Herem in Biblical law and narrative

Mina Glick, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation uses comparative and literary methods to analyze the concept of herem in the legal and narrative portions of the Hebrew Bible. Unlike earlier scholarship on herem that focused on its origins, this analysis focuses instead on its function, and uses primarily synchronic methods to understand the concept across Biblical texts. Chapter One analyzes herem in legal texts. These are divided into two subcategories. The sacred herem donations in Leviticus 27 are voluntary, irreversible gifts that transfer items to God's exclusive ownership. In contrast, the herem of the apostate city in Deuteronomy 13, and the herem against the Canaanite nations in Deuteronomy 7 and 20 are examples of sin herem: they are commanded, they address sin, either punitively or proactively, and they demand total eradication, which parallels punishments for treason in other ancient Near Eastern texts. Sin herem reaffirms God as the exclusive Suzerain of Israel. In both types of herem, the required completeness expresses the theological insistence on God's exclusivity. Chapter Two examines the three herem narratives using literary tools and in light of the legal texts examined in Chapter One. In Numbers 21, there is a vow of sacred herem in connection with a request for victory in war. Joshua 6-7 includes both the sacred herem devotion of Jericho and that herem's violation, which has elements closely aligned to the sin herem of the apostate city. Finally I Samuel 15 describes the command to Saul to eradicate Amalek with herem and the consequences of his failure to do so completely. As in legal sin herem, the obligation to be complete in obeying the herem command is central. We further find in the narratives a literary function in herem. It appears at moments of national transition: the preparation for entry into the land, the beginning of conquest, and the establishment of the monarchy. Finally, we observe that just as the legal texts shared the connection between completeness in function and exclusivity in theology, we find that the same connection underpins the narratives. Completeness and exclusivity thus emerges as a hallmark of the concept of herem.

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Recommended Citation

Glick, Mina, "Herem in Biblical law and narrative" (2007). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3292024.