Anda di halaman 1dari 17

Journal for the Study of the New Testament Resurrection and Hermeneutics: On Exodus 3.6 in Mark 12.26

J. Gerald Janzen Journal for the Study of the New Testament 1985; 7; 43 DOI: 10.1177/0142064X8500702304 The online version of this article can be found at:

Published by:

Additional services and information for Journal for the Study of the New Testament can be found at: Email Alerts: Subscriptions: Reprints: Permissions:

Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.



J. Gerald Janzen

Theological Seminary, Indianapolis,


46208, USA

commonplace in New Testament scholarship to take Jesus quotation of Ex. 3.6 in Mk 12.26 as an example of ancient grammatical exegetical method. In 1959 F. Dreyfus proposed an alternate ancient interpretive practice as a frame of reference for understanding Jesus use of this text. Although two or three scholars subsequently have adopted Dreyfuss proposal, the common view cannot be said to have been dislodged. In this paper, I will address this issue from an angle which to my knowledge has not been attempted. In my reading of the Markhan pericope, both the Sadducees test case and Jesus response to them appear to concern not only the specific issue of resurrection but also the general question of hermeneutics, in such a way as to suggest that there is an intrinsic relation between the specific and the general question. One might pose the relation, preliminarily, in the form of these queries: Is there such a thing as a legitimate resurrectionist textual hermeneutics? And, conversely, is the question of resurrection a question of existential hermeneutics? And is the disagreement between Jesus and the Sadducees therefore doubly hermeneutical?

It has become

not to believe in resurrection, are with a story and a question designed to portrayed coming Jesus the of the idea of resurrection. A certain woman, expose absurdity they say, had seven husbands under the provisions of the Levirate law and then died. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? First (v. 25) Jesus characterizes post-resurrection existence in a manner


Sadducees, who




Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.




empty their question of its


Then he addresses the

issue of the


of resurrection.

As for the dead

being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the dead, but of the living (Mk 12.26-27).
However they may differ on other points of interpretation, commentators generally are agreed that the relevance of the quotation from Ex. 3.6 rests upon a sort of grammatical exegesis common in Jesus day. This sort of exegesis, it is noted, was employed also on other scriptural texts in attempts to establish resurrection or some other kind of immortality. Moreover, in a number of instances the scriptural texts so interpreted concerned the ancestors. In the instance of Mk 12.26, it is generally held, Jesus is to be taken as trading on the implications of the present tense, in the sentence I am the God of... The argument which Jesus draws from the quotation supposedly goes something like this: The one who appeared to Moses at the bush is not God of the dead, but of the living. But at the bush that One claimed to be (and not only to have been) the God of the Ancestors. But then, that must mean God still has business with the ancestors, though they have died: they must in some sense still live, or rest in hope of life through resurrection. In 1959 F. Dreyfus offered a different interpretation of the manner in which Ex. 3.6 functions in the pericope. As in the consensus view, he draws upon aspects of OT exegesis current in Jesus day. But he does so by drawing upon a different exegetical treatment of the ancestors, and thereby he introduces new data into the exegesis of the Markan pericope. Specifically, he investigates the use of the formula the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob in the Bible and in the era of Jesus.2 His argument and results may be summarized as follows: The three-ancestor formula is used in such a way as to show that the interpretive focus falls, not on the relation of the ancestors to God, but on the relation of God to the ancestors. In quoting this formula, the ancient writers seek not so much to say something about the ancestors as to say something about God. For the formula characteristically is used in contexts which speak of, or which invoke, God as protector and savior. The point of the use of the threeancestor formula, then, is by way of appeal to those founding and paradigmatic instances in which God was seen to act protectively and savingly. Moreover, such divine acts and attitudes toward the
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

embedded in and manifested Gods covenant relation relation of covenant promise. And this covenant relation pertained not only to the ancestors themselves. For already in the time of the ancestors it was extended promissorily by God to their descendants. When, then, later generations employed the threeancestor formula in prayers and narratives, thereby they may be said to have situated themselves within the frame of reference of that covenant and to have claimed Gods faithfulness to it through fresh acts of protection and salvation in their own time and particular circumstances of need. Such a general ancient exegetical use of the three-ancestral formula, I suggest, rests upon a hermeneutical assumption. That assumption is the identification of some kind of analogy between the situations of the ancestors and those of the later exegetes. But such a hermeneutical assumption seems to have been made not only by these later exegetes; it seems to be operative already for the narrator in Exodus 3. For it is implicit in the scene at the burning bush that some kind of analogy exists between the ancestral situations and the situation of the generation of Moses. I shall comment more fully on the nature of this analogy, below. Meanwhile, we may note that the use of the three-ancestor formula in Exodus and then by later generations may be said to constitute a three-term analogical vector: the ancestors in their generations; the generation of the Exodus; and later generations in their respective and various situations. When Jesus responds to the Sadducees on the question of resuitection, then, his use of the three-fold formula exemplifies both its use in the community of his own time and its function in its original context at the bush. To be sure, and as modem commentators have been at pains to point out, the application of this text to the question of the individuals own resurrection from the dead takes the text into areas of concern beyond the immediate purview of the narrative of the burning bush. It needs to be noted, however, that already at the bush the ancestors were referred to in the context of a plight which in significant respects was dissimilar to the plight from which God had delivered the ancestors. Already within Exodus 3, then, the hermeneutical connection between the ancestors and the generation of the Exodus contains elements of continuity and discontinuity or, as Paul Ricoeur might say, elements of tradition and interpretation. Jesus application of the formula of Ex. 3.6 to the issue of death and resurrection may then be identified as a further extension of meaning (involving elements of continuity and discontinancestors were to


Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


uity, of traditioning and interpretation) along 4 already set in motion by Ex. 3.6.
It is




be observed that both the common view and the alternative the same approach to the question of the use of Ex. 3.6 in Mk 12.26. For both positions begin with an examination of exegetical procedures current in the time of Jesus, and then seek to identify in Mk 12.26 an instance of one such exegetical procedure. Such an approach, of course, is sound so far as it goes. The results of these two applications of the same approach are divergent in at least two ways. Not only do they understand Mk 12.26 to exemplify different exegetical procedures, but they come to different assessments of the cogency of the procedure in question. For the common view characteristically issues in a verdict that the appeal to Ex. 3.6 in support of resurrection ignores and violates the meaning of that text in its original context in Exodus. In Dreyfus view, on the other hand, Jesus use of Ex. 3.6 not only respects but depends upon the meaning of that text in its original context. Curiously, neither the common view nor that of Dreyfus respects the immediate context in which Ex. 3.6 is used-the Markan pericope itself: In my view this is an odd and serious oversight. To appreciate fully how the three-term formula bears upon the question of resurrection, we must consider it as a response specifically to the story by means of which the Sadducees pose their question to Jesus. For it is in the specific details of the Sadducees story, and in response to that story (not simply the Sadducees general position on resurrection) that we find the exegetical and hermeneutical clue to Ex. 3.6 as a scriptural warrant for belief in resurrection. In approaching the issue this way, we shall discover that the issue of resurrection and the issue of hermeneutics are two dimensions of one existential concern.

proposed by Dreyfus employ

II The Sadducees are portrayed as introducing their story with a loose and paraphrastic summary of the Levirate law as given in Deut. 25.5ff, and also with a more precise use of the language of Gen. 38.8. The latter language, of course, occurs within the context of that ancestral episode-the Tamar-Judah incident-which exemplifies the practice codified in the Levirate law. Now, given the nature of the story which the Sadducees relate, against the background of the Levirate law, the allusion to the Tamar-Judah episode of Genesis 38 raises some interesting issues: In
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

47 the two scriptural quotations into one sentence, are the Sadducees portrayed as intentionally drawing on both passages? (In that case, the expression Moses wrote for us would encompass also the Tamar-Judah episode, and Moses, as assumed author of the Pentateuch, thereby would be taken as writing a narrative with the force of exemplary or case law.) Or are the Sadducees portrayed as intending to quote Moses the Torah-giver of Deuteronomy, but inadvertently falling into the language of Gen. 38.8? In either case, as we shall see, there is a dramatic irony in their allusion to the TamarJudah episode. For in drawing the languge of Genesis 38 into their citation of scripture, they (deliberately or inadvertently) summon to the hearers peripheral awareness a scriptural context wider than is strictly needed to introduce their story.6 The irony lies in the fact that this wider context will provide the means for subverting their story and their theological position insofar as they would seek to ground that position in scripture. For the wider, ancestral context will provide the basis for Jesus response. The preceding suggestion may be thought over-subtle. What is unambiguous is the fact that the Sadducees play on two meanings of the verb raise up and its noun cognate raising up/resurrection. Combined with the above-mentioned citations from Deut. 25.Sff. and Gen. 38.8, this play on words will become the key to a proper appreciation of Jesus response. But first we must note how it conveys to us the nature of the Sadducees objection to resurrection. The way in which they play on these words suggests that their objection operates on two levels. (1) On one level the objection turns on simple arithmetic. In this life the woman was able to have seven husbands because she had them serially-they were a gift, so to speak, made possible by the power of death. But if there is such a thing as resurrection, such a post-mortem power will present her with an embarrassment of riches: seven husbands all at once! Yet, the law being what it is, presumably she cannot have seven husbands at the same time. So, whose wife shall she be? (2) But, as so often is the case in debates on issues such as these, the presented objection, for all its explicitness, masks a deeper and more serious objection.~ This deeper objection is conveyed implicitly through the story itself, at the point where the story turns on the word-play in the verb raise up. (The irony will consist in the way in which the Sadducees, in attempting to debunk resurrection, are shown drawing the very analogy upon which Jesus argument for resurrection will turn.) In a form of argument from lesser to greater (in this instance, from easier


Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


harder), the Sadducees raise this implicit and more serious objection: If God by the very means divinely provided in the Torahto

the Levirate law-cannot or will not raise up children to a dead man (not even after an ideal number of opportunities), on what basis is one entitled to hope that God either will or can raise up that dead man himself-something for which the Mosaic Torah makes no provision at all? If we identify this deeper objection in this way, we see that it has two facets, one having to do with scriptural warrant and one having to do with divine will and power. That is, the issue is at once hermeneutical and theological. That our two-faceted identification of this deeper objection is correct, is suggested by the two-fold emphasis in Jesus opening words of response: Is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God? (Mk 12.24). We should pause to observe that, in the context of the Gospel narrative as a whole, the Sadducees are part of a group who are presented in such a way as to serve as a foil for the presentation of Jesus teaching. This should not lead us to overlook the force of their deeper objection, in either of its two facets. In respect to the question of scriptural warrant, one may wonder if they heard Jesus citation of Ex. 3.6 as an instance of grammatical exegesis, and if they rejected it, the way they rejected other such exegeses in support of resurrection, on the grounds of violation of context .8 In respect to the theological aspect of the issue, they have to be credited with raising a problem which in one form or another dogs that form of religious existence presented within or based upon the biblical tradition. The problem is this: What credit can one give to the postulates of faith or the claims of revelation, in the face of the unceasing contradictions in human experience of those postulates and those claims? People do die with no one to perpetuate their names-in spite of the provisions of the Levirate law. And while such experience, though lamentable enough, is not theologically problematic for some religious perspectives, it is problematic theologically for a perspective which grounds itself in the traditions of the ancestors and the generation of the Exodus.9 It is to the Sadducees credit, and it is very much in the spirit of a biblical faith which dares to expostulate with God, that they will not merely blink away such contradictions or pretend that they do not exist, but instead insist on intruding them into the midst of pious hope and conviction. Yet, says Jesus, they err in two ways: they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. If Jesus response functions in part to articulate two facets of the
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


deeper objection, it serves also to introduce the two continuing parts of Jesus response, in v. 25 and in vv. 26-27. Just as the Sadducees story operated subtly, and at more than one level, the first part of Jesus response, in v. 25, must be taken at more than one level. At one level it addresses the Sadducees explicit and presented objection, turning on whose wife the woman will be. In effect, Jesus says that in heaven their question will not arise, for .... when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. At another level, this answer addresses, albeit obliquely, one aspect of their deeper objection, the one having to do with how beliefs and convictions are scripturally warranted. Commentators observe that the Sadducees error lies in the supposition that the relation between historical existence and resurrection existence is one of simple continuity, such that the conditions and characteristics of the former control those of the latter. For the Sadducees question to carry force,
one must assume

Jewish existence (including,

that the conventions and conditions of historical in part, rules pertaining to monogamy) continue unrevised to characterize risen existence. Only on the basis of such a simple and unqualified continuity between the two realms can the arithmetical objection arise. Jesus counters by contending (through concrete imagery which answers to the concreteness of their story) that the relation between historical and risen existence is complex, involving elements both of continuity and of discontinuity. One may assume some continuity, some internal and intrinsic connection and identity between the risen life and the historical life which preceded it. In some sense the risen person must be said to be the same person who historically lived and died. But the conditions of the risen life-its modalities-are such as to display aspects of discontinuity. This means, however, that the conditions obtaining in historical existence, while suggestive or adumbrative of the other, cannot entirely control or determine our envisagement of the other. Such an objection as the Sadducees explicitly raise, therefore, has the critical value of challenging overly detailed envisagements which are literalistic extrapolations made from the details of historical existence. But the Sadducees err in the dogmatic assurance with which they challenge the possibility of resurrection as such, a dogmatism which, in respect to the story through which the challenge is stated, displays an equally literalistic mentality on their part. At this point we are enabled to see how ones hermeneutics of existence and ones hermeneutics of scriptural texts converge on the
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

50 resurrection. For the logic of Jesus response to the Sadducees explicit objection to resurrection also bears upon the question of their knowledge of scripture. Knowing the scriptures is not just a matter of what one reads, it is equally a matter of how one reads. In this respect, v. 25 may now be appreciated for the way in which it prepares the hearer or reader hermeneutically for how Ex. 3.6 is to be taken as bearing upon the question of resurrection. For the hermeneutics of existence implied in v. 25 is a hermeneutics which embraces both continuity and discontinuity, both tradition and interpretation: neither unrelieved and unchanging perdurance nor absolutely discontinuous novelty, but identity continuing through transformation. To know the scriptures by means of such a hermeneutics, is to affirm the historical meaning of a text. But such a knowledge of the scriptures will not suppose that the historical meaning of the text exhaustively controls or predetermines ones appreciation of its meaning in later and different contexts and connections. A hermeneutics of resurrection will issue in an exegesis which seeks to discern a recognizable and identifiable continuity between earlier and later meanings, a continuity standing at the centre in each instance, so that later meanings are faithful to and perpetuate the original spirit, while the earlier meaning persists in, informs, and is the life of those later meanings which in other respects will be discontinuous. Such a hermeneutics, we may suggest, is implicit already in the three-term vector which we have identified as connecting the ancestral experience, the experience of the Exodus generation as addressed through Moses in Ex. 3.6, and later generations who called on the God of the burning bush and of the ancestors to succour them in their various plights. It is with such hermeneutical overtones, then, that the first part of Jesus developed response, in v. 25, prepares us for what is said in vv. 26-27.10 In what way, then, does Jesus use of the text from the burning bush demonstrate and exemplify a knowledge of the scriptures and of the power of God? The point can be put simply and pregnantly: The Sadducees have told Jesus a story of sterility persisting through much conjugal effort and futile hope, ending in death. By using the formulaic sentence from the burning bush, Jesus responds to their story much more pointedly and fittingly than even Dreyfuss investigation has allowed us to appreciate. Jesus is not just invoking in a general way the tradition of Gods protection and power; he is countering their story with a reminder of the ancestors story. That story too is one of sterility-or rather, it is three successive stories,

question of

Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

indeed four if we include the Tamar-Judah episode. In these stories, sterility persists in the face of divine promise and repeated promise, through much conjugal effort and delayed hope, but giving way finally to Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and Benjamin, and (in Genesis 38) Perez and Zerah. The three sets of ancestors (not to mention Tamar) all offer us a story which begins similarly to that of the Sadducees, but the development and outcome of which undercuts the story through which the Sadducees have conveyed their deeper

One finds oneself, then, presented with two stories turning on the problem of generativity, that of the Sadducees and that of the ancestral tradition. The question now is: Which story has the better claim to ground ones reading of reality? I suggest that one here finds oneself at a point where existential hermeneutics and textual hermeneutics converge and become one. But in that case, the Sadducees are on the horns of a dilemma, in which they cannot achieve coherence of existential and textual hermeneutics and still prefer their story to the one adduced by Jesus. On the one hand they appeal to the traditions of their community as a basis for their denial of resurrection. But the tradition to which they appeal, insofar as it narratively follows the era of the ancestors, thereby presupposes and attests the validity of the ancestral story. Without the story of ancestral sterility overcome through divine action, there would be no descendants to go down to Egypt, no generation in bondage, and no Moses to hear Yahwehs call at the burning bush, let alone any Moses to receive at Sinai such laws as eventually came to include Levirate provision for offspring in the case of a fruitless marriage. It could be observed, on behalf of the Sadducees, that the very rise of the Levirate law implicitly constitutes a critique of the ancestral story. To be sure, that law signals a realistic recognition of evil and disappointment, and provides a caution against simplistic appropriations of the ancestral stories with their generative outcomes. Yet even the Levirate law itself does not function merely as such a realistic recognition and caution. One may read that law, in the context of the concrete context occasioning its rise, as yet another expression of the variegated resourcefulness by which the God of the ancestors makes good on the divine promises implicit in the old stories of sterility ending in generativity. Retrospectively, from the standpoint of the New Testament, one may even hazard the suggestion that the Levirate law itself contains a promissory overtone, insofar as it provides for the overcoming of the impasse of death through the action of a kin redeemer.
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

At this point, it will be helpful to attend more closely to the nature of the plight of the ancestors, within the context of the Genesis narrative as a whole. The plight of the ancestors is first signaled at the point where the first ancestral pair is mentioned, in Gen. 11.30: Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. From a narrative point of view, this statement launches the ancestral story by the way in which it negates the primal blessing announced in Gen. 1.28 and implicit in Genesis 2-3. It is in the tension between the statement of sterility in 11.30 and Gods promise of generativity in 12.1-3 tht the ancestral narratives make their way. But the negative side of this tension,11.30, connects also backward to the genealogical summaries of ch. 11. One of the things which the genealogy in 11.10-26 does (like the one in ch. 5) is to indicate that, whatever the calamity of the garden may signify in respect to mortality as a comprehensive sentence upon human kind, mortality is in some sense qualified or momentarily stayed through the residual powers of life which express themselves in human generativity and the succession of generations. To be a human being in the terms of Genesis 2-3 is to know within oneself two realities, two powers, the power of death and the power of life. The power of death is connected with the passage of time in such a way as to give to human existence the character of a being unto death; it is
tone, light, life, and loveAnd even substance lapsing unsubstantial; The universal cataract of death That spends to nothingness-and unresisted,

time, strength,


So viewed, death is not merely a terminus, but an aegis under whose hermeneutics one may read historical existence as a living death. Yet after all deaths aegis, if real, is not absolute. The cataract



nothingness-and unresisted,

Save by some strange resistance in itself, Not just a swerving, but a throwing back As if regret were in it and were sacred.l2

It is as such a sacred resistance that we may interpret the generative theme interwoven with the generation-after-generation rehearsal of the fact of death, in Genesis 5 and 11. So long as human couples continue to display generative powers, they are not wholly under the aegis of death. But if that is the case, then the statement in Gen. 11.30-Now Sarai was barren; she had no child-signifies that Sarai and Abram
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


qualification of their own forebears. They They are dead while they live, like a tree other which, standing among trees, is dry and leafless. This is in the case of the first ancestral couple, and it becomes implicit on the of Sarahs explicit lips granddaughter-in-law Rachel. As Robert Alter has observed, 13 Rachels plea to Jacob should be
do not possess the saving are the end of their line.
me sons; if not, I am dead. In a narrative and existential context where life and the power of generativity are virtual synonyms, Rachel sees in Jacob the hermeneutical key to her own situation: If he is not able to give her children, that is an indication (especially in view of Leahs reproductive success) that she has in her no power to give life, her womb is not alive, she is generatively dead. But this means that, for her and in her, the reign of death is virtually absolute, qualified only by the throwing back, as a sacred regret, of her power of complaint and petition. She is not a fountain of living waters (Cant. 4.15); she is rather like the earth ever thirsty for water, and her barren womb is the analog of Sheol

translated, Give

(Prov. 30.16).
We may discern a similar reading of the ancestral stories-where is seen as a form of death-in-life-in two NT passages, Romans 4 and Hebrews 11. These two passages are of particular interest, in the context of our internal reading of the Markan pericope as compared with the comparative approach reflected both in the common view and in that of Dreyfus. VVe may recall that they seek to identify the exegetical method implicit in the quotation of Ex. 3.6 at Mk 12.26, by reference to similar exegetical method exemplified in one or another contemporary form. To this point, the internal approach of the present paper appears only in contrast, methodologically, to these previous approaches. But our remarks on the two above-mentioned passages will establish that the exegetical method which we identify within the pericope is exemplified also elsewhere in respect to the ancestral story. In Romans 4 (which ends on the theme of resurrection, the event which for Paul displays the righteousness, i.e. the faithfulness and moral integrity, of God), Paul observes of Abraham that


He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness (nekrosis] of Sarahs womb

(4.19 RSV).
Sarahs womb is dead, as the word nekrosis indicates. But Abraham is said to have believed in the God who gives life to the dead, and calls
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

54 into existence the things that do not exist. Therefore he did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body. The realism of Abraham as presented in this sentence stands in vivid contrast to the realism of the Sadducees. In full view of this couples generative deadness (including his own body which was already dead), Abraham believed in Gods promise, taking that promise and not his own body as the hermeneutical key to his existence. Though it was the birth of Isaac which materially restored generative life to this couple, such life already invaded their existence in the form of the promise which they received and in accordance with which they lived. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews draws the same connection between sterility and death, generativity and resurrection.

By faith Sarah herself received

past the age ... Therefore from



conceive, when she


man, and him dead ...


This time Sarah is simply said (perhaps with an eye to Gen. 18.1112) to be past the age. Again, as in Romans 4, this interpretation of the ancestors in terms of sterility viewed as death, followed by the gift of generativity, is set in a context which goes on to speak of resurrection (11.13-16; cf v. 19). The point to be emphasized is that, in both Romans 4 and Hebrews 11, resurrection is associated with the ancestors, not in terms of their own physical demise and subsequent resurrection, but in terms of their sterility and subsequent death, and in terms of the power of God in bringing life from their death through the offspring given to them. Nevertheless, their story is read as scriptural backing for the NT witness to resurrection of the individual following death. Thus, these two NT passages display the same sort of hermeneutical appropriation of the ancestral story as we are proposing to identify in Mk 12.26, an appropriation in which the meaning of the original text is applied to a different sort of crisis and whereby the old and new contexts are joined in the modes of both continuity and discontinuity. To return to the ancestral plight itself, we may reiterate its character in terms of sterility viewed as a form of death, from which Gods deliverance comes through the gift of generativity. Let us now compare this recurrent plight with that of the generation of the Exodus. In the latter instance, the problem is hardly one of sterility! When the Priestly writer in Ex. 1.7 states that in Egypt the descendants of Israel were fruiful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them, this summary in the words of Genesis 1 only makes
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


explicit what the concluding chapters of Genesis lead the reader to anticipate and what the non-Priestly narrative in Ex. 1.8 and following presupposes. Now, the new Egyptian policy announced after 1.8 is directed precisely against the generativity of the Hebrews (1.16, 22). As a result of the official decree of the Pharaoh, each male
into a world in which a human sentence of death his head. In this sense, one may say that the male children hangs are as good as dead. But insofar as the success of this policy will transform the Hebrew community into an exclusively female group available for slave service and concubinage, so that the Hebrews no longer enjoy the power of generativity as a people, this policy means that the community itself is as good as dead. In the communitys cries which bring ch. 2 to a close, one hears overtones of anticipatory mourning on its own behalf. But at this very point God-who earlier had remembered Rachel and heard her and opened her womb (Gen. 30.22)-heard their groaning and remembered the divine covenant with the ancestors (Ex. 2.24). Shortly after (or contemporaneously), at the burning bush we overhear the call of Moses to deliver the Hebrews from Egypt, under the aegis of one who says I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Once again the hermeneutical relation is one of continuity and discontinuity. On the one hand, the specific plight is quite different: biological sterility in the context of geographic opportunity in the one case, and political oppression and murder in the context of biological blessing in the other. On the other hand, these two forms of human plight are modal variants of one generic threat, the threat of death. To return, finally, to the use of Ex. 3.6 as a response to the Sadducees objection to the possibility of resurrection: The issue at the heart of their story-the problem of sterility and death-is now seen to be the issue which is addressed by appeal directly to the identical ancestral and the analogous Exodus themes through the quotation of one sentence uttered by God at the bush. If Jesus applies these themes to a novel issue-the question of the individuals possible post mortem destiny-this is to give yet one more modulation to those hermeneutical modulations of the ancestral theme already achieved in the context of the Egyptian oppression. (If there were space, one might also identify further such modulations of the ancestral/Exodus vector, in the exilic prophecies of Second Isaiah. There the themes of sterility and generativity are applied to the exilic situation, and the ancestral stories are interpreted as offering hope in this extremity.)
now comes over
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

at Mk 12.26, it seems to me, displays the the context in which Ex. 3.6 originally occurs deepest sensitivity and has its meaning.&dquo; The alternative is to stand before the prospect of death, not only as a power operative in ones historical existence, but as the terminus of that existence, and from that position to call to mind the divine address in Ex. 3.6, and then to decide that, for once, this text and what it connotes has nothing hopeful to say. To decline Jesus interpretation is to decide there is nothing in what Ex. 3.6 connotes which could not be quenched and extinguished by the Sadducees counter-story. So to decide is to confess that this locus classicus of biblically-derived existence, having burned continuously through so many and various other trials, finally found a context within which it burned and was consumed. That would be the end, or at any rate that would establish the limits of the relevance, of Yahwism. It would give an altogether different, and limiting, sense to Jesus concluding words that the God of the burning bush is not God 5 of the dead, but of the living.1


a use

of Ex. 3.6

1. Reference to this mode of exegesis, and to scriptural texts so interpreted with reference to resurrection, may be found in a number of the standard commentaries. I will cite here only two typical sources: George Foot Moore, Judaism, IJ (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1958), pp. 377-83; and Henry J. Cadbury, The Peril of Modernizing Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1937), pp. 58-63. See also E. Earle Ellis, Jesus, The Sadducees and Qumran, NTS 10 (1963-64), pp. 274-79. Interestingly, D.M. Cohn-Sherbock has now argued that Jesus argument in Mark 12.26 does not embody typically rabbinic modes of exegesis. Following a detailed comparison of the Tannaitic rules for exegesis with the argument taken to be implicit in 12.2627, Cohn-Sherbock concludes that that argument is not based on any of these rules, and is thus defective from a rabbinic point of view. He does not find this surprising since, in his view, the gospel tradition suggests that [Jesus] was not skilled in the argumentative style of the Pharisees and Sadducees. See his Jesus Defence of the Resurrection of the Dead, JSNT 11 (1981), pp. 64-73. For a yet more recent approach to the question, see F. Gerald Downing, The Resurrection of the Dead: Jesus and Philo, JSNT 15

(1982), pp. 42-50. 2. F. Dreyfus, LArgument scriptuaire de Jesus en faveur de la resurrection des morts (Marc XII, vv. 26-27), RB 66 (1959), pp. 213-24. 3. Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action, and Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.

4. Dreyfus himself acknowledges that Certes, le texte de l Exode ne contient pas en toutes lettres la foi en la resurrection des morts. He goes on to say, however, Mais en linvoquant, Jesus indique comment ce dogma se rattache en profondeur à laspect central de la revelation de l Ancien Testament, lAlliance, et comment le salut promis par Dieu au Patriarches et à leur descendance en vertue de l Alliance, contient implicitement la doctrine de la resurrection (op. cit., p. 224). 5. A common assessment of this exegetical method is fairly sampled in the following comments: Such arguments are doubtless convincing only to those who are willing to accept them (H.J. Cadbury, op. cit.); and The argument is one of high-handed Jewish exegesis (Krister Stendahl, Matthew, in M. Black and H.H. Rowley [eds.], Peakes Commentary on the Bible [London: Nelson, 1962], p. 791). 6. In place of the words from Genesis 38.8 ( ... kai exanastese sperma to adelpho autou), they could as well have continued to quote from Deuteronomy anastesai tou onoma tou adelphou autou). 25.7 ( 7. In his commentary on the Matthean version of Jesus and the Sadducees, Pierre Bonnard draws attention to a modem presented objection: ... un peu comme si, aujourdhui, on demandait en quel lieu tous les ressuscités pourront être logés (LEvangile selon Saint Matthieu [Paris: Delachaux & Niestlé, p. 324). For one reasoned response to the hypothetical objection Bonnard cites, see the Ingersoll Lecture of William James, reprinted together with his The Will to Believe (New York: Dover, 1956). 8. See the presentation of a discussion between Rabbi Gamaliel (II) and the Sadducees, in Moore, op. cit., p. 382. To each of Gamaliels quotations of scripture in support of Gods bringing the dead to life, the Sadducees reply that a simpler exegesis of the text is more likely. 9. A contemporary, post-holocaust, post-Hiroshima form of the problem is given in Dilys Laings poem Final Verdict, which reads, in full: The Prisoner is pronounced guilty in the First Degree. // In the unique position to give aid and succor / he remained aloof // Seeing the children drown he did not throw them a line. / He saw the railroad bridge wrecked by the flood and did / not warn the engineer. / He stood by while a maniac used and destroyed a little girl. / He saw his own son lynched and did not interfere nor / protest nor bring the murderers to justice. // Asked what he has to say he makes no reply. / He is sentenced to burn in a bush. (The Collected Poems of Dilys Laing [The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1967], p. 405.) 10. Another way to state the burden of this paragraph is to say that the pericope concerning Jesus and the Sadducees, when attended to exegetically, conduces to the view that the idea of resurrection is not only a topic for, but a frame of reference for, biblical hermeneutics. In such a view, ones experience of the quickening power of a literary text is already an analogy and an adumbration, within historical existence, of existence in the mode of resurrection. See further Walter J. Ong, Maranatha: Death and Life in the Text of the Book, JAAR 45 (1977), pp. 419-49, especially his last paragraph

Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.


on p. 445.
in this way of reading the pericope, far from presupposing grammatical grounds that the ancestors are contemporaneous, Jesus citation presupposes their successiveness. 12. Robert Frost, West Running Brook, Complete Poems of Robert Frost (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), p. 329. The poem deals generally with themes of time, death and value, arising in connection with the modern notion of entropy. In likening the central image of the throwing back of the wavelet of water as an Annunciation, Frosts poem at another point connects the notion of entropy suggestively to the biblical thematics of sterility and generativity. 13. Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), p. 187. Though Alters translation is precise, his interpretation of what Rachel means by these words still stops short of the starkness of her cry. For he takes her in this cry as someone who claimed to be on the point of death unless immediately given what ... she wanted. Rachels cry is not a rhetorically calculated nor a hysterically overwrought and exaggerated warning. It is a realistic, if no doubt emotionally charged, assessment of her case, analogous to that of the eunuch who says Behold, I am a dry tree (Isa. 11. One may



14. Compare the general topic addressed by S.L. Edgar, Respect for Context in Quotations from the O.T., NTS 9 (1962-63); and see the response by Richard T. Mead, A Dissenting Opinion About Respect for Context in Old Testament Quotations, NTS 10 (1963-64). It would be interesting to re-examine the texts discussed in these two papers, from the point of view of the hermeneutics sponsored in this paper. 15. In the Gospel of Mark, resurrection is referred to explicitly at 8.31, 9.10, 9.31, 10.34, 14.28; but in these passages little or nothing is said other than to refer to that event in anticipation. Only in two places in Mark is resurrection contextualized, and therefore explored hermeneutically, in terms of OT thematics. These passages are 12.18-27 and 16.1-8. I hope to publish elsewhere, soon, a study of the latter pericope, in which I argue that 16.1-8 displays literary features of a well-developed biblical type-scene, described as the encounter with the future betrothed at a well by Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, ch. 3 (see p. 51). Such an analysis enables the recognition that in both 12.18-27 and 16.1-8 resurrection is presented in terms of the same OT thematics of sterility and death overcome by new life and generativity.

Downloaded from by Mihai Cabau on November 11, 2007 1985 SAGE Publications. All rights reserved. Not for commercial use or unauthorized distribution.