About Me

A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. THE POSTS THEMSELVES GET UPDATED .

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Human Sacrifice ? in the Bible Part 3

There is an interesting story in the Tenach,  II Samuel 21. Other ancient cultures myths, legends  and customs can provide interesting parallels and insights into this story as well as most of the Tenach and even Jewish customs.  This has been my  mantra from over 35 years ago when I accidentally discovered parallels to the numerous rituals and stories of the Tenach amongst the pagans. I am aware of the Rambam style apologetic responses and have written a little about them  in Cut Off in the Bible ; Statute Forever in the Bible ; and Explanations of Pagan Customs in Judaism with some notes on Maimonides  especially part 4 of the last post.  (Side note: In addition, Rambam’s theory is contradicted by the Tenach  itself as well as by numerous other traditional Jewish opinions.)

II Samuel 21:1 And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David sought the face of the LORD.  And the LORD said: 'It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites.' 2 And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them--now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them; and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah-- 3 and David said unto the Gibeonites: 'What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?' 4 And the Gibeonites said unto him: 'It is no matter of silver or gold between us and Saul, or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.' And he said: 'What say ye that I should do for you?' 5 And they said unto the king: 'The man that consumed us, and that devised against us, so that we have been destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel, 6 let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD.'

And the king said: 'I will deliver them.' 7 But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD'S oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. 8 But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; 9 and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the LORD, and they fell all seven together; and they were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest. 10 And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured upon them from heaven; and she suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. 11 And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done. 12 And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the broad place of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, in the day that the Philistines slew Saul in Gilboa; 13 and he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged. 14 And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulchre of Kish his father; and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was entreated for the land.

The story begins with a 3 year unabated famine that prompts King David to seek an explanation from Yahweh and hopefully end the famine (presumably thru rain. Recall, Yahweh controls rain fall.)

Yahweh explains it was because of a past sin of King Saul who killed some Gibeonites. (Rashi seem to explain it was 7 Gibeonites). My first concern is that this hardly seems fair to famine an entire nation for some past sins of a single or a few individuals. After all most of the nation had nothing to do with it. But it gets worse.

Rather than Yahweh informing King David how to rectify the situation, David asks the Gibeonites for their solution which is to give them 7 (there is that magic number yet again) of Saul's male descendants who it seems will be killed as some sort of human sacrifices (?) to Yahweh. - i.e. in verse 6 let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will HANG THEM UP UNTO THE LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD. Here is a time in the Biblical world when it was better to be a female.

Rather than objecting, David selects 7 of Sauls male offspring and provides them to the Gibeonites. It seems the human sacrifices (?)  are offered to Yahweh, at the beginning of the barley harvest. Speculation: Why the beginning of the harvest  ?  Could this be related to fertility cult concerns. ? {Sacrifice or Human Sacrifice at the time of harvest as well as other periods of the growing season are found amongst various cultures -  for examples  see James George Frazer's the Golden Bough.  1922 Abridged edition :  Here are just a few examples from chapter 47 section 3 "The people of Canar (now Cuenca in Ecuador) used to sacrifice a hundred children annually at harvest. The kings of Quito, the Incas of Peru, and for a long time the Spaniards were unable to suppress the bloody rite. At a Mexican harvest-festival, when the first-fruits of the season were offered to the sun, a criminal was placed between two immense stones, balanced opposite each other, and was crushed by them as they fell together. His remains were buried, and a feast and dance followed. This sacrifice was known as 'the meeting of the stones.' We have seen that the ancient Mexicans also sacrificed human beings at all the various stages in the growth of the maize, the age of the victims corresponding to the age of the corn; for they sacrificed new-born babes at sowing, older children when the grain had sprouted, and so on till it was fully ripe, when they sacrificed old men. No doubt the correspondence between the ages of the victims and the state of the corn was supposed to enhance the efficacy of the sacrifice."}

Amazingly, rather than Yahweh being offended by all this, he is placated and ends the famine !

By studying ancient near east and other ancient cultures we may perhaps gain deeper insights, including the Rizpah vigil see verse 10.

From the Book Myth Legend and Custom In The Old Testament by Theodor H. Gaster 1969 

Beginning on Page 482 - The book suggests the possibility the “...the story revolved around the widespread notion that the essential vitality of a person lies in the bodily fluids so that a corpse must be ‘watered’ before it can be assured of eventual resurrection.” For example the Arabs often would bury the dead near water and there is an ancient Arab poem that the dead man’s spirit  prays to drink from rain . There is an English proverb “Blessed is the dead the rain rains on.”  There are also beliefs that the dew revives the dead. 

Regarding the famine - the Book explains  un-avenged spirits of the slain can affect soil fertility by causing drought or blight. For example a plague broke out in ancient Rome and the Pythian oracle advised the wrath of Saturn and the spirits of those unjustly slain should be appeased. Unlike the Tenach story, no humans are killed to Saturn/spirits, but rather a temple was built to Saturn. (A similar notion is found on page 66 -  The Idea that blood of a murdered man thus demands satisfaction is attested  in the modern and ancient near east.)

Beginning page 71 - The book relates the story to  Cain and Abel and other verses in the Old Testament.  For the Cain and Abel story - the earth polluted by blood and offended by the crime would not let seed sown by the murderer to sprout.  In the Ugaritic Poem of Aqhat a murder entails drought and crops become blighted. This ideas appears repeatedly in the Old Testament - for example Numbers 35:33  So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are; for blood, it polluteth the land; and no expiation can be made for the land for the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. 

Or as David prays in II Samuel 17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son...21 Ye mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of choice fruits; for there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil. The book  lists many other examples. 

Similar notions are found amongst the ancient Greeks - for Example: “In the Eumenides of Aeschylus the goddess Athene warns the people not to incur blight or sterility through bloodshed.” The book lists other examples.

Related Posts are Human Sacrifice in the Bible Part I and Part II