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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Tell Me, What Is the Name of Your God?



Moses walked a few silent steps behind the large bearded man that was his father-in-law, Jethro. Jethro had come to him in the early morning, still before dawn, well before Moses would have risen to lead the family’s herds of sheep and goats out to the pasture land.

“Get up, Moses. Today you will come with me,” Jethro said in the stuffy darkness inside Moses’ tent.

“But the sh- sh- sh- sheep, father…” Moses objected.

“Nevermind the sheep.” Jethro told him. “Today I take you to the shrine of the Midianites.”

Jethro led him to the coastal city of Aqaba. “I come here four times each year to participate in the sacred rituals. I am a priest of Midian. This is my noble duty. While we are here I will instruct you in the proper way to worship.”

And, true to his word, Jethro shared the secrets with his son-in-law. “First, I will teach you to pray,” he said as they stood at the bottom of a flight of stairs that led up to a long narrow temple built of simple, unornamented, dressed stones.

“We kneel here,” he said and, placing his hands on Moses’ shoulders, gently pushed him to his knees. “And we pray this way: 

“To the god who is unknown, I pray.
To the goddess, the mother-goddess who is unknown, I pray.
To the god who is angry with me, I pray.
To the mother-goddess who is angry with me in this place, I pray.

My transgression is unknown to me.
The sin I have committed, I know not.

May the unknown god give me a good name.
May the mother-goddess I do not know pronounce for me a good name.

If I have eaten the food of my god unwittingly,
if I have drunk the waters of a cesspool without knowledge,
If I have done what is forbidden by the mother-goddess unwittingly,
I beg mercy.

God, known or unknown, my transgressions may be many.
Mother-goddess, known or unknown, many may be my sins.
I seek help. Where is the one who will take my hand?
I have wept. Where is the one who will come to my side?
I utter laments and shriek my grief. Where is the one who hears me?

Mankind is dumb and cannot speak. He knows nothing.
The sin I have sinned, turn it away.
The sin I have sinned, blow it away in the wind;
transgressions seven times seven, forgive.

And may my heart, like the heart of my mothers, be brought to the place of return.”

Moses listened carefully to this prayer and then said, “E- e- e-excuse me- me- me, father Jethro, bu- bu- bu- but there seem t- t- t- to b- b- be mu- much that you do not kn- kn- know. What is it you would te- te- te- teach me?

“Yes," said Jethro as he stood up from the steps.“I am ignorant of many things. But tell me, Moses, who came to my tents as a stranger, fleeing the wrath of the Egyptian Lord, and who has married the eldest of my seven daughters, tell me what you know.  Tell me, what is the name of your God?”

Moses did not answer.

“Go on, Moses, foundling and fugitive, tell me the name of your God,” Jethro pressed.

“I d- d- d- do not kn- kn- know.” Moses stammered in frustration.

“You do not know.” Jethro shook his head. “And can you recount for me the great things that your god has done? Tell me of his mighty deeds? What great things hath he done?”

“I d- d- d- do not kn- kn- know.”

Jethro scowled at his son-in-law. “Well then, maybe you should listen to me. I may have much to teach you yet.”



**

The religion of the Midianites is largely unknown. Jethro’s prayer is adapted from a Sumerian “Prayer to any God.” (Thomas, 111-117)

Thomas, D. Winton. Editor. Documents from Old Testament Times. New York: Harper Torchbooks. 1958. Print.


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