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Book 5. Persian Propaganda

The Psalms as Propaganda

Christian Worship

Catholics are under obligation to attend “mass” every sunday. Though there is supposedly but one God, the observer will see side chapels to other entities, and since idolatry is forbidden in the worship of Yehouah, the casual observer might be surprised to find the church full of statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Sacred Heart and various saints. Further revered images are of the fourteen stations of the cross and there will be seven candles on the altar illuminating an image of a man being crucified on a cross.

The trappings are not our concern here, however, but the service itself. These are the main elements in the order of the service.
The congregation stands as the priest enters with his attendants, and sing a hymn.
Sins are confessed and absolved.
The congregation stand and sing prescribed hymns and the attendant chants some passages from the bible and a creed.
The priest gives an exhortation called a sermon.
The Missal book is moved to the side of the altar.
The centre of the ceremony is the preparation and presentation of the wafer biscuits which are the “body of Christ”, and are accepted by all who wish to have “communion”.
The congregation are then dismissed, feeling better for it all

Rituals like these might be expected to evolve and these naturally have done, as can be seen by the differences between the different churches, notably the Orthodox and the Protestant, but they are recognisably the same still. The consecration of wine and wafers plainly comes from the commendation of Jesus at the Last Supper in the mythology of Christianity, and in fact from the effort of Paul to have his converts treat the service with solemnity rather than as a booze-up. With the significance it has, it is Christian, although most religious services involve some sort of sacred repast, however symbolic. What then of the general outline? Is it Jewish or Pagan?


A Worshipping Church

Parts of what seems like liturgy have been found throughout the New Testament, giving the impression that the early church already was a worshipping church—Bousset and Bultmann held this view. It is further evidence that the church was continuing a tradition and not inventing new practices to commemorate a recent revelation. Much of the New Testament reflects, not so much the activities of the apostles, but the activities of the developing church. These are retrojected into the time of the gospels and Acts. Exactly the same happened with the Old Testament.

If the earliest Christian churches already had a liturgy, then it must have been Jewish originally, and that means Essene, though doubtless the Sadducees who were made redundant in 70 AD and found an alternative occupation in the new gentile church would have brought in some of their own practices. The origins of Christian services must therefore lie in the practices of the Jewish temple, and they were prescribed in the Old Testament. In Leviticus 23:2-3, “the Lord” required that His people gather together and worship Him every sabbath.

When James delivered his speech at the council of Jerusalem, he noted that “Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath”, (Acts 15:21). Josephus (Against Apion) says that Moses ordained “that every week men should desert their other occupations and assemble to listen to the Law and to obtain a thorough and accurate knowledge of it”. But nowhere in the laws of Moses in the Pentateuch is there direction concerning rituals and their function in worship.

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.
1 Cor 3:16-17

Here, Paul calls the church itself a “temple of God” in which the Spirit of God dwells—the “ye”, of course, being plural, referring to the congregation as a whole, not individual members. This is the Essene understanding transferred to the Christian church. The Essenes considered the temple as polluted by Pagan (Greek) practices under the Sadducees and withdrew their full support from it. Monastic Essenes withdrew entirely, it seems, but village Essenes attended merely to fulfil their obligations. Both considered that the spirit of God rested on people, provided that they were righteous, and it is this understanding that came through to Christianity.

Essenes therefore, and the Christians that followed them, undertook their rituals to God in their own assemblies, respectively synagogues and churches—the gentiles rejecting the name synagogue as too associated with Essenes and adopting an alternative Greek word for assembly. But nowhere in contemporary sources is there a proper description of a worship service in the synagogue in the first century. The closest are the descriptions in Luke 4:16ff and Acts 13:14ff. The Mishnah gives more about certain elements of the liturgy, but even there a complete description of the liturgy itself is lacking.

Hebrews 12:22-24 connects the worship of the Christian church directly to the heavenly temple service, but one in which Jesus Christ is high priest. The christian believers gathered in worship are spiritually present and engaging in the temple worship of heaven. This suggests that the earliests Christian services were reflecting the older services of the Jewish temple and perhaps confirms Sadducaean influence on the gentile church, though it might simply be the Essenes thread of the people being God’s temple, arising once more.


The Foundation of the Jewish Priesthood

The contention in these pages is that Judaism was founded by the Persians from Cyrus the Great on, and we find the supposed Jewish priest with the Persian name, Ezra, saying (Ezra 6:18) “they appointed the priests to their divisions and the Levites in their orders for the service of God in Jerusalem, as it is written in the book of Moses”, implying that David’s divisions for the priests and Levites goes back to the laws of Moses. Indeed, it does because Ezra had just written the laws of Moses and was to read them to the people in the very first service of the Jewish religion! Moses was Mazda!

In 1 Chronicles 23-26 we are given a detailed description of the functions and divisions of the priests and Levites. This is precisely the information we are lacking in the Pentateuch. Schematically the organisation is:
In chapter 23:1-5—Division of Levites. There were 38,000 Levites of whom 24,000 were to oversee the work of the house of the LORD, 6,000 were officers and judges, 4,000 were gatekeepers, and 4,000 were “praisers” of Yehouah with the instruments “David” made for praising.
In chapter 23:6-23—major family households of Levites.
In chapter 23:28-32—summary of various duties of Levites.
In chapter 23:30-31—the duty of the 4,000 “praisers” is standing every morning and evening to confess and to praise.
In chapter 24—division of 24 courses of priests.
In chapter 25—division of 24 courses of “praisers”.
In chapter 26—gatekeepers, treasurers, et al.

The role of a nabi (prophet) or chozeh (seer) was firstly as a spokesman of God, but it also meant an inspired teacher of the law (Dt 18:15-22; 2 Kg 17:13; Isa 8:16f; Ps 78:1ff). In short, prophets were officials given the duty of ensuring that the law and the new disciplines were understood and properly practiced by the people. Prophets were propagandists for the new regime.

The people of Israel were divided into 24 courses (in line with the priests) and representatives were present to watch the offerings in Jerusalem, whilst the others gathered in their local towns. But this would mean a gathering only around one particular town at any given week in which a particular course of priests served. The Mishnah implies that this tradition goes back to the “first prophets”.


The Public Reading of the Law

When a new Judah emerged after the razing of Jerusalem in 587 BC, it was identified with exclusive adoration of Yehouah, the creator of heaven and earth and supreme king over all nations, with emphasis on temple, Torah, sabbath, a holy land and its people elected by Yehouah. Erhard S Gerstenberger (Theologies in the Book of Psalms) says the Psalter is a treasury of Jewish theologies of the time of this time—the Persian colonization of Yehud (conventionally called “the Return”).

In the context of congregational worship, and with an emphasis on a supplied salvation history (Ps 78; 105; 106; 136) and on Torah, as the sources of Jewish identity, as well as homilies and teachings, Yehouah appears in Psalms as the supreme God, creator and maintainer of world order, but also the exclusive Lord of His religious community and the teacher, comforter and provider of every Jew. Temple rituals showed God like Mithras who was conceived as the face of God—the sun on high amid the hosts of heaven:

Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory? Yehouah, strong and mighty, Yehouah, mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? Yehouah of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Ps 24:7-10

A partial description of a worship service comes to us from the same time as Ezra (Neh 8:1-12) as the corporate worship on the first day of the month (new moon’s day, an extra sabbath day) in the temple. Elements mentioned are:

The High Priest brings out the book of the law.
The office bearers ascend the podium.
The book of God’s Word is formally opened in the sight of all.
The congregation stands, as soon as the book is opened.
The High Priest blessed God, in this context, doubtless for His gift of His law—and, to judge by the response of the congregation, admonished the people to obey it.
The congregation responds with a communal “amen”, meaning “so be it”—submission! They submit to the law about to be read.
The congregation “lifted up their hands” and “bowed their heads with faces to the ground”, in Moslem fashion, to “worship” God,
The High Priest then read the law in a language the people could not understand, but a team of assistants and Levites made sure the congregation understood it.
The people mourned and wept at the reading of the law and the Levites told them firmly to “be quiet”, “not be grieved” and not to “mourn or weep!”
The congregation go and eat and drink and offer portions to the hungry.

In the account, these people were hardly joyous at the rules being read out to them, and they had to be forced by the Levites to go and rejoice. Jews and Christians tell us they were crying for joy! The new order of things was being forced on to the reluctant Canaanites and they were distressed, not joyous, and that is plain.

The point, though, is that this procedure was the procedure laid down for the periodic repetition of the covenant law to the subject Canaanites, and therefore became the basis of temple ritual and subsequently Christian liturgy.

Psalms as Persian Propaganda

Even more significant is that the propaganda was evidently not merely the reading of the law “of Moses” but that it was also embodied in the psalms being sung or chanted by the cantors. Torah implies salvation, grace and general satisfaction or happiness (shalom, Ps 1), and it reflects cosmic order (Persian, Arta):

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.
Ps 19:1
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy.
Ps 19:4-5
The Law of Yehouah is perfect, converting the soul. The Testimony of Jehovah is sure, making the simple wise.
The precepts of Jehovah are right, rejoicing the heart. The commands of Jehovah are pure, giving light to the eyes.
Ps 19:7-8

Prophets were officials who ensured the law was understood, and the singers also had a prophetic role! Mowinckel noted the existence of many psalms containing prophecy—direct revelation from Yehouah—meant for the audience of subject people being indoctrinated. These psalms were recited by a temple priest or singer just as Gunkel had argued.

The psalmist often speaks in the name of God (Ps 2:6ff; 12:6; 20:7; 28:5; 32:8f; 36:2; 49; 50; 60:8-10; 75:3ff; 81:7ff; 82; 85:9; 95:7ff; 110; etc), thereby speaking prophesy in the sense of speaking for God. 1 Chronicles 25:2f calls the work of the temple singers “prophesying”. Thus the singing of songs in the systems of worship set up to Yehouah were ways of indoctrinating the people with the newly imposed principles in the guise of honour to God:

Blessed are you, O Yehouah. Teach me your statutes.
With my lips I declare all the ordinances of your mouth.
Ps 119:12

The vocabulary of the new type of worship—teaching, making the people understand, opening their eyes, obeying the law—is prominent in the whole of Psalms. The later tradition, after the defeat of the Persians, was that the gift of prophecy among the singers ceased from the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is certainly expressed by the second century BC (1 Macc 4:46; 9:27; 14:41), and the Levitical cantors are no longer thought of as “prophets”. Sirach 50:1-24 is a eulogy of the high priest Simon II, whom we know held office in 198 BC. He describes (v 8) a temple service and mentions the use of the singers. Those who had imposed the system had been swept away by Alexander, but Yehouism did not cease. It had set down deep enough roots to survive.

Josephus, in 64 AD, says that the Levitical singers asked to be allowed to learn the songs by heart (Ant 20.216-18), showing that beforehand the tradition was that they had to be read—a tradition that began when they were reading out new laws or lessons, but which by then had petrified into the same ones repeated, the reason for the reading of new ones having ceased.

Gerstenberger thought the Judaeans themselves claimed the absolute sovereignty of Yehouah over all the earth (Ps 24,1), in consonance with the universalistic world views of the Babylonian and Persian cultures and in defence against being spiritually subdued by the ruling powers. In other words, he thinks they adapted Yehouah to the Persian concepts of God (Ahuramazda) voluntarily, just to copy the world powers. Yet, he compares, in a note only, the voluntary innovations with the followers of Zoroaster in ancient Persia, who already formed similar communities of faith transcending family ties, according to Mary Boyce. It was not coincidental that this huge change happened in Judah just when the Persians had control over it, nor was it a voluntary change. It was a result of Persian colonial policy.

The Books of Psalms

Psalms 80 was sung in the temple as is clear both from its authorship (the Levitical prophet, Asaph), and from the address to God as the one “who is enthroned between the cherubim”, a clear indication of God enthroned upon the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies. The Psalter is divided into five books, as the Masoretic bible and the Septuagint verify, as well as internal signs in the Psalter itself. Thus each book ends with an appropriate doxology (Ps 41:14; 72:18-19; 89:53; 106:48). Psalms 150, or 146-50, is the doxology for book 5.

The line underneath the doxology to book 2 (Ps 72:20) “the hymns of David, son of Jesse are ended”, is at the end of a psalm of Solomon! But it seems to mean that the first two books of psalms, taken to have been composed by David, completed the collection. Yet so-called Davidic psalms occur in the remaining books. It might confirm the first two as the earliests collection, but then songwriters added further songs to the list claiming that some were by David as well. None of course are actually by David (or Solomon) but were written much later.

Book 3 seems not to contain any earlier collection. Psalms 89 shows that a date this book as a whole was composed sometime after the exile, and so in the Persian period.

Books 4 and 5 show signs that they might have been compiled together at a later date. Psalms 137 shows the date was after the exile, and Psalms 126 seems to refer to the “Return”. A Persian provenance is also confirmed by the distinction between books 1-3 and 4-5 in the manuscript tradition. Scholars are happy to associate these books with the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, while innocantly claiming that the presence of “Davidic” psalms in books after the first two shows that Davidic psalms were being found “preserved” from the time of David, 500 years before!

Also highly indicative is the name of God used in the different collections.
Yehouah is God’s name 273 times in book 1, as opposed to Elohim appearing 15 times.
Elohim is used 164 times in book 2 as opposed to Yehouah 30 times.
In book 3, psalms 73 to 83 use Elohim mainly but others in the collection prefer Yehouah.
The most recent books, 4 and 5, use Yehouah 236 times, with Elohim not used at all in book 4, and used only 7 times in book 5.


Plainly, although books 1 and 2 were composed at the same time, they were separate collections for separate congregations. This might be taken by biblicists as evidence of the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, but it is more likely to be evidence of two cults, one of Elohim and one of Yehouah, who struggled for supremacy. In several cases, the psalms in book 1 and book 2 seem related, but with appropriate changes made to accomodate each respective cult. Psalms 14 of book 1 is similar to Psalms 53 of book 2. The same psalm is being used in two contexts. Each psalm addresses God with a different name, and the differences are rewirking not textual corruption.

Psalms 70 is related to Psalms 40:14-18. Part of a psalm has been used in different settings. The same is true of Psalms 31:2-4a and Psalms 71:1-3. Psalms 108 is similar to Psalms 57:8-12 and Psalms 60:7-14. David was evidently writing psalms for two sets of worshippers—all of these are supposed to have been by David.

Psalms at Qumran

The arrangements of the psalms found at Qumran are astonishingly revealing. They prove that the Psalter, supposedly written by king David about 1000 BC, was not finshed even as late as the first century AD. Had David himself resurrected to complete his efforts?

Of the five books of psalms in the Jewish scriptures, judging by the copies found in the Qumran caves, only three had been substantially agreed by the first century BC. The last two books were arranged in quite different ways (11QPs) from the extant versions in our bibles. The fact that several copies of the same work have been found shows that these were accepted arrangements by the sectaries, at least, and not just an idiosyncratic anthology of psalms, but they were not the finally accepted collections.

This is clear evidence that an important part of the supposedly ancient Jewish scriptures had not been compiled or probably even written by the first century BC. Nothing could be more suggestive that the Jewish scriptures as a whole are far more recent than the average Jewish and Christian punter thinks, and that the Jewish and Christian church leaders and scholars will admit to the general public.


Continue: The Enoch Literature; Was Enoch Zoroaster?




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