Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel

By Michael Fishbane | Go to book overview

18 Generic Transformations

A From Non-Oracles into Oracles

In the preceding chapters, we explored various exegetical dimensions of related genres of biblical mantology, viz., omens, dreams, and oracles. In all instances, the particular elucidation, reinterpretation, or reutilization involved was directly related to the genre at hand. In what follows, the focus shifts to the phenomenon of generic transformation. Here, non-oracular texts are reinterpreted as or reworked into living oracles, and vice versa. One example of this phenomenon was discussed earlier, namely the transformation of the descriptive historical words of Moses' peroration in Deut. 32: 9, 13 into the prescriptive promise found in Isa. 58: 14. 1 Beside this example, several other instances will be considered from such genres as curse and hymnic blessing.


Curses into Oracles

1. At the conclusion of the pericope describing the Israelite sack and destruction of Jericho, and subsequent to the rescue of Rahab from the rubble, the military leader 'Joshua swore . . . as follows: “Cursed before YHWH is the one who will arise and build this city — Jericho; the laying of its foundations shall cost him his first-born (

), (and) the erecting of its gates shall cost him his youngest ( )!' At a later point, the deuteronomic historian reports that this awesome curse in Josh. 6: 26 was fulfilled, centuries later, in the days of Ahab, by one Ḥiel of the Elid clan. The historian goes on to report that this Ḥiel laid its foundations ( ) with Abiram his first-born ( ) and erected its gates ( ) with Segib his youngest son ( ) — according to the word which YHWH spoke through Joshua bin Nun' (1 Kgs. 16: 34).

In this report, the old curse is literally cited and referred to — not as a human curse, which it manifestly is, but rather as a divine word, which it manifestly is not. In conjunction with this shift goes the misreading of the curse as a prophecy. Presumably Ḥiel — and others — understood the predictive 'the laying/raising . . . shall cost him' in the curse as a subjunctive condition (something like 'would needs cost him'). Whereas the original phrasing of Joshua's imprecation simply specifies that the curse will befall the infractor of the asseveration, the infractor construed the specified actions as just those conditions required for the rebuilding of

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