The Ephod and Teraphim

3 Comments

In Judges, Micah has a shrine that includes an ephod and a teraphim – clearly cultic objects of some sort – that the Danites later steal. But what are they, exactly?

Many translations render the word “teraphim” in Judges 18:17 as “household gods,” and it is apparently the word used when Rachel steals the household gods from her father in Genesis 31. According to Wikipedia, the “-im” ending does not necessarily mean that the word refers to plural objects. Wikipedia goes on to say:

According to Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, Teraphim were made from the heads of slaughtered first born male adult humans, shaved, salted, spiced, with a golden plate placed under the tongue, and magic words engraved upon the plate; it was believed that the Teraphim, mounted on the wall, would talk to people. During the excavation of Jericho by Kathleen Kenyon, evidence of the use of human skulls as cult objects was uncovered, lending credence to the Rabbinical conjecture. The implied size and the fact that Michal could pretend that one was David, has led to the Rabbinical conjecture that they were heads, possibly mummified human heads.

Which is just totally metal!

So the teraphim remains something of a mystery, but what about the ephod? Well, we know from Judges 8:26-27 that it is a thing which can me made with recycled gold earrings. Both ephod and teraphim, then, seem to refer to idol-like cultic objects which, my study Bible writes, were “perhaps used for divination” (p.317). This is detail is supported by Judges 18:5, where the Danites ask Micah’s priest, who is in charge of the ephod and teraphim, is asked to “inquire of God” (something that would almost certainly be done through divination).

All our previous mentions of the ephod say that it is something a priest is supposed to wear. In Exodus 28:6-14, the ephod is to be made out of variously coloured yarns. It is to have shoulder pieces (onto which should be attached two onyx stones inscribed with the names of the tribes), and it is to be worn under the priestly breastplate (which contains the Urim and Thummim, which are almost certainly involved in divination). In Exodus 29:5, we are told that the high priest must wear “the tunic and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and [be girded] with the decorated band of the ephod.”

Similarly, in Leviticus 8:6-7, Moses places the ephod on Aaron, then binds it to him with the decorated band of the ephod.

What I get from this is that the ephod is an object that the Levitical high priest is supposed to wear strapped onto his body. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it was worn by folk priests in the time of Judges, though. It could just as easily have been an object that was originally placed on a shrine and only incorporated into the priestly vestments at a later date. This is suggested by Judges 8:26-27, in which Gideon’s ephod is worshipped.

A few closing thoughts on Numbers

Leave a comment

Numbers is an interesting combination of more ordinances and a return to a more narrative-based text. In many instances, ordinances are introduced with a story explaining the incident that occasioned the revision or addition to the previously revealed law.

One of the purposes of Numbers appears to be to acknowledge the need for a continuous revelation (whether this extends beyond the time of the prophets is up for theological debate, I suppose). It assumes that either society/circumstances change, or original cases might arise, that require modification and addition to the law – something that may make a lot of the so-called bible bashers today very uncomfortable.

The role of women is disappointing in this book. Miriam – who I conjectured might be a remnant of a goddess, archetype, or folk heroine – is punished while Aaron is not. Later, we learn that a woman’s vow is subject to the whims of that woman’s father or husband. Our one small concession is in Numbers 27, where women are able to inherit property (though only if they have no brothers). Even this is rather hollow, since it becomes clear in Numbers 36 that the women never actually get ownership over the land, as it is merely transferred from her deceased father to her living husband. In no way is it ever hers.

Rebellions abound in Numbers. Over and over again, the people turn on Moses (and Aaron, when he’s not the one doing the complaining), and over and over again they are dealt with harshly. God viciously defends both his plan for the Israelites, and the leadership of Moses.

I imagine that that’s the underlying purpose of the book – to show that people seem given to disobedience, that God will punish that disobedience, but that God will ultimately remain with the Israelites.

Numbers 36: More inheritance issues

Leave a comment

Back in Numbers 27, we found out about Zelophehad – a man who had died leaving several daughters but no sons. At the time, his daughters petitioned Moses for the right to inherit their father’s hypothetical land. Moses – and God – agreed that they should, and revised the inheritance rules accordingly.

Numbers 36Unfortunately, they forgot what we extrapolated from Numbers 30 – that women, as subject to their fathers/husbands, are not citizens. So while they may be granted stewardship of a man’s land if he is deceased, they can never truly own anything. That’s the crux of this chapter.

Zelophehad’s peers – the heads of the Gileadite families – come forward to petition Moses. Since women may only have stewardship of land without access to the tribal affiliations that go with it, Zelophehad’s land will pass on to whomever they marry. If they marry outside of their tribe, those lands will be lost to Gilead forever.

God, having apparently not thought of this earlier, agrees with them, and he determines that an inheriting woman must marry “within the family of the tribe of their father” (v.6). That’s all well and good if the women happen not to have married yet, but there’s no clarification if they are.

  • Would a married woman be excluded from the inheritance?
  • Would she have to get a divorce?
  • Would she only have the lands for as long as she lives, and they must pass on to her cousin’s sons upon her death?
  • Does she only get to keep her inheritance until the next Jubilee and then it passes to the families of her father’s brothers?

There’s no mention that this might even have been a consideration because, luckily (or not?) for Mahlah, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Noah, they seem to all be available for marriage to their cousins and the question is averted.

Inherited weirdness

I’m quite interested in inheritance laws. I grew up in Switzerland, where the lack of arable land makes a gavelkind sort of inheritance system very problematic. If more than one son inherits the family farm, individual plots would, very quickly, become far too small to support the families they belong to. Because of this, Swiss men who didn’t have the fortune of being first sons were often left up to their own devices – giving rise to the reputation of the Swiss as mercenaries.

This would conceivably be an issue anywhere, given enough time, but the lack of farming land in Switzerland makes it a particularly pressing concern.

I’m curious as to what would have been the practice in ancient Israel. On the one hand, all of Zelophehad’s daughters are named as inheritors, so it does seem as though something like gavelkind is in use. On the other hand, the Jacob and Esau narrative in Genesis 25 and Genesis 27 points to a focus on primogeniture (albeit with the possibility of being revoked or altered).

We also have many stories of brothers splitting off and each founding their own tribe (as Jacob’s sons did) or nationalities (as Noah’s sons did). This seems to suggest a more informal system of inheritance that deals with overcrowding by groups splitting off and finding their own space to settle – something that seems impossible given the rules of the Jubilee (where all property must revert back to the families of the original owner).

I looked up the question and found the following answer from a page on the University of Manitoba’s anthropology department website:

The inheritance of land and other property was channeled along patrilineal lines. Primogeniture, or succession by the eldest son, seems to have been the preferred rule as this institution is explicitly promulgated in one passage ( Deuteronomy 21:15-17), and is implicitly assumed in many accounts of individual cases. However, biblical acknowledgement of primogeniture usually occurs in contexts where the rule is broken as in the life histories of important religious and political figures, including Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and David.

We may interpret these curious accounts in two different ways.

  1. They indicate that the rule had a limited application, perhaps only to intestacy, and could be overridden by gift or will.
  2. Or more plausibly, they attribute special statuses and powers to key characters by portraying them as breaking the rules to which exceptions were not normally allowed.

[…]

The treatment of inheritance through a daughter also provides evidence that marriage may have involved the adoption of a woman into her husband’s lineage and the discontinuation of rights in her natal group. Such an arrangement is indicated in other biblical passages as in the marriages of Eve and Ruth. It is also documented for a number of patrilineal systems including ancient Rome and contemporary Chinese and Arabic societies. An alternative pattern, in which women retain natal identities after marriage, is apparent in many West African patrilineal systems.

Numbers 35: Murder City

Leave a comment

Earlier this week, we saw how land should be distributed among all the tribes save one – the Levites. As we learned in Numbers 18, the Levites do not get to inherit land. Since this would put their livelihoods in quite some question in an agricultural society, they are instead to be provided for through sacrifices – a cultic spin on taxation.

It’s interesting to speculate as to why this might be the case. My armchair musings provided the following:

  • An non-landed tribal group found an alternative way of supporting themselves by cornering the religion market (which would also help to explain the repeated warnings against anyone other than a Levite approaching sacred objects – talk about job security!).
  • A deliberate effort to prevent too much power collecting in the hands of a single tribe (essentially forcing the Levites to play with a handicap).
  • A symbolic way of showing that the Levites do not live as other tribes do – bound to the land and able to pass their patch of it on to their children. Rather, they are consecrated, belonging to God. They cannot pass on their inheritance because, in a way, they are already dead (in the sense of being removed from the mundane world).
  • They had lost their land (or never had any) long before the composition date of these stories, and had developed an origin story for their tribe that involved imaginings of an intentional divine plan.
  • Some messy combination of the above.

Regardless of the reasons for the arrangement, the Levites still need somewhere to live. For this reason, God decrees that the Levites be given 48 cities (including land surrounding the cities for their animals). These cities are to be given equitably by each of the tribes (many from the big tribes, a few from the smaller tribes).

Cities of refuge

Among the Levite cities, six should be special cities of refuge – three in Canaan, and three on the other side of the Jordan.

Cities of Refuge, published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company

Cities of Refuge, published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company

If someone murders another person, they can flee to one of the cities of refuge and be safe while they await trial – “the manslayer may not die until he stands before the congregation in judgement” (v.12).

If it’s found that the person did commit murder, he shall be put to death. If it was an accident, “though he was not his enemy, and did not seek his harm” (v.23), he must still be punished – in a way. His punishment is that he must remain in the city of refuge until the death of the high priest. This is because “blood pollutes the land” (v.33) – which is where, I assume, the connection to the high priest comes in. It seems that the death of one high priest and the anointing of a replacement performs some kind of cleansing magics on the land, thereby negating whatever impurity was caused by the manslaughter.

Regardless of whether the killing was intentional or accidental, if the “avenger” of the victim finds the perp outside of a city of refuge, it’s open season.

Back to the judgement of the congregation, two witnesses are required to prove intentional guilt. “No person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness [only]” (v.30).

Another interesting feature of this decree is that there is no legal way out for someone who has been convicted of murder. He cannot ransom himself – only the death penalty will do.

So there’s a lot that’s pretty cool about this chapter. Obviously, in a modern civil society, this stuff is completely bonkytonk. But within the historical and cultural context, it strikes me as a pretty creative – and progressive – way of negotiating between the needs of a stable society and the desires of a tribal culture.

I can imagine the uproar it might cause in a milieu where “an eye for an eye” rules, and where kin is supposed to avenge kin. And here’s these priests saying “hmm, actually, we were kinda thinking that this could be a safe zone and we do this, like, trial thing?”

Also, the specific prohibition on buying one’s way out of retribution tries to address the fact that the very powerful are rarely held accountable for their crimes because of the danger involved in opposing them – a problem that we still very much have today. I doubt that this chapter put even so much as a dent in the injustices of the criminal justice system, but it shows me that someone saw it, recognized it, and tried to fix it. That, I think, matters.

That’s not to say that it’s all peaches and roses, though. There are also passages like v.19 (“The avenger of blood shall himself put the murderer to death’ when he meets him, he shall put him to death” – implying that the kinsman in charge of exacting vengeance has no option to show mercy) that seem to reinforce the tribal way.

Numbers 34: Redistribution of wealth

Leave a comment

It’s not even theirs yet, but the Israelites have decided that it’s already time to start planning how they will divvy up the loot. There’s a relevant saying, something about chickens hatching.

They begin by setting out the boundaries of the ideal Israelite country:

  1. The southern side should include some of the wilderness of Zin, along the border of Edom. The boundary will start in the east from the southern tip of the Salt Sea (which some translations give as the Dead Sea), then south of Akrabbim, cross the wilderness of Zin, and south of Kadeshbarnea. From there, it should go on to Hazaraddar, and then on from Azmon to the Brook of Egypt (which may be the Nile, or something else, who knows?), ending at the Mediterranean.
  2. The western boundary should be the coast of the Mediterranean.
  3. The northern side should run from the Mediterranean to Mount Hor (which is confusing because the Mount Hor we’ve been reading about is to the south of Canaan. Apparently, there are two of them?). From there, the boundary goes out to the entrance of Hamath, ending at Zedad. It then goes to Ziphron, ending at Hazarenan.
  4. The eastern boundary should run from Hazarenan to Shepham, then down to Riblah (on the east side of Ain), and then along the slopes east of the Sea of Chinnereth (which some translations give as the Sea of Galilea). Then hit should head down along the Jordan and end at the Salt/Dead Sea.

According to my Study Bible, the northern border wasn’t actually reached until the time of David – citing 2 Sam. 8:3-14 and 1 Kg. 8:65 (p.210). If true, that leaves us with two options: Either the boundaries presented here are an accidental anachronism written by someone living after the time of David, or the boundaries were written in/modified to legitimize Israelite claims to those lands.

Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh have all gotten their spots already, so they don’t have to be part of this process. The Levites are also excluded because, as with the census, they get their own chapter. For the rest, God selects a leader for each tribe to handle the assigning of lands:

  • Judah: Caleb, son of Jephunneh
  • Simeon: Shemuel, son of Ammihud
  • Benjamin: Elidad, son of Kislon
  • Dan: Bukki, son of Jogli
  • Joseph, Manasseh: Hanniel, son of Ephod
  • Joseph, Ephraim: Kemuel, son of Shiphtan
  • Zebulun: Elizaphan, son of Parnak
  • Issachar: Paltiel, son of Azzan
  • Asher: Ahihud, son of Shelomi
  • Naphtali: Pedahel, son of Ammihud

Numbers 33: The recap

Leave a comment

In this chapter, we get a recap of the journey so far. It’s long and about as exciting as washing the dishes when you’ve finished your last audiobook. We do, however, find out that Aaron was 123 years old when he died. So that’s… something.

Here’s your cliff’s notes image:

In the plains of Moab, God tells Moses to tell the people to “drive out” all the people they meet on the other side of the river, and to destroy all of their religious symbols and buildings. Once this is done, they should divide the land by lot (in accordance with the size of each tribe/sub-tribe/family).

But, God warns, you must make sure to fully stamp out the indigenous population, otherwise you’re going to have to deal with them being “pricks in your eyes, and thorns in your sides” (v.55). Plus, if they don’t totally wipe out the local population, God “shall do unto you, as I thought to do unto them” (v.56) (both quotes from the KJV because it sounds better and doesn’t alter the meaning).

On deserving it

David Plotz sees purpose in this plodding chapter:

Had the chapter skipped the travelogue and begun with God’s fearsome instructions, it would seem brutal.  The 40-year-itinerary—the weary, heartbreaking journey—serves as a reminder to the Israelites of their suffering, and, more importantly, as a justification for conquest. Why is it all right to sack and destroy another civilization? Why is it fair to seize land and settle it? Because of what the Israelites endured, that’s why. The 40-year accounting explains Israel. It says: You’ve earned it.

That may indeed have been the purpose of this summary, but it’s terrible ethics (not to mention a dangerous precedent to set – what’s to stop the Canaanites from doing their own decades-long dispossession dance and then coming right back, ready with their deserving?).

Numbers 32: The eager beavers

Leave a comment

While hanging out in Gilead, along the east bank of the Jordan river, representatives of the tribes of Gad and Reuben come to Moses, Eleazar, and the other tribal leaders. They point out that the lands they’re in now are actually kinda nice, and they’d really be rather quite content to just stay here.

Moses shames Gad and Reuben for letting “your brethren go to the war while you sit here” (v.6). He asks them if they would discourage the rest by bailing now, and reminds them of how their forefathers had discouraged the people after the scouting episode in Numbers 13. Remember, he says, God sentenced us to 40 years in the wilderness after that!

“Behold,” says Moses. “You have risen in your fathers’ stead, a brood of sinful men, to increase still more the fierce anger of the Lord against Israel! For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness; and you will destroy all this people” (v.14-15).

Bit much? Sure. Bad enough that David Plotz is left rather uncomfortable with the Moses character arc:

Moses’ indignation comes from nowhere and seems entirely undeserved. […] Again, it’s hard not to feel that the brilliant and humane prophet who has dominated the Torah is slipping away, and that he has suddenly become an old, angry, vindictive tyrant.

I don’t think that Plotz is being fair here. An army can’t function if soldiers keep dropping out, en masse, along the way. If all the tribes are going to get their own land, all the tribes have to fight for it. Otherwise, the first couple get to settle down, and the remaining tribes will be too few in number to continue the campaign.

Moses has, absolutely, been acting like a tyrant. But I don’t think that’s the case in this particular chapter. Rather, Moses is telling Gad and Reuben that they don’t just get to take theirs and run. They have to stick it through until everyone gets their share.

I may not agree with the whole holy war / take the land through slaughter thing, but if you’re going to do it, at least do it as a team.

The Compromise

Gad and Reuben respond with a compromise. They propose that they build fortified cities “for our little ones” (v.16) and sheepfolds for their flocks, then march out with the Israelite army. That way, at least their animals, wives, and children would be safe while they fight. “We will not return to our homes until the people of Israel have inherited each his inheritance” (v.18).

Proving that Moses is not nearly as unreasonable in this chapter as Plotz made him out to be, he agrees to this compromise. Since he won’t be crossing the Jordan personally, he conveys the deal to Eleazar and Joshua.

The punishment if Gad and Reuben fail to uphold their part of the bargain is, by the way, incredibly light as far as biblical threats go. Moses says to Eleazar and Joshua that if Reuben and Gad don’t pull through, “they shall have possessions among you in the land of Canaan” (v.30). That’s right, if they fulfil their end of the bargain, they get the nice lands that they want. If they don’t, they get the perfectly fine lands that were originally planned for them. This is “old, angry, vindictive tyrant” Plotz is so concerned about?

As you can see from the map, Manasseh also has a little patch of land over on the east side of the river. They get stuck in here, totally as if they’d been in the deal from the beginning, as Moses dedicates the lands to the three tribes. Verses 34-42 just list all the various towns that the three tribes build.

Numbers 31: But keep the virgins for yourselves

Leave a comment

After having a few chapters of census and rules, we resume our narrative from Numbers 25. If you’ll remember, there was a minor scandal where Hebrew men were shacking up with Moabite women, which was leading the men to start worshipping the wrong gods. Then, suddenly, the offending women spontaneously changed their nationality and became Midianites.

I speculated at the time that it was a revisioner’s attempt to make clear that Moses having a Midianite wife should not be seen to be implicit acceptance of marriage to foreign women generally.

God, still rather sore about the whole episode, tells Moses to “avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites” (v.2).

The Story of Moses and the Midianites by Barbara Griffiths

The Story of Moses and the Midianites by Barbara Griffiths

So Moses gets together a thousand men from each tribe. Phinehas, son of Eleazar – the guy who showed us what he thought of Midianites back in Numbers 25 – was sent along with the trumpets for the alarm and the  “vessels of the sanctuary” (v.6) – though, interestingly, not the ark.

Apparently, every single Midianite man (at least in that region) was slain in the battle, including the kings of Midian: Evi, Rekem, Zur, Hur, and Reba. They also killed Balaam, son of Beor (more on that later). Yet the Israelites themselves suffered no casualties (v.49) – presumably a little dig to reinforce God’s power to win battles that have his support.

The soldiers took the women, children, cattle, flocks, and possessions as spoils of war. They then burned down what remained of the towns and cities.

But when they bring all the spoils to Moses and Eleazar, Moses was enraged. “Have you let all the women live?” (v.15), he asks them, then commands his soldiers to kill every male child and woman who has “known man by lying with him” (v.17). He will, however, allow them to keep the little girls alive.

What’s with Balaam?

In Numbers 22, Balaam was a good guy, seeking out the instructions of the right god and refusing the curse the Israelites (even going so far as to bless them). So why is he suddenly a bad guy who is going around telling women “to act treacherously against the Lord” (v.16)?

I think that we’re seeing the same thing we saw happen in Numbers 25, where the Moabite women magically transformed into Midianites. We have a revisioner – probably a clerical person (or movement) given the tone of the changes/inserts – who is trying to make a theological point. As with the Midianite issue, this is clearly an attempt to smooth over elements of older traditions that have become distasteful.

Collins puts it thusly in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (P and JE are hypothetical authors in the documentary hypothesis):

P adds an interesting notice in Num 31:8, 16. The Moabite women, we are told, acted on the advice of none other than Balaam, and the Israelites accordingly killed Balaam with the sword. The [P] writers were evidently uncomfortable with the idea of a “good” pagan prophet and undermine the older JE account of Balaam by this notice. It is also axiomatic for the Priestly writer that the women who tempted the Israelites must not be allowed to live. (p.83)

Purification

The massacre of the women and male children done, Moses tells every man who has “killed any person, and whoever has touched any slain” (v.19) to go purify themselves in the way stipulated in Numbers 19. In addition to purifying themselves, they must also cleanse the spoils – anything that can withstand fire must be passed through fire and then purified with the special water from Numbers 19. Anything flammable can just be washed with the special water.

David Plotz, upon reading this chapter, responds:

What is particularly poignant is that Moses himself seems to know that this massacre of innocents is wrong. He orders his death squads to stay outside of camp after they finish their butchery. They need a week away from the Tabernacle to purify themselves. The Bible never mentions such a quarantine for Israelite soldiers after other battles. But, as Moses recognizes, these killings are not war, they are murder, and they defile his people.

Well, that’s partly true. We haven’t seen it specified that soldiers who kill in battle should be purified, but Numbers 19:16 does say: Whoever in the open field touches one who is slain with a sword, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.” How easy is it for a soldier, in the middle of a battlefield, to kill someone without touching them?

So while it may not be explicit that the purification Moses is ordering in Numbers 31 is just part of the normal post-battle routine, I don’t think that it can be discounted as such either.

Since we’re on the subject of ‘things David Plotz writes,’ he also has a very interesting discussion of the apparent reversal in this chapter:

Let’s pause for a second to consider Moses’ rage, which I find almost incomprehensible. For most of the last three books, Moses has been restraining God. The Lord loses his temper with His disobedient people, and Moses persuades Him to show mercy. But God is on the sidelines during the Midianite slaughter: It is Moses who’s bloodthirsty. Where does his new anger come from? Is it the fury of a frustrated old man who’s been barred from his Promised Land? Is it the homicidal megalomania that descends on so many dictators who hold power too long?

As usual, he’s taking the text at face value. That’s fine, but I think it misses the more likely reason for the reversal – to show Moses himself siding against exogamy. If anyone used the story of Moses’ wife as a sort of hadith to argue that exogamy is permissible, having him come down so strongly against it here would put an end to that.

I also think it needs to be noted that, even if we’re taking the text at face value, there’s still an important difference between this narrative and the narratives where Moses calms God down. When God flies into a rage, it’s against the Israelites, and Moses is therefore protecting his own in-group. But in this case, the war is with the Midianites. Another reasonable interpretation would be, simply, that Moses couldn’t give a flying fonkey about members of the out-group.

Dividing the booty

God gives Moses the rules for dividing up spoils of war (would that mean that he’s making the booty call? – ugh, even I’m embarrassed by that one…).

It’s a fairly decent system: The spoils are divided into two equal halves, one half to be distributed among the soldiers, and one half to go to the general community. The Levites get 1/50th of the community share, and the high priest alone gets 1/500th of the soldiers’ share. What this looks like in actual numbers is:

  • Sheep: 675,000 total, 337,500 to soldiers and the community each, 675 to Eleazar, 6,750 to the Levites.
  • Cattle: 72,000 total, 36,000 to soldiers and the community each, 72 to Eleazar, 720 to the Levites.
  • Donkeys: 61,000 total, 30,500 to soldiers and the community each, 61 to Eleazar, 610 to the Levites.
  • Virgin girls: 32,000 total, 16,500 to soldiers and the community each, 32 to Eleazar, 320 to the Levites.

In addition to this, we’re told that Eleazar also received 16,750 shekels.

The share that’s to be given to Eleazar the high priest is referred to in my RSV as “the Lord’s share.” In the King James, it’s called the “heave offering.” In my journeys across the vast lands of the internet, I’ve found quite a few atheists interpreting this chapter (particularly v.40) as a demand for human sacrifice. You can see this illustrated over at BibleSlam, where the author writes: “The LORD’s share was given as a ‘heave offering,’ which implies that 32 human virgins were sacrificed.”

Having now read the chapter, all I can say is “bwuh?”

The context makes it abundantly clear that Eleazar’s share is just that, Eleazar’s share. I’m not saying that what’s about to happen to his 32 virgin girls is good, but it sure ain’t sacrifice.

Heck, even the “implies” of “heave offering” is silly, since the heave offering is the portion that the priests get to take home with them after it’s waved around in front of God for a bit. It’s specifically the part that isn’t burned – as illustrated by Exodus 29:27-28.

So yeah, there’s a whole lot going on in this chapter that’s pretty horrible, but human sacrifice isn’t one of them.

Numbers 30: The word of a woman

Leave a comment

This is where the exclusivity of citizenship makes itself pretty explicit. We saw the start of this in Numbers 27, with the assumption that women may not inherit property.

The problem with an agnatic inheritance system is that it tends to concentrate power in the hands of males, all the more so in a system like this one where land may be transferred only by inheritance. If women own no property themselves, all their resources, all the food they eat, everything they use is always – always – borrowed.

This makes the word of a woman suspect.

Imagine the following situation: You own a market stall selling chickens. A female customer comes by and tells you that she doesn’t feel safe carrying money around, so could she buy the chickens on credit and send a servant around later with the money? If you know that she cannot own property, you therefore know that she is making a promise with another person’s money, a person who may have no knowledge of the promise and no intention of honouring it. A woman’s credit is worthless because she has no ability to fulfil her promises.

It’s a short step from this sort of situation to one in which a woman is, essentially, a slave – albeit with a higher status – unable even to make a vow with her own body. This is precisely what Numbers 30 codifies.

A vow, by the way, would also include things like religious vows, such as the abstinence required by a Nazirite vow. Nowhere is there a distinction between vows of credit and vows of action – both fall equally under the ownership of men.

The chapter starts off with God telling Moses that a man’s vow is binding. So far so good. But then he gets to the women.

If a woman still lives in her father’s house, her father has the opportunity to overturn any pledges she may make, so long as he does so within a day of finding out about it. Only if he approves of the vow, or fails to disapprove within the time limit, is her vow actually binding.

If she is married, then her husband has the same right of refusal, by the same rules. Though at least God is willing to forgive her for not fulfilling her vow if the reason for her failure is that her owner has dissolved it. So… that’s something, I guess.

Only a widow or divorced woman is permitted to make a vow on her own – which I think is an important point. What this means is that the idea is clearly not that women are just too silly and childlike to make their own decisions, as would later become the interpretation of this chapter. Rather, they are not allowed to make vows because a vow implies an exchange – of property, of money, of time… – and all that a woman has is not hers, but merely borrowed from her father or husband. You cannot make promises with someone else’s property, even if that property is your own body.

Numbers 28-29: A pleasing aroma

Leave a comment

Numbers 28-29 lists the various sacred holidays and the required sacrifices that are to be made, largely repeating information from Leviticus 23. It’s essentially a bullet-point list without the bullet-points, so I won’t repeat it here.

To make things a little easier for you visual learners, here’s a nifty illustration of the feasts that I shamelessly nabbed from www.inplainsight.org:

Numbers 28-29 - Feast Days

 

If you’d like to look the feasts up for yourself, here are the verses:

  • Sabbath offerings: Num. 28:9-10
  • Monthly offerings: Num. 28:11-15
  • Passover: Num. 28:16-25
  • Feast of weeks: Num. 28:26-31
  • Feast of trumpets: Num. 29:1-6
  • Day of atonement: Num. 29:7-11
  • Feast of tabernacles: Num. 29:12-39

Older Entries