Divination in Ancient Israel essay
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As we analyze the Jewish bible, I have noted several ways of divination through Oracles or more technical divination such as sacrifices, lots (Urim and Thummim), coded messages, dreams, and visions among others. We notice the use of music in several stories such as first Samuel and second Kings. We can also associate this form of divination with the movie, Kundun, based on the life and writings of the Dalai Lama. In this movie, there is the use of music and instruments where the Spirit of God is in communication with the Dalai Lama through the Nechung, the entity involved in the ritual. In this research paper, I will provide a description of several ways of divination.
To divine is to endeavor to unearth wisdom or truth as concerns any situation through supernatural means. As a fundamental part of human religious practices, it has been used by all religions throughout history. In the ancient Jewish culture, divination took many forms that were applied to contact the Jewish Deity, Yahweh. These included dreams and visions, Urim and Thummim, sacrifices, lots as well as coded messages. Divinatory mystics and seers of the Jews would forecast the future or clarify what they perceived was God’s will for the Jews by means of dreams and visualizations. Reformative and radical prophets, on the other hand, were working to restructure the faith of Yahweh, trying to liberate it from Canaanite influences. They viewed the other religions about them as sects that their God had promised to eject from their lands so the Jews could occupy, and benefit from it. However, this promise was dependent on the extent to which the Jews would accept to cleave to Yahweh and observe His statutes.
Diviners such as Amos and Jeremiah arose at strategic times when the Jews seem to have forgotten their promises to keep the laws of Yahweh and were actively pursuing the gods of other tribes. There were also the prophets who operated in the liturgical services where the Jews met to worship their creator, Yahweh. These were part of the Levitical priesthood, a select group of priests who were anointed to offer sacrifices on behalf of the Jews so that their sins would not be punished. They came from a single bloodline. Their lives were governed by a strict measure of rules right down to whom they could or could not marry. In the book of 1st Chronicles, the Old Testament outlines how a group of “sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun,” were prophesying “with lyres, with harps and with cymbals.”
Revolutionary seers, who rose among the Jews to warn them against co-mingling with the neighboring tribes, were many in number. Samuel, Gad, Nathan, Elijah and Elisha in the books of 1st and 2nd Kings, were all part of these. There also arose prophets in that period, as there were no Kings in Israel to go to war against local tribes threatening them. Samson, a Nazarene whose parents declined to shave his head as a sign that he was God’s anointed, would fight against and ultimately destroy the neighboring Philistine tribe that regularly tormented the Jews.
Hepatoscopy and astrology, methods of divination regularly used by the gentilian neighbors of the Jews, formed the core of the practices expressly forbidden by Yahweh. Leviticus 19 expressly forbids the use of magic in attempting to learn of future events and permits the excommunication of any Jew who persisted in this. The Urim and Thummim, prophets, and dreams were the only channels confirmed by Yahweh as a legitimate thoroughfare he would use to communicate with his chosen people. Yahweh contacted Mantics, prophets who predicted the future by means of inside knowledge and musical instruments. The prophet would request a singer or the playing of an instrument and go into a trance during which he would receive information pertaining to the question at hand.
In 1st Samuel 10, Saul, the first of Jewish kings selected after the prophet Joshua, is instructed that he will meet with a band of prophets playing “harps, tambourines, and flutes.” This turned out to be true and when Saul encountered them, he too, was immediately overcome by the same spirit and began to dance as they were. Similarly, in 2nd Kings Chapter 3, when Elisha was asked to divine the outcome of the prospective battle with Moab, he first requested a minstrel so that the spirit of God could come upon him. Music was supposed also, to induce a nasty influence or spirit to leave its occupant. Saul, the Jewish king, nursed resentment against David who was fated to take his place. Whenever David played him the lyre, however, the desire to harm him would leave.
The Daily Sacrifices to Yahweh
The ancient Jews performed daily sacrifices of assorted animals in their temple in order to draw them nearer to God. It was believed that man was a sinful creature and impure. For him to get close to his God or benefit from communing with his God, he had to cleanse himself using blood, so that God would not remember his sins when he stood at the temple. There were specific priests, the Kohanim, whose job it was to perform the sacrifices. There were three basic components in the practice of this ritual, giving, substitution, and coming closer. The first aspect of giving required the renunciation of something that meant a lot to its giver. Wild animals could not be used in sacrifices because they cost nothing. Additionally, among the sacrifices to be produced were offers of flour and or meal, which took many intricate steps to prepare.
When the time to sacrifice came, the animal torn apart by the priest would be the substitute for the person who gave it to be sacrificed and would suffer in his place. With blood having been shed for wiping away the sins of the person, he could now approach God in a cleansed state and voice his worship or requests.
Many offerings that ancient Jews believed acted as divining principles that would make the voice of Yahweh easily accessible to their priests who would in turn pass the messages to them. Burnt offerings were the most regular sacrifices and symbolized absolute surrender to God’s will. In this, cattle, sheep, goats or birds, were presented to a priest who would burn the entire animal leaving nothing to be consumed. This signified total obedience to Yahweh’s will and the cleansing of one’s sins. The peace offering, Zebach Sh’lamim, was a gift given to thank Yahweh for sickness cured, after the implementation of a vow or for triumph secured in battle. All shared it after the Kohanim had been allocated his piece.
The sin offering was a gift given to compensate for sin and to articulate the longing to be reconciled with Yahweh. An offering could only be presented for unintentional sins and not those done on purpose. The bulk of the offering varied according to the profundity of the sin. Groups of people gave offerings sometimes. This was to signify the interdependence of the society and the taking of blame for each other’s sins. The kohanim consumed these sacrifices for the most part, though there were some that could not be eaten but were burned whole.
A guilt offering was given to apologize for a sin of consumption of food from the altar or one that the individual did not know if it constituted a sin or not. If he brought a sin offering, he would be confessing culpability, and so would be penalized for it. Thus, a guilt offering left him free of punishment in case he had made no mistake! It was ingested by the kohanim. A meal offering, minchah represented a presentation of man’s labor because it had not come to be naturally. After a portion of it had been burnt at the altar, the rest was devoured by the kohanim.
Finally, the ritualistic sacrifice of the red heifer was executed to purge the people of corruption caused by association with the dead. The animal to be surrendered was a heifer that had a red pallor, no marks, or blemishes, and that had never labored. It would be led outside the camp by the kohanim and then ritualistically massacred and burned. Cedar wood, hyssop, and scarlet would be added to the flames and then the residual ashes placed in a container holding uncontaminated water. The persons who were exposed to the corpse would then be ritualistically sprayed with the water on the third and seventh days of purification by use of a sprig of hyssop. The priest staging this rite would have to take a ceremonial washing to purify himself afterwards.
The Garments of the Priests
The kohanim who performed rituals to please and placate the God, Yahweh, were a select lineage that was expected to observe many rules and regulations especially as concerns their attire when serving at the temple. In Exodus28:1-4, Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Elazar, and Itamah were instructed to make sacred garments that had an ephod, a breastplate, a mitre, a robe, and a girdle for use in the temple. This outfits represented the priesthood and so when they were not clothed in it, they could not be referred to as priests. The attire was believed to be imbued with holiness, and thus would show their wearers to be operating in godly service. If the clothing became grubby, discolored or shredded the priests could not execute the temple tasks wearing them, and if they did, that service became unacceptable. Thus, a remarkable workforce churned out enough clothes for each priest in large amounts.
There were so many priests accessible for duty at the holy temple that no priest ever presented the daily incense service more than on one occasion in his lifetime. Yet there were two services daily for hundreds of years. Additionally, each of the priests could not wash their garments but went to new ones every so often.
The Urim and Thummim
The Urim and Thummim were a brand of oracle positioned over the ephod of the priest. One who consulted it would seek to find out which among to choices would win in a situation. For example, in 1st Samuel 23:10, David inquired, “Shall my companions in Keilah yield me and my men into the hand of Saul?” The Urim and Thummim (and therefore the Lord) answered, “Yes, they will.” The appointed priest would call out to the Urim and Thummim two choice answers to his query and God would cause a reaction to the right answer on the person of the priest. In 1st Samuel 30, when David and his fighters’ families had been captured, he requested the ephod be brought to him and he inquired of the Lord if he should pursue his nemesis. The answer came to do so and he immediately went after them.
To be left without this unnatural capacity to contact God appeared to be viewed as a serious punishment from God by the Israelites. In Micah3:5, the prophet stated that as punishment for a disobedient people, “Night will come over you, without visions, and darkness, without divination.” The Jews believed that to be without God’s counsel in a land filled with enemies and potential invaders were deemed insupportable. In 1st Samuel28, Samuel went to inquire of the Lord even though he had already been warned that the Kingdom was no longer his. Unable to summon any reaction from his God through the regular channels of the Urim and Thummim, he decided to implement the methods expressly forbidden by the scriptures rather than remain in the dark for one more day. He ordered that a witch be procured and asked her to summon the departed prophet, Samuel’s, spirit.
In 2nd Kings 13, the king Jehoash of Israel went to visit the dying prophet Elisha. He was directed to shoot arrows outside an open window to signify victory over a warring tribe. The king being aware that he did not know when another prophet of Elisha’s caliber would arise elected to clear up any outstanding issues that required consultation before the prophet passed on.
Dreams and Visions
A dream is a vision got by a person while asleep. A vision is received while the individual is awake. They were considered a chief movement among prophets in the Old Testament. Numbers 12:6 expounds that Yahweh proclaimed, “When a seer of the Lord is in the midst of you, I disclose myself to him in imaginings, I converse with him in the course of visions…” Joseph, the son of Jacob, divined the dreams of the Pharaoh by use of the power given to him by Yahweh and thus came up with a way to save the land from drought and famine. Abraham, a major Jewish patriarch, also experienced a vision in his sleep where he experienced the nearness of his God.
Divination in Tibet
Buddhism, the religion of the Tibetans, can be said to differ from ancient Jewish religion in the quantity of daily practices of oracular contact. In the Jewish culture, only the priests were allowed to indulge in supernatural acts that brought about contact with the Deity. It was only practiced through strictly choreographed methods. Tibetans, however, practice the most varied methods of clairvoyance and divination. In the 18century, the reigning Lama founded an institute of a State oracle to acquire divine assistance as concerns the running of government.
Residing in the Nechung residence the Dalai Lama then practiced divination that involved animal sacrifice and ritual song. In moments when his god would possess him, he would develop superhuman powers and effect facial gestures that indicated a definite disturbance of normal human function. Incomprehensible and guttural language would come from his foaming mouth and the surrounding priests would then seek to interpret the language, as the message of the oracle was believed to be contained therein. By the estimation of ancient Jewish laws, such an experience would be categorized as demonic possession.
The God Yahweh, when he used his prophets, did not subject them to catatonic fits or cause unpleasant features and convulsions in their body parts to indicate his presence. Indeed, a sure sign of Yahweh-possession included a happy spirit (Psalms 119: 12) and laying aside weighty stresses so that the soul could be light (Hebrews 12:1)! The divinity represented by the Nechung Lama is identified as Pehar or Pedkar. A direct manifestation of this god is not often pursued by his medium the Dalai Lama, as it has been known to compromise the very life of the Lama, so violent is it. Tibetans once defeated Pehar, the leader of five other destructive deities known collectively as the “Protective Wheel.” He was then brought to the land and accorded a minor position as the advisor of the Buddhist state.
He has promised to avenge this dishonor in the not too distant future through the mouth of his medium the Lama. This is another departure in comparison with ancient Jewish religion. Yahweh was not subject to the ordinances of the human being. It was not up to him to align himself with human needs and wants but it is the populace who aligned themselves with where he was going. As the creator, he could not be conquered because he created those on the planet in the first place. His sovereignty was absolute.
Pehar is supposed to have foretold the ever-increasing interest of westerners in Buddhism as a religion “the shine of the ‘wish fulfilling jewel’ will light up in the west” (Dalai Lama, XIV). When a Dalai Lama passes away, another is selected in the presence of the highest authorities in Tibet. These include the governments’ representatives, cabinet ministers, and the parliamentary chairpersons. Various séances and trances are conducted to ascertain that the wishes of the god Pehar are confirmed and implemented, as he would want them to be. In political decisions, only the wish of God is upheld. This again defers from the Jewish religion in that the God Yahweh wished for the allegiance of the Jews but was not a forced worship he was after.
A relationship was formed between the Jewish people and Yahweh that involved mutual love and loyalty. The Dalai Lama is adept at a number of divination practices that allow him to know the wishes of Pehar as concerns his people. These include dice divination, rosary divination, mirror divination, and mo divination. There are three ranks of mirror forecasting. First, one acquires the capacity to see profiles, hues, and imagery in a mirror that has nothing prompting their images. A sacred text must be utilized in the elucidation of these indications. In the second stage of mirror divination, a person starts to see writing, terms, and complete sentences in the mirror. He writes down word for word and gives the memo to the questioner. The most advanced form of mirror divination is where the individual will not need the mirror as the questions and their respective answers will arise among the thoughts of the person unaided.
In dice divination, three dice are utilized by a person with pure motivation who summons up his favorite deity and requests her to give an answer to the individual who has come for answers. In rosary divination, the person prating invokes the name of the deity he is seeking to please by chanting mantras that traditionally have been established to provoke the said deity and then puts forth the request. In mo divination, the mo- balls of dough, into which several pieces of paper each showing several options that highlight the possible choices are cast as dice. The god being requisitioned will indicate his or her choice by the way thy finally land.
Mo divination, especially, has been especially utilized in the healing of those who suffer physical, psychological, and spiritual ailments in the past. It is said to be effective in balancing bodily energy by raising the energy in deprived parts of the body thus bringing harmony in the end. In the aspect of the multiplicity of gods to be consulted for various bodily ailments and complaints, Tibetan Buddhism again differs from Jewish religion. The Jews only observe the worship of one God, Yahweh while the Tibetans recognize various entities. In as far as the use of divination to effect cures of diseases, both cultures subscribe to this practice though in the Jewish religion it is more dependent upon faith than the use of assorted paraphernalia.
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