1 Chronicles 9: The Returning

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Concluding all our previous genealogies, we are told that this is as had been recorded in “the Book of the Kings of Israel” (1 Chron. 9:1), which shouldn’t be confused with the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, which is cited throughout 1-2 Kings.

The fact that only Israel is named in the title of this source, particularly given the Judahite/Jerusalem focus of Chronicles, is a little odd. Some commentaries I’ve looked at have explained this away by saying that, with the fall of northern kingdom and, in particular, in the post-exilic community, the kingdom of Judah (re-)appropriated the name. This would make sense, given how frequently Jacob is referred to as Israel in Chronicles so far. It seems that this name is being thoroughly claimed for a national identity.

For another possibility, we turn to the Septuagint, which calls it “the Book of the Kings of Israel and Juda.” We’ll see a similar title later on, “the Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel” (2 Chron. 16:11). Suggesting that perhaps the source’s original title named both, and that it was corrupted here to refer only to Israel.

This is one of those instances where not knowing Hebrew is very frustrating. In English, the phrase is: “and these are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel. And Judah was taken into exile” (1 Chron. 9:1). It doesn’t take much – moving the period, a wee grammatical fudging – to change the book’s title. Is the same the case in Hebrew? The Septuagint’s translators seem to have thought so (or, at least, the English translators of the Septuagint’s Greek translators, just to add an extra layer to my frustration).

Moving on, we learn that Judah (referring in this case, I presume, to the southern kingdom rather than to the tribe) was taken into exile in Babylon, which was of course because of their unfaithfulness. This brings us to the list of the first individuals to return, who are categorized as: “Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the temple servants” (1 Chron. 9:2). This seems to suggest that the author holds those devoted to the cult apart from the laity, from Israel proper.

If we skip over to the King James Version, the “temple servants” are instead called the Nethinim. James Pate ties these Nethinim servants either to Numbers 31:47 / Ezra 8:20, where Moses gives a number of prisoners of war over to the Levites, or to the Gibeonites who, in Joshua 9, were given to the Levites by Joshua after they tricked him into not slaughtering them (in the first scenario, they are foreign captives, while in the second they merely pretend to be). Pate as a more detailed explanation in his post.

My New Bible Commentary notes at this point that “no effort is made to link the names of this chapter with the detailed genealogies in the preceding chapters” (p.375). This might lead a lesser woman to gently knock her forehead against her desk and wonder what the point of the last eight chapters might have been.

The Inhabitants of Jerusalem

We begin with a few of the people of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, who returned to live in Jerusalem. A few commenters note the odd list. Judah and Benjamin were both closely tied to Jerusalem, so they make sense, but why Ephraim and Manasseh? The consensus among those commenters who brother to mention the detail seems to be that Ephraim and Manasseh comprised a fairly large portion of the northern kingdom. Including them here gives the sense of universality – of the idea that these first re-settlers are properly representative of Israel. This isn’t quite taken all the way, as none of the individuals listed appear to be from either of those tribes.

From the tribe of Judah, we have:

  • Uthai, son of Ammihud, son of Omri, son of Imri, son of Bani, descended from the sons of Perez;
  • Asaiah and his sons, of the Shilonites;
  • Jeuel, who was descended from Zerah;
  • And 690 of their kinsmen.

From the tribe of Benjamin, we have:

  • Shallu son of Meshullam, son of Hodaviah, son of Hassenuah;
  • Ibneiah son of Jeroham;
  • Elah son of Uzzi, son of Michri;
  • Meshullam son of Shephatiah, son of Reuel, son of Ibnijah;
  • And 956 of their kinsmen.

Of the priests, we get:

  • Jedaiah
  • Jehoiarib
  • Jachin
  • Azariah son of Hilkiah, son of Meshullam, son of Zadok, son of Meraioth, son of Ahitub, the chief officer of the house of God (commenter consensus seems to be that this was an unknown title that probably did not refer to the high priest);
  • Adaiah son of Jeroham, son of Passhur, son of Malchijah;
  • Maasai son of Adiel, son of Jahzerah, son of Meshullam, son of Meshillemith, son of Immer;
  • And 1760 of their kinsmen.

The first thing that occurred to me when reading this list is that it’s extremely messy. There really doesn’t seem to me any unifying formula, which speaks either to corruption or, my preferred explanation in this case, a cobbling together of numerous sources.

Levitical Families

We turn next to the Levites. I found it strange that they should be listed separately from the priests of 1 Chron. 9:10-13, unless we are seeing a distinction being made between the Levitical priests and the non-Levitical priests.

Of the Levites themselves, we have:

  • Shemaiah son of Hasshub, son of Azrikam, son of Hashabiah, descended from Merari;
  • Bakbakkar, Heresh, Galal, and Mattaniah, the sons of Mica, son of Zichri, son of Asaph;
  • Obadiah son of Shemaiah, son of Galal, son of Jeduthun;
  • And Berechiah son of Asa, son of Elkanah, who lived in the villages of the Netophathites.

We then move on to a list of individuals performing specific cultic duties. Again, the separate listing makes it seem as though we’re talking about a separate category – were the gatekeepers not Levites?

Of this section, my New Bible Commentary also notes that the purpose of including so many names of people involved in cultic duties was not necessarily the importance of the names themselves, but rather to “stress that the post-exilic community was primarily a religious community” (p.276).

In any case, the gatekeepers who were stationed at the king’s gate (on the east side) were:

  • Shallum, the chief of the gatekeepers;
  • Akkub;
  • Talmon;
  • Ahiman;
  • And their kinsmen.

The gatekeepers working in the Levite camp who were in charge of the services, and who were the keepers of the thresholds of the tent, were the Korahites. They were led by Shallum son of Kore, son of Ebiasaph, son of Korah. Previously, their leader had been Phinehas son of Eleazar, “the Lord was with him” (1 Chron. 9:20). This would be the Phinehas from Numbers who murdered Zimri and his Moabite lover/wife Cozbi in Num. 25:7-8, thereby ending God’s plague du jour.

Jewish captives with camel and baggage on their way into exile. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BCE) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Jewish captives with camel and baggage on their way into exile. Detail of the Assyrian conquest of the Jewish fortified town of Lachish (battle 701 BCE) Part of a relief from the palace of Sennacherib at Niniveh, Mesopotamia (Iraq)

Finally, we have Zechariah son of Meshelemiah, who was the gatekeeper at the entrance of the tent of meeting.

There were 212 gatekeepers in total. The text here tells us that these offices were established by David and the prophet Samuel, despite the inclusion of Phinehas among their number above. They were arranged into four groups, each being in charge of a cardinal direction, and each having its own chief. These four chief gatekeepers were Levites (does that mean that the others weren’t? Or didn’t need to be?), and they were also in charge of both chamber and treasury of the temple. 

These gatekeepers had to lodge near (or perhaps within the broader complex) of the temple, so that they could be present to watch over the temple – as was their duty – and to open the gates every morning. But lest they become lonely, their kinsmen were required to come in from their respective villages once every seven days to be with them. 

Those who were in charge of the utensils used in cultic services were required to count them whenever they were brought in or out. Others were in charge of the furniture, others of the vittles. The sons of the priests were in charge of mixing the spices, and Mattithiah son of Shallum the Korathite was in charge of making the flat cakes. Other Kohathites were in charge of preparing show-bread for each sabbath.

After the gatekeepers, we get the singers, who were also Levites. They lived in the temple, and “were on duty day and night” (1 Chron. 9:33) as musicians, and therefore had no other responsibilities.

Before we leave the Levites, James Pate brings up an interesting point about which group(s) were to have the high priesthood, and that there seems to have been different opinions on the matter:

Should it go through Aaron’s son Ithamar (through whom Eli and Abiathar came), or Aaron’s son Eleazar (though whom Phinehas and, according to the Chronicler, Zadok came)?  I’m not saying that there is any place in the Hebrew Bible that supports Ithamar, but it is interesting to me that Ithamar’s descendants were the high priests in I-II Samuel, when God had promised Eleazar’s son Phinehas an everlasting priesthood in Numbers 25:13, plus Phinehas appears to be the high priest in Judges 20:28.  What happened to Phinehas?  Was the priesthood taken away from him and given to Ithamar’s line?  Could the Jewish story of how God removed God’s presence from Phinehas be (at least in part) an attempt to address this question?  In any case, Phinehas’ line got the high priesthood back, assuming that Zadok was the descendant of Phinehas.

The Family of Saul

Without any segue, we move from a listing of the returnees back in time to another genealogy of Saul, a repetition (with differences) of 1 Chron. 8:29-40. It seems significant that the return is bracketed by Israel’s first king.

We open in Gibeon with Jeiel, called the father of Gibeon. With his wife, Maacah, Jeiel’s sons were: Abdon, Zur, Kish, Baal, Ner, Nadab, Gedor, Ahio, Zechariah (who appears as Zecher in 1 Chron. 8:31), and Mikloth. The addition of Ner to the sons of Jeiel is rather important, since it connects Saul’s lineage directly to Jeiel (which 1 Chron. 8 fails to do).

Mikloth fathered Shimeam (who appears as Shimeah in 1 Chron. 8:32), while Ner fathered Kish. Kish was the father of Saul. Saul, in turn, fathered Jonathan, Malchishua, Abinadab, and Eshbaal.

Jonathan fathered Meribbaal, who fathered Micah. Micah fathered Pithon, Melech, Tahrea, and Ahaz. Ahaz fathered Jarah (who appears as Jehoaddah in 1 Chron. 8:36), and Jarah fathered Alemeth, Azmaveth, and Zimri. Zimri fathered Mozam (who appears as Moza in 1 Chron. 8:36) who fathered Binea. From Binea, we get Rephaiah (who appears as Rephah in 1 Chron. 8:37), from whom we get Eleasah, who fathered Azel. Azel fathered Azrikam, Bocheru, Ishmael, Sheariah, Obadiah, and Hanan.

We are now officially up to date and ready to begin the narrative portion of the book!

1 Chronicles 6: The Levitical Line

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We next turn our attentions to the tribe of Levi. It’s worth noting both how detailed a treatment they get compared to the other tribes, and the fact that they are placed in the very middle of the genealogies, just as they were physically placed in the middle of the camp in Numbers 2. It’s hard to ignore the symbolism.

Roughly speaking, the narrative begins with the priestly genealogies, then discusses the temple musicians, and ends by looking at the territories under direct Levitical control.

The genealogy portion seems to be based on Exodus 6:16-25, but with some variations.

The sons of Levi are: Gershom, Kohath, and Merari. There’s some duplication of information as each section serves a different purpose that sometimes requires the same information. However, since my purpose is different than the Chronicler’s, I’ll be condensing a little.

The sons of Kohath are: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. From Amram came Aaron, Moses, and Miriam. From Aaron, we get Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. From this point, we follow Eleazar down in a direct line:

  1. Phinehas
  2. Abishua
  3. Bukki
  4. Uzzi
  5. Zerahiah
  6. Meraioth
  7. Amariah
  8. Ahitub
  9. Zadok
  10. Ahimaaz
  11. Azariah: According to 1 Kgs 4:2, Azariah was Zadok’s son, not his grandson. However, this wouldn’t be the first time that “son” might have been used simply to mean “a descendant of.”
  12. Johanan
  13. Azariah: The text specifies that he was priest when Solomon built the temple.
  14. Amariah
  15. Ahitub
  16. Zadok
  17. Shallum
  18. Hilkiah
  19. Azariah
  20. Seraiah
  21. Jehozadak: The text indicates that he was taken into exile by Nebuchadnezzar after the fall of Jerusalem.
Aaron, from the Frauenkirche, Dresden

Aaron, from the Frauenkirche, Dresden

There is apparently some discussion as to whether or not Zadok (#9 on this list) was really of Levitical descent. Apparently, the Jebusite Hypothesis argues that Zadok was a priest in Jerusalem, serving the Jebusite god El Elyon, when it was conquered by David. Further, it argues that David may have appointed him as high priest as an appeasement to the conquered residents of the city (not only offering some continuity of leadership, but also bridging David’s god and their own).

In support of this, the similarity between Zadok’s name and the names of pre-Israelite inhabitants of Jerusalem is pointed out (for example, Melchizedek in Gen. 14:18 and Adonizedek in Jos. 10:1).

Some apparently also cite his role in Nathan and Bathsheba’s conspiracy to place Solomon on the throne, instead of Adonijah (1 Kgs 2). The argument goes that Solomon, born in Jerusalem, would have been preferred over Adonijah, who was born in Hebron.

The second lineage of Kohath: We also get a secondary list of the sons of Kohath, which is clearly not the same as above, beginning with Amminadab, and tracing down:

  1. Korah
  2. Assir
  3. Elkanah
  4. Ebiasaph (appearing as Abiasaph in Ex. 6:24)
  5. Assir
  6. Tahath
  7. Uriel
  8. Uzziah
  9. Shaul

A few sources I looked at suggested that Amminadab might be an error here (albeit a strange one). Drawing from Exodus 6:21, they argue that Izhar may have been meant instead, which would certainly make a lot more sense.

We then get a list of descendants of someone named Elkanah, who is clearly not the Elkanah who was a descendant of Kohath. The grammar is a little fudgy, but it looks like he had two sons: Amasai and Ahimoth. Then, through Ahimoth, we get:

  1. Elkanah
  2. Zophai
  3. Nahath
  4. Eliab
  5. Jeroham
  6. Elkanah

The sons of Samuel: In 1 Chron. 6:28, switch briefly over to a Samuel, who is presumably the Samuel of 1-2 Samuel, and meant to be related to the just-named Elkanah. This works for a little while, since 1 Samuel 1:1 names Samuel’s father Elkanah, and his grandfather Jeroham. It breaks down after that, however, as Jeroham is the son of Elihu, who is the son of Tohu, who is the son of Zuph. (A genealogy that matches better occurs below, in the discussion of musicians.)

Further, since Zuph is specifically named as an Ephraimite, we have to do a bit of juggling to make him also a Levite. It’s not impossible, since we could imagine a Levitical line living in Ephraim’s territory being identified by their geographical location rather than tribal descent. It’s worth noting that there were Kohathite territories within Ephraim (listed later in 1 Chron. 6:66-69).

In this case, however, there are too many pieces that don’t fit. It seems that, the Chronicler (who at least one of his sources) wished to shoe-horn Samuel into the Levitical line to excuse the fact that he was performing cultic duties. The problem with that, though, is that Samuel is seen making burnt offerings (for example, 1 Sam. 7:10), so why not place him directly in the Aaronic line? And why not mention in 1 Samuel that he was of Levitical descent?

In any case, the sons of Samuel are listed, in order, as Joel and Abijah.

The sons of Gershom are: Libni and Shimei. Gershom, by the way, is sometimes spelled Gershon. Given the phonetic similarity, I’m assuming this is just an error, and I will use the two forms interchangeably. Gershom traces the line down through Libni:

  1. Jahath
  2. Zimmah
  3. Joah
  4. Iddo
  5. Zerah
  6. Jeatherai

The sons of Merari are:  Mahli and Mushi. Going down through Mahli, we get:

  1. Libni
  2. Shimei
  3. Uzzah
  4. Shimei
  5. Uzzah
  6. Shimea
  7. Haggiah
  8. Asaiah

Musicians

David is credited with founding the musical portion of the tabernacle service (or, at least, with reforming the system). When he initially brought the ark to Jerusalem, he appointed to “[minister] with son before the tabernacle of the tent of meeting” (1 Chron. 6:32). When Solomon built the temple, they moved with the ark.

The lineages are presented in reverse order. I’ll re-arrange them as a descent just to make the lineages more comparable to the ones we had above. Keeping in mind that it is the final member of the line who was appointed by David. I’ve bolded the appointees.

From the Kohathites:

  1. Israel
  2. Levi
  3. Kohath
  4. Izhar
  5. Korah
  6. Ebiasaph
  7. Assir
  8. Tahath
  9. Zephaniah
  10. Azariah
  11. Joel
  12. Elkanah
  13. Amasai
  14. Mahath
  15. Elkanah
  16. Zuph
  17. Toah
  18. Eliel
  19. Jeroham
  20. Elkanah
  21. Samuel
  22. Joel
  23. Heman the singer

If the Samuel listed as Heman’s grandfather is meant to be the Samuel who went around anointing Israel’s first few kings, the lineage matches much better than the one we got in 1 Chron. 6:25-28. The only differences are easily attributable to phonetic variations or scribal sloppiness (Eliel is listed as Elihu in 1 Samuel 1:1, and Toah as Tohu).

A second musician, Asaph, is identified as Heman’s brother in 1 Chron. 6:39. However, given the differences in the lineage, it seems probable that the term is meant to mean “brother in craft,” rather than as a description of a blood tie. His lineage is as follows:

  1. Levi
  2. Gershom
  3. Jahath
  4. Shimei
  5. Zimmah
  6. Ethan
  7. Adaiah
  8. Zerah
  9. Ethni
  10. Malchijah
  11. Baaseiah
  12. Michael
  13. Shimea
  14. Berechiah
  15. Asaph

The obvious problem here is that generations are skipped. Gershom’s sons are Libni and Shimei in 1 Chron. 6:17. Jahath isn’t listed until 1 Chron. 6:20, as the son of Libni (Gershom’s grandson). Shimei is missing from the 1 Chron. 6:20 version. After that, the comparison breaks down entirely, as the 1 Chron. 6:21 version continues with Joah, while this list continues through Ethan.

The first two errors can be fairly easily explained either as accidental errors, or as the Chronicler finding himself with a list containing a lovely symbolically resonant fourteen generations between Levi and Asaph, yet finding that it does not quite match his other source. He may have sacrificed Libni in order to include Shimei while still preserving the desired number of generations.

The final error also isn’t too difficult to explain, as there is nothing to say that Zimmah had only one son. His eldest might well have been Joah, while Asaph was descended from a secondary branch.

From the Merarites: The Merarites put forward one appointee, Ethan. His lineage goes:

  1. Levi
  2. Merari
  3. Mushi
  4. Mahli
  5. Shemer
  6. Bani
  7. Amzi
  8. Hilkiah
  9. Amaziah
  10. Hashabiah
  11. Malluch
  12. Abdi
  13. Kishi
  14. Ethan

The sons of Aaron: But only descendants of Aaron were allowed to make offerings, at least in the Chronicler’s time. His lineage is repeated down to Ahimaaz, and is identical to the one in 1 Chron. 6:4-8.

Levitical Territories

In 1 Chron. 6:54, the narrative moves into a discussion of the territories controlled by the tribe of Levi. This list corresponds largely to the one in Joshua 21, even presenting them in the same order (first to the Kohathites, then the Gershonites, then the Merarites).

Kohathite Cities: To the Kohathites, specifically the descendants of Aaron, Judah provided the following cities of refuge: Hebron, Libnah, Jattir, Eshtemoa, Hilen, Debir, Ashan, and Beth-shemesh. An added detail is given about Hebron: While the Levites get the town’s surrounding pasture lands, the fields and villages belong to Caleb son of Jephunneh.

Simeon won’t be listed here as a contributing tribe, but Ashan is allotted to them in Jos. 19:7. This suggests that Simeon had already been absorbed by Judah by the time the Chronicler’s source was written.

From Benjamin, the Kohathites received: Geba, Alameth, and Anathoth.

At this point, the text tells us that the Kohathites control 13 towns (1 Chron. 6:60), but the actual count reveals only 11. By comparing the list to Jos. 21:13-19, we can assume that Juttah and Gibeon were accidentally dropped by the Chronicler (or a subsequent scribe).

There appears to be a corruption of the text in 1 Chron. 6:61. The corresponding spot in Joshua is Jos. 21:5, where we learn that the Kohathites receive ten further towns from Ephraim, Dan, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The towns are not named in either location.

From Ephraim, they received Shechem, Gezer, Jokmeam, Beth-horon, Aijalon, and Gathrimmon.

The cities contributed by Dan aren’t listed, but  Jos. 21:23-24 names both Aijalon and Gathrimmon as coming from Dan. This seems to be another scribal error.

From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they received Aner and Bileam.

Gershomite Cities: Gershom received thirteen cities from Issachar, Asher, Naphtali, and Manasseh.

From the half-tribe of Manasseh, they received: Golan in Bashan, and Ashtaroth. From Issachar, they received Kedesh, Daberath, Ramoth, and Anem. From Asher, they received Mashal, Abdon, Hukok, and Rehob. And from Naphtali, they received Kedesh in Galilee, Hammon, and Kiriathaim.

Merarite Cities: Merari received twelve cities from Reuben, Gad, and Zebulun.

From Zebulun, they received Rimmono and Tabor. In the Transjordan, they received from Reuben: Bezer, Jahzah, Kedemoth, and Mephaath. From Gad, they received Ramoth in Gilead, Mahanaim, Heshbon, and Jazer.

I only get a count of ten cities, rather than the twelve claimed, but there is some grammatical weirdness around 1 Chron. 6:78 that could account for the discrepancy.

1 Samuel 14: Rambo has a bite of honey

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When chapter 14 opens, Saul is hanging out by “the pomegranate tree” near Gibeah (evidently a once-known landmark) with his 600 men. It occurs to me that perhaps the 600, down from the 3,000 he began 1 Sam. 13 with, may be all that are left after the desertions in the last chapter. If so, it makes his decision to proceed with the sacrifice without the tardy Samuel seem quite a bit more reasonable. With his army is Ahijah, the great-grandson of Eli (via Phinehas) and evidently the new high priest as he is said to be carrying the ephod.

I had gotten the impression that the high priest status had transferred to Samuel at Eli’s death because Eli’s sons were corrupt, but it apparently merely hopped that generation. There’s also no hint here of how the priesthood survived the destruction of Shiloh, or if the office has relocated to Kiriath-jearim to be with the ark, if the ark has been moved (it was only supposed to be there for 20 years – 1 Sam. 7:2), etc.

Jonathan and his unnamed armour-bearer decide to sneak out of the camp and assault a nearby Philistine garrison, Rambo-style. They tell no one that they are leaving.

1 Sam 14When they reach the outskirts of the Philistine camp, they decide to reveal themselves. If they Philistines tell them to wait there, they agree that they will do so. If they Philistines beckon them over, they will approach. The latter will be taken as a sign that God has delivered the garrison to them, for some reason.

The Philistines chide them, saying “look, Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they have hid themselves” (1 Sam. 14:11), referencing 1 Sam. 13:6. It seems that they believe Jonathan and his armour-bearers to be defectors. So the Philistines call them over, promising to “show you a thing” (1 Sam. 14:12). What the “thing” is, or whether it’s part of their teasing, is never revealed, because Jonathan and his armour-bearer go full River Tam as soon as they get near, killing 20 Philistines.

This causes a panic among the Philistines, no doubt fanned by a timely earthquake.

Saul’s watchmen see the Philistines running about, so he orders a headcount and discovers that Jonathan and the armour-bearer are missing. Having apparently figured out what’s going on, Saul decides to press his advantage. He tells Ahijah to bring the ark. Maybe. Apparently, the LXX has Saul call for the ephod here, which makes more sense in context.

Before Ahijah can do anything, they hear the tumult growing in the Philistine camp, and Saul tells Ahijah to “withdraw your hand” (1 Sam. 14:19). This suggests that Saul wanted to go after the panicking Philistines, but he wanted to check in with God for permission first (presumably by using the Umim and Thummim kept in the ephod for divination). When it became obvious that the Philistines were easy pickings, he decided to just go for it.

The battle depiction is rather confusing, but what I take from it is that the Philistines are just completely irrational in their fear and are fighting each other as much as they are fighting the Israelites. The battle is so one-sided that the Israelites who had hidden all come out, and even the Israelites who had joined the Philistines switch back to Saul’s side.

The lack of weapons among the Israelites is, apparently, no longer a concern.

The Bite

For reasons not given, Saul makes an oath: “Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies” (1 Sam. 14:24). Here are a few possible reasons for the vow:

  • The narrative chronology is muddled, and he actually made this vow before going into battle in the hopes that it would ensure his victory (fasting as a prayer amplifier is far from unknown). The fact that the Israelites are already faint from hunger before the Philistines are defeated suggests that this may be the case.
  • I’ve seen it argued that the vow is meant to expunge his earlier faux pas with the sacrifice. This would be ironic since – as we shall soon find out – this too is a rash decision that meddles in cultic matters and will end up backfiring.
  • Or the point is just to show that Saul keeps doing stuff that fall under religious jurisdiction without consulting the proper authorities, reinforcing the rationale for denying him his dynastic posterity.

Unfortunately, Jonathan doesn’t get the memo. If we accept the explanation that Saul made his vow before going after the Philistines, it could be that Jonathan is still returning from his Ramboing and, therefore, didn’t hear it.

This is important, because the army finds a honey field (a forest with honey, according to my translation, but I’ve seen arguments that the term for “forest” could also mean hives. It’s possibly, then, that they stumbled upon an apiary). Jonathan pokes at a honeycomb with his staff and has a taste. Much like me when I eat chocolate, Jonathan’s “eyes became bright” (1 Sam. 14:27).

A companion tells him about Saul’s vow, but Jonathan seems not to interpret this as a danger to himself. Rather, he argues that the vow was a bad idea because now the soldiers are so hungry that they are too weak to slaughter the Philistines. In his argument, Jonathan says that it would have been “better if the people had eaten freely today of the spoil of their enemies which they found” (1 Sam. 14:30).

The argument seems strange given the prohibition on taking spoils during a holy war (a prohibition illustrated in Joshua 7, though one that has already been applied inconsistently elsewhere). Still, the story seems to mirror the story of Jephthah’s vow, and Jonathan seems to highlight that it is not a good idea to make rash oaths.

The soldiers are so starved (after only a day, albeit one of battle) that they “flew upon the spoil” (1 Sam. 14:32). Unfortunately, in their hurry, they eat the Philistine livestock with the blood – prohibited in Gen. 9:4, Lev. 19:26, and Deut. 12:16. Additionally, it seems that they are slaughtering the animals as they find them, rather than having priests do it on altars.

Saul tries to remedy the issue by having a rock brought, making a an altar for the people to bring the livestock to for slaughtering.  With that, the issue seems resolved.

Saul then suggests a night attack on the Philistines, but the priest says that should be hanging out with God instead. Saul calls on God, asking him if they should proceed against the Philistines, but God does not answer him. They assume that this is a result of some unknown sin.

Using the Umim and Thumim, they first ask whether the sin is in either Saul or Jonathan, or in the people. The Umim is drawn, indicating that it is either in Saul or Jonathan. The stones are drawn again, revealing that the sin was in Jonathan. This prompts Jonathan to confess to the honey-eating.

It seems that the story about the soldiers eating livestock without draining the blood was an insert, or else the chapter loses narrative continuity. Presumably, it was intended to explain the origins of an altar associated with Saul.

Both Jonathan and Saul agree that Jonathan should be put to death, but the people protest. According to my New Bible Commentary, this shows Saul to be “an insecure king outvoted by his troops” (p. 294). Surprisingly, God is apparently okay with the people ransoming Jonathan’s life, presumably by substituting an animal as in the story of Abraham’s son, Isaac, in Genesis 22.

Saul’s deeds and family

The chapter closes with a brief summary of Saul’s deeds and a listing of his nearer relatives.

We are told that he fought enemies on all sides: The Moabites, the Ammonites, the Edomites, the Philistines, the Amalekites, and the kings of Zobah.

We are told about his children: his sons Jonathan, Ishvi, and Malchishua, and his daughters Merab and Michal.

Saul’s wife is named Ahinoam, the daughter of Ahimaaz. His army commander is his cousin, Abner, the son of Ner (Saul’s uncle).

1 Samuel 4: The Raiders of the Lost Ark

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We break away from the narrative for what my New Bible Commentary refers to as “the adventures of the ark” (p. 288).

We are told that the Philistines have encamped at Aphek, which my New Bible Commentary says was right on the edge of the coastal plain. This “shows that the Philistines were making inroads into the hill country, having fully mastered the plain” (p.288). The Commentary, clearly, takes the position that the Philistines are the aggressors, taking lands and mustering too close to the Israelite border, prompting the Israelites to attempt a retaliation.

In the text, though, it’s not quite a clear. Grammatically (at least in the translation), Israel is implied to be the first to move, suggesting that perhaps they are the aggressors. That being said, my study Bible writes that “the first sentence of this section of the Greek version tells us that the Philistines took the lead in the war by mustering their forces against the Israelites” (p.335).

Given the history of the Greek version for 1 Samuel (which we learned about earlier), plus their presence at Aphek, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Commentary is correct – the Philistines are the baddies in this conflict.

When the Philistine and Israelite armies meet, it doesn’t go so well for the latter. The Philistines win, killing approximately four thousand Israelite soldiers.

Bringing in the nukes

When conventional warfare fails, it’s time to bring out the big guns. Or so think the elders of Israel, anyway. So they send to Shiloh for the ark, for if the ark is on the battlefield, how could they lose?

When the ark arrives at the Israelite camp, accompanied by Hophni and Phinehas, the people “gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded” (1 Sam. 4:5). The shout is so loud that the Philistines can hear it from their own camp, and they fret:

Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. (1 Samuel 4:7-8)

Their speech is amusing for a few reasons. Firstly, there’s all the details they get wrong: gods? smiting the Egyptians with plagues in the wilderness? It looks an awful lot like outsiders who’ve heard the gist of the insider’s history, but never really cared enough to learn about it. I imagine that this passage was written to get a chuckle from the audience at the Philistine’s expense.

The ark in the land of Philistines, from the Dura Europos synagogue

The ark in the land of Philistines, from the Dura Europos synagogue

The other interesting detail is the Philistine use of the term “Hebrews.” Throughout our reading, the default term used in the text to refer to the people has been “Israelite.” When the word “Hebrew” is used, it is nearly always by outsiders (my study Bible points to Gen. 39:14 and Gen. 43:32). Only later on is it appropriated by the in-group to refer to themselves (here my study Bible points to Jon. 1:9 and Phil. 3:5).

That aside, it’s clear that the Philistines are absolutely terrified of the nuke that’s just entered the battlefield. So they decide to fight extra hard to avoid being enslaved by the Israelites, “as they have been to you” (1 Sam. 4:9).

So (plot twist!!!), they win!

No, really! They bear the Israelites, this time killing about thirty thousand of them – including Hophni and Phinehas. Even worse, they take the ark captive.

This is, obviously, a fulfilment of the prophecy from the unnamed “man of God” in 1 Sam. 2 and from Samuel in 1 Sam. 3. My New Bible Commentary suggests an alternative cause: the Israelites lost because they treated the ark like a fetish, expecting it to perform on their command rather than by the will of God.

The theft of a god (or “godnapping”) was a reasonably common tactic in the ancient world – particularly the Near East. The superbly kind Dr. Jim mentioned the godnapping (and eventual return) of Marduk by the Assyrians as an illustrative example.

Four funerals and a birth

A Benjaminite runs from the battle to bring the news to Shiloh. Eli, who is still loitering outside doors (as he was in his encounter with Hannah in 1 Sam. 1) hears the commotion and asks what’s going on. Here, the text stops the story briefly to tell us that Eli was 98 years old and blind.

When Eli is told that his sons are dead and the ark captured, he’s not particularly bothered by the former, but the latter sends him sprawling back such that he breaks his neck. Here, the Deuteronomist with a judge fetish forgets that Eli was only a priest and tells us that “he judged Israel forty years” (1 Sam. 4:18).

Then Eli’s daughter-in-law, who was pregnant, finds out that her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law are all dead, and the trauma makes her go into labour. “About the time of her death”, the women attending her tell her that she’s had a son, “but she did not answer or give heed” (1 Sam. 4:20).

Despite being too near death to say anything to the midwives when the sex of her child is announced, she somehow musters the energy to name him Ichabod and to make a little speech about how she chose the name – which means something like “no glory” – because “the glory has departed from Israel” (1 Sam. 4:22).

The explanation could be interpreted to mean that God is literally paired with the ark – where it goes, so goes his physical presence. If so, this would make the ark a sort of negative space idol – while idols are generally seen as a physical/earthly representation of a god for them to inhabit, the ark is a throne on which God may sit in way that is understood as, if not actually physical, at least analogous.

We have many historical examples of idols being stolen as a sort of hostage, or extra middle finger gesture. We also saw this in Genesis 31, where Jacob steals Laban’s gods (and, just to be a real douche about it, his menstruating wife sits on them).

For what it’s worth, I don’t think that the theft from Micah in Judges 18 counts as an example of this since it appears that the Danites had every intention of actually worshipping the idol they stole (whereas having a menstruating woman sit on the idol rather suggests that it was not stolen for any cultic purpose).

My study Bible also provides a detail on the ark as a throne: “In Phoenicia the king was sometimes represented as sitting on a throne supported by cherubim” (p.336).

 

1 Samuel 2: Political tunes and a bit of misbehaviour

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The opening of 1 Sam. 2 continues the story from the previous chapter. Hannah has given birth to her long-sought child, nursed him, weaned him, and given him over to the priests at Shiloh as promised. In this chapter, she sings a song of thanks/praise/hope/future prediction/other stuff that really isn’t connected to her situation very well. Mostly, it goes on about how “the bows of the mighty are broken, / but the feeble gird on strength” (1 Sam. 2:4) and other social reversals. Really, it’s the mighty vs meek stuff that a former “cultural Christian” like me associates with Jesus.

There are only really two parts (that I could identify) that make any kind of sense in relation to Hannah. One is the line about “the barren has borne seven, / but she who has many children is forlorn” (1 Sam. 2:5). The “borne seven” bit need not be literal. As Claude Mariottini writes, seven is just a significant number, so “seven sons” is really just a stand-in for “perfect number of children.” You will remember the same phrase used in Ruth 4:15, in praise of Ruth. So it’s not necessary for Hannah to have a literal seven sons for this passage to have been through applicable to her (she does come close, though, as she later has 3 more sons and 2 daughters). If we want to read into the text a bit, the second half of that stanza could be taken as a reference to Peninnah, if we want to imagine her embittered by Hannah’s fortune reversal for some reason.

Samuel learning from Eli, by John Singleton Copley, 1780

Samuel learning from Eli, by John Singleton Copley, 1780

The talk of a future monarch toward the end (1 Sam. 2:10) may also explain why the song was situated here, if we accept the interpretation that she is blessing Samuel, or perhaps foretelling his involvement in the future social change.

The stuff about how “not by might shall a man prevail” (1 Sam. 2:9) feels Deuteronomistic-y. In Deuteronomy itself, we had the curses and the blessings, which argued that Israel’s future fate rested not on its own political or military prowess, but rather on its adherence to God’s law. Through Joshua and Judges, we saw small armies defeat much larger armies by having God on their side. In Joshua 7, for example, the Israelite fails not because of any tactical failure, but because one man among them disobeyed a religious rule. Once that man (and his entire family) was punished, the Israelite army was able to defeat their enemy (albeit while also going into battle with a much larger number of soldiers, but we’re talking about the cause and effect that is explicitly stated, not the one that’s comically implied).

There’s also a bit in there about God killing people, bringing people to life, and raising the dead. While the obvious interpretation for me was that the point of this stanza was to illustrate how all-powerful God is (he can even bring people back from Sheol!), my study Bible disagrees:

Brings to life probably refers to birth rather than to resurrection from the dead; likewise the next line probably refers to deep trouble or desperate injuries and recover from them. Sheol, the place of the dead under the earth, like Hades among the Greeks (Is. 14:9-21); but the term is sometimes used of conditions near death (Pss. 86:13; 88:3-7).

Which seems poetically plausible, if not necessarily the Occam’s Razor explanation.

John Hobbins over at Ancient Hebrew Poetry has some interesting notes on the structure of the song (if you’re into that kind of thing, go read the whole post):

Enjambed 2:2 structures have generally gone unnoticed in the study of ancient Hebrew verse. I treat them as lines on a par with widely acknowledged non-enjambed 2:2 lines like Psalm 3:8a, 9. The result: 1 Sam 2:1-10 turns out to be an 18 line poem, a widely attested poem line length in ancient Hebrew literature. 1 Sam 2:9b and 10c turn out to be 2:2 lines which arrest the tempo of the material intake of the poem by virtue of their conciseness. They are crucial lines: “for not by strength / will man prevail,” and “YHWH judges / the ends of the earth.”

After Hannah’s song, we get a sample of the next story (which involves Eli and his sons), then a brief revisit with Hannah, then finally launch full on into Eli’s family troubles. But since following that structure messes with my heading use, I’ll just tell you right now that Hannah makes Samuel a new robe every year – bringing it to him when her family does their annual Shiloh visit – and has five more kids.

Family Drama

There appears to be evidence of some stitching together from different sources here. I mentioned above that the story of Eli’s family is separated by an update on Hannah’s doings. Prior to the interlude, Eli’s sons (unnamed) are bad priests because of something to do with how they take their portion from the sacrifice.

First, it seems that the issue is that they are dipping their forks into the cauldrons where the sacrificial meat is boiling, and keep for themselves whatever sticks. But then it seems that this is actually standard, accepted practice (or was at the time in Shiloh, anyway). Then, the issue seems to be that they are taking their portion from the raw sacrificial meat, before it has been burned. Which is either an issue because the raw meat hasn’t technically been through motions of being consecrated, or it’s an issue because they are then also taking their portion later on while the meat is boiling.

In other words, I came away unclear as to whether the issue is that they taking their portion at the wrong time, or that they are double-dipping.

A third possibility was brought up by Brant Clements, who accuses the sons of “filching the best parts of the sacrifices.”

Whatever their crime is here, it’s clearly compounded by the fact that Eli’s sons are threatening worshippers who refuse to give in to their demands.

After Hannah’s interjection, we get a very different passage. Eli’s sons are suddenly named (it’s Hophni and Phinehas, whom we met in 1 Sam. 1:3), and now their crime is that they “lay with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting” (1 Sam. 2:22).

Before we get to the obvious, I should point out that the reference to the “tent of meeting” here is also quite interesting. So far, the impression that’s been given is that there is a permanent structure – a temple – at Shiloh, and that we are no longer using the exodus tent that Joshua set up there in Josh. 18:1. My study Bible refers to the inclusion as “an error” (p.333).

But back to the temple women, Brant Clements sums up the questions to be asked about the reference to them:

Who are these women? Just what services do they perform? Is this temple prostitution (a common practice among Israel’s pagan neighbors)? Are the women rightfully there and wrongly used? Or is their presence another indication of just how bad things have gotten in Israel?

It looks to me like Eli was known as a reasonably decent priest, but it was a known historical fact that his line did not continue the priesthood. It seems that various stories sprang up independently of each other to explain this, including the two here in which his sons were just awful.

In the latter part of the chapter, an unnamed “man of God” (1 Sam. 2:27) comes to Eli and tells him that the priesthood that had been granted to his familial line is hereby revoked, and that his sons will both die on the same day. While the man is not named here, my study Bible claims that his name is Abiathar, citing 1 Sam. 22:18-23 and 1 Kg. 2:26-27. We’ll see when we get there!

1 Samuel 1: Another miraculous birth

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After the respite of Ruth, we are welcomed back into the Deuteronomist History with another genealogy. This time, it’s to situate Elkanah, an Ephraimite living in Ramathaim-zophim (apparently shortened to Ramah).

His genealogy runs: Elkanah > Jeroham > Elihu > Tohu > Zuph. This last name is, apparently, seen in the “zophim” portion of the place name.

Sister Wives

Elkanah has two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Unfortunately, Hannah appears to have been barren, which seems to have caused Peninnah to “provoke her sorely, to irritate her” (1 Sam. 1:6). We’re assuming that this means Peninnah is lording her fertility over her sister wife, but that’s not exactly clear, at least not in English. It would be just as easy to read Hannah as feeling irritated and provoked simply because Peninnah has had children while she has not.

Elkanah and his wives, Maciejowski Bible

Elkanah and his wives, Maciejowski Bible

We’ve seen this dynamic before, such as Gen. 16:4, when Hagar becomes pregnant and is said to have started flaunting herself before Sarah.

Every year, the family goes to Shiloh to make a sacrifice. At this point, it seems that Shiloh is the de facto capital of Israel and centre of worship (Josh. 18:1), since Jerusalem doesn’t seem to be available yet.

When Elkanah makes his sacrifice, he gives portions to Penninah and to all her children, but gives only one to Hannah, “because the Lord had closed her womb” (1 Sam. 1:5). This seems entirely reasonable – why should Hannah receive more than one portion when she is just one person?

My New Bible Commentary offers another possible reading:

The portions were of meat, part of a sacrificial meal. Hannah received only one, since she had no mouths but her own to feed, if RSV is correct; but a ‘worthy’ or ‘double’ portion is not impossible – the Hebrew text, though obscure, at least suggests it, and such an act by Elkanah would partly explain Peninnah’s conduct. (p.287)

If that’s the case, then perhaps the situation is less Sarah/Hagar and more Rachel/Leah – in that case, Jacob favoured Rachel and poor Leah kept pumping out babies, each time hoping that this one would finally make her husband love her (Gen. 29:21, 29:31, 29:33, 29:34, 30:20).

Unfortunately, the whole mess is not helped by Elkanah, who appears to be utterly clueless. When Hannah, in grief that she cannot have children, stops eating, Elkanah says to her: “Hannah, why do you weep? And why do you not eat? And why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” (1 Sam. 1:8).

No, dude. Just no. A husband is not the same as a child. Not only is the quality and tone of the relationship completely different, it’s doubly different in a society that views fertility as a divine blessing and barrenness as a curse.

A Misunderstanding

Hannah’s immediate reaction to her husband’s inept attempts at comforting is not recorded, but after dinner, Hannah leaves her family to Pray to God by the temple. She weeps and prays silently, moving her mouth but not speaking out loud. She also vows that if God gives her a son, she will promise him into temple service.

As she prays, she is seen by Eli, a priest along with his new sons, Hophni and Phinehas (apparently a different Phinehas from the one in Numbers 25). Seeing her weeping and moving her mouth without making a sound, he assumes that she must be a drunk, so he comes forward to chastise her.

This detail seems important, but I’m not sure why. Is it to set up the fact that Eli is a poor judge of character?

At least he relents when Hannah explains her situation, and he sends her away with a hope that “the God of Israel grant your petition which you have made to him” (1 Sam. 1: 17).

Hannah’s Son

Sure enough, when the family gets back to Ramah and “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife” (1 Sam. 1:19), God watches over them and Hannah gives birth to a son at the appropriate time after that. She names him Samuel, for “I have asked him of the Lord” (1 Sam. 1:20).

The next time the family is set to go back to Shiloh, Hannah hangs back, saying that she doesn’t want to return until Samuel is weaned. Elkanah tells her that it’s her call, and he and the rest of the family head to Shiloh without her.

When Samuel is weaned, she brings him up to Shiloh along with a three-year-old bull (according to my study Bible, the Hebrew text has it as three bulls instead), some flour, and some wine. After the sacrifice is made, Hannah presents her son to Eli to fulfil her vow.

Abbie over at Better Than Esdras explains that the birth story may have been appropriated for Samuel by a later editor. The evidence, she argues, is in Hannah’s justification for her choice of name.

She cites 1 Sam. 1:20 and 1 Sam. 1:28. In both cases, the words Hannah uses suggest a pun not on the name of Samuel, but on the name of Saul:

Isn’t this outrageous? Somebody took a birth legend for Saul, and simply changed the details to make it about Samuel. Interestingly, Saul was from a different tribe (Benjamin) and was never a priest. Samuel’s relationship with Eli continues in the next chapter, and eventually he meets Saul, so I’m not really sure how this all fits together. (It’s entirely possible other details were changed, such as the location and the identity of the priest, to match established stories about Samuel and Eli.)

Judges 20-21: The punishment and redemption of Benjamin

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Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, reminds me that, way back in Genesis, we learned something about how Benjamin would come to be viewed. On his deathbed, Jacob “blessed” each of his sons, though his blessings seemed more to foretell the perceived character of their descendent tribes. Of Benjamin, he said:

Benjamin is a ravenous wolf
In the morning devouring the prey
And at evening dividing the plunder. (Genesis 49:27)

All the Israelites responded to the body parts they received in the mail. From Dan (far north) to Beersheba (far south), even Gilead on the eastern shore of the Jordan, they all gathered at Mizpah. We don’t seem to know quite where that is, but somewhere close to Jerusalem, which would put it in or near Benjaminite territory.

They ask the Levite to explain what happened, and the Levite answers:

I came to Gibeah that belongs to Benjamin, I and my concubine, to spend the night. And the men of Gibeah rose against me, and beset the house round about me by night; they meant to kill me, and they ravished my concubine, and she is dead. (Judges 20:4-5)

All true, but isn’t it interesting that he leaves out the part where where he threw her out to the mob and closed the door behind her?

When they hear of what happened, the Israelites vow not to return to their homes until they Benjamin is defeated. They will go up against Gibeah while ten men out of ever hundred (selected by lottery) keep the army provisioned.

The Battle

While the Israelites are gathered presumably in siege, they also sent men throughout the tribe of Benjamin to ask, “What wickedness is this that has taken place among you?” (Judges 20:12), and to ask them to give up the criminal Gibeah. Unfortunately, the Benjaminites decide to stand with Gibeah, and they march out to face the other Israelites.

Altogether, Israel came with 400,000 soldiers, while Benjamin managed 26,000 in addition to the 700 soldiers of Gibeah. Among the Benjaminites were 700 southpaws who were extremely good with a sling (I do not know what left-handedness has to do with sling-throwing, but this is apparently important).

Echoing Judges 1:1-2, the people ask God which tribe should go up against Benjamin first, and God replies, “Judah shall go up first” (Judges 20:18). This is apparently quickly forgotten, because the next day it is just generic “Isrealites” who go out to battle.

They also lose the day. The Benjaminites slaughter 22,000 Israelites.

The Israelites figure that went so well that they would repeat it on the second day, and they “again formed the battle line in the same place where they had formed it on the first day” (Judges 20:22). Courage they might have, but their feelings about going against fellow Israelites seem mixed. They begin to weep and they ask of God “Shall we again draw near to battle against our brethren the Benjaminites?” (Judges 20:23). God stands firm, they must go.

Perhaps it was God’s will, or perhaps it was because they did not modify their terrible battle strategy, but 18,000 Israelite soldiers are killed on the second day.

Benjamites take women of Shiloh as wives, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

Benjamites take women of Shiloh as wives, from the Morgan Bible, 1240-1250

Once again, they weep. Both times they weep and call on God, they do it at Bethel. Bethel, by the way, seems to have featured rather important in the stories of the patriarchs. It is where Abram/Abraham builds an altar in Gen. 12:8, and it is where Jacob had a prophetic dream (and then built an altar of sorts) in Gen. 28:18:19. According to my study Bible, it was “later one of the two principal sanctuaries of the northern kingdom” (p.321). And now, we’re told that it is where the ark of the covenant is being kept, still ministered by an apparently extremely old Phinehas (Judges 20:28).

Just in case you were wondering why the Israelites were leaving their post to go over to Bethel every time they started getting teary-eyed.

The people seem rather broken up, and they ask God once again if they really have to go up against Benjamin. God says yes, but reassures them that, on the third day, they will win.

The third day is a bit more complicated and seems to weave together two different versions of events. But the essential gist is that they pretend to go out the same as before, but secretly plant a few people in ambush around Gibeah. When the Benjaminites go after them, the Israelites pretend to flee, drawing them away from the city. With the soldiers too far to help, 10,000 Israelite soldiers took Gibeah behind them, killing everyone.

When the fleeing Israelites see the signal from the ambushers – smoke rising from the burning Gibeah – they turn around and face the Benjaminites. 18,000 Benjaminites were killed right away, with another 7,000 killed while trying to flee.

Only 600 Benjaminite soldiers were left, hiding for four months at the rock of Rimmon while the Israelites went around slaughtering every single Benjaminite they could find.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because Joshua used the same strategy in Josh. 8 after his initial attack on Ai failed.

The Tribal Preservation Society

At this point, all the Benjaminites are dead save for the 600 men hiding in Rimmon. Unfortunately for the tribe’s survival, the Israelites have vowed never to allow any of their daughters to marry a Benjaminite (Judges 21:1).

You can see how this might be an issue.

So the Israelites go to Bethel and start weeping again, this time building an altar and making offerings (in Judges 21:4, God is apparently cool with this). They are very concerned that, without any lady-folk, the tribe of Benjamin will die out.

Their first strategy is to find any Israelites who might not have made the vow. Helpfully, they also made a vow to kill anyone who did not respond to the mustering call at Mizpah (Judges 21:5).

They settle on Jabeshgilead, who had failed to answer the call. So they sent 12,000 men to slaughter all its inhabitants, including the women and child, sparing only 400 young virgins.

They then send word to the surviving Benjaminites letting them know that it’s all over and that they are out of danger and, hey, look, we got ladies for you!

And Creationists say that the “survival of the fittest” concept of evolution is cold…

But that’s only 400 girls and there are 600 surviving Benjaminites. Unwilling to give polyandry a try, this apparently poses a problem.

So they come up with a totally awesome solution that is definitely not rape-y at all! They tell the Benjaminites that they can go up to Shiloh during a yearly feast to God, set up an ambush in the vineyards, and kidnap any women who come out to dance the festival dances. This is a “solution” because it skirts around the vow not to “give” the Benjaminites any wives (see, because they weren’t given, they were taken! Har har, very clever).

And if this story sounds familiar, you’re probably a mythology buff. When the first Romans wanted wives for themselves, they abducted women from neighbouring groups during a festival.

God is apparently cool with just feeding women into the hands of Benjaminite rapists, because there’s no punishment for anyone – from the Levite to the Israelite nation – who does it. Even so, the book closes with a reminder that, “in those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

Joshua 22: Premature copying

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Satisfied with the conquest and ready to retire, Joshua calls up Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. He thanks them for sticking around as they had promised to Moses back in Numbers 32 and, with that, sends them home.

It doesn’t take long before there’s trouble, however. Once they get home, the three Transjordan tribes build themselves a nice big altar.

Given the focus of the Deuteronomistic Histories on the centralization of worship, this is obviously a rather big mistake. Or, at least, it seems so. When the rest of the Israelites hear about it, they quickly muster at Shiloh, ready to get back to the holy war-making that had only too recently ended.

JoshuaPhinehas goes on ahead, accompanied by ten chiefs (one from each of the remaining tribes). You may remember Phinehas, by the way, from Numbers 25 where he murdered two lovers for being of different ethnicities. By doing so, he stopped a plague that God had sent to the people and was rewarded with a perpetual priesthood for himself and his descendants. Lovely stuff.

So here he is again, rushing to defend the faith. Only this time, it seems that he’s angered too quickly. The Transjordan tribes defend their altar, saying that it isn’t real, it’s just a replica. They had no intention of ever using it to make sacrifices (knowing that this is only to be done at the tabernacle). Rather, they made it as a “witness.” They were concerned, they explain, that “in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘what have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? For the Lord has made the Jordan as a boundary between us and you'” (Deut. 22:24-25).

It’s hard to imagine how building a second altar, explicitly breaking God’s law (even if they never planned to actually use it), would serve this purpose. It’s more likely, I think, that the story is used as justification for the continued existence of an altar that the author grew up near and has fond childhood memories of.

It’s also strange, given the context of a time when God is explicitly speaking to the people, that they would fear that the other tribe might (falsely) read God’s purpose in geographical design. It makes me think of all the instances of people doing precisely this today, like a hateful old man claiming that Haiti’s earthquake was divine punishment, or the idea that pain in childbirth must be a consequence of sin.

The Transjordan tribes’ concern is even stranger because Deuteronomy has, so far, been pretty easy-going as far as who can participate in worship. As long as your testicles are uncrushed, foreigners generally seem to be accepted within the congregation. We see this, for example, in Deut. 23:7-8.

Either way, the inclusion of Phinehas here has me scratching my head a little. In Numbers 25, his jumping in to defend the purity of the faith was seen as an unambiguous good. Here, however, that very same attitude gets him into trouble (sort of – he’s never punished or anything, but it’s clear that he was wrong and it’s implied that he goes home rebuked). I wonder if the author(s) of this passage used him on purpose as a jab at the hard-lining ethics of Numbers. It’s not an open criticism, obviously, since Phinehas isn’t punished or explicitly scolded, but it does feel implied.

Regardless, the explanation is accepted and the Israelites go home satisfied.

There are a few remaining details that I thought I’d mention:

When asking the Transjordan tribes why they have built their altar, Phinehas&co ask them to consider what happened when Achan disobeyed God in Joshua 7. In that chapter, he is referred to as Achan son of Carmi in Josh. 7:1, and then Achan son of Zerah in Josh. 7:24. Here, he is listed once again as Achan son of Zerah (Josh. 22:20).

When Phinehas&co meet with the Transjordan tribes, they do actually talk first rather than just rushing in with their spears. (Good thing, too.) Rather than just kill the tribes for their perceived heresy, they first offer a compromise: “If your land is unclean, pass over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernale stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us” (Josh. 22:19). It’s an interesting concept – that the land itself might be corruptive (and not, say, the locals, since Phinehas has amply demonstrated what he does to people who allow themselves to be corrupted by locals).

In the King James Version, Josh. 22:22 refers to God as “God of gods.” In my RSV, the line goes: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord!” Does anyone know enough Hebrew to comment on what the original text says?

Lastly, I think that David Plotz made a very interesting point about how portable this passage makes the worship of God:

This is a very important moment for Judaism, and perhaps for all religions. It marks the end of Judaism as a faith bounded by place. From now on, it can go anywhere. […] The moment when a religion creates its first copy is, in some sense, when it starts being a religion. Until now, God has literally been with all the Israelites. He travels with them in the tabernacle, and they are together inside the holy ground of the camp. Now that the tribes are scattering across Israel, they face the problem of how to keep God with them everywhere. On the west side of the Jordan, they will abide near the tabernacle and hold on to  their direct connection to God. But the trans-Jordan tribes needed to create a substitute for that tabernacle (just as all Jews had to create a substitute after the Temple was destroyed 2,000 years ago). So, the altar by the riverside marks the birth of Judaism as a worldwide religion: From now on, the Israelites can travel and stay away from the tabernacle, because they can create a copy. They can take God wherever they go. And so can we.

If we assume an authorship date around the time of King Josiah, we do have some scattering of the Israelites and the Babylonian Exile itself less than half a century later. It seems that this passage shows a softening of the “centralized worship” stance, perhaps an understanding of what distant Israelites felt they needed to do in order to stay connected to their shared god.

It’s nice. I like it.

Numbers 31: But keep the virgins for yourselves

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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 25: What happens in Shittim stays in Shittim

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We’ve seen passages that have been interesting, and we’ve seen passages that have been profoundly boring. We’ve seen passages that have been refreshingly progressive, and, sadly, we’ve seen passages that have been horrifyingly xenophobic. Numbers 25 is the latter.

So the Israelites are loitering around in Shittim, bored, not much going on, and some of them start chasing after the local Moabite girls. These girls, they run with different gods and make theistic infidelity look mighty attractive, so the Israelites start sacrificing to the Moabite gods, specifically Baal.

God, of course, is mighty angry. He commands Moses to slaughter all the chiefs, killing them in place of their people. Moses, either disobeying God or deciding to play the over-achiever, calls up all his judges and tells them to each kill all of their men who have hung out with Baal.

The Midianite woman

Numbers 25 - CozbyWhile all this is going on – or possibly after – a Simeonite man by the name of Zimri, son of Salu, brought a Midianite woman to meet his family (presumably as a wife?). Her name was Cozbi – spelled with a Z and I to avoid confusion – daughter of Zur, prince among the Midianites.

This throws Phinehas, grandson of Aaron through Eleazar, into a rage. He leaves the Israelites to their weeping at the tent of meeting and follows Zimri back to his tent. There, presumably while Zimri and Cozbi were playing a Barry White album, Phinehas stabs them both with a spear.

This, of course, is very pleasing unto the Lord, and God decides to stop the heretofore unmentioned plague that he’d sent to kill the Israelites – but not before 24,000 people had already died.

So there’s some biblical morality for you – kill people, placate God.

As a reward for his double homicide, Phinehas is ensured a perpetual priesthood for himself and his descendants.

Just to round off the day, God tells Moses to go kill Midianites, “for they have harassed you with their wiles” (v.18). I’ve met a few cat-callers in the street who seem to have taken this view, and it ain’t pretty.

Wait, what happened to the Moabite women?

The story of how the Lord was angered by the Midianites, by Barbara Griffiths

The story of how the Lord was angered by the Midianites, by Barbara Griffiths

You may have noticed that we went from complaining about Moabite women to, very suddenly, being concerned about Midianite women. So what’s going on with that?

Well, seems like it’s political, yet again.

Way back in Exodus 2, Moses met and married a Midianite woman named Zipporah. This already led to some contention in Numbers 12. I think that the authors wanted to make very clear that – at least in this – What Would Moses Do does not apply.

As a closing note, Collins makes a very interesting point in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible:

The Phinehas story underlines some of the fundamental tensions in the Priestly tradition. On the one hand, that tradition was characterized by respect for life, human and animal, as is shown by the prohibition against eating meat with the blood, and the account of creation in Genesis 1. On the other hand, the violence of Phinehas, like the summary executions of dissidents like Korah, shows an attitude of intolerance, where the demands of purity and holiness take precedence over human life. The intolerance shown in this story has its root in the certitude of Phinehas and those he represents that their way is God’s way. (p.83)

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