Deuteronomy 16
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Three Feasts

Every year Israel shall celebrate three Feasts at the Sanctuary. First, in the spring month Abib, a Passover, Pesaḥ, with the Feast of Maṣṣôth or unleavened loaves (Deuteronomy 16:1-8, cp. Deuteronomy 16:16). Second, seven weeks from the time the sickle is put to the corn, the Feast of Weeks, Shabu‘ôth (Deuteronomy 16:9-12). Third, after the ingathering from threshing-floor and winepress, the Feast of Booths, Suḳḳoth (Deuteronomy 16:13-15). Thus thrice a year all males shall appear before God, with gifts (Deuteronomy 16:16 f.).—In Sg. throughout; on the questionable integrity of the passage see below.

The same three feasts are prescribed in E, Exodus 23:15 a, Exodus 23:16, Maṣṣôth, Ḳaṣîr or Harvest, and ’Asiph or Ingathering, the last at the going out of the year, the early Israelite year ending in September; and in J, Exodus 34:18 a, Exodus 34:22; Exo 34:25 Maṣṣôth (Exodus 34:25, Passover), Weeks (firstfruits of wheat-harvest) and Ingathering, at the turn of the year. In H (enlarged by P) Leviticus 23, the Passover is on the 14th, and Maṣṣôth on the 15th of the first month, reckoning now from spring when the later Israelite, or Babylonian, year began; a sheaf of first-fruits is to be brought to the priest with other offerings, and 50 days later a new meal offering; and on the 15th day of the seventh month, after the produce of the land is gathered in, a feast of seven days shall begin, Israel dwelling in booths. In P, Numbers 28:16-29 we find (with additional annual solemnities) Passover and Maṣṣôth fixed as in Leviticus 23; a day of firstfruits with a new meal offering in Weeks; and on the 15th day of the seventh month a convocation with seven days of sacrifices, and on the 8th another convocation.

See Chapman, Intr. to the Pent. 146 ff., and the relevant notes in Driver’s Exod. with a table (pp. 370 ff.) of the J and E laws ‘derived evidently from a common original.’

The three Feasts, Maṣṣôth, Harvest or Weeks, and Ingathering or Booths are those of an agricultural people. The Passover alone was possible to Israel in their nomadic state; and in Egypt a similar sacrifice was celebrated by them, as a tradition from their nomad ancestors (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 9:13; cp. Deuteronomy 12:21 and Driver’s note). Its association with the Exodus is already recognised by J, Exodus 12:25-27. D extends the same historical meaning to Maṣṣôth, P another one to Booths, and the later Jewish tradition still another to Weeks. D also removes all three from the rural sanctuaries to the One Altar. ‘Naturally the transference to the capital severed the close connection [of these Feasts] with the agricultural life, facilitated the historical interpretation and transformed local rural feasts into strictly regulated and exactly dated festivals for the whole commonwealth; which subsequent generations, in Leviticus 23, Numbers 28 f., fixed by a precise calendar’ (Marti).

Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the LORD thy God: for in the month of Abib the LORD thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night.
1.Observe] As of the Sabbath, Deuteronomy 16:12.

month of Abib] Abib = young ears of corn (Exodus 9:31; Leviticus 2:14) and the month fell in our March–April. So E and J (Exodus 13:4; Exodus 23:15; Exodus 34:18). The name, belonging to the early agricultural calendar, was replaced after the Exile by the name Nisan of the later priestly calendar, in which it was the first month (P, Exodus 12:1 f. etc.).

and keep] Lit. make or perform; see Deuteronomy 5:15.

passover] Heb. pésaḥ, so named according to P, Exodus 12:13; Exodus 12:23; Exodus 12:27, because God passed over (pasaḥ) the Hebrews’ houses when He smote the Egyptian first-born on the eve of the Exodus. Other etymologies suggested are:—(1) from the passage into the New Year (Reuss), but the Passover month did not become the first of Israel’s year till after the Exile; (2) from pasaḥ to limp (1 Kings 18:26) as if of some sacred dance connected with threshold-rites; (3) from its expiatory value; cp. Ass. pasahu, to placate the deity (Zimmern in Schrader’s KAT3[137], 610 n.). Since the Passover was celebrated at night others (4) connect its origin with the phases of the moon. Whatever that origin may have been, the feast (as we have seen) was observed by Israel earlier than the Exodus and was possibly the same as the spring sacrifice of firstlings or other tribute from the flocks, common throughout the Semitic world. But its association with the Exodus was undoubtedly early and has ever since constituted its chief, if not its only, significance. The history and the meaning of the Passover have been so exhaustively treated in this series, Driver, Exod. Appendix I., that it is unnecessary to discuss the subject further here.

[137] Die Keilinschriften und das AIte Testament, 3rd edition (1903), by H. Zimmern and H. Winckler.

1–8. The Passover (with Maṣṣôth)

To be kept in Abib—for in that month Israel was brought out of Egypt—by the sacrifice of a victim from herd or flock at the One Altar (Deuteronomy 16:1 f.). For seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten—Israel’s food in the haste of quitting Egypt,—and no leaven shall be found in their borders, nor any of the Passover flesh after the first evening (Deuteronomy 16:3 f.). The Passover shall be boiled and eaten, the people returning next morning to their tents (Deuteronomy 16:5-7); for six days Israel shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh hold a convocation and do no work (Deuteronomy 16:8).—The integrity of the passage has been questioned (Steuern., Stȧrk, Berth., Marti) and with reason. For not only do Deuteronomy 16:3 f. on Maṣṣôth break the connection of Deuteronomy 16:1 f. with 5–7 on the Passover, while Deuteronomy 16:8 also on Maṣṣôth reflects the style of P; but Deuteronomy 16:7, fixing the Feast for one day after which the people are to return home, is difficult to harmonise with the seven days of Deuteronomy 16:3 f. and Deuteronomy 16:8. Two explanations are possible;—(1) D’s law originally consisted of Deuteronomy 16:1 f., Deuteronomy 16:5-7, and dealt only with the Passover; and the vv. on Maṣṣôth are from an editor. But there is no reason why the original code of D should ignore Maṣṣôth—for which certainly E has a law, Exodus 23:15 a, and (Steuern. notwithstanding) J also, Exodus 34:18 a—unless Maṣṣôth, a purely agricultural feast, had become too closely associated with the cults of the Baalim. (2) More probably we have here a compilation of two laws of D, originally separate, one on Passover and one on Maṣṣôth. In either case the combination of Passover and Maṣṣôth, which was not original and is not accepted even by H in Leviticus 23 (Leviticus 23:5; Leviticus 23:9 ff.; Leviticus 23:6-8 are added by P), took place between the date of the original code of D and that of the final composition of the Book of Deuteronomy.

Thou shalt therefore sacrifice the passover unto the LORD thy God, of the flock and the herd, in the place which the LORD shall choose to place his name there.
2. of the flock and the herd] Sheep, goat or ox, and doubtless as in J, a firstling. P, Exodus 12:3-6, prescribes a male of the first year (see Driver’s note), but limits it to a lamb or kid; in later practice a lamb was invariably chosen.

in the place which Jehovah shall choose] To Jehovah Sam. LXX add thy God. In J, Exodus 12:21-26, the service is domestic; and P, Exodus 12:3 ff., also preserves its domestic character, cp. Exodus 12:46.

Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.
3, 4. See introd. note.

bread of affliction] The affliction of Israel in Egypt, Exodus 3:7; Exodus 4:31, culminating in the haste or trepidation (Driver) with which they ate their last meal there. So P, Exodus 12:11; cp. for the meaning of the word, Deuteronomy 20:3; 1 Samuel 23:26; Isaiah 52:12.

no leaven … neither shall any of the flesh … remain] The two prohibitions are connected because anything fermenting or putrefying was not admissible in sacrifice (W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 221 n.). Cp. P, Exodus 12:19.

And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even, remain all night until the morning.
Thou mayest not sacrifice the passover within any of thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee:
5, 6. See on Deuteronomy 16:2. For at even, P, Exodus 12:6, employs his technical expression between the two evenings, on which see Driver’s note. Season, set time or date, i.e. hour of day.

But at the place which the LORD thy God shall choose to place his name in, there thou shalt sacrifice the passover at even, at the going down of the sun, at the season that thou camest forth out of Egypt.
And thou shalt roast and eat it in the place which the LORD thy God shall choose: and thou shalt turn in the morning, and go unto thy tents.
7. And thou shalt seethe] The Heb. bashal may be used in the general sense of cooking, but it usually means to boil (Deuteronomy 14:21; 1 Samuel 2:13; 1 Samuel 2:15). The R.V. roast is due to the effort to harmonise this law with that of P, Exodus 12:9, which directs that the sacrifice shall be roast with fire; but P expressly adds that it shall not be boiled in water, and uses for this the same vb bashal as D does. Clearly D and P enjoin different methods of preparing the paschal lamb. Boiling appears to have been the earlier preparation of the part of victims eaten by the worshippers (Jdg 6:19 ff.; 1 Samuel 2:13 f.) and roasting was at first regarded as an innovation (1 Samuel 2:15). See however Driver’s note.

thou shalt turn] See on Deuteronomy 3:1.

and go unto thy tents] An interesting survival from the nomadic period of Israel’s history; cp. (also for the time after the settlement in towns) Jdg 7:8; Jdg 19:9 (EVV. home); 1 Samuel 13:2; 2 Samuel 19:8; 2 Samuel 20:22; 1 Kings 12:16. The people then are to return to their homes on the morning after the Passover feast.

Six days thou shalt eat unleavened bread: and on the seventh day shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD thy God: thou shalt do no work therein.
8. See introd. note. The incompatibility of this v. with the preceding is obvious unless we are to explain tents as the shelters which pilgrims to the central sanctuary pitched during the feast. But (as we have seen) tents means the people’s homes. The numbering of the days is not clear. If the Passover day itself is included there is no contradiction of Deuteronomy 16:3, for that was the first day of unleavened bread, and this v. may be interpreted as also fixing seven days for the eating of such bread; but distinguishing them as six plus a seventh on which in addition the solemn assembly was to be held. But if the Passover day was meant to be included it is strange that it is not mentioned. On the whole, and particularly because of the two expressions characteristic of P, a solemn assembly and thou shalt do no work (the latter however also in Deuteronomy 5:13), it is probable that Deuteronomy 16:8 is an addition by the compiler of the two once separate laws on the Passover and the Maṣṣôth.

Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee: begin to number the seven weeks from such time as thou beginnest to put the sickle to the corn.
9. Seven weeks shalt thou number unto thee] Hence the name of the Feast, Weeks, Shabu‘ôth, Deuteronomy 16:10; Deuteronomy 16:16, also in J, Exodus 34:22. H, Leviticus 23:16, prescribes fifty days from the sabbath after the presentation before the Altar of the first sheaf of the harvest; hence the Hellenistic name Pentecost, ‘the fiftieth’ (day) or the day after the conclusion of the seven weeks. The name given by E, Exodus 23:16, Harvest, implies that the harvest was by that time concluded. In the warmest parts of Palestine barley ripens in April, wheat later; but in colder districts the harvest is not finished for at least seven weeks more. The present writer has seen wheat reaped in Ḥauran as late as the second half of June.

from the time thou beginnest, etc.] Lit. from the start of the sickle (only here and Deuteronomy 23:25) on the standing corn, a variable date; so H, Leviticus 23:15 f., Lev 23:50 days from the sabbath after the presentation of the first sheaf. It is significant that while D’s date starts from Maṣṣoth, he says nothing to date Weeks from the Passover: another indication that when the original code of D was drawn up the Passover and Maṣṣoth were not yet amalgamated. See introd. to Deuteronomy 16:1-8.

9–12. The Feast of Weeks

To be joyfully celebrated after seven weeks from the beginning of harvest, with free-will offering, by each Israelite, along with his household and the local Levites and other poor at the One Altar (Deuteronomy 16:9-11). Whether Deuteronomy 16:12 is original is doubtful; see below. For corresponding laws in other codes see introd. to Deuteronomy 16:1-17. This is the only feast not associated in the O. T. with a memorable event in Israel’s history. Later Judaism assigned to it the giving of the Law on Sinai.

And thou shalt keep the feast of weeks unto the LORD thy God with a tribute of a freewill offering of thine hand, which thou shalt give unto the LORD thy God, according as the LORD thy God hath blessed thee:
10. feast] Heb. ḥag, as in Rabbinic Hebrew a pilgrim-feast, and in Ar. pilgrimage (perhaps originally a sacred dance, Wellh. Reste d. Arab. Heiden. iii. 106, 165, and Exodus 32:5 f.; cp. the vb ḥagag, Psalm 42:5; Psalm 107:27). So E, Exodus 23:14, and frequently in O.T. of the three pilgrim feasts. See Driver’s Exod. 242.

with a tribute of a free-will offering, etc.] Heb. (according to) the sufficiency of the free-will offering, etc.; i.e. with a gift (see on Deuteronomy 12:6) adequate to the competence of the offerer, as he has been blessed by God.

And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
11. See on Deuteronomy 12:5; Deuteronomy 12:7; Deuteronomy 12:11 f, 18.

And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt: and thou shalt observe and do these statutes.
12. And thou shalt remember, etc.] See on Deuteronomy 15:15. This clause is not relevant to the whole law, but only to the inclusion under it of the bondservant, Deuteronomy 16:11. It can hardly be original, and as the rest of the v. is purely formal, the whole is probably secondary.

Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles seven days, after that thou hast gathered in thy corn and thy wine:
13. Thou shalt keep] Heb. perform for thyself, see on Deuteronomy 16:1.

the feast of booths] feast, ḥag, as in Deuteronomy 16:10. Booths, suḳḳôth, lit. plaitings or interlacings, whether natural thickets (Job 38:40, etc.) or artificial shelters of branches or planks, especially for the guardians of vineyards (Isaiah 1:8); applied first by D, and explained by H, Leviticus 23:39-43, which prescribes that the people shall dwell throughout the feast in booths of palm-fronds, boughs of thick trees and poplars (Nehemiah 8:15, olive, myrtle, palm and thick tree branches). H’s reason for this custom is that Israel dwelt in booths at the Exodus; but the general resort of the cultivators to booths in their vineyards at the time of the ripening of the grapes and the vintage, which still continues in Palestine (Robinson, Bib. Res. ii. 81), was no doubt very ancient and the real origin of the name of the Feast. After the centralisation of the cultus, the booths were erected in the courts and on the flat roofs of the city, Nehemiah 8:14-17, which implies that before the restoration of Israel’s worship under Nehemiah the custom had been in abeyance. The term tabernacles is used in the EVV. in the sense given by Johnson of ‘casual dwellings’ (Lat. taberna a hut, tabernaculum a tent).

seven days] So H, Leviticus 23:39, to which P, Numbers 29:35, adds an eighth, with a convocation. Passover and Weeks are one day each.

threshing-floor and winepress] Deuteronomy 15:14.

13–15. The Feast of Booths

To be observed for seven days after the harvest of corn and wine by each family and their dependents, at the One Altar; and that altogether joyfully because of God’s blessing.—For the parallels and the other name of the Feast see introd. to Deuteronomy 16:1-17. This feast is also called the feast par excellence (1 Kings 8:2; 1 Kings 8:65, etc., cp. Jdg 21:19 ff.) not so much for its length, as because it crowned the year. See further Deuteronomy 31:10.

And thou shalt rejoice in thy feast, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite, the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are within thy gates.
14. and thou shalt rejoice] As in Deuteronomy 16:11 but slightly varied.

Seven days shalt thou keep a solemn feast unto the LORD thy God in the place which the LORD shall choose: because the LORD thy God shall bless thee in all thine increase, and in all the works of thine hands, therefore thou shalt surely rejoice.
15. the place which the Lord shall choose] On the effects of the centralisation of the feasts see introd. to Deuteronomy 16:1-17.

and thou shalt be altogether joyful] Heb. only, or nothing but, joyful. This emphatic repetition of the command is remarkable, but hardly sufficient to answer in the affirmative Steuernagel’s question whether the feast had before D’s time begun to lose its ancient, joyous character.

16, 17 summarise the laws of the three feasts. Deuteronomy 16:16 repeats (with a characteristic variation and addition of the divine title) the older commandment in J, Exodus 34:23, repeated (editorially) in E, Deuteronomy 23:17; three times a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord Jehovah. That only males are mentioned here, while Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14 include among the worshippers daughters, bondwomen and widows, is no proof that this summary is from another hand than the three preceding laws (Steuern.). It is the same author but he is quoting the older law. In contrast with its confinement of the law to males D’s inclusion of women is characteristic; see on Deuteronomy 16:21.

shall appear before the Lord thy God] Heb. shall let himself be seen at the face of, a possible but awkward construction. It is probable that the original reading, which may be restored without the change of a consonant and by merely altering the vowel-points, was shall see the face of. The motive of the present punctuation would be the desire to avoid the anthropomorphism involved in the phrase ‘seeing the face of God.’

Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the LORD thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the LORD empty:
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD thy God which he hath given thee.
Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.
18. Judges … shalt thou make thee] Heb. give or appoint for thyself.

and officers] scribes or marshals. See on Deuteronomy 1:15.

in all thy gates] The law is another consequence of the centralisation of the cultus. In ancient Israel ordinary cases were decided by the meeting of the community at the town’s gate, and the harder cases referred to the local sanctuary for decision by its priest as God’s representative; cp. the Elohim in E, Exodus 21:6; Exodus 22:8 ff., 1 Samuel 2:25. On the abolition of the local sanctuaries the former, the popular, court continued, as we see from the elders mentioned in Deuteronomy 19:12, Deuteronomy 22:13-21, Deuteronomy 25:5-10, and combined with the judges in Deuteronomy 21:2. But other provision had to be made for the superior procedure hitherto carried out at the local sanctuaries, and it is effected first as here by the appointment of local lay judges, and second in Deuteronomy 17:8 f. by the constitution of the Priests of the One Altar as a court of final reference. Josephus’ version, IV. Antt. viii. 14—seven judges for each township with two Levites as assessors—probably reflects the arrangements of his own time.

according to thy tribes] This survival of the old tribal interests (Deuteronomy 1:13), alongside of the new arrangement according to locality, is interesting.

and they shall judge, etc.] Deuteronomy 1:16.

II. Second Division of the Laws: the Officers of the Theocracy—Deuteronomy 16:18-20Deuteronomy 17:8-18Five Laws on Judges and Justice, Appeal to the Sanctuary, the King, the Priests, the Prophets; interrupted by an isolated group of laws on the Worship, Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20. Of Judges and Justice

Judges with officers are to be appointed in every locality but according to tribes. Justice is to be pursued with strict impartiality.—Sg. Steuern. regards Deuteronomy 16:18 alone as original on the grounds that while it commits the discharge of justice to special Judges , vv. Deuteronomy 16:19 f. addresses the whole people as responsible for it; and that while Deuteronomy 16:18 presupposes Israel’s occupation of the land, Deuteronomy 16:20 b promises this as the reward of the people’s justice. But the former variation, though a possible, is not a certain, mark of diversity of authorship. The same author, after instituting the judges, might well address to the whole people his enforcement of the principles which were to inspire the institution, especially since (as we shall see) he left to the popular courts part of the duty of discharging justice. Deuteronomy 16:20 b, a couple of deuteronomic formulas, may well be a later scribe’s malapropos addition to the original law. There is no reason for doubting the integrity of the rest. Deuteronomy 16:19 is a close, but not exact, quotation from E. On the substance of this law see notes to Deuteronomy 1:9-18.

Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
19. Thou] The whole people are responsible for the impartial discharge of justice: characteristic of D.

shalt not wrest judgement] E, Exodus 23:6 : the judgement of thy poor in his cause.

thou shalt not respect persons] See on Deuteronomy 1:17.

neither shalt thou take a gift, etc.] So E, Exodus 23:8, except that for the eyes of the wise it has the open-eyed or them that have sight.

a gift] Heb. shoḥad, of a present in order to influence justice, a bribe (Deuteronomy 10:17), a prevalent temptation of judges in the East, where he is regarded as still a just judge who takes gifts only from the party in the right, as it were a fee for his judgement or an inducement to hasten it. Here, however, the acceptance of any gift by a judge is forbidden. In the Code of Ḫammurabi the 5th law, expelling from office the judge who alters his decision, implies that he does this for some unjust reason such as a bribe. On bribery among the settled Arabs see Doughty Ar. Des. i. 607.

words] Statements or pleas, equivalent to cause or case.

That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
20. That which is altogether just] Heb. righteousness, righteousness.

follow] Not only desire but indefatigably hunt after; cp. Deuteronomy 13:14, inquire, make search and seek diligently.

that thou mayest live, etc.] See note on Deuteronomy 4:1 and introd. to this passage.

Thou shalt not plant thee a grove of any trees near unto the altar of the LORD thy God, which thou shalt make thee.
Deuteronomy 16:21-22. Against the Use of ’Asherim and Maṣṣeboth

21. Thou shalt not plant thee an Asherah] plant, because the ’Asherah (see general note following) was either a mast or artificial tree.

of any kind of tree] The Heb. construction is not in the genitive but in apposition; translate therefore: an ’Asherah, any tree or any timber.

beside the altar of the Lord thy God] No doubt, the Heb. may mean either the (one), or any, altar (for the latter see Exodus 20:26, where my altar in the light of Exodus 20:24 must mean any of my altars). Yet the former meaning being the more natural, and there being no trace elsewhere in D of the permission of other altars after the settlement of Israel in Canaan was achieved, it is precarious to suppose (Steuernagel) that we have here the expression of a different school of deuteron. reform from that which appears in ch. 12: one viz. which permitted more than one sanctuary and sought only to secure the purity of worship at these.

22. Neither shalt thou set thee up a pillar] raise for thyself a Maṣṣebah (see general note following) or standing-stone.

which the Lord thy God hateth] Similarly Deuteronomy 12:31, but with the addition there of abomination, which is wanting here but found in the next verse.

General Note on the ’Asherah and Maṣṣebah

Two symbols or inhabitations of deity erected in sanctuaries throughout the Semitic world: frequently combined in the O.T. as present in Canaanite sanctuaries, and at first erected also by Israel but afterwards forbidden to them.

1. The ’Ashçrah (plur. ’Ashçrim, see Deuteronomy 12:3 and elsewhere, but ’Ashçrôth 2 Chronicles 19:3; 2 Chronicles 33:3), artificial tree or mast set up like the maṣṣeboth by the altars of Semitic sanctuaries, a work of man’s fingers (Isaiah 17:8 : cp. 1 Kings 14:15; 1 Kings 16:13, 2 Kings 21:3), wooden (Deuteronomy 16:21, Jdg 6:26, the wood of the ’A.; cp. the verbs used of it: plant, Deuteronomy 16:21, rise, Isaiah 27:9, pluck up, Micah 5:14, cut down, Deuteronomy 7:5, Jdg 6:25 f., Jdg 6:30, 2 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 23:14, 2 Chronicles 14:2, burn, here, 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Kings 23:15, in distinction from the breaking of the stone maṣṣebôth). Unlike the maṣṣebah the ’Asherah is never described as a sanctioned or tolerated part of Jehovah’s sanctuaries. There was one by the altar of the Ba‘al belonging to his father, which Gideon cut down (Jdg 6:25 ff.); Ahab made the or an ’Asherah for the altar of the Ba‘al in Samaria (1 Kings 16:33), which appears to have been left by Jehu when he burned the maṣṣeboth there (2 Kings 10:26 ff.; see however end of this note), for it still stood under Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13:6). The deuteronomic editor of Kings says that in Judah Rehoboam raised maṣṣeboth and ’Asherim on every high hill and under every spreading tree (1 Kings 14:23): Jehoshaphat is said to have removed them (2 Chronicles 14:2; 2 Chronicles 17:6; 2 Chronicles 19:3), but they were restored by Joash (id. Deuteronomy 24:18). Their removal is stated as part of Hezekiah’s reforms (2 Kings 18:4), but Manasseh, besides building altars to the Ba‘al, made an ’Asherah (id. Deuteronomy 21:3), and by the prophets they are counted among the idolatrous sins of Israel (Micah 5:14, Jeremiah 17:2, Isaiah 27:9). That they were dedicated to Jehovah is implied in the prohibition, Deuteronomy 16:21. The command to cut them down in Exodus 34:13 is a later insertion: there is no record of a law against them before D. Like the standing-stone the mast (or tree for which it stood) was frequently identified with the deity, and was probably the female counterpart to the stone. Several passages seem to imply that there was a goddess called ’Asherah (prophets of the ’A., 1 Kings 18:19, image of the ’A., id. Deuteronomy 15:13, 2 Kings 21:7, vessels of the ’A., id. Deuteronomy 23:4, and even houses, i.e. tents or deckings, id. Deuteronomy 23:7 : cp. the veiled ‘Asherah below). Her existence has been denied by, among others, W. R. Smith (Rel. Sem. 171 f.). But his reason, that every altar, to whatever deity it belonged, had an ’Asherah is hardly sufficient to prove an exclusively generic meaning for the name. Recent Assyriology appears to put beyond doubt the name ’Asherah as that of a Canaanite goddess and to give good reasons for her identification with ’Ashtoreth (cp. Jdg 3:7, 1 Kings 18:19). The Ass. name is Ashratu or Ashirtu, and in the Tell-el-Amarna letters we find a man’s name ‘Abd-’Ashratum, ‘the worshipper of ’Asherah.’

‘The double meaning which ’Asherah has as “sacred pole” and as the name of the goddess (= ‘Ashtoreth) is now placed beyond doubt by the witness of the Tell-el-Amarna tablets (Ashirtu = Ishtar) and finds its explanation in a representation of the veiled Ishtar-Ashera, as a bust running into a pillar in the fashion of the Hermes, discovered by von Oppenheim at Ras el-‘Ain, the source of the Khabur’ (Winckler and Jensen, 3rd ed. of Schrader’s KAT 276, see also deut 245, 248, 258, 421, 432 f.).

That the ’Asherah represented a female deity (in distinction from the male character of the maṣṣeboth) is perhaps the reason of the less tolerance which it received in Israel.

2. The Maṣṣebah (thing set upright) standing-stone (plural maṣṣeboth, Deuteronomy 12:3), such as that raised by Jacob as the witness of his bargain with Laban (Genesis 31:49; Genesis 31:51) and at Rachel’s grave (id. Genesis 35:20), or by Absalom in his own memory (2 Samuel 18:18); but usually of the large monoliths (R.V. marg. obelisks) beside the altars of Semitic shrines. They were regarded as the habitation of a deity (see Genesis 28:22 below), but in the sense of being his embodiment; and so in ritual ‘spoken of and treated as the God himself’ (W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 85); ‘in them one saw the deity present at the altar, and to them the worshippers directed their hands and their prayers’ (Nowack, Hebr. Arch. ii. 18). That they stood in Canaanite sanctuaries is frequently stated in the O.T. (here, Deuteronomy 7:5, Exodus 23:24; and for the house of the Ba‘al in Samaria, 2 Kings 10:26 f.).

Specimens were recently discovered at Gezer by Mr R. A. S. Macalister—in one high place a row of 10, divided into 7 and 3, of which only the stumps of two remain, and the rest vary in height from 5 ft 5 ins. to 10 ft 6 ins., the largest being 4 ft 7 ins. broad by 2 ft 6 ins. thick, and in another high place a row of 4 with the stump of a fifth; at Ta‘anak by Prof. Sellin two rows of 5 each, with a pair at a little distance; and at Megiddo (Tell-el-Mutesellim) by Dr Schumacher one pair. In the high-place at Petra there are 2 great Maṣṣeboth 6 metres high, hewn out of the living rock. Those at Gezer are roughly hewn from (with one exception) the local rock, the upper end of one worked to a sharp point, and the slopes ‘polished by having been kissed, anointed, rubbed or otherwise handled,’ and another ‘carefully shaped to a rounded form’: both probably phallic (PEF. Quart. Statement, 1903, 25 ff.; Bible Side-lights from Gezer, 57 ff.).

In the earliest times maṣṣeboth were erected by the Hebrews: by Jacob (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 28:22 E, Genesis 35:14 f. J) in memory of God’s appearance to him, and to be God’s-house = Beth-el (cp. Gk βαιτύλιον and βαίτυλος, ‘animated stone,’ through the Phoenician). Because of the verb we should also read maṣṣebah, for the mizbeaḥ, altar, which Jacob set up at Shechem and called God, the God of Israel (Genesis 33:20, E). According to E (to whom most of the O.T. notices of maṣṣeboth are due) Moses put up 12 with the altar which he built on Ḥoreb1[138]. Hosea (Hosea 3:4, Hosea 10:1) implies that maṣṣebôth were as regular parts of Jehovah’s sanctuaries in N. Israel as altars and sacrifices2[139]. With such a recognition of the maṣṣeboth in the worship of Jehovah the command in Hosea 12:3 to destroy the maṣṣeboth of the Canaanite sanctuaries is of course compatible. But the same cannot be said of the injunction in Deuteronomy 16:22 not to set up a maṣṣebah beside the altar of Jehovah, which Jehovah thy God hateth (cp. Micah 5:13). This is another of the many marks that the deuteron. legislation is later than Hosea. It is possible, however, that there had never been a maṣṣebah in the Temple of Jerusalem. In 2 Kings 10:26 f. Jehu is said to have burned the maṣṣeboth in the house of the Ba‘al in Samaria, but because of the verb some read instead the ’Asherah. On the whole subject see especially W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem., 1st ed., 186 ff., 437 f.; G. F. Moore, ‘Massebah’ in EB.

We read also of great stones set up by Joshua in Jehovah’s sanctuary at Shechem as a witness against the people (Joshua 24:26 E) and at Gilgal as memorials of the passage of Jordan (id. Joshua 4:5), at Mizpeh and Gibeon (1 Samuel 7:12; 2 Samuel 20:8).

[139] According to Isaiah 19:19, a maṣṣebah shall be erected in Egypt as a symbol of her people’s acknowledgement of Jehovah; but the date of this prediction is uncertain; and the writer may be speaking metaphorically. The two bronze columns Yakin and Bo‘az (1 Kings 7:21) were probably from their names ‘He foundeth’ and ‘In him is strength’ symbols of the Deity, but they did not stand in the inner sanctuary. W. R. Smith, Rel. Sem. 191 n. and 468, takes them as altar-pillars with hearths on their tops.

Deuteronomy 16:21 to Deuteronomy 17:7. Isolated Group of Laws on Worship

This group of laws against heathen symbols and blemished sacrifices and the worship of other gods—all of them abominations to, or hated by, Jehovah—is quite isolated, between two sets of laws on judicial procedure, Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and Deuteronomy 17:8 ff.; and we have seen reasons (above p. 173) for supposing that the whole group originally stood between Deuteronomy 12:29-31 and Deuteronomy 13:1-18. The notes below will show that there are both similarities and dissimilarities between the two separated sections. The reason which Steuernagel gives for supposing that Deuteronomy 16:21 is by another author than that of ch. 12, with a different aim of reform—viz. because he speaks only of an altar and does not use the formulas found in 12 for the One Altar—is not convincing. With regard to this and the other dissimilarities of the present section from Deuteronomy 12:29 to Deuteronomy 13:18 it must be remembered that within the latter there are also dissimilarities. Throughout the form of address is in the Sg.: there are some editorial additions.

Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the LORD thy God hateth.
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Deuteronomy 15
Top of Page
Top of Page