Zoroastrian and Hindu Connections in the Priestly Strata of the Pentateuch: The Case of Numbers 31:19-24

in Vetus Testamentum
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Previous studies have traced important parallels between biblical and Iranian and Indic traditions. As opposed to the meticulous philological work invested in the field of ancient near eastern parallels, however, the Indic and Iranian parallels to the Bible were often invoked in a very general manner and no attempt was made to locate these parallels textually through careful philological investigation.

The article demonstrates that, later additions to the priestly strata of the Pentateuch can be significantly illuminated by exploring Indic and Zoroastrian parallels. Through a close examination of Numbers 31:19-24 and its parallels from the Indic and Iranian literatures, the study surmises that particularly the late additions in the biblical text bear resemblance and are connected to the Indic and Iranian traditions. Following an internal analysis of the biblical text, which presents exegetic difficulties that indicate the existence of later interpolations in the text, the study examines Zoroastrian and Hindu parallels relevant to the biblical passage. The light shed by these parallels greatly aids in solving the difficulties and discrepancies inherent in the biblical text.

Zoroastrian and Hindu Connections in the Priestly Strata of the Pentateuch: The Case of Numbers 31:19-24

in Vetus Testamentum




See for instance: ScheftelowitzDie Altpersische Religion und das Judentum (Giessen: Töpelmann1920); M. Boyce A History of Zoroastrianism vol. 2 Handbuch der Orientalistik Series (Leiden: Brill 1982) reprinted in 1996 as: A History of Zoroastrianism II Under the Achaemenians pp. 43-47; M. Smith “2 Isaiah and the Persians” Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963) pp. 415-421; J. R. Russell “Zoroastrian Elements in the Book of Esther” Irano-Judaica II eds. S. Shaked and A. Netzer ( Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute 1990) pp. 33-40; idem. “Ezekiel and Iran” Irano-Judaica V eds. S. Shaked and A. Netzer ( Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute 2003) pp. 1-15; J. Barr “The Question of Religious Influence: The Case of Zoroastrianism Judaism and Christianity” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 53:2 (1985) pp. 201-235; B. Reicke “Iranische Religion Judentum und Urchristentum” in Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart third edition vol. 3 (Tübingen) pp. 881-884; S. Shaked “Iranian Influence on Judaism: First Century BCE to Second Century CE” in: The Cambridge History of Judaism eds. W. D. Davies & L. Finkelstein vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1984) pp. 308-325; J. Fleishman “The Rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem: Neh. 2:1-9 and the Use of Zoroastrian Principles” Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 34:2 (2008) pp. 103-126.


See for instance: BoyceA History of Zoroastrianism pp. 294-324; Choksy Purity and Pollution pp. 12 14-15 50 61 79 93-94 103 105; Reinhard Achenbach Die Vollendung der Tora: Studien zur Redaktionsgeschichte des Numeribuches im Kontext von Hexateuch und Pentateuch (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 2002) pp. 500-504; Thomas Kazen Issues of Impurity in Ancient Judaism (Winona Lake Indiana: Eisenbrauns 2010) pp. 5-8.


Carsten Colpe“Priesterschrift und Videvdad: Ritualistische Gesetzgebung für Israeliten und Iranier,” Meilenstein Festgabe für Herbert Donnereds. M. Weippert and S. Timm Ägypten und Altes Testament 30 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 1995) pp. 9-18.


Gray 1903p. 422; Licht 1995 p. 115.


Budd 1984p. 331.


Wright 1985; cf. Milgrom 1990p. 260.


Gray 1986p. 418.


Milgrom 1990pp. 490-492. Baruch Lenive also assigns an earlier origin to the narrative however stating that: “The present priestly account of the Midianite war also provided the opportunity to promulgate a code of law.” See: Levine 2000 p. 445.


Levine 2000p. 458.


See also: Gray 1903p. 419: “Verses 19-24 merely describe the application of the law of chapter 19.”


Milgrom 1990p. 261.


Milgrom 1990p. 261; In order to support his argument for the antiquity of the requirement to burn metal implements in fire Milgrom mentions the Hittite birth ritual which requires the burning of certain metal implements in fire. This suggestion which is based on David Wright’s study on the disposal of corpse impurity will be considered below in detail.


Wright 1985.


Noth 1968pp. 228-229.


But cf. Knohl 1992pp. 40-43.


Noth 1968p. 231.


Noth 1968p. 230.


Milgrom 1990p. 260.


Knohl 1992pp. 40-43.


Noth 1968p. 231.


See especially: Milgrom 1990pp. 490-491.


See for instance: Knohl 1992pp. 68-70.


Knohl 1992pp. 11-16.


Levine 2000pp. 472-474.


Noth 1968pp. 228-229.


D. P. WrightThe Disposal of Impurity: Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature (Atlanta: Scholars Press1987).


Wright 1987pp. 93-113.


Wright 1987; cf. Snaith p. 327; Budd 1984p. 331.


Beckman 1983p. 164; Wright 1987 pp. 106-107.


See especially: Skjaervo 2007. For a recent critique of Boyce’s ideas regarding the degeneration of the “pure” and “non-ritualistic” message of Zarathustra in young Avestan and Pahalvi texts see: Y. Vevaina “Surely the Prophet Intended: Authority and Legitimation in the Study of Zoroastrianism” (forthcoming).


Olivelle 2005p. 42.


Boyce 1975pp. 295-296.


Skjaervo 2007.


Choksy 1989p. 11.


Choksy 1989p. 11.


Ezek. 22:18-20; 27:12. cf. Levine 1993p. 458; Knohl 1992 pp. 11-16.


See for instance: Finkelstein 19621:129; cf. Wright 1987 111 n. 69.

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