Tigay on the Cherem

In this post, I will talk about Jeffrey Tigay’s Excursus 18 in his Jewish Publication Society commentary on Deuteronomy, entitled “The Proscription of the Canaanites”.  The issue is this: In Deuteronomy 7:1-2; 7:16; and 20:15-18, God commands the Israelites to destroy all of the Canaanites in Canaan.  In Deuteronomy 20:10-15, however, God has a different policy for the cities right outside of Canaan: In their cases, the Israelites are to offer them terms of peace, and the Israelites can capture the cities, kill all the men, and take the women, children, cattle, and food as spoil if these cities refuse to surrender; if the cities do surrender, however, then they become tributaries and servants to the Israelites.  Here are two items:

1.  Tigay argues that there are different ideas in the Hebrew Bible about what the Israelites are to do with the Canaanites.  Exodus, for example, “prescribes expulsion rather than annihilation” for them (page 470).  Moreover, there is a scholarly argument that Deuteronomy 20:15-18 was added later.  According to this view, Deuteronomy 20:10-14 said that the Israelites were to offer terms of peace to every city, and, because it does not specify which ones, that must mean that the Israelites were to do so to cities inside and outside of Canaan.  But someone later added v 15, which explicitly states that vv 10-14 only applies to the cities outside of Canaan, as well as vv 16-18, which mandates utter annihilation of the Canaanites (and, depending on how one interprets v 16, everything else that breathes, namely, animals).  For adherents of this belief that vv 15-18 was added later, that explains certain features of the biblical narrative: Why does Joshua 11:19-20 point out that no Canaanite city surrendered to the Israelites—if these cities were not even offered a chance to surrender?  Why do Judges, Kings, and Joshua 15-17 present the Canaanites as people “subjected to forced labor” (page 471)?  The answer of some scholars is that these stories reflect the time before Deuteronomy 20:15-18 was added—when it was believed that the Israelites were to offer the Canaanites terms of surrender, and make the Canaanites servants to Israel.  But Joshua 6-11 (except for 11:19-20) reflects the cherem point of view of Deuteronomy 20:15-18.

Why was vv 15-18 added to Deuteronomy 20?  Tigay proposes that vv 15-18 reflects an attempt to explain why there were no more Canaanites around, in a time when “the Canaanites had ceased to exist as a discernable element of the population of Israel” (page 471).  In this view, the author of (or adder to) Deuteronomy realized that Exodus and Numbers said that the land was to be rid of the Canaanites, and that (according to Exodus and Deuteronomy) idolatrous people and cities were to be annihilated, and so he concluded that God commanded the Israelites to kill all of the Canaanites—which was why they were no longer around.  But, according to Tigay, in contrast to the way that other ancient Near Eastern nations (such as Moab) and parts of the Hebrew Bible regarded cherem, Deuteronomy did not view it as a sacrifice of a city to God, but rather as a way to “prevent the debasement of Israelite conduct” (page 472).  When I look at Moshe Weinfeld’s Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School, we will see in more detail the scholarly view that Deuteronomy was secular and did not care much for sacrifice.

2.  Source critics today can say that Deuteronomy 20:10-14 was later supplemented by Deuteronomy 20:15-18, and that’s why we can conclude that Deuteronomy originally was saying that the Israelites were to offer the Canaanites terms of peace.  But the rabbis and medieval Jewish interpreters also believed that the Canaanites were offered terms of peace.  How did they arrive at this conclusion, when they did not believe that Deuteronomy 20:15-18 was added by a later hand, but rather regarded all of Deuteronomy 20 as a unified whole?  Maimonides states that, when v 15 says “Thus you shall deal” with the non-Canaanite cities, the “thus” refers to the policy in v 14 of sparing women, children, and cattle.  Maimonides’ idea is that Deuteronomy 20 commands the Israelites to offer all of the cities terms of peace—Canaanite and non-Canaanite—but, if the non-Canaanite cities refuse to surrender, the Israelites are to slaughter the males only, whereas, if the Canaanite cities refuse to surrender, the Israelites are to kill all of the Canaanites.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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