Part 3. Strange Early Hebrew Religious Practices
We should like to look at what some of the good guys were doing in the oldest parts of the Bible which seem peculiar and while they do not necessarily support the idea that they were practicing the Canaanite Religion do question their orthodoxy if there was an orthodoxy at that time.
The first item is the Ephod or sacred loincloth described in detail in Exodus 28:6-30, which is strictly the garb of a priest (Ex 29:5-29, Lv 8:7). It is associated with the Urim and Thummin, a sort of yes/no divination item which were kept so secret that their exact nature has not survived. David wears the Ephod when he dances mantically before the Ark of the Covenant as it is brought into Jerusalem (I Sm 6:14, 20- 21), Samuel wears one as a child (I Sm 2:18), Goliath's sword is stored behind one (I Sm 21:10), King Saul first consults one (I Sm 14:41-42) then later, kills all priests who wear it (I Sm 22:18), David also consults it and acts accordingly (I Sm 23:1- 13, 30:7-8), there are passing references to it being associated with Yahweh's priests (I Sm 14:3, 2:28), Gideon makes a golden one and the Israelites worship it (Jgs 8:27) and Micah, a very unorthodox orthodox priest also has one along with other peculiar religious items which we will see below (Jgs 17:1-6, 18:14,17,20) (J2). One should note that nearly all statues of the primary chtonic god have him clad only in a loincloth, though it is not clear that there is a connection.
The next item is the Teraphim, or household idol usually associated with oracles or necromancy. Micah, above has some (Jgs 18:14), Hosea much later condemns them (Hos 3:4), Josiah during his late reform, clears them away by mandate of his 'new' Biblical book II Kgs 23:24,32,34) (this shows they're still around this much later) (J3). But mostly it's peculiar that David has one. When Saul sends some thugs around toe kill David, his wife puts their idol in his bed, covers it up, stalls the thugs as David gets away and starts along its way one of the oldest get away gimmicks in T.V. and movie history (I Sm 19:1-24). One is lead to the conclusion the idol must have been large to pass as a man.
The next item is the Terebinth or Diviner's Oak. These sacred trees seem to hark back to some kind of primitive tree worship and may be related to the sacred poles in the Canaanites religion (I4). What ever their significance they are always important locations. Abraham builds as alter at one at Shechem and then at Hebron where he later buries Sarah (Gen 12:6-7, 13:18, 23:19). Joshua renews the covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites under the one at Shechem (Jos 24:25-28). It was involved in coronation ceremonies (Jgs 9:6- 15) and Rehoboam (Solomon's son) tries to negotiate with the Northern Tribes at one (I Kgs 12:1-9) (J4).
The last item is the Bronze Serpent, which Moses created so that anyone who gazed at it would not die from the bite of snakes around them (Nm 21:4-9), Hezekiah (after the fall of the Northern Kingdom) destroyed it because the people were worshiping it (II Kgs 18:4). It evidently had been around and tolerated for a long time (J5).
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(c) 1999 Thomas F. Swezey All rights reserved.