instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

What's in a name

I love the story of Eldad and Medad:
Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, were not in the gathering [of Moses and the sixty-eight elders] but had been left in the camp. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; yet the spirit came to rest on them also, and they prophesied in the camp.

So, when a young man quickly told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp," Joshua, son of Nun, who from his youth had been Moses' aide, said, "Moses, my lord, stop them."

But Moses answered him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!"
What I particularly like about the story is that these two men are named for us. The above verses are their whole Scriptural footprint; the Holy Spirit did not inspire the sacred writers to tell us any more about them... and yet they told us their names. Their memory was preserved among the Israelites, not as those two old men who became prophets in camp, but as the prophets Eldad ("God is loved") and Medad ("Love").

And now Christians, too, preserve the memory of the prophets Eldad and Medad. We know of nothing that they prophesied, but that's okay; the five books of Moses tell us what God wants us to know about what He revealed during their lifetimes. (There is, I find, an apocryphal book of "Eldad and Modat," apparently known only through this passage in the Shepherd of Hermas: "The Lord is near to them who return unto Him, as it is written in Eldad and Modat, who prophesied to the people in the wilderness." Not a doctrine that shifts the foundations of Christianity.)

In his De Spiritu Sancto, St. Basil also alludes to a tradition that is at least consistent with Eldad and Medad being the only two elders mentioned by name:
Furthermore as in our bodies is health, or heat, or, generally, their variable conditions, so, very frequently is the Spirit in the soul; since He does not abide with those who, on account of the instability of their will, easily reject the grace which they have received. An instance of this is seen in Saul, and the seventy elders of the children of Israel, except Eldad and Medad, with whom alone the Spirit appears to have remained, and, generally, any one similar to these in character.
It may be, then, that we know their names not merely because they prophesied, but because they remained faithful to God.

On a more secular level, I love the names themselves. "Eldad and Medad" would be a great name for a rock roots album.

Then there's the big question the story leaves unanswered: Why had they been left in camp? Were they procrastinating? Dawdling? Shirking? Poky? Busy with other affairs? Not early risers? Think of how many classes of petitioners they could serve as patron saints of!

And this is all without even touching on what their story is about.