The Vow and the "Popular Religious Groups" of Ancient Israel: A Philological and Sociological Inquiry

by Jacob Milgrom
The Vow and the "Popular Religious Groups" of Ancient Israel: A Philological and Sociological Inquiry
Jacob Milgrom
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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Reviewed work(s): The Vow and the "Popular Religious Groups" of Ancient Israel: A Philological and Sociological Inquiry by Jacques Berlinerblau

By JACQUES BERLINERBLAU. JSOT Supplement Series, vol. 210. Sheffield: SHEFFIELD ACADEMIC PRESS, 1996. Pp. 219. [pounds]39, $58.50.
Through the medium of the vow, Berlinerblau investigates ancient Israel's unofficial, popular religion. In his introduction (pp. 13-45), he defines official religion as "the religion of an orthodoxy, one which wields [misspelled as 'yields'] power against others through coercion and/or consent" (p. 44). The "others" he focuses on are women, nonprivileged economic classes, and heterodoxies.
In part I (pp. 48-112), Berlinerblau describes four basic mechanics of the Israelite vow: individual initiation, privacy, spoken invocation, and autonomous regulation, by which he means that the individual determines what to promise to YHWH and when to pay it. In part II (pp. 114-48), he studies the explicit but questionable evidence for the vow "which the Yahwistic literati wanted their readers to know" (p. 114) against the more reliable implicit evidence that can be teased out of the biblical text. The latter he discusses under the rubrics "indecision and economic accessibility, social accuracy, women and her vow." In part III (pp. 154-74), he investigates the reaction of the functionaries of official religion to the popular vow, concluding that it was "powerless to regulate, prescribe or control the votive activity of the populace" (p. 151). Four appendices (pp. 17582) conclude the book.
This summary of the book's contents should suffice to indicate that Berlinerblau's inquiry runs along sociological lines, to which he brings a rich and informative bibliography. Biblical and Northwest Semitic texts are also included, but not extensively. The reason, I believe, is that other important examples have already been analyzed in an equally excellent and recent book on the vow by T. W. Cartledge, Vows in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, JSOT Supplement Series, vol. 147 (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1992). These two books should he read in tandem for a comprehensive and definitive study of the Israelite vow.
Considering that Berlinerblau's treatment of the vow is largely theoretical, he is to be complimented on the lucidity and penetration of his study, even though on occasion it is overly repetitive. I am left with a few minor questions:
P. 64. In Num 21:1-3, how can an individual's vow prevent others from taking spoil? This could only happen when a group is adjured with a curse. The alleged cases are invalid: in Josh 6:17-19, Joshua's herem is not imposed though a vow; in Judg 11:30-31, there are no "others."
P. 138. Would not a man hear of his wife's vow when she had to fulfill it?
P. 147. In view of Hannah's vow at the Shilo Temple, how can one conclude that there were few "public, communal religious practices which permit women to communicate directly with Yahweh?"
P. 152. The Holiness Code may have deliberately removed the toda from P's selamin category (Lev 7:11) so that Lev 22:29-30 would form an inclusio with Lev 19:5-8. This would make P earlier than the Holiness Code.
In all, we can be grateful to Berlinerblau for adding substantively to the study of the Israelite vow, in particular, and to a methodology for probing Israelite popular religion, in general.
COPYRIGHT 1998 American Oriental Society

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