God . . . He? or She?
The priests of the Jerusalem Temple, during the century of Hezekiah, introduce into the world a remarkably unique and pure form of spirituality. A sense of holiness unique in the ancient Eastern Mediterranean. God is the only god. God is invisible. And God has no humanlike characteristics.
4. Why, then, were the biblical prophets so pissed off at God's priests?
This sums up how Israel Knohl explains it:
The Temple sits at a central place at the center of the community. (For Solomon's kingdom this Temple sits upon the hilltop at the heart of the capital city, Jerusalem.) This is God's house. And like with polytheistic deities, this patron deity lives at the very center (the inner sanctum) of the Temple. And frequently, early in the monarchic era, a sculpted calf adorns the Tabernacle entrance. The calf signifies prosperity and sacrifice, but also indicates that sacred ground lies beyond. Just as such calves had traditionally adorned the Canaanite temples to the high god El, in this land. Like the sculpted calf, the priests view themselves as intermediaries between the people and God. Intercessors. No one, not even someone as lofty as King David, is pure enough to enter the innermost sanctum.
What offends the prophets during Hezekiah's time about this Tabernacle-model is not just the hollowness of burnt-offering sacrifices. It has to do more with the role of priests (or role of sculpted calves, for that matter) as intercessors with the divine. And the prophets point to the stories of Moses in the wilderness to back-up their protest . . .
Moses builds his Tent of Meeting not at the center of the Israelite encampment, but outside the encampment. At a distance. God does not live in this Tent, but "He" - from time to time, as needed - beams-down into the Tent of Meeting in a fiery shaft of light. Down, from out of the stormclouds overhanging the mountain up above. "He" would meet with any Israelite (whether Levite high priest or lowly herder) who has issues he or she wishes to discuss with God. No intermediaries. A person could, like Moses (if he or she summons the courage), meet God face-to-face - "voice to voice" (Numbers 12:6-8).
The prophets do not believe in an immanent god, living inside a temple. They do not accept that God is invisible and is unapproachable except through priestly intercessors working on this or that person's behalf. They look to Moses and the Tent of Meeting. The prophets believe, instead, in a transcendent God. Living in the heavens. Who would meet with anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Wherever God stands would become (for a moment) sacred ground, a Tent of Meeting. To the prophets, God will also reward good behavior and punish bad. However, God is also merciful in doing so (like a loving father).
But the prophets' vision of God is very anthropomorphic. To meet God, one has to see God. To picture God before oneself (usually as this merciful father-figure).
But to the Aaronite priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple, this not only goes against their long-developed sense of piety, but this also is appalling to their sense of ritual purity. 180-degrees counter to their sense of what is "holy." One must love God, entirely lacking any desire or expectation of reward. Serving God is reward enough.
(The one true invisible God materializing, willy-nilly, amongst the filth of the mundane world? Making personal appearances among the noisy, pleading Israelite commonfolk? . . . Inconceivable!)
This smacks of blasphemy, of a return to polytheism. Of profaning God.
The prophets do not want a "spiritual" god, aloof and closeted away from all Israelites (with the high priests the sole exception). The prophets want a God who is approachable and moral.
God, who interacts with all the people of Israel.
An all-powerful fatherlike figure who will listen to all their mundane concerns ("we need rain or the crops will fail"), as had the old Canaanite gods before.
But a God who will also forgive their oversights, their impurities, their "humanness."
A gentle Father who will listen, be patient, and ultimately reward them.
During or (more likely) after Hezekiah, the Holiness School within the priesthood tries to nudge the Temple more in the direction of the common people. Later, down in Roman times so did the Pharisees, letting the masses into the Temple at festival time, or bringing the menorah outside where it could be seen and experienced by all. The Israelite people loved their festivals. And the Pharisees talk about reward at the end of days, when the righteous dead shall rise again. God, to the Pharisees, is a just judge and a forgiving father.
But the Sadducees are old school. And see this all as blasphemy. The profaning of a deep spiritual truth: to serve God and God alone. Nothing else in life matters. No messiahs, no last judgment, no afterlife. No payoff for devotion.
The wish of the Pharisees - to also serve humankind - is sacrilege by Sadducee accounting. To love public festivals, or even to enjoy life, is sacrilege. To picture God in human terms (as a gentle father, or in any anatomically human form) is sacrilege.
Christianity emerges trying to juggle the whole panoply of beliefs which existed within First Century Jewish Monotheism (and would spend centuries sorting these out).
Jesus is a moral teacher. Paul is a spiritual thinker, but promoting spirituality of a new kind unlike that of Aaronite priests or Sadducees.
(God may or may not be abstract and invisible, but He is definitely transcendent. Yet God's spirit also exists - by grace - within each and every individual believer.)
Paul makes spirituality work within a "profane" world.
Judaism emerges, a bit later, as a stripped-down legalistic version of Phariseeism.
(God wrote the rulebook. But we rabbis down here on earth decide what is morally right and wrong - by majority rule. God is in heaven and He no longer has a say. He's done his job: the Torah.)
And it is the act of studying Torah which eventually gets spiritualized.
Either way God is no longer immanent in a stone Temple.
Religion stemming from Jewish Monotheism is reaching back to something more like Moses' Tent of Meeting for its conception of "God," but a conception which is modernized:
After the First Century, the God of Jewish Monotheism exists (is immanent) in the heart of every Christian believer. Or exists (is immanent) within Judaism's sacred law-book.
The prophets of Hezekiah's time have won.
God . . . He? or She?
In Christianity and Judaism? . . .
But a "He" growing increasingly abstract and invisible - into and through the Middle Ages.