Friday, February 06, 2009

What Makes the Biblical Temple Unique?

From Peter Gentry's excellent article, ""Kingdom Through Covenant: Humanity as the Divine Image" SBJT (Spring 2008): 26 [not yet online]:
If we consider the plan of the Tabernacle or the plan of Solomon’s Temple, there is nothing unusual or unique. Its overall plan was just like any other temple in the ancient Near East. They all had an outer courtyard, an altar of sacrifice, and a central building divided into a “Holy Place” and a “Holy of Holies.” What made the faith of Israel different from the faith of the pagan religions surrounding her? If one were to enter a pagan temple, passing through the courtyard, and the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies, what would one find there? An image representing one of the forces of nature. But that is not what one finds at the center of Israel’s worship. What was in the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle? First of all, there was no image or statue there because God is spirit and cannot be properly represented by man-made images. All there is in the Holy of Holies is just a little box. And what is in that box? The Ten Commandments. Thus, what God is saying to the Israelites is that he cannot be manipulated by magic. If they want the good life, they must conform their lifestyle to his revealed standards of right and wrong. Ethics guarantees the good life, not manipulation of the powers that be by magic. The meaning is clear when one both compares and contrasts the biblical text with the ancient Near Eastern cultural setting. At the outset, the differences appear to be small and insignificant. Yet in the end, the differences are so radical that only divine revelation can explain the origin of the text.