Desecrated covenant, deprived burial: threats of non-burial in the Hebrew Bible
Mansen, Frances Dora
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The non-burial motif in the Hebrew Bible borrows language, imagery, and rhetorical strategies from its ancient West Asian milieu. Despite its many attestations in TANAKH, this motif often is overlooked in biblical research. Past scholarship relied on Delbert Hillers's form-critical and comparative work, which identified several occurrences of a biblical "curse of no burial" that shares stereotypical terminology with Mesopotamian treaty-curses. Nevertheless, Hillers's classification of the "curse of no burial" as a treaty-curse obstructed the identification of the majority of biblical references to non-burial. As one type of threatened or actualized post-mortem punishment, deprivation of burial appears explicitly and as the intended result of another threatened or performed act of violence. Revising Hillers's typology, I propose a description of references to non-burial that considers the following characteristics: 1) elements of post-mortem abuse; 2) agent; 3) victim; 4) reason; and 5) intended result. The identification of non-burial as post-mortem abuse, recognizable by the presence of stereotypical terminology in these five interpretive categories, broadens the net of non-burial references beyond the scope of treaty-curses. Over forty examples of the non-burial motif appear across thirteen biblical books. In-depth interpretations of six of these references to non-burial (Num 14:28-35; Deut 28:26; 1 Sam 17:44-47; 1 Kgs 14:10-11; Isa 14:18-20; Jer 8:1-3) scrutinize literary contexts, lexical features, and rhetorical functions. The non-burial motif appears in several different types of socio-literary contexts, and it functions as a literary weapon within biblical authors' ideologically-shaped rhetorical compositions. Rhetorical-historical interpretation and social-anthropological theory clarify implications of deprived funerary rites. In biblical and extra-biblical examples, the non-burial motif is used to: 1) shame victims and their communities; 2) eradicate the victims' identity; and 3) bolster the identity of the agent. When the victim's identity depends upon its relationality with the agent (i.e., Israel's vassaldom to YHWH's suzerainty), the imposition of post-mortem punishment redefines the dynamics of the relationship.