|Continuing to share my reading of Seth Sanders’ From Adapa to Enoch, Scribal Culture and Religious Vision in Judea and Babylon. All posts are archived here.
— Sanders, From Adapa to Enoch
Recall from the previous post (How Science Began) that we are talking about a world that conceptualized no clear distinction between the natural and the supernatural, or between nature and culture.
Seth Sanders identifies three core areas of exact description of the physical world documented by the Priestly scholars as the earliest form of Judean “scientific knowledge” known to us:
- Time and the Universe (Genesis 1:1 to 2:4a)
- The Temple (Exodus 25-31)
- The Human Body (Leviticus 12-15)
The Origins of the Universe
Genesis opens with a taxonomy of each major entity in the world and concludes with God’s word creating the sabbath day as part of the cosmos. Later in ritual texts we find that this creation has included the categories of clean and unclean animals (Leviticus 11, Deuteronomy 14), their different physical attributes being recognized since antediluvian times. (Notice that the sabbath and forbidden foods are not deemed to originate in culture but as an integral part or category of the created world itself. Creation was activated by God’s word.
Here we are in the realm of ritual requirements. We therefore find a quite different account of the temple and its system. Here we read not the words of an anonymous narrator but the words of God himself. God is quoted as setting out the details of the materials, measurements, layout and rituals of the tabernacle. Moses is a passive visionary because God points out that He, God, caused Moses to see it all. God has to show or reveal the heavenly model that the earthly structure and rituals are to copy. But it needs to be set out in the words of God for the reader who is not privileged to see the heavenly structure.
The Human Body
Similarly we are in the realm of ritual. The rules for bodily discharges and blemishes are likewise made known by divine commands, revelation.
Astronomical data and new information about the body introduced into Judea (using Judea throughout though in pre-Roman times Jehud may be more strictly correct) survive in such intertestamental literature as the Astronomical Book of Enoch and certain of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
It is interesting to see how this new scientific information made its entrance into the Judean world, building on the genres of existing “scientific” knowledge that we have seen in the three priestly statements above. We start with the introduction of astronomical knowledge that originated in Babylonia.
Revelation and Science are the One Genre
The Astronomical Book of Enoch begins:
The book of the courses of the luminaries of the heaven, the relations of each, according to their classes, their dominion and their seasons, according to their names and places of origin, and according to their months, which Uriel, the holy angel, who was with me, who is their guide, showed me; and he showed me all their laws exactly as they are . . . .