The Altar Of Joshua 22 -- By: Harold M. Wiener

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 068:272 (Oct 1911)
Article: The Altar Of Joshua 22
Author: Harold M. Wiener

The Altar Of Joshua 22

Harold M. Wiener

One or two reviewers of “Essays in Pentateuchal Criticism” have raised a question as to Joshua 22. Nobody has been’ found to suggest that Wellhausen and his followers are capable of discriminating between a house and a mound, but the application of the distinction between lay altars and horned altars to this chapter has been the cause of some trouble, and I am satisfied that I have failed to express my reasoning with sufficient clearness. It is well, therefore, to return to the point; and in order to deal with it the more satisfactorily, I propose to begin by quoting the ablest presentation of the difficulty that I have seen. It is from the pen of Professor J. Oscar Boyd, and will be found on page 489 of the Princeton Theological Reviezv for July, 1910: He writes: —

“. . . . For instance, what about the altar of Joshua 22? All that Wiener says about it (p. 198), is that it was because this was a ‘horned altar’ that it awoke the resentment of the cis-Jordanic tribes. Yet a reading of that chapter seems to place the emphasis, not on what sort of an altar it was, but on the fact that any altar at all was erected for sacrificial purposes other than that at Shiloh. The incensed tribes are pacified when they learn that the altar is not intended for sacrifice.”

Another reviewer went further and suggested that I was quite arbitrary in declaring that this altar was a horned altar. How could I know?

Accordingly I shall deal with this point first. In verse 28 we read the words “Behold the pattern of the altar,” etc. Now the ordinary lay altar could have no fixed pattern, because it was made of earth or unhewn stones, and the stones could not be made to conform to any fixed pattern without being wrought (Ex. 20:24–26). If we turn from the law to the historical instances of lay altars, we find this truth illustrated. A lay altar may consist of a single large stone (as in the case of the altar used by Saul after the battle of Michmash), or of a dozen stones (as in the case of Elijah on Carmel), or of a rock (as in the instance of Manoah’s altar), or of earth. The nature of the materials thus makes it impossible

that any particular pattern should characterize them, just as it makes it impossible that these lay altars could have horns. A stone altar could have horns only if the stone were dressed, and the law provides that “thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast poll...

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