You shall build for me an altar
Sharp, Casey Alan
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The Hebrew Bible describes numerous forms of altars. Discoveries in the archaeology of Israel have provided new data for the comparison of altars in the text and what is known archaeologically. The current study begins by examining altars in the text’s various sources. Exod 20:24-26 and Deut 27:5-6 describe simple altars made of uncut fieldstones. The Priestly source in Exod 27:1-8 describes a more ornate four-horned and bronze-plated altar. These two forms represent competing practices that are defined in their difference with one another and the general Iron Age cultic climate in which these traditions developed. They also draw on a stock of older altar forms in the establishment of norms in ancient Israelite religion. This study employs Fredrik Barth’s theory of ethnogenesis by which ethnic groups define themselves in their difference with other groups. The textual analysis of these verses shows this process in the formation of ancient Israelite religion. This is supported by references to various altars outside of the Pentateuch and the correlation with archaeological evidence further supports this hypothesis.