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Wandering About God

I have long maintained that it is not a high level of intelligence, but a high level of interest, that makes for good scholarship. One indeed needs to be a good thinker, but as Socrates demonstrated in the Theaetetus¬†, anyone can exhibit even the most basic signs of intelligence. As a teacher, I can also testify that none of my students are unintelligent. But many of them are lazy and disinterested. If you want to know which ones, just looks at the names that correspond to the F’s in my gradebook.

Having a sustained and mature interest in a subject is far more valuable than being able to wax eloquent on it. At least, such is my hope, because I know that there are far better speakers & writers than I, yet I do trust that I have been called to a life of scholarship. This weekend, I had a strong moment of affirmation that accentuated this paradox: the fact that I love studying theology but am hardly qualified to articulate. My realization of this irony came as the result of an even more stunning revelation that I will attempt to relate here. Once more, I must ask that you trust to my interest in the matter more than you trust my ability to do justice in communicating it.

I spent this weekend looking into the historical hypotheses surrounding the Exodus story. While many scholars consider it a fruitless venture to attempt to corroborate archeological evidence with the Biblical account, most laymen hardly understand the difficulty entailed. From their use of the word ‘fruitless,’ we might suspect that the uselessness of the search is due to a lack of evidence. In fact, it would be more true to vouch for the opposite stance. There is simply too much evidence buried in the sands of Egypt to use any one article of it to trace the Exodus story. Below I list a few of the general facts that Archeology has yielded:

—It is well attested that a large group of Semitic people were dwelling in northern Egypt in the area of Goshen from the years 1800 BC to 1500 BC. The native Egyptians called them the ‘Hyksos,’ meaning ‘foreign rulers’ (sometimes mistranslated ‘Shepherd Rulers.’) and they left several graves and monuments in Egypt with Hebrew names and writing.

—These people worshiped a single deity that the natives identified as ‘Yahu’ or ‘Yahwe.’ Some scholars say that the 14th century BC Egyptian references to Yahu are the oldest written accounts of Yahweh. For some reason, he later became associated with the Egyptian storm god Seth.

—There was a massive exodus of the Hyksos under Pharaoh Ahmose I of the Upper Kingdom, whose monuments attributed their leaving to a relentless military campaign. According to his account, they were victoriously driven back to the land of Canaan where they became distant Egyptian vassals.

—Later Egyptian sources, however, complained that the Hyksos had caused an upheaval in the social order by usurping the weaker Lower Kingdom of it power. There are literary & poetic sources that associated unwanted upward mobility of resident aliens with the Hyksos Ascendency, attributing to them all sorts of natural and economic disasters.

—Greek historians also made references to the Hyksos, but they seemed to be dubious about whether the Hyksos were forced out by a military campaign or left peacefully. Though many of the Greek accounts are given a millennium later and might have been subject to redaction, the very fact that they mentioned the Hyksos is interesting.

—Finally, there are murals in the city of Pi-Ramesses depicting Hebrew slaves building bricks. Although these slaves are identified as POWs, and are pictured along side Nubian slaves, this art makes it clear that these cities were indeed built under Semitic slave labor, just as the Bible attests.

None of this evidence is conclusive, of course. Nor can we draw any further evidence from it than the fact that some sort of “exodus” or “exiting” of Hebrews took place during the 2nd millennium BC. It is futile to use this kind of scant evidence to ‘prove’ the Biblical account beyond stating that its historical roots can be traced deeply back into the history of Hebrew Yahweh worship. Still, all of this was not nearly as telling as what happened to me on Sunday evening.

Pondering over these facts as I walked to Mass, I found myself thinking over and over again of the wandering history of the Hebrews, who carried their strange Monotheism with them across the globe. Never seeming to have a home, yet promised one by their God, I thought of all the names they gave Him to emphasize His singularity to foreign peoples. Yahweh: I AM. Elohim: The Divine. El Shaddai: God on High (Mountains). Adonai: The LORD. And for some reason I started saying to myself that phrase from Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost.” And here is where things become difficult to describe, so I will try to relate them just as they happened.

—At Mass, the priest addressed us on the awkwardness of a God who reaches out to us where we are. He said it was odd to think of a Deity chasing after His own people where-ever they went, and then concluded with this words: “Just because Jesus wanders after us doesn’t mean he is lost.” My heart skipped a beat.

—On the way home, I thought of God following after me like some kind of benevolent stalker, seeking to steal my soul unto himself.

—Feeling myself not yet drowsy, I read a series of articles from a journal before going to sleep. None of them were on the subject of Sacred Scripture.

—I did not sleep for hours. My mind went in and out of a dream-like state, yet I was always aware of the noises in my room: the AC and the hum of the hot water heater. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I never once dropped off.

—The whole time, my mind was filled with these names: El Shaddai, Yahweh, Elohim, Adonai, and behind them all I heard the voice of One like a Son of Man acknowledging Himself in all these names. He said he had allowed Himself to be praised under these titles until the time came when He would show Himself fully. Each name was a stepping stone closer to this ultimate Revelation.

—I feel asleep sometime in the late morning. My dream was about snuggling with a warm, soft pillow. It had nothing to do with God or theology.

None of this evidence is conclusive, of course. Nor can we draw any further evidence from it than the fact that some sort of concurrent thought process took hold of me last night. But perhaps it does means something, after all…

About Daniel Lacourrege

Daniel Lacourrege is a 20-something year old theologian living in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. It is the best place in the world to be a 20-something. It is the third best place in the world to be a Catholic (Rome & Jerusalem claiming first & second).
His life has become one adventure right after another. Most of them start in a classroom or library, but very few of them finish there. He likes most things, but usually must be in the mood for them. The only thing he is never in the mood for is traffic.
If you feel so moved, you may email him at lacourrege4@archbishopshaw.us.

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