It’s not going to surprise anyone that the story of the Exodus, and particularly elements from the Moses biographic portion, are about (un)knowing God. Take the burning bush incident for example: here Moses asks to to know the name of God. From the ancient cultural understanding to know the Name of something, to name someone, is to control it or them; it is to have power, the power of knowledge or definition. And you know how the story goes. In a manner of speaking God gives Moses the great kiss off. The “name” he tells Moses is far less of a name and far more of an event, or even a stiff middle finger. One well known Old Testament scholar said that YHWH, “I am that I am” or “I am what I will be” is actually rather like saying “Never you mind, is my name”. God refuses to be controlled, conquered, or even discerned.
Later on, as you again already know, Moses gets up the courage to ask God to show his glory. Glory, T. Austin Sparks said once, is the “fullness of something.” The glory of a Rose would be a fully blooming one, fully developed, etc… It has to do with maturity and reaching the apex of possibility. In other words, once again Moses was asking to see the very being of God. Coming from his Egyptian tradition, in a way, he would have been requesting substance, form…an idol. He wanted a knowable God. This time God concedes…but with a caveat. God’s would shelter Moses’ eyes as His glory passed before him, and then Moses could look at God’s backside. I’ve always thought that was strange. But I love the ancient rabbinical reading of it suggesting that by “backside”, the writer’s meant where God had just been. Moses could look upon God’s fullness, but only where it had just previously been. Once again, God refuses to be given form or definition. He is knowable…but inscrutable. His goodness is not question, but rather his discernibility at each and every level.
Those are both rather well known examples. I’ve read them in a dozen places it seems in the last year alone. But recently I saw something that I hadn’t heard before. It had to do with Moses’ actual name.
Moses is not a Hebrew name. It is actually Egyptian. We’ve actually seen it so many places that it has become common to us. Tutmoses, Ramoses…etc…Moses means “son of”. In the Egyptian tradition royalty were given the name of their patron God and declared themselves to be divine. Son of Tut. Son of Ra. Etc… Historians presume that at one time Moses had a longer name as well. He was defined by his divine lineage. He had a certain God and a certain manifest destiny. But…somewhere along the line his name was cut off. His name was abbreviated to simply “Son of”. Son of what? Son of who? Exactly. Uncertain. Inscrutable. Indefinable. Even his own name would be a constant reminder to him that he could not fathom God.
Pretty interesting stuff.
Filed under: beauty, Bible | Tagged: apophatic faith, Christianity, Derrida, mysticism, negative theology, pete rollins, rob bell, uncertainty, unknowability, unknowability of God | 6 Comments »