The Ark of the Covenant and Divine Rage in the Hebrew Bible

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The Ark of the Covenant and Divine Rage in the Hebrew Bible

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Title: The Ark of the Covenant and Divine Rage in the Hebrew Bible
Author: Metzler, Maria J. ORCID  0000-0001-6818-2064
Citation: Metzler, Maria J. 2016. The Ark of the Covenant and Divine Rage in the Hebrew Bible. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: The subject of my study is the Ark of the Covenant as portrayed within the Deuteronomistic History of the Hebrew Bible, particularly the tales featuring the Ark in Joshua and 1–2 Samuel. In these narratives, the God of Israel performs astonishing works through the Ark; from the Israelites’ perspective, these deeds are sometimes miraculous and other times horrifying. I argue that the behavior of Yhwh’s Ark may best be compared to that of a partially domesticated wild animal such as a horse. Like the raging energy of a horse, the violent supernatural power mediated through the Ark is an invaluable resource for human society; nonetheless, it is also unpredictable and extremely dangerous.

I take a comparative approach in interpreting the narratives of Joshua and 1–2 Samuel. I first discuss the Ark as Yhwh’s throne in light of the Mesopotamian myth of Nergal and Ereshkigal, which also features a divine throne. I suggest that the chair of Nergal in the Neo-Assyrian version of this tale acts as a violent border-crosser that enables Nergal to pass through the normally impenetrable borders of the Netherworld and dominate Queen Ereshkigal. Likewise, in the book of Joshua, the Ark (or throne) of Yhwh permits the Israelites to pass through barriers in a miraculous fashion and conquer the land of Canaan.

I go on to analyze the behavior of Yhwh’s Ark as presented in the Ark Narrative of 1–2 Samuel. I compare the destructive rampage of the Ark to that of the god Erra as depicted in the Babylonian poem Erra and Ishum and conclude that the narrative of 1–2 Samuel does not attempt to justify the violence perpetrated through Yhwh’s Ark. I examine David’s heroism in settling the Ark in Jerusalem, which appears to effect a sort of taming, since afterward the Ark is never again explicitly described as a destructive force. I propose that, like Erra and Ishum, which was widely used as an amulet, the Ark Narrative may be understood as a textual means of protecting against the chaotic forces described therein.

Finally, I turn to consider the characterization of females in the Ark Narrative, drawing on Greek tragedy to illuminate the nature of divine wrath. I discuss Yhwh’s angry outbursts through the Ark alongside the portrayal of the raging goddess Artemis in Aeschylus’s Oresteia trilogy. In particular, I trace the image of the bit in Oresteia—the small metal object connecting the horse to its human rider. Instead of being placed in the mouth of a horse in the trilogy, however, the bit is figuratively applied to three subjugated females: a pregnant rabbit representing Troy, Iphigeneia, and Cassandra. In juxtaposing this tragic image with three scenes of afflicted females in the Ark Narrative—the wife of Phinehas, the lowing milch cows, and Michal—I seek to draw out an interpretation of the biblical narrative that is attentive to the emotional complexity of divine and human personalities.
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