Friday, September 15, 2023

Sacrificing to the ark?

There is a similar episode [to the Neo-Assryian offering to a bed as a divine being] that allows us a glimpse of Israelite thinking in 2 Samuel 6. David tries to transport the ark of the covenant (God’s throne or footstool, a holy object/lesser DINGIR); the object is mishandled, and one of the attendants is struck dead. The narrator, who represents the voice of theological orthodoxy, takes care to note that it was God, not the ark, who struck Uzzah (2 Sam 6:6), but David himself might not have nuanced his understanding in this way, and his reaction gives insight into his conception of the event. When he tries to move the ark again, he offers sacrifices every six steps as it moves along (2 Sam 6:13). When God gives instructions for the transport of the ark in Numbers 4:4—20, no mention is made of sacrifices; this indicates that whatever David is doing, his inspiration for doing so comes from his cognitive environment, not Israelite orthopraxy. To any observer, David’s ritual actions would very closely resemble those of the Assyrian officials described above, who make “regular sheep offerings” to the divine bed as they transport it. The form of David’s sacrifices does not match any of the prescribed offerings to Yahweh: so it is quite possible that David is offering sacrifices to the ark (in the same way the Assyrians offered sacrifices to the divine bed in order to appease it on its journey) so that no one else is struck.— The Lost World of the Israelite Conquest, 112–13

<idle musing>
When I read that, a light bulb went off in my head. I had always wondered about that incident, but had never looked at it that way. Of course! Just as the average Christian (at least in the US) has no clue about some of the finer points of theology—as much as I wish they did—so also David probably didn't either. And just as the average Christian is more heavily influenced by culture than by scripture, so too David probably would be more influenced by the surrounding culture than by the teaching of torah (in whatever form it had at that time). (Don't divinize him just because he's a "man after God's own heart"—that doesn't mean his theology was always correct, let alone his behavior!)
</idle musing>

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