Another miracle explained

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Jesus-on-a-Fish

(h/t: Exploring Our Matrix)

June 2015 Biblical Studies Carnival is here!

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This month’s Biblical Studies Carnival is hosted by William Ross. The Carnival is a monthly review blog posts (and sometimes just blogs) discussing biblical studies. July will be hosted by Lindsay Kennedy at My Digital Seminary, and August by Bob MacDonald at Dust.

These are always pretty great and, as last month, I am deeply honoured to be included. Click through to see the great blogs covered this time!

A Mystery Solved

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A few days ago, one of my posts was picked up by a website called ChristianOrigins.com. Clicking through, I found an apparently new site (the archive didn’t go back more than a few days) that aggregates blog posts related to biblical studies from all over the web. It’s a great site, and I’ve found a number of interesting reads from blogs that aren’t in my Feedly. But there was no about page, no information about who actually made or maintains the site. It was rather odd.

That is until James McGrath posted about the site, revealing its creator to be Peter Kirby! So there’s one more mystery I don’t have to worry about dying before solving.

As I said, I’m really enjoying the site. It’s a great resource, and I think Kirby for all the work it must have taken to set up. In particular, I like the daily headlines posted here. It’s nice to have a tidy list to scan through before bed, just to see if anything piques my interest.

10 Nerdy Versions Of The Last Supper

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These are all pretty great, but here’s a taste:

last-supper-star-wars

last-supper-simpsons

Click through to see all 10!

I Am The Rock…. The Paper, The Scissors

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Joke - I am the paper, the scissors, and the rock

Christ and the New Jerusalem (BL Royal 15 D II, f. 199)

1-2 Kings: Closing Thoughts

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1 & 2 Kings covers the history of Israel (and, later, Judah and Israel) from David’s death until the destruction of his dynasty. In that time, we see the waxing and waning of the Hebrew nations over the years, as well as many tantalizing hints about the politics of the region. From our little vantage point, we get to see Syria rise, then be replaced by Assyria, and then the rise of Babylon. We see Egypt’s ebb and flow over the region, and the clash of superpowers over the Hebrews’ head. We see periods of peace and prosperity, and we see periods of great upheaval.

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

The Visit of the Queen of Sheba, by Edward Poynter, 1890

In reflecting on my reading, it seems a statistical miracle these are the records we have, and that this is the people that survived. Especially given how radically the conception of God had to change over a relatively short period of time in order to survive (which shows through even when the authorial theology is relatively consistent).

There’s a love of narrative conflict in 1-2 Kings. We see a tension between the folk story style that we mostly saw in Genesis and Judges, and an attempt to present an authoritative history. Sometimes the two strains are blended nicely, but sometimes (1 Kings 13 jumps to mind), the mix is very awkward and requires rather more of a suspension of disbelief than even I am capable of.

And then there is the odd intrusion of Elijah and Elisha, who dominate about ten chapters in what is otherwise very much a book of kings.

We also see a good deal of conflict between what the authors believed about their subjects and what the stories actually show. It’s clear that the Deuteronomists knew David as a great king, the proud founder of a long dynasty, and Solomon as Solomon the Wise. And yet in the stories of these two kings, a very different picture emerges. Just in the taste we get of David in 1 Kings, we see a petty, weak old man using his deathbed speech to settle ancient scores (he asks Solomon to kill both Joab and Shimei – Joab who had been too powerful to kill, and Shimei for a personal insult that David had promised not to avenge). And Solomon’s wisdom? The story of the two prostitutes and the baby is completely ridiculous, and his patronage of many cults is clearly at odds with the Deuteronomists’ religious purity campaign.

This conflict between the information the authors had available and the ideology that required historical cooperation is seen in several places, particularly in the mixed up chronologies it causes. There are events that happy after (sometimes centuries after) the folk traditions that they seem to have generated. The easiest example of this is Jeroboam’s calves, which are built generations after the placement of the morality story that condemns them.

I really enjoyed the historical aspect of 1-2 Kings, particularly in later chapters where I got more opportunities to look at extra-biblical sources. I realize it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I rather enjoyed the lists of kings, and the hints they provided about what might have been going on at the time.

Unfortunately, the names were a real problem for me. So many of the names were similar to each other, and I had at least one occasion (that I was able to catch) where I completely messed up familial relationships because of this.

But now we’re done! And with this, we have completed 31% of the Old Testament’s books, and 43% of its pages. If I continue at a pace of two chapters per week, I should be finished in just over 5.5 years. Of course, I’ll have to extend that time a little because I had some personal issues that ate through my post buffer. To help me catch up, I will be taking the rest of June and all of July off, resuming with my normal posts on August 3.

Just a flesh wound

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2 Kings 25: The Fall of the House of David

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I mentioned in the last chapter that the Chaldeans were the tribal group that had taken control of Babylon, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire – the empire that Judah is currently dancing with – was ruled by a Chaldean dynasty.

While at the time, I was making the argument that the mention of “Chaldeans” was meant to indicate a group separate from those directly under Babylonian control (in other words, not the state army). Here, however, “Chaldeans” is apparently used interchangeably with “Babylonians.” I will still be trying to use whichever term the text uses in that instance, just in case, but I’m not perceiving that a distinction is being made.

Zedekiah’s Rebellion

At the very end of the last chapter, Zedekiah rebelled against Babylon. It’s unclear why he would have done this, particularly since he had been installed by Babylon in the first place, but the results were disastrous.

From this point onwards, the dates are given with absolute precision. No longer are we learning only the year of an event, but also the month and even the day.

So in the 10th day of the 10th month of the 9th year of Zedekiah’s reign, Babylon retaliated, besieging Jerusalem. The siege lasts about a year and a half before the famine in Jerusalem became unbearable.

In what appears to be a desperate bid to save himself, Zedekiah breaches his own wall and, with a bunch of soldiers, makes a run for it at night, heading for the Arabah. The venture fails, however, and the Chaldeans soon overtake the fleeing Hebrews. They manage to capture Zedekiah and bring him before Nebuchadnezzar.

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, by David Roberts, 1850

Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, by David Roberts, 1850

As punishment, they make Zedekiah watch as they kill his sons, then put out his eyes. The last thing he ever saw was the murder of his children.

He was then bound and taken to Babylon.

The city now fallen, Nebuchadnezzar’s captain of the bodyguard, Nebuzaradan, burned the city to the ground – including Solomon’s temple. The Chaldean soldiers even tore down the city’s walls. All the people remaining, regardless of their allegiances, were taken off into exile (except, we are told, for the very poorest, who are left behind to tend the farms).

The fall of Jerusalem occurs, we are told, in the 19th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s rule. Unless I’ve missed something, the math adds up, as Nebuchadnezzar had already ruled 8 years by the time he installed Zedekiah as king of Judah (2 Kings 24:12), and Zedekiah ruled 11 years (2 Kings 24:18).

Presumably before setting the fires, the Chaldeans raid the temple for its metals – particularly bronze, silver, and gold. Anything too large to be carried off whole was broken down. It’s difficult to imagine how much gold was left after Nebuchadnezzar did the same thing in 2 Kings 24:13, but it seems that they were able to find something.

After razing the city, Nebuzaradan took the chief priest (Seraiah), second priest (Zephaniah), the three keepers of the temple’s threshold, the military commander, the commander’s secretary, the give men of the king’s council, and 60 other unspecified men. Be brought them to Nebuchadnezzar, who had them killed.

Tim Bulkeley points out that the description of the razing of Jerusalem isn’t nearly as awful as some of the other sieges we’ve read about. On the whole, it seems that Babylon was almost kind in their treatment of the Judahites. And yet, at the same time, the horror of the destruction was a much greater blow to the Jewish psyche. After all, Jerusalem was the seat of God’s power, and what did it say about God to have it destroyed? That, of course, is what the Hebrew people in exile had to sort out.

The Unfortunate Gaffer

The Babylonians have another go at installing a local man to govern Judah – this time as governor rather than as king. They choose Gedaliah, the son of Josiah’s advisor Ahikam (2 Kings 22:12). Though not of the royal dynasty, he would clearly have been well positioned to know what needed to be known about the nation’s governance, and would have all the right connections.

Apparently quite soon after, a number of men present themselves to Gedaliah at Mizpah (apparently a temporary replacement capitol following the destruction of Jerusalem) to swear their allegiance. Among them were: Jehoanan son of Kareah, Seraiah son of Tanhumeth, Jazaniah son of ‘the Maacathite’, and Ishmael son of Nethaniah. This last was, apparently, a member of the previously-royal Judahite dynasty.

When the men swear their allegiance, Gedaliah delivers a short speech in which he urges them not to fear the Chaldean occupation. So long as they serve Babylon, he says, everything will be fine!

Unfortunately for me, all was not fine. Just a few months later, Ishmael gathered together ten men and murdered Gedaliah, along with both Jewish and Chaldean people with him. After that, they flew to Egypt in fear of the Chaldeans.

It’s hard to imagine what Ishmael was hoping to achieve. Was he trying to restore his dynasty? Become king himself? Or was it simply an act of defiance?

The book ends with Jehoiachin, who had been in exile 37 years when Evil-merodach (who has one of the best names in the Bible so far) became king of Babylon. He “graciously freed” Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27), and treated him extremely well and with high honour – even going so far as seating him higher than all of the other kings (presumably excluding himself) in Babylon.

My study Bible explains that there may be a very good reason for concluding the book in this way: “The writer may have used this information to end hi sbook with a note of modest hope, as though to say (in spite of 24.9): the Davidic dynasty has not been snuffed out.”

 

2 Kings 24: The Twilight of Jerusalem

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The region seems to be in turmoil, with Judah caught in the middle as Egypt and Babylon clash.

Jehoiakim, who had been installed by the Egyptian Pharaoh in 2 Kings 23:34, now apparently finds himself vulnerable as Egypt’s power wanes to Babylon’s waxing. As the text tells us, “And the king of Egypt did not come again out of his land, for the king of Babylon had taken all that belonged to the king of Egypt from the Brook of Egypt to the river Euphrates” (2 Kings 24:7). So Judah spends three years as a vassal to Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.

Nebuchadnezza II, from Firaxis's Civilization V

Nebuchadnezzar II, from Firaxis’s Civilization V

After three years, Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, and was soon under attack by bands of Chaldeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Amonites. As usual, the text is light on explanation, but we might conclude that losing their vassal status, becoming a fairly small, weak state nation with no superpower protector, might have made Judah an easy target for roving bands.

The mention of the Chaldeans complicates this a bit. It was the Chaldean tribe that took control of Babylon during the Neo-Babylonian era, a dynasty of which Nebuchadnezzar was a member. From the context, it doesn’t seem that these Chaldeans were acting on Babylon’s request, however. The reference is likely to members of the geographic/ethnic group instead.

This, our narrator assures us, was “surely” (2 Kings 24:3) at God’s command for the crimes of Manasseh. He are reminded of 2 Kings 21:16, that Manasseh filled the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of the innocent.

The Short Siege

Things only get worse after Jehoiakim’s death. He was succeeded by his son, Jehoiakin (who, I am convinced, was named solely to confuse me). He was 18 years old when he became king, and reigned a mere three months. In that time, he apparently managed to convince our narrator that he was one of the bad kids.

Just as he was coming to power, Babylon besieged Jerusalem and Jehoiakin surrendered. He was then taken prisoner, along with the rest of the family (including his mother, Nehushta), much of Jerusalem’s wealth, and all it’s skilled labour – leaving behind only the poorest people. This, we are told, happened in the eighth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign (2 Kings 24:12), which is the first time I can recall a dating anchored on a king outside of Judah or Israel.

Jehoiakin was replaced as king, but his career was far from over. In Lawrence Mykytiuk’s 50 People in the Bible Confirmed Archaeologically, we learn that Jehoiakin is mentioned:

in four Babylonian administrative tablets regarding oil rations or deliveries, during his exile in Babylonia (Raging Torrent, p. 209; ANEHST, pp. 386–387). Discovered at Babylon, they are dated from the tenth to the thirty-fifth year of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylonia and conqueror of Jerusalem. One tablet calls Jehoiachin “king” (Text Babylon 28122, obverse, line 29; ANET, p. 308). A second, fragmentary text mentions him as king in an immediate context that refers to “[. . . so]ns of the king of Judah” and “Judahites” (Text Babylon 28178, obverse, col. 2, lines 38–40; ANET, p. 308). The third tablet calls him “the son of the king of Judah” and refers to “the five sons of the king of Judah” (Text Babylon 28186, reverse, col. 2, lines 17–18; ANET, p. 308). The fourth text, the most fragmentary of all, confirms “Judah” and part of Jehoiachin’s name, but contributes no data that is not found in the other texts.

This seems to indicate that Jehoiakin lived to be at least 45 years old, with more than half of his life in Babylonian captivity.

Back in Judah, Nebuchadnezzar installed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah as king – renaming him Zedekiah. Zedekiah was 21 years old, and managed to keep his crown for 11 years. His mother was Hamutal, making him Jehoahaz’s full brother.

The chapter break is rather abrupt, occurring in mid-sentence in my RSV. We learn only that Zedekiah rebelled against the hand that crowned him.

The most delicious strained camel!

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Joke - Camel through the eye of a needle

(via ReverendFun)

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