Dr. Richard S. Hess

Old Testament Questions from the desk of Dr. Richard S. Hess

Are there examples of “completely destroy” outside the Bible?

Are there examples of the word for “completely destroy” others (as in Deuteronomy 7:2 and 26) outside the Bible? The Hebrew noun is ḥērem.

While there are other terms with similar meanings (such as at Ugarit) the root has already been well known as it appears in the 9th century BC inscription on a stele of Mesha king of Moab (a nation just east of the Dead Sea in modern Jordan). Mesha uses the same root (ḥerem – ḥrm) to describe how he devoted the war booty he obtained from Israelite town to Chemosh, the chief god of Moab.  In 13th century BC Ugarit mythological texts the warrior goddess Anat engages in violent death and war similar to what some have seen in ḥērem.

This root has also been attested now in ESA (Sabean) or South Arabic on text RES 3945 where the city of Nashan is so devoted by burning it as a sacrifice to the moon deity Almaqah. See also DAI Ṣirwāḥ 2005-50, a Sabean text that describes other cities so devoted. 

Theodore J. Lewis, The Origin and Character of God, Oxford, 2020, pp. 462-64, compares Joshua’s assault on Jericho.  Yahweh give orders to Joshua, the army, and the priests (Joshua 5:13-6:16).  While the Mesha stele commemorates the building of cult places, as does Joshua 8:30-31, the biblical text also emphasizes intercessory prayer, fasting, and sacrifice (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:5-11; 13:9, 12). As with Moab, so with Israel, war was a holy activity in which the troops consecrated themselves before God.  The holiness (qdš) of divine war lay, according to Lewis, in the ancient cosmic war among the gods and supernatural beasts who were vanquished by the victor god.  In Mesopotamia this victorious deity was Eshnunna and later Marduk.

See further my “Archaeology and Israelite Religions,” in The Face of Old Testament Studies (new edition, forthcoming); and in what is presently named “New Discoveries and Archaeological Studies in Pre- and Early Israelite Religion of the Second Millennium BCE,” forthcoming.

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