By: Kaufmann Kohler
"herem": A proclamation devoting or consecrating to the Deity persons or things to be excluded from use, or, as was the rule in Biblical times, to be utterly destroyed. The noun "ḥerem," or the verb "heḥerim," translated in A. V. "utterly destroyed" (Ex. xxii. 19 [R. V. 20]; Num. xxi. 2, 3; Deut. ii. 34, vii. 2; I Sam. xv. 3), "devoted" (Lev. xxvii. 28, 29; Num. xviii. 14), "dedicated" (Ezek. xliv. 29), or "consecrated" (Micah iv. 13), also, rather inaccurately, "accursed" (Josh. vi. 17; vii. 1, 11-15), denotes, like "heḳdesh" from "ḳodesh" (Jer. xii. 3), consecration or separation; being derived from the same root as the Arabic "ḥaram" (sacred territory) and "ḥarim" (forbidden ground) or "ḥarem" (forbidden person; compare the Assyrian "ḥarimtu," hierodule). Whatever is devoted or banned ("ḥerem") is "most holy unto the Lord" ("ḳodesh ḳodashim"; Lev. xxvii. 28). The practise of devoting to the Deity the spoils of war, persons or things, found among all ancient nations and primitive tribes, is inseparably connected with the idea of a holy warfare which claims all booty for the god who leads to victory and in whose honor the captured foes, as well as goods, are destroyed on the spot (see, concerning the Teutonic and Celtic tribes, Tacitus, "Annales," i. 61, xiii. 57; Cæsar, "De Bello Gallico," vi. 17; respecting the Indians, Waitz, "Anthropologie," iii. 157; and for the Arabs, the passages quoted by Schwally, "Kriegsalterthuemer," pp. 35-38).Ban Devoted to the Deity.
King Mesha of Moab tells in his inscription (lines 16-18) how, after having carried off the vessels of
The people of Israel being throughout the entire pre-exilic history engaged in a warfare against idolatrous nations, the view of the consecration of the booty, whether expressed beforehand in a vow or not, lent its coloring to every battle; consequently, the doom of the Ban fell not only upon the persons and things captured, but also upon him who appropriated them, and even upon the very house where the devoted thing was sacrilegiously placed. Thus, before the capture of Jericho, Joshua (vi. 17, 18) proclaimed that the city and all that was therein should be devoted to the Lord; and he warned the people, saying: "Keep yourselves from the ban [A. V. "accursed thing"], lest ye make yourselves ban [A. V. "accursed"], when ye take of the ban [A. V. "accursed thing"], and make the camp of Israel a ban [A. V. "a curse"], and bring doom upon it [A. V. "trouble it"]." Accordingly, "all the silver and gold and the vessels of brass and iron are consecrated ["ḳodesh"] unto the Lord: they shall come into the treasury of the Lord . . . and they devoted ["vayaḥarimu"; A. V. "utterly destroyed"] all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and ass, with the edge of the sword" (Josh. vi. 19-21). In taking of the devoted booty, Achan, therefore, brought doom upon the whole people; and they themselves came under the ban (A. V. "curse") until he and his household, upon whom the Ban rested, were exterminated (Josh. vii. 11-15, 25). Likewise, in the war against Amalek, Samuel caused the people to devote (A. V. "utterly destroy") all that Amalek had, without sparing any one, and to "slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (I Sam. xv. 3). Saul, however, "banned [A. V. "utterly destroyed"] all the people with the edge of the sword, but . . . spared Agag and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good" (ib. 8, 9); banning only that part of the property which was vile and refuse. He thereby provoked the wrath of God; and in fulfilment of the Ban, Agag was hewn in pieces before the Lord (ib. 32). The oath of King Saul not to eat anything until the battle with the Philistines was decided, the violation of which almost cost Jonathan his life (I Sam. xiv. 24-46), does not fall under the category of "ḥerem," or Ban; it was a vow like Jephthah's.Ban in War.
The Ban as a primitive war measure was especially enforced in the Deuteronomic legislation: "When the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee thou shalt smite them, and ban [A. V. "utterly destroy"] them" (Deut. vii. 2). "Thou shalt not covet [A. V. "desire"] the silver or gold that is on them [the graven images] . . . neither shalt thou bring an abomination unto thine house, lest thou be a ban [A. V. "accursed thing"] like it" (ib. vii. 25, 26; compare ib. xx. 16-18). This is accordingly related as having been carried out by Joshua (Josh. x. 1, 28-40; xi. 11-21; but compare I Kings ix. 21). With some modification it is told of Sihon, king of Heshbon: "We took all his cities at that time, and banned [A. V. "utterly destroyed"] the men, and the women, and the little ones . . . only the cattle we took for a prey unto ourselves, and the spoil of the cities which we took" (Deut. ii. 34, 35).Against Idolatrous Cities.
The idolatrous Israelite city was to be treated in the same way as the Canaanite: "Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, banning it [A. V. "destroying it utterly"], and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city and all the spoil thereof as a holocaust [A. V. "every whit"] to [for] the Lord thy God: and it shall not be built again [A. V. "a heap for ever"], and there shall cleave nought of the devoted [A. V. "cursed"] thing to thine hand" (Deut. xiii. 16-18 [15-17]). The banned city was made a place of desolation. So in the case of Jericho (Josh. vi. 26; I Kings xvi. 34) and Ai (Josh. viii. 28, "shemamah"; compare Judges ix. 45); and this probably led later on to an identification of "ḥerem" with "shammata" (desolation; see Anathema). Somewhat modified for the occasion, the Ban was also proclaimed in the Benjamite war: "Ye shall ban [A. V. "utterly destroy"] every male, and every woman that hath bad intercourse with [A. V. "lain by"] man" (Judges xxi. 11, 12; compare Num. xxxi. 17 et seq.); I Kings ix. 21; II Kings xix. 11; Jer. xxv. 9, 1. 26, li. 26; Mal. iii. 24; Zach. xiv. 11).
The man or the people under the Ban ("ish ḥermi" =a man of my ban [A. V. "a man whom I appointed to utter destruction"], Kings xx. 42; or "hermi" = the people of my ban [A. V. "of my curse"], Isa. xxxiv. 5) must not be allowed to escape their doom. All the idolatrous nations are under the Ban (Isa. xxxiv. 2; Jer. xxv. 9; Micah iv. 13).
In the same degree as the Ban proved to be a rigid war measure against idolatrous nations, it was resorted to also in the case of idolatrous individuals. Hence the law set down already in the oldest legislation, "He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be banned" (A. V. "utterly destroyed," Ex. xxii. 19 ), and the one in Lev. xxvii. 29, "None devoted, which shall be devoted of men, shall be redeemed; but shall surely be put to death," seem to deal with the case of an idolater (see the commentaries of Dillmann, Driver, and Kalisch).
In an altogether different sense is the word "ḥerem" (devotion) used in the last-mentioned verse, as well as in Ezek. xliv. 29, and Num. xviii. 14. It is the thing devoted by virtue of a simple vow which is declared to belong not to the Lord, but to the priest. In this sense the Rabbis read also Lev. xxvii.29 (see Sifra and Targ. Yer.) as referring to the vow of the value of a criminal guilty of capital punishment. Here "ḥerem" is the same as the rabbinical "heḳdesh."Post-Exilic Ban.
In post-exilic times the ḥerem as a war measure against idolaters no longer found any application. Nevertheless it was employed as a means of ecclesiastical discipline to keep the community clear of undesirable, semi-heathenish elements; and when the new constitution was to be adopted for the new colony, those that would not participate in the assembly of the children of the captivity, had, according to the counsel of the princes and elders, all their substance devoted (A. V. "forfeited"), and were themselves separated from the community (Ezra x. 8). Here the Ban, or ḥerem, assumed a new meaning: it meant no longer destruction, but confiscation of goods, and excommunication—possibly exposure to starvation ("shammatta"; see Anathema)—of the person; see Banishment, Excommunication.
- Cheyne and Black, Encyc. Bibl. s.v. Ban;
- Hastings, Dict. of the Bible, s.v. Curse;
- Riehms, Handwörterbuch, and Hamburger, R. B. T., s.v. Bann;
- Nowack, Hebräische Archälogie, 1874, ii. 266 et seq.;
- Benzinger, Hebräische Archäologie, 1874, p. 363;
- R. Smith, Religion of the Semites, 1889, pp. 434 et seq.;
- F. Schwally, Semitische Kriegsalterthümer, 1901, part 1;
- S. Mandl., Der Bann, Bruenn, 1898.