“Tamar is acting as a Hebrew version of a baritu type priestess”.

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For complete article, see: http://www.icanbreathe.com/Habbirya.html

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Explanations regarding the nature of Tamar’s activity, which I suggest may  shed light on women’s religious experience in the Bible, are unsatisfactory. My  purpose in what follows is to review the Bible and explore ritual acts recorded  in incantation texts, letters, stories, and artifacts from surrounding cultures  in the ancient Near East. Was habbiryâ a well known term which stood for  some sort of divination, exorcism, and/or purification rite conducted in this  case by a royal woman specially designated and trained who serves the royal  family by order of the king? In searching for functionally similar behavior, I  want to know: What are the nature and purpose of Tamar’s activity? What follows  is a necessarily brief summary of my research so far.

The first possibility is raised by the term biryâ. In 2 Sam 13, the  root brh

8 is used to designate  preparation of the food (tabrenî) and the ceremony involved in making the  food (habbiryâ) which Amnon expects to eat (‘ebreh). Words arising  from brh in the Bible have to do with eating, but are specific for  breaking a fast in a time of grieving or illness. Forms of brh appear  only in 2 Sam 3:35; 12:17; 13:5, 6, 10; and in Lam 4:10. Another form, barût  is found in Ps 69:22 as food for a mourner.9  David for example refuses to break his fast, lehabrôt, during mourning  for Abner (3:35) and he will not eat, brh, bread during his seven day  fast and prayer vigil for the ailing infant of Bathsheba (12: 17). In Lam 4: 10,  children become the food (perhaps divination-offering), lebarôt, prepared  by their desperate mothers during the siege of Jerusalem. These uses suggest  that the word chosen to express eating in 2 Sam 13 includes a connotation beyond  an ordinary meal.

The root has sacred connotations in Hebrew. Beriyt means covenant,  perhaps arising from “binding” in Assyrian barû.

10  In the Bible beriyt commonly refers to being bound by the covenant with  YHWH, but also by a covenant between humans (Gen 14:13; I Sam 18:3) and with  death (Isa 28: IS, 18; 57:8).11 In later Jewish  parlance there is a meal of comfort, called seûdat habra’â12 given to a mourner after the funeral. Biryâ may be related to beriyt, covenant. Conceivably this later  custom was a restoration of some familial/tribal bond with the dead, a covenant  meal prepared ritually by a woman.13

Though the divinatory meaning of brh is not common in Hebrew, it is  among ancient Israel’s neighbors. In Akkadian, barû priests are diviners  who inspect livers, and the related term biru, “divination,”

14  is conducted also by women who interpret dreams. Occult inquiry was known in  Israel where reported practice is primarily about men. Priests, prophets, seers,  and kings in ancient Israel drew lots, used the ephod, interpreted dreams and  signs to divine YHWH’s will.15However, Barak (Judg 4), King Saul (1 Sam 28), and King Josiah (2 Kgs 22)  learned the future by means of a woman. We may not assume that other people’s  customs are identical to Israel’s; however, by exploring ancient approaches to  healing we may apply to 2 Sam 13 a range of activities reflecting a frame of  reference common to peoples of the ancient Near East.16

In Mesopotamia. besides priestly diviners, there are references to two types  of women diviners who in particular are “approached in cases of sickness,”17  as is the case with Amnon. One passage reads, “We shall ask here the šã’litu-priestesses,  the baritu-priestesses and the spirits of the dead …..”18  Elsewhere, the goddess of healing, Gula, sings in a hymn of praise of herself,  “Mistress of health am I, I am a physician, I am a diviner (ha-ra-ku), I  am an exorcist…..”19

Magic and medicine were one in the ancient Near East.

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