Saturday, March 11, 2023

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ghost Abstract 2: Sanders, "Placing Scribal Culture in History: Deuteronomy and Late Iron-Age Text Production"

Seth L. Sanders
Associate Professor of Religion
Trinity College

Deuteronomy's use of Near Eastern treaty elements has become central to a new debate about the formation of the text. This paper points out anachronistic assumptions about Mesopotamian and Judahite scribal techniques shared by both sides of the debate, arguing that a more careful use of contemporary evidence may stimulate new models and solutions. The placement of treaty-curses with striking late Iron-Age cuneiform parallels at different compositional layers of Deuteronomy has made the question of the status of Dtr 13 and 28 important to any historical account of Deuteronomy’s formation. The crux is the debate about whether they are a) deliberate and subversive reuse of the Vassal Treaty of Esarhaddon, as Otto and now Levinson argue (or deliberate but not subversive, as Stackert argues) or b) unconscious uses of a common ANE or West Semitic treaty-curse tradition with no direct connection to VTE, as Morrow and now Crouch argue.

But a historical comparison of Mesopotamian scribal text-building techniques with parallel evidence attested in Judahite literature suggests that neither subversion nor independence are likely explanations.

 The first-millennium cuneiform analog to canonization is serialization--the collection of culturally central texts of one genre into standardized, numbered series. VTE was never a canonical text—it was neither serialized nor standardized for scribal training. Instead, it was monumentalized. As the new evidence from Taynat shows, it was presented as a pragmatic ritual artifact independent of any textual collection. By contrast the Judahite analog was narrativization--the collection of culturally central texts of different genres into extended prose narratives, including the Deuteronomic history and the Priestly work (and perhaps E and the Covenant Code), each with embedded law collections and covenants. By contrast with Mesopotamian serialization (and the modern scholarly expectation of verbatim textual quotation) relevant inner-biblical strategies of narrativization do not typically work through the direct incorporation of prior texts but more fluidly, through allusion and complex citation.

Considering the empirical evidence for these three very different late Iron Age scribal text-building strategies gives us a more historical basis for interpreting the relationship between Dtr 13 and 28 with VTE. On the one hand the different Iron Age scribal text-building strategies explain why certain patterns expected by Morrow et al. failed to materialize. And on the other hand the expectations of extended verbatim duplication shared by Otto et al. are based on assumptions that the ancient scribal evidence tend to refute: treaty-curses were never treated as canonical, serialized textual material, but monumentalized in cuneiform and their elements narrativized in Judah.

S25-124 Israelite Religion in Its West Asian Environment
Monday, Nov 25
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Room: 329 - Convention Center

Ghost Abstract 1: Schott, “Byzantine Textuality and the New Testament: Commentary and Catenae”

Jeremy Schott

This paper explores the ongoing tradition of biblical exegesis in the Byzantine world after the eclipse of the biblical commentary as a literary form in late-antiquity and the Middle Byzantine period (roughly 7th-11th centuries CE).  Focusing on several manuscripts of the Pauline epistles, I reflect on how New Testament texts were experienced as part of a web of intertextuality among late-antique and Middle Byzantine intellectuals.
Catenae and the New Testament texts to which they are linked have traditionally been studied in isolation, with New Testament text critics working out the stemmata of New Testament texts and Patristics scholars plumbing catenae for fragments of lost commentaries of the Fathers.  In the Middle Byzantine period, however, commentary and base-text were frequently transmitted and read together.  Indeed, the pages of Middle Byzantine manuscripts were often designed so as to facilitate the inclusion (even proliferation) of catenae and other marginalia. Byzantine codices of the New Testament brought together previously distinct genres and forms (e.g. commentary, base-text, cross-referencing, kephalaia) in a complex literary technology.  Middle Byzantine manuscripts and their catenae thus offer an excellent source for exploring several key dimensions of Byzantine textuality, from theories of authorship and authority to theories of meaning.  

S23-112 Book History and Biblical Literatures
Friday, Nov 23
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 349 - Convention Center

A Guide to SBL Ghost Panels

This year's official SBL program and convenient "app" are not an entirely reliable guide to what is happening at the conference.

You may have noticed a few odd-looking panels on the program: two and a half hour sessions with only two speakers, spaces mentioning 'discussion' with nothing to be discussed...This is due to some combination of new rules preventing participants who do not register far enough in advance from being listed with administator error.

For those interested in subjects from early Jewish and Christian literature and book history, religious experience at Qumran, and the light shed by Iron Age scribal culture on Deuteronomy, I submit the following guide:

S23-112 Book History and Biblical Literatures
Friday, Nov 23
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: 349 - Convention Center
Theme: Bodies of Scripture: Book History, Materiality, and Scriptural Corpora

Benjamin Wright, Lehigh University, Presiding

Eva Mroczek, Indiana University
"Materiality and the Study of Early Jewish Textual Collections" - 35 min.

Jeremy Schott, Indiana University
“Byzantine Textuality and the New Testament: Commentary and Catenae” - 35 min.

Seth Perry, University of Washington
"Biblical Variety and Biblical Facility in Early America" - 35 min.

Discussion - 35 min.

(Schott not listed in official program; see next post for ghost abstract!)

S24-139 Religious Experience in Early Judaism and Early Christianity
Sunday, Nov 24
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Potomac 6 - Sheraton Inner Harbor
Theme: Review of Angela Harkins, Reading with an "I" to the Heavens: Looking at the Qumran Hodayot through the Lens of Visionary Traditions (DeGruyter, 2012)

Rodney Werline, Barton College, Presiding
Steven Weitzman, Stanford University, Panelist -25 min.
Carol Newsom, Emory University, Panelist -25 min.
Seth Sanders, Trinity College, Panelist -25 min.
Dan Merkur, University of Toronto, Panelist -25 min.
Angela Kim Harkins, Fairfield University, Respondent -20 min.
Discussion -30 min.

(Sanders not listed)

S25-124 Israelite Religion in Its West Asian Environment
Monday, Nov 25
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM

Room: 329 - Convention Center
Theme: Religion, Politics & Society

Simeon Chavel, University of Chicago, Presiding

Nathaniel Levtow, University of Montana "The Cultic Contexts of Monumental Inscriptions in Ancient West Asia" -20 min.

Seth Sanders, Trinity College "Placing Scribal Culture in History: Deuteronomy and Late Iron-Age Text Production" -20 min.

C.L. Crouch, University of Nottingham "Deuteronomy’s Identity Issues in Anthropological and Archaeological Perspective" -20 min.

Joel S. Burnett, Baylor University Iron Age "Deir ‘Alla: Gods, Kingdoms, and Worship at the Boundaries" -20 min

Karel van der Toorn, Universiteit van Amsterdam "The Jewish Pantheon at Elephantine" -20 min

(Sanders not listed; see next post for ghost abstract!)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Philosophy and Its Enemies

In a review in the New York Times today we find the Jurisprudence professor Robert George’s conclusions about religion:

‘Religion, he reasons, should be thought of as “conscientious truth-seeking regarding the ultimate sources of meaning and value” and, therefore, “a crucial dimension of human well-being and fulfillment.”’

George presents religion as a form of philosophy, not a revealed certainty: something that asks and discovers rather than just knows and then tells us. What kind of truths can this inquisitive religion discover about “the ultimate sources of meaning and value”? Are they actual discoveries or just confirmations of the happy old truths it already knows? Conscientious truth-seeking is ready to let the consequences be damned: a conscientious person accepts the strongest arguments whether or not they make the person happy, an important point whether or not it confirms their prejudices, and admits when things are not yet clear.

On marriage, George relies on “philosophical ideas” that, according to the sympathetic reviewer, “predate the modern concept of sexual identity.” What are George’s premodern “philosophical” ideas? That
marriage unites husband and wife across all levels of being, physical, emotional and spiritual. Male and female complementarity allows them to unite “organically” as “a single procreative principle.” Note the word “principle”: whether they actually procreate or not, men and women are engaging in “one flesh unity.”

But the principle that we were intended to procreate and become one flesh comes not from any kind of “inquiry” but anonymous stories, so traditional that they have no known author. In Genesis 1, God creates men and women together, last of all animal life, and endows them with the procreative principle: "He blessed them, saying: 'bear fruit and become many!'" They begin together, at the pinnacle of creation. In Genesis 2, on the other hand, a pointedly single man is created, first of all animal life, and the Lord begins creating animals, one by one, to find one that will be a suitable partner for the man. Frustrated, the Lord aenesthetizes the man and performs surgery on him, cloning a new being out of his body:

And the man said, “This is the right one, bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! I will call her woman because she was taken from man!”

This is why a man leaves his father and his mother and joins to his wife and they become one flesh together.

The narrator never tells us how he knows what knows with this perfect certainty: that man was in fact created first, not last, of all living things. He makes no mention of why he differs with Genesis 1: that men and women join together in fleshly embrace not because God declared in words that they do so, but rather that the Lord surgically built one out of the other.

These two stories may be true or something else, they may be good for us or something more. What they are not is truth-seeking inquiry, and anyone who wishes to present them as that may be trying slyly to replace it with something else. Such people are not philosophy’s friends.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Imago Templi II: Temples and The Temple in Judahite and Judean Imagination

Again, left on the cutting-room floor of my forthcoming study of Textual Production and Religious Experience: The Transformation of Scribal Cultures in Judea and Babylonia

The first presentation of a shrine's architecture in the Bible comes not as a description but as a set of instructions. Strikingly, it follows immediately upon the Bible's first vision of a piece of actual heavenly architecture, in the form of God's throne (Exodus 24:10).

"And they saw the God of Israel, and beneath his feet was something like a brickwork of lapis lazuli, (kemaˤaśê libnat hassappîr) like the very heavens in purity (ṭwhr)."

Especially interesting here is the comparison to brick. While it was still a common building material in Iron Age Syria-Palestine, brick is a low-prestige material in the Tanakh. Not one brick is used in the construction of the Temple, the Tabernacle, or Solomon's palace, and brick construction, as opposed to stone, appears to be the subject of a barb in the Tower of Babel story (Gen 11:3).

The immediately following account of the Tabernacle begins, like the description of God's throne, as a vision (Exodus 25:9):

"Exactly as I show you--the pattern (tabnît) of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings--so shall you make it."

The key term is tabnît, which has the connotation of a heavenly visual model. That this special force of the term continues to be available is shown by its use later in the Qumran Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, where it also denotes the visual appearance of something in heaven. But in the passage that follows, we are not shown a vision: the plan for the tabernacle is framed, instead, as direct discourse from God in the form of a set of verbal commandments.

The construction of the Jerusalem Temple in 1 Kings 5-7 is, by contrast, a complex narrative. Rather than God speaking to Moses, the project of building the Jerusalem Temple is initiated in the quoted text of a letter sent by Solomon to the Phoenician king Hiram. God's verbal mandate to build the Temple is quoted in turn within this letter. The discursive framing signifies a deeper difference: in contrast to the Tabernacle, the Temple is to be a political affair, initiated in talk between rulers. The rest of the account is narrative, interrupted by a warning from God at the point when the physical structure is finished. The building account concludes without any substantial description of ritual practices or personnel, and is followed by a separate section describing how God comes to dwell in the Temple. Striking is the prayer which Solomon prays: its ritual instructions (8:31ff) are directed to the people of Israel, concerning how to use the Temple in times of need; no instructions are directed toward the priests.

There are two main contrasts between the building accounts of the Tabernacle and the Temple. Generically, the Tabernacle's construction is commanded by God while the Temple's construction is narrated by the authorial voice of I Kings. And ritually, the Tabernacle account instructs the priests in how to perform its cultic operations, while the Temple account contains nothing of the sort.

The account of the new temple in Ezekiel 40-44 represents a third related type. In a divinely inspired vision the temple's space is shown and measured by an angel and the instructions for its rituals are commanded by God through the angel. Ezekiel's vision also differs significantly from the Tabernacle and the Temple accounts in content: while there is a limitless interest in the temple's physical layout and dimensions, not once does it mention what it is made of.

In the Hellenistic period, there appear to have been two strategies for imagining the Temple: in the Temple Scroll, an Ezekielian architectural program is written into the Torah and designed to be carried out on earth. The second is the transfer of the Temple to heaven. But while the architecture and rituals of the Temple Scroll have been subject to careful scrutiny, the shape of this new heavenly temple and the specific mode of its construction remain vague. Is the heavenly temple of apocalyptic literature in fact the Jerusalem Temple, mapped onto heaven?

In an important note on the Canaanite background of biblical and apocalyptic images of heaven, Mark Smith (1987) pointed out that some of the materials and building techniques of Baal's house corresponded not only to God's heavenly palace in Exodus, and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice but to earlier West Semitic texts. The building of Baal's temple is described thus: first, the materials are commanded [CAT 1.4 V 18-19, 33-5]

wbn.bht.ksp.wḫrṣ And build the house with silver and gold,
bht.ṭhrm.iqnim The house of pure lapis lazuli

When it comes time to actually build, the house is burnt, a process that transforms the precious metals into usable building materials: [KTU 1.4 VI 34-8]

sb.ksp.lrqm The silver had turned to building material ,
ḫrṣ/nsb.llbnt The gold had become bricks
šmḫ/aliyn.bˤl Mightiest Baal rejoices:
[b]hty.bnt/dt.ksp. “My house I have built of silver,
hkly[.]dtm/ḫrṣ My palace of gold.”

The construction of bricks and the use of lapis in Baal's temple provides a background for the appearance of God's throne in Exodus 24, as is commonly recognized in the commentaries. But these texts are in turn part of a larger picture: Avigdor Hurowitz (1992) points out that there are significant parallels between the Baal narrative and the biblical texts. These include 1) "the hiring of an artisan who is mentioned specifically by name" (Bezalel and Oholiab in the Tabernacle story, Hiram in the Temple account, Kothar-wa-Hasis in the Baal epic), with no significant parallel in the Mesopotamian writings (102-3) and 2) the statement that the recipient of the new structure "had no house, and afterward the text goes on to state what substitutes there were for the missing house." (103) These features seem to be shared by West Semitic accounts over against the Mesopotamian ones.

But, as Hurowitz demonstrates, much of the structure of the account of Baal's temple fits the pattern of Mesopotamian building accounts. These include 1) a request to build; 2) obtaining the approval of the high god; 3) negotiating divine obligations; 3) brickmolding; 4) building; and 5) dedication festivities. Hurowitz points out that "in certain details the Baal epic loudly echoes several characteristically Mesopotamian ideas." These include similarities to the dedication festivities in Gudea Cylinder B, Enki's Journey to Nippur and Enūma Eliš.

But what was Baal's temple at Ugarit, the one his worshipers would have encountered, actually made of? The fact is that the temple walls, preserved in several places, are constructed of large, well-cut stones, carefully assembled on massive stone foundations. Of course, stone was the prestige material of construction in the West Semitic world, as the stonework of the Jerusalem Temple and the jibe at mudbrick construction in Genesis suggest. But it leads to a more surprising observation: by contrast with Baal's actual temple, his temple in the Baal epic, as well as God's palace in Exodus 24 and the heavenly temple of the Songs, represents the heavenly temple as constructed with a low-status building technique.

In other words, neither in Biblical nor Ugaritic myth is the physical construction of the heavenly temple modeled on that of the earthly one. The Baal epic does not project the earthly construction of Baal's temple onto the mythic one; rather the tradition embodied in the Baal epic reflects older mythological conceptions. This tradition finds a closer fit with archaeologically attested practices when it appears almost a thousand years earlier, in the first-person account of temple-building in Gudea Cylinder B. Like Baal, Gudea burns the area where he is building, and molds bricks. But unlike Baal, Gudea's gods were actually worshipped in brick temples. In the contexts in which the Baal epic was used at Ugarit, its images were already archaic.

If the lack of fit between the temple materials of Baal's textual and physical throne is significant, the distance between the brickwork of Exodus 24 and the materials of the Jerusalem Temple is a striking reccurrence of the same phenomenon. The phenomenon reaches its extreme in the following text from the eleventh Song of the Sabbath Sacrifice, 4Q405 19 a,b,c,d 3-7:

The pi[ece]work of the wondrous firmament is 4 brightly mixed (mmwlḥ ṭwhr)...[im]ages of the living God/living divine beings, images of bright spirits. 5 A[l]l their workmanship is of holy, wondrous joining, [spirits (formed of)] piecework, [fi]gures of the shapes of divine beings engraved 6 around their [gl]orious bricks (llbny [k]bwdm), glorious images (formed of) splendid and awesome b[rick]work (lmˤśy l[bn]y hwd whd[r ]). Their construction is all of the living God/living divine beings 7 and the appearance of their figures is (that of) holy angels.

This text shows a deep fascination with seeing and encountering the physical construction of the heavenly temple: if our previous texts narrate heavenly architecture, this passage detonates it. And its imagery cannot be simply derived from a Biblical text. If the relation to I Kings 19 is exegetical, the use of two words from Exodus 24:10 ṭwhr and lbnt, is not, since they are not used in a similar way or associated with each other (thus failing Fishbane's criteria for exegetical reuse). Instead, the words appear in phrases unparalleled in the Bible. Indeed, one reason for the difficulty in interpreting this passage as a whole is that it appears to have a set of idioms and a technical vocabulary with which we were previously unfamiliar.

This combination of ancient architectural concerns, which seem in some way to bypass those of the Bible, with a pervasive concern with the number seven as a physical structuring principle, suggests that we have found essential elements in this text which can neither be derived from Bible interpretation nor imagined as springing full-blown out of the minds of the Qumran sectarians. The entire body of liturgical and poetic material in the Tanakh shows almost no interest in the appearance or features of the Temple. From a strictly formal point of view, the Shirot's closest relatives are not in the Bible but in the (earlier and contemporary) Sumerian Temple hymns and the (later) Hekhalot literature.

The most plausible explanation of these literary patterns is that there was a set of poetic techniques transmitted among Judean circles who were not only speculatively interested in but also ritually committed to the visualization and worship of a heavenly temple. The archaism of elements of these texts and their partial independence from biblical language and views suggests that they continue liturgical traditions not well represented in the Bible and not necessarily directed towards or performed in the Jerusalem Temple. The archaeology of worship in ancient Israel demonstrates there had to be liturgies outside of Jerusalem, and our Hellenistic materials may represent their descendants.

This suggests a new explanation for the apparent explosion of interest in heavenly temples in Jewish apocalyptic: these apparently new materials build on an ancient and to some extent shared hymnic tradition barely attested in the Bible. Temples outside of Jerusalem provide a possible physical and ritual context for the use of these hymns. We are thus able to document not only in the ancient Near East but within early Jewish tradition itself a stream of Israelite religion only dimly hinted at in the Hebrew Bible.

Imago Templi I: Temples and The Temple in Judahite Practice

From a section cut from my forthcoming study of Textual Production and Religious Experience: The Transformation of Scribal Cultures in Judea and Babylonia
“The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the largest shrine; on that altar Solomon presented a thousand burnt offerings. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night...”
1 Kings 3:4-5 (emphasis mine)

The vision of the heavenly temple may be the single most prominent mythic element in Jewish apocalyptic literature. In apocalyptic narratives and related liturgy, the heavenly temple is presented as visually encountered: it is beheld in its awesomeness and praised by the protagonist or speaker. In the Hebrew Bible by contrast, the phenomenon appears only in ambiguous snippets: Isaiah 6's divine throne is not just in heaven but also in Jerusalem.

Yet if there is one thing the finds from Qumran reveal, it is that the Hebrew Bible gives only a narrow sample of ancient Judean literature and religious practice. In these texts we find not only new interpretations but entirely new episodes, themes, words and ideas. Explaining them as dependent on familiar old texts surely helps cope with the disarray into which the flood of material throws the Biblicist. Stressing the exegesis of known texts, rather than what was previously unknown, is a way of mastering the corpus by fitting it into the apparatus of biblical scholarship.

But how could we trace where this new material—for example, about the temple--comes from? Because of the nature of the Hebrew Bible's editing, it is a partial and limited source for the history of the religion it describes. There is, however, a substantial ancient Near Eastern literature concerning temples, including myths, hymns, rituals and building accounts, and extensive excavated material attests to the physical features of earthly Near Eastern temples. This makes the heavenly temple a promising test case for ways to integrate the new Hellenistic material into the history of the religion of Israel.

The imagination of the temple and the imagination of heaven are bound up together. But how does one study that imagination historically, in connection with human practices and social realities? Ancient ideas about the Jerusalem Temple are difficult to place in history: while the architectural record manifests significant parallels to the architecture described in Kings, Chronicles and Ezekiel, our only direct evidence about the early history of the Jerusalem Temple is contained in the biblical texts and dependent on how we reconstruct our literary sources. Its physical beginnings are not accessible to us.

In later periods, changes in the role of the Temple can be documented, but their analysis is dominated by a single influential theory. This model holds that the crucial change in the image of the Temple was a response to its decline. As the Temple's rituals became invalid in the eyes of some groups, they "spiritualized" the concept of the Temple: the real Temple moved from earth to heaven, becoming physically unreachable where it had been present before (for a disscussion, see Martha Himmelfarb's Ascent to heaven in Jewish and Christian apocalypses, pp. 10-16) In the Hellenistic period, the heavenly Temple waxed as the earthly Temple waned in Jewish apocalypses. Revelation, the Apocalypse of Abraham, the Enochic Book of the Watchers, and the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice are understood as the products of a sort of compensatory biblical exegesis, motivated by longing for return to the Temple as it had once been. If so much Hellenistic and post-Destruction Jewish creativity was an attempt to compensate for the loss of the Temple, the central topos of national religious life, this suggests the natural explanation of the heavenly Temple as a projection of the Jerusalem Temple. While the Temple had always existed in both this world and the other, the balance shifted to heaven as the Temple's this-worldly legitimacy began to wane.

But this theory takes the Jerusalem Temple's total dominance in ideal and reality for granted. That consensus requires a remarkable uniformity of imagination and practice on the part of ancient Israelites--one they are not likely to have had. As Michael Stone wrote,

"In principle, there is no reason to think that the body of literature that is transmitted as the Hebrew Bible is a representative collection of all types of Jewish literary creativity down to the fourth century...It is specious, therefore, when faced with a third-century phenomenon, either to seek its roots in the Bible or to relegate it to foreign influence. Circles other than those transmitting the biblical books existed, or else those involved in transmitting the biblical books did not allow a considerable part of the intellectual culture of their day to be expressed in them..."

By the Persian period there were of course substantial numbers of Jews living far away from Jerusalem and firmly embedded in local economies and cultures. What was their relationship to the centralized Temple? We know that the members of the colony at Elephantine considered themselves Jews, retained Israelite names, and observed the Sabbath and Passover. They kept in regular contact with the Jerusalem religious authorities. Interestingly, the Jews of Elephantine worshipped hypostatized temples and elements of temples, including the gods bytˀl "The Temple", ḥrmbytˀl "Sacredness/Sacred Enclosure of the Temple" , ˀšmbytˤl "Name of the Temple", and ˤntbytˀl "Sign of the Temple." The phenomenon reaches back further than this in West Semitic religions, already attested by the seventh century in the treaties of Esarhaddon ( SAA II 5 p. 27; 6 p. 49)

Indeed, the process of hypostatizing and personifying religious architecture is already seen in the Bible itself, where Jacob's altar at Shechem was called "El, God of Israel" (Genesis 33:20) while the altar at Bethel was named "El of Bethel" (35:7). The phenomenon of proper names for temples is well known in Mesopotamia, where temples had individual names and a large corpus of hymns naming and detailing the physical features of the temples was in use, evolving from the earliest literary texts through the Seleucid period. With the exception of the pillars Jachin and Boaz, such naming is not predicated of the Jerusalem Temple.

The Jerusalem Temple's very political centrality would have made it religiously anomalous. Indeed, the Temple's greatest prominence may in fact have been in the Hellenistic period, when it is safer to assume that in the diaspora, as in the land of Israel, "the formal focus of religion was the Temple." Yet as Safrai notes, even then pilgrimage was not necessarily a particularly important form before the late Hellenistic period. It is not possible to state with certainty how dominant the Temple was or how far back opposition to the unique cosmic status of Jerusalem and the Temple goes. However, it is likely that there was no point in Israel's history at which it was universally accepted. This perspective is reinforced by independent study of the archaeological evidence.

“The guilt of Judah is inscribed with a stylus of iron...while their children remember their altars and their Asherahs, beside every green tree, and on the high hills." (Jeremiah 17:1-2)

In his groundbreaking study of "Religion in Israel and Judah Under the Monarchy: An Explicitly Archaeological Approach," John Holliday notes that "every Israelite and Judean cult center so far identified (whether correctly or not is another story) seemed to represent a different tradition." (251). In principle, he argues, we should expect a variety of levels of structure, from central town buildings to smaller shrines to surreptitious, concealable sites: and this is precisely what archaeological survey suggests. The general picture his survey produces supports the classic reading between the lines of the prophetic jeremiad: at no point was the cultic picture in Israel or Judah uniform, and at no point was the Temple the only option.
This picture is accepted by many scholars. But the consequences have not been followed through: if alternative sacred sites were constantly available and used, then they must also have been constantly imagined and discussed: there were alternative verbal models for imagining and describing sacred space—ones omitted from the bible. A discourse of pilgrimage to Temple courtyards (Psalms 84, 135) and a mountainous, fortified holy site (Psalms 24, 87 etc.), would not be expected in the liturgy of a small shrine or a minimal, mud-brick cella. The diversity of physical cult sites would be expected to correspond to a diversity of imaginative mythic and ritual complexes in Israelite tradition.

One reconstruction of such a complex from the archaeological record was provided by Gosta Ahlström in a brilliant article on "Heaven on Earth - at Hazor and Arad." After claiming that there is a common ancient Near Eastern view that the temple can represent heaven on earth, Ahlström began his analysis by describing the layout of the broadroom sanctuary 3136 in the last stratum of Hazor, datable to the 13th century. This room appears to have been an open-air sanctuary enclosed by a temenos wall, oriented on a northwest axis with a niche in the northwest wall. The room contained a podium and a basalt statue of a seated man with a cup in his right hand, found in situ in a row with ten stelae. The statue's chest and one of the stelae bore lunar crescents and other iconography indicating that they represent gods; an offering table faced the stelae. Ahlström argues that

"It is at this point that the idea of the temple as heaven on earth, the realm of the god(s), can be helpful. If two of the stelae are deities, then the other stelae would likewise be symbols of other deities of the pantheon, standing in attendance upon the two main gods of the temple..This cult niche at Hazor has thus furnished a rare archeological illustration of the religious phenomenon of a Canaanite divine assembly." (79)

Similar phenomena are identifiable at Iron Age Israelite sites. The example utilized by Ahlström was the Arad sanctuary, described by Mettinger in his definitive study of Israelite aniconism as "what seems to be the clearest example of all" of a maṣṣēbôt cult. As at Hazor we find the NW corner of the shrine marked, this time with a bāmâ: We appear to have to do here with three sacred stones: a large one with red pigment and two smaller ones with plaster.

Again, Ahlström:

"Assuming that all three stelae from Arad are maṣṣēbôt, how should this phenomenon be interpreted? Once again, the idea of the temple as heaven on earth suggests, as mentioned above, that they are deity symbols. Thus, these stelae would be a parallel to the Hazor occurrence. Also, as has already been mentioned, the Israelite mythology included the concept of YHWH having a divine assembly."(82)

Considering the nature of this shrine, integrated into a fortress which epigraphic evidence proves was an Israelite outpost, its iconography is especially interesting. The most plausible explanation of the multiplicity of maṣṣēbôt would appear to be Ahlström's "divine assembly" hypothesis. Obvious, but worthy of emphasis here is the absence of any kind of ark, cherubim or throne. We have to do here with an official place of worship that presents an iconography, and thus a visual and spatial experience, significantly different from that of the Jerusalem Temple. Yet the broad outlines of the Arad sanctuary do mirror those of the Jerusalem Temple, including a basic three-room structure, the presence of an inner sanctum (debîr), and a pair of pillars. Not only this, but the Arad sanctuary appears to have been accepted by members of the Jerusalem priesthood: offering lists found near the temple list the priestly families of Meremoth, Pashhur, and the sons of Korach as contributors (Arad ostraca 50, 54, 49 respectively).

What are the consequences of such a site, in contact with but divergent from the institution of the Jerusalem Temple? What the Arad sanctuary, and its continuities with both the Hazor and Jerusalem Temple, makes clear, is that there existed not only abstract alternative "streams of tradition" outside of those of the Bible but actual physical places where rituals divergent from those of the Temple were carried out. These places, as sites of human religious activity, must have had their own prayers, blessings, and versions of myths. By contrast, the liturgical and ritual material preserved in the Tanakh is centered on Jerusalem and not likely to have been used in a temple outside of Jerusalem. As physical icons of the location of the divine assembly, these alternative sites could have been the places where alternative visions of temples and heaven were cultivated.