The Fightin’ Mushites

in Vetus Testamentum
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The Mushite priestly line, claiming Moses as their eponymous ancestor, held a dominant position in pre-monarchic Israelite religion. While anthropological and archaeological considerations explain how the Mushites may have come to power in their Transjordanian region of origin, these considerations do not account for the widespread presence of Mushites in the far northern, central, and Judahite cult sites. The present study proposes that the spread of Mushites across this wide geographic spectrum—and in a fairly brief period of time—may be attributed to their legacy as warriors at a time when success on the battlefield demonstrated fitness for cultic leadership. Traces of this legacy may be discerned in the narratives about Moses as well as in the traditions regarding the pre-monarchic cult sites where Mushite factions took up their posts.

The Fightin’ Mushites

in Vetus Testamentum




CrossCanaanite Myth pp. 195-215. The recent anthropological study by Jeremy M. Hutton of the texts depicting the commitment of the Mushite Abiathar to David reinforces a degree of historical veracity informing the shape of the narrative in 1-2 Samuel regarding the political power held by the Mushites as well as the risks they faced in losing it based on the outcome of the Absalom revolt. See his essay “All The King’s Men: The Families of the Priests in Cross-Cultural Perspective” “Seitenblicke”: nebenfiguren in zweiten Samuelbuch (ed. W. Dietrich OBO; Fribourg/Göttingen 2011) pp. 117-143.


Lawrence E. Stager“The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel”BASOR 260 (1985) p. 28.


Hutton“Levitical Diaspora” p. 223.


Hutton“Levitical Diaspora” pp. 227 230.


Hutton“The Levitical Diaspora (II): Modern Perspectives on the Levitical Cities Lists (A Review of Opinions)”Levites and Priests in Biblical History and Tradition (ed. Jeremy Hutton and Mark Leuchter; Atlanta 2011) pp. 78-81.


Mark Leuchter“The ‘Prophets’ and the ‘Levites’ in Josiah’s Covenant Ceremony”ZAW 121 (2009) pp. 40-46.


CrossFrom Epic To Canon pp. 67-68.


Van der ToornFamily Religion p. 303.


CrossCanaanite Myth195-215. Edelman notes the possibility that the association between the Elides and the Mushites could arise from a polemical impulse seeking to discredit the latter by connecting them to the failed Elides (“Taking the Torah out of Moses” 17). I agree with Edelman that there is a polemical undertone in the tale of the fall of the Elides though it seems to me that the polemic is geared to legitimize Samuel’s eclipse of their power as the ringleader of the Shilonites. On the realism (if not the historical accuracy) of the picture emerging from the account in 1-2 Samuel see Hutton “All The King’s Men” pp. 142-143.


MillerChieftains pp. 8-13; 121-124.


Israel Finkelstein“Excavation at Shiloh 1981-1984,” Tel Aviv 12 (1985) p. 168; idem Shiloh: The Archaeology of a Biblical Site (Tel Aviv 1993) for a full discussion of the site’s periods of occupation and demolition. See further Benjamin C. Ollenburger Zion: City of the Great King (JSOTSup; Sheffield 1987) pp. 36-43 for the inheritance of the Bronze Age Canaanite cult adjusted and reapplied in the Shiloh tradition.


See the discussion by CrossCanaanite Myth pp. 203-204.


SeowDavid’s Dance pp. 30-31.


See for example Yaira Amit“Hidden Polemic in the Conquest of Dan: judges xvii-xviii”VT 40 (1990) pp. 4-20; Nadav Na’aman “the Danite Campaign Northward (Judges xvii-xviii) and the migration of the Phocaeans to Massalia (Strabo iv 14)” VT 55 (2005) pp. 47-60; Na’aman suggests that the narrative originates primarily in a post-Deuteronomistic context.


Mark Leuchter“ ‘Now There Was A [Certain] Man: Compositional Chronology in Judges-1 Samuel”CBQ 69 (2007) pp. 436-438. Whether this redactional addendum dates from the late pre-exilic or post-monarchic periods is immaterial to the present discussion.


Baruch Halpern“Levitic Participation in the Reform Cult of Jeroboam I”JBL 95 (1976) pp. 36-37.


Phillip J. King and Lawrence E. StagerLife in Biblical Israel (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox2003) p. 10; Hutton “Levitical Diaspora”.


Halpern“Levitic Participation” p. 37.


Hutton“The Levitical Diaspora” pp. 228-229. See also the dynamic of hierarchy and allegiance between paramounts and subordinates as discussed by Miller Chieftains pp. 9-10.


Abraham Malamat“The Danite Migration and the Pan-Israelite Exodus-Conquest A Biblical Narrative Pattern”Bib 51 (1970) pp. 1-16. The stop along the way in Kiriath Yearim ( Judg 18:12) may also relate to the divine warrior tradition fostered there as discussed by Seow David’s Dance pp. 55-76.


Hendel“The Exodus in Biblical Memory”JBL 119 (2000) pp. 601-622; citing Jan Assman Moses The Egyptian (Cambridge MA 1997).


Van der ToornFamily Religion pp. 185-187.


Moshe Weinfeld“Judge and Officer in Ancient Israel and the Ancient Near East”IOS 1 (1977) pp. 65-88.


MillerChieftains pp. 11-12.


Susan AckermanWarrior Dancer Seductress Queen (New York: Doubleday1998) pp. 93-109.


See Hendel“The Exodus” pp. 617-618.


So also DozemanExodus p. 91.


MeyersExodus pp. 44-45; Nahum Sarna Exodus: The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia/New York/Jerusalem 1991) pp. 12-13; Dozeman Exodus (Grand Rapids 2009) p. 91.


See e.g. KnaufMidian pp. 126-128.


Schloen“Casus Belli”35-38. See also the discussion of pastoral sedenterization by Stager “Ecology Archaeology” pp. 227-228; Cross From Epic to Canon pp. 69-70; Joseph Blenkinsopp “The Midianite-Kenite Hypothesis Revisited and the Origins of Judah” JSOT 33.2 (2008) pp. 131-153; Knauf Midian p. 150.


HigginbothamEgyptianization pp. 132-142.


See Shawn Zelig Aster“What was Doeg the Edomite’s Title? Textual Emendation versus a Comparative Approach to 1 Samuel 21:8”JBL 122 (2003) pp. 353-361.


Edelman“Taking the Torah out of Moses” p. 15.


T. Römer“Les Guerres de Moise”La construction de la figure de Moïse—The Construction of the Figure of Moses (ed. T. Römer; TransSup; Paris 2007) pp. 209-214.


Mark S. Smith“The Structure of Divinity at Ugarit and Israel”Text Artifact and Image: Revealing Ancient Israelite Religion (ed. Gary Beckman and Theodore J. Lewis BJS; Providence 2006) pp. 38-63.


See Terrence E. Fretheim“The Ark in Deuteronomy”CBQ 30 (1968) pp. 11-14; Gerhard von Rad Studies in Deuteronomy (London 1954) p. 40; Moshe Weinfeld Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford 1972) pp. 208-209.


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