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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Dueling Altars in Time and Place.




One of the most confusing sections in the entire 24 books of Torah (1 Kings 13:1) describes the account of the man of God from Yehuda who arrived as the altar was being dedicated by King Yerovam (Jeroboam) in BeitEl - Shomron. Yerovam had capitalized on King Solomon's opulence, its burden on taxpayers, which he used to revitalize a lingering grievance between the leaders of Yehuda and Yosef about the location of Solomon’s Jerusalem Temple. After Solomon, he led a successful split of the entire nation. Then, he reintroduced a form of nationalized, intermediate idolatry using golden calves. His success confused many that grappled God’s intent.

The man of God from Yehuda arrived, interrupted proceedings and directed his prophecy to the altar proclaiming it would be destroyed in the future by a man born to the House of David (of the tribe Yehuda) named Yoshiahu. Then, he paralyzed the right hand of a crazed Yerovam and released it before he returned along a different path. On his way he was intercepted by an old prophet who had not joined Yerovams entourage that day. The old prophet challenged and convinced the man of God to break the oath he took when accepting God's mission to deliver the prophecy. On his return, the man of God was mauled by a lion who sat by the side of the road with a donkey. The old prophet sent his sons to recover the body and instructed it be buried in his grave, which he proclaimed he would share with the man of God.

Some three hundred years later (2 Kings 22:1) King Yoshiahu rid Israel of idolatrous objects and realized the man of God’s prophecy by destroying the altar in BeitEl. Seems simple at first, but the detailed time and place descriptions that span Kings one and two are separated by 300 years and the places these verses speak of span the tribal territory of Yehuda and Yosef (Ephraim) which were separated by the territory of Binyamin in between.

Consider this pre-requisite information about the altar of akeida, the place Abraham bound and offered his son Isaac. Rambam, the famous Maimonides states: “The altar is [to be constructed] in a very precise location, which may never be changed, as it is said (I Chronicles 22:1 [by David]): "This is the altar for the burnt-offerings of Israel." David’s conclusion or Rambam’s insistence that a “universally” accepted tradition that the altar once stood on Mount Moriah does not suffice for the Jewish law stringency akeida imposes on the precise location required for the third temple’s altar.

The prefix ‘Ha’ of the word ‘Ha’Makom (הַמָּק֔וֹם) is unique as to “The Place”, generally ‘The’ place of God’s resting presence. The word is never used to describe Yerovams altar in BeitEl in Shomron. However, it is extensively used to describe locations associated with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob especially at Mount Moriah. It is therefore a universally accepted tradition that HaMakom, used in Torah verses to do with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob more often associate with Mount Moriah including Shalem of Malchitzedek, akeida, BeitEl and Luz.




In the text of 2 Kings 23:4 Yoshiahu ordered the High Priest to remove objects of idolatry from the temple, in Jerusalem, which the High Priest, for the strong symbolism burned in the Kidron valley (in Jerusalem) before depositing the ashes at BeitEl in Jerusalem. Then, the eradication of idolatrous objects continued in and around Jerusalem and Yehuda until 23:14. At 23:15 - “And also the altar that was at BethEl…” in Shomron, of Yerovam, “also that altar” he destroyed. At Yerovams BethEl the prophecy of the man of God came true. But, here it was Yoshiyahu who did the destruction not the High Priest, because  human bones were used to defile the altar and that precludes the High Priest.

Three hundred years before the man of God incident, before the book of Kings toward the end of Joshua’s reign Judges 1:8-15 briefly states Judah conquered Jerusalem, 1:20-21 states Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem and 1:22-26 declares the house of Joseph smote Beit El, which was Luz. Therefore, Judges declares a northern (Benjamin) and southern (Judah) Jerusalem (since the city ran in a north south direction) - this is not controversial. However that Joseph smote BeitEl, which was Luz contradicts Judah conquering the southern section of Mount Moriah synonymous with Jerusalem at the time. This may be the first hint of competition between Joseph and Judah over the location of the temple Solomon would eventually build.

2 Kings 23:4 is the only specific reference to BeitEl being in Jerusalem. It leaves little ambiguity about its proximity to Jerusalem and the Kidron valley and is directly supported by archaeology discovered in the area. The BeitEl of Jacob and the Bethel of Yerovam are different places that are deeply convoluted by competition and grievance that have long distorted facts. Perhaps that time is coming to an end.