Thursday, December 13, 2012

Arsenal of the Hebrew Kings: "Sword" in the Old Testament

Although many people may expect to be bored when they politely ask me what my dissertation was about, their ears usually perk up when I tell them.  As many readers of my blog are aware, I wrote my dissertation on the topic of biblical weapons.  Specifically, I focused on offensive weapons used during the Israel's monarchy period (Saul to the Exile), a period referred to by archaeologists as the Iron Age.  The title of the dissertation was "The Arsenal of the Hebrew Kings and Their Neighbors: A Description of Biblical Weapons in the Iron Age."

I know you are all dying to read my dissertation in its entirety, but it would not be practical for me to reproduce the whole dissertation on this blog, so please stop asking. ;-)  However, I thought it might be interesting (and hopefully edifying) to pull out some highlights from my work.  So without further ado, I present to you the first in a new series of excerpts form my dissertation.

In the passage below, I begin a discussion of ancient swords.  The sword in the Iron Age is equivalent to the gun of modern times ... usually every soldier was equipped with one.  They may have additionally been equipped with a bow or a spear or some other weapon, but at the very least they carried a sword.

The most common weapon of the ANE in the Iron Age was the sword. This is reflected in the numerous occurrences of the Hebrew term for "sword" in the Old Testament as well as in the artistic representations of ancient armies. ...
The main Hebrew word for "sword" was hereb. Cognates are found in Akkadian (harbu, "plow"), Arabic (harbat, "javelin"), Aramaic (harb, "sword"), and Ugaritic (hrb, "sword, knife").
Based on the use of the term in Biblical Hebrew, the hereb seems to have been the most common item in the arsenal of an ancient army. First of all, hereb "is the most frequently mentioned weapon in the OT." (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 732a.) In the sections of Scripture related to the monarchy period, the term occurs 304 times.
Secondly, this weapon was so central in the arsenal of an army that many passages refer to an army as a hereb or "sword" (2 Chr 20:9; Jer 24:10; 25:16, 27, 29; 29:17; 49:37; 50:35-37; Ezek 5:17; 6:3; 7:15; 11:8; 14:17, 21; 29:8; 30:4; 32:11; 33:2-4, 6; Hos 11:6). Similarly, those who are killed by an army "fall by the sword" (2 Sam 1:12; 2 Chr 29:9; Isa 3:25; 13:15; Jer 19:7; 20:4; 39:18; Lam 2:21; Ezek 5:12; 6:11-12; 11:10; 17:21; 23:25; 24:21; 25:13; 28:23; 30:5-6, 17; 32:12, 22-24; 33:27; Hos 7:16; 14:1[13:16]; Amos 7:17) or are "slain with the sword" (Isa 22:2; Jer 14:18; Lam 4:9; Ezek 31:17-18; 32:20-21, 25, 28-32; 35:8; Zeph 2:12). Those who are pursued by an army are chased by a "sword" (Jer 9:15[16]; 29:18; 48:2; 50:16; Ezek 12:14). Those who survive an attack "escape from a sword" (1 Kgs 19:17) or are "remnants/fugitives of the sword" (2 Chr 36:20; Jer 51:50; Ezek 6:8). The term is also used to describe the number of fighting men in Israel and Judah after David‟s census: "Israel was eight hundred thousand qualified men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men." (2 Sam 24:9; cf. 2 Kgs 3:26; 1 Chr 21:5; Song 3:8). Many similar phrases that use hereb can be found in the biblical text.
So when you read the word "sword" in the Old Testament, many times it is being used as a metaphor for an invading army.