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God’s back! What did Moses see on Sinai?

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Chapter Summary

This chapter attempts to loosen the vice, suggesting that God showed Moses neither his face nor his back on Mt. Sinai, but offered him a glimpse of the future. Reading God's "back" as an idiomatic reference to the future, reflecting a biblical perception of time now lost to us, sheds new light on traditional Jewish and Christian commentaries on Exodus 33:23. It helps explain why commentators more or less ignore God's back until well into the middle ages. It also helps explain thematic preoccupations of these commentaries, such as the relationship between (present) righteousness and (future) reward. The chapter shows that it too is a response to Exodus 33:12-23, thereby revealing a crucial textual dimension hitherto unrecognised, and, perhaps more importantly, indicating the need for yet another look at Jewish and Christian engagement over the use of Sinai as a focus for issues of succession, intercession, and transmission of authority.

Keywords: Christian commentaries; Exodus; God's back; intercession; Jewish commentaries; Moses; Mt. Sinai; transmission of authority



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