God in Context: Selected Essays on Society and Religion in the Early Middle East 3161564707, 9783161564703

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God in Context: Selected Essays on Society and Religion in the Early Middle East
 3161564707, 9783161564703

Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Part One: Religion and Society in Early Israel
1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion
2. David and the Ark
3. Did Jeremiah See Aaron’s Staff?
4. New Year with the Babylonians and the Israelites
5. Ordeal Procedures in the Psalms and the Passover Meal
6. Prostitution in Payment of Vows
7. Veiling and Unveiling
8. Samson at the Mill
Part Two: Scribal Culture
9. The Iconic Book
10. Cuneiform in Syria-Palestine: Texts, Scribes, and Schools
11. From Oral Performance to Written Prophecy
12. In the Lions’ Den
13. Why Wisdom Became A Secret
14. Echoes of Gilgamesh in Qohelet?
15. The Early History of Psalm 20
16. The Art of Compilation
Part Three: Deities and Demons
17. Speaking of Gods
18. The Theology of Demons
19. The Riddle of the Teraphim
20. The Domestic Cult at Emar
21. God or Ghost? The Mysterious Ilib
22. Ancestor Worship Reflected in Names
23. Worshipping Stones
24. Eshem-Bethel and Herem-Bethel
References to the Original Publications
1. Biblical Citations
2. Hebrew and *Aramaic Terms
3. Akkadian Terms
4. Divine Names
5. General Index

Citation preview

Forschungen zum Alten Testament Edited by

Konrad Schmid (Zürich) · Mark S. Smith (Princeton) Hermann Spieckermann (Göttingen) · Andrew Teeter (Harvard)


Karel van der Toorn

God in Context Selected Essays on Society and Religion in the Early Middle East

Mohr Siebeck

Karel van der Toorn, born 1956; 1985–98 professor of ancient religions in the Universities of Utrecht and Leiden; 1998–2004 dean of the faculty of humanities at the University of Amsterdam; 2006–11 president of the University; currently faculty professor of religion and society at the University of Amsterdam.

ISBN 978-3-16-156470-3 / eISBN 978-3-16-156471-0 DOI 10.1628/978-3-16-156471-0 ISSN 0940-4155 / eISSN 2568-8359 (Forschungen zum Alten Testament) The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliographie; detailed bibliographic data are available at http://dnb.dnb.de. © 2018 Mohr Siebeck Tübingen.  www.mohrsiebeck.com This book may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, in any form (beyond that permitted by copyright law) without the publisher’s written permission. This applies particularly to reproductions, translations and storage and processing in electronic systems. The book was typeset by Martin Fischer in Tübingen using Times typeface, printed on non-aging paper by Gulde-Druck in Tübingen, and bound by Großbuchbinderei Spinner in Ottersweier. Printed in Germany.

Preface One of my teachers took his life’s motto from a saying of Jesus preserved only in the Gospel of Matthew. “Every scribe who has become a disciple for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt 13:52). If a scribe is a scholar, this holds good for me. What is new and what is old – this book, too, contains both new and old. The old, though, is not so old. And the new, in the end, is not so new. Reading yourself in an attempt to decide what is worth preserving and what is rubbish is like looking into the mirror. One of the things you discover is that you have not changed all that much. Marcel Proust wrote that novelists were each the author of just one book, even if they had many publications to their name. The present selection of essays is the one book I have written. It is about God – God in context, as the title says. Those words reflect the fascination I once felt for someone way above me – sort of a super father. And they echo my increasing interest in the people that invented that god as well as the many other gods they believed in. In a way, I started as a theologian and turned into an anthropologist with an unusual interest in the past. To me, religion is like poetry, but somehow less elitist and more real, full of charm and danger. I love the beauty of ritual and fear the constriction of routine. I love the power of fantasy and fear the belief in beliefs. I love the devotion to someone other and fear the loss of self. I love the belief in ultimate values and fear the surrender of rationality. I am, in a word, ambivalent about religion. It is a power for good and for bad. It is, at bottom, a very human thing. In my mind, religion is not about gods but about the men and women that invented them and by their belief and rituals kept them alive. These people make up the other world I like to visit in order to see my own world in a different light. Looking back, this is perhaps the greatest reward to be derived from the study of history, religion, and the history of religion. They are neither an escape from, nor a legitimation of, the present. We may look at the past as at something we have left behind, but it looks back at us and questions our view of the world. In a somewhat similar fashion, religion is a mirror too. We do things our way, but history and religion remind us we may be blind to the essence. Most of the essays in this volume have appeared in print before. In a way they are the footprints of my research ventures over the years. The book’s division in three parts reflects what turned out to be my main interests: Religion and Society in Early Israel – Scribal Culture – Deities and Demons. By and large, I have not



made significant changes in the studies here assembled. There was no point in rewriting what I had written. Yet none of the chapters is completely identical with the original publication. I have made stylistic adaptations, updated references, and corrected mistakes. Nevertheless, these essays remain close to the original publications – so close, in fact, that I have added in the text, in square brackets, a reference to the page numbering in the original publication. The reader should be aware, though, that there is no instance of a one-to-one correspondence between previous publication and the studies here presented. As always, there are people to thank. If it had not been for my friend and colleague Mark S. Smith, this volume would not have seen the day. I owe him an immense debt of gratitude. Thanks also to David Vonk for his help in preparing the manuscript and to Jip Zinsmeister for her advice about various topographical issues. Amsterdam, March 8, 2018

Karel van der Toorn

Table of Contents Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . V Abbreviations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . IX Part One Religion and Society in Early Israel   1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3   2. David and the Ark . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21   3. Did Jeremiah See Aaron’s Staff? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45   4. New Year with the Babylonians and the Israelites . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55   5. Ordeal Procedures in the Psalms and the Passover Meal . . . . . . . . . . 69   6. Prostitution in Payment of Vows . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85   7. Veiling and Unveiling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99   8. Samson at the Mill . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 113 Part Two Scribal Culture   9. The Iconic Book . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121 10. Cuneiform in Syria-Palestine: Texts, Scribes, and Schools . . . . . . . . . 139 11. From Oral Performance to Written Prophecy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157 12. In the Lions’ Den . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 13. Why Wisdom Became A Secret . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185 14. Echoes of Gilgamesh in Qohelet? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195 15. The Early History of Psalm 20 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 209 16. The Art of Compilation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 221


Table of Contents

Part Three Deities and Demons 17. Speaking of Gods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237 18. The Theology of Demons . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251 19. The Riddle of the Teraphim . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 271 20. The Domestic Cult at Emar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 289 21. God or Ghost? The Mysterious Ilib . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 311 22. Ancestor Worship Reflected in Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 323 23. Worshipping Stones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 335 24. Eshem-Bethel and Herem-Bethel . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 347 References to the Original Publications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 355 Indices . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359 1. Biblical Citations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 359 2. Hebrew and *Aramaic Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 367 3. Akkadian Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 370 4. Divine Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 374 5. General Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 376

Abbreviations A AAA AASOR AB AbB

tablets in the collections of the Aleppo Museum Annals of Archaeology and Anthropology Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research Anchor Bible Altbabaylonische Briefe in Umschrift und Übersetzung. Edited by F. R. Kraus et al. Leiden, 1964– ABD Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. N. Freedman. 6 vols. New York, 1992 ABL R. F.  Harper, Assyrian and Babylonian Letters AbrN Abr-Nahrain ÄgAbh Ägyptologische Abhandlungen AEM Archives épistolaires de Mari AfO Archiv für Orientforschung AfOB Archiv für Orientforschung: Beiheft AHw Akkadisches Handwörterbuch. W. von Soden. 3 vols. Wiesbaden, 1965–1981 AJSL American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literature ALASP Abhandlungen zur Literatur Alt-Syrien-Palästinas AnBib Analecta Biblica ANET Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Edited by J. B. Pritchard. 3d ed. Princeton, 1969 AnOr Analecta Orientalia AnSt Anatolian Studies AOAT Alter Orient und Altes Testament AoF Altorientalische Forschungen AOS American Oriental Series ARM Archives royales de Mari ArOr Archiv Orientální AS Assyriological Studies ASJ Acta Sumerologica (Japan) ASOR American Schools of Oriental Research ATD Das Alte Testament Deutsch ᴄAtiqot Atiqot Aug Augustinianum AuOr Aula Orientalis AuOrSup Aula Orientalis Supplements BA Biblical Archaeologist BaghM Baghdader Mitteilungen BAR Biblical Archaeology Review



BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research BBB Bonner Biblische Beiträge Ber Berytus BETL Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum lovaniensium BHS Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Edited by K. Elliger and W. Rudolph, Stuttgart, 1983 Bib Biblica BibB Biblische Beiträge BibOr Biblica et orientalia BIN Babylonian Inscriptions in the Collection of James B. Nies BKAT Biblischer Kommentar, Altes Testament. Edited by M. Noth and H. W.  Wolff BLMJ Bible Lands Museum, Jerusalem BM British Museum BO Bibliotheca Orientalis BRL Biblisches Reallexikon. 2d ed. Edited by K. Galling. HAT 1/1. Tübingen, 1977 BSac Bibliotheca Sacra BT The Bible Translator BWANT Beiträge zur Wissenschaft vom Alten und Neuen Testament BWL Babylonian Wisdom Literature. W. G. Lambert. Oxford, 1960 BZ Biblische Zeitschrift BZAW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft CAD The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 1956–2010 CahRB Cahiers de la Revue Biblique CANE Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Edited by J. Sasson. 4 vols. New York, 1995 CBC Cambridge Bible Commentary CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly CBQMS Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series CIL Corpus inscriptionum latinarum CIS Corpus inscriptionum semiticarum CM Cuneiform Monographs ConBOT Coniectanea biblica: Old Testament Series COS The Context of Scripture. Edited by W. W. Hallo and K. Lawson ­Younger, Jr. 3 vols. Leiden, 1997–2002 CT Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum DBSup Dictionnaire de la Bible: Supplément. Edited by L. Pirot and A. Robert. Paris 1928– DDD Dictionary of Deities and Deities in the Bible. 2d revised ed. Edited by K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, and P. W. van der Horst. Leiden, 1999 DNWSI Dictionary of the North-West Semitic Inscriptions. J. Hoftijzer and K. Jongeling. 2 vols. Leiden, 1995 DUL A Dictionary of he Ugaritic Language in the Alphabetic Tradition. 3d revised ed. G. del Olmo Lete and J. Sanmartín. Leiden, 2015 EA El-Amarna tablets. According to the edition of J. A. Knudtzon, Die el-Amarna-Tafeln. Leipzig, 1908–1915. Reprint Allen, 1964.



Continued in A. F. Rainey, El-Amarna Tablets, 359–379. 2d revised ed. Kevelaer, 1978 Emar Recherches au pays d’Aštata, Emar VI.1–4. D. Arnaud. Paris, 1985–1987 EPRO Études préliminaires aux religions orientales dans l’empire romain ERC Éditions Recherche sur les Civilisations ErIsr Eretz-Israel FAOS Freiburger Altorientalische Studien FLP tablets in the collections of the Free Library of Pennsylvania FRLANT Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments HAL Koehler, L., W. Baumgartner, and J. J. Stamm. Hebräisches and aramäisches Lexikon zum Alten Testament. Fascicles 1–5. Leiden, 1967–1995 HAR Hebrew Annual Review HAT Handbuch zum Alten Testament HBT Horizons in Biblical Theology HKAT Handkommentar zum Alten Testament HKL Handbuch der Keilschriftliteratur. R. Borger. 3 vols. Berlin, 1967–1975 HO Handbuch der Orientalistik HR History of Religions HSM Harvard Semitic Monographs HSS Harvard Semitic Studies HTR Harvard Theological Review IB Interpreter’s Bible. Edited by G. A. Buttrick et al. 12 vols. New York, 1951–1957 ICC International Critical Commentary IDBSup Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume. Edited by K. Crim. Nashville, 1976 IEJ Israel Exploration Journal IM tablets in the collections of the Iraq Museum, Baghdad JANESCU Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society of Columbia University JAOS Journal of the American Oriental Society JBL Journal of Biblical Literature JCS Journal of Cuneiform Studies JEN Joint Expedition with the Iraq Museum at Nuzi JEOL Jaarbericht van het vooraziatisch-egyptisch gezelschap (genootschap) Ex Oriente Lux JESHO Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient JJS Journal of Jewish Studies JNES Journal of Near Eastern Studies JNSL Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages JPOS Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament JSOTSup Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series JSS Journal of Semitic Studies JTS Journal of Theological Studies K. tablets in the Kouyunjik collection of the British Museum KAI Kanaanäische und aramäische Inschriften. H. Donner and W. Röllig. 2d ed. Wiesbaden, 1966–1969



Keilschrifttexte aus Assur religiösen Inhalts. Edited by E. Ebeling. Leipzig, 1919–1923 KAT Kommentar zum Alten Testament KHC Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Alten Testament KlPauly Der Kleine Pauly KTU The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts. Second enlarged edition. Edited by M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartín. Münster, 1995 KUB Keilschrifturkunden aus Boghazköi LAPO Littératures anciennes du Proche-Orient LCL Loeb Classical Library LSS Leipziger semitische Studien MAOG Mitteilungen der Altorientalischen Gesellschaft MARI Mari: Annales de recherches interdisciplinaires MDOG Mitteilungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft MIOF Mitteilungen des Instituts für Orientforschung MSL Materialen zum sumerischen Lexikon. Benno Landsberger, ed. MT Masoretic Text MUSJ Mélanges de l’Université Saint-Joseph MVAG Miteilungen der Vorderasiatisch-ägyptischen Gesellschaft. Vols. 1–44. 1896–1939 N. tablets in the collections of the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia NABU Nouvelles Assyriologiques Brèves et Utilitaires NCBC New Century Bible Commentary NEAEHL The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Edited by E. Stern; 4 vols. Jerusalem, 1993 NICOT New International Commentary on the Old Testament NTT Norsk Teologisk Tidsskrift OBO Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis OIP Oriental Institute Publications OLZ Orientalische Literaturzeitung Or Orientalia OrAnt Oriens antiquus OTL Old Testament Library PAPS Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society PBS Publications of the Babylonian Section, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania PEFQS Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement PSBA Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology Qad Qadmoniot RA Revue d’Assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale RAI Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale RHA Revue hittite et asianique RHPR Revue d’histoire et de philosophie religieuses RHR Revue d’histoire des religions RS tablets from Ras Shamra, Ugarit RSO Rivista degli studi orientali RSV Revised Standard Version


SAA State Archives of Assyria SAAS State Archives of Assyria Studies SAOC Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilizations SBL Society of Biblical Literature SBLDS Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series SBLSymS Society of Biblical Literature, Symposium Series SEL Studi epigrafici e linguistici Sem Semitica SH(C)ANE Studies in the History (and Culture) of the Ancient Near East SHR Studies in the History of Religions (supplement to Numen) Sm Tablets in the collections of the British Museum SSN Studia semitica neerlandica StPB Studia post-biblica StudOr Studia Orientalia Sumer Sumer: A Journal of Archaeology and History in Iraq TA Tel Aviv TAD Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt. 4 vols. Edited by B. Porten and A. Yardeni. Jerusalem, 1986–1999 TCL Textes cunéiformes. Musée du Louvre THAT Theologisches Handwörterbuch zum Alten Testament. Edited by E. Jenni, with assistance from C. Westermann. 2 vols. Stuttgart, 1971–1976 TLZ Theologische Literaturzeitung TQ Theologische Quartalschrift TRu Theologische Rundschau TUAT Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments. Edited by O. Kaiser et al. Gütersloh, 1984–2001 TUAT NF Texte aus der Umwelt des Alten Testaments, Neue Folge. Edited by B. Janowski et al. Gütersloh, 2004– TWAT Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Alten Testament. Edited by G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren. Stuttgart, 1970–1995 TWNT Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament. Edited by G. Kittel and G. Friedrich. Stuttgart, 1932–1979 UBL Ugaritisch-biblische Literatur UF Ugarit-Forschungen UrET Ur Excavations: Texts VAB Vorderasiatische Bibliothek VAS Vorderasiatische Schriftdenkmäler VAT tablets in the collections of the Staatliche Museen, Berlin VT Vetus Testamentum VTSup Supplements to Vetus Testamentum W. field numbers of tablets excavated at Warka WAW Writings from the Ancient World WBC World Bible Commentary WD Wort und Dienst WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament WO Die Welt des Orients WUNT Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament




Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orient-­ Gesellschaft Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde des Morgenlandes Tablets in the Babylonian Collection, Yale University Library Yale Oriental Series, Texts Yale Oriental Series, Researches Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie Zeitschrit für die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft Zeitschrift des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins

Part One Religion and Society in Early Israel

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion Considering the nature of its subject, it is unlikely that the study of religion, whether pursued from a historical or a comparative perspective, will ever become the model of dispassionate scholarly inquiry. Those involved in it have always, in one way or another, a personal stake in the matter. That is why studies of religion are not merely windows on the subject under scrutiny; they also mirror the views and fascinations of the researcher and his or her society. What holds good for all religious studies, is emphatically true of the study of Israelite religion. Since both Judaism and Christianity claim to be the heirs of the Israelite religion, the latter is often classified as a period in the history of living religions. Its position is perceived as fundamentally different from that of, say, Babylonian religion, which no living religion claims as its ancestor. Whereas the study of other ancient Near Eastern religions takes place predominantly in the Faculty of Arts, the history of ancient Israelite religion is usually the territory of the Faculty of Theology. It is, in the wider sense of the term, a theological discipline. The fact that it flourishes almost exclusively in places with a strong Jewish community or a predominantly Christian (and more especially Protestant) culture – Europe, North America, Israel, and South Africa – gives fuel to the idea that the study of Israelite religion serves the ideological interests of people for whom the Jewish, or the Christian, tradition has personal relevance. In this respect, the history of Israelite religion resembles Church History. Both disciplines, Israelite religion and Church History, frequently fulfil ideological functions. They produce the past that is called upon to explain and to legitimize current views and practices in Judaism and Christianity. The history of Israelite religion is a field of study, therefore, that is by nature sensitive to changing ideological needs, styles and fashions. To an outsider, it is somewhat surprising that a subject for which the main sources of information have been the same for many centuries [224] is nonetheless the theater of ever new constructions of the past. It suffices to look at the surveys of recent research, published every ten to twenty years by the British Society for Old Testament Study, to realize the changes through which the history of Israelite religion has gone in the past century.1 In their forewords, the editiors of these surveys do not 1 See The People and the Book (ed. Arthur S. Peake; Oxford: Clarendon, 1925); Record and Revelation (ed. H. Wheeler Robinson; Oxford: Clarendon, 1938), esp. 187–302; The Old


Religion and Society in Early Israel

fail to point out the new data that have become available only recently. They are right. It cannot be denied that the increase in information on Israelite religion has been substantial. The discoveries of ancient Ugarit (Ras Shamra, 1929), Mari (Tell Hariri, 1933), Ebla (Tell Mardikh, 1964), and Emar (Tell Meskene, 1972) have provided a wealth of data on the historical-religious milieu of Israelite religion. Epigraphic material from Khirbet el-Qom and Kuntillet ᴄAjrud, to mention only two of the more spectacular finds of the last thirty years, has given us an insight into Israelite religion unaffected by the bias of the Bible. Yet for all its importance, the new evidence is not commensurate to the shifting modes in the history of Israelite religion. The reason for the series of transformations in the perception of Israelite religion lies at a deeper level. It springs from the fascinations and preoccupations of contemporary scholars and their audience. Israelite religion caters to the need for a historical model that suits the concerns of the consumers of that model. When these concerns change, the model changes too. Let us try to substantiate this thesis by discussing four foci of interest in the history of Israelite religion since the 1960s. When we look at the development of the history of Israelite religion from about 1870 onward – not a random point in time, but the moment around which the History of Religions gained official recognition as an academic discipline in Europe – we can distinguish three periods. The first runs from 1870 to 1920. It was a time of optimism in which the history of the religions of humankind was treated as the history of God’s progressive revelation, culminating in the teachings of Christianity, the end of all religion. Israelite religion, from this point of view, was an important step towards this dénouement. The second period, ranging from about 1920 to 1960, had lost the naive confidence in the notion of progress. History was no longer regarded as the theater of God’s revelation, nor was the [225] history of religion. Under the influence of the so-called dialectical theology (also known as the Neo-Orthodoxy, inspired by Karl Barth), pride of place was given to biblical theology. Israelite religion was deemed almost irrelevant. However, from the 1960s onward, the third period, there has been a reversal of fortune, promoting a sense that we should go back to history – not history as it should have been (which is what biblical theology stood for) but history as it really was. Champions of the new history of Israelite religion put particular emphasis on the neglected sides of that history: popular religion, the role of women and goddesses, and the like. This periodization of the study of Israelite religion in three parts calls for some further comment. Looking at the histories of Israelite religion in the first period, one is struck by the evolutionary perspective most authors adopt. IsraTestament and Modern Study (ed. Harold Henry Rowley; Oxford: Clarendon, 1951); Tradition and Interpretation: Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament Study (ed. George W. Anderson; Oxford: Clarendon, 1979), esp. 351–384; The World of Ancient Israel: Sociological, Anthropological and Political Perspectives. Essays by Members of the Society for Old Testament Study (ed. Ronald Ernest Clements; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion


elite religion is really a stage in a process. Rudolf Smend, in his very influential textbook on Israelite religion, distinguishes three phases in Israelite religion: the religion of the beginnings, the religion of the prophets, and lastly the religion of the postexilic era, which is the religion of the Jews.2 This analysis has an overt Christian bias. The rise of Judaism in the postexilic period is regarded as a sign of decline, a compromise between the pure religion of the prophets and popular superstition. The postexilic decline leads to Judaism, whereas the prophetic legacy has prepared the way for Christianity. The combined influence of the philosophy of Hegel, the mood of optimism feeding on the myth of progress, and a matter-of-course sense of Christian superiority produced histories of Israelite religion that were in reality thinly veiled apologies of the Christian faith. The history of Israelite religion, thus construed, gave Judaism and Christianity their raison d’être, Judaism being the heir to the post-prophetic and legalist religion of Ezra, while Christianity preserved the spirit of the noble prophets, the champions of monotheism and morality. The Great War and the Great Depression broke the mood of optimism. The philosophy of Nietzsche was more congenial to the spirit of the times than that of Hegel. History was no longer an open book from which God’s intentions could be read. Many theologians saw no other way of salvaging the Christian religion than to separate the history studied by historians (German Historie) from the history of salvation (or Heilsgeschichte, as it was often referred to). Following in [226] the footsteps of Karl Barth, they argued that all human religion was by nature idolatrous. True worship of God was not a human invention. It had to be revealed by God himself, “senkrecht von Oben,” directly from above. As a matter of consequence, the history of Israelite religion had only limited relevance for Christians. As a religion, it was just as tainted as any other. God’s revelation was not in Israel’s religion, but in a series of specific events in its history, known to us only indirectly by their echo in the Bible. What Christians needed, therefore, was a biblical theology that would recapture the essence of God’s revelation. If Israelite religion was of little importance to Christians, other Near Eastern religions were completely devoid of interest. The only purpose they might serve was to be the dark foil against which God’s revelation stood out. A characteristic monograph of this second period is called The Old Testament Against its Environment – a title that is significant in more than one respect.3 Since the study of Israelite religion was a predominantly theological discipline, the heyday of the Biblical Theology movement produced hardly any histories of Israelite religion. The few books that were presented as such were often, in fact, theologies of the Hebrew Bible. Modern textbooks on Israelite 2 See Rudolf Smend, Lehrbuch der alttestamentlichen Religionsgeschichte (Freiburg: Mohr, 1893; 2d ed. 1899). 3 See G. Ernest Wright, The Old Testament Against its Evironment (London: SCM, 1950).


Religion and Society in Early Israel

religion duly deplore the lack of serious research into the history of Israelite religion until the 1960s. In retrospect, however, we have to admit that the separation of Religionsgeschichte and Heilsgeschichte was a beneficial corrective to the older period. For such men as Smend, there was little difference between the historian of religion and the theologian. By restricting God’s revelation to the Heilsgeschichte, the theologians of the second period left the study of religion to the secular historian. They thus opened the way – unintentionally perhaps – for a history of Israelite religion that would be free from theology. Freedom from theology is not the same as freedom from ideology, however. Indeed, it would be a serious misrepresentation of the facts to imply that the modern study of Israelite religion, starting around 1960, has reached the stage of perfect objectivity. Contemporary generations of historians of Israelite religion also have their agenda. Though their motives can be quite different from one another, there is a common concern that inspires the work of many of these scholars. One might call it the desire to discover the historical reality underneath the crust of what has been presented as biblical [227] theology. The current history of Israelite religion dismisses the theological constructions of the past as unreal and heavily biased. Its practitioners are especially eager to salvage those aspects and elements of Israelite religion that have suffered neglect, or even denial, by earlier scholars. It is, at core, a counter narrative. This characterisation of the current study of Israelite religion can be substantiated by the analysis of four themes that are prominently present in the debate on the historical reality of Israelite religion. These themes, or foci of interest, are (1) family religion; (2) the cult of the goddess; (3) religious iconography and the rise of aniconism; and (4) the continuity between Israelite and Canaanite religion. The rest of this survey will be dedicated to a discussion of the developments and trends in these four areas.

Family Religion The last twenty years have seen a growing awareness of the fact that many textbooks on Israelite religion fail to do justice to their subject because they tend to narrow their focus to one strand of religion only, viz. the official religion as constructed by the later orthodoxy. Yet there is, in Israelite religion as in nearly every historical religion, an internal pluralism – pluralism because the diversity is often tacitly condoned by most of the participants in that religious system.4 It is thus possible to speak of “domestic religion,” “city religion,” “royal religion,” and the like. Despite this plurality of religions, the differences between them 4 See Günter Lanczkowski, Einführung in die Religionswissenschaft (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980), 30–35.

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should not be construed as oppositions. All these “religions” are aspects of an overarching religious system. Many recent studies of the multilayered nature of Israelite religion frame the internal diversity in terms of an opposition between “official” and “popular” religion.5 Rainer Albertz, one of the pioneers in this field, speaks in the title of his first book on the subject about “personal devotion” as distinct from “official religion.”6 In connection with Mesopotamian religion, Wilfred G. Lambert makes a comparable distinction by using the terms “state” and “private” religion.7 Other [228] subdivisions have also been defended.8 In his History of Israelite Religion, Albertz makes a case for a division in three: alongside “personal” and “official” religion, there would also have been the category of “local” religion.9 In my own work on “popular religion” in Israel, I prefer to use the term “family religion.”10 My choice of that term follows from the fact that the opposition of popular vs. official is of little use when dealing with religions that have no established body of doctrine. It is difficult to draw the line between official and popular in Israelite religion, especially since such a distinction – assuming it could be made – does not coincide with the distinction between normative and deviant as made by the biblical authors. The diversity within Israelite religion is better classified by its social setting. One could thus distinguish the religious practices performed by the family from those performed by the state; the religion of the one profession, such as the scribes, might be set off against that of the other; urban religion might be contrasted with rural religion; and in this way a series of oppositions could be delineated. What we call “private religion” amounts to family religion when we turn to Israel. It must be borne in mind that in the an-

 5 Note, e. g., the title of a collection of essays, Official and Popular Religion: Analysis of a Theme for Religious Studies (ed. Pieter Hendrik Vrijhof and Jacques Waardenburg; The Hague: Mouton, 1979). For Israelite religion see Judah B. Segal, “Popular Religion in Ancient Isarel,” JJS 27 (1976): 1–22, who contrasts “popular religion” with “the established cult.”  6 See Rainer Albertz, Persönliche Frömmigkeit und offizielle Religion (Stuttgart: Calwer Verlag, 1978).  7 See Wilfred G. Lambert, “The Historical Development of the Mesopotamian Pantheon,” in Unity and Diversity: Essays in the History, Literature, and Religion of the Ancient Near East (ed. Hans Goedicke and Jim J. M. Roberts; Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins, 1975), 191–200, esp. 191.  8 See Aage Westenholz, “The Earliest Akkadian Religion,” Or 45 (1976): 215–216. He distinguishes four “layers:” popular religion, the religion of practitioners not attached to the temple, the religion of temple practitioners, and the official religion of the ruling family.  9 Thus Manfred Weippert, “Synkretismus und Monotheismus,” in Kultur und Konflikt (ed. Jan Assmann and Dietrich Harth; Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1990), 143–157, esp. 153; Rainer Albertz, Religionsgeschichte Israels (2 vols.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992), 1:40–43. 10 See Karel van der Toorn, Family Religion in Babylonia, Syria, and Israel (SHCANE 7; Leiden: Brill, 1996).


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cient world “a person was not an individual in our sense of the word.”11 People were first and foremost members of a group, the principal one being the family. Israelite family religion consisted of two elements, viz. the cult of the ancestors and the devotion to a local god. The Israelite cult of the dead has been the subject of a good many recent monographs and articles. Their number is such that one is justified in speaking of a trend.12 In spite of one or two dissenting voices,13 there is something approaching a consensus that the cult of the dead was a vital element in Israelite religion at least until about 600 BCE. In the eyes of their living offspring, the dead had certain supernatural qualities, for which reason they could be called ᴐĕlōhîm, “divine beings, gods.” They possessed such special powers as foreknowledge, available to their living descendants [229] through necromancy.14 Represented by statuettes, called tĕrāpîm or simply “gods,”15 the ancestors embodied the family identity throughout the generations. New members of the family, such as the manumitted slave adopted into the family of his master, were officially presented to these ancestors in a rite of passage.16 Since the family land was the inheritance of the ancestors, the Israelites lived off the accumulated efforts of their forebears.17 The continued care and honor for the dead was felt to be essential for a long and happy life on the land they had left to their descendants.18 The second element of family religion is the worship of “the god of the fathers.” In the Bible, this designation is used for Yahweh in his capacity as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was adopted by Albrecht Alt to serve as the title of a famous monograph that appeared in 1929.19 Alt argued that the religion of the patriarchs, which preceded the religion of Moses, consisted of the vener11 See Cees H. J. de Geus, “The Individual in Relation to Authority in Ancient Israel,” Recueils de la Société Jean Bodin 46 (1989): 53–71, quotation from p. 54. 12 See the bibliography at the end of Theodore J. Lewis, “Dead,” DDD, 223–231 and add the articles collected in TQ 77/2 (1997), an issue entitled Der Umgang mit dem Tod in Israel und Juda edited by Herbert Niehr. 13 Note. e. g., Brian B. Schmidt, Israel’s Beneficent Dead: Ancestor Cult and Necromancy in Ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1994). 14 See Josef Tropper, Nekromantie: Totenbefragung im Alten Orient und im Alten Testament (AOAT 223; Kevelaer: Butzon and Bercker; Neukirchen: Neukirchener Verlag, 1989). 15 See Hedwige Rouillard and Josef Tropper, “TRPYM, rituels de guérison et culte des ancêtres d’après 1 Samuel XIX 11–17 et les textes parallèles d’Assur et de Nuzi,” VT 37 (1987): 340–361; Karel van der Toorn, “The Nature of the Biblical Teraphim in the Light of the Cuneiform Evidence,” CBQ 52 (1990): 203–222; Oswald Loretz, “Die Teraphim als ‘AhnenGötter-Figur(in)en’ im Lichte der Texte aus Nuzi, Emar und Ugarit,” UF 24 (1992): 133–178. 16 See Herbert Niehr, “Ein unerkannter Text zur Nekromantie in Israel,” UF 23 (1991): 301–306. 17 See Theodore J. Lewis, “The Ancestral Estate (naḥălat ᴐĕlōhîm) in 2 Samuel 14:16,” JBL 110 (1991): 597–612. 18 See Oswald Loretz, “Vom kanaanäischen Totenkult zur jüdischen Patriarchen‑ und Elternehrung,” Jahrbuch für Anthropologie und Religionsgeschichte 3 (1978): 149–203. 19 See Albrecht Alt, Der Gott der Väter (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1929).

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion


ation of a god with no local attachments, whose cult was inherited patrilineally. This anonymous deity, known by such epithets as “the Fear of Isaac” or “the Mighty One of Jacob,” was later identified with Yahweh, the god who revealed himself to Moses. This thesis is now being increasingly abandoned, in the light of the fact that the oldest biblical records that we have are from the tenth century BCE at the earliest. The distance between them and the presumed patriarchal religion is such that the historian can only speculate what it looked like. Rainer Albertz and Hermann Vorländer took up Alt’s idea, compared it with the Mesopotamian data on “the god of the father,” and found that what Alt had regarded as a historical phase of Israelite religion was, in fact, one strand among many. Devotion to a personal god, celebrated as the creator of the believer and his family, coexisted in the period between, say, 1000–600 BCE with the state cult performed in the national temples.20 In a study of the prayers of the individual, Erhard Gerstenberger emphasized the role of local kin groups (families, clans) as the social milieu of this type of religious involvement.21 [230] More recent studies of family religion suggest that the god worshipped by the kin group was usually not a wandering deity (an assumption based on the notion of the early Israelites as nomads or semi-nomads), but a local god venerated in a local sanctuary.22 He could be called Baal or Yahweh, but in either case the identity of the god was primarily local. His proper name was followed by a toponym or the name of the clan that worshipped him. Such Baal names as Baal-Perazim or Baal-Shalisha illustrate the practice.23 It came as a surprise to many when inscriptions from Kuntillet ᴄAjrud, discovered in 1976, showed that manifestations of Yahweh were likewise distinguished by a toponym. The texts mention “Yahweh of Samaria” and “Yahweh of Teman,” and thus open up the possibility that other forms of Yahweh were worshipped alongside these two. In a contribution to the Festschrift for Frank Cross, Kyle McCarter makes a convincing case for the cult of “Yahweh in Hebron” and “Yahweh in Zion,” as two other distinct Yahweh manifestations mentioned in the Bible.24 The plurality of Baals we find in the Bible might well have been matched by a plurality of Yahwehs. The Deuteronomic confession that Yahweh is One (Deut 6:4) takes on a new significance against this background. 20 See Hermann Vorländer, Mein Gott: Die Vorstellungen vom persönlichen Gott im Alten Orient und im Alten Testament (AOAT 23; Kevelaer: Butzon and Bercker; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1975); Albertz, Persönliche Frömmigkeit. 21 See Erhard Gerstenberger, Der bittende Mensch: Bittritual und Klagelied des Einzelnen im Alten Testament (WMANT 51; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1980). 22 See Van der Toorn, Family Religion, 236–265. 23 See Van der Toorn, Family Religion, 236–242. 24 See P. Kyle McCarter, “Aspects of the Religion of the Israelite Monarchy: Biblical and Epigraphic Data,” in Ancient Israelite Religion (ed. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Paul D. Hanson, and S. Dean McBride; Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1987), 137–155.


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Goddesses in Israel Since the publication of a book called The Hebrew Goddess in 1967, there has been a substantial stream of studies investigating the place of goddesses in Israelite religion.25 The reason for this fascination with goddesses is not hard to fathom: in the 1960s and 1970s there was a growing awareness that religions with a male god only maintain and reinforce the subservient position of women living under its impact. “If God is male, then the male is God,” to quote a famous slogan from the period.26 Scholars of ancient Near Eastern religions, including the religion of Israel, began to pay closer attention to the worship of goddesses. Whereas earlier generations of scholars had regarded such worship as a blemish upon the blazon of Israelite religion, the [231] younger generation, moved by feminist sympathies, came to see it as an asset. Whilst they denounced the Bible as a patriarchal document, they did not neglect to check it for traces of women’s religion, directed specifically at goddesses. The evidence for the worship of goddesses is twofold: literary (including the epigraphic data) and archeological. It reveals that two goddesses enjoyed particular prominence in Israelite religion, viz. Asherah and Anat. Anat, also known in the Bible as “the Queen of Heaven,” has been familiar to biblical scholars ever since the discovery of Aramaic papyri from a Jewish military colony in Upper Egypt at Elephantine. One of the Elephantine papyri recorded an oath by Anat-Yaho, i. e. “Anat of Yaho,” Anat being the name of a goddess, and Yaho a shortened form of Yahweh.27 The same goddess could also be referred to as Anat-Bethel, Bethel being the personified standing stone worshipped by the Syrians and identified with Yaho at Elephantine. This Anat-Yaho is none other than the Queen of Heaven whose cult is denounced by Jeremiah (Jer 7:17–18; 44:15–19). It has long been the prevailing opinion in the scholarly literature on the subject that the religion of the Jews in Elephantine was a syncretistic deviation. The widespread confidence that the “real” Israelite religion  – evidently a qualification that can hardly be called objective – was without a goddess received a blow when archeologists discovered several Hebrew inscriptions containing a reference to “Yahweh and his Asherah” (*yhwh wᴐšrth), Asherah being a major West Semitic goddess. The first inscription associating Yahweh with Asherah was found in 1967 at Khirbet el-Qom in the Judean hill country.28 The second 25 See

Raphael Patai, The Hebrew Goddess (New York, N. Y.: Ktav, 1967). Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1973). 27 For the Elephantine papyri, see the superb edition by Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni, Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt (4 vols.; Jerusalem: Hebrew University, 1986–1999). For Anat-Bethel, see TAD C3.15:128; for Anat-Yaho, see TAD B7.3:3. 28 For a discussion of the text and references to relevant literature see Judith Hadley, “The Khirbet el-Qom Inscription,” VT 37 (1987): 50–62; Shmuel Ahituv, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (The Biblical Encyclopaedia Library 7; Jerusalem: Bialik, 1992), 111–113; 26 See

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion


site which has yielded epigraphic evidence of Asherah as the companion of Yahweh is Kuntillet ᴄAjrud, located in the northern Sinai, some 50 km south of Kadesh-Barnea. She is invoked in blessings alongside “Yahweh of Teman” (perhaps to be translated as “Yahweh of the South”) and “Yahweh of Samaria.”29 [232] The most striking aspect of Israelite religion revealed by the epigraphic finds is the presence of Asherah alongside Yahweh.30 In the Hebrew Bible, the term ᴐăšērâ can be used as the name of the goddess Asherah, but it can also refer to the wooden pole erected as her symbol (and as such comparable to the standing stone for a male god). Though scholars are still divided over the issue, a majority takes the expression “his Asherah” in the texts from Kuntillet ᴄAjrud as the name of the goddess. The argument according to which proper names cannot have a personal noun as a suffix is invalid: deities can very well be individualised by their attachment to a place, a group of people, or a related deity.31 On the assumption that Asherah is indeed the name of a goddess, the texts from Kuntillet ᴄAjrud are evidence of the fact that Yahweh had Asherah as his divine consort. The literary evidence for Asherah (and, in some texts, Anat) as consort of Yahweh, calls for a reassessment of the interpretation of the many fertility figurines (most notably the so-called pillar figurines and the Astarte plaques) found in Israel.32 They are best understood as cheap imitations of cult images used for devotion and protection. Some of the Astarte plaques depict the goddess within a frame. Though the frame has been interpreted as a bed,33 it could also – and perhaps more plausibly – be seen as a schematic representation of the shrine. The plaques, then, are not just replicas of the image, but of the image in context.34 In Johannes Renz and Wolfgang Röllig, Handbuch der althebräischen Epigraphik (Second revised ed.; 3 vols.; Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2016), 1:202–211. 29 See Renz and Röllig, Handbuch, 1:59–61, 62–63, 63–64. 30 Studies on Asherah include Steve A. Wiggins, A Reassessment of ‘Asherah’: A Study According to the Textual Sources of the First Two Millennia BCE (AOAT 235; Kevelaer: Butzon and Bercker; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1993). This book appeared in an up-​ dated version in 2007, see Wiggins, A Reassessment of Asherah: With Further Considerations of the Goddess (Gorgias Ugaritic Studies 2; Piscataway, N. J.: Gorgias Press, 2007); Christian Frevel, Aschera und der Ausschliesslichheitsanspruch YHWHs (2 vols.; BBB 94; Weinheim: Beltz Athenaeum, 1995); Raz Kletter, The Judean Pillar Figurines and the Archaeology of Asherah (BAR International Series 636; Oxford: Tempus Reparatum, 1996). 31 See Paolo Xella, “Le dieu et ‘sa’ déesse: l’utilisation des suffixes pronominaux avec des théonymes d’Ebla à Ugarit et à Kuntillet ᴄAjrud,” UF 27 (1995 [1996]): 599–610. 32 See Kletter, The Judean Pillar Figurines; Karel van der Toorn, “Goddesses in Early Israelite Religion,” in Ancient Goddesses: Myths and Evidence (ed. Lucy Goodison and Christine Morris; London: British Museum Press, 1998), 124–156. 33 See Miriam Tadmor, “Female Cult Figurines in Late Canaan and Early Israel,” in Studies in the Period of David and Solomon and Other Essays (ed. Tomoo Ishida; Tokyo: Yamakawa Shuppansha, 1982), 139–173. 34 See Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger, Göttinnen, Götter und Gottessymbole: Neue Erkentnisse zur Religionsgeschichte Kanaans und Israels aufgrund bislang unerschlossener ikonograhischer Quellen (Quaestiones Disputatae 134; Freiburg: Herder, 1992), esp. 113–118.


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our own time, people visiting pilgrimage centers such as Lourdes, do not like to leave empty-handed. Healed or not, they often procure for themselves a souvenir of their visit in the form of a devotional picture or a miniature replica of Our Lady of Lourdes. There is no reason to believe that people acted differently in the past. Their souvenirs, then, would have been images of Asherah and Anat, and perhaps even one or two different goddesses. The new perspective upon Israelite religion opened up by the discovery of Asherah as the official consort of Yahweh, is quite spectacular and new. And yet one wonders whether it is primarily to the epigraphic finds from Khirbet elQom and Kuntillet ᴄAjrud that the Hebrew goddess owes her rehabilitation. The principal data on Anat have long been known, and there is no lack of references and allu[233]sions to Asherah in the Bible. It is the fortunate coincidence of new epigraphic data and the current interest in women’s religion and goddesses that has led to new insights into Israelite religion. Whether these new insights will satisfy the champions of women’s studies is doubtful, however. Neither Asherah nor Anat ever fulfilled a role in Israelite and Judaean religion comparable to that of the national god Yahweh. Whether it be the one or the other, they were never more than his partner. The superiority of the male is evident. Scholars hoping for a religion in which men and women are equal, will draw little comfort from the fact that Yahweh had a consort.

The Cult of Images In Israel gab es Bilder, says the title of a book by Silvia Schroer that appeared in 1987.35 Although the title of the monograph is a statement of fact, it assumes programmatical overtones when read in the context of the iconographical project of the Fribourg School of which Schoer’s book is a product. From the 1960s onward, the Biblical Institute of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, embarked upon a systematic exploration and interpretation of the iconographical remains from Palestine. Led by Othmar Keel, a team of dedicated scholars set out to convince students of ancient Israelite religion that they were well advised not to ignore the information on Israelite religion provided by the iconographic data. Since the latter constitute a source of information independent of the Bible (and therefore free from biased editing), they allow a privileged perspective on early Israel. The success of the Fribourg School can be measured, some twenty-five years after its inception, by the reception of a book by Keel and Uehlinger that can be regarded as a kind of provisional Summa of the school, viz. Göttinnen, Götter 35 See Sylvia Schroer, In Israel Gab es Bilder: Nachrichten von darstellender Kunst im Alten Testament (OBO 74; Fribourg: Universitätsverlag; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1987).

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und Gottessymbole.36 This, in the words of one reviewer, is “the first true history of Israelite religion,” because it is based on authentic evidence contemporary with the period described.37 Such praise is not entirely felicitous because Keel and Uehlinger did not intend to write a history of Israelite [234] religion.38 Yet the view that a thorough knowledge of the iconography is a prerequisite for a scholar of Israelite religion, has gained wide acceptance.39 Publications by the Fribourg School, such as Die Welt der altorientalischen Bildsymbolik und das Alte Testament (1972, by Othmar Keel), Frau and Göttin (1983, by Urs Winter), the above-mentioned In Israel gab es Bilder (1987, by Silvia Schroer), and Das Recht der Bilder gesehen zu werden (1992, by Othmar Keel), not to mention numerous primary studies particularly devoted to stamp seal carvings,40 have had a cumulative and ultimately decisive impact on the study of Israelite religion. The discovery of the iconography as an unduly neglected source of information on religion in Palestine, corresponds to a general tendency in the history of religions. The author of a recent German introduction to the scholarly study of religion, takes a strong stance against the research methods that prevailed in the past. The study of religions began as a study of texts, and to a large extent has remained so right up to the present day. Though texts should not be ignored, their study must be supplemented (and counterbalanced, in many cases) by a study of religious practice and (especially when dealing with extinct religions) the iconography.41 The exclusive preoccupation with texts is a Christian, and 36 See

Keel and Uehlinger, Göttinnen, Götter und Gottessymbole. Ernst Axel Knauf, review of O. Keel and Chr. Uehlinger, Göttinnen, Götter und Gottessymbole, Bib 75 (1994): 298–302, quotation from p. 299. 38 See the comments by Christoph Uehlinger, “Anthropomorphic Cult Statuary in Iron Age Palestine and the Search for Yahweh’s Cult Images,” in The Image and the Book: Iconic Cults, Aniconism, and the Veneration of the Holy Book in Israel and the Ancient Near East (ed. Karel van der Toorn; Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 97–155, esp. 99–100, note 10. 39 Thus William G. Dever in a number of contributions, e. g., “Material Remains and the Cult in Ancient Israel: An Essay in Archeological Systematics,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday (ed. Carol L. Meyers and Michael O’Connor; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1983), 571–587; “The Contribution of Archaeology to the Study of Canaanite and Early Israelite Religion,” in Ancient Israelite Religion (ed. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Paul D. Hanson, and S. Dean McBride; Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1987), 209–247. The approach advocated by Dever, or one much like it, was followed by Gösta Ahlstrom, see his Royal Administration and National Religion in Ancient Palestine (SHANE 1; Leiden: Brill, 1982); “An Archaeological Picture of Iron Age Religions in Ancient Palestine,” StudOr 55 (1984): 117–145. See also John S. Holladay, Jr., “Religion in Israel and Judah Under the Monarchy: An Explicitly Archaeological Approach,” in Ancient Israelite Religion (ed. Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Paul D. Hanson, and S. Dean McBride; Philadelphia, Pa.: Fortress, 1987), 249–299. 40 An almost comprehensive bibliography on studies originating from this “school” appears in Othmar Keel and Christoph Uehlinger (ed.), Altorientalische Miniaturkunst (2d ed.; Fribourg: Universitätsverlag, 1996), 181–187. 41 See Hans-Jürgen Greschat, Was ist Religionswissenschaft? (Urban Taschenbücher 390; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1988), esp. 50–51. Cf. Henry W. F. Saggs, The Encounter with the 37 See


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more specifically Protestant, heritage. It has led to a high regard for the so-called book religions and an attendant neglect of religions not endowed with a body of canonical writings. In an era in which the television and the silver screen have proved that images often have an impact beyond that of words, the iconography in this context can no longer be dismissed as a series of images in the margins of the written word. The image has been recognized as an independent message. It is no longer inferior to the text, and may under some circumstances take precedence. In view of the revalorization of the religious image, it is almost inevitable that scholars will return to an issue that seemed to have been settled long ago. If there were images in Israel, many of them [234] religious, were there also images of Yahweh? Though the question might strike some readers of the Bible as blasphemous, it is one that merits serious consideration. Until quite recently, the prevailing view among the specialists was that the Israelite cult was aniconic; the principal cult symbols were standing stones (Hebrew maṣṣēbôt), but they were not iconic in the usual sense of the word. The bull image in the temple of Bethel (and Dan?), referred to in the Book of Hosea as the “Calf of Samaria” (Hos 8:6, cf. 10:5), was not an image of Yahweh but a huge pedestal upon which the god was invisibly present. This traditional interpretation of the biblical data allowed scholars to surmise that the prohibition of graven images, albeit late in the form we have it in Deuteronomy and Exodus, reflects an ancient and perhaps Mosaic tradition. In a study of Israelite aniconism that appeared in 1995, Tryggve Mettinger has argued that the programmatic aniconism (or the anti-iconism of the Bible) is rather late, but that de facto aniconism goes back a long way in the history of Israelite religion.42 The consensus on the absence of Yahweh images in Israel has probably never been without its dissenters. An example in point is the well-known Norwegian scholar Sigmund Mowinckel, who argued that the rejection of images was a very late phenomenon in Israel, and that the temple of Jerusalem had long harbored an image of Yahweh.43 In recent years this minority view has gained new momentum. Oswald Loretz, for instance, in a study on the Canaanite background of Psalm 27 that appeared in 1985, argues that the expression “to behold the beauty of God” (Ps 27:4) can hardly mean anything else than the veneration of a cult

Divine in Mesopotamia and Israel (London: The Athlone Press, 1978), esp. 24–26: Fritz Stolz, Grundzüge der Religionswissenschaft (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1988), esp. 79–84. The list could be supplemented with dozens of titles concerning Greek religion, where iconography has a better-established stature. 42 See Tryggve N. D. Mettinger, No Graven Image? Israelite Aniconism in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context (ConBOT 42; Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1995). 43 See, e. g., Sigmund Mowinckel, “À quel moment le culte de Yahvé à Jérusalem est-il officiellement devenu un culte sans images?,” RHPR 9 (1929): 197–216.

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion


statue of Yahweh.44 He elaborated this idea in 1992 in a monograph on anthropomorphic cult imagery in Mesopotamia, Ugarit, and Israel.45 The thesis claiming a cult statue of Yahweh in preexilic Israel and Judah, in the temples of Samaria, Bethel and Jerusalem, has since also been defended by several authors, including Herbert Niehr (inaugural lecture at Tübingen, 1993),46 Brian Schmidt (1995),47 and Christoph [236] Uehlinger (1997).48 The main arguments advanced in favor of the assumption that there were cult statues of Yahweh in Israel and Judah, are the biblical references to a statue of Yahweh’s consort Asherah, expressions about seeing God that imply the presence of an image, the interpretation of the Golden Calf as a divine image (“This is your god …”), and references to Israelite cult images in Assyrian documents. The debate on Israelite aniconism is far from closed, as the reactions to Mettinger’s study show.49 If a prediction may be ventured, it is likely the future will see a growing number of scholars accepting the possibility that in preexilic times Yahweh was represented by a cult statue. It would fit the tendency to attach greater value to religious images than scholars did in the past (when divine images were usually referred to as “idols”), as well as the growing consensus about the relatively late date of the programmatic aniconism of the Bible.

The Continuity With Canaanite Religion The prevailing spirit of comparative studies between 1920 and 1960 – insofar as comparative studies were being done – was one of contrast. Whereas the previous period in the study of Israelite religion had presented the other religions of the ancient Near East as representing a preliminary stage for the biblical faith, the proponents of the biblical theology movement emphasized the profound differences between the religion of the Bible and those of the surrounding na44 See Oswald Loretz, Leberschau, Sündenbock Asasel in Ugarit und Israel: Leberschau und Jahwestatue in Psalm 27, Leberschau in Psalm 74 (UBL 3; Altenberge: CIS Verlag, 1985), esp. 73–75. 45 See Manfried Dietrich and Oswald Loretz, “Jahwe und seine Aschera”: Anthropomorphes Kultbild in Mesopotamien, Ugarit und Israel. Das biblische Bilderverbot (UBL 9; Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1992). 46 An adapted English version of the Antrittsvorlesung of Herbert Niehr is to be found in van der Toorn, ed., The Image and the Book, 73–96. 47 See Brian Schmidt, “The Aniconic Tradition: On Reading Images and Viewing Texts,” in The Triumph of Elohim (ed. Diana V. Edelman; Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995), 75–105. 48 See Christoph Uehlinger, “Israelite Aniconism in Context,” Bib 77 (1996): 540–549, esp. 547–548; Uehlinger, “Anthropopmorphic Cult Statuary.” 49 See Uehlinger, “Israelite Aniconism”; Oswald Loretz, “Semitischer Anikonismus und biblisches Bilderverbot,” UF 26 (1994 [1996]): 209–223; Victor Hurowitz, “Picturing Imageless Deities: Iconography in the Ancient Near East,” BAR 23/3 (1997): 46–51, 68–69; Theodore J. Lewis, “Divine Images and Aniconism in Ancient Israel,” JAOS 118 (1998): 36–53.


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tions. Since the 1960s, the mood has changed again: scholars now emphasize the continuity between the religion of Israel and the other religions of the area. The evolution in the perception of the relation between Israelite religion and other ancient Near Eastern religions can best be illustrated by looking at comparisons between Israelite and Canaanite religion. The “Land of Canaan” is the classic designation in the Bible (most notably the Pentateuch) of the land that the Israelites were to inherit. According to the biblical vision, the Israelites descended from a Mesopotamian ancestor and grew to be a people during their years [237] of slavery in Egypt. Acting upon God’s promise they eventually took possession of “the Land of Canaan,” that is Palestine, where they developed into a nation-state. In the biblical vision, heavily marked by the Deuteronomistic ideology, there could be no compromise with the Canaanites. The original inhabitants of the land worshipped other gods and kept horrible religious customs. That is why God insists, through the mouth of his servants, that the Canaanites be eradicated from the land and that their idolatry vanish from the earth. Because Israel failed to carry out his command to the full, the Canaanite religion remained a constant threat to the purity of Israelite religion. Often enough, the people succumbed to the allurements of a religion that was practiced “on every hilltop, and under every green tree.” Though biblical scholars in the twentieth century have not adopted this version of the historical situation to the letter, many of them have embraced the notion of a chasm between Israelite religion and the religion of the Canaanites. Let me quote, as an example, a very influential work by one of the outstanding scholars of what I have termed the second period of the modern study of Israelite religion. I am referring to the Jordan lectures of 1965 by William Foxwell Albright. They were published in 1968 under the title Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan.50 The particle “and” should in fact be understood as “versus,” because the lectures were, according to the subtitle of the book, “A Historical Analysis of Two Contrasting Faiths.” The bias of the book is evident from such statements as “the contrast between Canaanite and Phoenician paganism, on the one hand, and the faith and practice of Israel, on the other.”51 The same contrast informs, in a more outspoken way, the History of the Israelite Religion by Yehezkel Kaufmann. According to the latter author, Israelite religion “was totally different from anything the pagan world ever knew.”52 A change of clime is evident in a collection of essays that appeared in the early 1970s under the title Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic. It was written by one of 50 See William Foxwell Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan (London: The Athlone Press, 1968). 51 See Albright, Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan, 229. 52 See Yehezkel Kaufmann, The Religion of Israel: From Its Beginnings to the Babylonian Exile (trans. and abridged by Moshe Greenberg; London: George Allen and Unwin, 1960), 2.

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion


Albright’s most talented pupils, Frank Moore Cross.53 In the preface to the book, Cross criticizes scholars for their tendency “to overlook or suppress continuities between the early reli[238]gion of Israel and the Canaanite culture from which it emerged.”54 But whilst Cross cannot be accused of failing to notice these continuities, his real interest lies in those facets of Israelite religion that caused it to differ from the religions around it. Cross finds this distinctive characteristic in Israel’s epic tradition. Hebrew epic stands for historical experience, Canaanite myth for the static past. The revolutionary force of Israelite religion lies in the prominence of the historical realm as the theater of God’s acts. In some respects, the approach taken by Cross signifies a return to a paradigm of the nineteenth century: Canaanite religion, though inferior, is valued as the soil from which the superior Israelite religion sprang. That the Canaanite background of Israelite religion has been increasingly recognized in recent years, is due in no small measure to a change in paradigm in the archeology of early Israel. Until the mid-1960s, most biblical archeologists followed the Bible in regarding the early Israelites as non-Canaanites. They were foreign to Canaan and had entered the land from outside, either by conquest (according to the Bible) or by slow infiltration (as many archeologists suggested). The consensus view nowadays regards the emergence of early Israel as an inner-Canaanite phenomenon. In the turmoil of the Late Bronze Age, groups of Canaanites abandoned the cities and adopted the lifestyle of migratory pastoralists, roaming the land for pasture and various means of livelihood. These people were known as Habiru, a social appellative which, in the form “Hebrews,” became an ethnic designation in the Bible. Who Were the Israelites?, asked Gösta W. Ahlstrom in the title of a small monograph published in 1986.55 “Canaanites,” is the answer. The new paradigm was masterfully expounded in a study by Israel Finkelstein on The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement in 1988.56 The earliest archeological evidence of Israelites (or proto-Israelites) indicates that they came from the Canaanite world; they were itinerant pastoralists who re-sedentarised, in a multitude of small settlements in the Central Hill Country at first, and in larger towns and cities later. The biblical story of the exodus and conquest is a charter myth of a later date, designed to provide a young nation with the sense of a common (though largely fictive) past.57 [239] If the earliest Israelites were in reality Canaanites who had developed a new identity, then Israelite religion must be seen as a variant of Canaanite religion. 53 See Frank Moore Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic: Essays in the History of the Religion of Israel (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973). 54 See Cross, Canaanite Myth, vii. 55 See Gösta W. Ahlstrom, Who Were the Israelites? (Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1986). 56 See Israel Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1988). 57 See Van der Toorn, Family Religion, 287–315.


Religion and Society in Early Israel

As Israel emerged from the Canaanites, so Israelite religion emerged out of Canaanite religion. The analogy with Christianity as a Judaic sect is easily drawn. Though few modern scholars would deny the distinctive traits of Israelite religion, they insist upon its Canaanite heritage. Israelite religion was not a Fremdkörper in Palestine. It grew out of the beliefs and practices of the Canaanites. A prominent historian of religion has characterized this process as one of convergence and differentiation: convergence because the national god Yahweh tended to absorb traits of such traditional Canaanite deities as El and Baal, differentiation because many features of Canaanite religion were eventually rejected as Israelite religion gradually defined its own distinctive identity.58 Monotheism and aniconism are among the more conspicuous elements of differentiation, although both are increasingly being interpreted as relatively recent developments, enforced only in the Second Temple period, or even as late as the Hellenistic Era. Though the new sensibility to the Canaanite character of Israelite religion could be interpreted as a return to the views of the late nineteenth century, the ideological climate today is quite different. The superiority of the biblical faith is no longer taken for granted. Monotheism, for instance, is denounced in some quarters as a source of intolerance hardly acceptable in a pluralist society. The suppression of goddesses is not viewed with general sympathy either. To people living in a secularized society, the “pagan” religions are not necessarily inferior to the religion of Israel. Under the cloak of a dispassionate assessment of the evidence, then, they too would like to rehabilitate the pagans, in much the same way as modern Church historians tend to restore the reputations of such heretics and sectarians as Origen and the Anabaptists.

Conclusions Despite their diversity, the four aspects of the history of Israelite religion highlighted in this survey have at least one trait in common: all have fallen victim to what may be called a conspiracy of silence. [240] What is beginning to emerge from the new scholarship on Israelite religion is the hitherto unwritten history of the beliefs and practices of ordinary men and women before the Deuteronomistic Revision. It is the story of the other side of Israelite religion. The emphasis on family religion, goddesses, iconography, and the Canaanite character of Israelite religion coincides with trends observed in other branches of the humanities as well. Historiography has moved away from the great personalities to the ordinary folk, from the big events to the longue durée. Gender studies stress that history is also the story of women, for whom the goddesses offer better possi58 See Mark S. Smith, The Early History of God: Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient Israel (San Francisco, Cal.: Harper and Row, 1990), esp. xxiii–xxiv.

1. Trends in the Study of Israelite Religion


bilities of identification than gods. Cinema and television bear witness to the fact that images have an impact beyond that of words. And the revalorization of the Canaanite heritage of Israel reflects the disenchantment with ethnicity as a parameter of culture. Informed by trends in neighboring disciplines, the current generations of scholars of Israelite religion is taking a fresh look at the available evidence, including the data that have only recently emerged. Their construction of early Israelite religion may strike others as a deconstruction – which, to a certain extent, it is. Yet the demolition that goes on, is intended to make room for a vision of Israelite religion that comes closer to the realities of the past than existing textbooks present. Whether it will allow us one day to write a real history of Israelite religion is doubtful, but the excitement of a glimpse behind the curtain is enough to make the effort worthwhile.

2. David and the Ark David’s transfer of the ark from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem is often regarded as a pivotal event in the early history of the united monarchy.1 Biblical scholars appraise it as an act of shrewd statesmanship. By bringing the ark to Jerusalem, David would have sought to forge a link between the Jebusite city-state, on the one hand, and the tribes of Israel and Judah, on the other.2 Martin Noth writes that David “wished to turn this city [sc. Jerusalem] into the center of the tribal league. With a bold move he linked her with the ancient sacral tradition which unified the tribes, making that tradition subservient to his purpose.”3 The logic which modern scholars perceive in David’s action presupposes that the ark was the national religious symbol of the premonarchic tribes. Though found in many a textbook, this view must be challenged. The present study will seek to do so by an analysis of the early traditions about the ark. A reassessment of the place and function of the ark throws a different light on its political significance. [210]

A Neglected Ark Tradition Widely considered the principal source of information about David and the ark is the so-called ark narrative. Identified in 1926 by Leonhard Rost as part of an 1 See, e. g., Rainer Albertz, Religionsgeschichte Israels in alttestamentlicher Zeit (2 vols.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1992) 1:193: “Es war David selber gewesen, der die geniale Idee hatte, das nach der Zerstörung von Silo vergessene tribale Kultsymbol der Lade in seine neue Hauptstadt zu überführen (2. Sam 6), um sie so auch zum kultischen Mittelpunkt seines Reiches zu machen.” John Bright, A History of Israel (rev. ed.; London: SCM, 1972) 196: “Through the Ark he sought to link the newly created state to Israel’s ancient order as its legitimate successor, and to advertise the state as the patron and protector of the sacral traditions of the past”; Antonius H. J. Gunneweg, Geschichte Israels bis Bar Kochba (3d ed.; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1979), 82: “Die Aufstellung der Jahwelade in Jerusalem sollte diese Stadt also zum Zentrum der Amphiktyonie Israel erheben”; Choon Leong Seow, Myth, Drama, and the Politics of David’s Dance (HSM 44 [cover: 46]; Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars Press, 1989). 2 See, e. g., Albrecht Alt, Die Staatenbildung der Israeliten in Palästina (Leipzig: A. Edelmann, 1930) 55–56 = Kleine Schriften zur Geschichte des Volkes Israels (3 vols.; Munich: Beck, 1953), 2:46. 3 Martin Noth, Geschichte Israels (3d ed; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1956), 176: “Er hat damit die Würde des Zentrums des Zwölfstämmeverbandes dieser Stadt geben wollen und mit kühnem Eingriff die alte verbindende sakrale Tradition der Stämme an sie geknüpft und damit sich dienstbar gemacht.”


Religion and Society in Early Israel

independent ark saga,4 the four relevant chapters (1 Sam 4:1–7:1; 2 Sam 6) are usually considered to belong to one of the oldest strata of the books of Samuel.5 In the plot of this narrative the ark was at home in the temple of Yahweh in Shiloh (1 Sam 4:3, 4); during a battle, the Philistines captured it and took it with them as a trophy (1 Sam 4–5); when eventually they returned the ark, it fell into oblivion for about twenty years (1 Sam 6:1–7:1). It was only restored to its former position of honor as David brought it up from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6); about Shiloh, nothing more is said – from which silence many commentators have drawn the conclusion that it was destroyed in the meantime.6 At first sight, the ark narrative is not merely the principal but the only source of information on the ark in 1 Samuel. Closer inspection shows otherwise, however. Alongside the ark narrative there is another tradition in the books of Samuel. This second tradition is usually ignored for it has been suppressed by editorial corrections – and largely successfully so. Between the record of the ark’s return to Kiriath-jearim and the description of its transfer to Jerusalem, the ark is mentioned just once, in 1 Sam 14:18. In this passage, Saul orders Ahijah to “bring the ark of God.” The occurrence is surprising. From the rest of the books of Samuel one gains the distinct impression that Saul had no particular interest in the ark. He was apparently content to leave it in Kiriath-jearim. There is, moreover, a tension between Saul’s order to Ahijah to bring the ark and the notice in v. 3 of the same chapter, according to which Ahijah “carried” (nāśāᴐ) the ephod. Because of the incongruency, the Hebrew [211] text of v. 18 is frequently emendated to read “ephod” instead of “ark.” Support for this emendation is found in the LXXBL, which reads ephoud for “ark of God.”

4 See Leonhard Rost, Die Überlieferung von der Thronnachfolge Davids (BWANT 42; Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1926), 119–253; Eng. trans. by M. D. Rutter and D. M. Gunn, The Succession to the Throne of David (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982). 5 Thus, e. g., Rost, Thronnachfolge Davids, 36–38 [toward the end of the reign of David, or the beginning of the reign of Solomon]; cf. Aage Bentzen, “The Cultic Use of the Story of the Ark in Samuel,” JBL 67 (1948): 37–53, esp. 49 [reign of David]; Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, Die Samuelbücher (ATD 10; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1956), 45–46; John T. Willis, “An Anti-Elide Narrative Tradition from a Prophetic Circle at the Ramah Sanctuary,” JBL 90 (1971): 288–308, esp. 306–308 [1 Samuel 1–7 was written by Samuel’s disciples in Ramah in the time of the early monarchy]; Antony F. Campbell, The Ark Narrative (1 Sam 4–6; 2 Sam 6): A Form-Critical and Traditio-Historical Study (SBLDS 16; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1975), 221 [“composed before the introduction of the ark into the temple of Solomon”]; Patrick D. Miller, Jr., and Jim J. M. Roberts, The Hand of the Lord: A Reassessment of the ‘Ark Narrative’ of 1 Samuel (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 60 [early reign of David]; P. Kyle McCarter, Jr., I Samuel (AB 8; Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, 1980) 23–26 [1 Sam 2:12–17, 22–25; 4:1–7:1 were “written before David’s defeat of the Philistines reported in 2 Sam 5:17–25”]. 6 See, e. g., John Day, “The Destruction of the Shiloh Sanctuary and Jeremiah VII 12, 14,” in Studies in the Historical Books of the Old Testament (ed. J. A. Emerton; VTSup 30; Leiden: Brill, 1979, 87–94.

2. David and the Ark


Though many exegetes hold “ephod” to be the correct reading of 1 Sam 14:18, it could be argued that the Septuagint “ephod” is the product of harmonization. It is easier to explain the correction of “ark of God” to “ephod” than the opposite. The explanatory gloss following the mention of the ark (“For the ark of God was with the Israelites on that day”) supports the authenticity of the Masoretic reading. Let us assume, provisionally, that the MT is indeed to be maintained as the lectio difficilior.7 To test this text-critical decision it must be ascertained whether or not there is a convincing explanation for the apparition of the ark in the narrative. There are basically two ways to go about this. We can concede that the incident is extraordinary, while trying to demonstrate that it was possible after all: this is the line taken by the Hebrew glossator. Alternatively, we may question the assumption that the presence of the ark during Saul’s campaign was exceptional. Are there indications, so we might ask, showing that in Saul’s days the ark still played a substantial role? This second line of inquiry shall be pursued here. The hypothesis which posits that the ark played a substantial role in the days of Saul implies that this role has been minimized in the texts. The latter must therefore be submitted to a close analysis to see whether they yield corroborating evidence. Instead of emendating the Hebrew text of 1 Sam 14:18 to comply with the picture in the surrounding chapters, then, it must be approached as a first clue to an obfuscated motif in the books of Samuel. In the chapter itself the incongruency consists in the unexpected shift from “ephod” to “ark”; this can be our starting point. For the time being we need not concern ourselves with the ark; instead, let us focus on the ephod. What reality does the “ephod” refer to in 1 Samuel? It has long been suspected that in a number of places the word “ephod” covers a reality different from the priestly garment referred to in the Law of Moses. It had been substituted, so scholars surmised, for a different term. This substitution theory, as we may call it, was developed first by George E. Moore. He suggested, in connection with the ᴐēpôd of Gideon and the “ephod” at Nob, that the original term was ᴐĕlōhîm, “god (statue).”8 His suggestion was accepted by Ernst Sellin, who argued that the same was true for 1 Sam 14:3; 22:18; 23:6–9. Karl Budde believed that the word served as a substitute for [212] ᴐābîr, “bull (statue).” In 1917, William R. Arnold had suggested that “ephod” stood in fact for ᴐărôn, “ark.” The same line was taken by Philip R. Davies in a short note and an article, 7 So, too, Dominique Barthélemy, Critique textuelle de 1’Ancien Testament (OBO 50/1; Fribourg: Éditions universitaires; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1982) 183; Donald G. Schley, Shiloh: A Biblical City in Tradition and History (JSOTSup 63; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 159–60; Nadav Naᴐaman, “The Pre-Deuteronomistic Story of King Saul and Its Historical Significance,” CBQ 54 (1992): 651–652 (“One may assume that Gibeath-elohim, Saul’s cultic center, was the resting place of the ark in his time” [p. 652]). 8 George F. Moore, “Ephod,” Encyclopaedia Biblica (ed. Thomas K. Cheyne and J. Sutherland Black; New York, N. Y.: Macmillan, 1903), 2:1306–1309, esp. 1308–1309.


Religion and Society in Early Israel

published in 1975 and 1977 respectively.9 Their view has received little attention and rallied even less support.10 As will be demonstrated below, however, it deserves to be taken very seriously. A detailed study of the occurrences of “ephod” in the books of Samuel provides additional support for the view that they hide, in fact, another ark tradition. In order to test the plausibility of the substitution theory, we will pass in review the relevant texts in 1 Samuel. The word “ephod” (to be distinguished from the ᴐēpôd bād, mostly rendered as “linen ephod”) occurs seven times, not counting 1 Sam 14:18 LXX. These occurrences can be more or less clustered on the basis of the verbs of which the ephod is either the object or the subject. (1) In 2:28 the Shilonite priesthood is said to descend from an ancestor whom Yahweh chose out of all the tribes of Israel to be his priest. The reference is to Levi and his offspring. In his capacity as a priest, he was “to go upon my altar, to burn incense, and to carry (lāśēᴐt, from the verb NŚᴐ) an ephod before me.” (2) In 14:3 the priest Ahijah is presented as “the son of Ahitub, Ichabod’s brother, son of Phinehas, son of Eli, the priest of Yahweh in Shiloh.” Being related to the Shilonite priesthood, and thus a Levite, Ahijah shared in their prerogative of “carrying an ephod” (nōśēᴐ ᴐēpôd). (3) According to 22:18, eighty-five men “carring an ephod” (nōśēᴐ ᴐēpôd) were killed in Nob, the city of priests. Like Ahijah, these men descended from the Shilonite priesthood, as they were related to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub (22:11). This Ahimelech, the chief priest of Nob (21:1–9; 22:11–19), is to be identified either with Ahijah the son of Ahitub,11 or with his brother.12 In view of the parallelism with 2:28 and 14:3, and in conformity with the LXX, the word bād, specifying the ephod, should be deleted in 22:18. In the books of Samuel, people never “carry” (nāśāᴐ) a “linen ephod”: they are “girded” (ḥāgûr) with it (1 Sam 2:18; 2 Sam 6:14). (4) According to 23:9, David summoned Abiathar the priest to “bring” (NGŠ, hiphil) the ephod to him. What follows is the account of a consultation of Yahweh, so that this ephod was apparently used for divinatory purposes. [213]

 9 Ernst Sellin, “Efod und terafim,” JPOS 14 (1934): 185–193, esp. 189–191; Karl Budde, “Ephod und Lade,” ZAW 39 (1921): 1–42, esp. 36–39; William R. Arnold, Ephod and Ark (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1917), esp. 12–17; Philip R. Davies, “Ark or Ephod in I Sam. XIV.18?” JTS 26 (1975): 82–87; idem, “The History of the Ark in the Books of Samuel,” JNSL 5 (1977): 9–18, esp. 15–16. 10 Exceptions are Aryeh Bartal, “‘For the Ark of God was at that Time with the Israelites’ (1 Sam 14:18),” Beth Mikra 26 (1981): 305–308 [Hebrew]; Gösta W. Ahlstrom, “The Travels of the Ark: A Religio-Political Composition,” JNES 43 (1984): 141–149, esp. 145. 11 So a majority of exegetes, see, e. g., Hertzberg, Samuelbücher, 141; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Gibeon and Israel: The Role of Gibeon and the Gibeonites in the Political and Religious History of Early Israel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 66. 12 So McCarter, I Samuel, 239.

2. David and the Ark


Abiathar was a son of Ahimelech of Nob; he had escaped the massacre of the priests and fled after David (22:20). (5) In 30:7, this same Abiathar “brings” (NGŠ, hiphil) the ephod to David. Here, too, David proceeds immediately with an inquiry of Yahweh. (6) From 21:10, it would appear that the ephod is a single object and not the name of a category. In the sanctuary of Nob, the sword of Goliath was kept, wrapped in a mantle, “behind the ephod” (ᴐaḥărê hāᴐēpôd). (7) The impression of a single object is corroborated by 23:6. When Abiathar the son of Ahimelech fled to David in Keilah, “the ephod came down (too) by his agency” (ᴐēpôd yārad bĕyādô). Though grammatically indeterminate, the word “ephod” stands apparently for a unique object, since such moment is attached to its transfer from Nob to the camp of David. To accentuate the importance of the event, the ephod is made the subject of the action. There is no need to change the order of the words so as to obtain “and he came down with an ephod in his hand.”13 The expression bĕyādô need not be taken literally: it could mean “in his hand,” but it might also have the sense “under his responsibility,” “in his possession,” or “by his agency” What these seven references have in common is the fact that the “ephod” to which they refer is a solid object. This contradicts what is known about the ephod from other biblical sources (excepting, for the moment, Judg 8:27; 17–18; Hos 3:4). Normally the ephod is a garment for the high priest (Exod 25–39 passim; Lev 8:7; Sir 45:8). As such it is “worn” (LBŠ) by Aaron and his sons (Exod 29:5). The etymology of the word, too, suggests that the ephod was a vestment. The Old Assyrian term epattu (