Tuesday, June 11, 2019

On donkeys and divination

I've often commented on the "talking donkey" episode in Numbers because it's a favorite target of atheists. I'd like to make another observation. As Kenneth Way documents in his groundbreaking monograph on the significance of donkey's in the ancient Near East (Donkeys in the Biblical World: Ceremony and Symbol), donkeys were, among other things, objects of divination. And Balaam is a diviner. At least his career trades on his reputation as a diviner. He might be a charlatan or the real deal. In that context, I doubt the role of the donkey is coincidental. God makes an object of divination rebuke the diviner. So there's divine irony in how God cuts Balaam down to size. That's a nuance modern readers will miss since we don't associate donkeys with divination.

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