1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ephod
EPHOD, a Hebrew word (ēphōd) of uncertain meaning, retained by the translators of the Old Testament. In the post-exilic priestly writings (5th century B.C. and later) the ephod forms part of the gorgeous ceremonial dress of the high-priest (see Ex. xxix. 5 sq. and especially Ecclus. xlv. 7-13). It was a very richly decorated object of coloured threads interwoven with gold, worn outside the luxurious mantle or robe; it was kept in place by a girdle, and by shoulder-pieces (?), to which were attached brooches of onyx (fastened to the robe) and golden rings from which hung the “breastplate” (or rather pouch) containing the sacred lots, Urim and Thummim. The somewhat involved description in Ex. xxviii. 6 sqq., xxxix. 2 sqq. (see V. Ryssel’s ed. of Dillmann’s commentary on Ex.-Lev.) leaves it uncertain whether it covered the back, encircling the body like a kind of waistcoat, or only the front; at all events it was not a garment in the ordinary sense, and its association with the sacred lots indicates that the ephod was used for divination (cf. Num. xxvii. 21), and had become the distinguishing feature of the leading priestly line (cf. 1 Sam. ii. 28). But from other passages it seems that the ephod had been a familiar object whose use was by no means so restricted. Like the teraphim (q.v.) it was part of the common stock of Hebrew cult; it is borne (rather than worn) by persons acting in a priestly character (Samuel at Shiloh, priests of Nob, David), it is part of the worship of individuals (Gideon at Ophrah), and is found in a private shrine with a lay attendant (Micah; Judg. xvii. 5; see, however, vv. 10-13). Nevertheless, while the prophetical teaching came to regard the ephod as contrary to the true worship of Yahweh, the priestly doctrine of the post-exilic age (when worship was withdrawn from the community at large to the recognized priesthood of Jerusalem) has retained it along with other remains of earlier usage, legalizing it, as it were, by confining it exclusively to the Aaronites.
An intricate historical problem is involved at the outset in the famous ephod, which the priest Abiathar brought in his hand when he fled to David after the massacre of the priests of Nob. It is evidently regarded as the one which had been in Nob (1 Sam. xxi. 9), and the presence of the priests at Nob is no less clearly regarded as the sequel of the fall of Shiloh. The ostensible intention is to narrate the transference of the sacred objects to David (cf. 2 Sam. i. 10), and henceforth he regularly inquires of Yahweh in his movements (1 Sam. xxiii. 9-12, xxx. 7 sq.; cf. xxiii. 2, 4; 2 Sam. ii. 1, v. 19-23). It is possible that the writer (or writers) desired to trace the earlier history of the ephod through the line of Eli and Abiathar to the time when the Zadokite priests gained the supremacy (see Levites); but elsewhere Abiathar is said to have borne the ark (1 Kings ii. 26; cf. 2 Sam. vii. 6), and this fluctuation is noteworthy by reason of the present confusion in the text of 1 Sam. xiv. 3, 18 (see commentaries).
On one view, the ark in Kirjath-jearim was in non-Israelite hands (1 Sam. vii. 1 sq.); on the other, Saul’s position as king necessitates the presumption that his sway extended over Judah and Israel, including those cities which otherwise appear to have been in the hands of aliens (1 Sam. xiv. 47 sq.; cf. xvii. 54, &c.). There are some fundamental divergencies in the representations of the traditions of both David and Saul (qq.v.), and there is indirect and independent evidence which makes 1 Kings ii. 26 not entirely isolated. Here it must suffice to remark that the ark, too, was also an object for ascertaining the divine will (especially Judg. xx. 26-28; cf. 18, 23), and it is far from certain that the later records of the ark (which was too heavy to be borne by one), like those of the ephod, are valid for earlier times.
For the form of the earlier ephod the classic passage is 2 Sam. vi. 14, where David girt in (or with) a linen ephod dances before the ark at its entry into Jerusalem and incurs the unqualified contempt of his wife Michal, the daughter of Saul. Relying upon the known custom of performing certain observances in a practically, or even entirely, nude condition, it seems plausible to infer that the ephod was a scanty wrapping, perhaps a loin-cloth, and this view has found weighty support. On the other hand, the idea of contempt at the exposure of the person, to whatever extent, may not have been so prominent, especially if the custom were not unfamiliar, and it is possible that the sequel refers more particularly to grosser practices attending outbursts of religious enthusiasm.
The favourite view that the ephod was also an image rests partly upon 1 Sam. xxi. 9, where Goliath’s sword is wrapped in a cloth in the sanctuary of Nob behind the ephod. But it is equally natural to suppose that it hung on a nail in the wall, and apart from the omission of the significant words in the original Septuagint, the possibility that the text read “ark” cannot be wholly ignored (see above; also G. F. Moore, Ency. Bib. col. 1307, n. 2). Again, in the story of Micah’s shrine and the removal of the sacred objects and the Levite priest by the Danites, parallel narratives have been used: the graven and molten images of Judg. xvii. 2-4 corresponding to the ephod and teraphim of ver. 5. Throughout there is confusion in the use of these terms, and the finale refers only to the graven image of Dan (xviii. 30 sq., see 1 Kings xii. 28 sq.). But the combination of ephod and teraphim (as in Hos. iii. 4) is noteworthy, since the fact that the latter were images (1 Sam. xix. 13; Gen. xxxi. 34) could be urged against the view that the former were of a similar character. Finally, according to Judg. viii. 27, Gideon made an ephod of gold, about 70 ℔ in weight, and “put” it in Ophrah. It is regarded as a departure from the worship of Yahweh, although the writer of ver. 33 (cf. also ver. 23) hardly shared this feeling; it was probably something once harmlessly associated with the cult of Yahweh (cf. Calf, Golden), and the term “ephod” may be due to a later hand under the influence of the prophetical teaching referred to above. The present passage is the only one which appears to prove that the ephod was an image, and several writers, including Lotz (Realencyk. f. prot. Theol. vol. v., s.v.), T. C. Foote (pp. 13-18) and A. Maecklenburg (Zeit. f. wissens. Theol., 1906, pp. 433 sqq.) find this interpretation unnecessary.
Archaeological evidence for objects of divination (see, e.g., the interesting details in Ohnefalsch-Richter, Kypros, the Bible and Homer, i. 447 sq.), and parallels from the Oriental area, can be readily cited in support of any of the explanations of the ephod which have been offered, but naturally cannot prove the form which it actually took in Palestine. Since images were clothed, it could be supposed that the diviner put on the god’s apparel (cf. Ency. Bib. col. 1141); but they were also plated, and in either case the transference from a covering to the object covered is intelligible. If the ephod was a loin-cloth, its use as a receptacle and the known evolution of the article find useful analogies (Foote, p. 43 sq., and Ency. Bib. col. 1734 ). Finally, if there is no decisive evidence for the view that it was an image (Judg. viii. 27), or that as a wrapping it formed the sole covering of the officiating agent (2 Sam. vi.), all that can safely be said is that it was certainly used in divination and presumably did not differ radically from the ephod of the post-exilic age.
See further, in addition to the monographs already cited, the articles in Hastings’s Dict. Bible (by S. R. Driver), Ency. Bib. (by G. F. Moore), and Jew. Encyc. (L. Ginsburg), and E. Sellin, in Oriental. Studien: Theodor Nöldeke (ed. Bezold, 1906), pp. 699 sqq. (S. A. C.)
- Cf. the phrase “ephod of prophecy” (Testament of Levi, viii. 2). The priestly apparatus of the post-exilic age retains several traces of old mythological symbolism and earlier cult, the meaning of which had not altogether been forgotten. With the dress one may perhaps compare the apparel of the gods Marduk and Adad, for which see A. Jeremias, Das Alte Test. im Lichte des Alten Orients, 2nd ed., figs. 33, 46, and pp. 162, 449.
- The ordinary interpretation “linen ephod” (1 Sam. ii. 18, xxii. 18; 2 Sam. vi. 14) is questioned by T. C. Foote in his useful monograph, Journ. Bibl. Lit. xxi., 1902, pp. 3, 47. This writer also aptly compares the infant Samuel with the child who drew the lots at the temple of Fortuna at Praeneste (Cicero, De divin. ii. 41, 86), and with the modern practice of employing innocent instruments of chance in lotteries (op. cit. pp. 22, 27).
- It is not stated that the linen ephod was David’s sole covering, and it is difficult to account for the text in the parallel passage 1 Chron. xv. 27 (where he is clothed with a robe); “girt,” too, is ambiguous, since the verb is even used of a sword. On the question of nudity (cf. 1 Sam. xix. 24) see Robertson Smith, Rel. Sem.2 pp. 161, 450 sq.; Ency. Bib. s.vv. “girdle,” “sackcloth”; and M. Jastrow, Journ. Am. Or. Soc. xx. 144, xxi. 23. The significant terms “uncover,” “play” (2 Sam. vi. 20 sq.), have other meanings intelligible to those acquainted with the excesses practised in Oriental cults.