs during the last year of the wilderness wandering. The first episode concerns the first generation or Exodus-generation, while the second episode concerns the second generation or exit-generation. A distinction between entering the wilderness and leaving the wilderness. 

I think this framing device is a synecdoche. Like reading a book from "cover-to-cover," that's a way of saying the Israelites received a miraculous supply of water, not just on those two stated occasions, but on many occasions in-between, as needed. From start-to-finish, God provided water. 

vi) So, wherever they went, a freshwater supply was waiting for them. As if the water "accompanied" them or "followed" them wherever they went. No doubt they camped out at certain locations for extended periods of time. But whenever they were on the move, God would supply them with water. 

If you affirm the historicity of the wilderness account, as well as miraculous provisions, then I think that's a fairly necessary implication. That's something the implied reader would take for granted. 

Assuming there was a Jewish legend about a movable well, it has its basis in that underlying fact. And it's easy to see how that would be a poetic way of depicting a prosaic fact. If everywhere they go, they find a miraculous spring, then it's like the water goes whever they go. Not literally, but phenomenologically. Not that there was actually a movable well, but that's a poetic way of putting it. 

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