Sunday, May 13, 2012

An Ambiguous Interpretation of Zechariah 14:21

There are differing translations of the final clause of Zechariah 14:21.  According to the King James Version, it is " And in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of hosts. "   Other English translations render "Canaanite" as "merchants" or "traders."   Some dictionaries of the Bible state that merchants and Canaanites are in many places in the Bible virtual synonyms. 

Martin Luther, in his translation of the Bible into German, renders Canaanite as merchants or traders.  Luther renders the last clause of Zechariah 14:21 as:  " Und es wird keinen Haendler mehr geben im Hause des Herrn zu der Zeit. "   Haendler are merchants or traders, literally handlers of commodities.     (It is a little-known fact that the translators of the King James Version first consulted Martin Luther's German translation.)

Even more interesting is the fact that Carroll Quigley, in his The Evolution of Civilizations, traces the origin of capitalism, specifically mercantile capitalism, to the Canaanite civilization.  (See pages 140-143.  It should be noted that Quigley seems to give a wider-than-biblical definition to the Canaanite civilization, suggesting that the Canaanites were forerunners to the modern-day Jews.) 

What can be offered as an interpretation of Zechariah 14:21?

An interesting example of exegesis of Zechariah 14:21 appears in a volume of The Anchor Bible series published by Doubleday at New York in 1993, specifically Zechariah 9-14.  A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary.  by Carol L. Meyers and  Eric M. Meyers., both archaeologists at Duke University.   The Meyers's interpretation is as follows:

" That there will no longer be a 'Canaanite' in the Temple, which really indicates the larger territory of God's domain and not simply an architectural entity in Jerusalem . . . . , may be a way of saying, as has so often been said in these last two verses, that traditional boundaries will dissolve in the future age.  All the land will partake of Temple holiness.   Hence all its inhabitants will become God's people:  Canaanites will no longer be in Yahweh's house, because that which defines 'Canaanite' -- a culture in tension with Yahwism -- will no longer exist.   Another possibility is that the Canaanites, as enemy par excellence of the Israelites, will finally be completely banished or eliminated, thus no longer posing a threat to the sanctity of Yahweh's people, land, or Temple. "   (p. 491)

Here is an interpretation which is rather ambiguous!   Either the Israelites will make the Canaanites vanish by assimilating them or else by exterminating them.  Elsewhere, especially in Deuteronomy, the Old Testament is frank in its description of the Israelites' genocide of the Canaanites.   Given the attention to lines of descent elsewhere in the Old Testament, it is difficult to believe that the Israelites perceived the Canaanites as simply another culture which they were to absorb.

Is this an example of modern-day "politically correct" multiculturalism creeping into Old Testament exegesis? 

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