The Menorah Design

This post is about the textual writing style called the Menorah Design, not about the design of the actual lampstand.

Short Introduction to the Menorah

The rebuilt MenorahThe Menorah for the next temple, rebuilt by the Temple Institutea

The Menorah (מְנוֹרָה) is the golden lampstand built for the temple. It has 7 branches with 7 flames when lit. The lampstand symbolises the burning bush witnessed by Moses1 (Moshe, מֹשֶׁה).

You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. […] And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it.[…] You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it.
Excerpt from Exodus 25:31-40

The New Testament (New Covenant, B’rit Hadashah, הברית החדשה) references to the Menorah standing in the temple before of God by calling the 7 flames a symbol of the 7 spirits who are before the throne of the Almighty.

From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God.
Revelations 4:5

Textual Design

The Menorah design of texts works similarly to the looks of a Menorah, with the most important part of the passage being in the middle. Alternatively, it can be illustrated with a hamburger: Around the most important part in the middle, the meat, there is cheese on each side, then salad, followed by bread. This is how many texts were written in the Old Testament (Tanakh).
There are two possibilities to achieve such a design: Either by using word counts or alphabetical markers, or by using topics/themes. A good example of the Menorah Design is Psalm 67:

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm. A Song.
1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.

2 That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.

3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!

6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us.

7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

This Psalm uses both design methods. In the Hebrew original, it consists of seven verses, with 7, 6, 6, 11, 6, 6 and 7 words respectively.2 Additionally, the themes are repeated like the layers of a hamburger:

blessings for us,

blessings on the earth,

worship of the nations,

God as a righteous judge,

worship of the nations,

blessings on the earth,

blessings for us

This type of textual design is often used to emphasize the middle of the text, i.e. the meat of the hamburger or the middle branch of the Menorah. Note, however, that the Menorah Design often does not follow verse numbers. Furthermore, it can span entire biblical books. The method is also commonly used by Paul (Sha’ul, שאול) in his letters (Example: 1 Corinthians 12-14 with the spiritual gifts spanning the central message of love).

References

1 Robert Lewis Berman; A House of David in the Land of Jesus; page 18 (Pelican, 2007). ISBN 978-1-58980-720-4
2 Shubert Spero; The Menorah Psalm (PDF)
Images
a The Menorah for the next temple rebuilt by the Temple Institute, Wikisource
Additional Resources
Wikipedia article about the Menorah

Woven Text

In ancient Hebrew writings, emphasis was often shown by giving the text a specific shape which I like to call woven text because it resembles the weaving of fabric. This writing style is first found in the Torah, but it also appears in other books like the Talmud. It was considered to be beautiful while at the same time conveying more meaning with more depth.

The creation narrative

The creation narrative is an example of order created from chaos, just like what happens when a weaver takes single threads and gives them a shape by creating a piece of cloth.1

The narrative starts with a prologue, showing the initial situation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Gen. 1:1-2

When God spoke His word, order was brought to the formless void earth. And not only did He bring order, but the way he did it was cleverly designed and ordered. The following table depicts the way he did this.

# Dividers/Vessels
motionless, singular
“And God called”
Population
moving, plural
unnamed
#
Celestial 1 Light & Darkness Sun, moon, stars 4
Middle divider 2 Waters above & below Fish & birds 5
Terrestrial 3 Land mass & waters
Plants
Land animals
Humans
6
7 Rest

During the first half of the week, God created vessels that were populated during the second half. These vessels were created through the separation of different elements, while they were populated during the second half of the week.

  1. Gen. 1:3-5: On the first day, light and darkness were separated. Before that, there were no days. As such, this is also the beginning of time measurement.
  2. Gen. 1:6-8: On the second day, the waters above (the sky) were separated from the waters below.
  3. Gen. 1:9-10: On the third day, God separated the water masses (oceans, lakes, etc.) from the dry land.Gen. 1:11-13: God finished this first 3-day cycle, the separations, by perfecting it through the creation of a first type of life: plants.
  4. Gen. 1:14-19: On the fourth day, God populated/filled the light and darkness by creating sun, moon and stars, and He specifically made them with the purpose of knowing the date and time.
  5. Gen. 1:20-23: On the fifth day, God filled the skies and the oceans by creating birds and fish.
  6. Gen. 1:24-25: On the sixth day, God populated the land mass with land animals.Gen. 1:26-31: He then finished the second 3-day cycle of creation by perfecting it through the creation of mankind.
  7. Gen. 2:1-3: On the seventh day, God rested. This is how He introduced the day of rest, the Shabbat (שַׁבָּת‎, Saturday).

On a symbolic level of interpretation, it is interesting to note that according to the creation narrative, there has never been an end to the Shabbat. As such, we are still living in the day of rest, as the words depicting a new day (“And there was evening and there was morning”) are missing at the end of the narrative.

After the first account, the story of the creation is told a second time from a slightly different perspective (Gen. 2:4-25), with a more detailed on the creation of humanity, while other parts that were told in the first account (Gen. 1) were deliberately left out here.

The plagues in Egypt

The usage of woven text becomes much clearer in another story of the bible, the account of the 10 plagues in Egypt.2 Here, the woven creation is systematically undone by countering the creation narrative.

To show it more easily, I numbered the plagues and coded them: the numbers 1-10 show which plague it is, the letters L, M & R describe the wording used and the letters A-C describe the level or place the plague comes from.

Announcement L
Public;
Changes in natural order
M
Public meets personal;
Changes in animal kingdom
R
Personal experience
Trigger Affected „Go to Pharaoh in the morning…“ „Come to Pharaoh!“ Nothing
A – Aaron points staff towards the earth Everyone 1-LA
Ex. 7:14-25

Blood
2-MA
Ex. 7:26-8:11

Frogs
3-RA
Ex. 8:12-15

Gnats (lice)
Plagues from the bottom up
B – Middle, no pointing
God
Only Egyptians 4-LB
Ex. 8:20-32

The mix (often translated as flies)
5-MB
Ex. 9:1-7

Death of livestock
6-RB
Ex. 9:8-12

Boils (skin sickness)
Plagues from the middle
C – Moses points towards the sky Only Egyptians 7-LC
Ex. 9:13-35

Hail
8-MC
Ex. 10:1-20

Locusts
9-RC
Ex. 10:21-29

Darkness (depression)
Plagues from the top down
God Only Egyptians 10
Ex. 11-12:32

Death of the firstborns, Pesach

More information could be added to this table, considering how deep the text is. However, it makes more sense to list some of the additional insights separately:

  • After plagues 1 to 5, Pharaoh decides to harden his own heart. After five plagues, it seems as if God is saying: “If you want to have a hardened heart, you can have it.” Knowing everything, God had announced to Moses that this would happen (Ex. 4.21), but he still gave Pharaoh a chance to change it.
  • Pharaoh’s magicians manage to duplicate plagues 1 and 2, but they can not undo them. Starting with plague 3, they can no longer duplicate them, while the text explicitly states they are affected by plague 6. Similarly, the devil always tries to fake God’s work but never truly manages to do so.
  • God systematically unweaves the creation story: He starts on the ground (Line A: Aaron points towards the earth) and ends in the sky (Line C: Moses points towards the sky). The signs not only invert creation, but negate it. The goal is to bring chaos upon Egypt:
L
Dividers/Vessels mix
M
Additional plagues
R
Attacks on the populated vessels
A – Earth (below) 1-LA
Ex. 7:14-25

Waters turn to blood
2-MA
Ex. 7:26-8:11
3-RA
Ex. 8:12-15

Earth produces gnats (lice)
B – Middle 4-LB
Ex. 8:20-32

The divider (above/below) becomes a mix (often translated as flies)
5-MB
Ex. 9:1-7
6-RB
Ex. 9:8-12

Moses & Aaron mix above and below: Boils (skin sickness)
C – Sky (above) 7-LC
Ex. 9:13-35

Hail (lights mixed with ice) falls from the sky
8-MC
Ex. 10:1-20
9-RC
Ex. 10:21-29

Darkness replaces light
10
Ex. 11-12:32

Death of the firstborns, Pesach

To illustrate the undoing of creation, these are a few examples:

  • The water that was separated from the earth on the third day of creation is transformed into blood during the first plague, therefore making it impure.
  • The earth from which land animals were created on the sixth day attacks them during the second plague.
  • The separations between the above and below (creation day 2, and population on day 5) are destroyed by mixing them again.
  • In Hebrew, the word used for “hail” (plague 7) is a mix between lights and ice. When those lights fall down, it is like an undoing of the creation of sun, moon and stars (creation day 4)
  • Darkness (plague 9) replaces light (creation day 1)
  • Finally, using a Sod level of interpretation, Jewish Scholars are saying the following about the 10th plague:1
    At the very end, God killed all the firstborn sons of the unbelieving Egyptians. This opposes the wording of creation’s prologue (Genesis 1.1: “In the Beginning, …”) by describing the end like an epilogue.
    The word for the firstborn son in Hebrew (Bakur בכור, from the same root comes “first fruits of the crop” בכר) is a synonym of “the beginning” (ראשית, ruashit). Jewish scholars claim that Genesis 1.1 could therefore be read as “Through the firstborn, God created the heavens and the earth”.1 As such, the death of the firstborn sons inverts the prologue of the creation narrative.

As the writing style of woven text shows, God is a God of order. He creates order to replace chaos, which he does systematically, in an ordered way.
Similar structures can be found throughout the bible, be it on the level of a few verses up to entire books. Finding them can be tricky, but they can help to show the intent of the message (e.g. the plagues are meant to undo creation).

References

1 Moshe Kline, The Lord Spoke to Moses in Tables: Part 1, Part 2

2 Chaver.com; The Ways of Holiness (Chapter 4: The Nine Plagues)

The Story Of Rabbi Eliezer

The following story from the Babylonian Talmud (Seder Nezikin, Baba Metzia 59b speaks for itself:

[…] Rabbi Eliezer brought forward every imaginable argument, but they did not accept them. Said he to them:

– ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let this carob-tree prove it!’

Thereupon the carob-tree was torn a hundred cubits out of its place — others affirm, four hundred cubits.

– ‘No proof can be brought from a carob-tree,’ they retorted.

Again he said to them:

– ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the stream of water prove it!’

Whereupon the stream of water flowed backwards

– ‘No proof can be brought from a stream of water,’ they rejoined.

Again he urged:

– ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of the schoolhouse prove it,’ whereupon the walls inclined to fall.

But Rabbi Joshua rebuked them, saying:

– ‘When scholars are engaged in a halachic dispute, what have ye to interfere?’

Hence they did not fall, in honour of Rabbi Joshua, nor did they resume the upright, in honour of Rabbi Eliezer; and they are still standing thus inclined.

Again he said to them:

– ‘If the halachah agrees with me, let it be proved from Heaven!’

Whereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out:

– ‘Why do ye dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, seeing that in all matters the halachah agrees with him?’

But Rabbi Joshua arose and exclaimed:

– ‘It is not in heaven.’

What did he mean by this? — Said Rabbi Jeremiah: That the Torah had already been given at Mount Sinai; we pay no attention to a Heavenly Voice, because You (God) have long since written in the Torah at Mount Sinai, After the majority must one incline.

Rabbi Nathan met Elijah and asked him:

– What did (God) the Holy One, Blessed be He, do in that hour?

– He laughed [with joy], [Elijah] replied, saying, ‘My sons have defeated Me, My sons have defeated Me.’

It was said: On that day all objects which Rabbi Eliezer had declared clean were brought and burnt in fire. Then they took a vote and excommunicated him.

A number of issues appear with this story. The ones that are immediately obvious are listed below:

  • Nowhere in the Old Testament (Tanakh) does it say that one should follow the majority, as Rabbi Jeremiah claims. This is a statement from the Oral Law.
  • The main theme of this story is the “correct interpretation” of the Old Testament (Tanakh), instead of forming a relationship with God and of focussing on what God says about the passage.
  • This story allows the rabbis to supersede God’s word, i.e. to interpret it at their own will and to create new commandements that God never intended.
  • Using this story and other passages in the Talmud, the rabbis put themselves above God himself by claiming that he (God) has to conform to the interpretations of the rabbis.

This frame of mind makes me wonder whether it isn’t the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Jeremiah:

How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie.
Jeremiah 8.8