Herem (was terminology)

Liz Fried lizfried at
Sat Feb 10 16:21:03 EST 2001

Dear Samuel,
One of the many joys I have had in studying the bible
critically is being able to take myself and others off these particular
horns. (Tho we may find others.)
I was teaching Hebrew to a friend and we were reading Joshua,
and he was similarly upset and confused (as were my own
children when they studied it).  I gave them all the Mesha
Stele to read. It was a great gift to myself and to each of them.
It placed everything in perspective; it provided understanding.
The  Moabite Stele can be found in translation in Cogan and Tadmor's
Anchor Bible Commentary on II Kings, p.333-4. It can also be found
in a great little book called Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories
from the Ancient Near East, by Victor Matthews and Don Benjamin.
The important to realize that the Hebrews were not alone in telling these
sorts of stories. This was ubiquitous among the peoples of the ancient
near east. Each god ordered it's people to destroy the others, to put them
to Herem (a word used in both the bible and the Mesha inscription), and
to devote them to himself. It is necessary to put oneself in the mindset
and the period of the age in which these texts were written, to consider
who the itended audience was, and the purpose of the text for its

If you can't get the Mesha stele, I can copy it out for you.

Liz Fried
Ann Arbor

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Samuel Payne [mailto:sam at]
> Sent: Friday, February 09, 2001 2:39 PM
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Terminology
> I have joined the list rather late in the progress of this
> discussion on the
> advisability of using the word "racial" in connection with the Bible, so I
> am not sure what has been said already. It does echo however a problem I
> have felt for several years.
> The Books of Numbers and Joshua in particular describe what
> nowadays people
> would call a war of aggression, and ethnic cleansing on a large
> scale - with
> town after town destroyed, men, women and children. I would like
> to be able
> to say that this was in almost pre-historic times, in the infancy of the
> nation, when there was still much to learn. But the Bible does
> not permit me
> to look at it like this. It is all described as being done on the direct
> command of God. This leaves me on the horns of an aweful dilemma. If it
> really was all done on the direct orders of God, what picture
> does this give
> me of God, and what sort of example is this to the gentiles? On the other
> hand, if it WAS "in the infancy of the nation", and NOT on the command of
> God as described, how do I accept other cases of "God said . . " or "God
> commanded . . " in the Bible as true?
> I would be very grateful to be lifted off these horns. It is a painful
> predicament.
> Samuel Payne
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