Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Hezekiah’s Alleged Cultic Centralization – Diana Edelman

Posted by NT Wrong on May 24, 2008

Albright–and latterly, Finkelstein and Silberman–attempted an uncomplicated and simple correlation of archaeological destruction (in places such as Lachish) with biblical stories of destruction (the story of the religious holy war against Canaan in Joshua, the story of the religious purges of Hezekiah and Josiah in Kings).

In an article in the June 2008 Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (subscription required), Diana Edelman outlines a much superior approach. With a focus on the legend of Hezekiah’s cultic purge and centralization, Edelman’s approach involves: 
* examining the relevant biblical passages in their own right;
*  examining evidence (incl. archaeological evidence) from the historical period which corresponds to the setting of the Hezekiah legend (721-701 BC);
* examining evidence from the historical period which corresponds to the time in which the Hezekiah legend was plausibly originally created and later redacted, and which is the relevant historical setting for understanding the ideology of the story (post-701 BC).

Here’s one of her key conclusions:

“… Sennacherib mounted an extensive attack against Judah. It is likely that after 701 BCE the territory of the kingdom of Judah was probably limited to the immediate environs of Jerusalem. This situation, which resulted in the temporary ‘centralization’ of the cult of Yahweh in Jerusalem, is most likely what prompted the author or a subsequent editor of Kings to credit Hezekiah with a voluntary cultic centralization that followed the call in Torah for a single place where Yahweh would cause to place his name to dwell. He was more interested in Jerusalem’s central role during the latter part of Hezekiah’s reign than in how or why it had gained that status. He had a preconceived theological answer for the latter and so had no need to concern himself with the historical details.” (425)

The article provides full and extensively reasoned support for this conclusion. The alternative, of a historical Hezekian religious purge, is unlikely:

“From a religious perspective, cult centralization would not have made sense under the monarchy … To deprive the national god of his outlying sanctuaries would have been tantamount to eliminating his claims to those lands, which his physical presence in sacred spaces would have symbolized … Yahweh Sabaoth [Yahweh of Hosts, Yahweh of Armies] was conceived of as a national deity, not a universal deity; it was only with the emergence of Yahweh Elohim, after the loss of the monarchy, that Yahweh lost his specific ties to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah; it is at this time that the Deuteronomistic legislation envisaging a single temple would make ideological sense.” (429)

Diana Edelman, “Hezekiah’s Alleged Cultic Centralization,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 32.4 (2008):395-434.

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