The Zukru festival (Exodus 23)

Exodus 23:14-19 describes Israel’s three primary annual festivals. Advocates of the Documentary Hypothesis have argued that Late Bronze Age Israelites would not have been sophisticated enough to have organized such elaborate celebrations as those described in the Pentateuch. Instead, these scholars suggest that the descriptions of these festivals come from a priestly source developed during the post-exilic period (sometime after 537 B.C.). However, archaeologists are now in possession of a complex literary work from the Syrian city of Emar that contradicts this theory.

A large tablet from Emar, predating the Pentateuch’s descriptions of the festivals, intricately describes that city’s zukru festival. This elaborate commemorative celebration, which was to be conducted every seven years, required a full year of preparation! This tablet gives detailed instructions concerning the specified offerings to the city’s 70 deities: which animals were to be offered to which gods, how many animals were to be sacrificed, who was to donate each animal, the precise date of each offering and the manner in which it was to be presented. Instructions for the procession of the deities’ statues are included, with particular focus on Dagan (the chief god of Emar).

Thus we know that ancient people already adhered to complicated, written instruction for cultic rituals during the Late Bronze Age. The Biblical descriptions and instructions concerning Israel’s festivals fit well into this scenario. Besides, these festivals were not man-made, but given by the Hebrew God.

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