Psalm 74

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 74.

Psalm 74:8 says (in the KJV): “They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land. ”

The Hebrew word translated as “synagogues” is moadei, which is the plural construct form of the word moedMoed in the Hebrew Bible can refer to a religious assembly, a feast, a congregation, or a designated time.

The Septuagint translates the verse as “They said in their heart, their kin together, ‘Come and let us burn all the feasts of God from the land.'”  The Septuagint understands moadei in this verse to mean “festivals”.  It presumes that Psalm 74:8 relates to what appears to be the topic of Psalm 74 as a whole: Israel’s sadness at the destruction of the Temple, her perplexity as she wonders when God will help her, and her attempts to reassure herself as she reminds herself of God’s displays of power in the past.  For the LXX, the festivals were held in the Temple, which is destroyed in Psalm 74, and so Psalm 74:8 most likely relates to the destruction of the Temple.  Interpreters who relied on the Septuagint, such as Augustine and Theodore of Mopsuestia, had this understanding.

But there is another view: that Psalm 74:8 is acknowledging the existence of places outside of the Temple in the land of Israel where Israelites gathered together to worship.  For one, Psalm 74:8 says that the moadei were “burned”, and it makes more sense to say that a place of assembly was burned rather than a festival.  Second, the MT has “in the land”, which implies that these moadei are throughout the Holy Land, not only at the Temple.

But then the problem of the date of Psalm 74 arises.  When were there places of worship outside of the Temple in the land of Israel?  In II Kings 4:23, we read that Northern Israelites in the time of Elisha could go to a prophet on a Sabbath or a new moon.  But would these places of worship exist in 587 B.C.E., at the time when the Temple was destroyed?  Josiah had gotten rid of other sanctuaries besides the Temple, and a predominant theological school of the Bible, the Deuteronomists, opposed those sanctuaries.  Psalm 74 may be related to the Deuteronomistic school in some manner, for Psalm 74:7 refers to the Temple as the dwelling-place for God’s name, and the Deuteronomists were emphatic that the sanctuary was to be a dwelling-place of God’s name, not God himself (Deuteronomy 12, 14, 16).  Would Psalm 74 support sanctuaries other than the Temple?

Others have noted that there were places of prayer in Israel’s exilic and post-exilic times.  Zechariah 7:3-5 and 8:19 refer to fasts, which the Jews practiced even when there was not a Temple.  And I Maccabees 3:46 mentions a former place of prayer at Mizpah.  Consequently, some have related Psalm 74 to Antiochus IV’s attack on the Temple right before the time of the Maccabean revolt.  The idea is that Antiochus not only attacked the Temple, but other places of worship throughout the land of Israel as well.  But my problem with that view is that Psalm 74 appears to describe a destruction of the Temple, not merely a pollution of it.  The destruction of the Temple occurred in 587 B.C.E., so I think that Psalm 74 is about that particular event.

My conclusion is that there were places of worship outside of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., and that these places were deemed valid by the Deuteronomists.  As I talk about in my post here, we see in Deuteronomy 16:7-8 that a solemn assembly could be held outside of the Temple on the last Day of Unleavened Bread.  Deuteronomy most likely did not support sacrifices occurring outside of the Temple, but perhaps these places of assembly only had prayer, not sacrifice.

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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4 Responses to Psalm 74

  1. truthceeker says:

    Notice how the theory of the Deuteronomistic school has to be justified to fit the texts.

    Apart from this, there is an assumption that the Israelite religion was polytheistic when what is most likey the case is that some of the Israelites were falling away from the worship of the one true God.

    In regard to the other places of prayer instead of sacrifice, well, this is plain to othodox Jews, for today even the prayers are refered to as the moadim, “The appointed times.”

    It seems like a rather far stretch of the imagination to think that they did not have places which were just for worship. Although you come to what I believe is the correct conclusion, you do so in a way so as to justify a Deuteronomistic school, when one can simply come to the same conclusion otherwise.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I do believe in the Deuteronomistic School, for reasons we’ve discussed, but I think the problems I try to resolve in this post would be present even with your view on Deuteronomy—-that it was from Moses. Deuteronomy, regardless of who wrote it, prescribes a central sanctuary. Josiah sought to effect that program. What, then, are the moadim? That, as you know, is what I wrestle with in this post.

    On the polytheism issue, I think the passage in Deuteronomy 32 (I think) about the Most High dividing up the lands according to the gods indicates that there was a belief in other gods in a stage of Israelite religion. And this isn’t so much a reversion to paganism as the view of a writer of a text in the Bible. There are other passages, but they’re probably more open to interpretation—I’d say the gods in certain Psalms are gods, whereas you would probably say they’re judges.


  3. truthceeker says:

    The “other sanctuaries” theory being a speculation of the Documentary Hypothesis but understood in the traditional way as Israel falling away and worshiping the asherah. If one simply calls the high places for what scripture refers to them as, then there are no other places where the daily sacrifices were given, aside from the special instances of offerings given by Abraham and others prior to Moses, and of course by Israelite pagans.

    In reference to Deut. 32, clearly Moses gave the command to worship no other gods all throughout the Torah, so does the Documentary Hypothesis infer that Moses approved of the worship of other gods? It would seem so because after all the speculation of a Deuteronomistic School is not just about the claim of centralized worship but the claim that Israel wasn’t monotheistic in the Pre-Exilic era. Incidentally, Deut. 32 states nothing about the worship of other gods, but refers to perhaps the ‘Sons of God’ or Angels as proved by the translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the LXX.

    Taking into account that God made the ‘Sons of God’ or rather Angels how does this support Israel’s belief in worshiping other gods as in verse 9 the Lord’s share was Israel.


  4. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Oh no, the argument is not that anyone writing the Hebrew Bible approved of the Israelites worshipping other gods. The argument is that there is a view that Israel was to worship the LORD alone, but other nations had their gods, who existed. But this isn’t the only school of thought in the Hebrew Bible.

    On the other sanctuaries, I’m reading your point to be that Deuteronomy was criticizing pagan sanctuaries. But what about Elijah telling God in I Kings 19:14 that God’s enemies have torn down God’s altars?


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