Posted by: religionthink | March 5, 2007

Psalm 24: Who shall ascend the hill of Yahweh?

Psalm 24: Who shall ascend the hill of Yahweh?

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation. Such is the company of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.(Selah) Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is the King of glory? The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory. (Selah) (Psa 24:1-10)

Traditionally it is thought that this Psalm was used with others in the temple as part of a fall festival. Still others claim it was the text about the entry of the ark into Jerusalem. All of these opinions may in fact be correct. However, with this essay we will approach the topic from a far different view that combines both Yahweh and the ark of the covenant returning to Israel even before Jerusalem was the capital. Here we have the Divine Warrior returning home to his people and his temple victorious. One might wonder how such conclusions can be drawn, but there is a biblical account where the Yahweh returns the ark on his own from battle. But first we read the same questions posed in Psalms 15 as we do in Psalms 24:

O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors; in whose eyes the wicked are despised, but who honor those who fear the Lord; who stand by their oath even to their hurt; who do not lend money at interest, and do not take a bribe against the innocent. Those who do these things shall never be moved. (Psa 15:1-5 NRSV)

Moving on to Psalm 24; even though it asks the same questions as Psalm 15; another more important background texts can be brought to the forefront. It comes at the end of Psalm 24, where we find like wording in the Canaanite text the Epic of Baal. We read the similar text below.

“Gods, why have you lowered your heads
to the top of your knees,
and onto your princely seats?
I see, gods, that you are stricken with fear of the messengers of Sea,
the mission of Judge River.
Gods, raise your heads
from the top of your knees,
from your princely seats,
For I will reply to the messengers of Sea,
the mission of Judge River.”
The gods raised their heads
from the top of their knees,
from their princely seats.(
Coogan p.82).

It is thought by some that the final part of Psalms 24 may have been influenced by this text the word “gates” may have been substituted for “gods”. At any rate, the main topic of this essay will be to point out one event that possibly may relate more closely with the “return of the divine warrior” theme and with the “return of the ark” theme. We find that in the texts of I Samuel chapter 5 and 6.

As the story relates the ark of the convent was captured in battle by the Sea Peoples. They brought the ark to Ashdod and placed it in the house of their god Dagon, a fish- human sea god, of the Sea Peoples. Thus the battle of the gods began, as we read below;

When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day. (1Sa 5:1-5 NRSV)

It is here that Yahweh battles once more the god of the sea, forbidding to be the footstool of Dagon. The texts later relate that a plague strikes the Sea Peoples and their cities and they are forced to perform a ritual against pestilence.

They said, “If you send away the ark of the God of Israel, do not send it empty, but by all means return him a guilt offering. Then you will be healed and will be ransomed; will not his hand then turn from you?” And they said, “What is the guilt offering that we shall return to him?” They answered, “Five gold tumors and five gold mice, according to the number of the lords of the Philistines; for the same plague was upon all of you and upon your lords. So you must make images of your tumors and images of your mice that ravage the land, and give glory to the God of Israel; perhaps he will lighten his hand on you and your gods and your land. Why should you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts? After he had made fools of them, did they not let the people go, and they departed? Now then, get ready a new cart and two milch cows that have never borne a yoke, and yoke the cows to the cart, but take their calves home, away from them. Take the ark of the Lord and place it on the cart, and put in a box at its side the figures of gold, which you are returning to him as a guilt offering. Then send it off, and let it go its way. And watch; if it goes up on the way to its own land, to Beth-shemesh, then it is he who has done us this great harm; but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.” The men did so; they took two milch cows and yoked them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. They put the ark of the Lord on the cart, and the box with the gold mice and the images of their tumors. The cows went straight in the direction of Beth-shemesh along one highway, lowing as they went; they turned neither to the right nor to the left, and the lords of the Philistines went after them as far as the border of Beth-shemesh. (1Sa 6:3-12 NRSV)

We get a ritual like the above being preformed in text outside the biblical literature. In the texts of the many Hittite writings we come to one called Ritual against Pestilence thought to be brought on by an enemy god.

These are the words of Uhha-muwas, the Arzawa man. If people are dying in the country and if some enemy god has cause that, I act as follows: They drive up one ram. They twine together blue wool, red wool, yellow wool, black wool, and white wool, make it into a crown and crown the ram with it. They drive the ram on to the road leading to the enemy and while dong so they speak as follows: “Whatever god of the enemy land has caused this plague-see! We have now driven up this crowned ram to pacify thee Oh god!” (Pritchard p.347).

Brown, E. Raymond., Fitzmyer, Joseph. And Murphy, Ronalde. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice-Hall, Inc, New Jersey, 1990

Coogan, Michael David. Stories from Ancient Canaan. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1978.

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

McCarter, K.L., 1 Samuel, Anchor Bible, Doubleday and Co., Garden City, N.Y., 1980

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Quoted biblical texts are taken from the New Revised Standard Version.

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Responses

  1. I am impressed! Very nice piece of work here. A suggestion for a follow up article: Since the Psalms are attributed to King David, and, if I remember correctly, there is very little doubt that David WAS the author of Psalms 23 and 24, look at them and what you have written so far into the proper historical context of David’s life.

    Again, well done!

    Peace!
    John


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