Thursday, 4 August 2016
Religion and Cultural Memory (tr. Rodney Livingstone),
Jan Assmann, Stanford University Press, 2006, page 80
Finishing his essay "Five Stages on the Road to the Canon", Jan Assmann hints that there may be a sixth step in the process.
I am referring to the desire for permanence, the longing for eternity amid ephemeral phenomena ans the transitory world. The canon creates an enduring space beyond time and history, a space from which history has been eliminated.
Most people long for that permanence, for stability and endurance. The Sages of the Talmud tell a story that illustrates this (b. Menachot 29b):
Rabbi Judah said in the name of Rabbi, When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing coronets (tagin, crowns) to the letters (of the Torah) Said Moses, "Lord of the Universe, Who stays Your hand?" (Why are You doing this?) He answered, "There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiba ben Joseph by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws". "Lord of the Universe", said Moses; "permit me to see him". He replied, "Turn around". Moses went and sat down behind eight rows (of people in the study hall) and listened to the discourses upon the law. Not being able to follow their arguments he was ill at ease, but when they came to a certain subject and the disciples said to the master "Whence do you know it?" and the latter replied "It is a law given unto Moses at Sinai" he was comforted.