The deuteronomistic concept of the Herem

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The law of the herem against the Canaanites in Dtn 7,1-6 and 20,15-18 has always raised considerable moral and consequently theological inconveniences. In the Talmud there is a clear inclination to humanize, in fact to void them. Modern translators as well as biblical scholars were trying to mollify the harshness of these laws. This article deals with other aspects of the subject: the incongruity of the herem with the moral norms of the Book of Deuteronomy; the possible Sitz im Leben of these laws and their irrelevance to the actual historical circumstances of the settlement's period in Canaan. The main conclusions are: (1) Philological and literary examination of the text proves the herem laws to belong to a secondary, later stratum of Deuteronomy. (2) This stratum corresponds chronologically with the composition of the Deuteronomistic conquest story in the book of Joshua, which is post exilic. (3) Upon this background the combination of the herem laws and the Deuteronomistic conquest concept bears an unambiguous message, namely: these laws have no efficacy whatsoever, since Canaanites do not exist any more. (4) The purpose of such a nullification of the herem laws in Jerusalem then was to oppose xenophobic tendencies, that culminated later on during the time of Ezra.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)196-210
Number of pages15
JournalZeitschrift fur die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1999


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