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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Ban

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BAN . The ban is an institution from remote antiquity, which still survives in the Jewish and Christian Churches. Its earlier history has not yet received the systematic treatment which it merits. The original idea, common to all the Semitic languages, is that of withdrawing something from common use and setting it apart for the exclusive use of a deity. In Hebrew the verbal root acquired the more specialized meaning of devoting to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] His enemies and their belongings by means of fire and sword, and is usually rendered ‘utterly destroy’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] adds ‘Heb. devote ’), while the cognate noun ( chçrem , Gr. anathema ) is ‘accursed (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ) or devoted (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) thing .’ In this brief treatment of a large subject we propose to distinguish between the war ban, the justice ban, and the private ban.

1 . The war ban , clearly the oldest form of the institution, shows various degrees of severity. The war ban of the first degree, as it may be termed, Involved the destruction not only of every man, woman, and child of the enemy, but also of their entire property of every description (see Deuteronomy 13:16 ). The treatment of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:1-35 is a familiar example. The case of Achan, after the ban and capture of Jericho, affords a striking illustration of the early ideas associated with the ban. Every ‘devoted thing,’ as henceforth the inviolate property of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] , and therefore tahoo, became infected with the deadly contagion of holiness (note Leviticus 27:28 ‘most holy,’ lit. ‘holy of holies’). Hence by retaining part of the ‘devoted thing’ ( chçrem ) in his tent Achan infected the whole ‘camp of Israel,’ with disastrous results ( Joshua 6:18 ; Joshua 7:11 f., cf. Deuteronomy 7:26 ). More frequently we meet with a relaxed form of the war ban, which may be called the ban of the second degree. In this case only the men, women, and children of the doomed city were devoted, while the cattle and the rest of the spoil became the property of the victors ( Deuteronomy 2:34 f., Deuteronomy 3:6 f., Deuteronomy 7:2 , Joshua 11:14 ). A still further relaxation, a ban of the third degree, is contemplated by the law of Deuteronomy 20:10 ff., by which only the males are put to the ban, the women and children being spared as the perquisites of the besiegers. On the other hand, only virgins were to be spared in Numbers 31:17 f. and Judges 21:11 ff., for special reasons in the latter case.

2 . The justice ban differs from the other in being applicable only to members of the theocratic community. It appears in the oldest legislation as the punishment of the apostate Israelite ( Exodus 22:20 ), and is extended in the Deuteronomic code to the idolatrous city ( Deuteronomy 13:12 ff.). Here only the ban of the first degree was admissible. An important modification of the judicial ban is first met with in Ezra 10:8 , where recalcitrant members of the community, instead of being put to death, are excommunicated, and only their ‘substance forfeited’ (RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ‘devoted’) to the Temple treasury. This modified chçrem became the starting-point of a long development. For these later Jewish and Christian bans see Excommunication.

3 . The attenuated form of ban found in the late passage Leviticus 27:28 may be termed the private ban . The cases contemplated ‘man or beast or field’ are evidently those of unusually solemn and inalienable dedications by private persons for religious purposes (cf. Numbers 18:14 , Ezekiel 44:27 , and the NT ‘corban’), as opposed to the redeemable dedications of the preceding verses. The latter are holy while the former are ‘most holy.’ The following verse, on the contrary, must refer to the justice ban.

The ban was an institution of earlier date than the Hebrew conquest, and was practised by the Moabites in its most rigorous form (see Mesha’s inscription, 2. 11 17), perhaps also by the Ammonites (2 Chronicles 29:23 ). Instances of similar practices among many half-civilized races are noted by the anthropologists. The original motive of the ban is probably reflected in Numbers 21:2 f., where it is represented as the return made to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] for help against the enemy vouchsafed in terms of a preceding vow (cf. devotio from devoveo ). This has to be interpreted in the light of the primitive solidarity between a god and his clan. Even in Israel the wars of the Hebrews were the ‘wars of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ ( Numbers 21:14 ). ‘The religious element is found in the complete renunciation of any profit from the victory, and this renunciation is an expression of gratitude for the fact that the war-God has delivered the enemy, who is His enemy also, into the hands of the conqueror’ (Kautzsch in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] Ext. Vol. 619 b ). The ban was thus the outcome of religious zeal in an age when the moral sense was less advanced than the religious.

With regard to the wholesale application of the war ban in the Deuteronomic sections of Joshua, modern criticism has taught us to see in these the ideal generalizations of the exilic age. The Hebrews of the conquest were in truth the children of their age, but such a stupendous holocaust as is implied in such passages as Joshua 11:11 ; Joshua 11:14 must not be placed to their credit. The legislation of Dt., it must further be remembered, is the outcome of several centuries’ experience of Canaanite heathenism, the true character of which the soil of Palestine is only now revealing, and of its baneful influence on the religion of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] . In this legislation the antique institution of the ban was retained as a means of protecting the community against a serious menace to its religious life. Nevertheless the enactment of Deuteronomy 13:12 ff. remained a dead letter till the age of the Maccabees ( 1Ma 5:6 ff.).

A. R. S. Kennedy.

BAN . The head of a family which could not trace its descent ( 1Es 5:37 , a corrupt passage).


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ban'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/b/ban.html. 1909.

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