This study uses the sacred traditions of Dan in Judges 17–18 as a springboard for an examination of the nature of the pre-exilic cult at Dan and in the Northern Kingdom in general, with particular reference its Ancient Near Eastern context.
An introduction reviews previous scholarship, and concludes that the cultic aspects of Judges 17–18 have not been examined in any depth. It then goes on to deal with the historical and redactional issues which previous scholars have found interesting. The issues of provenance and dating are then examined with the conclusion that the text was written down in the immediate aftermath of the Assyrian conquest of Dan in an attempt to preserve its sacred traditions. The text therefore reflects the self-understanding of the priests of Dan in the period immediately prior to its fall. The text of Judges 17–18 is then subjected to a rhetorical critical examination, followed by a more traditional form critical study.
The next section is a comparison of similar cultic foundation stories from other cultures. Three major chapters examine the three major cultic issues raised by the text itself: images, priests, and divination. Each chapter draws on evidence from the Hebrew Bible and its environment in an attempt to clarify the nature of the cult of Dan. Broadly, each chapter concludes that although there were some features peculiar to the cult reflected by Dan, in general, the Danite cult was not greatly different from that of its neighbors. A final chapter deals with what the text says about the tribe of Levi, with the conclusion that according to Judges 17–18, there was once a secular tribe of Levi. The conclusion draws a brief picture of cultic life in Dan in its final years.
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Jason S. Bray is a training officer in the Diocese of Monmouth, Old Testament Tutor on the South Wales Ordination Course, and a regular reviewer of books on Hebrew religion for the Journal of Theological Studies.