Saturday, April 28, 2012

Psalm 74

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 74.

Psalm 74:8 says (in the KJV): "They said in their hearts, Let us destroy them together: they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land. "

The Hebrew word translated as "synagogues" is moadei, which is the plural construct form of the word moedMoed in the Hebrew Bible can refer to a religious assembly, a feast, a congregation, or a designated time.

The Septuagint translates the verse as "They said in their heart, their kin together, 'Come and let us burn all the feasts of God from the land.'"  The Septuagint understands moadei in this verse to mean "festivals".  It presumes that Psalm 74:8 relates to what appears to be the topic of Psalm 74 as a whole: Israel's sadness at the destruction of the Temple, her perplexity as she wonders when God will help her, and her attempts to reassure herself as she reminds herself of God's displays of power in the past.  For the LXX, the festivals were held in the Temple, which is destroyed in Psalm 74, and so Psalm 74:8 most likely relates to the destruction of the Temple.  Interpreters who relied on the Septuagint, such as Augustine and Theodore of Mopsuestia, had this understanding.

But there is another view: that Psalm 74:8 is acknowledging the existence of places outside of the Temple in the land of Israel where Israelites gathered together to worship.  For one, Psalm 74:8 says that the moadei were "burned", and it makes more sense to say that a place of assembly was burned rather than a festival.  Second, the MT has "in the land", which implies that these moadei are throughout the Holy Land, not only at the Temple.

But then the problem of the date of Psalm 74 arises.  When were there places of worship outside of the Temple in the land of Israel?  In II Kings 4:23, we read that Northern Israelites in the time of Elisha could go to a prophet on a Sabbath or a new moon.  But would these places of worship exist in 587 B.C.E., at the time when the Temple was destroyed?  Josiah had gotten rid of other sanctuaries besides the Temple, and a predominant theological school of the Bible, the Deuteronomists, opposed those sanctuaries.  Psalm 74 may be related to the Deuteronomistic school in some manner, for Psalm 74:7 refers to the Temple as the dwelling-place for God's name, and the Deuteronomists were emphatic that the sanctuary was to be a dwelling-place of God's name, not God himself (Deuteronomy 12, 14, 16).  Would Psalm 74 support sanctuaries other than the Temple?

Others have noted that there were places of prayer in Israel's exilic and post-exilic times.  Zechariah 7:3-5 and 8:19 refer to fasts, which the Jews practiced even when there was not a Temple.  And I Maccabees 3:46 mentions a former place of prayer at Mizpah.  Consequently, some have related Psalm 74 to Antiochus IV's attack on the Temple right before the time of the Maccabean revolt.  The idea is that Antiochus not only attacked the Temple, but other places of worship throughout the land of Israel as well.  But my problem with that view is that Psalm 74 appears to describe a destruction of the Temple, not merely a pollution of it.  The destruction of the Temple occurred in 587 B.C.E., so I think that Psalm 74 is about that particular event.

My conclusion is that there were places of worship outside of the Temple in 587 B.C.E., and that these places were deemed valid by the Deuteronomists.  As I talk about in my post here, we see in Deuteronomy 16:7-8 that a solemn assembly could be held outside of the Temple on the last Day of Unleavened Bread.  Deuteronomy most likely did not support sacrifices occurring outside of the Temple, but perhaps these places of assembly only had prayer, not sacrifice.

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