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All Books and Software: Biblical Studies: Religion in Ancient Israel and Canaan

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"Of Wood and Stone"

The Significance of Israelite Cultic Items in the Bible and Its Early Interpreters

by Elizabeth C. LaRocca-Pitts

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Table of Contents


The Hebrew Bible contains varying opinions concerning which cultic items or objects used in worship were appropriate for use within YHWHism and which were not. By analyzing every passage which mentions "high places" (bamot), sacred trees or poles (asherim), standing stones, altars, and cultic statuary, this study reveals that a remarkable diversity of cultic practices fell within the bounds of acceptability in ancient Israel. Also included are three chapters exploring the particular understandings of these items in the LXX, Vulgate, Targumim, and other early Jewish sources. Opposing the long-held generalization that use of these items was unanimously viewed by biblical authors as syncretistic, this study shows that, with the exception of cultic statuary, all of these items were, at one time or another, legitimate components of Israelite worship. Thus they provide witness to a diversity of theologies and ritual practices within YHWHism previously unappreciated.

Product Details

Publisher: Harvard Semitic Museum / Eisenbrauns
Publication date: 2001
Bibliographic info: xiii + 385 pages
Language(s): English


Cover: Cloth



The introduction to this fine study deserves reading in tandem with Pardee 2000 (below, pp. 192-93). It shows the culpable misrepresentation of 'Canaanite' religion by the majority of OT scholars down the years, though L.-P. notes (p. 11 n. 42) some honourable exceptions. The book is a source and textual study of four key cultic terms, bamot, asherim, mitsebot, and mizbechot (with particular reference to the plural forms), in addition to others less frequently used. Each occurrence is treated in detail in each individual context, part of L.-P.'s critique of previous work being its tendency to 'conflate' (her term) the evidence to produce synthetic forms and thus synthetic explanations. After the general survey the study turns to the various foreign-language versions (LXX, Vg., Targ.) to assess their interpretations of the materials as addressed to their expected readerships. These are shown to have interpreted the ancient data in terms of their contemporary perceptions and concerns. The study thus provides a useful account of the development in conception of the various cultic impedimenta discussed from the earliest sources down to the early interpretations of the present era.--N. Wyatt, Journal for the Study of OT 99 (2002)

The author examines every passage in the First Testament that mentions high places, sacred trees or poles, stones, altars, and cultic statuary. She argues that aniconic Israel considered all these items as legitimate, with the exception of the cultic statuary. The book itself is divided into three parts. In the first she does a source critical analysis of pertinent biblical passages from both the Deuteronomistic and the Chronicler's histories; the second is the word study in which a knowledge of Hebrew is presumed; she examines the LXX, the Latin versions, and the Targums in the third. This is the kind of meticulous work upon which our understanding of ancient Israel is based. It is an essential resource for anyone researching Israelite cultic life.--Dianne Bergant, The Bible Today 2002

This study investigates four major cultic objects in the Hebrew Bible: high places, standing stones, sacred poles or trees, and altars. These are chosen for study because of their frequency of occurrence and the ambivalence of the biblical authors concerning them. L.-P. criticizes previous scholarship that has confidently identified them, conflated archeological evidence and presented the objects in question as remnants of Canaanite religion. Part I is a source-critical analysis of texts in which these items appear, underscoring the years 710@706 B.C. The letters are grouped by places from which they were sent and by sender. The publication completes a trilogy devoted to Sargon's correspondence; earlier volumes were published in 1987 and 1990. The letters are preceded by F.'s extensive introduction which provides a historical, chronological, geographical, and prosopographical context for the letters as well as indications concerning their text and translation. The volume concludes with a glossary of Akkadian terms, multiple indexes (personal, place, divine, etc., names; subjects; text headings; texts; joins; and illustrations), collations, and plates. Interspersed throughout are line drawings and photographs reproducing Assyrian artwork.--C. T. B., Old Testament Abstracts Vol. 25, 2002.

"The book is highly recommended for reading and studying, and the author should be congratulated for her achievement." --Uzi Avner, Arava Institute in Journal of Near Eastern Studies 65/1.

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