Covenant, Torah, and community formation in the Old Testament and the Anglican Communion

From monarch to bishop: Covenant, Torah, and community formation in the Old Testament and the Anglican Communion

Newman, Judith H

My assignment for this Episcopal Church Foundation Fellows Forum was to provide some conceptual groundwork and scriptural tools with which to consider “Covenant, Contract, and Commonweal: The Ordering of Community in a Litigious Age.” Given the breadth of the conference topic, which embraces the role of law and polity in church and state and their tangled interrelationships, I will shed light on a rather small fraction of our concerns, although I will comment that the Old Testament provides diverse perspectives on all of the above. There is no single model for plotting these interrelationships. “Law” or Torah in the Old Testament, and particularly how Torah is conceived in the post-exilic period of Second Temple Judaism, is quite complex and variegated, more so than one would imagine from reading the Pauline epistles. As I make some observations about covenant and community, I issue a reminder that the Old Testament, unlike the New, was written over a period of perhaps some eight centuries, from the earliest poetry to the latest apocalypse.1 If we include the deutero-canonical literature, that time extends to a millennium. It reflects the influence of Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, Canaanite, Persian, and Hellenistic cultures. To think in synchronic terms of “the” Old Testament perspective on any issue is thus problematic. The church as a whole affirms the unity of Scripture but not the uniformity of Scripture, and so it is necessary to consider its literature in terms of variegated tradition streams that developed over a long period of time. Certain theological emphases remained constant, but were formulated in new ways given different cultural contexts and historical circumstances.

This paper offers a general overview of the nature of covenant in ancient Israel with a brief description of some of the covenants contained in the Old Testament, with a particular focus on two of them: the Sinai covenant and the divine covenant with King David. It then presents two portrayals of how law-Torah-is understood in relation to leadership and community formation, from two different historical contexts. It offers a comparison between two depictions of the discovery of the scroll of the Torah, the book of the law, during the reign of King Josiah. The first narrative in 2 Kings 22-23 is pre-exilic. The second, in 2 Chronicles 34-35, dates to the post-exilic period, sometime in the fourth century B.C.E. These examples reveal that both the theological trajectory in which the literature stands and the historical circumstances of Israelites or Jews(2) at the time in which each was written, influence the way in which community was conceived. My observations will serve ultimately to shed light on the modern role of bishop in relationship to tradition and community formation and relates to the topics of schism in the Anglican Communion as well as ecumenical relations.

Diversity of Covenants

Let me begin, then, in keeping with the first “c” in our alliterative conference title, with a discussion of covenant. The traditional Christian term for the collection of books in the Hebrew Bible would seem to suggest that there is one and only one covenant contained therein. The term “Old Testament” derives from the perspective of those who consider themselves under a single new covenant, that group of Christians who constituted themselves as a community, or more correctly, numerous communities, linked by an understanding of Jesus as mediator of a new covenant with God. But there are many other covenants in the Hebrew Bible-covenants between humans, covenants between God and humans. A covenant, most simply put, is a formal agreement between two parties in which the parties are bound by mutual obligations or, minimally, mutual expectations.

An essential distinction to make among types of covenants is between the conditional covenant, whose validity is conditioned on obedience to the covenant stipulations, and the unconditional covenant, sometimes called a covenant of grant or a promissory covenant, in which the stronger party to the covenant grants something to the lesser party, but which cannot be annulled, although there may be a punishment for failure to show loyalty to the covenant partner. Both kinds of covenants are reflected in political treaties that have been recovered from throughout the ancient Near East.

Biblical covenants were meant to ensure any variety of matters for the parties to the covenant, depending in part on the theological tradition in which they originated. The Priestly source, for example, includes a series of three divine-human covenants. They are all unconditional, and each is designated a berit ‘olam, an eternal covenant. The first is the covenant God makes with Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9, after the flood. Sealed with the ritual sign of the rainbow, it is a covenant of promise in which God forswears destruction of all flesh ever again by water. The second is the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17, sealed by the mark of circumcision, and promising land, descendants, and blessing to his descendants. The third of the priestly series makes up part of the Sinai covenant traditions. In Exodus 31:31, God grants sanctity to the people, making them a holy people, set apart, and the Sabbath is a perpetual sign of that covenant. In both the second and third of the Priestly covenants, failure to observe either circumcision or the Sabbath on the part of any given individual does not result in the cancellation of the covenant, but does result in that individual’s being cut off from the people. The sanctity and wholeness of peoplehood is a premium in the Priestly covenant theology, which is thought to have originated during the Babylonian exile when the people were outside the land, and the maintenance of their community was very important.3

For our purposes, it is especially relevant to treat two covenants, one conditional, the other unconditional, which represent broadly two theological traditions in the Old Testament. The conditional covenant that dominates the Pentateuch is the Sinai covenant, rooted in ancient memories of the Exodus. Because of its importance to the tradition, the narrative in Exodus 19-40 describing its constitution seems to have attracted many editorial hands, because there are multiple theological perspectives in evidence. This is signaled by the use of two names for the desert mountain where the theophany takes place, Horeb and Sinai.4 As it is framed in its redacted form, covenantal promises and rewards are premised on obedience; punishments ensue for disobedience. Already within the Exodus 19-40 narrative, we see the Israelites breaking their covenant vows by worshiping an idolatrous calf, and Moses, the powerful prophetic mediator, must intercede on their behalf to renew the covenant with God. Deuteronomy offers another version of the conditional Sinai covenant, now cast as the speech of Moses on the plains of Moab, addressing the generation who will enter the land.

As Frank Cross and Patrick Miller have pointed out, the development of Israel’s covenant ideas, especially the Sinai covenant, should be understood within the social context of family structure, that is, kinship relations.5 Kinship structure had three levels of organization: the lowest, and the one that held the strongest ties on the individual was the “father’s house” or beit ‘ab, which would correspond to our understanding of an extended family household, which might include sixty to one hundred members. The next level would be the clan, mishpahah, comprising a number of battei ‘ab. The next level of social organization is the tribe, or shebet. The eponymous twelve sons of Jacob in Genesis, for example, reflect the tribal organization during the time of the monarchy. I should remark that such tribal kinship organization continues to be the dominant pattern in many parts of the world.

To take one example of how family ties entail certain obligations, kinship bonds between family members required that if a man was sold into debt slavery, the man’s next-of-kin was responsible for redeeming him from that status. There were various situations that called for redemption. All of the social structure and its interrelationships, from extended family unit, to clan, to tribe, can be understood in these terms. Interpersonal and intertribal relations in Israel’s early period were the way in which relationship between Yahweh and Israel was understood-in familial terms.

Covenant can be understood as a way in which someone or some group not a part of the kinship unit was brought into it, a legal means of creating a new kinship bond between people. For example, David and Jonathan were not kin, but made a covenant of brotherhood with each other, and David ultimately showed his hesed, that is “covenant loyalty”6 to Jonathan’s son, Mephiboshet, after Jonathan’s death (1 Sam. 18:1, 3; 20:17).7 The Sinai covenant that God makes with Israel puts them into kinship obligation. God has in fact already graciously redeemed Israel from slavery; the covenant assures the continuance of the newly formed kin relationship, provided that Israel observes the covenant stipulations.

The second divine covenant, which represents another theological tradition stream, is the unconditional divine covenant with David, narrated in 2 Samuel 7, but also found in a number of the royal psalms, Psalms 2, 89, 132.8 The divine promise to David is twofold: it assures David a perpetual dynasty to sit on the throne in Jerusalem; second, David s son will build a temple in Jerusalem and Yahweh will dwell inside it. The theology underlying the election of David and Zion was not new to the ancient Near East, but in fact, reflected a shared mythos, particularly with Mesopotamian monarchies, in which the king was understood as the adopted son of the chief god of a particular city (so Marduk, the patron deity of Babylon), and the king was charged with building the temple as the dwelling place for the deity. Given this special relationship with the god, both the king’s rule and the temple structure with its associated cultic apparatus represented divine order on earth. A similar relationship between king and god is reflected in the literature describing the Davidic covenant. Yahweh is king in heaven; David is king on earth; and the Temple, Yahweh’s dwelling place, symbolizes the meeting point between the two. Worship of the divine king in the Temple, duly offered, ensures that order will be maintained in the polity. Kings in Israel, as elsewhere in the ancient Near East, bore a special responsibility to uphold the law. The Old Testament depicts God as the originator of the law. The king was not a legislator but rendered ultimate verdicts in legal cases. So we see that whereas the Sinai covenant presupposes an organization of the polity according to a kinship social structure which is patriarchal but relatively decentralized, the Zion covenant suggests a polity in keeping with ancient Near Eastern city-states in which power was centralized in a capital city and in the person of the monarch.

Having now called to mind two central covenants, representing the theologies of Sinai and Zion, respectively, let us turn to specific biblical passages that illustrate the role of covenant and law in shaping community.

Josiah’s Reform and the Formation of Community

Let us consider the role of the king in relationship to the law and polity in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles by comparing two versions of the same event: the discovery of the scroll of the Torah, generally translated “book of the law,” and the religious reforms of King Josiah. Since the nineteenth century, scholars have generally agreed that the book found by Josiah’s priest in the Jerusalem Temple was an early form of the book of Deuteronomy that is, the legal material that also outlines a particular kind of polity, one in which prophets and Levitical priests played an important role, and where the king played a negligible role. Deuteronomy also contains a conditional covenant: obedience to God’s commands will result in long life in the Promised Land; failure to follow the law will result in expulsion. Possession of the land is a preeminent value in Deuteronomy. The depiction in 2 Kings comes from the late seventh century B.C.E., a period when Israel was still in the land and actually had a king. In some sense, we can think of Josiah’s discovery of the book of law as a close encounter between the conditional covenant of Sinai and the unconditional covenant of Zion. The account represents a collision between two distinct theologies of covenant. On one hand, there is the Mosaic covenant theology in which the memory of divine action in liberating the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt is strong, in which the people as a whole are considered holy to the Lord, and in which human kingship is considered a concession to the Israelites who desire to be “like the nations” in having a monarchy.9 On the other hand, according to the Davidic covenant theology, centralized kingship is considered a divinely ordained pattern of governance, one in which Yahweh elects one family from one tribe of Israel to hold in perpetuity the office of king.

Deuteronomistic history

In 2 Kings 22-23, the sequence of events surrounding Josiah’s reform is as follows: During some routine repairs on the Temple, the high priest Hilkiah finds “the book of the law.” The king’s secretary takes the book to the king and the king reads it, whereupon he immediately tears his clothes as a sign of distress. He then consults with the prophetess Huldah, who verifies that the curses and loss of land will take place. Why this reaction? If we accept the essential historicity of this account, and also that the scroll that was being read to him corresponds to the core of the book of Deuteronomy, Josiah is traumatized because he is reading a conditional covenant that would result in punishment for disobedience and an end to the covenant between God and the Israelites. Deuteronomy calls for exclusive covenant loyalty to Yahweh. No doubt he was also distressed in hearing about the very limited role for the monarch in the book of Deuteronomy-not much more than a glorified baseball commissioner. In addition to criticizing the tendency of monarchs to amass vast amounts of wealth (at the expense of their subjects), Deuteronomy 17:18-20 reads:

18 When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20 neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandments, either to the right or to the left, so that he and his descendants may reign long over his kingdom in Israel.

This view of kingship clearly stands in tension with the divine adoption model reflected in the Davidic covenant theology. Here the Davidic king stands under the judgment of the Sinai covenant of Deuteronomy in which idolatrous worship, worship of a. God other than Yahweh, was considered the worst sin possible. After his consultation with the prophetess Huldah, he summons “all the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem,” and reads the words of the book of the covenant to them. The king then makes a covenant with Yahweh to be faithful and observe the commandments written in the newly discovered book. Thus we see Josiah making himself a party to the Sinai covenant, with its conditional demands. After the covenant-making ceremony, Josiah launches a reform to purge Judah and Jerusalem of all foreign, non-Yahwistic worship. He centralizes worship in Jerusalem, and, in a departure from what Deuteronomy actually prescribes, Josiah kills the priests of the high places outside of Jerusalem. Josiah’s concluding act is to command that the Passover be kept, reactivating thememorial of the Exodus event as prescribed in the book of the covenant. “No such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges,” according to 2 Kings 23:22, that is, prior to the establishment of the monarchy.

2 Kings 22-23 stands in the Deuteronomistic History comprising the books of Joshua through Kings, and as such reflects the perspective of the Deuteronomists, with their jaded view of kingship and centralized authority. In contrast to Priestly theology, in which maintaining the sanctity and integrity of the people was a supreme value and in which the covenants offer promises of blessings for the people, behavior was shaped by the threat of punishment or the promise of reward. The ultimate punishment in the Deuteronomic covenant theology was loss of the promised land. But we can think also in sociopolitical terms about this story as the conflicting relationship of decentralized authority versus centralized authority, the conflict between the old polity of kinship ties in which social relationships were bound by mutual obligation and responsibility versus the new polity of the centralized monarchy with its court and temple in ancient Israel in which relationships were governed more by the perquisites of sovereignty. The Davidic monarch was in a covenantal relationship to God, and like all ancient Near Eastern monarchs, was considered a shepherd of the people, but his obligations to his subjects were not clearly defined.

The report of the discovery of the book of the law by King Josiah by the Deuteronomistic Historian draws a portrait of Josiah that is entirely laudatory and emblematic of an ideal king, who willingly put himself under the yoke of the Sinai covenant and was rewarded for it.

The Chronicler

Let us now turn to the Chronicler’s account of the same event. The differences between the two reflect changed conceptions of polity and the king’s relationship to the law. 2 Chronicles is thought to date from the fourth century B.C.E., the post-exilic Persian period, when Israel, or more accurately, the Jews, no longer had a king, but they did have a rebuilt temple. Most significant in evaluating the Chronicler’s perspective is the difference in the sequence of events as they are related in the two accounts of the discovery of the book-reforms. Chronicles’ theology can be discerned by the changes, some minor, some larger, that the author makes in reworking the sources.

The first major difference is that whereas in 2 Kings, Josiah’s reforms come as a response to finding the book of the law, in Chronicles 34, Josiah begins his religious reforms before finding the book. Kings sought to establish clearly that Josiah was being obedient to the Deuteronomic law and acting solely in response to it; Chronicles does not reflect the same concern. Indeed, the books of Chronicles, often ignored in biblical studies because of their supposedly redundant presentation of Israelite and Judean history, represent a unique interpretation of Israelite history and theology.10

The second major difference is the account of the Passover observance, which is greatly expanded in Chronicles. 2 Kings mentions the Passover observance in three verses. In Chronicles, the description of the Passover observance is detailed in twenty-eight verses. Moreover, the Passover liturgy reflects a fully developed priestly hierarchy in which priests, presumably Aaronide priests, perform the sacrifice, and the Levites play a subsidiary, yet important, role of preparation for the sacrifice and teaching.

A third difference is that Chronicles states that all Israel observed the Passover, that is, both the people of Judah and of Israel. Although Chronicles was written at a time when the kingdom was no longer in existence, it was important to the author to portray the people, both from the north and the south, as a unified community. The means of this unification was the centralized worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. Thus, the first part of the Davidic covenant relating to the eternal dynasty of David was no longer a reality; the legacy of the Davidic monarch now lies in the second part of the Davidic covenant: the service of the Temple, which reflects the divine order.

We might also note some smaller, more subtle differences in the Chroniclers’ account. One is the way in which the “scroll of the Torah” is characterized. In the Kings account, “the book of the law” or the “book of the covenant” appears eight times. At the end of the account, these written traditions are called “the law/Torah of Moses.” But in Chronicles we have nine references to the “book of the law.” Moreover, two of these explicitly refer to the word of Yahweh that is contained therein. The written “book of law” thus is given more, and explicitly divine, authority as opposed to the more implicitly prophetic authority conveyed in Kings. There are also ancient authorities other than Moses to whom appeal is made in order to convey authority. Chronicles states that the Passover preparations are made “following the written direction of King David of Israel and the written directions of his son Solomon.” Thus David’s role as cult founder, very important in the book of Chronicles as a whole, is stressed.

There is also a tendency to honor and synthesize earlier legal traditions, not only from Deuteronomy, but also from the rest of the Pentateuch and other parts of Scripture, much of which seems to reflect an advanced stage of crystallization by the post-exilic period when Chronicles was written. The authority of earlier tradition is exemplified in the fusion of two Pentateuchal commands about the Passover sacrifice. Matters of ritual observance were very important in the post-exilic period. The Torah was conceived, after all, as divinely ordained, so its proper observance was essential. Exodus 12:8-9 calls for the Passover lamb to be roasted, but according to Deuteronomy 16:7, it is to be boiled. How, then, should the lamb be prepared? 2 Chronicles 35:13 reads, “They roasted the Passover lamb with fire according to the ordinance and they boiled the holy offering in pots. . . .” What were once two different traditions about how to observe the Passover are now brought into harmony-while in fact calling for a new way to cook the festal beast!

There are several values reflected in the Chronicler’s account, but most prominent is the expression of a unified polity of all the people, not just the southern kingdom of Judah, under one sovereign, in which worship, properly offered, is the binding force for community. This stands in contrast to the account in 2 Kings, in which the Davidic king’s submission to the conditional law of Moses is paramount for ensuring the stability of the polity. While both recognize and reaffirm the older covenant as represented by the “book of the law,” they do so in ways that shape community differently.

The Monarchical Role of Bishops

So what is the relationship of these biblical models to the issues of our conference? If we think in terms of contemporary leadership, the Davidic king as depicted in ideal form in the person of Josiah, most resembles the office of bishop. Indeed, it could be argued that there is a diachronic connection between the ancient Israelite office of king, the Second Temple office of high priest, and the early church office of bishop, in which each of these offices can be understood in certain senses to succeed the prior one. Scriptural interpretation played an integral role in shaping how early Jews and Christians conceived of these offices, but an adequate treatment of this complex development would take me beyond the limits of my allotted space, not to mention the limits of my scholarly discipline.11 Rather, I will focus directly on the portrayals of Josiah as the ideal Davidic king and the ways in which they might serve as a model for contemporary bishops.

The first point to make is that King Josiah is considered an excellent monarch in both Kings and Chronicles. He steers the via media which locates the middle path between the decentralized power of Israelites vested in kinship relations and the centralized and hierarchical authority represented by the king’s office. He honors both the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, the first of which emphasizes a holy people and its kinship bonds, while the second emphasizes a holy office, held by the person of the Davidic monarch. Of course, the parallels are inexact. To state the most obvious, in a post-Constantinian world, no bishop serves as head of state, nor are there precedents for the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies in our biblical accounts. At the time Kings and Chronicles were written in Hebrew, democracy was still a Greek word; the all-important encounter between Judaism and Hellenistic culture had not yet occurred. A number of other cultural and historical differences distance us from the scriptural model. Yet bracketing the civil role of king, we may still consider the biblical model to have some relevance for the contemporary role and function of the bishop.

Here are several affirmations:

(1) The bishop holds a holy office that is meant to be a bearer of the tradition and a guardian of the faith. Growth, unity, and stability of the polity are the chief responsibilities of the bishop. The bishop is both a sign of unity within the Anglican Communion and must actively work toward ecumenical reconciliation. The portrait of Josiah in Chronicles points particularly to this reconciliation, in that Chronicles heightens the role of Josiah in summoning “all Israel,” both the southern kingdom and the disenfranchised northern kingdom, to participate in the Passover and covenant-making ceremony in Jerusalem. Indeed, the view of bishop painted here is one who is engaged in unifying the polity and who is actively engaged in an evangelical effort attuned to extending the reach of the gospel.12 In this sense, we can also learn something not only from this scriptural portrayal, but also from the perspective of our fellow Lutherans on the episcopate. Article 17 of the document “Called to Common Mission,” which articulates the relationship of full communion between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, expresses the following view of the episcopate:

17. The Episcopal Church acknowledges and seeks to receive the gifts of the Lutheran tradition which has consistently emphasized the primacy of the Word. The Episcopal Church therefore endorses the Lutheran affirmation that the historic catholic episcopate under the Word of God must always serve the gospel, and that the ultimate authority under which bishops preach and teach is the gospel itself (see Augsburg Confession 28. 21-23).13

For Christians, the content of the “scroll of the Torah,” the heart of the teaching affirmed by King Josiah in his reforms, is refracted through the lens of the gospel’s new covenant, that is, the meaning of the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel “covenant” thus has an anteriority and a priority that transcends any other covenant.

An ancillary point arises from this analogy. No doubt those of a more evangelical bent and advocates of such contemporary trends in the church as the “Total Ministry” movement who have read to this point are already nervous about my analogy between monarch and bishop. Where is the role of the laity, of “all the baptized” in this model? I should point out that this analogy nowhere argues for unlimited power to be placed in the kings, read bishop’s, hands. In both accounts of Josiah’s reform, an institutional check on kingly power is made by a lay woman who serves as court prophet!14 Huldah serves as the authenticator of the Sinai covenant traditions represented by the scroll of the Torah. Moreover, the Sinai covenant tradition views the whole of Israel as elected and party to the covenant. Each member of Israel, Josiah the Davidic king included, is called to observe the Torah. We can see this on analogy with the requirements of the baptismal covenant. Baptism serves as a sign of the new covenant in which all are called to a Christian vocation of service in the world, the bishop chief among them, and with unique responsibilities. Thus, the bishop functions neither as an independent nor as a sole voice of authority, but as a final one, in matters involving doctrine. The bishop is not to serve in a prophetic role. The monarch must regularly consult prophets and recognize their authority, as well as attend to the more difficult task of discerning true prophets from false ones. The gospel imperative as recognized by modern-day prophets functions both as the wellspring on the basis of which the bishop must act and serves as the ultimate check on her or his office. Modern-day prophets also are answerable to Christ as revealed in Scripture and the ongoing life of the church, who is not only the prophet of prophets, but king of kings, and chief high priest. Although God can and will call whom God wishes to be a prophet, if we understand Scripture to provide the pattern, it will be the rare bishop indeed who will fill such a role, because prophecy lies outside the parameters of the bishops office.

(2) The bishops role as guardian of the faith implies maintaining stability and unity, but these mandates do not necessarily imply preserving stasis. Indeed, Josiah’s precedent points to reform and change as a result of the discovery of the scroll, which in turn points to an alternate view of the divine-human relationship from the royal theology of Zion. The bishop’s role as guardian of the faith does mandate continuing study of Scripture, theology, and tradition, as well as being attuned to the contemporary culture in which teaching from the classical sources must be in conversation. In the Chronicler’s account of the reform and retrieval of Torah, a new method for preparing and preserving the Passover lamb is devised as a result of being faithful to earlier, diverse traditions. Yet this change comes as a result of a faithful response to earlier Scripture. As the role of the king in Deuteronomy 17 (quoted above) suggests, the bishop should always be a student of Scripture, theology and church history, engaging the tradition in ways that may enable new insights for the contemporary situation.

(3) The bishop serves a crucial role in constituting the community as chief sacramental officer. King Josiah’s role in overseeing the proper celebration of the Passover can be seen as a distant antecedent for the role of bishop as president over the eucharist and other sacraments reserved solely for the bishop. Josiah’s role, emphasized and expanded in the book of Chronicles, was to preserve the chief feast, which carried the memory of the foundational event in Israel’s history. How does worship serve to unify the polity? The bishop as a sign of the unity of the church is only effective, as George Lindbeck has pointed out, if the sign is made efficacious by the action, or function, of the bishop as the one who proclaims the gospel through word and sacrament.15 The eucharist in particular serves as a covenant renewal akin to the observance of the Passover during Josiah’s day. The eucharistic liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer preserves such a typological understanding, for example, in the exchange following the Fraction: “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; Therefore let us keep the feast.” I should underscore that differences in liturgical practice are reflected in our two biblical accounts. Kings and Chronicles offer distinct models. Kings contains a minimized liturgical observance, in which the Passover celebration is quickly noted, but not elaborated. Chronicles offers a full-blown spectacle in twenty-eight verses. For the Chronicler, worship serves an important function in unifying the polity.

The argument of this paper is that the office of bishop is the closest inheritor of the office of the monarch in ancient Israel. That is to say, of the various leadership roles depicted in the Old Testament-judge, prophet, priest, sage-a bishop is most closely modeled after monarch by virtue of the symbolic character and function of that office. Like the Davidic dynasty, bishops serve as a sign of unity in the church, both diachronic (through apostolic succession) and synchronic (to unify a diocese, and as a body of bishops, a sign of the church’s unity). It is an office that requires restraint, reflection, and patience on the part of the office-holder rather than visionary change. The role of a bishop is to safeguard the faith, to preach the gospel, while maintaining peace in the polity. Let me close, then, by posing a few questions to consider as a means of evaluating the performance of a bishop against the standard of the ideal monarch that we see portrayed in Josiah. How seriously does the bishop take the authority of Scripture? How seriously does the bishop take the authority of legal precedent and tradition, especially a newly discovered precedent, or earlier tradition, that might undermine the bishop s own authority and conception of church polity? How does the bishop support prophetic voices in his or her diocese and how does she or he ascertain that they are authentic and true to the gospel, as opposed to false or self-serving ends? What are the ways in which the bishop might use a centrally celebrated festival to promote unity and indeed to reinforce the realm of the church, even to disenchanted, disenfranchised parties? Thoughtful and honest answers to these questions would go no short way in promoting not only the covenant of our conference topic, but also the community of the church as a whole.

1 I use the traditional term “Old Testament” in this essay quite consciously, as I seek to address a Christian audience. The Old Testament of Christians is conceptually broader than the terms “Hebrew Bible” or “Hebrew Scriptures,” which serve well in an interfaith or secular context. In my reckoning, the Old Testament refers both to the Hebrew and Greek translation of Hebrew Scriptures as well as the deutero-canonical, so-called “apocryphal” books, all of which traditions were important in shaping the early Christian movement and the life of the church. Indeed, without the Greek translation, the shape of Christianity would look different in many respects, and is hard to imagine. (Consider, for example, the fact that the Greek translators chose to specify that the “young woman,” “betulah” in Hebrew, mentioned as the mother of Immanuel in Isaiah 7:14 was a “virgin,” “parthenos” in Greek.)

The term “Old Testament” is problematic in Christian circles to the extent that those who use it think that there is only a single testament, or covenant, of import contained therein, or that the “old covenant,” understood as the Sinai covenant made with the people of Israel, has been abrogated so that the guardians of that covenant, Jews, are no longer considered to have a living relationship with the God of Israel.

2 I refer to the pre-exilic people of Israel as “Israelites” and date the origins of Judaism to the era of the Babylonian exile. It is a common anachronism to hear people refer to the covenant people described in the Hebrew Bible as “Jews” rather than Israelites. The religion of Israel is an ancestor, but still a distant one, of rabbinic Judaism, and even more remote from the current Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist movements.

3 Joseph Blenkinsopp offers an astute discussion of the way in which the priestly tradents used the triad of covenants to shape the Pentateuch; see “The Structure of P,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 38 (1976): 275-292.

4 Horeb is used by tradents in the Elohist and Deuteronomic theological tradition stream; Sinai is used particularly by the Jahwist and Priestly writers. The different names can perhaps be thought of loosely on analogy with the way the two terms “priest” and “minister” are used in different parts of the Episcopal Church; they indicate the same office, but understood from different theological perspectives relative to a higher or lower ecclesiology.

Source criticism and tradition history have come under fire in recent years, and this is not the place to offer a qualified defense of the historical-critical method. I can simply note that the process of composition and redaction of Scripture is complex, particularly in the Pentateuch, yet a clear pattern is observable: the book of Deuteronomy uses only the term Horeb (nine times) for the mountain; the book of Leviticus uses only Sinai (four times). The book of Exodus, which comprises various sources, uses both Horeb and Sinai. For a source-critical treatment of the Exodus theophany, see Murray Newman, The People of the Covenant Israel: From Moses to the Monarchy (New York: Abingdon Press, 1962).

5 See Frank Moore Cross, “Kinship and Covenant in Ancient Israel,” From Epic to Canon: History and Literature in Ancient Israel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998); and Patrick D. Miller, The Religion of Ancient Israel (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000), 4-6 especially.

6 Hesed is translated variously in the NRSV as “loyalty,” “kindness,” “steadfast love,” or “faithful love.”

7 Miller, Religion, 6

8 Of particular relevance to the argument of this paper is that Psalm 132 conditionalizes the Zion covenant in a way that is similar to King Josiah’s self-consciously putting himself under the demands of the Mosaic covenant. An insightful theological treatment of these two covenants is Jon D. Levenson’s Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible (New York: Harper & Row Press, 1985).

9 Compare the Deuteronomic “law of the king” in Deuteronomy 17: 14-20 or the anti-monarchic source in 1 Samuel 8-12, especially 1 Samuel 8:4-9.

10 Two scholars are in large part responsible for the reappraisal of the Chronicler’s Tendenz; Sara Japhet, I and II Chronicles: A Commentary (London: SCM Press [Old Testament Library Series], 1993); The Ideology of the Book of Chronicles and its Place in Biblical Thought (New York: Peter Lang Press, 1989, 1997 [2nd ed.]); and H. G. M. Williamson, “1 and 2 Chronicles” (New Century Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987).

11 In short, a number of Second Temple Jewish, New Testament, and patristic sources draw on royal language and metaphors from the Old Testament in describing the high priest and, ultimately, the bishop. By no means was this a simple or uniform trajectory. The difficulty of reconstructing the precise function of the office of bishop in the early church is clear because, in fact, a range of functions is articulated. On this point, see J. Robert Wright’s “The Origins of the Episcopate and Episcopal Ministry in the Early Church” in J. R. Wright (ed.), On Being a Bishop (New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1993), 10-32; and Kallistos Ware, “Patterns of Episcopacy in the Early Church and Today: An Orthodox View” in Peter Moore (ed.), Bishops, but What Kind? (London: SPCK Publishing, 1982), 1-24. Yet a linkage between the offices of king and high priest is discernible in some of the literature from the several centuries spanning the Greco-Roman period. See particularly Deborah Rooke’s study which describes the role of the high priest as in some sense an inheritor of the royal office, most prominently during the Maccabean period. “The sacral character of the pre-exilic monarchy, where the king was regarded as being in an intimate relationship with the divinity, inevitably bestowed upon the reigning monarch the right and duties of priesthood, whether or not that priesthood is regarded as a particular kind of office (priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’?) which was peculiar to the monarch. . . .” And later, “. . . the whole account of the Maccabees’ rise to power is presented in terms of the Deuteronomistic History’s description of the rise of the monarchy, implying that the nature of the Maccabean leadership was monarchic.” Zadok’s Heirs: The Role and Development of the High Priesthood in Ancient Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 329. An important discontinuity lies in the fact that the high priesthood ceased to be dynastic in the same sense as the Judean royal house. A crucial link in this conceptualization is the book of Hebrews which draws on the combined royal and high priesthood language to legitimize the “office” of Jesus. So, for instance, the ordination of a bishop is described by Hippolytus in terms of “high priesthood” (Wright, 23) Although he does not directly link them, 1 Clement describes Jesus as the “high priest of our offerings,” cites Hebrews’ use of Psalm 2, and draws on the differentiated order of high priest, priests, and Levites to suggest proper orders for the church on analogy with bishops, and deacons. For 1 Clement, Old Testament models did not represent a discontinuity in historical terms, but interpreted in the light of Christ, served as a divine template for order in the church.

12 I thank Joseph Britton for his insightful paper, “The Evangelicity of the Episcopate,” which has caused me to reconsider the role of the bishop in more ecumenical, “Lutheran” terms.

13 The document with commentary can be found online at the following website: .

14 If said readers are still dubious, wait for my forthcoming essay which argues that the Wisdom of Solomon contains a divergent perspective on the tradition of the Davidic covenant, in which the universalization of the kingship, the “monarchy of all believers,” so to speak, is affirmed, though not explicitly in terms of political or religious leadership.

* Judith H. Newman is associate professor of Old Testament and director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Studies and Relations at General Theological Seminary in New York. She was named a Fellow of the Episcopal Church Foundation in 1992. This essay represents a revised and expanded version of her 2002 Fellows Forum talk. Her thanks go to Murray Newman for his very helpful comments on two drafts of the paper.

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