Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rabbath Ammon: The City With the Greatest PR Campaign Ever

[Author's Note: When I originally started writing this I intended this to be a lighthearted post about I verse I recently read in the book of Deuteronomy. So if that is all you care about then just skip down to where it says "Original Post". But I just couldn't resist looking up some basic information about the people and places mentioned in that verse. That turned into an even more in depth look at some Biblical history that I was not very familiar with. That in turn lead to more searching and more reading and more ideas.

By the time I decided to stop I was turning a short lighthearted post about a single verse into a Russian Novel. I had 20+ tabs open in my browser and I was trying to figure out how to distill that much information into a single post. After a while I decided that I didn't have to, nor did I want to attempt that. I had unintentionally hit on a very rich subsection of Biblical history that very frequently gets misinterpreted. Some of the topics that I came across in researching that one verse have been used (almost) more than any other part of the Bible as the basis for some of the most fantastical, misguided, insipid, and just plain wrong Biblical exegesis.

My original short post was turning into a post on how a single word in the Bible can be used as the basis for an ever expanding repertoire of tall tales and theological speculation that leads into the truly bizarre. But rather than flesh it all out into a complete post I threw it all away and went back to my original idea of a short, humorous a long boring "Author's Note". I'll provide the links but if you want to go down the rabbit hole and take the blue pill then you will have to do your own research.

A few links to get you started:

One of those links will lead you down a path of pure history, another down a path of linguistics debates, another down a path of speculation and fantasy and the fourth down a path of a combination of all three. I leave it as an exercise to the interested reader to figure out which is which. Now back to my regularly scheduled post.]

----------Original Post----------

Every PR department dreams of coming up with the ultimate ad campaign. One that will work it's way into popular culture and be used cultural icon or even become a standard figure of speech. But of all the PR departments that have ever been there was one that out did them all because they managed to get their star tourist attraction mentioned in the Bible along with a seemingly prophetic endorsement from Moses himself to go see it.

In the book of Deuteronomy Moses (or his ghost writer(s)) is recounting their travels in the wilderness and the various wars fought and victories won, when he mentions one king they fought against and killed, Og king of Bashan. After listing the cities they captured on the far side of the Jordan River he then mentions Og again includes a little tidbit of tourist trivia.
"For only Og king of Bashan remained of the remnant of giants; behold, his bedstead was a bedstead of iron; is it not in Rabbath of the children of Ammon? nine cubits was the length thereof, and four cubits the breadth of it, after the cubit of a man." (Duet. 3:11)
In other words, "Hey look at this guy we killed. He was HUGE! Like HUGE! Like a GIANT! You don't believe he was a giant? Well Mr. Smartypants, you can still go see his bed. It's over in Rabbath Ammon. Just across the Jordan River. It's HUGE! His bed is, I mean. But seriously, you can still go see his bed! Just take a look and measure it out. Only a GIANT would have a bed that big. And we KILLED him! Go us!"

So the people in the city of Rabbath Ammon had something there that was a major tourist attraction that they called Og's bed. We don't know what it really was (some translations say sarcophagus rather than bed) but apparently by the time the parenthetical statement (almost all other translations put it in parentheses, but not the KJV) was inserted in the book of Deuteronomy it was a major tourist attraction. So the PR department of Rabbath Ammon outdid them all and got a shout out for their main tourist attraction put in the Bible with the apparent approval of Moses.


[Author's End Note: Yes, another boring one that deals with scholarly stuff and actual history. Before you think that Moses was out endorsing tourist attractions in Gentile cities, keep in mind that this was a parenthetical statement that was added much later. So even if Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy he most likely did not insert that little gem.

"Wait!" you say. "What do you mean 'even if Moses had written the book of Deuteronomy'. But Moses did write the book of Deuteronomy! Didn't he? That's why it is called one of the five books of Moses." Weeeeelllllll....There is an idea out there that has some credence to it that says that Moses did not actually write the book of Deuteronomy.

The theory goes something like this. King Josiah (b. 643) and his priests were in the middle of a major religious reform in Jerusalem. Along the way they found what they called "the Book of the Law" which was probably the core legal code laid down by Moses, as preserved by the scribes over the years. Over the next few years little bits of history and introductory material was added, including the parenthetical statement about king Og. This book became the basis of Josiah's religious reforms, but was not part of the original writings of Moses. If this was the case then the book of Deuteronomy may not have been part of the Brass Plates taken by Lehi into the wilderness. So originally there were only the four books of Moses, and not the five that we now have.

In any event, I doubt it that Moses was the one who mentioned Rabbath Ammon's main tourist attraction.]

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