On the Meaning of “To Make a Covenant”

What does it mean to “make a covenant”? Often times, people recognize that a covenant is an agreement between two parties. It is a type of treaty between a stronger party and a weaker party. In the Hebrew Bible, those two parties are Yahweh and Israel. A more literal translation of the text, though, would be to “cut a covenant.” Growing up I’ve heard many explanations for why the Hebrew text uses a verb meaning “to cut.” One explanation is that a covenant is “cut” with regard to tablets on which are the ten commandments. In other words, Yahweh “cut” a covenant by writing on stone and cutting the stone out of the mountain. For a while, this was satisfactory. There is, though, a more likely explanation. Here, I hope to demonstrate how the underlying concept behind “cut a covenant” is that of sacrificing an animal.

Because the Hebrew Bible was developed and composed within the ancient Near East, it is helpful to look toward other literary evidence from (1) the Near East more broadly and (2) more localized evidence. One text from the 8th century BCE offers such evidence. It is from the ancient Near East more broadly because it was produced by the Neo-Assyrian empire. It is more localized because the treaty is between the Neo-Assyrian empire and a king in Syria-Palestine. As an Aramean king, it was local too a certain extent because the Hebrew Bible speaks about interaction between Arameans and Israel. This means they would have experience intercultural exchange and shared ideas between their respective cultures. Thus, the treaty may help us to better understand notions of “covenant” because the Hebrew Bible and treaty are within a similar geographic region (Syria-Palestine), time period (8th century BCE), and there is evidence for interaction between Aramean kings and Israel.

The Neo-Assyrian Treaty

The treaty is between a Neo-Assyrian king and an Aramean king in Northern Syria (Arpad). It dates from about the 8th century BCE. The Neo-Assyrian king is Assur-nerari V. The Aramaean king is Mati’-ilu. In the treaty, the sovereign figure, Assur-nerari V, demands the support of subordinate figure, Mati’-ilu and his kingdom. In order to cement the treaty, they bring out a lamb: “[This lamb] has been brought to conclude the treaty of Aššur-nerari, king of Assyria with Mati’-ilu.”

The text, though, is careful to note that the lamb is not for sacrifice or a basic meal; rather, the lamb seems to symbolically represent  Mati’-ilu and his kingdom. Rather than acting upon the lamb, the treaty compares head of the lamb to Mati’-ilu:

This head is not the head of a spring lamb, it is the head of Mati’-ilu, it is the head of his sons, his magnates and the people of [his la]nd. If Mati’-ilu [should sin] against this treaty, so may, just as the head of this spring lamb is c[ut] off, and its knuckle placed in its mouth, [] the head of Mati’-ilu be cut off…” (SAA II 02, lines 21-28).

Likewise, the shoulder of the lamb is compared to Mati’-ilu:

This shoulder is not the shoulder of a spring lamb, it is the shoulder of Mati’-ilu, it is the shoulder of his so[ns, his magnates, and the people of his land. If Mati’-ilu] should sin against this[treaty], so may, just as the shou[lder of this spring lamb] is torn out and [placed in], the shoulder of Mati’-ilu, of his sons, [his magnates] and the people of his land be torn out and [placed] in[]” (SAA II 02, lines 29-35).

In other words, the head and shoulder of the lamb are metaphorically Mati’-ilu. In order to cement the treaty, the parties slaughter this lamb. This is the treaty says “just as the shoulder of this spring lamb is torn out.” In both cases, the treaty seems to symbolically represent the consequences of breaking the treaty. The slaughter of the lamb is a representation of what will happen to Mati’-ilu if he opposes the Neo-Assyrian empire.

From Neo-Assyrian Treaty to Covenant in the Hebrew Bible

Previously, we discussed how a Neo-Assyrian text utilizes the cutting of an animal in order to vividly illustrate the consequences of breaking the treaty. If one breaks a cut covenant, they will be destroyed and cut like the animal. One narrative in the Hebrew Bible which expresses a similar sentiment is Genesis 14-15. In Gen. 14:22-24, Abram (Abraham) expresses his devotion to Yahweh:

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share” (NRSV).

In this passage, Abram declares his dedication to Yahweh, who is the superior figure. While Mati’-ilu agrees to support the Neo-Assyrian empire in the treaty, Abram is demonstrated as supporting the deity Yahweh. Furthermore, this occurs after Abram defeats a series of tribal leaders. In Near Eastern thought, military victories were often understood as evidence of support from the divine realm. Whereas the treaty is an agreement to be dedicated to the Neo-Assyrian empire, Gen. 14 illustrates that Abram is dedicated to the deity. Both texts express the same notion of supporting the superior with whom a treaty is made, albeit in different ways. Gen. 14 occurs in the genre of a narrative, while Neo-Assyrian text occurs in the genre of a treaty/covenant.

In Gen. 15, Yahweh makes a series of commitments to Abram. Abram responds with a question: “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (NRSV; Gen. 15: 8). So, in accordance with the will of Yahweh, Abram gathers animals for sacrifice and he cuts them. This serves as a way to cements the treaty/covenant between Yahweh and Abram. Likewise,  the lamb serves as a way to cement the treaty/covenant between the Neo-Assyrian empire and Mati’-ilu.

What Genesis 15 doesn’t express clearly, though, is the underlying significance of Abram’s cutting of the animals. In light of treaty between Assur-narari V and Mati’-ilu, the cutting may be representative of what happens if the subordinate party, namely Abram, does not uphold his side of the treaty. Although the text is not necessarily implying that Abram will be cut like the animals if he breaks the treaty, the Neo-Assyrian treaty at least suggests a possible explanation for why an animal would be “cut” in context of a covenant or treaty.



SAA 02 002. Treaty of Aššur-nerari V with Mati’-ilu, King of Arpad (AfO 8 17+)


Created Order, the Deity, and Humanity

At the latest, the Hebrew Bible was compiled between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE. In other words, over 2200 years separate us from the cultures in which the Hebrew Bible was compiled. Furthermore, the Hebrew Bible reflects traditions as far back as the 11th centurie BCE. So, nearly 3000 years separate us from some aspects of the cultures and traditions reflected in the Hebrew Bible. This vast distance of times can make it difficult to understand what is happening in a text of the Hebrew Bible. After all, people living in ancient Syria-Palestine, or the ancient Near East more generally, did not see the world the same way as us. 

I hope to demonstrate this by offering a Psalm as a case study. In it, I want to show how many people in the ancient world understood created order, the divine realm, humanity, and politics to be intrinsically intertwined, if not the same things. This may be strange in a culture where people constantly refer to the separation between state and religion. In the ancient world, political was religious and religious was political.

Following is my own translation of verses (vss.) 2-5 of Psalm 89:

(2) The devotion of Yahweh is eternal; I sing to it from generation to generation. I make known your fidelity with my mouth (3) For I have declared: eternal devotion will be built; (in) the heavens you will establish your fidelity in them.

(4) I have cut a covenant with my chosen one; I have been sworn to my servant David. (5) Until eternity, I will establish your offspring; and I will build your throne from generation to generation – Selah.  

In vss. 2-3, a person is speaking the 1st person. The individual speaks towards Yahweh. In vss. 4-5 the speaker is Yahweh. Yahweh first speaks about his covenant with David. Following, he speaks towards the Davidic dynasty.

In order to illustrate how the various spheres overlap (divinity, created order, and humanity), I will first show where they appear within this small selection of verses. Regarding Yahweh, the deity, it is clear that he plays a role in this Psalm. He acts in such a way that demonstrates his fidelity and devotion. The human speaker even declares Yahweh’s fidelity and devotion. What exactly, though, does Yahweh do in order to demonstrate his fidelity and devotion as a deity?

Verse 3 is a helpful avenue to explore, as it assists in working out how the ancient author may have understood his world. In vs. 3 devotion is built and fidelity is established in the heavens. Both of these concepts, though, are abstract. In other words, they have no material reality. If vs. 3 is meant to recognize Yahweh’s devotion and fidelity, his actions must have some material benefit to humanity, not just a feeling of devotion and fidelity. When we consider how ancient Judeans may have seen the world, though, it becomes clear why vs. 3 exemplifies Yahweh’s devotion and fidelity.

As early as 1910, biblical scholars realized that ancient Judeans may have seen the sky as a real structure. Genesis 1:6 references the firmament, namely the sky. The word used to describe the firmament has to do with flattening a material like metal. Consequently, Genesis 1:6 may demonstrate that some ancient Judeans thought the sky was a large, metal structure above them (Driver 1910, 21; Speiser 1964, 7).

If this imagery is at play in Ps. 89:3, it offers insight into the logic of the writer. Devotion is “built” and fidelity is “established” in the heavens because Yahweh has built the sky and established the heavenly structure. Consequently, the heavenly structure holds back the pre-creation, primeval waters (Genesis 1:1-2).  In other words, a deity literally built a structure which (1) prevents a return to the primeval waters and (2) protects all humanity.

If this is the world view of the Psalmist, then it is quite reasonable for Yahweh’s devotion to be demonstrated through devotion being built and his establishing the heavens, namely the sky. Created order is sustained by the deity, which in turn allows humanity to live. What better way to show devotion and fidelity than to prevent a massive flood through building the sky?

While it clear that the divine realm, humanity, and created order are connected in some regard, how does it relate to politics?

Vss. 4-5 detail Yahweh’s covenant with David. Vs. 4 specifies that he made a covenant. Vs. 5 details how Yahweh will establish and build David’s line. Notably, vs. 5 uses the same words as in vs. 3. In vs. 3, “establish” and “build” are used in context of Yahweh’s building a giant structure, namely the sky. In vs. 5, those same verbs are used to describe Yahweh’s commitment to enable the line of David to maintain its places on the throne. In other words, Yahweh commits to supports the line of David in its political endeavors. He makes this commitment in the same way that he upholds the dome structure above humanity, namely the sky.

Use of the same words to describe (1) Yahweh’s upholding the sky and (2) covenant to the line of David suggests they are correlated. Although it is difficult to tell to extent to which they are correlated in these particular verses, one thing is clear: Yahweh’s role in created order is used to legitimize and justify the political authority of the Davidic line. In turn, David is to act as a special servant to the deity.

This sort of relationship between a king-figure and deity is consistent with other regions, groups, and Empires throughout the ancient Near East. Notably, though, it was not an issue to people in the ancient world. To them, it was completely normal for a king to be supported by the a deity, a deity who supported created order itself. In turn, it was completely normal for a king to serve the deity as a particularly special servant.

These roles, though, were one and the same. To be legitimized by the deity in political terms was also to be legitimized by the deity in religious terms. This legitimization of kingship was often times supported by recognition that the sponsoring deity also kept creation in order.

Many texts in the Hebrew Bible reflect the aforementioned notions. With this awareness, we should be careful to immediately assume that something is either religious or political. In many cases, it is both. They are one and the same. If we don’t work with this notion, we do a disservice to ancient Judeans. They were a people group who, like any culture, should have their own autonomous and independent voice. It is up to us to decide whether or not we want to hear and understand what their world was like and what they have to say.


Psalm 82: Translation and Comments

This short series of posts is part of my preparation for my Psalms final. Here, I offer a translation and other comments about Psalm 82.

  1. Yahweh[1] was positioned within the assembly of El [2]; in the midst of the gods, he will judge.[3]

2. “How long will ya’ll judge injustice [4]
And raise the faces of criminals?!?”[5] [6]

3. “Judge the poor and the orphan; the poor and hungry cause to be righteous
4. “Save the poor and the needy; from the hand of the wicked, pull [the poor and                      the needy].”[7]

5. “They have not known and they did not discern;
in darkness they walk continuously;
they will be made to totter, the whole foundations of the earth.”[8] [9]

6. “Indeed, I have spoken [10], “You are gods and sons of the most high you all       are!”;
7. however, like humanity, you will be mortal; like one of the kings, you will                          fall!”[11]

8. “Rise, Yahweh, and judge the land, for you will take as possession all the

[1] In the Hebrew text, we read the word elohim, which can reference either to God (=Yahweh), gods, other deities, ghosts, etc. The reason we translate “Yahweh” rather than “God” is because this Psalm is part of the Elohistic Psalter (Psalms 42-83. The Elohistic Psalter is a series of Psalms which used the name “Yahweh” very sparingly, at least in comparison to other Psalms. For example, Psalm 53 is part of the Elohistic Psalter. This Psalm is strikingly similar to Psalm 14. They differ, though, in that Psalm 53 uses the term elohim instead of Yahweh. While it seems pretty clear that many of these Psalms replace the name “Yahweh” with the title “God”, there is no conclusive reasoning to explain why the editors did this.

[2] In West Semitic myth, the highest deity was El. Naturally, as a divine king, he had an assembly of deities. The name/title El, though, may be problematic. It could refer to multiple things. First, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the divine council. Second, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the council of El, the highest deity in the pantheon.” Third, it could refer to “the council of El” in the sense of “the council of Yahweh, who is referenced as El.” I choose the first option because El, as the highest deity, would be normal in the ancient context of this Psalm. There is no reason to oppose the notion of El being the highest deity because it is a common idea in West Semitic religion and culture. In Ugaritic literature, Ba’al is arguably the primary deity; however, El, his father, is still above him in terms of authority and power. Thus, the idea that El was thought to be above Yahweh at some point in history in continuous with other West Semitic conceptions of the divine pantheon.

[3] Another important issue in this Psalm is that of the speaker and addressee. Verse 1, I think, is pretty straight forward. Because the speaker is (1) not defined and (2) there are no allusions to who may be the speaker, it is best to assume that the speaker is the narrator. As the Psalm goes forward, though, later verses may change how we think about who the speaker is. Like, the addressee is not clear either. It is not obvious who vs. 1 is directed towards. I suspect that verse 1 serves to illustrate the context of the rest of the Psalm.

I suspect this for a few reasons. First of all, nobody takes any actions within the verse. The first verb is a passive verb, meaning that Yahweh was stationed/standing. The agent of this action is not Yahweh; rather, somebody else made him to be standing or stationed among the council. Likewise, the second verb, meaning to judge, is in the YIQTOL form. In other words, it is an incomplete action. In terms of the tense, it means that the action that will occurs in the future. It has not occurred yet, though. Therefore, it sets a scene for a moment in time.

[4] The phrase “how long” (עד מתי) occurs 26 times. The majority of these occurrences occur in questions with a negative answer. Because of this, the use of the phrase may be intended to suggest to the reader that the outcome of the question is not good.

[5] The statement “raise the faces of criminals” means “to show favor to.” In Number 6:25, for example, the same words are used: “lift your face.” As a popular paradigmatic blessing, the Aaronic benediction is asking that the deity, Yahweh, show favor to the people. Likewise, in Ugaritic literature, “Ba’al tells deities to “Lift up, O gods, your heads from upon your knees…” as a way of implying boldness and independence… and reestablishment of honor” (Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament). Therefore, in this Psalm, the “council of El” seems to be accused of showing favor to the wicked. 

[6] Who is speaker of verse 2? Because Yahweh is positioned, standing, in the midst of the council of El, it seems reasonable that Yahweh is portrayed as the speaker. As for the addressee, vs. 2 uses two YIQTOL in the second-person masculine plural form. This means that the actions which he references have not been completed. They are ongoing. Also, the words are directed towards of group of characters, namely those in the divine council. Therefore, it is reasonable to view vs. 2 as Yahweh questioning the miscarriage of justice.

The verbs seem to be used in a sense of ongoing action in the moment. So, the deities are giving justice a bad-name currently, in an ongoing sense.

[7] Vss. 3-4 suddenly switch in presentation. Whereas vs. 2 was about what the deities currently do, vss. 3-4 use imperative forms. This means that in vss. 3-4, the deities are commanded to act in these particular ways. As imperative forms (commands), though, one must do something in the future in order to follow the command. So, is Yahweh now saying what they must do in the future? This is one possibility. First, he questions what they are doing now. Then, he commands what they must do in the future.

Another possibility is that he is quoting El’s words. In this situation, Yahweh first says, “What in the world are you deities doing!?!” Then, he following it by citing the original command to the council of Yahweh: “Serve justice to the weak and poor.” In the end, it is difficult to find conclusive evidence. For, there is nothing like, “Remember when El said.” Thus, the speaker is ambiguous, while the addressees, the deities, seem fairly obvious. For my translation, the best option seems to be Yahweh citing an older command of El.

[8] Before commenting on what vs. 5 means and the speaker/addressee, I will begin by commenting on verb structure of vs. 5. First, the first two verbs refer to a completed action. The actions of “not knowing” and “not discerning” seem to be situated in the past. Second, the next verb refers to an ongoing actions which describes their current state: they are in a state of continually walking in darkness, a metaphor for ignorance or lack of understanding. Third, the final verb, “to totter” may be understood as something which will be in the future: in the future, the foundations of the earth will totter.

The verbs in vs. 5, then, seem to cover a wide range of time by noting (1) actions in the past, (2) actions in this moment, and (3) actions which will take place.

As for the speaker, it seems reasonable to see Yahweh as the speaker. Recall, for example, that Yahweh asked “how long” in vs. 2. Now, in vs. 5, Yahweh may be describing that actions of what the deities actions do. The addressee, though, is harder to nail down. Unlike vss. 2-4, which were directed toward the deities through the use of second-person forms, vs. 5 references the deities in the 3rd person. Because the only other other character references (possibly) until vs. 5 is El, I suspect that the addressee of vs. 5 of El. In other words, Yahweh is now offering El a narrative of what how he saw his fellow deities behave.

[9] What does it mean for the “foundations of the earth” to totter? This has to do with the cosmogony of ancient Judeans. By “cosmogony”, I mean how they conceived of the mechanics and origins of the world and universe. In the ancient world, good behavior and justice was correlated to the state of created “stuff” (behavior did not cause good nature; it was simply correlated). So, by noting the tottering foundations of earth, the Psalmist (author) and speaker (Yahweh) express the miscarriage of justice on a cosmic scale.

[10] Vs. 6 returns to the issue of speaker: who says, “I have said”? If we assume from the beginning of the Psalm that El is not present (we only have Yahweh and the divine council), then Yahweh is the speaker. If we continue with the notion that El is the supreme deity in this Psalm, then the speaker must be El. For it only makes sense that they most prestigious deity would have the authority to deem deities “gods and sons of the most high”, namely El. As I mentioned previously, El was considered the father of Ba’al in Ugaritic myth. Thus, El seems to be the speaker here.

[11] Vs. 7 stand in contrast to vs. 6: “even though ya’ll are divine beings, I’m going to change that status.” How does this demotion take place, though? First, the root from “be mortal” is, in its simplest form, “to die.” So, El may be saying “like humanity, you will die.” While there is nothing wrong with this, I prefer “like humanity, you will be mortal.” I prefer this translation because humanity does more than just die. Humanity lives. In the future they die. Because the Psalmist says that they will be like humanity, it is reasonable to assume that they are going to be demoted in the sense that they are now mortal. Before, they didn’t have to worry about death because they were immortal. Now, being made like humanity, they must worry about death. Even though they have to worry about death, the underlying implication is that they are made to be mortal.

The second portion demotes the deities to be like kings who fall. One possibility for the metaphor is that it could be utilizing the notion of kingship throughout the ancient world. As any historian or reader would know based on a quick read of a history of the ancient Near East, there were always kings rising to power and falling to power. So, by noting that the deities will “fall”, the implication may be that they will no longer be in power. Unlike before, when they ruled over territories as divine beings, it is now made clear that they will lose their authority and right to rule.

This is accomplished through falling from heaven, demotion, and loss of social status (Is. 14).

[12] In vs. 8, Yahweh is clearly not the speaker because Yahweh is referenced. Because the other deities have been condemned, El seems to be the speaker. He addresses Yahweh. The idea of “possessing” the nations is important. In West Semitic religion and culture, individual deities ruled over particular regions. With the demotion of deities in Psalm 82, though, Yahweh is the sole remainder of the “council of El.” So, Yahweh is now the only one left to rule over the nations. Consequently, Yahweh will “possess” the earth in the sense of inherit. He will inherit the responsibility of kingship among all the nations.


A Translation of Psalm 93

In this translation of Psalm 93, my goal is not to present a ‘literal’ translation. Rather, my goal is to demonstrate the historical context and understanding of this ancient Judean Psalm through the translation itself. Furthermore, this is primarily an attempt to provide clarity for myself in my understanding and interpretation of this Psalm. That said, some of it may be unclear. I still hope it is enjoyable.

1a. Yahweh is King!
1b. In majestic attire he is clothed,
1c. He is clothed, namely Yahweh, in mighty attire.
1d. He himself is girded [for war].

1e. Moreover, he established the world
1f. It will not be shaken (or it is immovable).

2a. Your throne was established from a time of old
2b. From eternity you are.

3a. The rivers looked up to Yahweh,
3b. The rivers raised their thunders (in the sense of a loud war cry)
3c. The rivers will grow their crashing! (in the sense of more war cries.

4a. Great than the thunders of the sea,
4b. And more majestic than the breakers of the sea,
4c. Is Yahweh, mighty in the high place.

5a. They have greatly confirmed your throne (or testimonies)
5b. Your temple is befitting for the holy ones (or holiness)

5c. Yahweh is for all days!

Although it may be difficult to detect, this Psalm contains much mythical imagery. For example. the idea of a deity girding himself in might is a common idea throughout the ancient Near East. So, Yahweh is not just putting on an idea of might; rather, Yahweh is putting on a physical thing, namely might as armour.

In 1e-f, we see that Yahweh established the world! He established the world in such a way that no other deity is able to come shake it. Importantly, the notion of establishing the world is directly related the kingship. So, when Yahweh establishes the world so that it is immovable, he is also establishing his rule over the world.

Verses 2a-b confirm this. Here, though, somebody is speaking directly to YHWH. Due to this Psalm’s affinities with language from older West Semitic compositions, some have dated this text as far back as the 10th century BCE (cf. Shenkel, 1965). This means the Psalms may have actually been used for worship in the ancient world. Here, then, the people using this Psalm may have been involved. Responding to Yahweh’s status as a divine warrior and establishment of the world, they speak directly to him. They do this by acknowledging the antiquity of Yahweh.

In 3a-c, the myth of the defeat of the sea is told. Throughout ancient myth, the waters are often times the antagonist. We see the same thing in this Psalm. The Psalm begins by recounting the account: the waters looked towards Yahweh, and they raised their thunder! Now, they will make more thunder with their crashing. The question of noise is important because throughout ancient myth, deities often turn against those who make noise. We see this in Enuma Elish and Atrahasis. So, here the waters are the antagonist because they will become louder by crashing more.

In 4a-c, Yahweh is said to be great than all the mighty and majesty of the seas. In light of the idea of noise as a form of rebellion, 4a-c shows that this rebellion of nothing for Yahweh. After all, Yahweh is mightier than the seas. His high place, namely his temple, is so far above the rebellious waters that they pose no threat to him, for he is mightier than them.

Like 2a-b, we see more speech directed towards Yahweh in 5a-b. Here, they first comment that Yahweh’s majesty over and above the waters confirms his status as divine ruler. Regarding the choice of throne as opposed to testimonies, this is a complicated argument which I will not lay out here. If you are interested let me know. Following, the speaker(s) comment that Yahweh’s temple is befitting for the holy ones, or holiness. Again, this is a complicated issue. Even so, the point is that Yahweh’s temple represents the strength of the divine warrior.

Finally, 5c concludes with a declarative statement. It is like putting the cherry on top of the McFlurry.

Pseudepigrapha Saturday: Pseudo-Phocylides

Introduction to the Text: 

Pseudo-Phocylides is a text of maxims for people in their daily lives. Written between 1st century CE and BCE, the author wrote under the name Phocylides, an Ionic poet who lived in the 6th century BCE, in order to bolster the importance and value of the text. Unlike the original Phocylides, Pseudo-Phocylides merged Jewish and Greek ideas. Consequently, Pseudo-Phocylides is now “representative of that universalistic current in ancient Judaism” (Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume II; P. W. van der Horst, “Pseudo-Phocylides”, p. 569).

The maxims within the 230 line poetry are remarkably poignant (at least from my modern perspective). As I read Pseudo-Phocylides, I considered how the ideas within the text are actually extremely valuable to our own society. Yet, I also recognized that many of my initial interpretations were very wrong. Certain ideas in the 21st century, for example, did not mean the same thing at the turn of the millennium.

The Threshold and Sacred Ritual: 

Line 24a is the perfect example of something which, in the 21st century, means something very different than it did in the 1st century.

Line 24a: Receive the homeless in (your) house…

Initially the maxim seems straight forward. If a homeless person needs a place to briefly stay or a place to eat, invite them in for a meal. In my interpretation, the focus is on the concept and action of inviting somebody into my house, a relatively simple and mundane act, albeit significant from a social perspective. Reception of this text in my own mind draws out the social emphasis, not any concrete, spatial reality.

In the ancient world, though, receiving the homeless was an incredibly significant act. In order to be received into a household, the homeless person had to cross a threshold, namely the entrance of the household. The threshold “defines a basic opposition between people who own a dwelling place and people who don’t”, a boundary which marks distinction between those with a dwelling place and those without. Now, in religious Greek thought, beggars all come from Zeus. To receive a beggar beyond the threshold (door) and into the dwelling place was a sacred, ritual act (Pietro Giammellaro 2013, 162). So, by receiving a beggar and permitting him/her to cross the threshold, they performed a sacred, ritual act of worship.

Because Pseudo-Phocylides was written within a Hellenistic context, namely a Jewish and Greek context, we should assume that a similar conceptual framework informed the reality of the author. The maxim “receive the homeless in (your) house” is not merely a maxim calling for good deeds; rather, it calls for sanctified and sacred ritual act within a physical space, which results in direct worship Yahweh. In terms of Judaism, it was an act which sanctified the name of God, as the homeless were implicitly sent from Yahweh.

As these two interpretations demonstrate, the conceptual framework of the origin of the text is incredibly valuable. My original interpretation highlighted how it was a good deed and socially beneficial to receive the homeless. My interpretation informed by historical and textual studies of Greek culture highlighted how it was a sacred, ritual act to receive the homeless. These two interpretations are both valid; however, the latter allows us to more fully engage with the mind, context, and intentions of the author of Pseudo-Phocylides. For this reason, it is always important to consider the original conceptual environment of any text.

Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part VII)

The following is part of series exploring the narrative of P material and its explanation of why Nadab and Abihu are killed in Leviticus 10. Such a study is important because theology often misuses verse like Leviticus 10:1-3 to demonstrate the un-malleability and impossibility of keeping Torah, resulting in antinomianism. In order to demonstrate the true focus of Nadab and Abihu’s death, I will compare two passages of P material, Leviticus 8:1 – 10:3 and Exodus 29 – 30:10. These pericopes, with a close reading, provide a reasonable explanation for the death of Aaron’s son.

As mentioned in the previous post, Leviticus 9 and Exodus 29:38-46 are both concerned with consecrating the altar. The consecration is means for the glory of Yahweh to appear. This trajectory also carries a notable difference between the two books. Exodus 29:38-46 focuses on the establishment of God’s consecration of the altar and his appearance to the people. Verses 38, 42, and 45 indicate that the appearance of Yahweh is a continual occurrence in Israel as they perform the sacrifices and offerings in verse 38-41. Verses 38 and 42 use tāmîd, a term for continuance and unceasingness (Holladay). Partnered with the dwelling of Yahweh in verse 45, it is clear that the focus is on the continual presence of him and ritual which purifies the Tent of Meeting to enabling him consecrate and dwell.

Leviticus 9, though, takes place during a narrative sequence and is more focused on the present completion of the consecration of the altar through Yahweh’s appearance. Unlike Exodus 29:38-46, which focuses on the future and continual instructions for a consecrated altar, Leviticus 9 focuses on the initial consecration of the altar. Although the long term rituals of consecration may be in view, they are periphery. Leviticus 9 consistently uses the waw consecutive imperfect, indicating the narrative nature of the passage. And while the glory of Yahweh appears, the moment is in view rather than Yahweh’s continual presence.

As this brief analysis of Leviticus 9 and Exodus 29:38-46 demonstrates, both passages are focuses on Yahweh’s glory appearing and the ritual therein. Exodus focuses more on the future issues with his continual presence while Leviticus focuses on the monumental moment of Yahweh’s appearance.

The next post will discuss Exodus 30:1-10 and Leviticus 10:1-3.



Exodus and Leviticus: A Parallel Reading (Part VI)

The following is part of series exploring the narrative of P material and its explanation of why Nadab and Abihu are killed in Leviticus 10. Such a study is important because theology often misuses verse like Leviticus 10:1-3 to demonstrate the un-malleability and impossibility of keeping Torah, resulting in antinomianism. In order to demonstrate the true focus of Nadab and Abihu’s death, I will compare two passages of P material, Leviticus 8:1 – 10:3 and Exodus 29 – 30:10. These pericopes, with a close reading, provide a reasonable explanation for the death of Aaron’s son.

As noted in the pervious post, the trajectories go in different directions after Leviticus 8:36 and Exodus 29:37. Prior to these verses, aside from differences regarding when the altar is to be consecrated, they are quite similar. How, though, do the trajectories of the remainder of these sections relate to each other?

Milgrom notes an important relationship between Leviticus 8’s narrative and Exodus 29: “there is a good ancient Near Eastern precedent for the Israelite writer to have inserted his own choice of words and idioms when he described the fulfillment of a command. Indeed, were it not for the other deviations adduced here, which show that Lev 8 represents a viewpoint different from that of Exod 29, it would even be possible to argue… that Exod 29 and Lev 8 could have been written by the same author” (547-548). So just as Milgrom recognizes the nearness of the two portions of text, I do. And as he notes, they are from different perspectives.

While the narrative in Leviticus 9:1-24 and Exodus 29:38-46 are the paramount example of differing perspectives, they operate on parallel trajectories. First, both perspectives reflect cultic service after the consecration of the altar. Leviticus places the consecration in 8:15, and Exodus 29:36-37 makes official a consecrated altar. Second, both perspectives find their climax in Yahweh appearing to the people.

…the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. – Lev 9:23b

“And I will meet there with the sons of Israel, and it shall be consecrated by My glory.” – Exod 29:43



Establishing that the glory of Yahweh will appear as the two sections parallel each other raises an important question. How do the unique perspectives on the consecration of the Tent of Meeting actually parallel and interact with each other?

In the next post, I will analyze the two perspectives, how they are similar, and how they differ.