Amos 7: Thus God Showed Me

Leave a comment

There are two parts to Amos. In the first, he describes three visions given to him by God. This section has a very folktale feel to it, as the first two visions establish a pattern, then the third breaks it (in folk tales, heroes often encounter something – a trial, a request, a question, etc – three times, with the third altering the pattern in some important way).

All three emphasise that the visions come from God, but we can also see how the pattern is established and then broken with these initiating lines. The first and second visions begin identically: “Thus the Lord God showed me” (Amos 7:1, Amos 7:4). The third, however, begins with: “He showed me” (Amos 7:7). Same meaning, but the different phrasing sets up the different outcome.

In the first two visions, God shows Amos some disaster he’s cooking up (the first is locusts who will eat all the grass, and the second is a fire that will devour the land).

Amos begs God to stop the disaster, and both times he asks:

How can Jacob stand?
He is so small!

Both times, God is moved by Amos’s speech and repents, staying his hand.

In the third vision, however, God is no longer showing Amos his destruction. Rather, he seems to be trying to convince Amos of the destruction’s rightness, giving him his reason for judgement rather than just showing him the results of it.

So in this third vision, Amos finds God standing beside a wall, holding a plumb line in his hand. Maybe. Apparently, the word used here isn’t known anywhere else, and there’s some debate about what it might mean. But though a number of objects are suggested (Claude Mariottini gives us the possibility that it might be a type of sword!), a plumb line (or similar) seems to fit the context quite well.

God tells Amos that he is setting a plumb line in the midst of the Israelites, and it is becomes of this that its high places and sanctuaries will be destroyed, and the house of Jeroboam will fall by the sword. A plumb line is used for ensuring that a vertical line is straight (in the way that a level is used for horizontal lines), so the implication is – as my study Bible puts it – that “the people are found warped beyond correction.” This is why they will be – must be – destroyed.

This time, Amos has no response. The implication is clear – he now sees what God has seen, he now knows that the destruction is warranted.

As a side note, the third vision sounds an awful lot like the prediction of destruction against King Manasseh of Judah in 2 Kgs 21:13.

The Exile

In the second part of the chapter, the narrative switches to the third person as it describes Amos being exiled from Israel. Most commentaries claim that Amos 7:10-17 was added by a later editor, and that seems quite likely. It’s just too awkward to have been written by Amos himself.

Amos rebukes Israel's luxury, by Gerhard Hoet

Amos rebukes Israel’s luxury, by Gerhard Hoet

Amaziah is the priest at Bethel, and he’s clearly out of patience for this weird guy who keeps preaching doom and gloom outside his sanctuary. To get rid of him, he appeals to King Jeroboam, claiming that Amos is conspiring against the king by working up the people; He’s been claiming that Jeroboam will die by the sword and that Israel will go into exile.

I’ve seen some commentaries claiming that the reference to Jeroboam’s death here is evidence that this section is original to Amos because Jeroboam does not die by the sword. Why keep the reference to a failed prediction if it isn’t even original to the author?

Maybe there’s more to this in the Hebrew, but the English RSV makes the claim rather silly. In Amos’s own words, we read that the house of Jeroboam will fall by the sword (Amos 7:9), not Jeroboam himself. What we’re reading in Amos 7:11 are the words of Amaziah, his interpretation of what Amos has said. And either the reader is meant to laugh at Amaziah’s incorrect understanding of Amos, or we’re meant to see Amaziah as a liar who twists Amos’s words to get the desired reaction from the king.

We never find out whether Jeroboam gave a crap about Amaziah’s claims, however. All we get is Amaziah himself telling Amos to leave, go prophecy in Judah.

In response, Amos says that he is not a prophet, nor a prophet’s son. Rather, he is a herdsman and a dresser of trees. God took him from his flock and told him to go prophecy to the people of Israel. And since Amaziah has told him not to do as God instructed him, God will make his wife a harlot, cause his children to die by the sword, and cause his land to be parcelled out. Amaziah himself will die in an unclean land, and Israel will go into exile. Yikes.

Much seems to be made of Amos’s claim not to be a prophet, with a lot riding on which tense would be most appropriate – is Amos claiming not to be a prophet, or saying that he wasn’t one until God called to him? The tense changes our interpretation quite considerably.

If his claim is indeed meant to be taken in the present tense, then he may be distancing himself from the guild of prophets, such as those we saw in 2 Kgs 2:3. This could mean that he is admitting that he lacks cultic authority, but that his relationship with God makes him legitimate anyway. Or it could be meant as an implicit indictment of the guild – Amos is claiming to have a direct line to God, unlike those professional charlatans!

According to Claude Mariottini, it may also be significant that Amaziah calls Amos a seer in Amos 7:12: “Amaziah recognized Amos’ authority to preach the Word of God. This is the reason Amaziah did not forbid Amos from preaching. Rather, Amaziah commanded Amos to leave the country and return to his home.” In other words, Amaziah agrees that Amos is a prophet, but could he please speak the words of God from somewhere else?

Amos’s response, that he is not a prophet, might then be in reference to the title that Amaziah uses, though this is complicated by the two using different words. Unless Amos is saying, “You’re right, I’m a seer (someone who receives divine transmissions), not a prophet (a member of a professional guilt who may or may not have any communication with God).” So is his response meant to be a clever twisting of Amaziah’s words to reinforce Amos’s authority?

Amos 5-6: Lamentations

Leave a comment

Amos 5-6 give us a lamentation very similar to what we read in the book of Lamentations. The difference is largely one of tense – Lamentations bemoans the horror that has happened, while Amos is looking forward to a coming horror.

As in Lamentations, Israel is feminized. And, again, we see the theme of friendlessness, the “virgin Israel” (Amos 5:2) is forsaken in her own lands, and no one will help her.

The Day of the Lord

Amos warns that the “day of the Lord” (Amos 5:18) is coming. He bemoans those who look forward to the day of God, because it is a day of darkness, not one of light. To look forward to such a day would be like to flee from a lion only to encounter a bear (Amos 5:19).

Given a lot of the context, the “day of the Lord” seems to refer to a day of judgement. And, given the commentaries, that’s definitely how many others seem to read it. But Collins gives an interesting alternative possibility:

In later times it came to mean the day of judgement. In this context, however, it clearly refers to a cultic celebration, perhaps the Festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth, which was known as “the feast of YHWH” in later times. Tabernacles was celebrated at the end of the grape harvest. It was a joyful festival, marked by drinking wine. It was a day of light, in the sense of being a joyful occasion. For Amos, however, the day of the Lord was darkness and not light, gloom with no brightness. He is sweeping in his rejection of the sacrificial cult, in all its aspects. Instead, he asks that “justice roll down like waters.” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.157)

In other words, this could be Amos condemning the excess of a festival, rather than naming the anticipated day of judgement. Either interpretation could easily fit the context.

But if the “day of the Lord” does refer to a day of judgement, Amos has very clear ideas of what it will look like and why it’s deserved. The people of Samaria hate those who “reprove in the gate” and those who speak the truth (Amos 5:10), which sounds rather personal coming from a prophet. They also trample the poor and take from them exactions of wheat. While Amos certainly cares about social justice issues, his personal pique seems just a tad more important.

Amos warns the people that though they’ve built lovely stone houses, they won’t get to live in them. Though they’ve planted nice vineyards, they won’t get to dink the wine. Because God knows how great their sins are, and he knows that the people of Samaria afflict the righteous, turn aside the needy at the gate, and take bribes (the city gate being where justice is served – or, as the case may be not).

Because of all these things, God will destroy the strong. The cities will be decimated, and there will be wailing in all quarters when God “will pass through the midst of you” (Amos 5:17).

The only chance will be to seek God, and to seek good instead of evil. Bring justice back to the gates (Amos 5:15) and maybe God will be gracious.

I Despise Your Feasts

God calls to the people of Samaria to “seek me and live” (Amos 5:4), but not to bother at Bethel, Gilgal, or Beersheba.

God hates their feasts and their solemn assemblies. The people make their offerings, but God won’t accept them. He even asks that they take away the noise of their songs (a strong contrast to what we read in Chronicles!).

Amos, by John Sargent

Amos, by John Sargent

Instead of all this pomp and ceremony, “let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). It’s a hard argument to disagree with.

For Collins, the problem isn’t necessarily with the ceremonies themselves, but rather that they “gave the people a false sense of security, since they felt they were fulfilling their obligations to their God when in fact they were not. For this reason, sacrifices, even if offered at great expense, were not only irrelevant to the service of God, but actually an impediment to it” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.158).

God, via Amos, asks if the people brought him sacrifices and offerings during their forty years of wandering in the desert (Amos 5:25). In the context,this seems to be used to call back to a state of purity, when justice (rather than ritual) reigned. Therefore, the only answer Amos could have expected from his audience is a “no.” This is a problem in light of the Pentateuch, where the origins of ritual traditions are tied to the exodus.

In Amos 5:25, God promises to take the Samarian people into exile to Damascus because they worshiped idols, including the Assyrian gods Sakkuth and Kaiwan. According to Collins, this could be a problem for the dating of Amos. Because while Samaria was, in fact, eventually destroyed by Assyrians:

[T]he Assyrian threat was not in evidence during the reign of Jeroboam and developed only in the reign of Tiglath-pileser III, whose reign began about the time of Jeroboam’s death. Amos never mentions Assyria in his oracles, but a few passages refer to the punishment of exile, which was typical Assyrian policy (5:5,27). These oracles are more easily explained if they are dated somewhat later, when Assyria was a threat to Israel. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.155)

I Abhor Your Pride

Amos 6 is quite a bit shorter than the preceding chapter, and mostly focuses on the pride of Samaria.

It begins with a lament for those who feel at ease or secure, whether in Zion or Samaria (Amos 6:1). That tossing in of Jerusalem seems so casual, and yet there it is.

Amos asks, is Samaria better than Calneh or Hamath (according to my study Bible, these were important commercial centres in Assyria), or Gath (an important Philistine city)? Or is their territory greater than yours?

Amos predicts woe coming to the wealthy: Those who lie on ivory beds, those who eat lamb and calf, those who drink drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves, those who sing idle songs, those who, like David, invent for themselves instruments of music (Amos 6:5). After reading the fawning over David in Chronicles, this dismissal of him as something of a layabout really struck me. In any case, these creatures of wealth and comfort would be the first to go into exile, and their revelry will pass away. This did, of course, prove to come true.

God hates the pride of Jacob, he hates his strongholds, and so he has commanded that the great houses be smitten into fragments and the small houses into bits (Amos 6:11).

Though Samaria may congratulate itself for its military prowess, God will raise a nation against it (Amos 6:13-14).

Returning to rhetorical questions, Amos asks if horses run on rocks, or if oxen are used to plow the sea? Though the answers are apparently obvious no, the people have Samaria have managed to turn justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood (Amos 6:12). In other words, the injustice seen in Samaria is a perversion of the natural order.

A Celestial Deity

Before I leave Amos 5-6, I wanted to mention Amos 5:8:

He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
and turns deep darkness into the morning,
and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out upon the surface of the earth,
the Lord is his name.

This makes God seem like an amalgam of typical Near Eastern male nature deities. God is the god of the stars, of the sun and moon, and of rain. It feels deliberate, like Amos is asserting that his god is the true god of these things, and that the worship of these things (either directly or through other gods) is idolatry. Maybe.

Amos 3-4: Disciplinary Strategies

Leave a comment

In Amos 1-2, it was easy to see a structure. I had noted at the time that Amos seemed to be drawing the Samarians in with some bravado about how terrible foreign nations are, then drawing ever closer until he dropped the bomb: indicting Samaria itself.

I see a few similar rhetorical tactics in Amos 3-4, but they are shorter. I’m getting the impression that the book of Amos is a collection of arguments/prophecies, rather than something that would have been meant as a complete treatise.

Most of Amos 3-4 is told as if it were the direct words of Gods (“spoken against you” – Amos 3:1), though with periodic speech tags in case anyone forgets.

Amos 3 begins by identifying Israel as a chosen people (or “family,” as they are called here). As Collins points out, “this should be good news.” Instead, however, it is because God has only known (in the biblical sense) Israel that the nation will be punished. “Election only means greater responsibility” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.156).

A Rhetorical Questioning

Amos 3:3-8 contains a series of rhetorical questions, culminating with the argument that God is the agent of Samaria’s suffering. The questions themselves are ones of obviousness, along the lines of “Is the pope Catholic?”

They start off rather unrelated to the point being made: Do two people walk together unless they have, at some point, met each other? Does a lion roar in the forest when he has no prey? (While I typically think of lions as being savannah dwellers, the Asiatic lion can, apparently, live in forests, and would have been the lion Amos was most familiar with.)

The questions inch closer to the point: Can a trumpet be blown in a city without making the people afraid?

And, finally: Can evil befall a city without it being God’s doing?

After the questions, we are told that God does not act without revealing it to the prophets (Amos 3:7). This, then, leads into:

The lion has roared;
who will not fear?
The Lord God has spoken;
who can but prophesy? (Amos 3:8)

This is clearly a call back to Amos 1:2, but also reinforces the argument. God causes evil => God lets the prophets know when he does so => I have heard God tell me so, and am therefore compelled to tell you.

See the Oppression!

The reader is bidden to witness the tumult and oppression in Samaria. Clearly, Amos is one of them SJWs, because this injustice is prompting punishment from God.

The imagery is striking: Just as a shepherd might pull a few body parts out of a lion’s mouth, so will some small minority of Israelites be rescued from Samaria’s fate (Amos 3:12). The implication is clear – you may survive what’s coming, but you won’t be whole.

The letter V depicting the Prophet Amos, miniature from the Bible of Souvigny, 12th cent.

The letter V depicting the Prophet Amos, miniature from the Bible of Souvigny, 12th cent.

Special mention is made of the altars at Bethel, whose horns will be cut off. These would be Jeroboam’s altars, built in 1 Kgs 12:25-33.

God will also destroy all the fancy houses, including the houses of ivory. An ivory house is mentioned in 1 Kgs 22:39, which my study Bible identifies as a Samarian palace “decorated with carved ivory inlay and containing furniture so decorated.” (It seems that some of these ivory inlays have survived.)

The listing of the palaces that will be destroyed concludes with “and the great houses shall come to an end” (Amos 3:15), which seems to be another example of a pun on the word “house” (which can mean both a physical structure and a dynasty). One of the more elaborate examples of these came in 1 Chron. 17:1-15, where David and God keep offering to build houses for each other, variously meaning palaces, dynasties, and temples.

Amos then turns his attention to the women of Samaria, whom he calls “cows of Bashan” (Amos 4:1). Bashan, it seems, was a “fertile area in Transjordan” (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p. 156), meaning that they are basically being called “fat cows.”

The women’s crimes are pretty terrible. You see, they have oppressed the poor, crushed the needy, and asked their husbands for something to drink. Yikes. Fat cows and hen-peckers? For this, their days are numbered and they will be cast forth into Harmon.

Next come the cultic practices, as God, via Amos, invites the Samarians to keep sinning at Bethel and Gilgal (both associated with prophets in 2 Kgs 2:1-2). They are invited to keep bringing their sacrifices and tithes, and to “publish them” as they so love to do (Amos 4:5).

The mention of the shrines made me wonder if it was a Deuteronomistic criticism of worship outside of the Jerusalem Temple. However, what follows makes it seem more like the criticism is of the pomp and circumstance, and the publicity of it all. It rang similar to Matthew 6:5, calling out the public display of pious peacocking as hypocrisy.

Collins points to another possibility, that ritual “gave the people a false sense of security, since they felt they were fulfilling their obligations to their God when in fact they were not. For this reason, sacrifices, even if offered at great expense, were not only irrelevant to the serve of God, but actually an impediment to it. The service of God is about justice. It is not about offerings at all” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p. 158).

Expecting A Different Result

There have been portions of tonight’s reading that I’ve appreciated (the mentions of social justice, the condemnation of religious hypocrisy), and parts that have made me gag (the overt patriarchy of Amos’s condemnation of wives who presume). But the second half of Amos 4 is just plain silly.

In it, God lists all the punishments he’s given Samaria, ending each with, “yet you did not return to me.”

See, I’m a parent. I don’t go with the whole punishment thing as a general rule because the concept is rather silly. Most of what we read as “misbehaviour” actually turns out to be age-appropriate responses to asking too much from itty-bitty people. When I adjust my expectations and plan ahead for the unavoidable, nearly all “disciplinary” issues disappear. What remains can almost always be dealt with through teaching.

Punishments usually end up being counter productive, because punishing a child for age-appropriate behaviours doesn’t actually fix the problems. All it does is either break the child so they become unable to cope and meet their own needs, or it fosters an adversarial relationship that will then require parents to maintain constant vigilance in order to maintain the family hierarchy. Neither of which sounds like a positive outcome to me.

So here we have a God who sees the same behaviours repeated over and over again, and responds every time with punishments. And even though these punishments are clearly not working, he doggedly sticks to this one strategy while wringing his hands because it never ever works.

It reads like bad comedy.

The punishments themselves are:

  • Giving the people clean teeth and lack of bread;
  • Withholding rain when it was still 3 months before the harvest;
  • Arbitrarily withering some fields and not others;
  • Smiting with blight and mildew, laying waste to gardens and vineyards, devouring fig and olive trees with locusts;
  • Sending a pestilence (in the manner of Egypt);
  • Slaying Samaria’s young men with the sword and carrying away its horses;
  • Making the stench of Samaria’s camps go up their nostrils (I do believe this is scatological);
  • And overthrowing bits of Samaria, “as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah” (Amos 4:11 – you may notice the POV break here).

I just happened to be reading Peter Brown’s Through the Eye of a Needle, and I came on the following relevant passage, given the mention of the harvest:

Before the time of the harvest, rich and poor alike waited. The Mediterranean is notorious for the variability of its harvests, due to unstable climatic conditions. The carefully tended fields were menaced by flattening cloudbursts, by random scything by hailstorms, and by the perpetual menace of prolonged drought (along its eastern and southern shores) and of “dry” winters (winters without snow and thus without moisture) in the plateaus of its hinterlands, notably in Anatolia. “Harvest shocks” caused by unforeseen shortfalls in the crops were the norm. In all areas except Egypt, yields could vary by over 50 percent from year to year.

Not surprisingly, therefore, wealth was widely thought of as lying in the hands of the gods. A good harvest was the smile of God or of the gods spreading across an obedient landscape. In 311, one of the last pagan emperors (the eastern emperor Maximin Daia) informed the citizens of Tyre that his persecution of the Christians had pleased the gods. The weather itself had changed for the better:

“Let them look at the standing crops already flourishing with waving heads in the broad fields, and at the meadows, glittering with plants and flowers, in response to abundant rains and to the restored mildness and softness of the atmosphere.” (p.12)

After all of that, though, the sermon just sort of… fizzles. Because all these punishments haven’t worked, God will send more. “Prepare to meet your God” (Amos 4:12).

Then it derails entirely, telling us that he who makes mountains and creates wind is the God of hosts. It seems that I’m not the only one who feels that the passage seems odd in this spot, and the authenticity of Amos 4:13 is questioned, mostly because “the passages are abrupt in their context” (New Bible Commentary, p.728).

2 Chronicles 13: A Short But Much Embellished Reign

2 Comments

2 Chronicles 13 presents us with quite a different picture of King Abijah’s reign than does his portion of 1 Kings 15. For starters, even the name is different, as Abijah is known as Abijam in Kings. On this, Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, says:

The name Abijam is made up of two components which mean “father” and “sea.” So “Abijam” means something like “father of the sea” or “the sea is my father.” the components of Abijah mean “father” and “YHWH.” The name can only mean “YHWH is my father.”

I can’t confirm the Hebrew, but this explanation is certainly in keeping with what we are about to read.

But first, there’s another mystery to touch on: That of Abijah’s mother. In 2 Chron. 11:20, her mother was Maacah, daughter o Absalom. This appears to agree with 1 Kgs 15:2, where her name was Maacah, daughter of Abishalom. I noted in my last post, however, that Absalom is said to have had only one daughter, Tamar (2 Sam. 14:27), though it’s always possible that another Absalom was meant, or that Tamar was the only daughter that the author of Samuel felt worth mentioning.

Putting Absalom aside for a moment, there is a far bigger issue here, as 2 Chron. 13:2 gives Abijah’s mother as Micaiah, daughter of Uriel of Gibeah.

The War

Abijah ruled for a measly 3 years (on which both Chronicles and Kings agree). Kings saw little in this short reign worth mentioning, dismissing Abijam as just another sinful ruler who was allowed to rule and to pass on the crown to his son only because of God’s great love for David. Of the conflict between Judah and Israel, we learn only that it continued throughout Abijam’s reign (1 Kgs 15:6-7), but no details are given.

The Chronicler, however, seems to want to make a pious holy warrior out of Abijah. He writes of a great standoff, with a mere 400,000 men on Judah’s side and and a whole 800,000 men on Israel’s side (the numbers, of course, are absurd, likely meant only to represent a great many, and to emphasize that Jeroboam’s great many was a great many manier than Abijah’s).

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

Before the battle begins, Abijah stands on Mount Zemaraim, in the hill country of Ephraim, to give a speech. As a side note, I find it interesting that the Chronicler obviously means the northern kingdom when he uses the term “all Israel” here (2 Chron 13:4, 2 Chron. 13:15), whereas in the last two chapters he has frequently used the phrase to underscore the legitimacy of Judah as the true inheritors of the name.

The speech is typically long-winded, and it covers all our bases: God gave kingship to David’s dynasty, putting Jeroboam and the “worthless scoundrels” (2 Chron. 13:7) who follow him in rebellion against God himself. They took advantage of Rehoboam when he was young and unstable in his role, unable to force them back into line.

He berates them for thinking that they can win, just because they have greater numbers and golden calves. After all, he says, they have cast out the priests of God, making their own priests out of any foreigner with the money to buy his initiation.

There are problems with this speech, of course. For one thing, Rehoboam may have been inexperienced and new to his position, but he was not young – he was 41 when he took the crown, according to 2 Chron. 12:13. Abijah also fudges over what Rehoboam did to encourage the rebellion, and that God himself had said that the rebellion was his will. Yet, as we shall see, none of this seems to matter much.

Not only does Jeroboam have the advantage of numbers, he is also able to set up an ambush to flank Abijah’s army in a pincer maneuver. The point the Chronicler is making, clearly, is that it would have been impossible for Jeroboam to lose through natural means, given all his advantages.

When the Judahite soldiers see that they are fighting on two fronts, they call out to God and the priests blow their trumpets. And so God defeated Jeroboam, routing them so that Abijah’s men can make easy slaughter (killing a whole 500,000 of them).

Not quite trusting in his readership to pick up on the subtle themes and messages of his work, the Chronicler makes it clear: Judah won because they relied on God (2 Chron. 13:18).

Cleaning up after the battle, Abijah pursued Jeroboam, taking cities as he went: Bethel, Jeshanah, and Ephron (all, apparently, border towns). Jeroboam never recovered from this defeat and eventually died, while Abijah grew mightily.

Concluding Abijah’s reign, we learn that he had 14 wives, 22 sons, and 16 daughters. For the rest of his deeds and sayings, consult the now lost story of the prophet Iddo.

1 Chronicles 7: The Northern Tribes

Leave a comment

We continue our tour of Israel’s genealogical history with the northern tribes: Issachar, Benjamin, Naphtali, Ephraim, and Asher. These get much more of a cursory treatment than we’ve seen previously, likely because of the Chronicler’s dismissive attitude toward the tribes who rebelled against David’s dynasty to form what would eventually become Samaria.

Issachar

The first part of Issachar’s portion corresponds to Genesis 46:13 and Numbers 26:23-25, with some variations. The sons of Issachar are listed as:

  1. Tola
  2. Puah, who is listed as Puvah in both Genesis and Numbers
  3. Jashub, whom the Masoretic Text calls Iob in Genesis
  4. Shimron

In the next generation, Tola’s sons are: Uzzi, Rephaiah, Jeriel, Jahmai, Ibsam, and Shemuel. They are identified as mighty warriors, with 22,600 of them in David’s time.

The line then goes through Tola’s son Uzzi, to Izrahiah. Izrahiah’s sons are: Michael, Obadiah, Jowl, and Isshiah, which the text claims are five, rather than the four we see (1 Chron. 7:3). Along with them (presumably meaning down through their descendants) were 36,000 men ready to fight, “for they had many wives and sons” (1 Chron. 7:4).

Issachar as a whole produced 87,000 mighty warriors.

Benjamin

Benjamin’s inclusion here is a bit weird, since the tribe’s genealogy will be revisited in more detail – getting a whole chapter to itself – in 1 Chron. 8. Some commentaries argue that the Chronicler was simply continuing the source that was used for Issachar, then moved on to a different source later for Benjamin, which would explain why the two version differ so greatly.

Other commentaries argue that a textual corruption or initial error led to this section being misnamed, and that it was originally meant to be Zebulun. This theory is reinforced by the fact that Zebulun is otherwise not represented, and because this coverage of Benjamin occurs where Zebulun “might be expected from the geographical point of view” (New Bible Commentary, p.374).

The problem with the Zebulun theory is , of course, that there are no similarities between the lineage listed here and the ones attributed to Zebulun in Gen. 46:14 and Num. 26:26-27. There are quite a few discrepancies with what we’ve seen so far as Benjamin, but at least there are some points of similarity.

We begin with the sons of Benjamin: Bela, Becher, and Jediael. Jediael is missing from the Gen. 46:21 version, and eight of Benjamin’s sons listed there are missing here. Only Bela is listed in the Num. 26:38-41 version, with the other four sons listed there being absent here.

Bela’s sons: Ezbon, Uzzi, Uzziel, Jerimoth, and Iri, who became the heads of their houses and who are described as mighty warriors. Their number was 22,034. In support of the theory that the Chronicler simply kept copying from whatever source he was using for Issachar, I noticed that the formula is clearly the same between these two sections.

Becher’s sons: Zemirah, Joash, Eliezer, Elioenai, Omri, Jeremoth, Abijah, Anathoth, and Alemeth. They were also mighty warriors, and they numbered 20,200.

Jediael’s sons: Bilhan. Tracing down through Bilhan, we get Jeush, Benjamin, Ehud, Chenaanah, Zethan, Tarshish, and Ahishahar. These, too, were mighty warriors, and their number was 17,200.

At the very end of the section, we get a single verse identifying Shuppim and Huppim as the sons of Ir, and Hushim as the son of Aher. I think. The phrasing is very awkward and likely a corruption. My New Bible Commentary proposes that these may have been intended as a genealogy of Dan, since that tribe doesn’t appear here either (p.374).

Arguing against, we have the fact that the names are rather similar to ones previously connected to Benjamin: Shuppim could be related to Muppim and Huppim appears directly in Gen. 46:21. Then, in Numbers 26:38-41, we get Shephupham and Hupham.

Arguing in favour, we have Hashum listed as the son of Dan in Gen. 46:23, and Shuham in Num. 26:42. On a phonetic basis alone, it seems like a toss up.

Naphtali

If it really is the case that 1 Chron. 7:12 was meant to be a summary of Dan, it wouldn’t have gotten any less of a treatment than Naphtali. Of this tribe, we are told only that the sons of Naphtali are named Jahziel, Guni, Jezer, and Shallum, and that Bilhah (Jacob’s concubine, a slave belonging to his wife Rachel) is their tribal matriarch.

This is notable only because it is the first time the tribal mother is named. Though it is likely just because it was in the Chronicler’s source, rather than for any particular intentional reason. (It is perhaps worth noting that Gen. 46:24-25 specifically mentions Bilhah.)

The names are the same as those found in Gen. 46:24-25 and Num. 26:48-49, with only a spelling variation for Jahziel (Jahzeel) and Shallum (Shillem).

Manasseh

Manasseh’s records are split in half, with the Transjordan portion of the tribe having been covered in 1 Chron. 5:23-26. Here, we get the half from the western bank of the Jordan. Manasseh’s lineage is also discussed in Num. 26:29-33 and Jos. 17:1-13, but there are only passing similarities to this one.

Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Harry Anderson

Jacob Blessing His Sons, by Harry Anderson

Manasseh seems to have found himself an Aramean concubine, which is rather strange. According to James Pate, Manasseh should have spent his whole life in Egypt. “Egypt is far away from Aram: Egypt is to the south of Palestine, whereas Aram (Syria) is to Palestine’s north.” The obvious solution, which Pate points to, is that she came to Egypt through a trade route.

When we get to the genealogy, it’s rather convoluted, and I suspect that we have another instance of corruption. Manasseh, apparently via his Aramean concubine, had two sons: Asriel and Machir. Machir went on to become the father of Gilead, and he seems to have taken a wife from Huppim and one from Shuppim. I think. The phrasing is very odd, and it’s doubly odd to encounter that pair of names again.

Of the mention of Gilead, we can either take that as the literal son of Machir, or as an indication that it is through the descendants of Machir that the location of Gilead would be founded (even though Gilead is named as a literal son who fathers literal children in Num. 26:29-33).

Machir had a sister named Maacah, who was also his wife, or perhaps there are two women named Maacah. It wouldn’t be implausible for him to have married his sister (or half-sister), though. Abraham did it (Gen. 20:12), and Moses hasn’t delivered the laws prohibiting it yet. In any case, Machir and his wife Maacah bore Peresh, and Peresh had a brother by the name of Sheresh (who may or may not have been Maacah’s).

In the middle of this, there is a fragment of a sentence identifying a “second” by the name of Zelophehad who had daughters (1 Chron. 7:15).One possibility that I can see is that Manasseh had one son with a woman who was not Aramean (Asriel), and two sons with woman who was Aramean (Machir and Zelophehad). Zelophehad had only daughters, whereas we shall continue on down Machir’s lineage. Except, of course, that there is a Zelophehad in Num. 26:29-33 who also has only daughters, but he is the son of Hepher, who is the son of Gilead, who is the son of Machir (it is Zelophehad’s daughters who prompt Moses to include women in his inheritance laws in Numbers 27, with an amendment in Numbers 36). That’s the best sense I can make of this passage. 

Back to Machir’s sons, Peresh and Sheresh. One of them – it’s unclear which – fathered Ulam and Rakem. Ulam then fathered Bedan.

Machir also had another sister, by the name of Hammolecheth. She bore Ishhod, Abiezer, and Mahlah.

Someone named Shemida apparently had four sons: Ahian, Shechem, Likhi, and Aniam. This doesn’t jive particularly well with Num. 26:29-33, where Machir is the father of Gilead, and both Shechem and Shemida are the sons of Gilead.

Ephraim

Ephraim’s genealogy appears to be a vertical genealogy, from father to son to grandson and so on, but there are hints that this may not be the case. That, instead, all the names are intended to be Ephraim’s direct sons. For now, I’ll proceed with the assumption that we are dealing with a vertical lineage, beginning with Ephraim:

  1. Shuthelah, who is the only of Ephraim’s descendants to make the list in Num. 26:35-37.
  2. Bered
  3. Tahath
  4. Eleadah
  5. Tahath
  6. Zabad
  7. Shuthelah

From Shuthelah, we get Ezer and Elead. These two were killed by the native Gathites in a failed cattle raid. Here is where things get complicated, as we are told that “Ephraim their father mourned many days” (1 Chron. 7:22).

If Ezer and Elead are meant to be Ephraim’s direct sons, then we have a couple problems. Firstly, it would suggest that all the other names I have listed so far are also Ephraim’s sons. Second, we might ask ourselves what sons of Ephraim were doing in Gath. It’s rather far to go for a cattle raid! James Pate discusses the issue in more detail.

After Ezer and Elead, we move on to another of Ephraim’s sons (this time, the formulation of how he “went in to” his wife makes it quite clear that we are dealing with a literal son), Beriah. Beriah was so named “because evil had befallen his house” (1 Chron. 7:23). Apparently, Beriah can either mean “a gift” or “in evil,” which seems rather ambiguous to me.

Beriah had a daughter, named Sheerah (no, not that one), who built both Lower and Upper Beth-horon, as well as Uzzen-sheerah. If she is historical, it sounds like she might have been a Deborah-like figure, perhaps a local leader or judge.

Down through Beriah’s sons, we get the same problem as above where the grammar lends itself to both vertical and horizontal interpretations. However, since we end with Joshua, it seems likely that this is a vertical lineage. From Beriah, we get:

  1. Rephah
  2. Resheph
  3. Telah
  4. Tahan
  5. Ladan
  6. Ammihud
  7. Elishama
  8. Nun
  9. Joshua

The Joshua who served Moses was also identified as a son of Nun (e.g. Num. 11:28), indicating that this is a lineage of that figure.

We finish up the section with a list of settlements belonging to Ephraim and Manasseh.

Ephraim’s list bears little resemblance, as far as I can tell, to the one found in Jos. 16:5-10. My sources, however, claim that the two lists are generally in agreement. I’m assuming that the territory described must be similar, even if the markers named are different:

  • Bethel
  • Naaran (a Naarah appears in Jos. 16:7)
  • Gezer (Gezer appears in Jos. 16:10)
  • Shechem
  • Ayyah

Manasseh’s list corresponds to Jos. 17:11, and the match is much more comfortable:

  • Beth-shean
  • Taanach
  • Megiddo
  • Dor

Asher

Asher’s genealogy mostly corresponds to those found in Gen. 46:17 and Num. 26:44-46. The sons of Asher are listed as: Imnah, Ishvah, Ishvi, Beriah, and their sister Serah. The only variation here is that Ishvah does not appear in Numbers (though I think it plausible that Ishvah is a duplication of Ishvi that became canon).

In the next generation, we get the sons of Beriah: Heber and Malchiel. Again, this is in agreement.

After that, 1 Chron. 7 gives us new material. Malchiel fathered Birzaith, and Heber fathered Japhlet, Shomer, Hotham, and a daughter, Shua.

Japhlet, in turn, fathered Pasach, Bimhal, and Ashvath, while his brother Shomer (here named Shemer – 1 Chron. 7:32-34) fathered Rohgah, Jehubbah, and Aram.

Another man, here called “his brother” (1 Chron. 35) Helem fathered Zophah, Imna, Shelesh, and Amal. It’s possible that Japhlet and Shemer had another brother who was not listed above, but given the corruption of Shomer/Shemer in the space of just two verses, I think it probable that Helem is a corruption of Hotham (or vice versa).

From there, we get the sons of Zophah: Suah, Harnepher, Shual, Beri, Imrah, Bezer, Hod, Shamma, Shilshah, Ithran, and Beera.

After that, we skip over to someone named Jether, whose sons are Jephunneh, Pispa, and Ara. Then someone named Ulla fathered Arah, Hanniel, and Rizia.

We return to the formula of Issachar and Benjamin to learn that the men of of Asher were mighty warriors, and that they had 26,000 men enrolled by genealogies as ready to fight.

2 Kings 23: To Little, Too Late

Leave a comment

This chapter mostly focuses on Josiah’s rather violent religious reforms. But first, he gathers all the people together at the temple to read out his new Book of Law, and to reconsecrate Judah under the covenant.

The reforms themselves are everything we’ve come to expect. Altars to other gods (and astral bodies) are destroyed, Asherah are burned, priests are murdered.

One thing that stands out is the length to which Josiah goes, not just to destroy non-approved shrines, but to totally desecrate them. He murders priests over their altars, burning their bones there in mock sacrifice. He cuts down the Asherim and fills the holes with human bones. He burns religious objects and spreads the ashes “upon the graves of the common people” (2 Kings 23:6).

Amidst all of that, there is a mention of priests that I believe refers to priests of YHWH serving at local shrines. These, Josiah seems to invite to serve in Jerusalem, but they refuse to come. Even so, however, they “ate unleavened bread among their brethren” (2 Kings 23:9). In trying to make sense of this, my New Bible Commentary suggests that we may interpret this to mean that “these priests were admitted to the sacred meal but were not allowed to sacrifice” (p.366). However, the impression I got was that it was the priests who refused Josiah’s reforms, rather than that they were barred from participating. It is, without a doubt, a difficult passage to make sense of.

A final act worth mentioning is Josiah’s destruction of Jeroboam’s shrine at Bethel, which has been causing so much hand-wringing through our narrative. Just to be an extra jerk about it, he digs up corpses from nearby tombs and burns them on Jeroboam’s altar to defile it.

As he’s looking for more bodies to defile altars, Josiah comes upon a particular monument and asks the locals about it. They tell him that it’s the tomb of a Judahite prophet who had predicted what Josiah is currently doing to the Bethel shrine. This sounds an awful lot like the unnamed prophet from 1 Kings 13.

I had pointed out at the time that the chapter had a very “folk myth” feel to it. In it, the unnamed prophet tells Jeroboam that his altar will someday be destroyed by a Davidic king named Josiah. Jeroboam, furious, raises his hand to command that the prophet be arrested. This hand withers, until the prophet takes pity on Jeroboam and restores it.

I noted that the story was very out of place among the histories. In particular, the fact that such a specific prophecy was made, yet had no impact on any of the named characters (despite the fact that Jeroboam witnessed a very specific and very powerful miracle) strongly suggests that it was added to the record of Jeroboam’s reign, probably after the fact. Given the explicit mention of Josiah, it seems likely that one of Josiah’s supporters either wrote the story from whole cloth, or adapted some local folk tradition for propagandic purposes. As Brant Clements of Both Saint and Cynic puts it, the prophecy is “suspiciously specific.”

Finding some measure of respect for the dead – or, at least, this dead – Josiah commands that this tomb remain unmolested, along with the bones of another prophet, this one from Samaria. Again, this second prophet is not identified. My study Bible suggests that the mention of Samaria “is probably an error for Bethel,” perhaps suggesting that there is some special grave for local prophets. However, I saw it as a reference to the Israelite prophet mentioned later on in 1 Kings 13 (though I’m not sure why Josiah should preserve that grave).

While our narrative talks about destroying, burning, and grinding up ashes, Victor Matthews suggests that perhaps Josiah wasn’t quite as thorough as he’d like us to think:

Archaeological findings from this period include fragments of a horned altar found incorporated into a wall at Arad. That the altar was dismantled and used in the construction of a non-sacred structure suggests an attempt to eliminate sacrificial activity at Arad. (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.98)

Back in Jerusalem, Josiah enacts one final reform: the “restitution” of the Passover celebration. I use scare quotes because it’s not really clear what the history of the celebration is. I’ve seen some commenters suggest that Josiah invented the practice, which I personally find unlikely. The narrative itself claims that it was done up until the days of the judges, and then not again until now (in Josiah’s 18th year). Personally, I find it likely that it was a local festival that perhaps had been celebrated for quite a while, and that Josiah simply made part of the centralized/orthodox version of the YHWH cult that he was trying to create.

But not all was well

Josiah was a wonderful king, and close to God’s heart. In fact, there had never been and never will be a king who gave himself so entirely over to God. But, unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough. God had already decided to erase Judah, and to cast away the city and temple he had chosen for himself, mostly because of that big baddie Manasseh. It’s hard not to read this account as personal.

Despite the prophecy in 2 Kings 22:20, there is war. Although Josiah seems to have brought his fate on himself.

The narrative tells us that Neco, pharaoh of Egypt, went to the king of Assyria. At this time, Josiah decided to meet the pharaoh at Megiddo, where their armies clash and Josiah is killed.

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum

A small kneeling bronze statuette, likely Necho II, now residing in the Brooklyn Museum

My study Bible helps to fill in the details, explaining that Assyria had mostly fallen to Medes and Chaldea (though it seems that nearly everyone in the area was taking advantage of Assyria’s weakness – the Wikipedia page describes something of a pile-on), but was still fighting to survive. Egypt, Assyria’s ally at that time, may have been moving to help fight some other enemy. Since Judah had so recently been a vassal state (or perhaps still was), it would have made sense for them to join the fray in the hopes of further weakening Assyria, and perhaps scooping up some of its lands.

In any case, it appears to have been the wrong choice, and Josiah’s corpse was brought back to Jerusalem in a chariot for burial.

With Josiah dead, the people raise his son, Jehoahaz, to succeed him. Jehoahaz, son of Hamutal, was 23 years old at the time, and lasted a mere 3 months. He was deposed by Pharaoh Neco, imprisoned, then died in Egypt.

Neco installed a successor of his own choosing: Josiah’s other son, Eliakim (whom the Pharaoh renames Jehoiakim). The condition of Jehoiakim’s rule appears to have been vassalage, and the new king of Judah pays a tribute to Egypt.

Jehoiakim was 25 years old and the son of Zebidah. He lasted 11 years. Both sons are described as evil, though it’s difficult to imagine how Jehoahaz had the time to prove himself such.

There are a few tantalizing hints here as to Judah’s political landscape. Perhaps the biggest is that Jehoahaz, who was appointed by the people, was the younger of Josiah’s two sons. For whatever reason, the Judahites decided to forego the tradition of primogeniture to give him the crown.

Perhaps the fact that Egypt crowned Jehoiakim can give us a clue. It may be reasonable to assume that Jehoiakim had expressed a desire to give in to Egypt, whereas Jehoahaz was in favour of resistance. We may be seeing a glimpse, then, of competing factions within Judah. The fact that the narrative condemns both as evil complicates matters, and I’m really not sure what to make of that.

In any case, we are clearly approaching the fall of Judah.

2 Kings 17: Of the ashes, Samaria is born

Leave a comment

We’ll see a few different editorial layers in this chapter. The essence of it is that Israel falls, its people are displaced, and the land repopulated with people from other nations. So, of course, the Deuteronomists are all over that, fighting for line space in attempts to turn the event into a moral lesson for Judah (which, of course, would suffer the same fate some 150 years later).

The styles differences and individual particular concerns are easily read through the text. My study Bible specifically identifies passages its editors identify as having been composed by the second Deuteronomist (who already knew that Judah would also fall) and a third who wanted to make absolutely clear that the Samaritans (as the inhabitants of Israel would be known after the nation was conquered) were absolutely incorrect in their worship of YHWH.

The Fall of Hoshea

The opening has our familiar formula as we return to Israel. In the twelfth year of Judah’s King Ahaz, Hoshea son of Elah became king in Israel. We had covered this much in 2 Kings 15, learning that Hoshea took over the crown in a coup in a time when that was clearly in vogue.

I noted then that an Assyrian inscription has the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser directly involved in the coup, perhaps installing Hoshea as a puppet. This seems to have been a poor choice.

Hoshea reigned for nine years, walking in the way of evil (though at least not in the same evil way as his predecessors, though the statement is not clarified). In that time, Israel was a vassal of Assyria, and he paid an annual tribute to Shalmaneser V.

At some point, and for reasons that are not explained, he started communicating with So, the king of Egypt, and stopped paying tribute to Assyria. If Egypt made promises that it reneged on, it’s not mentioned here, and it seems rather foolish of Hoshea to simply stop making tributes. Unfortunately, with so little information on the internal politics and pressures, it’s hard to figure out what he may have been thinking.

A note should be made on the Egyptian king, So, as our Egyptian records give us no such person. Nicolas Grimal suggests two possibilities: The first is that So refers not to a person, but is “a mistaken Hebrew spelling of the city of Sais.” If this is the case, it would be something like a foreign dignitary saying that he’s “contacting Washington.” Glancing at the Egyptian pharaohs, we find that the king would have been Tefnakht. However, Grimal continues, Israel would not have been in much contact with Tefnakht. Rather, they would be in contact with Tanis (“The location of Tanis in the eastern Delta was naturally convenient for relations with Syria-Palestine.”). This region was under the control of Osorkon IV, in which case King So could be an over-correction. (A History of Ancient Egypt, p.342)

My New Bible Commentary, on the other hand, proposes either Shabaka or Shabataka as the likely king. Both of these suggestions seem too late to be likely candidates, however. Another possibility offered up by the NBC is that So could be a mistaken reference, not to a king, but to Sibu, “a ‘Tartan’ or general of Egypt whom [Sargon] defeated at Raphia in 720” (p.361).

Assyria’s vengeance is somewhat swift: Hoshea is imprisoned and Samaria under siege. It’s not explained what Hoshea was doing outside of Samaria in the first place (since the narrative makes clear that he was taken prisoner before the attack on the city began), though I’ve seen suggestions that, perhaps with his plans regarding Egypt falling through, he might have gone to Shalmaneser’s court to beg forgiveness.

2 Kings 17The siege against Samaria lasts for three years. While not mentioned in our text, we know from Assyria’s records that, during this time, Shalmaneser died and was replaced by Sargon II.

When Samaria fell, the Assyrians took the Israelites captive and brought them back to Assyria, repopulating the country with people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim.

Sargon’s own records seem to confirm this. According to the New Bible Commentary, Sargon “records for his first year that he beseiged and took Samaria, carried away 27,290 inhabitants and other plunder, and settled people from other lands there” (p.361).

Brant Clements, over at Both Saint and Cynic, writes that deporting “an entire population was impracticable. The Assyrians probably carried the rich, the powerful, and the elite into exile leaving the poor and powerless behind.” I’m sure he’s right, but Sargon’s number of 27,290 is absurdly high for that to be the case (though likely inflated for propagandic purposes). The goal of this kind of displacement would have been to remove those with the resources and social power to organize a rebellion, severing them from their power bases, from the plebeian armies they might raise, and even from other potential co-conspirators. This was done by scattering them in strange lands.

A tale of national destruction could never be complete without some victim-blame-y moralizing, so we get some editorializing about how this disaster only happened because the Israelites had so sinned, even though God had brought them out of Egypt. The complaints are lengthy, and we’ve seen them so many times that I could probably just type them up by rote. I won’t, though, because I suspect that would be as tiresome for you as  it would be for me.

I will note, however, a quick intrusion from a secondary editor who reminds us that Judah totally sucked as well (2 Kings 17:19-20).

The New Samarians

With an all new multicultural immigrant population, Israel rebrands itself as Samaria, and its people as Samaritans.

These Samaritans had a rough beginning in their new home as they suffered through a plague of lion attacks. The king of Assyria is told, as we are, that this is because they do not know or worship the local god.

The theology that comes through in this story shows us a very small god, a god who belongs to a plot of land as much as it belongs to him. God is not a universal god, but the god of this patch of soil. And when that patch’s inhabitants change, they must first acknowledge the local god.

This god is a territorial god.

The Assyrian king seems to have no trouble groking this notion of divinity, and he finds one of the Israelite priests among his captives to send back. The priest is installed in Bethel with instructions to teach the new people of Samaria about their new god, in much the same way that a settler might need to learn the agricultural peculiarities of the region.

The Samaritans, too, seemed to accept that living in Israel means worshipping the god of Israel, and they quickly take up the worship of YHWH. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they are eager to give up their own gods. The Babylonians continued worshipping Succoth-benoth, the Cuthites worshipping Nergal, the Hamathites worshipping Ashima, and the Avvites worshipping Nibhaz and Tartak. The Sepharvites continued to burn their children in the fires of Adrammelech and Anammelech. They simply added YHWH to the pantheons they had brought with them.

Much to our author’s dismay, they quickly took ownership of YHWH, appointing their own priests and setting up their own shrines. Worse yet, they failed to follow God’s statutes and ordinances, even though – our editor reminds us – they ought to have known full well what happened to the last people who failed to follow them!

2 Kings 10: Taking care of the competition

2 Comments

We have a rather gruesome chapter here as Jehu, newly become king of Israel, solidifies his position. He begins with Ahab’s seventy sons (a number no dou bt inflated by counting all male descendants, including grandsons, though still rather impressive). Jehu writes to the rulers and elders of Samaria, as well as to the guardians of these princelings (I’m assuming that not all of them were underaged, though presumably a fair number would have been. He asks them to select the best of Ahab’s descendants and set him up on Ahab’s throne to fight in Samaria’s defense.

The rulers, elders, and guardians are rightly wary of this, since Jehu has just assassinated two kings. What chance would a brand new, untried king have? So instead of setting up a new king, which would only lead to war and sieges (we saw just how terrible those can be in 2 Kings 7: 24-31), they throw themselves at Jehu’s mercy. They will do anything he asks, they say, except instate a new king.

In his second letter, Jehu accepts the leaders’ submission and asks that they behead all of Ahab’s sons (again, this could refer to any male descendant) and bring them to Jezreel the next day.

The scene is a powerful one. The sons were “with the great men of the city, who were bringing them up” (2 Kgs 10:6), people they trusted, when Jehu’s letter arrived. Suddenly, the leaders turned on their charges, killing them and filling baskets with their heads. When they are brought to him, Jehu leaves the heads in heaps at the city gates overnight. The next morning, he addresses the Israelites, taking responsibility for killing Joram but reminding them that they were the ones who had killed his descendants. He reminded them, too, that Elijah had predicted that this would happen to Ahab’s dynasty (1 Kgs 21:21)… and his followers. And with that, it seems that he killed all of them as well (“So Jehu slew all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, all his great men, and his familiar friends, and his priests, until he left him none remaining” – 2 Kgs 10:11).

Not quite done yet, he came to Betheked of the Shepherds, where he found the kinsmen of the (now slain) king of Judah, Ahaziah. They were on their way to Samaria to visit their king, as well as the “royal princes and the sons of the queen mother” (2 Kgs 10:13) – which I take to mean Jezebel and the recently murdered seventy sons.

Jehu orders his followers to take the travellers alive. Which, we’re told, they do, but only in order to bring them to a pit. There, they murder all forty-two of them. This was, apparently, what Jehu had in mind when he told them to “take them alive.”

Though the reasoning isn’t explained in the text, King Ahaziah was the son of Athaliah, who was related to Ahab and possibly Jezebel – she was either their daughter, or possibly Ahab’s sister (2 Kgs 8:26 only tells us that she was a daughter of Ahab’s dynasty). So I’m seeing the argument being made that the whole dynasty of Judah was made complicit in Ahab and Jezebel’s sins through their unfortunate marriage alliance.

Cultic Concerns

After all this bloodshed, Jehu meets up with Jehonadab, the son of Rechab. They great each other, and it seems that Jehu asks Jehonadab if he’s on board with Jehu’s “cleansing” of Israel. Not to give away too many spoilers, but it seems that we’ll learn about the Rechabites later on (such as 1 Chr. 2:55). According to my Study Bible, they “fiercely maintained the old desert way of life, believing that only thus could they properly worship the Lord.” It makes sense, then, that Jehu would approach a man who appears to be their leader for help as he turns his attentions to wiping out the worship of Baal in Israel.

Possible depiction of Jehu giving tribute to King Shalmaneser III, on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III from Nimrud, c.827BCE

Possible depiction of Jehu giving tribute to King Shalmaneser III, on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III from Nimrud, c.827BCE

It seems that tradition also gives the two men more of a relationship. My New Bible Commentary cites a reference in Josephus (Ant. ix.6.6) to Jehu and Jehonadab being “friends of long standing” (p.355).

When Jehonadab answers that his goals align with Jehu’s, Jehu stretches out his hand and lifts Jehonadab onto his chariot. Together, they ride off into the sunset so that Jehonadab can see Jehu’s “zeal for the Lord” (2 Kgs 10:16). Presumably with Jehonadab watching, he rode all the way to Samaria and, there, killed Ahab’s remaining supporters.

With that done, Jehu assembles all the people and announces: “Ahab served Baal a little; but Jehu will serve him much” (2 Kgs 10:18). He calls for all the prophets, priests, and worshippers of Baal to attend a great sacrifice he’ll be hosting. We’re quickly informed, however, that it was all a trick (though, if you’re anything like me, you’ve already guessed as much from Jehu’s weasel-y words – he’ll serve Baal much, eh?).

The set up is clearly meant to be read humorously, a point reinforced by what seems to be a play on words. My New Bible Commentary says that, in Hebrew, the word used here to mean “served” is very close to a word meaning “destroyed”. “To a person not paying attention, the words would sound alike” (p.356). I think we can assume that Jehu may have been smirking while he delivered this little speech.

Baal’s followers all came and filled his temple. They brought out special vestments and everything.

Jehu and Jehonadab addressed the throng, making sure that only Baal worshippers were present. Jehu presided over the sacrifices while, outside eighty soldiers guarded the exits with instructions not to let any of the Baal worshippers escape (if any did, the punishment was death).

When the sacrifice is done, Jehu gives the order and his soldiers rush in, slaughtering all the worshippers. Done, they brought out “the pillar that was in the house of Baal” (2 Kgs 10:26), presumably an object of some sacral significance, and burned it. After tearing down Baal’s temple, they made it into a latrine.

A Retrospective

Jehu may have wiped out the worship of Baal from Israel, but he still failed at achieving proper cultic purity. What this means, of course, is that he failed to tear down Jeroboam’s golden calves, located in Bethel and Dan.

This is a sore point for the Deuteronomist, for whom idolatry was a focus. It seems likely, however, that the charge is anachronistic. There’s little evidence that the YHWH cult at the time had rejected the use of idols. If we expand that to include symbolic imagery (I’ve seen the argument made that the golden calves were not meant to represent YHWH, but rather to form a seat on which he was to sit – much as the cherubim function in Solomon’s temple), we have a fair bit of evidence to the contrary.

It’s also possible that the later Deuteronomist condemnation of the calves had its roots at this time, in which case we seem to be looking at competing geographic variations of the YHWH cult. The Jerusalem/Judah variation seems to have begun forming a more rigid, urban, centralized, top-down cultic structure, and may well have seen the more rural, disparate, folk-based Israelite variation as a serious threat.

The text tells us that God told Jehu that, because of this oversight, his dynasty would only last four generations before it, too, would fall. The construction, “the Lord said to Jehu” (2 Kgs 10:30) struck me. For the last little while, God’s messages have all either been issued to prophets or relayed through them, suggesting that the messages were connected to stories about those prophets. Here, however, the prophet is omitted. To me, this suggested that the author of this chapter was not referencing a pre-existing tradition, but rather adding in new material.

In this case, the author would have known that Jehu’s dynasty would fall in four generations, and sought an explanation. After all, the Jehu material so far casts him as a sincere and zealous worshipper (I’m a little too cynical to take that slant at face value, since getting rid of the Baal worshippers would have also meant getting rid of a lot of potentially influential competitors, many of whom may have enjoyed the support of the previous royal dynasty, while solidifying Jehu’s control over the YHWHist base – especially when we see his two named supporters being Elisha and Jehonadab, both apparently religious leaders). That a fall was to come would have required some explanation, and the calves were convenient scape-cattle. And, of course, the message suits the Deuteronomist’s motives quite neatly.

The final few verses give us some more of the chronology. We learn that pieces of Israel were being shaved off as Hazael, the Syrian king, seems to have been taking advantage of Israel’s political upheaval. It seems that, in this time, Israel lost everything east of the Jordan to Syria.

Jehu held onto Israel (or, at least, parts of it) for 28 years before he was succeeded by his son, Jehoahaz.

2 Kings 2: The Bald Moses

Leave a comment

The first story in this chapter is about Elijah being taken up by God in a whirlwind. While reading, I kept wondering if this is meant to be an Elijah story (about his ascension) or an Elisha story (about his accession). After some reflection, I think it may be the latter, though it could certainly be argued either way.

Elijah and Elisha begin the chapter by walking about. Each time they stop (first at Bethel, then Jericho, then the river Jordan), Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind, and each time Elisha refuses. Each time, the “sons of the prophets” tell Elisha that God is about to take his master, and Elisha responds that he already knows, and that they should “hold your peace.” By the time they get to the Jordan river, they’ve accumulated fifty sons of the prophets following along, though hanging back.

The term “sons of the prophets” likely refers to either apprentice or lesser prophets, perhaps in some kind of cultic guild. It seems unlikely that it would refer to actual biological offspring. This is reinforced later on in the same chapter (2 Kings 2:12) where Elisha calls Elijah “my father.”

2 Kings 2When Elisha asked the sons of the prophets to keep quiet, it seems an indication of the solemnity of their progress. Combined with the repetition of the journey, it gives the story a sense of ritual. I wonder if there was a time when a local cult periodically did a particular journey (pure conjecture, but perhaps it might have ended with a human sacrifice), and the tradition was later preserved in this story. Or the repetition could just be there to draw attention to Elijah’s ascension, thereby highlighting its importance.

When they reach the river, Elijah rolls up his mantle and strikes the water with it, parting it so that Elijah and Elisha can walk across. This is, of course, quite reminiscent of Moses’s parting of the water in Exodus 14:21. I wonder if the Elijah story is meant to be a reference to the Moses story, or if both were a reference to something else?

Separated now from the fifty sons of the prophets who had come along, Elijah asks Elisha to ask for a parting gift before he is taken. Elisha asks to inherit a “double share of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). This seems almost certainly to be a reference to the inheritance portion meant to be given to a firstborn son (Deut. 21:17), thus setting Elisha apart as Elijah’s proper spiritual heir. Elijah’s response, that Elisha will only get his inheritance if he sees Elijah taken, appears to be an acknowledgement that this inheritance is only God’s to grant.

As it is, there are no issues since Elisha does, indeed, see Elijah taken. First, a fire chariot pulled by fire horses comes between Elisha and Elijah, separating them. Then Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind (the only other person who appears to have been taken without dying first is Enoch, in Genesis 5:24).

If you’re noticing a pattern and wondering, yes, Elijah does appear to have been a firebender. Certainly, he seems to have been closely associated with the element in his miracles, as we saw in 1 Kings 18:38 and 3 Kings 1:9-16.

With Elijah gone, Elisha rends his clothes in grief, then takes up Elijah’s mantle (for the second time, since Elijah had given it to him in 1 Kings 19:19). He then performs a reverse miracle and strikes the river water with the mantle, as Elijah had done, and parts the water for himself.

The sons of the prophets seem to be of two minds. On the one hand, they immediately recognize Elisha as Elijah’s heir and bow before him. But then they are convinced that God just flicked Elijah off somewhere. Perhaps they’ve seen be play Black & White and think that God is as clumsy a deity as I am? In any case, they ask for permission to go find his body. Though he initially refuses, Elisha does eventually give them permission and they spend three days looking. The lack of a body is, apparently, confirmation that a miracle has taken place.

Further Miracles

Now that he’s the head honcho, it’s time for Elisha to get started on some miracles of his own.

His first is in Jericho, where the water appears to be causing deaths and miscarriages. Elisha solves the problem by throwing some salt into a local spring, thereby purifying it.

The people of the city say that the “land is unfruitful” (2 Kings 2:19), which I thought could mean a drought, but Elisha’s miracle is very specifically purifying the water. It could be, therefore, that it is the people/animals who are unfruitful, due to the miscarriages.

So far so good. I think we can all agree that purifying a water source so that it is no longer causing death and miscarriage is, generally speaking, a net positive. Unfortunately, Elisha then immediately follows that miracle with another in Bethel. There, a few small boys make fun of him for being bald. Rather hilariously, my New Bible Commentary spends a fair bit of time trying to argue that Elisha wasn’t actually bald, and that the boys were just making it up to be insulting. I’m sure there’s a theological purpose there, but I can’t stop laughing long enough to look it up. Whatever it is, it seems to be very important to the NBC editors that Elisha is most definitely not bald!

While Elisha’s earlier miracle was to save a community from what was probably a natural disaster, this time he’s just being a total douche. No one likes to be bullied, but there is such a thing as an appropriate response, and cursing small boys so that forty-two of them are mauled by two bears is definitely not it.

Elisha's Bears

Interestingly in the context of the number’s later significance, my study Bible indicates that 42 was thought to be a number of ill omen.

After the bear episode, Elisha makes his way to Mount Carmel, then returns to Samaria.

1 Kings 15-16: A House Divided

Leave a comment

The following chapters take us into the first few decades after the deaths of Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Important dates are given as references to the Xth year of the other half’s king’s reign – an interesting relational dating system that could only work in a divided monarchy. By necessity, this means that we skip around in the chronology a little. The story begins in Judah for Abijam and Asa, then moves up into Israel for Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, and Ahab.

Abijam

Abijam came to power in the 18th year of Jeroboam’s reign, and ruled a total of three years. His mother was Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom, who seems to be identified by some with Absalom, making Maacah David’s granddaughter.

Of Abijam’s reign, we’re told only that he failed to live up to David’s greatness – though at least here, for once, the narrator admits that David’s greatness was slightly complicated by that whole Uriah business (1 Kgs 15:5). We also learn that hostilities continued between Israel and Judah during his reign, with the rather out-of-place verse: “Now there was war between Rehoboam and Jeroboam all the days of his life” (1 Kgs 15:6). It may be possible to explain away by seeing Rehoboam as a reference to his family rather than to the individual, but this seems a stretch. Given that the wording is very similar to 1 Kgs 14:30 and that the verse is not found here in the Septuagint, it seems likely that it’s inclusion here was in error.

No information is given about the circumstances of Abijam’s death, but he only ruled for three years.

Asa

Asa gets the best assessment of anyone in these two chapters. He is crowned king in the 20th year of Jeroboam and ruled for a rather impressive forty-one years. Weirdly, though he is described as Abijam’s son, his mother is also Maacah, the daughter of Abishalom. Either this is an extraordinary coincidence, terribly incestuous, or there’s an error somewhere – it could be that Maacah’s name is duplicated, or that Asa and Abijam were brothers.

The narrator’s principal definition of an awesome king is that Asa cracked down a bit on non-approved cultic practices. Namely, he put away the male cultic prostitutes (no word on the female ones), and removed his mother from her position as Queen Mother because she had commissioned an Asherah – which Asa had cut down and burned. He also brought votive gifts to the Temple, both his own and some from his father. His only failing was that he didn’t take down the high places.

During Asa’s reign, the king of Israel – Baasha, whom we’ll learn about shortly – built Ramah, barring the border between the two nations and apparently serving a defensive function. Given its proximity to Jerusalem (about 8km, or 4 miles), this may have been an aggressive structure as well, or at least perceived as such. In response, Asa took all the silver and gold from both Temple and palace treasuries, and brought it to King Benhadad of Syria. It seems that Benhadad had been supporting Baasha, but he was successfully bribed to switch sides – conquering Ijon, Dan, Abelbethmaacah, all of Chinneroth, and all of Naphtali.

Defeated, Baasha stopped building Ramah. It’s also implied that, as a consequence of this defeat, he dwelt in Tirzah – suggesting that perhaps he was building Ramah with the intention of moving Israel’s capitol there and had to retreat back to Tirzah, which we know from 1 Kgs 14:17 was the current capitol. Once Baasha had retreated, Asa ordered all of Judah (“none was exempt” – 1 Kgs 15:22) to carry away the stones and timber of Ramah, using them instead to build Geba in Benjamin and Mizpah. It seems that few lessons were learned regarding the dangers of conscription.

In his old age, Asa suffered from diseased feet, which my New Bible Commentary speculates may have been dropsy (p.340). After his death, he was succeeded by his son, Jehoshaphat.

Israel

Nadab

Back in Israel, Jeroboam was succeeded by his son, Nadab, in the second year of Asa’s reign. The narrator found him unworthy, and so, apparently, did others. He only managed to rule for two years before Baasha, the son of Ahijah of Issachar, revolted and killed Nadab at Gibbethon. It’s not spelled out, but since we are told that Gibbethon belonged to Philistia, it seems probable that Baasha took advantage of the battle to turn on his king.

Baasha

Baasha was crowned in the third year of Asa’s reign, and his first act as king was to slaughter all the remaining members of Jeroboam’s house – not an uncommon practice when trying to found a new dynasty. He ruled a total of twenty-four years, with Tirzah as his capitol. Of course, our narrator was no fan.

During Baasha’s reign, there was a new prophet: Jehu, son of Hanani. He was no fan of Baasha either. He prophesies that God is displeased that Baasha is no better than his predecessors and, as punishment, will see his house utterly destroyed.

Elah

In the 26th year of Asa, Elah inherited the crown of Israel from his father. Unfortunately, his reign was troubled from the start. While he was getting plastered, Zimri – the commander of half of Elah’s chariots – murdered him. It seems significant that Zimri commanded only half of the chariots – I’m not sure if this would have been common practice, or if this is meant to signify that there were already divisions happening.

Either way, Elah was deposed in the 27th year of Asa.

Zimri

While clearly a go-getter, Zimri failed to get all his ducks in a row before taking the crown through murder. After only seven days, during which he just barely had time to murder every male kin and friend of Baasha’s dynasty, he fell.

Elah’s troops had been encamped at Gibbethon, perhaps continuing the conflict that saw Nadab’s death. When they heard of Elah’s murder, they made their commander, Omri, king. Omri brought the army back to Tirzah and besieged the city. Clearly seeing that he wasn’t going to hold on to the power he’d only just taken, Zimri set the citadel of the king’s house on fire, with himself inside.

Just as a point of interest, the term used for the men associated with Baasha’s dynasty in 1 Kgs 16:11 in the King James Bible is “one that pisseth against a wall.” This is, apparently, how men are to be defined by people who clearly never met a woman who does a lot of hiking or camping.

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Amri, by Guillaume Rouille, 1553

Omri

Despite having the support of the soldiers under his command, Omri’s transition was not particularly smooth. Half of Israel followed Tibni, son of Ginath. While Omri defeated Tibni, the fact that Zimri’s rise and fall occured in the 27th year of Asa yet Omri’s reign is not said to have begun until the 31st year of Asa, it seems that the conflict between the two men lasted four years.

We’re told that Omri reigned a total of twelve years, six of which were in Tirzah. Yet to make the numbers of work, four of those years would have been the years of civil war, giving him only two solid years in Tirzah. After that, he bought land from a man named Shemer for two talents of silver, and built on it the city of Samaria. Not only was this the new capitol of Israel, Israel itself soon came to be known as Samaria.

Despite the text’s assessment of Omri as evil, he seems to have been quite important. From Micah 6:16, it seems that he was known for instituting some kind of legal reform, though no details are preserved. Omri is also the first Hebrew king for which we have direct non-biblical evidence:

The Moabite Stone, which was discovered in 1868, tells of the conflict between Mesha, king of Moab, and Omri, who humbled Moab for many years but was eventually defeated (ANET, 321). The inscription is remarkable for the similarty it shows between the religion of Moab and that of Israel. Mesha acts at the behest of his god, Chemosh, just as the Israelites act at the behest of YHWH. Most remarkable is that Mesha boasts of having slaughtered every man, woman, and child in Nebo, “for I had devoted them to destruction for (the god) Ashtar-Chemosh.” Omri’s son, Ahab, is mentioned in the Monolith Inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser as having contributed two thousand chariots and ten thousand foot soldiers to an Aramean coalition that halted an Assyrian advance (ANET, 279). Assyrian records continued to refer to Israel as “the house of Omri” long after Omri’s descendants had ceased to rule. Omri and Ahab were kings to be reckoned with. There is much more evidence outside the Bible for their power and influence than was the case with Solomon. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137,138)

Ahab

In the 38th year of Asa, Omri was succeeded by his son, Ahab. Though described by the text as just the absolute worst, Ahab seems to have been able to maintain a bit of stability in the unstable nation of Israel, ruling for an impressive twenty-two years. He was married to a woman named Jezebel, whose name should be familiar to any cultural Christian. She was the daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidonia and, through her, Ahab came to serve Baal. Not only does he make an Asherah, he also builds a temple for Baal in Samaria. As in the case of his father, we have an independent attestation of Ahab’s existence.

Somewhat out of place in this narrative, we get a note about a man named Hiel of Bethel who rebuilt Jericho. We’re told that the foundation of the city came at the cost of his first-born son, Abiram, and that the gates were built at the cost of his youngest son, Segub. This is all, says the narrative, a fulfilment of Joshua’s prophecy, given in Joshua 6:29. The most charitable reading has the two boys either having their deaths attributed to the construction (as we saw Bathsheba’s first son’s death attributed to David’s sin in 2 Samuel 12), or perhaps both sons assisted in the construction and died accidentally. There’s no reason to assume that Joshua’s prophecy predicted a future event, as opposed to Joshua’s prophecy, written after the events, describing events that it full well knew would come later when Jericho was rebuilt.

A third possibility, and perhaps the likeliest, was that these were ritual killings, human sacrifices intended to bless the construction. These sorts of sacrifices (both human and animal) have been found in much of the world, and knowledge of them survived in folk mythology even longer (as we see in this German legend). The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying quotes a book by Nigel Davies:

In the sanctuary in Gezer were found two burnt skeletons of six-year-old children and the skulls of two adolescents that had been sawn in two. At Meggido a girl of fifteen had been killed and buried in the foundations of a large structure. Excavations show that the practice of interring children under new buildings was widespread and some were evidently buried alive. (Davies, Nigel. Human Sacrifice in History and Today. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1981, p. 61)

Older Entries