Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

By Roland De Vaux ; John McHugh | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
ARMAMENTS

VERY little is known about the equipment of Israelite soldiers. The biblical texts do not describe their weapons; indeed, the very words used for military equipment are far from precise, and their meaning is often uncertain. Archaeology might be expected to help, but only a few weapons have been found in the course of excavations. Illustrations from Egyptian and Mesopotamian monuments are certainly helpful, but one can never be sure that the Israelites were always using the same kind of weapon as their enemies.


I. Offensive weapons

The main offensive weapon was the hereb, which became the symbol of war ( Is 51: 19; Jr 14: 15; 24: 10; Ez 7: 15; 33: 6, etc.). The word is used for both dagger and sword, since the two weapons have the same shape and are distinguished--quite arbitrarily--merely by their length. The hereb of Ehud ( Jg 3: 16, 21-22) was obviously a dagger, whatever the precise meaning of gomed, which gives its length.1 In all military texts, the word may be translated as 'sword', but we must remember that it was a short sword, about 20 inches long, or perhaps a little more, like the Assyrian sword. Illustrations in Egyptian monuments portray a long sword, which was used by the Peoples of the Sea; specimens of this type have been discovered in Greece and in the Aegean, but it was never used by the Israelites. The Philistine Goliath, however, may have had one, which was later wrapped up in a cloak and was quite unique (cf. 1 S 21: 9-10). The sword was carried in a sheath (nadan or ta'ar, 1 S 17: 51; 1 Ch 21: 27; Jr 47:6; Ez 21: 8-10) attached to the belt ( 2 S 20: 8).

Goliath also carried 'between his shoulders' a kîdôn of bronze ( 1 S 17: 6, 45). Josue wielded the same weapon at the battle of Ai ( Jos 8: 18-26), and Jeremias said the invaders from the north would use it ( Jr 6:23 = 50: 42). It is usually translated 'javelin', but the Order of the War discovered at Qumran2 seems to describe the kîdôn as a sword one and a half cubits long and four finger-breadths wide. It has been suggested that the late text of Qumran drew its inspiration from the Roman gladius, but the meaning would fit the biblical texts also: a type of sword longer and broader than the hereb, and hung from

____________________
1
Cf. p. 196.
2
Cf. p. 266.

-241-

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