Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hebrews 8:5's "shadow of heavenly things" and Bezalel

(Image from Wikipedia)

I once had a thought on "shadow" in Hebrews 8:5, and it came to mind again this past Sunday during our Bible study of Hebrews, so I mentioned it to the others in that study group. Here's the verse, which concerns Levitical priests who served in the holy tabernacle:
[They] serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, [that] thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount. [KJV]

ὑποδείγματι καὶ σκιᾷ λατρεύουσιν τῶν ἐπουρανίων καθὼς κεχρημάτισται Μωσῆς μέλλων ἐπιτελεῖν τὴν σκηνήν Ὅρα γάρ φησίν ποιήσῃς πάντα κατὰ τὸν τύπον τὸν δειχθέντα σοι ἐν τῷ ὄρει (Textus Receptus)
In his Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Harold W. Attridge says of "shadow":
The use of "shadow" (σκιά) as an image for components of the phenomenal or material world is Platonic. This imagery recurs in Philo, where it indicates both the inferiority of the sensible to the ideal and also the positive function of the "shadow" in leading one to the "reality." (page 219b)
Attridge then remarks, in footnote 44, that:
Philo frequently develops the contrast between the chief craftsman Bezalel (Exodus 31:2), who builds the shadows of the realities that Moses alone has seen. Cf. Leg. all. 3.96, 103; Plant. 27; Som. 1.206 (page 219b, note 44)
Although Attridge doesn't note this point, the Hebrew name Bezalel (בצלאל Bĕtsal'el) means "in (בְּ) the shadow (צֵל) of God (אֵל)," and I've long wondered if the writer of Hebrews had this etymology in mind when composing this verse. Given what Attridge says about Philo's emphasis upon Bezalel and "shadows," I strongly suspect that Philo, at any rate, was thinking of this etymology, but I've not taken the time to check and see if Philo explicitly notes it.

Have any Philo scholars ever noticed anything in Philo's writings on this?

I hesitate to cite Wikipedia, but I will this time, and though it says nothing of Philo on this issue, it does note some interesting remarks in the rabbinical literature:
By virtue of his profound wisdom, Bezalel succeeded in erecting a sanctuary which seemed a fit abiding-place for God, who is so exalted in time and space (Exodus R. 34:1; Numbers R. 12:3; Midrash Teh. 91). The candlestick of the sanctuary was of so complicated a nature that Moses could not comprehend it, although God twice showed him a heavenly model; but when he described it to Bezalel, the latter understood immediately, and made it at once; whereupon Moses expressed his admiration for the quick wisdom of Bezalel, saying again that he must have been "in the shadow of God" (Hebrew, "beẓel El") when the heavenly models were shown him (Numbers R. 15:10; compare Exodus R. 1. 2; Berakhot l.c.).
That's certainly intriguing enough to pursue further . . .

UPDATE: Thanks to Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica for sending traffic my way.

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At 5:21 AM, Anonymous dhr said...

It may be interesting to connect this idea of "shadow" to further episodes in which something reveals God but, at the same time, somehow hides Him.
In the Jewish Bible an important key is provided in the verses where God, in Exodus (and Psalms), leads His people by appearing as a fire pillar and a shadowing cloud.

In the New Testament, see e.g. "the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee" (Lk 1.35) and "a bright cloud overshadowed them" (Mt 17.5).

In this case, the Christ could be seen as both the "reality" of something past, AND the "shadow" of something to come. See Origen.

At 5:40 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Another hint can be suggested by

Marc Chagall's "Aaron".

Top page, the candles seem to become gradually more "real", left to right. While Aaron's body gradually disappears, bottom right.
Moreover, he watches - at the same time - upwards and downwards.

(Chagall did not consider the Torah to have been "improved" by the Christian revelation: I think however that this double-sided process can be found everywhere throughout the Jewish TaNaK, even before the New Testament writers reused it to their purposes.)

At 7:25 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks for the suggestions, Dario. I hadn't thought of those instances of 'shadow'.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:12 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I'm not a Philo scholar, but you are quite right in your guess about Philo. This is from the third part of the Allegorical Interpretation of the Law (Attridge's first reference):

Now, Bezaleel, being interpreted, means God in his shadow. But the shadow of God is his word, which he used like an instrument when he was making the world. And this shadow, and, as it were, model, is the archetype of other things. For, as God is himself the model of that image which he has now called a shadow, so also that image is the model of other things, as he showed when he commenced giving the law to the Israelites, and said, "And God made man according to the image of God."

Attridge's summary, however, seems to follow more closely Philo's work on dreams (the third reference he gives):

Now the sacred scripture calls the maker of this compound work Besaleel, which name, being interpreted, signifies "in the shadow of God;" for he makes all the copies, and the man by name Moses makes all the models, as the principal architect; and for this reason it is, that the one only draws outlines as it were, but the other is not content with such sketches, but makes the archetypal natures themselves, and has already adorned the holy places with his variegating art; but the wise man is called the only adorner of the place of wisdom in the oracles delivered in the sacred scriptures.

So Philo was definitely thinking of the etymology.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Brandon said...

I forgot to mention that both quotations above are from Yonge's translation, which is available online.

At 8:18 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Brandon. You've sped up my research into this issue.

Now, I wonder if the author of Hebrews had this etymology in mind.

I've sent a query to Professor Attridge, so perhaps we'll be hearing from him on this question.

Jeffery Hodges

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