Sihon, King of the Amorites
gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
Tue Mar 21 06:44:32 EST 2000
----- Original Message -----
From: Jonathan D. Safren <yonsaf at beitberl.ac.il>
To: George Athas <gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au>
Cc: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Monday, March 20, 2000 12:52 AM
Subject: Re: Sihon, King of the Amorites
> George Athas wrote:
> > So, then, are we positing here that there was a man called Sihon who was part of a
> > ancient giants, who lived in the 13th century BCE? Why could not the poem have a
> > or even a mythic origin? Why must it have a source in an actual historical personage?
> [JSafren] Sihon is not called aa rafa' (which you translate giant in accordance with the
> Deuteronomic explanation - but see the lit. on Dn'il the Ugaritic rpu') in Numbers,
> Judges 11; Og is, as are te autochtonic, pre-Ammonite inhabitants of Ammon.
Yes, you're correct. Sihon is simply called "king of the Amorites". However, he is always
mentioned in connection with Og, who was a rapha (yes, the same as the rpu' in Ugaritic
literature -- legendary ancient heroes who lived in the underworld, yet had some influence
in human affairs). Do we accept Sihon as an historical personage yet reject Og's
historicity? Do we do so even though they are integrally associated together?
> In any case,
> anyone over 155 cm would have been a giant forf the ancient Israelites.
Yet why such a huge couch for Og? The various peoples classified generally as "rephaim"
were considered as some kind of terrifying, giant race (cf Anaqim - the "longnecks").
> Why posit a mythic source for the poem when neither the poem itself nor its prose
> superscription give any such indication, neither in form nor content? It reads like a
> straightforward paean of victory. No gods, no miracles, nothing out of the ordinary. The
> "fire" and "flame" are figurative of the wrath and power of Sihon and Heshbon.
> And why can't it have its source in an actual historical personage, besides the
> prevailing trend in Biblical scholarship to view every historical description in the
> part of "Israel's Mythic Past"? I will be the first one to admit the non-historical
> of much of what is written in the Torah, but when something like this comes out and hits
> in the face, why ignore it? I prefer to swim against the stream in this case.
Yet, what is it that makes us accept Sihon as an historical figure and yet see Og as a
fantastical figure? Is it this poem? The existence of a poem or common proverbial song
doesn't relegate Sihon into the realm of history (or non-history for that fact). Sihon is
still just a literary character on the page. He hasn't jumped into the physical world with
this poem. You are right -- there may well have been someone called Sihon -- but how do we
know? If it is only the poem which leads us to this conclusion, then it's on shakey
> > Why would an Israelite be interested in writing such a poem? Perhaps as a polemic
> > Moabites? See Num 21:28. The poem is a traditional saying, according to Num 21:27. The
> > Israelites obviously used it because it's in Numbers. So, an Israelite would have been
> > very much interested in writing such a poem if an Israelite could use it (as an
> > obviously did). It serves the purpose of the Numbers narrative.
> [JSafren} But why heap such effusive praise on Sihon? It's the kind of praise one might
> from an Israelite victory song over Israel's own victories. But notice the big
> Israelite victory songs preserved in the Bible, such as the Song of Deborah, accord the
> victory to YHWH. The Sihon song attributes the victory to Sihon alone, who has defeated
> people of Chemosh".
What better way to ham up the victory of the home side than to play up the strength of the
away side? Shalmaneser III did it in his description of Qarqar in 853 BCE. The Bible does
it many times. Make the enemy look very strong and powerful and their defeat is seen to be
even more spectacular.
> As you yourself admit, the song is a traditional saying, and its inclusion in Numbers
> have served the Israelite historiographer very well: That selfsame Sihon who defeated
> first king of Moab - was in turn defeated by the israelites under YHWH's patronage.
> > Whether an Israelite originally composed it or not is another question. It's certainly
> > possible.
> [JSafren] If he did, then it's certainly a good forgery. Like the Tel Dan Inscription?
Very cheeky!! :)
Dept of Semitic Studies,
University of Sydney
Tel Dan Inscription Website
< gathas@ mail.usyd.edu.au >
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