Copan and Company, Part 4

In his first criticism of me, Mr. Stark quotes my reference to herem in the Mesha stele on p. 25 of my “War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview.” He goes on to critique me as follows:

“This is Hess’s critique of Niditch. A two-sentence dismissal of a book-length argument!”


HESS: Mr. Stark’s claim is false. I devote pp. 25-27 of my article to summarizing the approach of Niditch and spend most of it approving of her work. Indeed, I largely use her categories as a useful means to understand the subject of warfare. I never dismiss them.


This is false. First, I note that Hess approves of other aspects of Niditch’s argument on p. 68 of Is God a Moral Compromiser? (IGMC).


Second, I will quote Hess’s comments on p. 25 of War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview, to show precisely where he dismisses Niditch in two sentences:


The above mentioned herem ‘ban’ appears in Deut 20:10-18 as a guideline for Israel’s engagement with enemies on the territory that God had given to the nation. This “ban” required the total destruction of all warriors in the battle and (in some way) the consecration to Yahweh of everything that was captured. Niditch goes to some length to portray this activity as initially related to a sacrifice to God, part of a larger picture of human sacrifice. However, she writes that this changed: “The dominant voice in the Hebrew Bible treats the ban not as sacrifice in exchange for victory but as just and deserved punishment for idolaters, sinners, and those who lead Israel astray or commit direct injustice against Israel.”


A 9th-century stele of King Mesha of Moab describes his destruction of an Israelite town and its sacrificial devotion to his god Chemosh as a herem ‘ban.’ However, this language does not prove that the same theology dominated in Israel. And indeed, there is no explicit evidence for human sacrifice to Yahweh in the early texts. The fact that God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in Genesis 22 must be balanced against the denial that any sacrifice of this sort was ever performed. God explicitly stopped it and provided an animal substitute. Therefore, this story is not a strong case for the adoption of human sacrifices as an approved form of Yahweh worship.


The two sentences highlighted in bold are the two-sentence dismissal of Niditch’s argument to which I was referring. Hess clearly articulated her argument just before, that the early texts (prior to the voice that came to be dominant) represented an ideology in which Yahweh was willing to accept human sacrifices in exchange for offering aid in battle. This is the argument of Niditch’s that Hess dismisses in two-sentences. I called this a “book-length” argument, which is perhaps what Hess is quibbling with. It’s true that her book includes other arguments about other kinds of warfare, but the human sacrifice argument is the central thrust of her book, and that’s all I meant.


“The problem is, contrary to Hess’s claim here, there is ample evidence in the early texts for human sacrifice to Yahweh, and good evidence that Israelites in the pre- monarchical period believed that a human sacrifice could be offered to Yahweh in exchange for victory in battle. Niditch spends numerous pages pouring [sic] over the evidence and discussing it in detail; Hess’s response is just to deny that any such evidence exists, with no argument offered. But we’ll just cite two examples.”


HESS: This is false. The denial of human sacrifice as “an approved form of Yahweh worship” is my concern throughout this discussion and that phrase appears at the end of the same paragraph on the same page where Stark cites my Mesha of Moab discussion. Stark’s decision to ignore this point distorts my statements and my understanding of the absence of human sacrifice as “approved.”


Well this is a problem of a lack of clarity in Hess’s writing. While indeed he does end the paragraph saying that Genesis 22 “is not a strong case for the adoption of human sacrifice as an approved form of Yahweh worship.” But earlier he said, “there is no explicit evidence for human sacrifice to Yahweh in the early texts.” Regardless, Niditch has made the argument that there is evidence in the early texts that human sacrifice is approved, but he does not address her argument at all. Even if we extend his brief dismissal of Genesis 22 as relevant, and even though Genesis 22 isn’t even a warfare text, the fact is my point stands: Hess hasn’t engaged the position he’s dismissing in anything like a satisfactory manner. At any rate, Hess himself doesn’t believe that what Niditch identifies are the “later texts” are actually very much later at all.


The examples Stark cites to prove that human sacrifice was given to Yahweh and approved by early Israel come from Judges 11 and Numbers 21. Judges 11 is irrelevant because (1) there is no reference to herem anywhere in the chapter; and (2) there is no evidence that this practice of Jephthah’s was “an approved form of Yahweh worship” in the sense that the biblical text endorses it.


(1) It is relevant because the logic parallels what Niditch is arguing about the role of herem warfare. In both cases, a human sacrificial offering is offered in exchange for aid in battle. That’s the parallel, and that’s why it’s relevant. That it doesn’t involve herem is irrelevant.


(2) Indeed there is. After Jephthah makes the vow to Yahweh, the text expressly states that Yahweh participated, offering aid in battle as per Jephthah’s request (11:32). This is significant, and something apologists fail to discuss. What’s equally relevant is that the text does not present Jephthah’s vow as abhorrent or immoral. Yahweh participates in the arrangement; Jephthah is presented as one upon whom the spirit of Yahweh rests.


Numbers 21 is irrelevant because it does not deal with human sacrifice.


This statement is question-begging.


Line 17 of the Mesha inscription does indeed discuss the herem. However, it simply uses the causative verbal form of this root with the Moabite god as the direction toward which the herem was made. This follows king Mesha’s slaughter of 7,000 inhabitants of the city. However, in the context of war it is nowhere clear that this has to do with human sacrifice. It has to do with defeat of the enemy. We do not know what the religious beliefs of the Moabite king were in respect to the practice of the herem; only that he practiced some form of it. Beyond that, there is insufficient evidence on the basis of this one citation.


What Hess has failed to deny is that the objects of Mesha’s slaughter were devoted to Ashtar-Kemosh. He has in fact confirmed it. But Hess omits reference to lines 11-12, which says, “I killed all the people of the city as a sacrifice for Kemosh.”


To attempt an identity of the use of this term in the 9th century Moabite stele with that of the herem in Israel’s wars, in a different culture and at times centuries removed from the Moabite text, is incorrect method.


Clearly Niditch and numerous other scholars disagree with this statement. The fact is, the Mesha Stele sheds light on some of what we see going on in the texts. Judges 11 (Jephthah) makes perfect sense in light of the Mesha Stele, as does Numbers 21:1-2.


Again, contrary to the impression Stark leaves his readers with, I cite Niditch approvingly in the text immediately preceding Stark’s quote about the Mesha stele. I note that she says that the “dominant voice in the Hebrew Bible treats the ban not as sacrifice in exchange for victory but as just and deserved punishment for idolaters, sinners.” I do not disagree with this.


I am well aware that Hess does not disagree with this (and I knew he agrees with this; why wouldn’t he?). But it is not at all clear in his paragraph that he is citing her approvingly:


Niditch goes to some length to portray this activity as initially related to a sacrifice to God, part of a larger picture of human sacrifice. However, she writes that this changed: “The dominant voice in the Hebrew Bible treats the ban not as sacrifice in exchange for victory but as just and deserved punishment for idolaters, sinners, and those who lead Israel astray or commit direct injustice against Israel.”


I see no clear statement of approval. Obviously Hess knew he was approving when he wrote it, but he doesn’t state his approval here. Of course, he will sort of do so on the next page, but I never claimed he didn’t approve, so Hess’s claim that I am misrepresenting him is absolutely false. Obviously he agrees that the dominant voice that condemns human sacrifice is in the text. It’s his inadequate dismissal of Niditch’s argument for the presence of an earlier, contrary voice to which I objected. My point was simply that Copan’s reference to Hess’s two-sentence dismissal of her arguments wasn’t sufficient for his purposes.


My only disagreement would be whether that “dominant” understanding goes back in time to early Israel of the Monarchy and pre-Monarchy or whether it occurs for the first time only late in the Monarchy (or even later). I fail to see evidence that this “religious practice” (of condemning human sacrifice) cannot have occurred early in Israel’s history.


Yes, we know this. But failing to see evidence that the condemnation of human sacrifice could not have occurred early in Israel’s history is not the same thing as finding evidence that it was. Of course, since Hess does not accept the Documentary Hypothesis and wishes to push all of Niditch’s late texts back into much earlier periods, for Hess this is a moot point. His disagreement with Niditch goes a great deal deeper than just how to interpret individual texts.


To repeat the point, the examples that Stark cites above and the one I cite (Genesis 22) do not demonstrate Yahweh’s approval of human sacrifice as part of the herem or in any other context.


Well, obviously Genesis 22 doesn’t prove that Yahweh approved of human sacrifice as part of herem. But that’s what’s at issue here. At any rate, neither Niditch nor Levenson nor I argue that Genesis 22 “proves” that Yahweh accepted human sacrifice. We argue that it is a very strange text indeed to use to condemn human sacrifice, and that the logic of human sacrifice seems to be assumed by the narrative.


In Numbers 21, Yahweh certainly approves of the destruction of the king of Arad and his people who first attacked Israel, in an unprovoked manner, and who took Israelites as captive slaves. It does not suggest that these people were human sacrifices, e.g., as one might make animal sacrifices to Yahweh or any other deity. If Stark wishes to deconstruct the biblical text and find some sort of evidence for human sacrifice behind the statements as they now stand, that is up to him. But such a procedure will always remain speculation, not proof.


First, Hess is conflating “evidence” and “proof.” The two are related yet distinct. Numbers 21 may not constitute “proof,” but Hess has said that there is no “evidence” for human sacrifice in the early texts. Evidence there certainly is, but it must be evaluated before it can be dismissed as lack of “proof,” something that Hess did not do in his essay.


Second, I am hardly alone in this reading of Numbers 21, so Hess can make it sound as if “Stark wishes to deconstruct the biblical text” (as if that were a bad thing), but the reality is that I am following others. And the point is not that herem as sacrifice follows the formula of an altar-sacrifice. The sacrificial aspect of the herem attack assumes, as Niditch argues, a view of God as one who appreciates human sacrifice, and involves the surrendering of spoil. The spoil cannot be taken, and that is the sacrifice. The spoil is rather “devoted” to the deity. The ancients believed in the efficacy of human sacrifice; this is not in dispute. It is no different than the logic of animal sacrifice. It is no stranger to believe that a deity desires the odor of burnt human flesh than it is that the deity desires the odor of burnt animal flesh. As Micah 6:6-8 shows, in fact child sacrifice was considered the greater sacrifice, for obvious reasons: children were quite a bit dearer to their parents than calves.


Third, Hess says that the attack upon Israel by the Canaanite king of Arad was unprovoked. Let’s please not fail again to remember that Israel was preparing to launch an attack upon the entire region of Canaan in order to utterly destroy their people and take possession of the land. When a supposedly massive army comes poring through your territory, I hardly think it reasonable to call an attack on that army “unprovoked.” Granted, Israel had not yet begun its attack, but how else was the king of Arad to interpret their movements? To call this attack “unprovoked” is to refuse to see the situation from the king of Arad’s perspective. If asked, he certainly would have identified his attack as defensive.


But let’s look at Numbers 21:1-3 once more:


When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel and took some of them captive. Then Israel made a vow to Yahweh and said, ‘If you will indeed give this people into our hands, then we will utterly destroy their towns.’ Yahweh listened to the voice of Israel, and handed over the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their towns; so the place was called Hormah.


As I discussed in the review, this paints a clear portrait of an exchange made between Yahweh and Israel, paralleling very closely the exchange offered by Jephthah. In both cases, Yahweh supports those who make the vow, and here it is even more clear that this is the case, since “Yahweh listened to the voice of Israel and handed over the Canaanites.” The exchange is clear: Israel had failed to defeat Arad’s military forces, so if Yahweh will help them defeat the military forces, they will then turn their swords against the townships.


The fact is, Numbers 21 fits squarely within the paradigm we see in the Mesha Stele, and the language of “herem” clearly implies a devotion of objects to Yahweh. (See Joshua 6:17 where the objects put under the ban are expressly “devoted to Yahweh.”)


Now it may be enough for Hess to say that these texts need not mean what Niditch and others take them to mean. But that again is an apologetic tactic. The question is not whether the text cannot be interpreted in any other way; the question is which interpretation is the most plausible given the internal and comparative data. The parallels I’ve demonstrated at length in IGMC between Judges 11, Numbers 21, and the Mesha Stele, are sufficient to put plausibility on the side of an ideology of herem as sacrifice.


On pp. 175-6 Stark refers to the issue of the translation of Deut 32:8 which he argues should be translated “the sons of the gods.” He makes several assertions that characterize his argument:


”In the earliest extant version of Deut 32:8-9 (DSS 4QDeutq), Yahweh is said to be one of several of El Elyon’s sons who received an inheritance from their father.”


HESS: This is both an error of fact and a fallacious interpretation. The error of fact is that the Dead Sea Scroll fragment that is clear on this reading is 4QDeutj, not 4QDeutq. 4QDeutq clearly has “Sons of ‘El/el’.” Whether El is understood as the head of a pantheon and a god other than Yahweh, or as el, a title for Yahweh; the phrase cannot be translated “the sons of the gods” in 4QDeutq. However, 4QDeutj does indeed have the reading, “bene ‘elohim.”


I thank Hess for this correction. 4QDeutq does not have “beney ha elohim”; rather this is the reading in 4QDeutj. In point of fact, I had originally had 4QDeutj but a colleague “corrected” me, and so I made the change. This was nevertheless entirely my mistake. I should have verified his “correction.”


In 4QDeutq the text is broken after ‘el/El’ and may have read the longer ‘elohim form; however, this is not certain and cannot be cited as proof. The manuscript evidence is collected by Emanuel Tov’s Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, p. 269, where he translates the scroll fragment as, “the sons of God.” To translate the phrase (in 4QDeutj, not 4QDeutq) as “the sons of the gods” imposes on it an interpretation that is contrary to the larger context of the chapter, the book of Deuteronomy, and certainly the Bible as a whole.


This is really neither here nor there. “Elohim” may be translated “God” or “gods,” and since what Deuteronomy 32:8-9 speaks to is the Canaanite divine pantheon, “gods” is not at all an implausible translation, since the high god obviously had a wife with whom he produced the “beney ha elohim.” Contrary to Hess, this squares perfectly well with the context of the larger chapter, which repeatedly acknowledges the existence of other gods. But to say that it doesn’t comport with Deuteronomy as a book and “the Bible as a whole” is a bad argument, since my argument follows that of Friedman and Cross who date the Song of Moses quite early (yet still later than Hess would date the entire Pentateuch, so that explains that).


Of course, the translators of the NRSV entirely disagree with Hess, as they translate “according to the number of the beney ha elohim” as “according to the number of the gods.” This reading is in fact supported by the comparative data, as argued by Christopher Rollston in his article, “The Rise of Biblical Monotheism,” and as is clear also by the data displayed in DDD (Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible). “Beney ha elohim” was a technical term in Semitic languages for the junior deities of the divine pantheon.

”Now it won’t read that way in your NIV, because the NIV uses the Masoretic Text here, which is over a thousand years later than the Deuteronomy scroll from Qumran.”


HESS: This is an error of fact. The present edition of the NIV indeed translates v. 8 as “the sons of Israel,” but has a footnote that witnesses to the Dead Sea Scroll and Septuagint as rendering the text “sons of God,” exactly as Tov does above.


No, my statement was not an error of fact. The fact is, unlike the NRSV and other very good translations, the NIV does not use either 4QDeutq or 4QDeutj in the body; they relegate 4QDeutq to a footnote, which is highly suspect, since it is clear that the DSS reading is the older one, as reinforced by its translation in the LXX. See again Rollston’s article. But the fact remains that my statement was correct: the NIV does not make any mention of the different options for the translation of 4QDeutj (they only offer the monotheistic one), but the polytheistic one is the reading to which I was obviously referring. Thus, “you won’t find this in your NIV.”


“To date, Richard Hess’s attempts to argue against this reading (both in his book on Israelite religions and in his piece on Bill Craig¹s website) have only displayed that Hess is totally oblivious to the DSS reading of this text.”


HESS: This is not a statement of fact but a personal evaluation.

Yes, I made an overstatement here. In other places I have said “seems to indicate” that Hess is oblivious to the DSS reading.

”In his book he says that scholars base this reading on the LXX, which is false, and in his piece on Craig’s website, he goes so far as to claim that ‘the Hebrew’ doesn¹t say that. Of course, what he means is that the Masoretic Text doesn’t say that, and what this shows is that (at the time he wrote that piece at least) he hasn’t been introduced to 4QDeut.”


This is an error of interpretation. In my Israelite Religions book on p. 103 I do indeed refer to Smith and Day as using Psalm 82 and the LXX of Deut 32 to make their argument. It is true that they cite other evidence in their works, including the Dead Sea Scroll fragments. What Stark neglects to point out is that I do not disagree with Smith and Day on this interpretation. That is because it is part of a larger scheme in their books, comparing the Ugaritic pantheon with the putative (pre-?)Israelite pantheon, that I am rehearsing in my discussion of West Semitic religion as reflected in the Ugaritic texts. On Bill Craig’s website I introduced my discussion of Deut 32:8-9 by reference to “the Hebrew as we have it.” This would not suggest any Hebrew text, much less the Hebrew text of one Dead Sea Scroll fragment. Rather, it refers to the Masoretic Text. As I cite the works of Smith and Day scrupulously and as they forthrightly cite all the evidence, including that of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I leave it to the reader to determine whether I was somehow “totally oblivious” to this fact in the midst of all the other data I cite.


Well, if I missed that Hess agreed with Smith in his book, it’s because Hess didn’t explicitly state his agreement with Smith in his summary, and because he explicitly disagreed with Smith’s position in his article on Craig’s website (which I read first). Here’s what Hess says in his article on Craig’s website:


Now as to the matter of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, I translate the Hebrew as we have it: “When the Most High (Elyon) gave nations their inheritance among humanity, he established boundaries for the people according to the number of the sons of Israel. (He did this) because Yahweh’s allotment is his people. Jacob is the portion of his inheritance.” To find “sons of God” in place of “sons of Israel,” you need to rely on the Greek Septuagint translation, which actually has “angels of God.” It is not in the Hebrew.


When Hess says that it is “not in the Hebrew” (whether the Hebrew “as we have it” or otherwise), and completely fails to mention that it is in two DSS manuscripts that are a thousand years older than the MT, Hess distorts the reality and hides from view the fact that there are Hebrew MSS which have this reading. It is grossly inaccurate to say that one must “rely on the Greek Septuagint translation” and that it is “not in the Hebrew.” I am actually disconcerted to hear that Hess is not oblivious to the 4QDeut readings. I was giving him the benefit of the doubt. But what we have here instead is Hess (for whatever reason) intentionally withholding information that will potentially negatively affect his argument. This is worse than being oblivious. (In reality, I doubted Hess was oblivious; but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt.)


Now in textual criticism of the Hebrew Bible, it is common to refer to fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls that agree with the LXX tradition as just that, agreeing with the LXX tradition. I have yet to see it stated that the LXX agrees with the Dead Sea Scroll tradition of 4QDeutj.


This is Hess’s justification for withholding the DSS reading. This is grossly unsatisfactory. The fact is, Hess was asked a specific question about Deut 32:8-9 referring to “the number of the gods” (NRSV) and in his response he withheld from view the Hebrew data that the NRSV relies upon, stating simply, “It is not in the Hebrew,” when few textual critics will refer to the MT as “the Hebrew,” especially when different Hebrew traditions are in conflict with one another. This is, frankly, deceptive.


Now, as for Hess’s statement that he has “yet to see it stated that the LXX agrees with the Dead Sea Scroll tradition of 4QDeutj,” this is a complete red herring. In his Israelite Religions, on p. 103, he displays amply well that he understands how Smith, Rollston, et al understand the relationship between 4QDeutj and the LXX. Yes, no one argues that they agree. They argue that the DSS reading is the vorlage to the LXX reading, and that (as Hess clearly stated in his summary of Smith on p. 103) the LXX changed “beney ha elohim” to “angeloi theou” (“angels of God”) because the LXX was produced in a monotheistic period and the beney ha elohim were consequently given a demotion to angelic status. So to say that no scholar argues that 4QDeutj and the LXX agree is to misdirect. Not even I argue that. What we argue is that the LXX reading indicates that 4QDeutj was the vorlage for their translation, which means the MT reading is very probably of later provenance.


But the fact remains that Smith does argue, as Hess states in his book, that there is a connection between the pantheon in Deut 32:8-9 and the Ugaritic material. Smith argues this on p. 157 of his Origins of Biblical Monotheism:


The title of Elyon (“Most High”) [Deut 32:8] seems to denote the figure of El (called El Elyon in Genesis 14:18-22); he is presider par excellence not only at Ugarit but also in Psalm 82.


The author of Psalm 82 wishes to depose this older theology, as the Israelite God is called to assume a new role as judge of all the world. Yet at the same time, Psalm 82, like Deuteronomy 32:8-9, preserves the outlines of the older Israelite theology it is rejecting. From the perspective of this older theology, Yahweh did not belong to the top tier of the pantheon. Instead, in early Israel the god of Israel apparently belonged to the second tier of the pantheon; he was not the presider god but one of his sons. This older picture, assumed in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and criticized in Psalm 82, presupposed the model of roughly equal national gods for all of the seventy nations of the world, a notion reflected also in the Ugaritic motif of the seventy sons of El and Athirat (CAT 1.4 VI 46). It is true that these expressions of older national theology survive only because they could be conformed to the later monotheistic paradigm: the figure of “the Most High” (elyon) in Psalm 82 could be read as a reference to Yahweh, and the Masoretic change in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 marks a shift to a monotheistic reading. However, analyzed not in terms of the later monotheism but in terms of the earlier national situation, these two passages offer an important witness to the old monarchic period theology of the national god. In these two cases the Bible preserves only a limited number of “snapshots” of pre-exilic religion, not a complete “tape.” Accordingly, given the later textual editing “out” (and “down”) of Israelite polytheism, the minimal evidence the Bible does provide should be viewed probably as only the tip of the iceberg.


This is one of the arguments Hess references in his book on p.103, and with which Hess says here that he does “not disagree.” Yet on Bill Craig’s website, Hess writes the following:


There are those who would like to identify this epithet with a separate deity. They argue that El Elyon was originally a god separate from Yahweh and worshiped by the Canaanites in Jerusalem. Only later did the Israelite tradition of Yahweh merge with it so that it evolved into a title of Yahweh. In order to do this, however, it is necessary to hypothesize an otherwise unknown deity by this name–a deity nowhere attested inside or outside the Bible by this name. Further, the usage of “Elyon” in the Bible does not support such an interpretation. In Psalm 82:6, those who are called “children” (or “sons”) of Elyon are certainly the “children” of the God of Israel, who is here in charge of this divine council and who regulates all its doings. Yahweh is not their physical father. He is their ruler.


Now as to the matter of Deuteronomy 32:8-9, I translate the Hebrew as we have it: “When the Most High (Elyon) gave nations their inheritance among humanity, he established boundaries for the people according to the number of the sons of Israel. (He did this) because Yahweh’s allotment is his people. Jacob is the portion of his inheritance.” To find “sons of God” in place of “sons of Israel,” you need to rely on the Greek Septuagint translation, which actually has “angels of God.” It is not in the Hebrew. That is not to say that this old Hebrew poetry is easy to translate. However, this is a far cry from citing this as proof of a distinction between Elyon and Yahweh. To the contrary, the Hebrew identifies the two as both personally involved with Israel, and thus most likely as identical. As for the supposed Aramaic deity Ilyaan, I cannot find the name attested in Early Aramaic texts or as an element in personal names. On the other hand, connecting the “number of the sons of Israel” in Deuteronomy 32:8 with the 70 children of Israel who entered Egypt is at least found in later Jewish tradition. However, the view that this must refer to the 70 sons of El and Asherah, a number defined in this manner only in the myths of Ugarit, is hardly necessary. Some medieval interpretations connected it with the 70 nations of the world as counted in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. This is possible. Clearly, 70 is a common number occurring about 57 times in the Bible and often used to describe a sense of completion or perfection. A leap to Ugarit myths and polytheism is not warranted without more compelling evidence.


Here it is clear that Hess disagrees with almost everything Smith had to say about Deut 32:8-9, so I am scratching my head as to how I should be held to account for not realizing that Hess actually agreed with Smith in his book (even though he states no such thing, and states the opposite on Craig’s website). So when Hess says that, “What Stark neglects to point out is that I do not disagree with Smith and Day on this interpretation,” I am entirely unconvinced. Rather, Hess’s summary of Smith in Israelite Religions seems to play down the Ugaritic connection to Deut 32, a connection for which Smith, as seen above, argues very strongly in Origins.


On p. 204 we read: “Now, conservatives like Richard Hess want to argue that, though there is no evidence for an occupation of Jericho in the appropriate period, it’s possible that the lack of evidence can be explained by erosion. But this is not an acceptable argument. After all, very strong evidence of occupation from the sixteenth century remains, having survived over 200 years of erosion between the sixteenth and fourteenth centuries, as even conservative Evangelical scholar Kenneth Kitchen acknowledges.”


HESS: This is false both factually and in terms of interpretation. In my article, “The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua,” I do cite erosion as a possible scenario.


This is hardly the sense one gets from reading Hess’s actual language. Hess only states that the absence of walls need not mean that walls were not there. He never actually states that it is possible that they weren’t there. While it’s true that the possibility is present implicitly in Hess’s treatment, the reality is that Hess only ever states that the absence of walls in the record is not evidence that they weren’t there. In other words, this is a tendentious presentation of the data. Hess only mentions erosion to state that it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. In short, Hess’s language leans toward confirmation of the biblical account, rather than in between, as his objection above claims was his tenor.


It is clear that pottery from the late 10th century and afterwards, attests to occupation at the site despite the absence of layers of occupation (only tombs are found). In fact, one can walk onto Tell es-Sultan and go to the highest points on the tell. That layer, which is the latest layer, is 18th century B.C. (Middle Bronze IIB), not 16th and certainly not 10th century or later. By Mr. Stark’s criteria no one lived at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) in the first millennium. They just left a lot of pottery and some tombs!


This is false. First, Callaway concluded that the (minimal) pottery and the tombs found in the LB period are evidence of nothing more than a squatter’s gathering. Second, Kenyon, who excavated there, dated the tombs to the late 14th century. She concluded, “this is a date which suits neither the school of scholars which would date the entry of the Israelites into Palestine to c. 1400 B.C. nor the school which prefers a date of c. 1260 B.C.” (Kenyon, Digging up Jericho, 262). That the highest points of the tell are from MBIIB does not at all mean that evidence for later strata has not been found. Kenyon found substantial evidence for occupation in the seventh century BCE, but little before that. The biblical evidence itself places an occupation at Jericho in the ninth century at the earliest (1 Kings 16), during the reign of Ahab.


What Mr. Stark ignores is my point in the paragraph that he cites that 15th century Egyptian scribes claim that Thutmose III conquered and destroyed Megiddo, something that I am unaware of any modern Egyptologist disputing. Yet at Megiddo in Palestine we have yet to find a destruction layer from this event. Why? I don’t know but I am no more going to dismiss the Egyptian scribes than I will the biblical scribes. Mr. Coogan, whom Stark quotes, is a biblical scholar and his assessment of Jericho may be correct. But Mr. A. Mazar, professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jersualem, whom I quote, does not agree with him.


I find this a tad humorous. Hess will allow for an argument that ANE warfare accounts are highly exaggerated in order to defend the biblical conquest narratives, but he won’t allow for it when it comes to supporting his argument from silence. As for Mazar, the fact remains that among archaeologists who deal with Jericho, Mazar is in the minority on this particular point. But Hess’s quote from Mazar is convenient; of course he fails to quote Mazar in all the places where Mazar states that the archaeological record does not confirm the biblical record, as I did. For instance, here is Mazar’s conclusion about the biblical Exodus narrative: “The Exodus story, one of the most prominent traditions in Israelite common memory, cannot be accepted as an historical event and must be defined as a national saga”1


So let’s put Mazar’s statement about Jericho, which Hess misleadingly quotes, in proper context. Mazar says that “the archaeological data cannot serve as decisive evidence to deny a historical nucleus in the Book of Joshua concerning the conquest of this city”2 Is Mazar saying that the biblical account of Jericho is probable? No, he is not. He is merely saying, in his opinion, that the evidence is not “decisive.” But Mazar frequently states elsewhere that the accounts from this period are largely fictive or inaccurate. Mazar speaks of a “historical nucleus,” but this is different from claiming that the narrative as it stands is anything like what happened in reality. I’ll again quote Mazar as I did in IGMC:


I imagine the historical perspective in the Hebrew Bible as a telescope looking back in time: the farther in time we go back, the more dim the picture becomes. Considering that the supposed telescope stood somewhere in the late-eighth or seventh centuries BCE, it gives us a more accurate picture when we look at the ninth century than when we view the tenth century and so forth.3


Moreover, given Mazar’s unequivocal statement that the Exodus didn’t happen, that it is a myth, we must understand his statement about Jericho in that context. Mazar is merely stating that it is possible that some such battle occurred at that time, but emphatically not that it occurred as Hess would like to argue that it did. Mazar sees Joshua as a mythical figure as much as he does Moses. So when Hess quotes Mazar in support of his agenda to defend the biblical account, he does so very misleadingly. This is of course a standard tactic used by apologists.


On p. 247 we read: ”The word herem isn’t even used in Numbers 31! It’s never used in connection to the Midianites anywhere. Hess should know this; he reads Hebrew. Numbers 31 isn’t depicting herem warfare. Why he thinks he can cite this as an example that noncombatants weren’t killed in herem warfare is beyond me.”

HESS: This is false. I never say that the herem is applied in Numbers 31. In fact, my point is that the herem is not applied here. If it were, everyone should have been killed. I cite without criticism Niditch’s view that texts such as Numbers 31 describe a “separate type” of warfare.


This again is a very misleading response from Hess. Allow me to quote him in full:


Nevertheless, the ban as an enactment of God’s justice appears in these texts as well as in 1 Samuel 15, in which the prophet criticizes Saul for allowing Agag, the king of the Amalekites, to live, when he had commanded that all must be destroyed. This is the first type of warfare that Niditch discusses. It is portrayed as having an “us-versus-them” quality, in which “a group that fears loss of its identity attempts to define itself” by eliminating “foreigners,” both outside and within the group, who are perceived as a threat. An example of a threatening foreigner within the group is Achan in Joshua 7, who, although an Israelite, must be put to death for not observing the absolute demands of the herem. A related example appears in Numbers 31, where Moses allows the virgin daughters of the defeated to live, even though, according to the herem, they should have been killed (see also Judges 21). Although these texts tend to reduce women to the level of chattel for trading, they also recognize the uncleanness that must be associated with the brutality of war.


This is incredibly misleading. First, Hess cites Niditch’s statements about Numbers 31, referring the reader to p.74, but her discussion of Numbers 31 does not begin until p.78. But that’s not relevant.


Granted, yes, in a footnote Hess does state that Nidicth identifies Numbers 31 as a separate type of warfare from herem warfare, but in the body he includes it in his discussion of herem texts. Hess says that “a related example appears in Numbers 31, where Moses allows the virgin daughters of the defeated to live, even though, according to the herem, they should have been killed.” Why does Hess state that according to the herem they should have been killed when this is not a herem text? At best, Hess is very unclear here. He stated that Numbers 31 is a “related example” to the herem texts he just cited, and then immediately cites Judges 21 as another example, and Judges 21 is a herem text. Moreover, despite the fact that he states that Niditch identifies this as a separate type, he does not state that he agrees or disagrees with her; thus his inclusion of the Numbers 31 text sandwiched between herem texts gives the impression that Hess thinks this applies. If Hess is aware that the term herem isn’t used in Numbers 31, then his statement that “Moses allows the virgin daughters of the defeated to live, even though, according to the herem, they should have been killed” is muddled at best. If I misunderstood, it is for those reasons.


On this same page we read that I have made a “ludicrous claim” by the statement, “(also see Judges 21)” set at the end of the sentence where I refer to Numbers 31. A sizeable interpretation of my words is then foisted upon the reader. I apparently refer to Judges 21 because it “uses the word herem” and because it “didn’t involve the killing of noncombatants.” Anyone reading my essay should be able to discern that this paragraph is not all about herem. It is about how, as Niditch observes and I quote at the beginning of the paragraph, a group that fears loss of identity attempts to define itself by eliminating foreigners, both outside and inside the group. Herem is an important example of this, but not the only example in the Bible.


I’m sorry, but “anyone reading [Hess’s] essay” will actually see that this paragraph begins with the statement, “Nevertheless, the ban [i.e., herem] as an enactment of God’s justice appears in these texts as well as in 1 Samuel 15. . .” He then goes on to discuss three other texts in addition to 1 Samuel 15, namely, Joshua 7, Numbers 31, and Judges 21. Since three of the four texts in this paragraph are herem texts, and since he began the paragraph with a clear statement that he was discussing “the ban as an enactment of God’s justice,” I think “anyone reading [Hess’s] essay” would be justified in assuming he was including Numbers 31 as a herem text among the three others, especially given his statement, “Moses allows the virgin daughters of the defeated to live, even though, according to the herem, they should have been killed.” I would suggest that Hess change “even though” to “whereas,” and “according to the herem” to “if herem were operative here,” and then it would have been clear that Hess was differentiating Numbers 31 from the herem texts. “Even though” makes it seem as if Hess is stating that Numbers 31 is an exceptional case where the herem was not total, and in light of his earlier remark that “the ‘ban’ required . . . (in some way) the consecration to Yahweh of everything that was captured.” The parenthetical seems to imply that Hess isn’t sure that herem required the destruction of all that was captured. My subsequent discussion of Judges 21 was based on my misunderstanding here.


Nevertheless, the point stands, contrary to Copan’s argument, that whenever herem is used it refers to the total slaughter of all the people put under the ban. That I misunderstood Hess’s less-than-clear paragraph doesn’t change the fact that Copan’s claim that herem didn’t necessarily imply the total slaughter of the noncombatants is in fact entirely wrong.


On p. 251 we read: “Copan and Hess are able to offer no evidentiary support for this claim that ‘men and women’ meant ‘all.’”


HESS: This is false. In my “The Jericho and Ai of the Book of Joshua,” I note that “man and woman” in the Hebrew is literally “from man (and) unto woman,” and I survey the remaining 8 occurrences of the term in the Bible (in addition to those of Jericho and Ai). In every case, except Saul’s extermination of the inhabitants of Nob (1 Sam 2:19), it occurs alongside the Hebrew kol “all,” and refers to all those involved. When I state that this is stereotypical, I do not mean that it cannot refer to noncombatants, as Stark claims. I do mean that it need not refer to noncombatants.


First of all, Hess misrepresents me. I never claimed, as Hess claims I claimed, that his argument was that “from man unto woman” cannot refer to noncombatants. I’ll quote my language: “He says that the text does not necessitate that noncombatants were actually there, even though it identifies them.” And again, “That’s why he has to say that ‘men and women’ could just mean ‘whoever happened to be there.’”


But Hess actually is arguing that “from man unto woman” only referred to male combatants in these cases, and thus his rejoinder is a distraction. Hess continues:


It is merely a way of saying “everyone” without prejudicing the reader as to the nature of who is involved. If Jericho and Ai were forts then this would involve only the occupants of the fort; i.e., soldiers.


But Hess fails to establish that Jericho and Ai were really military forts, on a number of grounds, not least on the grounds of the biblical language itself. The text refers to “inhabitants,” which Hess ignores, and in Ai, it says “all that fell that day, from man unto woman, were twelve thousand.” Hess attempts to argue that “twelve thousand” here refers to twelve small squadrons of troops, but he ignores the fact that “twelve thousand” is qualified by “from man unto woman,” which hardly comports with his “twelve squads” translation.


On p. 255 we read: “But let’s examine the actual texts that Hess cites to prove that ‘men and women’ was a ‘synonym’ for ‘all, everybody.’ We’ll find that in no case does the phrase mean ‘whoever happens to be there.’ It refers to scenarios where both men and women are literally present.”


HESS: This is misleading. In fact, in every case it means “whoever happens to be there.” I would never deny that in the examples both men and women were regularly present, but why say “from man unto woman”? Why use this expression when the common conjunctive phrase “men and women” was available and used more frequently than “from man unto woman”? “Men and women” occurs some 13 times in the Hebrew Bible and is different from the phrase, “from man unto woman.” For example, it first occurs in Gen 7:2 with reference to the animals going on the ark. There it implies the necessity of both genders being present. Again, in Exodus 35:29 and 36:6 the phrase emphasizes the importance of both genders in the fullness of their heartfelt contribution and in the prohibition of either gender bringing anything more. In all the occurrences of “from man unto woman,” both genders may or may not be present. That is not the emphasis. Instead, it is on everyone who happens to be there.


This argument is entirely unpersuasive. The fact remains that men and women were literally present in all of the texts Hess cites. Hess says that the more common conjunctive phrase “men and women” is used more frequently. Yeah, five times more frequently. “Men and women” is used 13 times; “from man unto woman” is used 8 times. That hardly constitutes grounds to say that the former was common whereas the latter was not (which is what is implied in Hess’s argument here).


Hess’s claim that “in all the occurrences of ‘from man unto woman,’ both genders may or may not be present” is incorrect. In 2 Chron 15:12-14, as I indicated, the phrase is used precisely to indicate that the terms of the oath apply to everybody, in other words, that women and children are not exempt from the demands of the oath and the consequences of an infraction.” In the same way, “from man unto woman” means that women were not exempt from the slaughter at Ai.


Moreover, Hess cites Neh 8:1-2 as an example of a gathering of “everybody” where “from man unto woman” is used, but this, according to Hess, does not necessitate that women were actually there. But in Ezra 10:1, an entirely comparable gathering takes place, and there “men and women” is used, but it’s an identical scenario. Hess wants to posit a very fine distinction between these terms, but the fact is, they are essentially synonymous and there are yet other constructions in Hebrew used to describe the presence of men and women. If Hess could point to a single solitary text where it is clear that “from man unto woman” is used in a situation where women aren’t really present, then he’d have a case, but he can’t. Hess’s argument is therefore entirely unpersuasive, and the fact that his argument is necessary in order to establish that noncombatants may not have really been present at the sites of Israel’s herem battles shows what’s really motivating Hess’s semantic argument here, whether he will admit to it or not.


Note that of the 8 occurrences of “from man unto woman,” Hess notes that there is an exception in 1 Sam 22:19 which does not use the word “all” in conjunction with the phrase. To an unbiased reader, this would indicate that “from man unto woman” really isn’t synonymous with “all.” (They can be functionally synonymous without being semantically synonymous. Hess wants to argue for the latter, while I happily concede the former, which is my point—the text says all were killed, and that “all” includes women.) But Hess attempts to dispense with this “exception” to his rule by stating that this is explained by the fact that here, “children are specifically mentioned,” breaking up his pattern. He then says that children are not mentioned specifically in the texts about Jericho, Ai, and elsewhere. In IGMC I showed that this statement was false. Children are expressly identified, right next to the phrase, “from man unto woman,” in both 1 Samuel 15 (the Amelekites), and Joshua 6 (Jericho). In his reply to me, Hess ignored my refutation of his fallacious claim here.


On p. 257 Stark argues that “Hess omits” Joshua 6:21.


HESS: In fact, it is the first verse I mention at the bottom of p. 38 of my article.


My mistake.


Then he states that “Hess’s list of seven occurrences of ‘men and women’ also leaves out another text,” i.e., 1 Samuel 27:9.


HESS: In fact, this text does not use the “from man unto woman” phrase, but the “man and woman” phrase. Thus he confuses these two separate phrases that actually carry different referents. Why does he throw everything together and betray no knowledge of the Hebrew text?


Hess is here ignoring that on p. 255 I object to his artificial distinction between one construction and another: “But let’s examine Hess’s claims in the quote above. First, the idea that ‘men and women’ only occurs seven times in the Hebrew Bible is a strange one. Sure, that particular construction may only occur seven times, but there are all sorts of various ways to say ‘men and women,’ meaning that men and women are actually identified hundreds of times in the Hebrew Bible.”


Hess claims that I “betray no knowledge of the Hebrew text,” but in fact I make clear that I recognize Hess is referring to a particular construction. So when I say that Hess omits relevant texts with other constructions for “men and women,” I am not claiming that he is omitting examples of that particular construction. 1 Samuel 27:9 is entirely relevant. “David struck the land, leaving neither man nor woman alive, but took away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing, and came back to Achish.” As with “from man unto woman,” the language here is sweeping, but certainly refers to the killing of women. As I show, the narrative states that David killed everybody in the region so that they could not tell Achish that David was a traitor. Since I am entirely unpersuaded by Hess’s artificial distinction between different constructions for “men and women,” this omission is entirely relevant.


I don’t know and will not judge Mr. Stark. Rather than dealing with the text, and carefully reading what the Hebrew actually says (not to mention what I actually write), he succeeds in distorting, taking out of context, presenting polemic, and regularly engaging in vitriol and all manner of name calling. This continues through the entire book and it remains for the reader to determine whether it adequately substitutes for evidence and reason.


These are hefty charges. “All manner of name-calling?” Apart from “apologist,” a title to which Copan certainly doesn’t object, and Hess really shouldn’t either, what names do I call either Hess or Copan? “Taking out of context”? This is a charge yet to be substantiated, but I’ve shown very clearly numerous occasions where both Hess and Copan have taken other scholars out of context, and numerous occasions where Copan takes biblical passages out of context. “Polemic?” Guilty as charged, though I don’t see this as a negative. “Distorting?” The closest Hess has come to establishing this charge is in the case of his treatment of Numbers 31, and I have responded by showing that Hess’s discussion was very unclear. Other than that, Hess’s charges of my distortion of his arguments have only served to hide his own inconsistencies, as in the case of his treatment of Deut 32:8-9 in his book and online, and his false claim here that “he agrees” with Smith. “Vitriol”? I think this one is in the eye of the beholder. I’ll refer Hess to the preface of my Copan review to better understand why I take his and Copan’s distortions of the material so seriously. Finally, the claim that my use of polemic and (in Hess’s mind) “vitriol” is used by me as a substitute for “evidence and reason” is to be expected, but I’ll leave it to the reader to determine whether I actually offer evidence and reason or not.


On p. 252 Mr. Stark attacks my view that the Hebrew word ‘elef, usually translated “thousand” cannot mean “squad” but only “clan” and then it is “extremely rare.”


HESS: This is false. In the standard Hebrew-English lexicon of Koehler and Baumgartner, 15 occurrences are listed, almost all in military contexts in Numbers, Joshua, Judges, and 1 Samuel. Clines’ Dictionary of Classical Hebrew lists 15 as well, including two that occur in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In both lexicons they describe some texts as equivalent to various smaller groups, including the word for “family” “mishpachah” in 1 Samuel 10:19-21 and Judges 21:14.


First, I did not say that “thousand” cannot mean “squad.” I am well aware that it does. I merely meant to point out that Hess said ‘elef “can refer to a clan or a military unit,” but goes on only to cite an example of the former translation, and none of the latter. Perhaps my wording was unclear, but I simply meant to point out that Hess needed to provide an example of “squad” from elsewhere to establish his argument that it meant “squad” in Joshua 8.


Second, I am not at all incorrect that the translation “squad” is rare. 15 occurrences out of over 500 is what I would call rare. I am not disputing that ‘elef can mean “squad,” but Hess here entirely ignores the argument I provided for why “squad” cannot be its meaning here. Once again, the text says, “all that fell that day, from man unto woman, were twelve thousand.” The fact that “twelve thousand” is qualified by “from man unto woman” is a clear enough indication that the translation here should be “thousand,” by miles the normal meaning of the word, and not “squads.”


On p. 259 there is more name calling but no substantially new evidence.


In fact there is no name-calling at all on p. 259. When Hess says “name calling” he must mean “charges of data-twisting.”


On p. 260, we learn that Hess points out a few exceptions to the normal meaning of ‘ir’ [‘city’].”


HESS: Exactly how many does “a few” constitute? How many examples need to exist before they become more than “a few”? How about several hundred villages and hamlets that appear between Joshua 13 and 21? Are all these sites major population centers? They are all designated by ‘ir’ (Joshua 13:9, 10, 16, 17, 21, 23, 25, 28, 30, 31; etc. – the NIV often renders “ir” as “villages” or “towns”). I would be interested in any biblical scholar or archaeologist who would wish to defend Stark’s position that there are only a “few exceptions to the normal meaning of ‘ir’” where it must refer to a major urban center such as we might understand the meaning of “city” today. Anyone reading the literature will quickly realize that Stark betrays no idea of the usage of this term.


I stand corrected. I overstated my language here. While ‘ir usually refers to walled-cities, I was incorrect to say that there are “very few” exceptions to this. It does denote a “walled-city” but can also refer to cities without walls, or even small encampments.


The basis of my claim, however, is found in KB, which lists some possible etymological connections. (1) The Sumerian word for city, uru/eri, (2) a walled settlement surrounded by a qyr (“wall”). (3) But KB says it is most probable that the Hebrew ‘ir is derived from the Ugaritic ġr which means “a fortified, protected place.” So originally, it is very likely that ‘ir carried the connotation of a walled city, and that connotation continued to be operative.


But Hess is correct that usage is determinative, and there are a number of instances where ‘ir refers to small unfortified villages, tent encampments, etc., though these are still in the minority. Of course, there was a particular expression for a city without a solid wall, and that was ‘ry ha przy. Moreover, they had a specific word for unfortified cities or “villages,” which was hzrym. Obviously the semantic domain of ‘ir extended to this as well (as do all our English words, “city,” “town,” etc.). But the original and arguably primary sense of ‘ir was very probably that of a walled or fortified city, as the comparative Semitics show.


All of that said, my statement that ‘ir referred mostly to walled cities was not connected to the primary point I was making in this section. The main point I made was that a fortified city and a population center are not at all mutually exclusive, and this holds. The fact that the two stronghold texts Hess cites (2 Sam 12 and 2 Sam 5) respectively identify the various cities as a “royal city” and a “stronghold” respectively is also significant, since no such designation is made for Jericho and Ai. Furthermore, Hazor, the great Canaanite city in which the king dwelled that Joshua took in 11:10-11 was most certainly a population center, with a population of about 20,000. Finally, Hess must dispense with the claims made by the texts themselves in order to argue that Jericho and Ai were not population centers. Jericho is said to have had “male and female, young and old,” as well as livestock. Ai is said to have had “twelve thousand, both men and women.” The occupants of Ai are referred to as “inhabitants,” further indicating it was a population center—or rather that at least that is how the text presents it. Hess knows that the archaeological evidence does not support population centers at Jericho and Ai in this period, and thus he must find ways to circumvent what the texts actually describe. Moreover, both Jericho and Ai are said to have been put to flame, burned to the ground, yet the archaeological record is crystal clear that no destruction layers are present in either of these sites from the period in question. Hess has an insurmountable amount of data to circumvent, and he does so unsuccessfully.


Now, regarding strongholds, I’ll stand essentially corrected on Rabbah and Zion, but my primary point was that fortified cities and population centers weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. After all, Jebusite Jerusalem was a fortified city, with a stronghold within its walls. The fact remains, however, that neither Jericho nor Ai is described in the text of Joshua the way Rabbah’s “royal city” or Jerusalem’s “stronghold” are described in 2 Samuel. Neither Jericho nor Ai is described as a “royal city;” nor are they described as “strongholds” (mzdt). They are described as walled cities with inhabitants, and Ai is said to have been populated by at least twelve thousand men and women, while Jericho was populated by “men and women, young and old.” To acknowledge that Rahab and her family lived in Jericho, but then to claim that they just happened to be the only noncombatants there is about as tenuous as it gets.


Hess has attempted to argue that Jericho was only occupied by a very small regiment of military personnel and that it was too small to hold many people. According to conservative archaeologist Bryant Wood, Jericho was in total about 9 acres. Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin’s says that the average population of militarized cities was about 240 persons per acre, only 25% of which were soldiers. This would mean that Jericho would have been inhabited by about 2160 persons, 540 of which would have been soldiers. Of course, we can’t state these numbers exactly. At any rate, Wood in fact makes the same point that I do in response to Copan, that “those Canaanites living in surrounding villages would have fled to Jericho for safety. Thus, we can assume that there were several thousand people inside the walls when the Israelites came against the city.”4 Of course, Wood dates the conquest to about 1400, whereas Hess dates it to about 1230ish. But the point stands.


Then Hess writes this about Rabbah:


This is where the gold crown of Amman was found. There was no special royalty or military center here; just the average citizenry.


HESS: I leave it to the reader to draw their own conclusions about such claims that gold crowns were deposited away from the royalty and military.


I have absolutely no idea where Hess gets the idea that I ever claimed that there were no royalty or military here, or that it was only populated by the average citizenry. This is what Hess likes to call a “distortion.” He doesn’t seem to be paying attention, to quote Hess, to “what I actually write.” Here’s what I actually wrote:


All this says is that Rabbah was the city where the king lived. It says nothing about it being a military garrison with no civilian population. After all, Jerusalem was also a “royal city,” and it was heavily populated by noncombatants.


Note that I did not state that there was no royalty present. Nor did I state that there was no military present; I only stated that there is no good reason to assume that there is here a military garrison absent noncombatant inhabitants. I have no idea where Hess gets the notion that I said that “gold crowns were deposited away from the royalty and military.” I clearly said that the king lived here at Rabbah. Again, with Rabbah, we have a stronghold surrounded by a city. Once again, this is not the case with Jericho and Ai, which is the only real point of contention here.


So on p. 263 Mr. Stark chooses a humorous insult with his imaginative midrash on the note I make that no noncombatants are explicitly identified.


HESS: I do not mean, of course, merely that they are not named. I mean also that there is no specific reference to any noncombatants unlike the armies that are again and again described through Joshua 6-12.


First, note that Hess here admits that he does mean that they aren’t identified by name. But he also means what I was afraid he might have meant (which is why I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was only referring to the identification of noncombatants by name). Hess actually wishes to state that no noncombatants are identified as objects of slaughter in Joshua 6-12. This is painfully wrong.


Once again:


Joshua 6:21: “Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.”


Joshua 8:25: “The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai.”


Note also that Joshua 8:17 says that “There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.” Note this carefully. All of the men left Ai to pursue Israel. What happens next? A hidden squad of Israelites enters Ai after all the soldiers had left and set it on fire. All of the men of Ai are out of the city, and are now surrounded by Israelites. Those they were pursuing turned back against them, and those who set the city on fire came out and attacked them from the other side.


And Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. But the king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua.


When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai.


Note very carefully the second to last sentence above. After the Israelites finished killing all of the men (remember, “all the men of Ai” had left the city to chase after Israel), the Israelites go back into the city and “attacked it with the edge of the sword.” If Ai was only populated by male soldiers, who did Israel attack with the edge of the sword, now that all the men were dead? The next verse makes it crystal clear: “The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai.”


Now let’s keep going, because Hess says that no noncombatants are said to be killed in Joshua 6-12. We’ve seen this isn’t true for the battles in 6 and 8. There are no battles in 7 or 9. So now we come to chapter 10. For the first 27 verses there is a good reason why the Israelites are not attacking civilians. Because they are attacking five armies who have come out of their cities to fight the Gibeonites. But once we get to v. 28, the Israelites go back to attacking civilians again. They attack the cities of Makkedah, Libnah, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron, Debir, in each case, according to the text, devoting to destruction “every person in it.” Hess may want to argue that each of these cities were uninhabited by noncombatants, but I doubt it. And Copan will no doubt argue that the language is exaggerated, which would probably be true were we to grant historicity to these accounts. But of course in each case the term herem is used, and as Younger and Hess both acknowledge, herem involves the total slaughter of noncombatants.


Now turning to Joshua 11, we get to v. 10 and find that Israel is attacking the great city of Hazor. Then v. 11 tells us that at Hazor “they put to the sword all who were in it, devoting them to destruction [herem]; there was no one left who breathed, and he burned Hazor with fire.” And of course, as we know from the archaeological record, Hazor was a massive population center with about 20,000 people. According to Yadin, once again, probably only about 25% were combatants. Then concluding the summary of Joshua’s attacks on these Canaanite population centers, v. 14 says, “All the spoil of these towns, and the livestock, the Israelites took for their booty; but all the people they struck down with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, and they did not leave any who breathed.” The herem applied to the inhabitants of the cities. So when Hess claims that “there is no specific reference to any noncombatants unlike the armies that are again and again described through Joshua 6-12,” he’s simply and flatly ignoring what the text says.


Hess is a great scholar, with a substantial body of work that has advanced his field a great deal. But when it comes to certain issues, there’s an ideological blockage. This is perfectly understandable. I used to be an inerrantist as well, and I remember what it was like to have to fit every text within the hermeneutical parameters allowed by inerrancy. Hess’s problem is further compounded by the fact that he is contractually bound to inerrancy. I don’t envy him, although in many other respects I greatly admire him.


Nevertheless, Hess continues with this line of argumentation:


It is the armies that confront Israel in these pages of the Bible.


No, it is the armies that confront Israel in 10:1-27, but it is Israel who confronts the armies and their population centers in the remainder of chs. 10-12. But now Hess goes even further off track:


First, there is the southern coalition in Joshua 10 and then the northern coalition in Joshua 11. Look for a moment at the opening verses of chapter 11. These armies gathered together for the sole purpose of genocide against Israel. Here there is no question but that they intended to destroy every man, woman, and child of that nation. There is no similar threat that Israel presents in Joshua to the noncombatants of the armies that gather against them. Mr. Stark betrays his own misunderstanding of the genocide intended for Israel.


This is complete gobbledygook. As we’ve already established (read chapter 10 for yourself then come back), only vv. 1-27 of chapter 10 involve armies coming out against Israel. (Actually against Gibeon, but Israel comes to their defense.) I already covered this in my review, but Hess makes no attempt to respond. I wrote:


Finally, Copan cites the Israelite attack against the five Canaanite kings (the ones hung from trees in order to terrorize the populace/reader). This was defensive because the kings had attacked the Gibeonites, with whom Israel was in treaty. Of course, Copan forgets to mention that the reason they attacked the Gibeonites was because Israel—who was invading their land with intent to kill them all, and their children, and steal their land—had just made Gibeon their ally.


But after Israel defeats these five kings and their armies who came against Gibeon, what do they do? They go and attack seven more cities and kill every inhabitant therein. It is only after this that the Canaanite kings gather together en masse to come against Israel. Hess claims that their intentions were genocidal. He writes, “Here there is no question but that they intended to destroy every man, woman, and child of that nation.” Let’s look at these first verses of chapter 11 that Hess cites on this score:


When King Jabin of Hazor heard of this, he sent to King Jobab of Madon, to the king of Shimron, to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. They came out, with all their troops, a great army, in number like the sand on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. All these kings joined their forces, and came and camped together at the waters of Merom, to fight with Israel.


Well, no mention of genocide. No mention whatsoever of any intent to kill “every man, woman, and child” of Israel. Perhaps this was their intention (and why not, since that’s what Israel was doing to their neighbors?). But the text doesn’t say anything like this; Hess is fabricating this out of thin air. It strikes me as quite frankly deluded to argue that, on the one hand, Israel’s devotion to destruction of every inhabitant of nine cities doesn’t involve the killing of noncombatants, not to mention the incessant statements of intent to commit genocide against the Canaanites, but that, on the other hand, the Canaanite defensive, which makes no mention of any intent to engage in herem warfare, “unquestionably” refers to a Canaanite plot to commit genocide against Israel. Something about this strikes me as backwards. I’ll let the reader decide. Meanwhile, we’ll let Hess continue:


In Joshua 8:25, in the only reference made to both genders at Ai, the phrase, “from man unto woman” occurs, with the same sense as at Jericho.


Right, in the sense that there were women there, as I clearly displayed. The text says that all the men of Ai left the city, then Israel killed them all then entered the city and killed more people with the sword. Who were these more people? It’s very clear. Women.


I refer you also back to my original review of Copan’s book, which shows that in Judges 21, the text doesn’t even say “men and women” but rather “the people,” when it describes the objects of Israel’s slaughter, and yet the narrative is very clear that they killed women and children too; this point is incontrovertible. Hess is way out on a limb and it’s about to break. This is my hand.


Hess brings up Joshua 8:17, which reads: “There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.”


Hess asks:


Why in Joshua 8:17 is Bethel referred to if Ai was an independent population center separated from Bethel?


Well, I suppose for the same reason King Horam brought his army up from Gezer to help Lachish when Israel was attacking it in Josh 10:33: neighborly assistance, and probably self-interest to boot.


On p. 267, Mr. Stark accuses me of “nothing but a sleight of hand trick, because Hess never established any precedent for the use of mlk as a vassal to other vassals in the hill country.”


HESS: This is true insofar as Stark raises the burden of proof to finding evidence in the hill country of Canaan, i.e., I need to find the “king” of Jericho mentioned in the Amarna texts as a vassal to other vassals. Of course, I do not make this claim, nor is it necessary to raise the bar to this point to establish what I want to establish.


Well, actually, Hess does make this claim. I quoted him directly as stating this in my review of Copan. I’ll do it again:


The same may be true for the melek of Jericho. He may also have maintained his position at the pleasure of city-state rulers in the hill country, whether of Bethel, of Jerusalem, or a coalition such as Joshua 10 describes. . . . Thus, a noun from the root mlk carries the sense of a commissioner responsible to his overlord for the military security of a region. This is identical to the melek of Jericho, who was responsible for the security of the region but was also answerable to his superiors in the hill country.


Since the “city-state rulers in the hill country” were vassals of Pharaoh, and since Hess claims that the melek of Jericho was a vassal to these city-state rulers, then that constitutes a claim that the melek of Jericho was a vassal of vassals. But I didn’t say that he needed to find “the ‘king’ of Jericho mentioned in the Amarna texts as a vassal to other vassals,” as Hess writes. This would be difficult to do, since Jericho isn’t mentioned in the Amarna Letters, and for good reason. What I actually said was, “Hess has not presented any argument about the existence of this hill country administrative network; he has merely speculated about its existence.” This remains true, and Hess says nothing in his response to substantiate this speculation.


Among my “irrelevant arguments,” he notes my point that an Amarna Canaanite gloss on a certain Piwuri is malik, identical to the Semitic precursor of the Hebrew melek, translated as “king” of Jericho. This figure is not a leader of a city but someone responsible to the pharaoh for military leadership in Canaaan. . . . He is a commissioner appointed by a “king” (in this case, pharaoh) over a geographical area in Canaan and responsible to that king for administration of the area. This parallels the responsibility of the “king” of Jericho.


No. Note he says of Piwuri that the king who appointed him was “in this case, pharaoh.” By saying “in this case,” Hess wishes to make it seem as if some other king, another vassal king or vassal kings, according to Hess, could appoint (what Hess says is) a  melek. But this is precisely what Hess has failed to substantiate. There is no evidence for any one identified as a vassal king in Canaan who was appointed by anyone other than pharaoh. When Hess says that Piwuri’s responsibility “parallels the responsibility of the ‘king’ of Jericho,” he is still begging the very question he has failed to substantiate.


Mr. Stark can continue to sneer at this understanding as he does on pp. 268-269 but it does not explain why the Canaanite term malik is glossed to the Sumerograom MASHKIM in EA text 131 lines 21-24. This logogram is rendered in Akkadian as rabitsu, not as malik.


But there is significant semantic overlap between Akkadian maliku and Akkadian rabitsu. The former means “counselor, advisor,” and the latter means “official representative of and commissioned by a higher authority, attorney.” The semantic overlap is quite plain.


Hess writes:


Elsewhere, MASHKIM is always glossed (i.e., there appears side-by-side with it in the text, usually with the intention of explaining the word) with rabitsu in Akkadian.


But notice what CAD says on page 23 of vol. 14, to which Hess will later refer me:


The office of MASHKIM, common in Sumerian documents, is not well attested in Akkadian sources of the second millennium with the exception of the OA texts. There is no evidence that attestations of the Sumerian word MASHKIM . . . while presumably referring to the same functions, were to be read in Akkadian as rabitsu.


This muddies the waters a bit. At any rate, Hess continues:


The Akkadian dictionaries give no other example of MASHKIM glossed with malik. Malik is the Canaanite form here of the Akkadian rabitsu which is written logographically as MASHKIM. See the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary volume 14 “R” pp. 20-23. This is recognized by Daniel Sivan in his Grammatical Analysis and Glossary of the Northwest Semitic Vocables in Akkadian Texts of the 15th-13th C.B.C. from Canaan and Syria (Verlag Butzon & Bercker Kevelaer, 1984), p. 243. He translates malik with the sense of king or governor at Amarna, Alalakh, and Ugarit; all West Semitic archives of the second millennium B.C. The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary is certainly correct regarding how the Akkadian equivalent of malik (or malku) should be rendered, but we are dealing here with a West Semitic gloss, not an Akkadian term (something the Chicago Akkadian Dictionary recognizes elsewhere but not here; my objection lies with its inconsistent application of comparative Semitics, not, as Mr. Stark supposes, my questioning of its basic definitions).


Well, first, I’ll quote Hess’s actual objection from his article:


The decision of CAD to group this with the regular Akkadian lexeme, māliku, is unwarranted. The meaning ‘counselor, advisor’ does not apply here. Like the verbal form, the West Semitic usage is distinctive.


If Hess’s objection was that the CAD is inconsistent in its application of comparative Semitics, and not an objection about basic definitions, then perhaps he should have stated an objection concerning the CAD’s inconsistent application of comparative Semitics, and not an objection about basic definitions. At any rate, the CAD is not alone in its decision to render the gloss here as Akkadian rather than West Semitic. As I stated in IGMC, Hess’s friend Anson Rainey, as well as William Moran and the CAD all disagree with him. Rainey identifies this precise gloss as Akkadian, not as West Semitic. I pointed this out, but Hess still hasn’t mentioned this fact. Again, William Moran, the editor and translator of the Hopkins volume, The Amarna Letters, identifies the gloss as Akkadian, not as West Semitic, as does the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. So Hess’s argument is quite tenuous even in just this respect.


The West Semitic use of malik as governor or ruler is attested in use throughout the Levant in the archives of the second millennium B.C. In addition to the sources already cited, this is discussed at length by John Huehnergard, Ugaritic Vocabulary in Syllabic Transcription (Scholars Press, 1987), p. 147, where he uses the same example that I cite and that Mr. Stark belittles as somehow demonstrating that the word does not mean “to have authority.” That is, Mr. Stark misconstrues his quotation of me on p. 269. I do not contend that the text affirms that the mayor and overseer have authority in this case. Rather, I contend that the verbal form of the root mlk (the same root for the noun malik), indicates authority and not merely advice.


Hess here fails to mention that I go on to state that such a use of the verb form would not be at all implausible.


Moreover, Hess flagrantly mischaracterizes my objection. I did not state “that the word does not mean ‘to have authority,’” as Hess claims I stated. What I said was this: Hess “says that the use of the verb form of mlk here is applied to a mayor and overseer of a field, indicating that mlk could be a verb applied to someone other than a king. Well, problematic for this claim is precisely what the text itself says: ‘the town’s mayor and the overseer of the field do not have authority over him.’ The text expressly denies that the mayor and overseer have mlk over the man.”


Nowhere did I state that this demonstrates that the word does not mean “to have authority.” Rather, I denied that it could be properly used an example in which, to quote myself, “mlk could be a verb applied to someone other than a king.” Obviously the verb form of mlk can mean “to have authority.” After all, that’s what a melek has.


Third, Hess again misrepresents his own argument. In his response to me, he says, “Mr. Stark misconstrues his quotation of me on p. 269. I do not contend that the text affirms that the mayor and overseer have authority in this case.” But compare this with his actual statement in his original article:


At Ugarit, this verbal root carries the sense of “rule” or “hold power,” similar to the general Hebrew sense of the term. However, it is used not only of sovereigns but also of anyone holding influence over others. Thus, at Ugarit, in the 13th century, there appeared the phrase, hazannu āli u akil eglāti la i-ma-li-ik: the town’s mayor and the overseer of the field do not have authority over him (Sivan 1984: 248).


What Hess argues here is very plain. First, he says that mlk can have the sense of “rule” or “hold power.” Second, he says that this verb could be applied not only to sovereigns, but also to “anyone holding influence over others.” Third and finally, as an example of this application, he quotes the text which expressly denies that these non-sovereigns have authority. So when Hess tells me that “I do not contend that the text affirms that the mayor and overseer have authority in this case,” he fails to realize that what he did was to offer the passage as an example of his statement that the verb could be used for someone not a king.


Once again, I’m not denying that the verb can be used in the way Hess argues it can be, contrary to Hess’s claim that I am. I’ll quote myself to prove it: “Although malak (the Hebrew verb form of mlk) is never used in the Hebrew Bible to refer to the rule or reign of someone who isn’t a king, it is not really controversial to say that this verb could potentially be used to describe the power that a particular non-regnal authority figure might exercise (although Hess provides no examples; he only postulates that it might have been used this way).” Yet I continue to maintain that the text Hess cited is not a good text to use to make the case, since it expressly denies that the mayor and overseer have authority. If there are other examples, then cite other examples. That was my only point.


Hess continues:


The concern of my paper was to argue that the melek of Jericho need not have been an independent sovereign but could be a local leader responsible to a greater “king.”


But Hess wanted to argue that this “greater ‘king’” was a Canaanite vassal king. But the data (as far as I am aware and as far as Hess has shown) only allow for such a melek to be a vassal to Pharaoh. Hess has provided no example of any recorded vassal mlk to another vassal mlk. He is thus stretching the use of the term beyond what the data permit. Hess has only speculated that it might be possible for one identified as a mlk to be a vassal to other vassal kings, but has not provided evidence substantiating that the term was ever used in this way. I am not “raising the bar” for the evidence; that’s what Hess would have needed to prove in the first place to substantiate his claim that that’s what the king of Jericho was.


In conclusion, Hess offers a new argument to support his thesis:


Within the Bible itself, however, a phrase such as “king of kings” demonstrates the same point (Ezra 7:12; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37). The term melek “king” was not restricted to independent sovereigns but could include governors or other leaders responsible to a greater “king.”


Unfortunately, these texts actually do not substantiate Hess’s thesis. Ezra 7:12 refers to Artaxerxes, the Persian emperor, who was not at all a vassal king. Thus, as with Pharaoh, it is perfectly appropriate to refer to him as a “king of [vassal] kings.” The same is true for both Ezekiel 26:7 and Daniel 2:37 both refer to Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian emperor, who also, just like Pharaoh, was a “king of [vassal] kings.” So these texts do not at all substantiate Hess’s contention that a vassal king could be king over another vassal king. Any reference to a governor or counselor also makes clear that they are under the authority of a king proper, not a vassal (at least as far as Hess has so far demonstrated). Hess has, to date, failed to make his case.


But I’ll say again here what I said in my original review: Even if Hess is right, that hardly counts as evidence that the melek of Jericho should be understood as a “military commander” rather than a “king,” when all of the other uses of melek, not only in Joshua, but in the entire Hebrew Bible, mean “king.” Hess doesn’t even consider the biblical usage in his equation; indeed, he is obliged to dismiss it in order to make his thin case.


This is a point to which Hess has not responded. Nor could he, accept to acknowledge that this is true. The biblical usages, and the usages in Joshua, do not fit within the paradigm Hess is trying to establish.


Hess concludes:


I could go on with this but I have neither the time nor the need. His disagreements consistently occur as misinterpretations of what I have actually written and in many cases they are factually wrong. It is sufficient to look at the examples here.


I wish he would go on, because Hess failed to respond to the vast majority of the arguments I’ve made, and in many cases he completely mischaracterized what I had said. Nevertheless, I’ll conclude where and in the same manner as Hess does.

  1. Mazar, The Quest for the Historical Israel, 60. []
  2. Mazar, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, 331. []
  3. Mazar, The Quest for the Historical Israel, 30. []
  4. []

12 thoughts on “Copan and Company, Part 4

  1. Another thing to note about Judges 11 is that Jephthah’s vow is made in the context of being filled with the Spirit of Yahweh (v. 29). So his statement is book-ended by divine endorsements. It is, if you will, inspired…

  2. Right. Jephthah was a judge of Israel in good favor with God. If Yahweh already made it clear that he did not desire child sacrifices, Jephthah would probably have known. If Jephthah did not know, or if he was making a hasty and stupid promise, why didn’t God’s spirit just clear up the confusion? It’s not as if God was mute back in those days.

    The text presents us with a very disturbing picture: One where a special man of God is doing God’s work, and just after the story announces that God’s spirit came upon him, Jepthath makes this promise.

    Does God do anything to prevent the sacrifice after that? No. He helps bring about victories, putting Jepthath in a debtor’s position. When it is time to kill the girl, God has over 2 months to inform his man just to go ahead and break the promise. Did he step up for that? No. He must have been too busy planning the next genocide.

    So the Old Testament presents us with a God who talks to people about cutting penises, mixed clothing, eating their own children, keeping deformed people out of holy places, and covering up poop, but he is silent when a girl is about to be sacrificially killed in his name. Nice priorities.

  3. Thom,

    Let me offer you another possibility with Hess’s statements. He very well could be agreeing and disagreeing with the scholars you cite for one basic reason: he does not confuse the final context with the original context of a source. Because of this, from whence the text came and how it is used now are matters of interpretation, not a denial of the fact that these concepts and terms have associations with polytheism in their prehistory. What you need to prove, and what you needed to prove within your book HFG is that the current context teaches the previous context, and that I think has not been proven, but rather assumed by you. Because of this assumption, you seem to think Hess contradicts himself or is being disingenuous. Scholars all note the background, but this does not mean that they all agree in their interpretation of how that background is now being utilized in the current context. Does the picture of polytheism make sense in the context of Deut 32? Sure. But what is the picture saying? That is a matter of interpretation, depending upon presupps, not a denial of data that even the biblical narrative admits. So Hess can agree that El Elyon is taken from the Ugaritic conception of the supreme deity within the pantheon who begets sons, but deny that this is what Deut 32, as an inspired document indicating divine acceptance of the teaching, is communicating. Your concept of inspiration, your interpretation of the passage, and mainly your mingling the prehistory and the current context together seems to cause you to miss his point (if I’m interpreting this conversation correctly).
    I could point out other issues I would take with the selective use of the data to fit a particular narrative that each scholar must engage in (regardless of what he claims), but the above, I think, is where your ships may be passing each other in the night.

  4. Thanks, Hodge. These are very good comments.

    he does not confuse the final context with the original context of a source. Because of this, from whence the text came and how it is used now are matters of interpretation, not a denial of the fact that these concepts and terms have associations with polytheism in their prehistory.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “how it is used now.” Do you mean, now, after the canon has been formed, or do you mean “now” at the time of the texts original composition? If the former, then yes we are ships passing in the night, but so then would be Hess and Smith and Hess’s claim that he “agreed” would be misleading. If the latter, then Smith and Hess clearly disagree, because Smith argues that the text of Deut 32:8-9 itself represents what he calls the “older theology,” in its composition, not just in its prehistory. To wit, “This older picture, assumed in Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and criticized in Psalm 82, presupposed the model of roughly equal national gods for all of the seventy nations of the world.” This is precisely what Hess contests, arguing rather that Deut 32:8-9 reflects the Ugaritic material in its prehistory, but not in its composition. He contends that in Deut 32, Elyon and Yahweh are the same entity, whereas Smith does not. This is real and substantial disagreement, and I think everyone involved is perfectly aware of the distinction you’ve made here.

    What you need to prove, and what you needed to prove within your book HFG is that the current context teaches the previous context, and that I think has not been proven, but rather assumed by you.

    I did not at all “assume” that the compositional context teaches the prehistory. I made the argument that it did (as does Smith, and as does Rollston). As I stated, the most natural reading is the one in which Yahweh is given Israel as an inheritance by Elyon. Elyon divides the “sons of Adam” (that includes Israel) according to the number of the sons of God/gods, i.e., not according to the number of the sons of God plus one. Since, moreover, nachalah is most frequently translated as “inheritance,” the most plausible reading is the one Smith and Rollston et alia offer. We would have to find good reason within the Song of Moses to accept a different reading, one in which Elyon and Yahweh are conflated, in order for that reading to be the more plausible. The parallels go beyond just the Ugaritic material, as I discussed in the Copan review. This idea is also in the Code of Hammurabi and elsewhere. The most plausible reading is informed by what precedes the text, and not by the ideas that are evident in later periods. Unless we have good reason to find a shift within this poem itself (which we do not), then the most plausible reading remains the one Smith et alia have offered, and not Hess’s. The inerrantist hermeneutic says, “If it’s possible that it’s monotheistic, then that’s the reading we’ll advocate.” But the historical-critical hermeneutic says, “If it’s the most plausible reading, then that’s the reading we’ll advocate.”

    We can’t deal in “proofs” with many of these issues; but that’s not a fact under which an inerrantist should look for shelter.

    Because of this assumption, you seem to think Hess contradicts himself or is being disingenuous.

    No, because I never held the assumption. The argument I made in my book assumed the distinction you’re saying I confused. Hess may not contradict himself in his own mind, but he needs to be clearer to show how. He says he agrees with Smith’s interpretation, but Smith’s interpretation is that El and Yahweh are separate, not just in the prehistory, but in Deut 32 itself, whereas Hess clearly disagrees with this (as he is required to).

    Scholars all note the background, but this does not mean that they all agree in their interpretation of how that background is now being utilized in the current context.


    Does the picture of polytheism make sense in the context of Deut 32? Sure. But what is the picture saying? That is a matter of interpretation, depending upon presupps, not a denial of data that even the biblical narrative admits.

    But Hess seems fairly clearly in his post on Craig’s website to have chosen the MT reading over the DSS reading, without even mentioning the existence of the DSS reading. (Hess still seems, at least in this case, to operate as text critics did in 1946. Before the DSS were found, it was assumed that where the LXX and MT disagreed, the MT should be trusted. After the DSS were found, this picture changed entirely.) At least, that’s the clear impression he leaves the reader (especially the novice). So in that context, it does amount to a denial of the data, in effect at the very least.

    Hess chooses the MT; he does not mention the DSS; and (I should have mentioned this in the post above) he uses the MT reading to discount the distinction between Elyon and Yahweh. Read what he says:

    To the contrary, the Hebrew identifies the two [i.e., Elyon and Yahweh] as both personally involved with Israel, and thus most likely as identical.

    Note what he’s doing here. He says that “the Hebrew” (again disguising the DSS) portrays both Elyon and Yahweh as “personally involved with Israel, and thus most likely as identical.” But where does “the Hebrew” identify Elyon as personally involved with Israel? Not in 4QDeut! Only in the MT reading! Remember: “Elyon . . . divided the sons of Adam . . . according to the number of the sons of Israel.” That’s how Hess argues that Elyon and Yahweh should be identified as the same entity–by recourse to the MT. I find this virtually inexplicable.

    So Hess can agree that El Elyon is taken from the Ugaritic conception of the supreme deity within the pantheon who begets sons, but deny that this is what Deut 32, as an inspired document indicating divine acceptance of the teaching, is communicating.

    But once again, Smith wasn’t just arguing for the prehistory behind Deut 32; he was arguing that Deut 32 conflicts with Psalm 82. Hess argues that they do not conflict, and thus Hess’s statement that he agrees with Smith is very misleading at the least. Moreover, Hess’s grounds for conflating Elyon and Yahweh (by recourse to the MT) are inexplicable and very odd, but more to the point here, they put his position at further distance from that of Smith, with which Hess claimed to agree.

    In the end, I don’t really care whether he agrees with Smith or not; I only discussed it because he claims I was misrepresenting him. But in Israelite Religions, Hess makes no statement such as that he agreed with Smith and Day when he presented their arguments. My point was just to offer a reasonable defense against his charge that I misrepresented him. I think it more likely that he is (in one place or another) misrepresenting himself (whether intentionally or not).

    Your concept of inspiration, your interpretation of the passage, and mainly your mingling the prehistory and the current context together seems to cause you to miss his point (if I’m interpreting this conversation correctly).

    I don’t know what you mean by my concept of inspiration, but as for the other statements, I think I’ve already addressed them.

    Thanks very much. This helped draw out the issue with more clarity.

  5. Hi Hodge,

    I’m just wondering how this interpretation process you described does not become a wholly arbitrary task. It seems to me that it has people acknowledge the text presenting God as X and doing X and wanting people to do X, but then says we should understand the text (in the current context, however that is defined) to be teaching Y, Y, Y.

    If this is how the God of the entire universe communicates, then it is no wonder people are thoroughly confused about him.

    The story of Jepthath is a decent example. If I am right that this story presents us with a God who approved of child sacrifices, then how can we say that modern man should read this story with the understanding God did not (and does not) approve of such a thing? It seems to me that there is no point in reading the story at all if the conclusion will be the same no matter what it actually says.

    Any thoughts on that?

  6. Hi Thom,

    Thanks for the reasoned response. I, of course, cannot speak for Hess; but I think there is some confusion still. For instance, when I say “prehistory,” I am referring to all of the history of the song–from the origins of certain components in the Ugaritic material through the pre-uses in Israelite culture on up to its placement into the text of Deuteronomy. My use of the phrase “current context” is meant to refer to its interpretation within the context of the Book of Deuteronomy and within the DH as a whole. As such, it would be odd to argue, in my opinion, that the Deuteronomy is teaching the idea that the tradition once taught, especially since one can argue that the DH polemical against that tradition. The issue is one of employing a diachronic method versus a synchronic one. I think your statement that “the most plausible reading is informed by what precedes the text, and not by the ideas that are evident in later periods” evidences a commitment to the diachronic above the synchronic (something that many scholars need to work through as well). The synchronic is superior for understanding the text as it functions in the Book of Deuteronomy and even within the larger DH. The diachronic is a matter of understanding a text’s history, but has little, if any, use in understanding the present context. I know you know this already, but knowing and applying are two different things; and although most scholars know this, they are awful at applying it (or at least stating their purposes in reconstructing the history). So I do think that Hess is likely agreeing with Smith in terms of Smith’s data. I don’t think he agrees that the diachronic interpretation and the synchronic interpretation is the same one. Hence, the confusion. This is only my guess. In the end, you may be right and Hess should have been more clear if this is the case. I don’t fault you for asking him to clarify, as by not clarifying, it is confusing (I would argue more so to the scholar than to the novice, since scholars have a hard time making this distinction themselves). Hence, does the song assume the existence of other deities? Sure. But, again, does Deuteronomy that now employs the song for its purposes assume the same? That is a matter of interpretation that will largely depend upon one’s presupps about the text (i.e., whether it teaches there are other gods or uses this understanding of the world as language to communicate something else that would be more consistent with the larger work–e.g., Hess’s understanding that it is monotheistic).

  7. Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the response. I personally would not use Judges as a good example, and I’ll tell you why. Judges clearly is attempting to show, not only the inferiority of other rulers beside the monarchy, but the potential chaos that is present by having unworthy leaders rule. The text begins with judges that would have been viewed as inferior in more minor ways (e.g., one with a left hand, one that is a woman, etc.) and then descends from there to more morally reprehensible leaders that author seems to present as the best God has to “work with.” Gideon consults omens, something of which the DH would not approve. Samson breaks all of his oaths and cohorts with Philistine women (clearly something that DH does not approve of). The tribes are then seen as overly violent and destructive toward one another. Hence, Judges is not teaching Israel that they ought to sacrifice their children anymore than it is teaching them that they ought to marry foreign wives, or consult omens, etc.
    Again, if the prehistory of the story was associated with that then this is another matter altogether, as I was saying to Thom above. The point I would make is that a text that exists now in a larger corpus (whether that be a book, a series of books, or the canon as a whole) cannot be assigned the same meaning as its prehistory that evidences multiple and various other contexts that each may also be distinct from one another (as far as we know).
    So I would argue that the elements of the text MAY have once taught that God did X and approved of X now functions to teach that God did not approve of X, but used X to accomplish Y and communicate Z to the reader. This isn’t actually different than what Thom suggests, although Thom and I differ as to what many texts in their current context teach (i.e., the interpretive issue based upon our presupps of inspiration). I hope that helps clarify.

  8. Thanks Thom. Yes, I had read that exchange. I agree with you there that Hess needed to be more clear, especially when using the “text as we now have it” as interchangeable with “what we have in the MT.” You are right to ask him to clarify, and point out that the DSS gives us something more to consider about the text as we have it.

  9. Indeed, especially since major translations (such as the NRSV) think that 4QDeutj/q qualifies as “the Hebrew as we have it.”

  10. Thom,

    What a pleasure it is to read your work.

    You strike me as someone who places great value on the truth, whether it makes religion look good or bad. Your insights and critiques of religious history are always fascinating.

  11. I’m really thankful for the work you are doing, Thom. It is really helpful for those of us who have grown up in fundamentalist circles, and who are trying to seek truth and get a better orientation in life.

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