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To Your Tents, O Israel!: The Terminology,…

To Your Tents, O Israel!: The Terminology, Function, Form, and Symbolism…

by Michael M. Homan

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When God was a nomad.

Thus says Yahweh: "You will build for me a house for my dwelling? For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the children of Israel from Egypt, and until this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and in a Tabernacle." -- 2 Sam 7:5-6

And he refuses the offer of a house… this time.

I learnt from this book that there is dispute about how nomadic the Hebrew tribes ever were; this comes down on the side of yes, they had been nomads and the Old Testament is nostalgic for that age. Of course there are phases and states in between settled-nomadic, and what I liked about this book is that it looks at experience as lived, to understand these intersections. For example, when they argue over whether a structure described in the Bible is fixed or unfixed, he photographs the ways tents in the area today morph into huts and houses sprout tentage – it’s not either/or. With this sort of work he salvages the nomadic case.

Me, I didn’t know there was an argument. I took a couple of courses in Biblical Literature years ago. It’s Jack Weatherford in Savages and Civilizations who made me aware of the Old Testament as a unique document from the nomad point of view – unique among ancient Near East writings, since written records issue from cities (although, doesn’t Gilgamesh give both sides, in a way?) What Weatherford said and this book says in a little more detail – though don’t miss Jack Weatherford’s original insights – is that in the Bible, tents and nomads ‘connote positively’, and urban life tends to connote negatively -- wicked cities. In every other ancient Near East text it’s the opposite: a tent means filth and ignorance. The Bible stands quite alone for insight into ancient nomads.

In its later chapters this book collects what knowledge we have on ancient Near East war tents and holy tents, then looks at speculative reconstructions of the Tabernacle. A large set of plates at the end illustrate every aspect of the book. ( )
  Jakujin | Jun 27, 2014 |
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An examination of the function, form and symbolism of ancient tents, specifically in the Hebrew Bible, but also in the greater context of the Ancient Near East. It explores the terminology associated with tents, along with their manifold usage: domiciliary, military, nuptial and religious.… (more)

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