Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rash vows

Dr. Richard Hess shared some email correspondence with me which, with his permission, I'm posting:

On what Mark S. Smith argues I have no problem.  I read him as indicating both that Deut 32 originally identified two different deities and as indicating that there was a myth tradition behind what Deut 32 purports to read.  Of course, I am not convinced of this but there are a good number of scholars who do follow it (as there are some who don’t). 
I am glad to see that Mr. Stark is citing the correct Dead Sea Scroll fragment, 4QDeutj (not 4QDeutq which does not preserve this reading; he should not cite it at all as it does not demonstrate his point of plural gods), although all of these fragments can be confusing sometimes.  Yes, it is possible to translate elohim as “gods,” but it is not the way it is usually translated nor is it to be preferred here.   The reason is because neither the Masoretic Hebrew text nor any of the Septuagint variants, nor any other ancient witness so translates it.  Of course the MT and most LXX manuscripts do read “sons of Israel.”  A few LXX witnesses read huion theou.  Since you have studied Greek, you will recognize that theou is the singular genitive.  So only one DSS fragment reads elohim and that does not require a plural interpretation.  It can be singular or plural.  Because of the common understanding of elohim as most frequently singular, and because the other ancient versions uniformly read a singular (“god” or “Israel”), Tov translates this phrase as “sons of God.”  Smith renders it “divine beings” in his Early History of God (2nd edition) p. 32.   And that is how I would translate it.
As to the antecedent in 2 Kings 3:26, I refer to the first explicitly identified 3rd person masc. sing. antecedent who is the Edomite king in 3:27.  That would be the first identified figure.  It is true that the “he” in “he took his first born son” refers to the king of Moab.  However, that is not the “first explicitly identified 3rd masc. sing. antecedent.  This occurs at the end of v. 36 and is the king of Edom.   It is an important point because it certainly does allow for the “his” in “his firstborn son” to refer to the King of Edom.  Let’s see, we have at the end of v. 26 and beginning of v. 27 sequentially in the Hebrew references of 3 masc. sing. figures: (1) king of Edom – (2) king of Moab - (3) his son (which I contend refers to the king of Edom’s son).  Compare this with Gen 4:26 where an identical syntactical construction can be found: “To Seth was born a son and he called his name”:  (Seth –) (1) son – (2) Seth – (3) his name.  Syntactically you have the same construction where the last referent (the “his X”) refers back to the first referent (king of Edom or Seth’s son), not to the second referent (king of Moab or Seth).   This is not customary English syntax but it does occur in Hebrew.
But as I say it is the context that remains the crux of the argument.  As to the question of reconstruction.  Indeed, everyone must reconstruct.  Human sacrifice to a god is a reconstruction.  Wrath coming from G/god is a reconstruction.  The question is not whether we need to reconstruct something, but what is most likely.
Mr. Stark writes:  “The answer to his question, “Where is there an example of this in the West Semitic world?” is, right here, 2 Kings 3” 
I can think of no finer example of a circular argument.  He assumes what he sets out to prove and does so in a single sentence. 
Mr. Start writes:  “Let’s put that question back to Hess: Where is there an example of a king offering an enemy prince as a burnt sacrifice in the West Semitic world? The answer is nowhere.” 
The question is a good one but the answer that Mr. Stark provides is not accurate.  Scholars such as Fales and Liverani have written much on the use of terror as a propaganda mechanism in ancient warfare and especially in the Neo-Assyrian annals, which just around the time of the events described in 2 Kings 3.  There was no greater proponent of calculated terror than Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C.)  In the Habur and Middle Euphrates Valleys the leaders (kings and princes) of Beth-eden revolted while Ashurnasirpal was on campaign elsewhere.  He reversed his troops and marched on the rebels without warning.  He horribly mutilated the leaders before murdering them.  Hearing and seeing such atrocities, the Habur and Middle Euphrates never rebelled again during his reign.  You cannot read the Assyrian annals and especially those of Ashurnasirpal without noting the atrocities her perform, impaling enemies on stakes in front of their cities (e.g., ANET p. 276).  Nor was the ritual-like slaughter of leaders and military personnel (and others) limited to the events themselves.  They were recorded in written and pictorial form for others to read and fear.  From the time of Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 B.C.) plate 368 on pl28 of ANEP displays bodies of locals impaled on poles around the town of that the Assyrians were besieging.  While I can find no examples of such human sacrifice by a leader to turn divine wrath on the enemy, there are plenty of contemporary examples that fit the picture of a king brutally killing one of his opponents in order to discourage, dishearten, and strike fear into his enemy’s hearts.  The suggested scenario for 2 Kings 3 fits well into this overall picture.  Like the Assyrian propaganda, such killing was intended to demoralize the Edomites.
The example from Jephthah is indeed one of promising a sacrifice – a human sacrifice as it turns out – in order to fulfill a vow after a military victory.  God gives the victory and Jephthah follows through on his rash vow.  I am not sure what this is supposed to prove in regard to 2 Kings 3.  The point here is not a promise made in advance or even on the wall in the midst of the battle.  No such promise is mentioned.  Nor in the Jephthah story does the death of a human being occasion the “wrath” and the subsequent departure of the enemy.  That there were vows, even rash vows that could involve the sacrifice of one’s own family members, I will readily concede.  But that is not the scene on the wall of the Moabite king.  There is no mention of a vow.  There is no mention of a deity. There is no fulfillment of the promise after the victory.
Now I see you have just sent me another email with a question about lines 11-12 of the Mesha stele.  I understand human sacrifice as a specific ritual to a specific deity for a specific purpose.  While exterminating a town might be later described as done to or for a deity, it would not normally be considered human sacrifice.  However, the point is moot because lines 11-12 should be translated (here following Ahituv, Echoes from the Past, Carta, 2008, p. 394):  “…I took it and slew all the people [and] the city became the property of Chemosh and Moab.” 
This translation assumes that the form of the verb became (h-y-t) is a feminine and refers to the town/city, not to the people (in which case it would be masculine).  

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