Cross: Baalism, Priestly Rivalry, Tenting

I’m still reading Frank Moore Cross’ Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic.  I have three items for today:

1.  In “Yahweh and Baal”, Cross talks about Elijah’s stand against Baal worship in the ninth century B.C.E.  Israelite Yahwism had long absorbed elements of Baalism, as YHWH, like Baal, was associated with thunder and warfare (e.g., Sinai, Psalm 29, etc.).  But, by the ninth century, “the religion of Yahweh began to give way to the popular cult of Ba’l”, and “Mythical elements in the old language of the Yahwistic tradition were no longer harmless, but were used as conduits through which to introduce the full, sophisticated mythology of Canaanite Ba’l” (page 191).  The danger, for Cross, was that Yahweh would become an ordinary member in the Canaanite pantheon.  Cross does not explain what he means by this.  Perhaps he is saying that the Israelites would consider both YHWH and Baal as members of the pantheon, rather than exalting YHWH alone.  Or Cross may think that the Israelites were bringing YHWH down to the level of Baal, who was not the highest deity in the Canaanite pantheon, but was an underling to El.  In this particular chapter, Cross points out that El ruled with Baal at his right hand, that Baal was an intercessor before El, and that Baal’s place—Mount Zaphon—was not a place where final and authoritative decrees were made.  El was higher than Baal in authority.

Cross presents a scenario in which YHWH shed Baalist characteristics and reaffirmed elements of El, which may have reflected an attempt to solidify YHWH’s identification with El, the highest god.  In I Kings 19, which Cross appears to date to the ninth century (page 166), Elijah is at Mount Horeb and beholds a thunderstorm and the shattering of rocks.  But the text denies that YHWH was in the thunderstorm, and it affirms instead that YHWH was in a still, small voice.  Here, YHWH is being divorced from the thunder—which was an aspect of Baalism that YHWH absorbed—and he is identified with words or judgment, which was the domain of El.  Whereas Baal spoke through a storm, El arrived at decisions at the divine council, and he communicated his will to humanity through dreams or visitations.  In I Kings 22, there is a focus on YHWH’s role of decision-making in the divine council, and so there seems to be a move to highlight YHWH’s similarity to El.  For Cross, I Kings 19 is interacting with the Sinai tradition in Exodus 33-34, for Elijah resembles Moses in those chapters (i.e., Elijah hides in a rock, like Moses).  But the message of I Kings 19 is that God no longer is present in storms, as he was at the Sinai revelation.  Rather, he decides issues in a divine council and communicates his will through prophets.

2.  In “The Priestly Houses of Early Israel”, Cross talks about Julius Wellhausen’s linear scenario regarding the priesthood, as well as rivalries among priests, which are reflected in biblical stories.  Wellhausen posits three stages of Israelite priesthood.  First, there was the early age, which lacked a fixed, hereditary priesthood.  Second, during the time of the monarchy, the Levites emerged as the dominant priests in Jerusalem.  Third, during the post-exilic period, the Levites were subordinate to the Aaronides.

Unlike Wellhausen, Cross believes that the Aaronides were a significant factor in Israel’s monarchic period, for he thinks that David made the odd move of appointing two high priests—Zadok and the Shilohite priest Abiathar—in order to appease different priestly factions, namely, the Aaronides and the Mushites.  Consequently, Cross maintains that Zadok was an Aaronide rather than a pagan priest from Canaanite Jerusalem (as some have argued).  Similarly, Cross affirms that Jeroboam made the same sort of move when he recognized the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan.  Bethel was an Aaronide sanctuary, for Judges 20:26-28 places Phinehas the Aaronide in Bethel, plus the Golden Calf story in Exodus 32 appears to concern the Bethel sanctuary (according to Cross and others), and it associates Aaron with that cult.  But Dan was a Mushite sanctuary because Judges 18:30 connects it with “Jonathan son of Gershom son of Moses.”

That forms a bridge to the next issue in this chapter: the polemics among the priests.  There is a tradition that Moses was the founder of the priestly order, for, in Exodus 33:7-11, “Moses and Joshua act as priests in the Tent of Meeting in violation of all the Priestly law” (page 197), plus Deuteronomy 33:8 appears to say that Moses should receive the Urim and the Thumim.  But there are other traditions in which Aaron is upheld as the high priest.  And the adherents of the traditions take jabs at each other.  Cross believes that Moses was closely associated with the Midianites, for traditions to that effect persisted in the Hebrew Bible, notwithstanding times when the Midianites were stigmatized, showing that such traditions about Moses were old and well-established.  Numbers 25 has a story that condemns Israelite intermarriage with the Midianites, depicts Moses as inept against Israelite apostasy, and presents the Aaronide Phinehas as the hero of the story.  For Cross, this story is criticizing Moses and his closeness with the Midianites, even as it exalts the Aaronides.  But Numbers 12 upholds the authority of Moses against criticisms by Midian and Aaron of his intermarriage with a Cushite, which Cross interprets as a Midianite.  In this story, Moses is defended against detractors.

3.  Cross discusses the Hebrew words sh-k-n (to “tent”) and y-sh-b (to “dwell”) on pages 245-246.  I do not entirely understand this discussion, but I will do my best in writing about it.  Cross is talking about II Samuel 7, in which David desires to build God a house in which God could dwell, but God does not want him to do so.  YHWH says through Nathan that he does not want to dwell in a house, for he moved about in a tent.  Sh-k-n in places is used to describe God’s imminence in his tent shrine, and P uses that word to “designate the presence of the transcendent god in his sanctuary.”  Deuteronomy, however, uses sh-k-n for God’s name in the sanctuary, not God himself—and Cross points out that the Jerusalem Amarna letters (from the Late Bronze Period) have the same sort of idiom.

Cross’ argument appears to be that there was a distinction between sh-k-n and y-sh-b, but that there are other places where the two words are parallel and similar in meaning, and where y-sh-b relates to God sitting on his throne.  Cross says that the two words were parallel in meaning during the time that the oracle in II Samuel 7:5ff. was composed.

I do not know where exactly Cross is going with this.  But I am reminded of John Van Seters’ argument that all of II Samuel 7 is Deuteronomistic, whereas many (including Cross) argue that only parts are.  The Deuteronomist did not believe that God dwelt in a sanctuary, and, in II Samuel 7:5-6, God disagrees with David building him a house in which he could dwell, hearkening back to the days when he roamed about freely, in a tent.

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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