…the women who served…

I’ve always wondered about these ladies mentioned in Exodus 38.8:

He made the basin of bronze with its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.

What did they do? Do we have here a stratum of female functionaries associated with Tabernacle and Temple? (And no, I don’t think they were merely temple prostitutes, as if the only possible religious value of a woman is as a sacred whore!) Why do none of the usual suspects mention them? (Nor do I think it’s just because they were men!) Would such have existed even in Herodian times? Does anyone know of any mention of them in rabbinic sources?

And last, but not least, why did they have so many mirrors…?

Sun, Moon and Storms

A few days ago, I was reading the John H. Walton paper “Joshua 10:12-15 and Mesopotamian Celestial Omen Texts” (181-190 in Faith, Tradition & History, eds. A.R. Millard, J.K. Hoffmeier, and D.W. Baker) and came upon an interesting idea, quite different from Walton’s. First, the key verses, Joshua 10.12-13:

אז ידבר יהושע ליהוה
ביום תת יהוה את־האמרי
לפני בני ישראל
ויאמר לעיני ישראל
שמש בגבעונ דום
וירח בעמק אילון
ןידם השמש וירח עמד
עד־יקם גוי איביו
הלא־היא כתובה על־ספר הישר
ויעמד השמש בחצי השמים
ולא־אץ לבוא כיום תמים

The NRSV renders this:

On the day when the LORD gave the Amorites
over to the Israelites,
Joshua spoke to the LORD;
and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and Moon, in the valley of Aijalon.”
And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar?
The sun stopped in midheaven,
and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.

Now typically this passage has been taken to indicate some kind of astronomical phenomenon, literally involving the sun and moon. Yet, just prior to this (and please don’t make me type any more Hebrew!), the saving miracle of this battle was described as large hailstones raining down on the fleeing enemy combatants (see vv. 9-11). Furthermore, v. 14 appears to indicate that the amazing part was not the miracle itself, but that the LORD acted upon the suggestion of Joshua.

An idea came to me upon reading an excerpt of a balag-lamentation, “He Is a Storm, At the Healing” lines 10-15, given by Walton:

The heavens continually rumbled,
the earth continually shook;
The sun lay at the horizon
The moon stopped still in the midst of the sky
In the sky the great lights disappeared
An evil storm … the nations
A deluge swept over the lands.

It appears to me that, similar to the Sumerian idiom, the request for and description of the Sun and Moon to דמם/עמד is an ancient Hebrew idiom for a sky-covering storm, which would stretch from horizon to horizon and cover both Sun and Moon. I’ll look into it more, of course, but it certainly is an interesting possibility.