[b-hebrew] TITHING

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Thu Dec 20 17:40:14 EST 2007

1.  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised 1988 (ISBE), was 
quoted as follows:  “Genesis 28:20-22 records Jacob's vow to tithe all of the 
increase that God 
 would give him.”
No.  Jacob says that he will tithe a tenth of everything to YHWH, not that 
Jacob will tithe Jacob’s entire increase to YHWH.  In Hebrew, “tithe” and “
give a tenth” are the same word.
2.  ISBE was further quoted as follows:  “This was predicated upon the 
supposition that God would care for him and prosper his way;  the Lord would be 
Jacob's God, and he would give a tenth to confirm that fact.”
The word “supposition” here conceals the great audacity of what Jacob in 
fact says in the text.  Jacob brazenly says that Jacob will worship YHWH as Jacob’
s deity if and only if YHWH comes through with all of the following:  (i) 
Jacob has a successful trip out to Harran to marry a daughter of Laban;  (ii) 
Jacob has food to eat;  (iii) Jacob has clothing to wear;  and (iv) Jacob 
eventually returns safely to his father Isaac’s home in Canaan.
Such brazen bargaining with YHWH would have seemed like blasphemy to the 
southern Hebrews of Judah in the 1st millennium BCE.  Is YHWH to be honored if and 
only if YHWH comes through and provides prosperity to the southern Hebrews?  
How would such a theology work after the state of Judah had been destroyed by 
Assyria, and then Jerusalem itself was destroyed by Babylonia?
There is no way that southern Hebrews in the mid-1st millennium BCE would 
have made up a story like that.  No way.
3.  Finally, ISBE was further quoted as follows:  “The tithe went to support ‘
God's house’, symbolized by the pillar (v 22);  this proleptically 
demonstrated [anticipated] a major purpose of the tithe in later Israel, namely, the 
care of God's house.”
No.  Jacob’s pillar needed no tithing for support.
Jacob’s tithing of a tenth would occur only if YHWH saw to it that Jacob 
prospered.  There is no way that in later Israel (or Judah), the 1st millennium 
BCE Hebrews would create a story in which their namesake, “Israel”, says that 
he will tithe a tenth to YHWH if and only if things go well for “Israel”.  
That was not the theology of the Hebrews in the mid-1st millennium BCE.
4.  Genesis 28: 20-22 simply cannot be squared with the theology of the 
Hebrews in the 1st millennium BCE.  Rather, it is an authentic story coming 
straight out of the mid-2nd millennium BCE, unvarnished, and un-edited.  Jacob’s 
audacity with YHWH is truly breathtaking.  It is an exciting, memorable story.  
But it’s vintage mid-2nd millennium BCE all the way, and is not a convenient 
myth created in the mid-1st millennium BCE.
Indeed, very few aspects of the Patriarchal narratives can be squared with 
the views of the mid-1st millennium BCE Hebrews.  One of the key reasons why 
these strange, disconcerting stories continued to be embraced by the mid-1st 
millennium BCE Hebrews was precisely because their substantive content made it 
abundantly clear that this was truly ancient material, not something recently 
ginned up in an attempt to cobble together a modern theology.  When you’re 
reading the Patriarchal narratives, you’re seeing authentic, truly ancient material.
I guess the ISBE can say whatever it wants to say.  But anyone who reads 
Genesis 28: 20-22 can see that what ISBE says, just tain’t so.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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