"You are my witnesses": A theological approach to the laws of testimony

Giovanna Raengo Czander, Fordham University


The concept of witness spans different literary genres and times of composition. It is not confined to the Old Testament but is also found and expanded upon in rabbinic and New Testament literature. In the New Testament, one of the preferred terms for “believers” is &ogr;ι μαρτυρ&ogr;ι, the witnesses. What is behind the concept of witness and why did it become so meaningful across time and audiences? ^ This study identifies a witness motif and claims that it is deeply rooted in the laws of testimony in the Torah. Exploring these laws in light of ancient Near Eastern parallels, this study argues that ancient law codes, both in ancient Mesopotamian cultures and in the Old Testament, were not primarily meant to be applied in a judicial setting, but rather served a pedagogical purpose. A rhetorical analysis of the laws of testimony in the Torah suggests that the witness motif is aimed at shaping the identity of the addressees of those laws. ^ In the Psalter, this study argues, the “you” to whom the laws are addressed is the “I” who speaks in Psalms. The analysis of a selected group of psalms supports the claim that the witness motif is a powerful tool in shaping the identity of the Psalmist as a Torah-abiding individual. In Isaiah 40–48, the witness motif is enhanced to the point of including, as a corporate entity, all of Israel. Second Isaiah expands the concept of witness proposed by the Torah laws and identifies Israel's mission among the nations: to be a witness of YHWH's mighty deeds in creation and history. ^

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Recommended Citation

Czander, Giovanna Raengo, ""You are my witnesses": A theological approach to the laws of testimony" (2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3353767.