Where is the treasury of the house of the LORD (YHWH)?

Raising a question: an anachronism

source: pinterest.com: original painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Vermeer (1665). This modified painting shows an anachronistic digital camera in the hand of a 17th-century girl.

One of the most famous stories in the book of Joshua is the narrative about the battle of Jericho. Israelites marched around the city once every day for six days. On the seventh day, they marched around the city seven times and shouted out. Then the wall fell down, and Israel occupied the city. Everyone knows this much.

But there is a small portion of the story, rarely known to those familiar with the story. That is, there appears the mention of “the treasury of the house of the LORD (literally YHWH). Joshua commanded the people not to take spoils of metal, such as silver and gold (which means money), and vessels of bronze and iron, as those items should be taken into the treasury of the LORD (v. 19). So, according to the text in v. 24, the people put the metal spoils in “the treasury of the house of the LORD.”

Here, we need to pay attention to the expression, “the treasury (אוֹצַר) of the house of the LORD (בֵּית־יְהוָה)” (otsar bet-YHWH). If the text just said “the treasury of the LORD” as in v. 19, it is fine. But “the house of the LORD (YHWH)” seems an anachronism because there was no “house” of the LORD when they arrived in Canaan.

The use of “the house of the LORD”

Al_Khazneh_Petra.jpg: Graham Racher from London, UKderivative work: MrPanyGoffCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons: the picture above is known as Al-Khazneh at ancient Petra, and its function is the treasury. This construction is not to be compared to the treasury mentioned in Josh 6:24. But I put this picture here to help you imagine ancient treasuries.

If you search the phrase “בֵּית־יְהוָה” (the house of the LORD) in the Hebrew Bible, you can find it 191 times in 175 verses. The exact phrase “the treasury of the house of the LORD” occurs 11 times in 11 verses. 

The phrase “the house of the LORD” perhaps indicates the tabernacle, in which the Israelites had worshiped their God for forty years in the wilderness. Then there shouldn’t be a problem. If that is the case, “the treasury of the house of the LORD” should also indicate a part of the tabernacle, now located where Israel encamped after they crossed the Jordan. But identifying “the house of the LORD” with the tabernacle requires us to check if there is any case, in which “the house of the LORD” appears to be the tabernacle of the wilderness. Unfortunately, there is no such instance. In the Pentateuch, “the house of the LORD” appears three times (Ex 23:19, 34:26; Deut 23:18), and they all imply the temple in Jerusalem.

Exod 23:19  The choicest of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring into the house of the LORD your God. 

 You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk. ((Ex 34:26 is almost exactly the same))

Deut 23:18  You shall not bring the fee of a prostitute or the wages of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God in payment for any vow, for both of these are abhorrent to the LORD your God.

NRSV

These instances presuppose the life situation after Israel settled in Canaan. For example, “the first fruits of your ground” in Ex 23:19 necessitates agriculture, which cannot be the setting of wandering in the wilderness. Thus, “the house of the LORD” cannot be the tabernacle here. Also, “the wages” mentioned in Deut 23:18 must involve labor, which was not required in the wilderness. God provided everything for their survival. “wages” were needed only when Israel settled in Canaan. Therefore, in these instances, “the house of the Lord” is the temple in Jerusalem or at least an official temple before the centralization of the cult in Jerusalem, not the tabernacle in the wilderness. 

Now, we have 171 occurrences to investigate except for Josh 6:24. In these cases, “the house of the LORD indicate two temples, either the “tent of meeting” in Shiloh (the official temple right after Israel occupied Canaan and before the centralization of the cult in Jerusalem) or the Jerusalem temple. 

For example, Josh 18;1 says the whole congregation of the Israelites assembled at Shiloh, and they set up “the tent of meeting” (אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד) there, and Judg 18:31 describes the place as “the house of the Lord” at Shiloh.

John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 3rd ed., 198.

Israel had maintained this official site of the cult at Shiloh until the time of Samuel. First Samuel 1:3 reveals that Samuel’s father worshiped God “year by year” (or regularly) at Shiloh, where priests of the LORD served. This means that Israel observed Jewish feasts at Shiloh. Therefore, before the construction of the Jerusalem temple (or before David moved the ark of the LORD to the city of David), “the house of the LORD” means the tent of meeting (אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד) at Shiloh. 

  • note: According to the book of Chronicles, the tabernacle and the altar of burnt offering were at the high place at Gibeon, not Shiloh. But we should understand that the Chronicler(s) tries to idealize David and Solomon, and that is why the book of Chronicles makes the high place at Gibeon the official site of the cult. Otherwise, Solomon should be criticized for sacrificing at a high place that should be purged. Remember that the Deuteronomist persistently blames the kings who worshipped God somewhere other than the Jerusalem temple or who did not take high places away. So by mentioning that the tabernacle that Moses built in the wilderness was moved to the high place at Gibeon, the Chronicler(s) makes the site the official temple before Solomon builds the Jerusalem temple. 

In all other instances mentioned above, “the house of the LORD” indicates the temple in Jerusalem. Nothing more to explain.

Closing words

In sum, “the house of the LORD” refers only to the Jerusalem temple or the temple at Shiloh. So “the treasury of the house of the LORD” in Josh 6:24 is an exception because we still do not have the temple at Shiloh at this point, not to mention the Jerusalem temple. We cannot be sure where this “treasury of the house of the LORD” was or what the phrase indicates. The only option left is the temporary tabernacle in Gilgal, where Israel encamped after crossing the Jordan, circumcised themselves, and put twelves stones in memory of the Jordan event (Josh 5). As mentioned, however, the tabernacle was never explicitly mentioned as “the house of the LORD” in the entire Hebrew Bible. 

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