Amos 8: Oh my sweet summer fruit

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Returning to the formula of Amos’s first and second visions, his fourth begins with, “Thus the Lord God showed me” (Amos 8:1).

This time, God is showing Amos a basket of summer fruit, and he tells him that the end is coming for the people of Israel. On that day, temple music will become wailing and many will die.

There’s some wordplay here, as Jim Linville points out: “Amos sees a basket of summer fruit, קיץ qays, but upon identifying it, YHWH announces the end קץ qes of Israel” (“Vision and Voices: Amos 7-9.” Biblical Studies on the Web, Vol.80, p.34).

The pun is wonderful. It isn’t just the use of homophones (near homophones?), but in this case the summer fruit can also be seen to represent Israel – which, under Jeroboam, was bloated with prosperity. According to Amos, this abundance warns of Israel’s fall just as the abundance of summer harvests warns of coming winter.

My RSV gives Amos 8:3 as: “The dead bodies shall be many; in every place they shall be cast out in silence.” Other translations, however, have something more along the lines of: “Many are the corpses, in every place he has cast. Silence!”

This second translation is important for Linville, who asks who the intended speaker of the exclamation might be. One possibility is that it is YHWH himself, commanding silence from the people so that they can hear the warning that follows. Another possibility is that he is demanding “silent awe” from those who have survived as they survey the dead. Or perhaps he speaks to the dead, who will never speak again.

Linville also proposes that it could be from Amos, who sees where God is going with this and begs for him not to speak it aloud. Or perhaps the exclamation is “a warning to himself not to interfere.” Linville’s final suggestion is that Amos is demanding “silence from God’s victims when he himself is coerced into declaring their doom” (“Vision and Voices,” p.35).

Hear This

After this, the narrative switches to direct speech for a while as the speaker, presumably Amos, addresses the audience. He calls to them to listen, naming them those who trample the needy and the poor.

The speaker accuses the listener of asking when the new moon will end so they can sell grain, or when it’s the sabbath so they can sell wheat? I initially interpreted this as meaning that they were using the cultic calendar to time their economic activities, rather than using the festivals as reminders of God’s true command: Justice. My study Bible, however, interprets the passage as meaning that the “merchants are impatient for the holy days to pass so they can resume their fraudulent business.”

The visions of Amos, 16th cent.

The visions of Amos, 16th cent.

The speaker accuses the listener of making the ephah small and the shekel great, of dealing deceitfully with false balances. This is clearly a reference to the use of scales in transactions, and merchants rigging them in their own favour.

The listener is accused of selling the refuse of wheat and, as in Amos 2:6, the listener is accused of buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. As I noted in my post on Amos 2: “This is likely a reference to bribery in the justice system, rather than a real buyer’s market in the slave trade.”

Swearing by the pride of Jacob (which God abhors, as per Amos 6:8), God vows never to forget “their” (Amos 8:7) deeds. The use of “their” really threw me, because suddenly the speaker is no longer speaking to the listeners, but about them! I get the impression of God and Amos, standing around the water cooler, dissing the Israelites just loudly enough that the Israelites can hear but quietly enough for it not to be obvious that it’s intentional.

Then comes some more doom-and-gloom as God vows that the land itself will tremble, and that all who dwell within it will mourn. All of it will rise up like the Nile, be tossed about, and sink (a reference to the annual flooding of the Nile – perhaps with the symbolic expectation of subsequent renewal, as the Nile’s flooding brings silt that makes the river’s watershed fertile).

On that day, God promises to make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth during the day (perhaps an echoing of Amos 5:18, where Amos promises that the day of the Lord is “darkness, and not light”). God will turn feasts into mourning, and he will turn songs into lamentations.

He promises to bring sackcloth to every loin and baldness to every head. Given the context, I suspect that the threat of baldness refers to hair cutting/shaving as part of mourning. In any case, God promises to make it like the mourning for an only son – implying that the destruction will be complete, and leave Israel without a future lineage.

Famine

Amos’s God promises a famine but, unlike what we’ve seen in so many other places, this is not a famine for bread or water. Rather, it is a famine of hearing the words of God. The people will wander from sea to sea seeking the word of God, but they won’t find it.

When I was a child, the concept of hell was described to me as separation from God. It seems that Amos has similar ideas.

On the coming day, even the young will faint for thirst. Those who worship Ashimah of Samaria and say: “as thy god lives, O Dan” and those who say “as the way of Beersheba lives” (Amos 8:14) will fall and never rise again. In other words, as my study Bible puts it: “The patron deities of pagan shrines, from the farthest north (Dan) to the farthest south (Beer-sheba), will be of no help on that day.”

The Linville article I am mercilessly quote-mining this evening notes an evolution in the sorts of punishments Amos envisions: “Rather than predict the end of the shrines of Isaac, the sanctuaries of Israel, and the house of Jeroboam (Amos 7,9, matters reintroduced by Amaziah, in 7,10-13), the fourth vision attacks the people directly. The subsequent oracles give reasons for this: social injustice has motivated God’s action (8,4-6)” (“Vision and Voices”, p.34).

2 Chronicles 29-31: Dedicated and Dedicating

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Sorry for the lateness! But at least my tardiness is thematically relevant! 

We now move into Hezekiah, who is one of the greats. He gets a lot of page space, too, with three chapters in 2 Kgs 18-20 and four chapters in 2 Chron. 29-32. But for all that, the breadth is really missing. Essentially, Hezekiah whips up a religious revival, but, like so many of his predecessors, he fell short at the very end.

We begin with Hezekiah’s record entry: He was 25 years old when his reign began, and he ruled for 29 years. His mother’s name was Abijah, daughter of Zechariah.

On the first day of the first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah decided to purify the Temple. This needs a bit of unpacking, because while it’s certainly possible that it truly refers to the first day of Hezekiah’s reign, it seems like rather incredible timing in light of 2 Chron. 30:1, where Hezekiah postpones the Passover celebration for a month. Passover is normally held in Nissan, the first month, meaning that Hezekiah would have had to just happen to start his first day on our equivalent of January 1. This seems lie rather too unlikely, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that the author means that Hezekiah started his focus on the Temple on the first day of his first full year.

Which gives us a new question: Why would Hezekiah wait before turning his attention to the Temple – especially when it will mean not being ready in time for Passover and having to delay the celebration. One possibility is that the new year, as a new beginning, was just too symbolically resonant to pass up even if it meant delaying the Passover. Another has to do with the Chronicler’s own motives. I’ll discuss this in more detail later, but there may be a theme of lateness in Chronicles that, perhaps, relates to the rebuilding of the cultic structure.

In any case, Hezekiah reopened the Temple and began purging it of inappropriate cultic items on the first day of the first year of his reign – whatever that happens to mean.

Not to get too nitpicky, but the detail about reopening the doors of the Temple is in line with 2 Chron. 28:24, where Ahaz closed the Temple’s doors, but does not align with 2 Kgs 16:10-16, where it’s apparent that Ahaz continued the use of the Temple for worship. The New Bible Commentary harmonizes this by arguing that the author would not have considered the worship of foreign gods as real worship (p.391), making the closing of the doors a symbolic description (or perhaps it was the inner sanctuary doors that were literally closed).

Hezekiah then gathered up the priests and Levites and, in keeping with the idea of a fresh start, told them all to sanctify first themselves, then the Temple. He gives his reasoning for this in a speech about how their parents had forsaken God, and this is why their fathers have fallen to swords and their sons, daughters, and wives have been taken into captivity.

If this sounds a bit like a post-exilic formula to you, I would agree. That said, 2 Chron. 28 does feature an awful lot of warfare and taking into captivity.

The priests and Levites got to work under the leadership of:

  • Kohathites: Mahath son of Amasai, and Joel son of Azariah;
  • Merarites: Kish son of Abdi, and Azariah son of Jehallelel;
  • Gershonites: Joah son of Zimmah, and Eden son of Joah;
  • Of the sons of Elizaphan: Shimri and Jeuel;
  • Of the sons of Asaph: Zechariah and Mattaniah;
  • Of the sons of Heman: Jehuel and Shimei;
  • Of the sons of Jeduthun: Shemaiah and Uzziel.

Together, on the 8th day of the month, they brought all the uncleanness that had gathered in the Temple, though the Chronicler doesn’t mention Moses’s Nehushtan (2 Kgs 18:4). All the refuse is brought out to the brook of Kidron – Kidron being the favoured place for idol disposal (as we saw in places like 1 Kgs 15:13, 2 Kgs 23:4-6, and 2 Chron. 15:16).

The sanctification process takes eight days, ending on the 16th of the month. When they tell Hezekiah that they are done, he gathers up the Jerusalem city officials to make a big sacrifice and splash lots of blood around. Hezekiah then stations Levitical musicians in the Temple to sing the words of David and of Asaph the seer.

The Passover Celebration

It took a while to get the Temple (and its officiants) up to snuff, so Hezekiah conferred with the “princes” (likely meaning the people of his court with social clout, rather than his own sons) and they decided to postpone the Passover until the second month. The measure was necessary because the priests still hadn’t finished sanctifying themselves, and the people hadn’t had a chance to make it to Jerusalem.

Brant Clements, of Both Saint and Cynic, points out that the idea of celebrating a belated Passover when either travelling or purity requirements can’t be met on time can find precedent in Num. 9:9-11.

In discussing the possibility that Hezekia’s Passover might be a fabrication, James Bradford Pate brings up the idea that the Chronicler wouldn’t invent such a messy, chaotic, and delayed celebration. However, Pate cites 2 Chron. 24:5-6 as another example of delay, and proposes that perhaps there is a purposeful theme to be found. Specifically, Pate ties it to the post-exilic “lateness”, both forgiving the lateness itself and “exhorting the post-exilic Jews to get on the ball.” Sort of a “better late than never” message.

From the 'Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum', by Guillaume Rouille

From the ‘Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum’, by Guillaume Rouille

The reason that the historicity of Hezekiah’s Passover is that it isn’t found in 2 Kings, and Josiah’s proclamation in 2 Kgs 23:21-23 certainly seems to indicate that, if there had been a grand Passover in Hezekiah’s time, Josiah wasn’t aware of it. Turning back to Pate, he presents the argument that the author of Kings was trying to be literary – he wanted to highlight Josiah, and mentioning a similar Passover in the context of Hezekiah would have diluted that story. So the absence of the Passover in 2 Kings doesn’t necessarily indicate that Hezekiah’s Passover is a fabrication.

At this point the story is a bit muddled, and there may be some time-skipping. There could have been multiple sacrifice events, but I’m picking a chronology and sticking with it. However, I am noting that the text isn’t nearly as clear.

Hezekiah sends invitations out to all of Judah, as well as all of Israel, encouraging everyone “from Beer-sheba to Dan” (2 Chron. 30:5) to attend the Passover in Jerusalem. The language here mimics the language of the unified nation – both pre-monarchy and unified. The use of the phrase “from Beer-sheba to Dan” serves to underscore the point, as it’s a phrase we’ve seen quite a bit before when referring to the nation as a whole (see, for example, Judges 20:1, 1 Sam. 3:20, 2 Sam. 3:10, 2 Sam. 17:11, 1 Kgs 4:25). My Study Bible calls Hezekiah’s invitation a “prophetic hope of the return of the northern tribes to their former loyalty to Jerusalem”, and compares it to Ezek. 37:15-23.

The invitation explains that the Passover hasn’t been properly kept, and the people need to do better. But if they come now and are good, then their children and brethren’s captors will show compassion, and perhaps allow them to return home.

It really is hard not to see some post-exilic sentiments creeping in here.

Incidentally, John Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible that there is “a famous letter from Elephantine in Egypt in the late fifth century B.C.E. regarding the observance of the Passover, but letters are anachronistic in the time of Hezekiah, some 300 years earlier” (p.233).

Unfortunately, most of the people just laughed at Hezekiah’s couriers. Only a few men of Asher, Manasseh, and Zebulun came out to Jerusalem. I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we have some anti-Samarianism cropping in here. But also, my New Bible Commentary points out that the fact that “Hezekiah’s messengers went only as far as Zebulun suggests that in the far north of Galilee the Israelite elements had already disappeared” (p.392). Turning back to Collins, he notes that the “fact that emissaries are sent to Ephraim and Manasseh presupposes that the northern kingdom of Israel is no more. Yet, amazingly, the Chronicler has not even mentioned the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.233).

Even so, the assembly in Jerusalem was quite impressive, and perhaps it was a good thing that so few Samarians showed up because the priests couldn’t keep up with all the sacrifices. Eventually, the Levites had to step in to fill the gaps, “for the Levites were more upright in heart than the priests in sanctifying themselves” (2 Chron. 29:34).

Many commentaries note the dig at non-Levitical priests, but more interesting is the idea that the priests are the ones doing all the slaughtering, causing the backlog problem. The New Bible Commentary, for example, notes that it should normally be the worshiper’s job to slaughter the offerings, so the issue shouldn’t really be an issue in the first place (p.392). I’m seeing verses like Ex. 12:3-6, Deut. 16:5-6, and Lev. 1:1-6 in support of this, though I personally found all those verses to be rather ambiguous.

Unfortunately, many of the people in the congregation (specifically many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun) had failed to properly cleanse themselves, yet ate the Passover offerings anyway. Hezekiah addressed them in prayer, saying that God pardons all who seek them out, even if they aren’t doing it by the rules – sort of an Old Timey equivalent of “it’s the thought that counts” – a sentiment that quite surprised me but, in retrospect, makes a lot of sense in the post-exilic context, when the Chronicler must be absolutely frantic about just  getting the Israelites back “to the old ways,” even if they aren’t quite perfect about it.

Also worthy of note is, as Victor Matthews points out in Manners  Customs of the Bible, the way in which the king’s involvement in cultic practices has been diminishing as we make our way down the line:

While David was credited with establishing the temple priesthood (1 Chr 15:1-24), and Solomon was recognized as significantly reorganizing it (1 Kgs 2:35), the Levitical priesthood eventually disputed the idea of the king as both political and religious leader. Over time, the Levites gained more complete control of the sacrificial rituals; and the king, while still an advocate for the people with God, took a secondary role. For example, whereas Solomon functions in a priestly role by offering sacrifices, prayers, and blessings at the dedication of the temple (1 Kgs 8), generations later, Hezekiah offers only a brief prayer on behalf of the people, as the priests and Levites offer sacrifices during the reinstatement of the Passover (2 Chr 30:13-27). (p.130)

Still, Hezekiah’s prayer is seen as pivotal, and it is when God hears it that he heals the people (though, of course, it’s unclear what is actually meant by that – were there miraculous physical healings, or were the people spiritually healed?).

The feast of the unleavened bread lasted for seven days. At the end of this time, the people rushed out into all the cities of Judah and broke up the pillars, Asherim, high places, and altars they could find in the territories of Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh, destroying them all before heading home.

Administration

The Passover over, Hezekiah turns his attention to appointing the divisions of the priests and Levites. The priests may have been taking control over the religious side of ancient Israelite life, but it’s clear that there was still a strong interplay between the secular and religious powers.

Hezekiah also provided the priests with regular offerings to make, and commanded the people living in Jerusalem to give the priests the portions they were due, “that they might give themselves to the law of the Lord” (2 Chron. 31:4) – which I interpreted to mean that the people of Jerusalem are to support the Temple so that the priests can focus their energies on God, rather than on subsistence.

It’s interesting that Hezekiah only tells the inhabitants of Jerusalem to give to the priests, whereas elsewhere the rules have been universal.

In any case, the people of Israel give abundantly anyway. So abundantly that special chambers had to be prepared in the Temple to store it all, and the person in charge of these donations was Conaniah the Levite (with his brother, Shimei, as his second-in-command). Conaniah was also assisted by Jehiel, Azaziah, Nahath, Asahel, Jerimoth, Jozabad, Eliel, Ismachiah, Mahath, and Benaiah, who had all been appointed by Hezekiah and the Temple’s chief officer, Azariah.

Kore son of Imnah, a Levite, was keeper of the east gate and was in charge of freewill offerings, as well as apportioning the contribution reserved for God. He was assisted by Eden, Miniamin, Jeshua, Shemaiah, Amariah, and Shecaniah, who distributed the donations out to the priests in their cities, according to their divisions.

2 Chronicles 14-16: The Rise and Fall of King Asa

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Asa gets only a fairly small section in Kings (1 Kgs 15:9-24) in which he does some religious purification, deposes the queen mother, but falls short of clearing out the high places. Despite this one little flaw, he was a true faithful throughout his whole life and brought many treasures to the Temple, then took a fair number right back out again to bribe King Benhadad of Syria into turning against his alliance with Israel. In his old age, however, he was plagued by a disease of the feet.

2 Chronicles 14-16 follows much the same plotline, but much bloated, and includes some interesting differences.

Enter Ethiopia

When Asa took the throne, we learn that he saw peace for ten years, during which he was well regarded by God, largely because of his religious intolerance. He destroyed the foreign altars and high places, broke down the pillars and Asherim, and commanded Judah to seek God and keep the commandments. He also, as it happens, built up Judah’s fortifications, raised an army of 300,000 spearmen from Judah and 280.000 archers from Benjamin, and the land prospered under his rule.

Unique to the Chronicler, we find another battle story bordering on moral tale, like the battle against Israel in 2 Chron. 13. This time, Judah fights Zerah, an Ethiopian. According to my study Bible, no such king is known outside of this passage. However, it seems that there is some evidence (including the mention of camels we will come to shortly) that suggest that Zerah may have been an Arabian king, rather than an Ethiopian one.

Zerah attacks Judah with an army of a million men and 300 chariots, making it as far as Mareshah. He is met there, at the valley of Zephathah, by Asa’s army. Asa cried out to God for help, goading him, making the conflict out to be one of the powers of man against the powers of God (2 Chron. 14:11). Yet this doesn’t seem to bother God, who hands Asa victory.

The Judahites pursue the Ethiopians as far as Gerar, in Philistine story, until there are no Ethiopians left. With the conflict over, the Judahites take to looting – plundering the cities around Gerar before destroying them, and even destroying the tents of the nomadic herders in the area, carrying away sheep, camels, and much booty. The Chronicler tells us that they did this “for the fear of the Lord was upon them” (2 Chron. 14:14), though it seems rather opportunistic. Some commentators try to excuse Asa’s actions by claiming that the Philistines had been working with the Ethiopians, though there doesn’t seem to be anything in the text to suggest this.

Further Cleansing

Asa’s religious persecutions weren’t quite done (or, perhaps, are re-narrated).

Asa encountered a prophet by the name of Azariah, son of Obed, who told him that he would be blessed so long as he doesn’t forsake God. He claims that Israel has been without the true God, without a teaching priest, and without law for a long time, but that God was found when he was sought. There had been no peace, city fought against city, nation against, nation, etc. Asa’s hands must be strong, says Azariah, for his work will be rewarded (2 Chron. 15:7).

The major trouble with this passage is that no one seems to know what it’s supposed to refer to. The obvious answer is that it refers to the reigns of Rehoboam and Abijah, with the conflict Azariah mentions being the civil war between Judah and Israel. However, the Chronicler’s account is rather kind toward Abijah, so it seems unlikely that he would add a prophecy that seems to contradict his own account.

Asa destroying the idols, by François de Nomé

Asa destroying the idols, by François de Nomé

The dominant view seems to be that it’s a reference to the more chaotic time of Judges. But that was around 100 years prior to this prophecy (assuming that the Chronicler discounts Saul, as I’m sure he’d be wont to do), so it’s hard to see the relevance here. Azariah’s speech makes it seem as though Asa is to be a turning point, so it’s hard to see why he would be talking about pre-monarchic times.

In any case, the speech seems to have the desired effect, and Asa persecutes “undesirable” religious expression with renewed vigor. He destroys all the idols in Judah and Benjamin, plus those in the communities of Ephraim that he’d managed to conquer. He was also motivated to repair the altar that was in front of the vestibule of the Temple.

Finally, he deposed the queen mother, Maacah (called his mother here, in 2 Chron. 15:16, but his grandmother, or bears the same name, according to 2 Chron. 11:20 and 1 Kgs 15:2), cutting down and burning her Asherah at the brook of Kidron. This was, by the way, Josiah’s preferred idol disposal location, too, in 2 Kgs 23:4-14. Maacah’s deposition matches 1 Kgs 15:13.

During or after all of this, Asa gathered all his people together in the 3rd month of the 15th year of his reign. They made sacrifices of the spoils they had brought (by context, this would presumably be from the conflict with Zerah, which would have occurred 5 years prior, according to 2 Chron. 14:1). They confirmed the covenant, and decided that anyone who doesn’t seek God should be put to death, no matter who they may be.

Contrary to 2 Chron. 14:2-5, Asa was not able to rid Israel (presumably using the name to refer to Judah, the true Israel, as elsewhere) of all its high places. This is in keeping with 1 Kgs 15:14, where this was seen as great Asa’s only flaw. One possible explanation rests with the word “foreign” in 2 Chron. 14:3. The idea being that Asa was able to rid Judah of the shrines to foreign gods, but not the many local shrines of YHWH. In other words, we may have evidence of the faith’s evolution, and of the Chronicler’s anachronistic judgement.

Despite this one little failing, we are told that Asa was utterly blameless throughout his reign, though this will, as we shall soon see, prove false. He brought many votive gifts to the Temple, and for the 35 years under Asa, there was no more war (excluding the Ethiopians, I’m sure).

The Troublesome Baasha

Despite the claims of 2 Chron. 15:17, things soon change for Asa.

In Asa’s 36th year, King Baasha of Israel launched an attack on Judah. This presents us with a problem, since 1 Kgs 15:33 has Baasha’s reign ending in Asa’s 27th year, and 1 Kgs 16:8 has it ending in Asa’s 26th. This isn’t a contradiction, since it’s easy enough to be off by one when counting years, but it puts Asa’s 36th year right out of the running. James Bradford Pate proposes a few possible fudgings, but I think the most likely explanation is that there’s simply been an error somewhere. 1 Kgs 15 avoids the issue by omitting a date reference.

Baasha built Ramah to box Judah in, laying siege to the whole nation. Asa took silver and gold from the Temple and palace treasuries (despite being noted for putting money in to the Temple treasuries) to bribe King Benhadad of Syria into breaking his alliance with Baasha.

Benhadad is convinced, and he sends his armies against Israel instead of supporting Israel against Judah, conquering Ijon, Dan, Abelmaim, and all the store-cities of Naphtali. Baasha retreats, abandoning Ramah and leaving it open to scavenging from Asa, who took its stones and timber in his own building projects, this time in Geba and Mizpah.

The Chronicler adds a story about Hanani the seer, who approached Asa to condemn him for turning to Syria instead of God. Had God not helped Asa in the battle against the Ethioians (and, apparently, Lybians)? Because of Asa’s poor choice of allies, Judah will henceforth suffer wars.

Asa, blaming the messenger, threw Hanani in prison. According to the text, this was not the only cruelty he inflicted on his people. Such a rapid turnabout seems unlikely. It seems, rather, that the Chronicler didn’t care much about Asa’s cruelties so long as he trusted in God to manage his military affairs.

Conclusion

For the rest of Asa’s story, we are directed to the non-extant Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel.

In the 39th year of his reign, Asa suffered from a disease in his feet. This corresponds to 1 Kgs 15:23, though in the Chronicler’s version, Asa sinned in this, too, by seeking out physicians rather than turning to God. I’m sure this passage gets its use in arguments in favour of faith healing which, I think, I needn’t say is rather troubling, even if consulting a physician at the time might well have been the worse idea (what with the state of ancient medicine).

Finally, Asa died in his 41st year, and was buried in a tomb he had hewn out for himself in the city of David. He was laid out on a bier that had been spiced and performed, and they lit a great fire in his honour. I found the amount of detail on the funerary arrangements rather interesting, given that they are so infrequent.

I see no explanation for the Chronicler’s contradiction of the 1 Kgs 15 account of Asa’s life (as well as 2 Chron. 15:17). I don’t understand why the Chronicler chose to save Abijah/Abijam’s reputation in 2 Chron. 13, and to tarnish Asa’s reputation here.

2 Chronicles 2-4: Arts & Crafts

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In these chapters, after so much build up, we finally get to see the building of the Temple. Maybe it would have made a better climax for an audience that fluently knew terms like “cubit” and “talent,” but as a modern reader, it’s a slog. Generally speaking, if your climax is a slog, you’re doing something wrong.

Oh, I’m sure that the Chronicler achieved his goals of making the Temple’s wealth seem rather impressive and presenting a sort of blueprint for the construction of Temple 2.0, but the narrative impact is sorely lacking.

With The Aid of Tyre

As in 1 Kings 5, Solomon enlists the help of Tyre. The basic story in both chapters is that Solomon asks King Huram of Tyre (who appears as King Hiram in the Samuel-Kings accounts) to provide wood in exchange for food offerings and labourers to do the actual felling. King Hiram agrees, the two kings butter each other up a bit, and everyone is happy. Of course, the differences are in the details.

In 2 Chron. 2:1, we are told that “Solomon purposed to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.” I found that the sentence felt rather out of place with what we’ve seen so far from the Chronicler. Up until this point, the build up has been very focused on the construction of the Temple; to mention a royal palace in the same breath almost suggests and equivalence that doesn’t fit.

The second issue is with the phrase “Solomon purposed,” as if there were no plans for a Temple up until Solomon decided that a Temple would be a lovely use for that empty mount. Until this verse, it has been David who purposed the building of a Temple, driving Solomon toward that goal. This shift to Solomon’s purposes feels rather too abrupt.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chronicler had copied this verse from another source. If he did, though, it doesn’t seem to have been 1 Kgs 5:1-6, where Solomon “purposed” to build a Temple (1 Kgs 5:5), but not a palace. He does, of course, also build himself a palace, which is described in 1 Kgs 7:1-12 (though, ironically, absent from the 2 Chron. account), but no mention of it is made during his interactions with Tyre.

It’s possible that the Chronicler had a reason to add the palace to Solomon’s To Do list at this point. After all, David already got wood for the Temple’s construction from Tyre in 1 Chron. 22:2-5. The easiest way for the Chronicler to fudge this is to add a reference to a personal palace, thus increasing the wood needed from the amount that David had anticipated.

It was a perfect plan, but if that’s the case, the Chronicler wasn’t quite as attentive to detail as he should have been. When Solomon initiates contact with King Huram, he cites David’s order of wood for the construction of his palace (2 Chron. 2:3, which is narrated in 2 Sam. 5:11), not for the Temple (which would put it in line with 1 Chron. 22:2-5). Someone fire that scribe!

We see a minor difference in the payment the two kings agree upon. Here, Solomon offers wheat, barley, wine, and oil, whereas 1 Kgs 5:11 mentions only the wheat and oil.

The interaction is peppered with performed humility and praises of God – interestingly, these latter come from Huram as well. This isn’t necessarily a problem since, as the New Bible Commentary says: “In a polytheistic society politeness to a neighbour’s god cost[sic] nothing” (p.384). The Chronicler adds a bit to this fawning, but the tone remains the same.

James Bradford Pate offers the possibility that some of the changes between our two accounts could be to implicitly put Solomon above Huram. One way of doing this is to give Huram more to say about God’s greatness. Another comes at the very beginning: In 1 Kgs 5:1, it is Hiram who initiates contact (a fairly standard check-in to make sure that an alliance remains despite a new brow under the crown), whereas it is Solomon to initiates the interaction in 2 Chron. 2 – almost implying that he commanded Huram’s service as one might a vassal.

A final difference between our two accounts is that, in his reply, Huram specifies that he will send the resources by raft to Joppa, from where Solomon can bring them to Jerusalem. The reference to Joppa is left out of the 1 Kgs 5 version.

Skilled and Unskilled Labour

In the 2 Chron. 2 account, Solomon asks King Huram to send him a skilled craftsman, someone who can work with gold, silver, bronze, and iron, as well as fabrics (specifically purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, though I’m not sure why the colour matters). As I’ve done a fair bit of work in IT, this sort of job ad looks pretty familiar in its impossibility. Could a single person really be a master in all of these crafts? For only $25,000 a year with benefits?

Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470

Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470

Despite the absurdity of the requirements, King Huram knows just the man: Huram-abi. Not only that, but he’s part Israelite, too, as his mother is from the tribe of Dan (though she is from Naphtali in 1 Kgs 7:13-14). Another difference between the two accounts is that, in 2 Chron. 2, Solomon asks King Huram to send someone, whereas in 1 Kgs 7:13-14, Solomon is said to have invited Hiram (as he is there called) directly (which is not necessarily a contraction, as the invitation could mean a request for an unspecified individual who happened to be Hiram).

The bigger difference, though, is in the requirements themselves. In 1 Kgs 7:13-14, Hiram is only a master of bronze, not of all that other stuff. This meshes with the Chronicler’s own account later on, in the list of all the things Huram-abi built for the Temple found in 2 Chron. 4:11-18: They are all bronze!

So why did Solomon request all those other skills, and why was Huram’s parentage switched over to Dan? Probably because it connects him to Bezalel and Oholiab, the craftsmen Moses puts in charge of building the tabernacle. Bezalel’s skills in metalworking (omitting iron) are listed in the same order as Huram-abi’s in Ex. 31:3-5 and Ex. 35:31-33. As for Huram-abi’s competency with fabrics, these mirror Bezalel and Oholiab’s from Ex. 35:35, write down to the colours (and so we know why Huram-abi’s competency in working with certain colours was brought up!). Finally, Oholiab is from the tribe of Dan (Ex. 31:6, Ex. 35:34), so switching Huram-abi’s parentage makes more sense.

I’ve noted before that the Chronicler seems to be trying quite hard to tie the constructions of the Temple to Moses’s constructions in Exodus, and this seems to be yet more evidence of that. As Brant Clements points out, it could be that this mirroring is intended to legitimate the Temple as a central place of worship, an acceptable replacement for the tabernacle.

As for Solomon outsourcing the skilled work, my New Bible Commentary puts it rather bluntly: “Archaeology has fully borne out Israel’s backwardness in the arts at this time” (p.384). Ouch.

As important as skilled labour might be, so is the unskilled. For this, Solomon turns again to foreigners. Specifically, he finds himself 153,600 “aliens” hanging about Israel, and assigns 70,000 to bear burdens, 80,000 to quarry in the hills, and 3,600 to oversee the rest. The figure appears in the same in 2 Chron. 2:2 and 2 Chron. 2:17-18, though there are only 3,300 overseers in 1 Kgs 5:15-16. A more important is that neither 2 Chron. 2:2 nor 1 Kgs 5:13-18 mentions that these workers were sojourners or foreigners (in fact, 1 Kgs 5:13 describes them as “a levy of forced labor out of all Israel”, strongly implying that they were native Israelites). It’s only in 2 Chron. 2:17-18 that they are cast as outsiders.

James Bradford Pate notes also that the Chronicler omits the details from 1 Kgs 5:13-18, and specifically its mention of Solomon employing Israelite workers. Pate lists a few possibilities for this, including:

  • The author of Kings seems to be critical of Solomon for enslaving the Israelites, and the Chronicler generally tends to avoid unfavourable details;
  • The Chronicler may be trying to emphasize the idea that Israel is dominant over foreign peoples (with the added irony that these foreigners, who had fought against God’s people, are now being forced to build his Temple).

Construction Begins

2 Chron. 3 opens with construction beginning on Mount Moriah, where God had appeared to David at Ornan’s threshing floor. This appearance belongs to the Chronicler, narrated in 1 Chron. 21:16, but missing from 2 Sam. 24:16.

The mention here that the threshing floor was located on Mount Moriah is utterly new. Nowhere else is the Temple mound given such a name. In fact, the only other place in which the name “Moriah” appears is in Gen. 22:2, where it is the area in which the mountain where Abraham tries to sacrifice Isaac is located (not even the name of the mountain itself).

I posted a little while ago about a theory that Hebron had once been the most important Hebrew holy site, but the area was difficult to defend. So as the government changed and the need arose for an easily defensible location, propaganda began to elevate Jerusalem as the most important holy site. I mentioned the theory at the time because I like it, it has a ring of truthiness that I find appealing. But it seems odd that such a grand attempt to shift the cultural/cultic focus should only survive in this one small passage (and not even anywhere else in the Chronicler’s own account, despite being directly relevant in 1 Chron. 21).

As in 1 Kgs 6:1, though phrased quite differently, construction began in the second month of the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Following the “narrative” of Kings, dimensions and materials are given in excruciating detail. For the sake of my sanity, I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that the description keeps pretty well to 1 Kgs 6 and the description of the pillars found in 1 Kgs 7:15-17. The differences I was able to dredge up are:

  • The vestibule’s height is given as 120 cubits in 2 Chron. 3:4, yet the total height of the Temple is only 30 cubits in 1 Kgs 6:2;
  • Without figures, 1 Kgs 6 does mention quite a bit of gold, but I’m given to understand that the 600 talents of gold mentioned in 2 Chron. 3:8 is unrealistically high. That said, 1 Chron. 22:14 has David setting aside 100,000 talents of gold and Israel’s elite contribute an additional 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics in 1 Chron. 29:7, so I’m not sure why the commentaries are so over-awed by the 600 talent figure;
  • 1 Kgs 6:31 describes the doors of the inner sanctuary, which are absent from Chronicles. Instead, 2 Chron. 3:14 has a veil in their place (which is absent from the Kings account). The most likely explanation is that we’re seeing an evolving tradition (it’s worth noting that it is the veil that wins out, as we see it being used in Matthew 27:51);
  • The bronze pillars, Jachin and Boaz, are 18 cubits high in 1 Kgs 7:15, but only 35 cubits tall in 2 Chron. 3:15.

The Equipment

The next chapter presents us with the Temple’s furnishings, and is every bit as boring as you might imagine. It mostly corresponds to 1 Kgs 7:23-51, though with a few minor differences, of course.

The most interesting difference is that the Chronicles account includes a bronze altar, which is not mentioned in 1 Kgs 7, nor even in the summary of stuff later on in 2 Chron. 4. We do see it mentioned as an existing Temple feature in 1 Kgs 8:64 and 2 Kgs 16:14, but with no mention of its provenance.

There is a bronze altar built in Exodus 27:1-5, though it seems strange to give Solomon credit for its construction (unless the Chronicler is trying to mirror Moses again by having Solomon also build a bronze altar? That seems a stretch, though).

Another possibility is that the Chronicler knew of a bronze altar, and accidentally gave the credit of its construction both to Solomon (here) and to David (1 Chron. 21:18, which was lifted from 2 Sam. 24:18-19).

We find a few minor discrepancies, as well. For example, 2 Chron. 4:5 has Solomon building 3,000 baths, whereas he builds only 2,000 in 1 Kgs 7:26.

As a point of interest, Steve Wells uses the measurements given for the molten sea to calculate that the Biblical value of pi is only 3.

1 Chronicles 26-27: More Officials

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I mentioned in my last post that, while 1 Chron. 26 deals with more Temple-related positions, I was going to lump it in with the civic positions of 1 Chron. 27 for the sake of I-wanted-to-go-to-bed.

It’s a good thing, too, because there are parts of 1 Chron. 26 that gave me some trouble. I suspect that there’s been some textual garbling, or perhaps I’m just overtired (I write – though it won’t be posted for a month – as my son begins kindergarten, and adjusting to the new routine is taking its toll on everyone!).

In any case, on with post!

The Gatekeepers

We begin with the gatekeepers, whose gates will not be built for quite a while. Even if we accept that David did all of the planning work for the Temple, assembled all the materials, and then assigned the gatekeepers just before his death, 1 Kgs 9:10 tells us that the Temple still won’t be built until 20 years into Solomon’s reign. Given that we’ve already been told that David hasn’t bothered to count anyone under the age 20, the very youngest of the men he selects will be around 40 years old by the time any gates are around for them to keep. There’s a pretty good chance that many of these men will die before they ever see the job they’ve been assigned.

The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot

The chiefs of the army, by James Tissot

The only way to get around this is if we assume that David lived on for nearly two decades after he ceded his crown to Solomon. In which case, these assignments may have been given on his deathbed, perhaps as the Temple neared completion. Or perhaps the Chronicler is merely attributing to David what his sources (or the sources of his sources) had attributed to Solomon because he had a personal/theological/political reason to connect David directly to the origins of these positions. I’ll let Occam decide.

The leadership of the gatekeepers is held by a handful of families:

From among the Korahites, we get Meshelemiah son of Kore, who is descended from Asaph. He is joined by his sons: Zechariah (who upgraded from guarding the tent of meeting in 1 Chron. 9:21), Jediael, Zebadiah, Jathniel, Elam, Jehohanan, and Eliehoenai. Altogether, there are 18 members of his group.

In Obededom’s family, we get his sons: Shemaiah, Jehozabad, Joah, Sachar, Nethanel, Ammiel, Issachar, and Peullethai. Shemaiah’s sons, who were men of “great ability” (1 Chron. 26:6) were: Othni, Rephael, Obed, Elzabad, Elihi, and Semachiah. Altogether, there were 62 men in this from descended from Obededom (though he is described as being in a group of 68 in 1 Chron. 16:37-38 – albeit as ministers of the ark).

From Merari, we  have Hosah and his sons: Shimri (who becomes the leader of his household by his father’s decree, even though he wasn’t the firstborn), Hilkiah, Tebaliah, and Zechariah. Altogether, the sons and brethren of Hosah produce 13 members for the group.

There are a few familiar names here, such as Asaph and Obededom – both of whom are musicians. It seems that maybe the duties of gatekeeper and of musician were related in some way.

And speaking of Obededom, that name is definitely familiar. If this is the same person, we saw David entrusting the ark into his care for three months (1 Chron. 13:13-14), he – along with Jeiel – is listed as both a gatekeeper and a singer in 1 Chron. 15:18-21, then again as a musician (1 Chron. 16:5), and as a both musician and gatekeeper (1 Chron. 16:37-38). Clearly, the man was involved.

As with the other Temple staff, the gatekeepers are divided into groups. This time, however, each group is responsible for a different gate, rather than a different time of year:

  • The east gate group is led by Shelemiah, with 6 people working each day;
  • The north gate group is led by Shelemiah’s son, Zechariah (described as a “shrewd counsellor” in 1 Chron. 26:14), with 4 people working each day;
  • The south gate group is led by Obededom, with 4 people working each day;
  • The storehouse group is led by the sons of Obededom (all of them? do they rotate?), with 2 and 2 (presumably there were two doors) people working each day;
  • The west gate group is led by Shuppim and Hosah, with 4 people at the road each day, and 2 at the “parbar” (the meaning of which is apparently unknown).

This all presents us with two problems. The first is the math. If we look at each place where it mentions the number of gatekeepers, none of our numbers add up:

  • 93 is the total of members mentioned in each group above (1 Chron. 26:1-11);
  • 24 is the total of the people said to work each day at each gate;
  • 212 is the number of gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 9:22;
  • 4,000 is the number of Levites that David assigns as gatekeepers in 1 Chron. 23:5.

The closest I can rationalize is that the 24 is the number working each day, but each group actually has a four day rotation. This gives us a total of 96 members, which would be our 93 figure plus Meshelemiah, Obededom, and Hosah. We can further assume that these are leaders, specifically, and that they have around 4,000 men at their command. That still leaves out the 212 figure, but I’m afraid I’m at a loss for that one.

The second problem we have is that the gates haven’t been built yet. So how do we know that one of the gates is named Shallecheth (1 Chron. 26:16)? How can David (via the Chronicler) describe one of the gates as the one with the road? Just how detailed are David’s plans?

If we assume that the Chronicler is assigning to David the job of assigning these roles for some personal/political/theological purpose, where do the names actually come from? Are these the first gatekeepers assigned once the Temple was built? It’s all very confusing.

The Treasurers

The second half of 1 Chron. 26 is given to the treasurers. This portion is a little garbled, but the best I can figure it is this: Ahijah, a Levite, oversaw all the treasuries. Under him, we have the Temple treasuries (in the charge of Jehieli, Zetham, and Joel) and the treasuries of dedicated gifts (in the charge of Shelomoth).

While Jehieli is here described as the father of Zetham and Joel (1 Chron. 26:22), the three of them are brothers (sons of Ladan the Gershonite) in 1 Chron. 23:8.

There’s also something in there about someone named Shebuel, another Gershonite, who was in charge of the Amramites, Izharites, Hebronites, and Uzzielites, who all looked over the treasuries.

Shelomoth, who is in charge of the treasuries of dedicated gifts, is the son of Zichri, son of Joram, son of Jeshaiah, son of Rehabiah, son of Eliezer. These dedicated gifts would be the things that David and the other prominent leaders of Israel had dedicated, plus any spoils of battle, plus the things that Samuel, Saul, Abner son of Ner, and Joab son of Zeruiah had dedicated. (Though Samuel, Saul, Abner, and likely Joab all died long before the Temple was built, it’s quite possible that they would have dedicated stuff to the ark/tabernacle, and that these were transferred over to the Temple holdings once there was a Temple to transfer to.)

Other Officials

Chenaniah and his sons (of the Izharites) are appointed throughout Israel as officers and judges.

There are also a number of men who are appointed for vaguer duties, simply for “all the work of the Lord and for the service of the king” (1 Chron. 26:30), whatever that means. In the CisJordan, this falls to 1700 Hebronites, led by Hashabiah. In the TransJordan, there are 2700 men under the direction of Jerijah (the chief of the Hebronites).

Commanders

This category is a little fuzzier. It seems that these men are in charge of the army (though I see some commenters claiming that they were in charge of David’s bodyguard only, which makes the number terribly absurd). They are divided into 12 divisions, each serving for one month out of the year. This is the same system we saw for the priests in 1 Chron. 24:7-19, albeit serving for twice the length of time. A rotation system like this would allow the individuals to fulfil their civic duties, while still leaving them the time to look after their personal households.

The divisions are led by:

  1. Jashobeam son of Zabdiel (he is descended from Perez) – There is a Jashobeam, albeit the son of Hachmoni, who served as the chief of David’s Three (1 Chron. 11:11);
  2. Dodai the Ahohite – There is no Dodai among David’s mighty men, but there is an Eleazar, who is the son of Dodo the Ahohite in 1 Chron. 11:12;
  3. Benaiah son of Jehoiada (the priest) – He was one of David’s Thirty, and in charge of David’s bodyguard (1 Chron. 11:22-25). While he features a fair bit in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, this is the first time it’s mentioned that his father was a priest. Referring to the story in 1 Kings 2 where Joab tries to hide from Solomon by clinging to the horns of the altar, James Bradford Pate wonders if “Solomon assign[ed] this task [to kill Joab] specifically to Benaiah because Benaiah was the son of priest and thus had a right to enter the sanctuary?”;
  4. Asahel, Joab’s brother, and his son Zebadiah after him – This fudges up our timeline a bit, since the text heavily implies that these divisions are set up in David’s old age, after he ceded his crown to Solomon (1 Chron. 23:1-2), but Asahel died in 2 Sam. 3, when David still ruled from Hebron (he wouldn’t become king of Israel until 2 Sam. 5). So when was Asahel able to run the fourth month?’
  5. Shamhuth the Izrahite (there is no match for Shamhuth, unless he is Shammoth of Harod, described as one of the “warriors of the armies” in 1 Chron. 11:26-47);
  6. Ira son of Ikkesh the Tekoite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  7. Helez the Pelonite, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  8. Sibbecai the Hushathite, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  9. Abiezer of Anathoth, a Benjaminite (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  10. Maharai of Netophah, of the Zerahites (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  11. Benaiah of Pirathon, of the sons of Ephraim (another of the “warriors of the armies”);
  12. Heldai the Netophathite, of Othniel (the closest match is Heled son of Baanah of Netophah, who is one of the “warriors of the armies”).

The Tribal Chiefs

We turn now to what appears to be the results of David’s ill-fated census from 1 Chron. 21, the leaders of each tribe:

  1. Reuben: Eliezer son of Zichri;
  2. Simeon: Shephatiah son of Maacah;
  3. Levi: Hashabiah son of Kemuel;
  4. Aaron: Zadok;
  5. Judah: Elihu, described as one of David’s brothers (possibly Eliab from 1 Sam. 16:6 and 1 Chron. 2:13);
  6. Issachar: Omri son of Michael;
  7. Zebulun: Ishmaiah son of Obadiah;
  8. Nephtali: Jeremoth son of Azriel;
  9. Ephraim: Hoshea son of Azaziah;
  10. CisJordan half of Manasseh: Joel son of Pedaiah;
  11. TransJordan half of Manasseh: Iddo son of Zechariah;
  12. Benjamin: Jaasiel son of Abner;
  13. Dan: Azarel son of Jeroham.

There are a few interesting things going on here. The first, of course, is that both Gad and Asher are omitted. The second is that Aaron is listed as a separate tribe. I won’t even try to unpack that, but Paul Davidson does discuss the evolution of the tribes and how they are presented on his blog, Is that in the Bible?

We are reminded that David hadn’t bothered to count up the number of people under the age 20. We are also told that Joab had started counting, but didn’t finish (a reference to 1 Chron. 21:5-6, in which Joab chose not to count Levi and Benjamin in defiance of David). Even so, the counting still earned God’s wrath, and so it was never entered in the chronicles of King David. Except, of course, that numbers are given in both 1 Chron. 21:5-6 and 2 Sam. 24:9 (albeit wildly different numbers).

David’s Stewards

To finish up, we get the “miscellaneous other” category of civil positions:

  • Charge of the king’s treasuries: Azmaveth son of Adiel;
  • Charge of the national treasuries: Jonathan son of Uzzian;
  • Command over the field workers: Ezri son of Chelub;
  • Charge of the vineyards: Shimei the Rathmathite;
  • Charge of the wine cellars and the produce from the vineyards: Zabdi the Shiphmite;
  • Charge of the sycamore and olive trees in the Shephelah: Baalhanan the Gederite;
  • Charge of the stores of oil: Joash;
  • Charge of the herds that pasture in Sharon: Shitrai the Sharonite;
  • Charge of the herds in the valleys: Shaphat son of Adlei;
  • Charge of the camels: Obil the Ishmaelite;
  • Charge of the female donkeys: Jehdeiah the Meronothite (the male donkeys are, it seems, allowed to just run wild!);
  • Charge of the flocks: Jaziz the Higrite.

David’s sons are tutored by Jonathan, David’s uncle (who is described as a counsellor, a man of understanding, and a scribe), and Jehiel son of Hachmoni.

At first, the king’s counsellor is Ahithophel. He was then succeeded by Jehoiada son of Benaiah, and Abiathar. Elsewhere, the warrior Benaiah is described as the son of Jehoiada. It’s possible that this is the same Benaiah, and that he gave his son the same name as his father.

Joab, of course, commanded David’s army.

Finally, there’s Hushai the Archite, who is described as the “king’s friend” (1 Chron. 27:33), which has to be the saddest job title. Curious, I poked around to see what this is all about. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Hushai the King’s Friend. He appeared in 2 Sam. 15:32-37, described in the same terms. There, David sends him back into Jerusalem to spy on Absalom after he’s been forced into hiding, which he does in 2 Sam. 16:15-19. In 2 Sam. 17, Hushai is able to use his position at Absalom’s side to convince him not to hunt David down right away (giving Hushai time to warn David to flee).

As for the phrase itself, it’s clearly a title. In the roster of Solomon’s cabinet 1 Kgs 4:1-6, we find Zabud son of Nathan serving as Solomon’s king’s friend. But where did the title come from, and what did the position entail?

I’m finding several throwaway references to the title being Egyptian in origin, imported. But other sources claim that the Egyptian title refers to what is essentially a courtier class, a way of designating a group of people as those closest to the king, rather than a position that would, presumably, come with its own set of responsibilities. Obviously, I lack the expertise in all relevant fields to say which side has the right in this.

But I did find a hint that the title might possibly be Canaanite in origin. In Genesis 26:26, King Abimelech of Gerar comes to negotiate with Isaac. He is accompanied by two men: His advisor Ahuzath, and his army commander Phicol. Some translations, such as the KJV, give Ahuzath as Abimelech’s friend, rather than his advisor.

Of course, none of the commentaries I could lay my hands on gave any explanation of the different translation choices. Because why would they do something so helpful? In desperation, I thought to check a translation of the Septuagint, just to see what it says. Sure enough, Abimelech shows up to the meeting with Phichol, and with “Ochozath his friend”.

So my conclusion is that “King’s Friend” was definitely an official position, with its own responsibilities (possibly similar to that of advisor or confidant), and I’m tentatively assuming that it’s a Canaanite custom rather than an Egyptian one.

1 Chronicles 21: The Plague That Founded A Temple

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1 Chronicles 21 closely parallels the story of David’s ill-fated census in 2 Samuel 24. It’s worth taking a moment to wonder why this story was included at all, given that the Chronicler has tended to omit the other stories of David’s sins.

The most obvious answer is given to us at the end of the story (which, thanks to some sloppy chapter breaks, appears in 1 Chron. 22:1): It tells us how the threshing floor of Ornan/Araunah the Jebusite, on which the Temple would one day be built, was acquired. Given the premium that the Chronicler puts on the building of the Temple, this story may have just been too big a deal to leave out.

There might also have been a mitigating factor that made the story less unpalatable to the Chronicler. Unlike the other tales of David’s sins, David is not his own master here. Rather, 2 Sam. 24 has God inciting him. So while it is acknowledged – by David himself in 2 Sam. 24:17 – as David’s error, it’s possible that the Chronicler may have been able to fudge over his misgivings for this story in a way that he wasn’t for, say, the rape of Bathsheba or the taking of Abigail (or the deaths of their husbands).

Enter Satan

In 2 Sam. 24, the story begins with God characteristically angry at Israel. No particular reason is given for this anger. Maybe it was just a day ending in “Y”. This goes a bit beyond the overreactions we’ve seen so far, though, because God seems to understand that he doesn’t have a good reason to be mad at Israel here. He’s itching to punish them, but they’ve disappointed by failing to provide him with an excuse.

So he’s got to make them give him an excuse.

The text tells us that he incites David, causing David to sin by taking a census. This then provides God with the excuse he’s been longing for.

Here, right from our very first verse, we see a change. Rather than God inciting David because he’s having a bad eon and needs a puppy to kick around, we have Satan rising up against Israel and nudging David.

This is our first glimpse of Satan. We’ve seen the word before, though. In Numbers 22, the angel who stands in Balaam’s way is described as his adversary, his satan. But this is the first time we see capital-s Satan, a discrete individual rather than adjective.

The easiest explanation for the change is that the Chronicler was (rightfully) uncomfortable with what 2 Sam. 24 implies about God’s character. This would reflect, as J.R. Porter puts it in The New Illustrated Companion to the Bible, “the view of postexilic Judaism that God is the only source of goodness, and that the source of evil must therefore be sought elsewhere” (p.122). This would be in contrast with the Deuteronomic view that God is the ultimate source and controller of all things, good and evil. (For more on this, Paul Davidson has a great post up about the evolution of Satan (and God) on his blog.)

But this feels like a very modern view of Satan to me, and I’m not sure that the thinking around the figure had solidified to quite that extent by the Chronicler’s time. Mike Heiser, of Naked Bible, points to the possibility that there may not actually be that much of a contradiction between our two accounts. Rather than seeing this as our first instance of Satan(noun), we could just see the same God of 2 Sam. 24 referred to as satan(adjective). That would make this passage a stepping stone in the development of Satan as an independent character, one in which God’s aspects have begun to take on different designations (one of which will, eventually, be turned from title into proper noun).

As a bit of an aside, I’m finding “satan” translated both as “adversary” and as “accuser.” This has struck me because the two words have very different implications. An adversary works against our interests, and so the Adversary who incites David seems to be orchestrating his fall. By contrast, an accuser may simply be holding us accountable, so the Accuser who incites David may be attempting something more like a cleansing through fire, with the end goal of purifying and bettering David and his kingdom (we’re talking theology here, so we can bypass the ethical questions this would raise).

Why a census?

But whomever incites David, the story has the feel of a post hoc rationalization. This may be assuming too much historicity, but it feels as though a plague happened to come some amount of time after David conducted a census, and the two events were then connected causally in people’s minds.

So if we assume that there was a David and that he conducted a census, we might wonder why?

The most obvious answer is, of course, money. David may have just been working on next year’s budget and wanted to know how much tax revenue he could expect (or realistically demand). The second most obvious answer, supported by explicit connection between the men counted and their ability to wield swords (not to mention the fact that the taking of the census is given over to the military leadership), is that it had to do with knowing how large a military David might be able to muster.

James Bradford Pate points to the Jewish commentator, Malbim, for some possible specifics: “because many Israelites had followed David’s son Absalom rather than David when Absalom was revolting, David was doubtful that he could rely on getting volunteers for his military, and thus he resorted to the draft.”

Collecting the Numbers

David puts Joab in charge of conducting the census. In both versions of the story, Joab protests, asking David why he should want to do such a thing? In 1 Chron. 21, Joab correctly argues that conducting a census would bring guilt down on Israel.

This is a pretty big departure from the Joab we know and rather strongly dislike. The Joab we saw in 1-2 Samuel was, if not a baddie, at least a sycophantic, amoral murderer. To have him be the mouthpiece of warning against the census is completely out of character.

It’s like that Joab’s protests against the census in 2 Sam. 24:3 simply made him an easy character – already involved in the story, already voicing discontent – for the Chronicler to use. It would certainly have meant less revision than, for example, bringing Gad the seer in early.

But the Chronicler goes beyond simply tacking an extra phrase to Joab’s dialogue. In this version, when Joab returns with the census numbers, he omits Levi and Benjamin from the count so that David never has accurate numbers to begin with. He does this because David’s “command was abhorrent to Joab” (1 Chron. 21:6).

So why make Joab the voice of God here? Why make him the goodie of the story?

The possibility remains that Joab was merely convenient, and perhaps the Chronicler sought to lessen David’s sin by never giving him the information he had sought in the first place (or, perhaps, spare the reader from the sin of knowing it by indicating that the number is incorrect).

Or perhaps the Chronicler is picking up more on the sycophantic rather than the amoral aspect of Joab’s personality. If David is an archetypal king, than Joab’s steadfast loyalty (steadfast to the point of murder) might be seen as a good thing. And if the census is sinful and will backfire on David, then it makes sense for his loyal servant to warn him against it. So perhaps we shouldn’t see Joab as taking God’s side in this chapter, but rather taking the side of David’s best interests.

In 2 Sam. 24:5-8, we get a description of the commanders’ journey through the nation as they count the people. The Chronicler, however, cuts all of that out.

The numbers are quite different as well. In 1 Chron. 21, Joab reports that there are 1,100,000 men who draw swords in Israel, and 470,000 in Judah. Compared to 800,000 men in Israel and 500,000 men in Judah listed in 2 Sam. 24:9.

Punishment

The punishment portion of the story begins with an introduction: “God was displeased with this thing, and he smote Israel” (1 Chron. 21:7). This is followed by David repenting. Depending on our reading, this could be implying that that David repents because of God’s smiting. It seems fairly obvious, however, that the verse about God smiting Israel is an introduction to the story that is to come, and is not meant to have occurred prior to David’s repentance. (The issue is new to Chronicles, since verse 1 Chron. 21:7 does not appear in the 2 Sam. account.)

In any case, David does repent, and God (via Gad, David’s seer), gives David a choice of punishments:

  1. Three years of famine (the Hebrew version of 2 Sam. 24:13 says seven years, but three clearly has better flow);
  2. Three months of devastation from David’s enemies;
  3. Three days of plague.

David declares that he chooses to put himself in the hands of God rather than the hands of men, and everyone claps themselves on the back as though that were a clear answer. Except, of course, that David’s response only excludes the second choice, not the famine or the plague. Yet it is assumed that he meant to choose the plague, and we carry on.

The pestilence comes, and 70,000 men die.

David praying, by Maître François, c.1475-80

David praying, by Maître François, c.1475-80

Next, we have a slightly more troubling chronological blip. First, the text implies that God stops his angel of pestilence at Ornan’s threshing floor, and David builds an altar there as a commemoration (and, I would assume, a thanksgiving for the ending of the plague). However, the text then implies that David builds the altar for the purpose of stopping the plague. Unlike our first blip, this one occurs in 2 Samuel as well (2 Sam. 24:21). As we look at this section, I will assume the latter reading, that the building of the altar occurred first, and that it is this that caused God to repent and stop his angel.

This means that we skip over 1 Chron. 21:15, where God stops the angel just in time. Instead, we find David looking up to find the angel standing “between earth and heaven” (1 Chron. 21:16), his drawn sword stretching out over Jerusalem. This imagery is new. The version in 2 Sam. 24:16 is more concise, having only the angel (unseen by David) stretching his hand over Jerusalem.

Seeing the angel ready to destroy Jerusalem, David and the elders cloth themselves in sackcloth and fall on their faces. Then David cries out to God, asking why he should kill so many innocent people when it was he, David, who had sinned? This is, of course, an excellent question, and one that never receives an answer. Unless the answer is God’s decision to end the plague, except that he’d already said he would end it after three days, and now I think I’ve just paradoxed myself.

One must wonder if this David – who sees the blatant immorality of slaughtering citizens for the sins of their king (though not, as it happens, of slaughtering that king’s family) – regrets his earlier trust in God’s mercy (1 Chron. 21:13).

Via a game of telephone involving an angel and Gad (David’s seer), God tells David to put up an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (called Araunah in 2 Sam. 24:16).

Settling Matters

The narrative then goes to the threshing floor, where Ornan is at work. He looks up from his threshing and sees the angel – presumably with its sword still pointed toward Jerusalem. At the sight, his four sons (who are absent from 2 Sam. 24) hide themselves.

David arrives, and Ornan does his obeisances. What follows reads like a taarof farce: David offers to pay full price for the threshing floor so that the plague can be averted, Ornan insists that he give the field (along with the oxen, wood, and wheat for offerings) as a donation, but David counter-refuses and insists on paying for the full price.

David will not, he says, take “for the Lord” (1 Chron. 21:24) what belongs to someone else. This statement is far more ironic when it appears in 2 Sam. 24:24, where it is surrounded by stories in which David seems to have no problem at all taking things that belong to other people for himself (and even killing them to do so).

In the end, the two agree that David will pay 600 shekels of gold – quite an inflation of the 40 shekels of silver he paid in 2 Sam. 24:24. In 2 Samuel, the implication seems to be that the amount is a compromise between Araunah’s desire to give the land (and oxen) for free, and David’s desire to pay for it. Here, on the other hand, the Chronicler seems to be uncomfortable with David cheaping out on the site where the Temple will one day be built.

As an alternative explanation, my New Bible Commentary proposes that the figure in 2 Samuel was the price for the threshing floor alone, whereas the number here is for the whole site (p.380).

Which is all well and good, but what I’m wondering is if this sale is exempt from the Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-13)?

When David builds and consecrates the new altar with a sacrifice, God “answered him with fire from heaven upon the alter of burnt offering” (1 Chron. 21:26). As with many of the fancy poetic imagery in this chapter, the miracle portion of the sacrifice does not appear in 2 Sam. 24:25.

And while 2 Sam. 24:25 merely tells us that, after the altar is built, the plague was averted, the Chronicler describes the angel re-sheathing its sword.

And while the 2 Samuel version ends there, the Chronicler fills in some more detail. It seems that David started doing his sacrificing at this site because Moses’s tabernacle (and its altar) were still at Gibeon. This made it unreachable for David because “he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord” (1 Chron. 21:30). This raises more questions than it answers, but the intention seems to be that there is now a single place where sacrifices may happen. That place, as we will learn in 1 Chron. 22:1 (really part of this story, but cut off by a sloppy numberer), is the site where the Temple will later be built.

The connection between Araunah’s threshing floor and the Temple is never mentioned in 2 Samuel. This could be because it was information that wasn’t available to the original author of this story (if, for example, the first version was written prior to the Temple’s construction). It could also be that the author of 2 Samuel assumed that this would be common knowledge among his readers, and thus didn’t require repeating. For the Chronicler, the building of the Temple is a pretty major event, and this story is presented because of its connection. As an added incentive, the connection adds a nice conclusion to the story. David asked for his sin to be expiated, cleansed through punishment. So after his kingdom suffered the plague, they receive the (promise of a) gift – a central Temple. It’s like an image of a flower blossoming in a landscape that has recently been ravaged by fire. It has a resonance to it.

What’s wrong with a census, anyway?

One of the big questions raised by this chapter is, what can possibly be so terrible about counting a few people?

James Bradford Pate quotes an author who looks to Exodus 30:12-13, where those who are counted in a census must pay a tribute in order to avoid a retributive plague. Clearly, the connection was established in the superstitions of Israel.

In the same post, he mentions that it could have to do with superstitions surround people’s names, and/or with the jeopardy inherent in a census taken for draft purposes (since an individual recorded may become an individual called, and perhaps then an individual killed on the battlefield).

I considered it more from the leadership’s perspective, where a census may be considered a form of “jinxing.” To count the people just seems to tempt fate to send a plague and lower the number.

Another possibility is that the sin is one of pride. The 2 Chron. account makes it seem like David wants to count his people in the same way that Scrooge McDuck likes to count his coins. Or perhaps it’s an issue of trust. Turning back to Pate, he offers the possibility that a census shows a lack of faith in God as the provider of victories, regardless of the numbers involved.

1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

2 Kings 10: Taking care of the competition

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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.

1 Kings 15-16: A House Divided

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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)

1 Kings 12: Things Fall Apart

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Unfortunately for Rehoboam, he does not get off to a very good start. We were told in the last chapter that this would happen because of Solomon’s polytheism (or perhaps merely his tolerance of his wives’ faiths), but here we see that Rehoboam’s actions might well have led to the fall of the united monarchy without any divine help.

In the beginning of the chapter, Rehoboam heads to Shechem for his coronation. This is a strong indication that the issues that have plagued the monarchy since its very beginning with Saul have never really gone away. After all, Jerusalem is both the religious and political capital of the monarchy, so why wouldn’t Rehoboam be crowned there? Unless he was, and then needed to a separate coronation in the north, showing us that the two regions had been maintaining their separate identities – never a good sign for a nation that wishes to be united.

Looking at the narrative so far, we see that the north originally formed the monarchy under Saul, possibly encompassing only the northern tribes until the south joined up (we see him chosen by lot in 1 Sam. 10:21, and then later elected in 1 Sam. 11:15). It could be that the monarchy was initially a northern alliance, which the south joined up for defense against the Philistines. Later, of course, David ruled only over Judah for seven years (2 Sam. 2:4) before replacing the Benjaminite monarchy in 2 Sam. 5:3. Later, particularly in 2 Sam. 20, we see David struggling to maintain the united monarchy. Things get much worse under Solomon where he appears to be enslaving and over-taxing the northern tribes to support Jerusalem and Judah, making it clear that he saw Judah as the true nation, and the other tribes as subjects states.

But Solomon was an established king, and therefore difficult to challenge. It’s much easier to resist a newbie. So when Rehoboam comes to Shechem to be crowned, Jeroboam comes up out of Egypt to meet him there and, with the backing of “all the assembly of Israel” (1 Kgs 12:3), he presented Rehoboam with an ultimatum: Either ease up from the way Solomon has been treating the northern tribes, or the north will no longer serve the Judahite king.

Despite the claim in 1 Kgs 9:22 that Israelites were not counted among the forced labourers, but were instead given the cushier jobs, it seems here that the situation was quite a bit worse. In fact, even Rehoboam soon admits that Solomon used a whip against the Israelites, which is not something I imagine would be done to overseers so much as by overseers.

It seems notable that the word used for Solomon’s treatment of the Israelites is “yoke,” which, as my New Bible Commentary points out, is “used elsewhere concerning the subjugation of a foreign nation” (p.337).

Rehoboam takes up the shovel

Rehoboam isn’t sure what to do, so he asks for three days to think it over. In a story that sounds like it’s straight out of a Boomer’s “kids these days” article, he first approaches the old men, who tell him to acquiesce now and get to keep his nation. All well and good, but then he goes to the young men who advice him instead to tell the Israelites that “my little finger is thicker than my father’s loins” (1 Kgs 12:10), and that as hard as they found it under Solomon, Rehoboam will only make it harder. Rehoboam, of course, chooses to listen to his buddies.

Rehoboam, wall painting from the Basel Town Hall Council Chamber, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

Rehoboam, wall painting from the Basel Town Hall Council Chamber, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1530

The story is hilarious and awful, but it also rings extremely true. How often have politicians bought their own propaganda and behaved in such atrocious ways? The story also serves to show us that, even though Rehoboam was doomed to see his nation splinter because of his father’s actions, it’s not like he was an innocent party. He’s certainly not Bathsheba’s first son.

The Israelites, of course, are unimpressed. They ask: “What portion have we in David?” (1 Kgs 12:16), the phrasing nearly identical to that used in the last great division in 2 Sam. 20:1, clearly reinforcing that the united monarchy was the abnormality, not the divided one. So all of Israel abandoned Rehoboam, save for the cities in Judah – though the phrasing seems to be indicating that the individuals who remained loyal to Rehoboam were not all Judahites. It seems that there had some migration outside of traditional tribal boundaries, and that perhaps the people from other tribes who were living in Judahite cities chose to remain there rather than migrate back north. None of this is stated explicitly, though, so I may well be reading too much into the narrative.

Rehoboam, being an overconfident jerkwad, decides to send in Adoram as his mediator. It’s hard to imagine that this was anything other than a deliberate insult from a man who still believed that he was too powerful to be challenged, since Adoram is his overseer of forced labour (likely the same as Adoniram, mentioned in 1 Kgs 4:6 and 1 Kgs 5:14). Predictably, the Israelites see the statement for what it is and react by stoning Adoram to death. Apparently only now realizing, yes, he really is about to lose half his nation and, yes, he is currently on the wrong side of the fledgeling border, Rehoboam flees back to Jerusalem.

The narrator tells us that “Israel has been in rebellion against the house of David to this day” (1 Kgs 12:19). Yet despite the use of the word “rebellion,” I’m not feeling much resentment toward Israel. Throughout, the narrative seems clear that Jeroboam was acting with God’s approval, and even under God’s guidance. Further, both Solomon and Rehoboam are described as fully deserving the loss of their united nation. So we’re left with a sort of tug-o-war between the theological idea that the nation only fails when it is deserved, and the political resentment against the rebels. It feels like this was definitely propaganda meant for an internal audience.

Aftermath

When Rehoboam reaches Jerusalem, he raises an army of 180,000 men (an obvious exaggeration) from both Judah and Benjamin – though it seems that the inclusion here of Benjamin is thought to have been an editorial insert to bring the total number of tribes up to twelve. Though in contradiction to 1 Kgs 12:20, my study Bible suggests that perhaps the tribe of Benjamin was “split in the division,” allowing Rehoboam to both remain king only over Judah (as a complete tribe) and for him to be able to raise soldiers from Benjamin, though I can’t imagine those soldiers’ feelings would have been uncomplicated.

Either way, this suppression never seems to go anywhere as Rehoboam is called back by a prophecy, delivered through Shemaiah, instructing him not to bother. Rehoboam packs it in and sends everyone home.

Back in Israel, Jeroboam quickly realizes that he won’t remain king for long if Jerusalem is still the centre of Hebrew worship. Not only is there the influence factor, where his people will be going into Jerusalem and there be exposed to anti-Jeroboam propaganda, there’s also the strong possibility that his peoples’ faith will be held hostage by Rehoboam and the priests loyal to him.

To eliminate this vulnerability, Jeroboam makes two golden calves, one in Bethel and one in Dan. He also makes temples in several high places, and appoints priests of his own – who are explicitly not Levites, as though this were a bad thing and as though we hadn’t seen the Judahites appointing non-Levite priests as well.

The golden calves are obviously important. It’s possible that the golden calf story in Exodus 32:4 was meant as an indictment of Jeroboam’s shrines. However, it’s also possible that the calves were part of a pre-existing exodus/YHWH tradition that Jeroboam was appealing to, and which later authors disparaged in Exodus 32, once that aspect of the cult had fallen out of favour. After all, the bull was also used by the Baal cult.

It may also be important to note that Jeroboam’s words here, “Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1 Kgs 12:28), are very similar to Aaron’s words, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4). The use in both of the plural “gods,” which sort of makes sense here given the two calves but is absolutely out of place in Exodus 32, suggests that the two passages are connected.

As Collins explains, “Jeroboam may have drawn a parallel with an older tradition about the exodus to led legitimacy to his revolt, but it is also possible that the celebration of the exodus became central to the cult of YHWH only at this time” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.137).

The choice of Bethel as a site is an obvious one given its cultic significance (mentioned in Genesis 28 and Genesis 35). Dan also seems to have had some religious significance, a hint of which can be found in Judges 18:29-31.

We’re told that Jeroboam initiated a special festival, likely the new year, on the 15th day of the eighth month. According to Victor Matthews, it could be that Jeroboam was “reverting to an old agrarian calendar that was followed in the north before David and Solomon centralized Israel’s worship in Jerusalem. Such a calendar would reflect the difference harvest seasons in the Levant, which varied according to the temperature ranges of specific regions” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.90).

Between this, the calves, the non-Levite priests, and the multiple shrines, it looks an awful lot like Jeroboam was reinstating the legitimacy of the folk religion – likely still practised by most of his subjects – that Solomon had attempted to turn into a politically-controlled state cult. While the only grievance specifically mentioned in this chapter is of Solomon’s use of forced labour from Israel, it may well be that the Israelites were not happy about the changes he had been making to their faith, either.

Finally, we’re told that Jeroboam build (or, rather, rebuilt, or perhaps expanded) Shechem and Penuel. Building up Shechem makes sense, as a capitol would require better defences and more infrastructure than a regular city. His reasons for construction in Penuel aren’t explained, however its location in the Transjordan offers up a few possibilities. Given its strategic location, it may have been “an attempt to keep the Transjordan areas from Rehoboam.” The New Bible Commentary also suggests that “it may have been connected with the invasion of Sheshonq (Shishak) who mentions Penuel on the inscription telling of his campaign, but there is no OT record of this” (p.337).

This last bit is an intriguing line of thought. So far, Sheshonq has been the only named Pharaoh of Egypt (1 Kgs 11:40). Combined with the connection between Jeroboam and the exodus narrative (as exemplified by the mention of the golden calves above), it could be that the memory of an exodus, or perhaps of an exodus specifically from Egypt, could have begun as a story of refugees fleeing from Sheshonq’s invasion. It seems quite plausible that this became a seminal event in the cultic worship of Israel, or that the details of fleeing from Egypt were simply grafted onto an existing migration narrative. If anyone knows a bit more about the context and how plausible this interpretation might be, I’d love some additional information!

This chapter also gives us a good hint as to why David has been so idealized in recent chapters, despite the far more complicated view of him in 2 Samuel. As Victor Matthews explains:  “Despite his attempts to consolidate power through political and religious reforms, Jeroboam still lacked one thing that his rival Rehoboam possessed. This was the sense of legitimacy that comes from multigenerational dynastic rule. Rehoboam had made mistakes, but loyalty to the Davidic line kept him in power, at least in Judah, and protected his descendants on the throne for the next three centuries. The tradition of an “everlasting covenant” with David’s house (2 Sam 7:18-29; 1 Kgs 11:34-39) grew in importance and influence over the years” (Manners & Customs of the Bible, p.92).

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