Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Booths or Succoth? A Response to Yigael Yadin

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Booths or Succoth? A Response to Yigael Yadin

Article excerpt

{Bell & Howell Information and Learning: Foreign Text Omitted}

The term (...) occurs seven times in the Hebrew Bible (Lev 23:42 bis, 43; 2 Sam 11:11; 1 Kgs 20:12, 16; Neh 8:14) and has traditionally been understood to denote portable shelters, be they booths, pavilions, or tents.1 Yigael Yadin, however, has questioned this translation in 2 Sam 11:11 and 1 Kgs 20:12, 16, arguing that here (...) refers to the city of Succoth, located just east of the Jordan River along the Jabbok River Valley.2 Yadin's interpretation has been received favorably;3 nevertheless, this article seeks to show why "in the booths" remains the preferable translation in all seven occurrences.

The biggest obstacle in interpreting (...) as a city is the noun's definiteness, a factor that Yadin ignores. Yadin's argument requires Masoretic error on all three of the contested verses, as few cities in the Hebrew Bible are prefaced with the definite article (see josh 18:23-28). Moreover, the LXX backs the traditional understanding of (...) as portable shelters in six of the seven attestations, translating the phrase (...). Nevertheless, it is the LXX translation of 1 Kgs 20:16 (21:16 in LXX) that provides Yadin's best evidence. Here the LAX interprets (...) as a proper noun, reading (...), even though the identical Hebrew phrase just four verses earlier is understood as a portable structure. Despite the LMCs rendering of this verse, a review of Yadin's arguments and subsequent reconstructions of the wars recorded in 2 Samuel 11 and 1 Kings 20 will reveal several fatal difficulties.

I. 2 Samuel 11:11

Yadin's reconstruction of David's campaign against Rabbath-Ammon involves three phases: an initial hasty assault against the Ammonite capital city that ultimately proves unsuccessful because of inadequate forces and Syrian intervention (2 Sam 10:1-14); a second phase, in which the Syrians' sound defeat at Helam forestalls further interference (2 Sam 10: 15-19), and a final stage where the entire Israelite army secures Succoth to use as a base in besieging Rabbath-Ammon, an endeavor that eventually pays off in the Ammonite city's capitulation (2 Sam 11: 1-12:31). It is this final phase to which Uriah refers in his reply to David in 2 Sam 11:11:

The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling (...), and my lord Joab and the servants of my Lord (= David) are camping upon the face of the field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.

Yadin claims that the majority of the troops, as well as the ark, remain at Succoth, while Joab and a few select soldiers, including Uriah, camp without shelter before Rabbath-- Ammon (pp. 342,351).

Yadin's reconstruction of this final phase in the Israelite-Ammonite war, in which Succoth serves as a base camp, suffers from three major problems. First, the path linking Succoth to Rabbath-Ammon spans nearly 65 km. Such an excessive distance between an army's base camp and objective is not practical. Furthermore, the entire route from Jerusalem to Rabbath-Ammon-crossing the Jordan at Adam, jaunting north to Succoth and back again, and finally reaching Rabbath-Ammon via es-Salt-covers 150 km. Yadin himself admits to two shorter and more common routes (pp. 347-49). The first and most direct road passes immediately above the Dead Sea and spans only 75 km. In fact, this is the route that Yadin suggests Joab takes in the initial phase of Israel's battle with Ammon (P. 349). The second route is only slightly longer, at 85 km, jaunting northeast to Jericho before crossing the Jordan River.4 Yadin's reconstruction, whereby the troops travel almost twice the distance of the most direct route, is much less attractive. Yadin claims the 75 km route's climb of over one thousand meters along a distance of 25 krn makes the long way, via Succoth, more desirable (p. 347); however, Yadin's route climbs an even greater distance along the 25 km stretch from Adam to es-Salt (see figure 1). …

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