God as Father and Master: Sons and Slaves in Sifre Numbers 115 and in the New Testament

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Abstract

Every year during Passover Jews commemorate the liberation of their ancestors from Egypt. It was God who ‘broke the bars of their yoke’ and who ‘made them walk erect’ (Lev 26:13). Elsewhere, however, the Torah seems to suggest that the redemption from Egypt’s service was not so much a release from slavery, as it was a change of master (cf. Ex 4:23 and Lev 25:42). This paradoxical way of thinking about slavery is perpetuated by the early rabbis in the midrashic and halakhic literature of the first centuries C.E. By means of a close reading of a parable from Sifre Numbers (chapter 115) I will clarify the early rabbinic perspective on slavery: becoming a slave of God was the ultimate purpose of the people of Israel, while being a slave of Egypt’s ruler formed its ultimate degradation. We will also see that in Sifre Numbers, as in other early rabbinic and early Christian writings, the metaphor of slavery competes with the metaphor of sonship. In Sifre Numbers the metaphor of slavery is preferred over that of sonship, due to the absolute obedience that God expects from his people, an aspect that cannot be sufficiently expressed by the relation between a father and his son. Finally, this paper will also contribute to the way we understand slavery metaphors in the New Testament, especially in Romans 6.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Pages (from-to)121-136
Number of pages16
JournalNTT Journal for Theology and the Study of Religion
Volume72
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018

Keywords

  • Parables
  • Slavery
  • Sonship
  • Sifre Numbers 115
  • Romans 6

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