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Host of Heaven
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Term occurring several times in the Bible, but not always with a definite meaning. The word "ẓaba" usually designates an army, and thus connotes a vast body of organized and officered men; it conveys, however, also the meaning of a numerous throng actually engaged in warfare. The singular "ẓaba" has a different meaning from the plural as used in the expression "Yhwh of hosts," a frequent though comparatively late name for the God of Israel. In this expression it is most likely that the reference is to the armies of Israel, at whose head Yhwh is marching to battle. All the more probable is it that the phrase "host of heaven" originally covered the idea of stars arrayed in battle-line (comp. Judges 5:20), with a mythological background, perhaps going back to remote Assyro-Babylonian conceptions (see Zimmern in Schrader, "K. A. T." 3d ed., p. 421).
The "host of heaven" is mentioned as the recipient of idolatrous veneration (Deuteronomy 4:19, 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16, 21:3,5; 23:4; Jeremiah 8:2, 19:13; Zephaniah 1:5). The express mention of sun, moon, and stars as forming the "host of heaven" in this connection leaves no doubt that astral bodies and their cult are referred to. Sidereal worship was practised among the Canaanites, as many old names of cities (e.g., Jericho = "moon city") indicate, and the astral character of the Assyro-Babylonian religion is well authenticated. The cult of the "host of heaven" was in favor among the Hebrews, but whether in imitation of the customs of their neighbors or as expressing their own original polytheistic religion (as suggested by Hommel) remains a matter for conjecture. Certain kings are mentioned as especially devoted to this form of idolatry (e.g., Manasseh and Ahaz; 2 Kings 23:3,5,12). It is an open question whether (Jeremiah 7:18, 44:17-19,25) should be read "queen of heaven" or "kingdom of heaven." If the latter reading be accepted, "host of heaven" is synonymous; and even if the pointing indicating "queen of heaven" is preferred, the phrase throws light on the connotations of the other phrase (Stade's "Zeitschrift," 6:123 et seq., 289 et seq.; Schrader "Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie," 1886, pp. 477-491; "Zeit, für Assyr." 3:353-364, 4:74-76).
Connected with this meaning as the gathering or muster of the stars, to which, singly or collectively, divine honors are paid, is the implication of the phrase in other passages, in which it has been held to designate "angels" (1 Kings 22:19; 2 Chronicles 18:18). The great stars ( = gods; e.g., Ishtar) "muster" their retinue of smaller stars, who attend them. This passes over naturally into the phraseology of the purer and later Yhwh religion. Yhwh is attended by his "host," and the originally polytheistic term is retained in poetic expression (Psalms 103:21, 148:2). The original star-deities having been looked upon as warriors marshaling their forces for the fray (even Yhwh is a "man of war"), the implications of an orderly army under command of a chief are naturally involved in the phrase "host of heaven" (comp. Joshua 5:14; Daniel 8:10). In Isaiah 24:21 (Hebr.) "host of the height" is used, the term conveying the same idea as "host of heaven"; the context shows that this variant, too, is rooted in some mythological conception, perhaps apocalyptically employed, as is the case also in Isaiah 34:4.The "host of the stars" (gods) is in the later religion conceived of as the assembly of angels.
- Smend, Alttest.Religionsgesch. Index;
- Ewald, Die Lehre von Gott, Index;
- Stade, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, 2:236-238;
- Montefiore, Hibbert Lectures, p. 425, London, 1892;
- Baudissin, Studien, Leipsic, 1876.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Host of Heaven'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​h/host-of-heaven.html. 1901.