More Functions of Itineraries; the Marching Army of Israel

I have two items for my write-up today on Angela Roskop’s The Wilderness Itineraries: Genre, Geography, and the Growth of Torah.  Itineraries are documents that discuss travel from place to place, and we see itineraries in both the Torah and also other ancient Near Eastern documents.  What was their function?  Why did the ancients consider it important to tell their audiences about travel from one location to another, to another?  Roskop addresses such questions in this book.

1.  In my latest reading, Roskop continues her discussion of the use of itineraries in royal propaganda in Neo-Assyria and Egypt.  She talks about other ways that the itineraries could have functioned.  On page 102, she states that “Sabrina Favaro suggests that itineraries carry an ideological message of dominance over territory because they convey detailed knowledge, and knowledge is control”, and Roskop believes that itineraries probably had such a function within Neo-Assyrian propaganda, since “The early Neo-Assyrian kings would have had an interest in conveying control of the Habur area…”  Roskop also says on page 125 that, in the case of certain Neo-Assyrian uses of itineraries, “Movement out from the home site to the site of battle and back created a picture of a geographically coherent empire with the king going out from the center and wealth coming back to it.”  According to Roskop, one function of the use of itineraries in Neo-Assyrian royal propaganda was to convey the power of the empire. 

Roskop also talks about possible literary reasons for the inclusion of itineraries in royal propaganda.  First, on page 120, she says that the use of daybook entries in an Egyptian description of Egypt’s battle with the Hittites served to “create in the audience tension and excitement”.  Second, on pages 129-130, in discussing a Neo-Assyrian battle description, Roskop states that notices of where people camped provided a “pause in the action that allows the reader to breathe before the next violent episode…”

2.  Roskop proceeds to talk about the wilderness itineraries in the Torah.  She argues that we see in the Torah a priestly layer, and a non-priestly layer.  The non-priestly layer depicts the Israelites leaving Egypt as refugees.  The priestly-layer, by contrast, portrays the Israelites leaving Egypt as a moving army heading towards Canaan.  Roskop maintains that P’s ideology in part was shaped by the destruction of the Temple, for she contends that P’s traveling Tabernacle served to account “for Yahweh’s presence among the Israelites after the destruction of the Temple” (page 155).  For Roskop, P in the Torah is setting forth a program of post-exilic restoration, which entails the exiles’ return to Israel and their establishment of a cult.  Roskop holds that we see P’s ideology in some of the itineraries.  First of all, there is an acknowledgment of the ritual calendar, as Israelites in P’s itineraries rest on the Sabbath rather than traveling.  Second, P in Numbers 33 essentially snubs the Sinai theophany, for (according to Roskop) P does not want for Sinai or Horeb (fixed locations) to detract from the moving Tabernacle, which concerns God’s mobile presence with Israel.  In a sense, P is using the itineraries to shape and frame the Torah’s narratives according to P’s ideology.

(UPDATE: I may be misunderstanding Roskop here, for, later in the book, she posits a model in which P wrote itineraries, later hands added material to P for various reasons, and then Numbers 33 represented an attempt to shift the Torah back to P’s ideology.  I’ll get into this a little more in my post tomorrow.)

Why did P use the annals genre to depict the Israelites as an army leaving Egypt, especially when P probably did not envision a post-exilic program that involved military conquest of Canaan by the exiles (or such is my impression)?  In my latest reading, Roskop offers the suggestion that P is responding to Second Isaiah, who depicts the first Exodus as a time when the Israelites fled as refugees, whereas the Second Exodus is one in which they march boldly from Babylon to Israel.  P, in this scenario, wanted to show that the first Exodus was a time when the Israelites boldly marched.  Why?  Was it because P wanted to affirm that the Israelites always had dignity?  Was it because P felt that P could give more authority to a post-exilic program by setting it in the epic past, rather than by asserting (like Second Isaiah) that the events of the epic past were not as grand as what was to come?  Roskop may elaborate on this issue later in the book.

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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