An Israelite Enthronement Festival?

This is completely premature.  But hey, that’s what blogs are for–saying something before you’ve thought it through–right?

As we passed the Jewish High Holy Days over the last few weeks, a couple of things I read and heard in class combined in my mind to form a strange theory (that I’m sure is not original) about Hebrew religion.

Gunkel and his followers advanced the form-critical approach to Scripture, most notably in Genesis and the Psalms. They went about through the Psalter, categorizing each song according to its postulated Sitz im Leben, the context in which such a song would have been used. While I’m more interested in a canonical approach to the Psalter, the form-critical method has some merit when not applied too rigidly.

Anyway, the Gunkelites theorized that the so-called “enthronement” psalms (e.g., Pss 93, 96) were part of an Israelite enthronement festival, not unlike those of some Mesopotamian peoples. The problem is, the Pentateuch as we have it does not explicitly contain such a festival.

Or does it? Could rosh hashanah, the zicaron terua, be the “Israelite enthronement festival”? Here are some points in its favor:

* The “enthronement” psalms often make the connection between YHWH’s act of creation and his kingship (Pss. 93:1, 96:10). Many scholars, recently G.K. Beale and J. Walton, connect the act of creation in Gen. 1-2 with YHWH’s kingship.
* Walton speculates that Genesis 1 could have been read at an enthronement festival (The Lost World of Genesis One, p. 91), just as Enuma Elish was read at a Marduk’s enthronement festival.
* Rosh hashanah, meaning “head of the year,” is the chiastic apex of the Jewish year. Even though it is the first day of the seventh (Sabbath?) month, Jews wish each other shanah tovah (“good year”).
* Rosh hashanah is connected to the Sabbath. When it is commanded in Lev. 23:23-25, the only commands are that it is to be a “day of solemn rest,” and that the trumpets should be blown.
* According to Jewish tradition, it is the day on which Adam and Eve were created.
* Rosh Hashanah signals the end of the Torah reading cycle, which ends in the seventh month and begins again in Genesis with at the simchat torah festival (22nd day of the 7th month).

It’s a theory, and I recognize there are some problems with it. Has anyone made this connection before? Of course if there is a connection the next puzzle is how this holiday came to be so marginalized in Israelite religion. If you look at the list of the Spring and Fall festivals the Feast of Trumpets is not the one you would pick out as the most significant–Yom Kippur or Passover would probably top that list.

Alternatively, maybe the whole seventh month was one big, long enthronement festival.

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, living and learning in Eastern Europe…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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3 Responses to An Israelite Enthronement Festival?

  1. Thom says:

    I think it’s interesting to note that Psalm 96 is read in every year (A, B, & C) of the Revised Common Lectionary for the Festival of the Nativity of Our Lord, and Psalm 93 is read at the Ascension of Our Lord every year.

    The enthronement psalms are used as bookends in the liturgy of Christ’s beginning and ending of earthly reign (and as a foretaste of the glorious reign to come).

  2. Susan Giffone says:

    Why not? If no one else has thought of it, it might be b/c most people don’t go as deep into the study of such things.

    If it is true, what does it mean to the average believer? Another reason to marvel? Or even more?

    Thanks for sharing thoughts, premature or not. You always have something interesting to make me think.

  3. Pingback: Best of 2008 and 2009 | think hard, think well

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