Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions

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

CHAPTER FOUR
THE CENTRALIZATION OF THE CULT

IN the course of time, the Temple of Jerusalem became the only place where sacrificial worship could legally be performed; it was destroyed in 70 A.D., and since then Judaism has been deprived of both altar and sacrifice. But the Temple did not attain this unique position in a day; first came long years of hard struggle against rival sanctuaries, and against a trend which favoured decentralization.


1. Central sanctuary or sole sanctuary?

In the period of the Judges and in the early days of the monarchy, there were numerous sanctuaries in Palestine,1 and even the 'high places' were recognized as lawful institutions2; but this does not mean that these various places of worship were all of equal importance. The federation of tribes was held together by a religious bond, and when all the tribes took part in a common cult at a central sanctuary, their presence was a witness to, and a confirmation of, this religious bond. In early days these meetings were almost certainly held at Shechem, for that was where the tribes had made their pact of confederation.3 But the place of worship was changed when the Ark was moved, for the Ark was the symbol of God's presence among his people. The Deuteronomic redactor of Jos 8:33 mentions the presence of the ark at Shechem, but in the time of the Judges it was certainly kept at Shiloh, in a building; indeed, by then it must have been at Shiloh for some time, because the tribes met there and went on pilgrimage there from very early times.4 Since the place where the Ark was kept was the central sanctuary for the tribes, a serious religious problem had to be faced when the Philistines captured the Ark and dismantled the temple at Shiloh: where should Israel go to pray in common 'before Yahweh'? During these troubled years, Gibeon seems to have taken the place of Shiloh. According to 2 S 21: 6 (corrected in accordance with the Greek version), the sanctuary of Gibeon stood on the 'mountain of Yahweh', and it is significant that at the beginning of his reign Solomon first went to Gibeon to offer sacrifice there; there he was favoured with a divine message and in the same text

____________________
1
Cf. pp. 289-294 and 302-310.
2
Cf. p. 288.
3
Cf. pp. 289-291.
4
Cf. the texts cited on p. 304.

-331-

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