Determining Implied Instructions: A Contextual Hermeneutic of Consecration Activities

The activity of consecration, of sanctifying or setting apart, appears throughout the Hebrew Bible, most often in connection with significant occasions, as in the marking of new priests or sacrificial implements, or in anticipation of divine encounter or activity. Notable, however, is the lack of consistency in the details of the activities which either accompany or affect the consecration. For instance, consecration of a person(s) occurs, at various times, alongside ordination, anointing, bathing, sexual abstinence, and the washing of clothes. However, never in a single passage is the entire menu of such activities prescribed alongside the command to consecrate someone, and each instance of consecration includes an almost unique set of features. In fact, at times, no specifics are provided whatsoever.

The question thus surfaces of what activities may be implied along with any command to consecrate. In Josh 3:5 and 7:13, a command is issued to the people of Israel to ‘consecrate yourselves’, but in neither passage—either in the mandate or in the ensuing narrative—is an explicit indication given of what consecratory activities were undertaken or understood as part of the imperative. With my own research interest in the narrative function of clothing in the Former Prophets, whether and when clothing imagery (such as the washing or changing of clothes) is implied in a pericope is a question that has yet to be addressed.

In this paper, I will examine selected consecration narratives from the Pentateuch in order to determine if any textual factors aid in clarifying the implication of consecration commands elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, with the two Joshua texts listed above serving as an initial case study. We will undertake evaluating the links between passages and the paradigmatic nature of certain occurrences, and consider the broader ANE context of consecration activities. This paper will thus offer a hermeneutic to facilitate determining what instructions, if any, may be implied when the commands to consecrate oneself or others are issued in a narrative context. Of particular interest will be whether commands of washing (especially the washing of garments) are to be understood as implied in these two Joshua texts, and perhaps more broadly.

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