Friday, May 23, 2008

Priests and False Idols: Judges 17-18

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Okay, this one's kind of weird. Not crude or disturbing, just queer.

An Ephraimite named Micah - obviously one of the ones who escaped Jephthah's fratricidal slaughter along the Jordan river - recovers a large pile of silver which had been stolen by his mother and, in gratitude, she makes an idol for him. I'm sure the author of Judges considers blaming the whole thing on the woman, but then he adds that Micah already has a shrine and "some idols," as well as an ephod - a word we can't translate but which comes up every so often as some sort of special religious icon. So another idol, we can assume. We don't know who these idols are supposed to represent.

Micah finds a travelling Levite and hires him as his own personal priest. Eventually, however, a mob of homeless Danites come along and steals the idols. As they do tis they meet the priest, and take him with them. Micah protests that "you took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away," but the Danites threaten to kill him. They take the idols and th epriest and massacre a city, tear it down, rebuild it, and call it Dan. Then they set up the idols.

This story actually seems to take a position on the importance of government: twice, it states that "in those days Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit." The fact that the sentence is simply injected into the narrative at seemingly random intervals would make it seem like a later addition, except that clearly if it was a later addition, the person doing the adding was pretty lazy with their forging. It also doesn't make a great deal of sense given that all of the leaders in Judges thus far have been pretty useless. Is it an argument for a hereditary monarchy? So far God hasn't wanted one, but maybe by the time Judges was written there was pressure to legitimize one of the later Jewish monarchies.

The sudden regret about the lack of a king is coupled with contempt for the priesthood. This meandering Levite is an utterly useless figure as a religious leader. He sells his services to Micah, thus falling into idol worship. When the Danites come along to steal from Micah, the priest "was glad" and readily agreed to come with them. Later, the Danites are said to have a chief piest who is Jonathan the grandson of Moses, and while it's not made clear, the narrative seems to imply that the priest has been this grandson of Moses all along. It didn't take long for the core of the high priesthood to fall into mercenary paganism.