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Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts

Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts

Brad E. Kelle
Frank Ritchel Ames
Jacob L. Wright
  • Book Info
    Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contexts
    Book Description:

    New perspectives on Israelite warfare for biblical studies, military studies, and social theory

    Contributors investigate what constituted a symbol in war, what rituals were performed and their purpose, how symbols and rituals functioned in and between wars and battles, what effects symbols and rituals had on insiders and outsiders, what ways symbols and rituals functioned as instruments of war, and what roles rituals and symbols played in the production and use of texts.


    Thirteen essays examine war in textual, historical, and social contextsTexts from the Hebrew Bible are read in light of ancient Near Eastern texts and archaeologyInterdisciplinary studies make use of contemporary ritual and social theory

    eISBN: 978-1-58983-959-5
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)
    Jacob L. Wright

    Warfare, Ritual, and Symbol in Biblical and Modern Contextsis a collection of twelve essays (and a response essay) about war-related rituals and symbols and their functions in textual, historical, and social contexts. Most of the essays feature comparative and interdisciplinary approaches applied to texts in the Hebrew Bible, which are read in light of ancient Near Eastern literature, artifacts, and iconography, as well as contemporary ritual and social theory. The editors hope this volume will make a timely contribution to a growing concentration on the ways social theory and ritual studies can contribute to the interpretation of biblical texts...

  4. Part 1: Social Determination of Rituals and Symbols

    • Theorizing Circumstantially Dependent Rites in and out of War Contexts
      (pp. 15-24)
      Saul M. Olyan

      In this essay I examine the wartime and nonwartime functions of a number of rites whose meaning is entirely dependent on circumstance. Such rites can be used by an agent to physically harm and/or humiliate an established foe or to create a new enemy and initiate war. But many texts suggest that they may also have beneficial functions for both the agents and those upon whom they act under certain circumstances, including in wartime. Such rites include shaving and other forms of hair manipulation; disinterment and the movement of the remains of the dead; the burning of corpses or bones;...

    • Monumental Inscriptions and the Ritual Representation of War
      (pp. 25-46)
      Nathaniel B. Levtow

      The tapestry of war narratives spanning the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History invokes ritualized memorial traditions dating back to the earliest extant monumental inscriptions and narrative iconography in the ancient Near East. These Israelite narratives trace paths of victory through waters and wilderness, over hills and mountaintops, with ritual conquest motifs unfolding along the way as Yhwh and Israel vanquish other gods and peoples and claim hegemony over newly acquired territory.¹ The winding Deuteronomistic narrative of warfare, divine kingship, and state formation alludes to its own ritual memorialization, moreover, through prescribed invocations and rites performed in central sanctuaries after Israelite victories....

  5. Part 2: Rituals and Symbols of Escalation, Preparation, and Aggression

    • Joshua’s Encounter with the Commander of Yhwh’s Army (Josh 5:13–15): Literary Construction or Reflection of a Royal Ritual?
      (pp. 49-64)
      Thomas Römer

      It has often been observed that Assyrians were masters in warfare and also in warfare propaganda, using texts and images to their advantage. Within the biblical text of 2 Kgs 18–20, which combines different accounts of the aborted siege of Jerusalem in 701 b.c.e., a passage recalls how high officers of the Assyrian army were sent by the king to Jerusalem. In front of the wall of the city one of these officers utters a speech (in the Judean language!), inviting the inhabitants of the city to surrender and to accept the Assyrian king as their friend:

      Then the...

    • “A Sword for Yhwh and for Gideon!”: The Representation of War in Judges 7:16–22
      (pp. 65-82)
      Kelly J. Murphy

      Stories of swords enclose the book of Judges. As the book opens, Judah “[fights] against Jerusalem … [putting] it to the sword and [setting] the city on fire” (1:8). At the end of the book, Judg 21 records how Israel commands that the 12,000 soldiers “put the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead to the sword, including the women and the little ones” (21:10). In between, conflicts dominate and stories of swords punctuate the book: Ehud makes for himself a “cubit-length” sword, carrying it into Eglon’s palace and thrusting it into his belly (3:16, 21–22), while “all of the army of Sisera”...

    • The Red-Stained Warrior in Ancient Israel
      (pp. 83-110)
      Frank Ritchel Ames

      In and around ancient Israel, the bodies, clothing, and armaments of warriors were at times stained red—a display of color that is both evocative and horrific.¹ References to red-stained warriors are found in the Hebrew Bible in 1 Sam 16–17; 1 Kgs 2; Isa 63; Ezek 23; Nah 2; Zech 9; Song 5; Lam 4; and in ancient Near Eastern texts such as the First Soldiers Oath, Aqhatu Legend, and Kirta Epic, among others. This essay first presents the textual evidence for warrior staining as literary trope and ritual behavior and then discusses its use as sign and...

    • “I Will Strike You Down and Cut off Your Head” (1 Sam 17:46): Trash Talking, Derogatory Rhetoric, and Psychological Warfare in Ancient Israel
      (pp. 111-130)
      David T. Lamb

      “Scorn and defiance; slight regard, contempt, and anything that may not misbecome the mighty sender, doth he prize you at. Thus says my King”: this is Shakespeare’s version of the taunt uttered by the Duke of Exeter, messenger of Henry V, to Charles VI of France.¹ Exeter’s words are more dramatic, but perhaps not as entertaining, as the taunt, “Your mother is a hamster and your father reeks of elder-berry,” spoken by John Cleese in Monty Python’sThe Holy Grail

      Trash talking, far from being an innovation of modern athletics, literature, or film, was a staple course in ancient military...

    • “Some Trust in Horses”: Horses as Symbols of Power in Rhetoric and Reality
      (pp. 131-148)
      Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell

      Warhorses were the most lethal weapon known in the ancient world. Such was the raw power of the horse in time past, as today. They choose not to kill us every time we ride them. Weighing over a thousand pounds with a mounted warrior, trained warhorses easily knocked the enemy to the ground and trampled them to death with their sharp hooves, slicing and crushing vital organs. The warrior assisted by pinning the victim to the ground with his spear. Death was painful, but swift. Warhorses vanquished enemies on the battlefield immediately. Pharaohs, kings, and poets immortalized their reliability as...

    • War Rituals in the Old Testament: Prophets, Kings, and the Ritual Preparation for War
      (pp. 149-162)
      Rüdiger Schmitt

      No military action in the ancient Near East could be started without preceding ritual actions and omina. Accordingly, military actions in ancient Israel, as well as in Assyria and Babylonia, were accompanied by ritual actions and omina. War rituals and mantical consultations were an integral part of both preparations for war and postwar or postbattle activities in ancient times.¹ Rituals carried out in cases of war are acts with symbolic meaning and communicative functions directed to friend and foe. War rituals communicate military power, create solidarity within a nation and between military leaders and their troops, and stimulate confidence in...

  6. Part 3: Rituals and Symbols of Perpetuation, De-escalation, and Commemoration

    • Warfare Song as Warrior Ritual
      (pp. 165-186)
      Mark S. Smith

      Warrior poetry in the Bible has not been the subject of particular focus in biblical scholarship. What counts as warrior poetry, for example, Exod 15, Judg 5, and 2 Sam 1, has been subsumed under—or perhaps overwhelmed by—the twentieth century concern for so-called “old poetry.” Appeals about “old poetry” as dating to the Iron I (approximately 1200–1000) and Iron IIA (approximately 1000–925), made in the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., by Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman),¹ are rarely heard today in biblical scholarship. Such claims have come to be viewed as overconfident, in part because...

    • A Messy Business: Ritual Violence after the War
      (pp. 187-204)
      Susan Niditch

      Juxtaposing classical texts with the experiences of Vietnam War veterans suffering from PTSD, Jonathan Shay points to the many ways in which the traumatic violence of war follows soldiers home, extending beyond the combat even once the battles have concluded and normal life is expected to resume.¹ A number of biblical texts informed by patterns of ritual and often by ritual violence point to the realization among ancient Israelites that return to normalcy after the war is no easy journey and that the transition from war to peace is not automatic.

      Several of the texts dealing with events after the...

    • Postwar Rituals of Return and Reintegration
      (pp. 205-242)
      Brad E. Kelle

      The effects of war upon returning soldiers have long been of interest, especially within modern, Western cultures. At one point during World War I, Sigmund Freud wrote: “[W]hen the frenzied conflict of this war shall have been decided, every one of the victorious will joyfully return to his home, his wife and his children, undelayed and undisturbed by any thought of the enemy he has slain either at close quarters or by distant weapons of destruction.”³ Freud was, of course, lamenting this potential outcome, expressing his fear that the civilized person’s ethical sensitivity would be lost as a result of...

    • Does Yhwh Get His Hands Dirty? Reading Isaiah 63:1-6 in Light of Depictions of Divine Postbattle Purification
      (pp. 243-268)
      Jason A. Riley

      Does Yhwh “get his hands dirty”? That is, was Yhwh considered, as were other ancient Near Eastern deities, to have become defiled or unclean due to his acts of killing and/or contact with blood? Postbattle purification rituals for human warriors, including those intended to purify warriors from defilement caused by bloodshed, are commonly attested throughout the ancient Near East and beyond.¹ However, this article moves beyond the human aspect of postbattle rituals to investigate divine postbattle purification. The method of this study is to establish a typology of divine postbattle purification in the ancient Near East, with which to evaluate...

  7. Response

    • Forging a Twenty-First-Century Approach to the Study of Israelite Warfare
      (pp. 271-286)
      T. M. Lemos

      The twentieth century saw several important studies of Israelite warfare. Gerhard von Rad’sHoly War in Ancient Israeland Susan Niditch’sWar in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violencestand as the two landmark examples, but works by Norbert Lohfink, Sa-Moon Kang, Philip D. Stern, and Manfred Weippert are also noteworthy.¹ As Charles Trimm’s recent review of scholarship on warfare in the Hebrew Bible makes clear, biblical scholars have continued to produce many works on biblical warfare and violence in recent years.² At the same time, the study of Israelite ritual has flourished in the last...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 287-288)
  9. Index of Ancient Sources
    (pp. 289-300)
  10. Index of Modern Authors
    (pp. 301-309)