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Formerly Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series
Claudia V. Camp, Texas Christian University
Andrew Mein, Westcott House, Cambridge
Founding Editors
David J . A. Clines, Philip R. Davies and David M. Gunn
Editorial Board
Richard J . Coggins, Alan Cooper, J ohn Goldingay, Robert P. Gordon,
Norman K. Gottwald, Gina Hens-Piazza, J ohn J arick, Andrew D. H. Mayes,
Carol Meyers, Patrick D. Miller, Yvonne Sherwood
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Essays on the Relationship of Prophetic Texts
and Israelite History
in Honor of
edited by
Brad E. Kelle
Megan Bishop Moore
t&t dark
Copyright 2006 by T & T Clark
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, including photocopying,
recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher, T & T Clark
T & T Clark International, 80 Maiden Lane, New York, NY 10038
T & T Clark International, The Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX
T & T Clark International is a Continuum imprint.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Israel's prophets and Israel's past: essays on the relationship of prophetic texts and
Israelite history in honor of John H. Hayes / edited by Brad E. Kelle and Megan
Bishop Moore.
p. cm. (Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies ; 446)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-567-02652-1 (hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-567-02652-3 (hardcover)
1. Bible. O.T. Prophets-Criticism, interpretation, etc. 2. Bible. O.T.-History of
Biblical events. 3. Jews~History~To 70 A.D. I. Hayes, John Haralson, 1934- n.
Kelle, Brad E., 1973- HI. Moore, Megan Bishop, 1972- IV. Title. V. Series.
BS1505.52.187 2006
0607080910 10987654321
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Biddies Ltd., King's Lynn, Norfolk
Abbreviations ix
List of Contributors xiii
Brad E. Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore 1
J. Maxwell Miller 9
Megan Bishop Moore 23
Ehud Ben Zvi 37
Brad E. Kelle
Gene M. Tucker 85
vi Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Marc Zvi Brettler 103
Philip R. Davies 113
"How CAN JACOB STAND? HE is so SMALL!" (AMOS 7:2):
J . Gordon McConville 132
OdedBorowski 152
Stuart A. Irvine 158
Peggy L. Day
Susan E. Haddox 174
J. J. M. Roberts 201
Brent A. Strawn 210
Marvin A. Sweeney 239
Julie Galambush 254
Contents vii
Bob Becking 268
Alice W. Hunt 280
Part HI
Carol A. Newsom 293
David L. Petersen 311
Martin J. Buss 325
A Select Bibliography of John H. Hayes 342
Index of References 346
Index of Authors 00
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AB Anchor Bible
ABD Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. N. Freedman. 6 vols. New York,
ACEBT Amsterdamse Cahiers voorExegese en bijbelse Theologie
AJA American Journal of Archaeology
ALASPM Abhandlungen zur Literatur Alt-Syrien-Palastinas und Mesopotamiens
AHw Akkadisches Handworterbuch
AnBib Analecta biblica
ANEP The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament. Edited
by J. B. Pritchard. Princeton, 1969
ANET Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Edited by
J. B. Pritchard. 3d ed. Princeton, 1969
ARCA ARCA Classical And Medieval Texts Papers and Monographs
ATD Das Alte Testament Deutsch
BA Biblical Archaeologist
BAGD Bauer, W., W. F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. W. Danker. Greek-
English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian
Literature. 2d ed. Chicago, 1979
BAR Biblical Archaeology Review
BASOR Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research
BOB Brown, F., S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs. A Hebrew and English
Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford, 1907
BETL Bibliotheca ephemeridum theologicarum Lovaniensium
BHT BeitrSge zur historischen Theologie
Bib Biblica
Biblnt Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches
BibOr Biblica et Orientalia
BibS(N) Biblische Studien (Neukirchen, 1951-)
BKAT Biblischer Kommentar: Altes Testament
BN Biblische Notizen
BTAVOB Beihefte zum Tiibinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients. Reihe B
BZ Biblische Zeitschrift
BZAW Beihefte zur Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
CAD The Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of
Chicago. Edited by Ignace I. Gelb et al. Chicago, 1956-
CAH Cambridge Ancient History
CahRB Cahiers de la Revue biblique
CBC Cambridge Bible Commentary
x Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
CBET Contributions to Biblical Exegesis and Theology
CBQ Catholic Biblical Quarterly
CBQMS Catholic Biblical Quarterly Monograph Series
CIS Corpus inscriptionum semiticarum
COS The Context of Scripture. Edited by W. W. Hallo. 3 vols. Leiden, 1997-
ConBOT Coniectanea biblica: Old Testament Series
C. Ap. Josephus, Contra Apion
CP Classical Philology
CQ Classical Quarterly
CTU The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras Ibn Hani, and Other
Places. Edited by M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartin. Minister,
CurBS Currents in Research: Biblical Studies
DBI Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation. Edited by J. H. Hayes. Nashville,
EH Europaische Hochschulschriften
Erlsr Eretz-Israel
ESHM European Seminar in Historical Methodology
EvT Evangelische Theologie
ExpTim Expository Times
FAT Forschungen zum Alten Testament
FB Forschung zum Bibel
FCB Feminist Companion to the Bible
FOTL The Forms of the Old Testament Literature
FRLANT Forschungen zur Religion und Literatur des Alten und Neuen Testaments
GKC Gesenius 's Hebrew Grammar. Edited by E. Kautzsch. Translated by A.
E. Cowley. 2d ed. Oxford, 1910.
HAT Handbuch zum Alten Testament
HO Handbuch der Orientalistik
HSCP Harvard Studies in Classical Philology
HSM Harvard Semitic Monographs
HSS Harvard Semitic Studies
HUCA Hebrew Union College Annual
IBKS Innsbrucker Beitrager zur Kulturwissenschaft, Sonderheft
ICC International Critical Commentary
IDS The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by G. A. Buttrick. 4
vols. Nashville, 1962
IDBSup Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible: Supplementary Volume. Edited by
K. Crim. Nashville, 1976
IEJ Israel Exploration Journal
Int Interpretation
IRT Issues in Religion and Theology
JARCE Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt
JB Jerusalem Bible
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JCS Journal of Cuneiform Studies
JFSR Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion
JNES Journal of Near Eastern Studies
Abbreviations XI
JR Journal of Religion
JSJ Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman
JSOT Journal for the Study of the Old Testament
JSOTSup Journal for the Study of the Old Testament: Supplement Series
JSSEA Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities
JTS Journal of Theological Studies
KAT Kommentar zum Alten Testament
KBL Koehler, L., and W. Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti libros.
2d ed. Leiden, 1958
KHAT Kurzgefasstes exegetisches Handbuch zum Alten Testament
KHC Kurzer Hand-Commentar zum Alten Testament
KTU Die Keilalphabetischen Text aus Ugarit. Edited by M. Dietrich,
O. Loretz, and J. Sanmartin. AOAT 24/1. Neukirchen-Vluyn, 1976. 2d
enlarged ed. of KTU: The Cuneiform Alphabetic Texts from Ugarit, Ras
Ibn Hani and Other Places. Edited by M. Dietrich, O. Loretz, and
J. Sanmartin. Mtinster, 1995 (=CTU)
LCL Loeb Classical Library
LHBOTS Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies
LSTS Library of Second Temple Studies
LXX Septuagint
MS Manuscript
MT Masoretic text
NAC New American Commentary
NCB New Century Bible
NCBC New Century Bible Commentary
NIB The New Interpreter's Bible
NICOT New International Commentary on the Old Testament
NJPS Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures: The New JPS Translation According to the
Traditional Hebrew Text
OBT Overtures to Biblical Theology
OCD Oxford Classical Dictionary
OCT Oxford Classical Texts/Scriptorum classicorum bibliotheca oxoniensis
OIP Oriental Institute Publications
Or Orientalia
OTG Old Testament Guides
OTL Old Testament Library
OTP Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Edited by J. H. Charlesworth. 2 vols.
New York, 1983
OTS Old Testament Studies
OtSt Oudtestamentische Studien
PEFQS Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly Statement
PEQ Palestine Exploration Quarterly
Per Perspectives
PTMS Pittsburgh Theological Monograph Series
Qad Qadmoniot
QG Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis
QR Quarterly Review
Xll Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
RB Revue Biblique
RevExp Review and Expositor
RGG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart
RSV Revised Standard Version
SAA State Archives of Assyria
SBLSBS Society of Biblical Literature Sources for Biblical Study
SBLDS Society of Biblical Literature Dissertation Series
SBLSP Society of Biblical Literature Seminar Papers
SBLSymS Society of Biblical Literature Symposium Series
SBLWAW Society of Biblical Literature Writings from the Ancient World
SBS Stuttgarter Bibelstudien
SBT Studies in Biblical Theology
SETS Sources for Biblical and Theological Study
SemeiaSt Semeia Studies
SFSHJ South Florida Studies in the History of Judaism
SHANE Studies in the History of the Ancient Near East
SHCANE Studies in the History and Culture of the Ancient Near East
SJOT Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament
SSN Studia semitica neerlandica
STDJ Studies on the Texts of the Desert ofJudah
TA Tel Aviv
TB Theologische Bucherei: Neudrucke und Berichte aus dem 20.
TCS Texts from Cuneiform Sources
ThWAT Theologisches Worterbuch zum Alten Testament. Edited by
G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren. Stuttgart, 1970-
TOTC Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
Transeu Transeuphratene
TynBul Tyndale Bulletin
WBC Word Biblical Commentary
WMANT Wissenschaftliche Monographien zum Alten und Neuen Testament
VT Vetus Testamentum
VTSup Supplements to Vetus Testamentum
ZAW Zeitschrift jur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft
ZTK Zeitschrift Jiir Theologie undKirche
ZWT Zeitschrift jur wissenschaftliche Theologie
Bob Becking
Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands
EhudBen Zvi
University of Alberta, Edmonton AB, Canada
Oded Borowski
Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA
Marc Zvi Brettler
Brandeis University, Waltham MA, USA
Martin J. Buss
Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA
Philip R. Davies
University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England
Peggy L. Day
University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg MB, Canada
Julie Galambush
College of William and Mary, Williamsburg VA, USA
Susan E. Haddox
Mount Union College, Alliance OH, USA
Alice W. Hunt
Vanderbilt University, Nashville TN, USA
Stuart A. Irvine
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge LA, USA
xiv Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Brad. E. Kelle
Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego CA, USA
J. Gordon McConville
University of Gloucestershire, Gloucester, England
J. Maxwell Miller
Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Atlanta GA, USA
Megan Bishop Moore
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem NC, USA
Carol A. Emory Newsom
University, Atlanta GA, USA
David L. Petersen
Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA
J. J. M. Roberts
Princeton Theological Seminary, Austin TX, USA
Brent A. Strawn
Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA
Marvin A. Sweeney
Claremont School of Theology, Claremont CA, USA
Gene Tucker
Emory University, Atlanta GA, USA
Brad E. Kelle and Megan Bishop Moore
Professor John H. Hayes, the colleague, teacher, and friend whom this
volume honors, is fond of giving an ironic twist to an old saying: "Every
silver lining has a dark cloud." For those who have been privileged to
work with, study under, or engage the ideas of Professor Hayes, his pro-
pensity for such sayings captures some of the delightful wit and good
humor that characterize him and his work.
The parody of this colloquialism also represents well the possibilities
and problems involved in the relationship between two fields of study
that have often occupied Professor Hayes's attention: the prophetic lit-
erature and Israelite history. Scholars have long recognized that historical
references, events, allusions, and synchronisms that appear in the Hebrew
Bible's prophetic corpus offer a type of "silver lining" for this literature,
enabling, or at least, inviting one to read prophetic words against the back-
ground of particular circumstances. Also, the apparent intimate relation-
ship of prophetic texts to history provides some hope that perhaps these
texts can help historians formulate a fuller picture of little-known events,
situations, and developments. At the same time, however, the prophetic
literature's connections to history form a dark cloud over the interpreta-
tion of the corpus as a whole and the individual elements therein. Recent
scholarship has increasingly emphasized that the issues involved in the
use of prophetic texts to reconstruct history or the use of history to exe-
gete prophetic texts are vexed at best, not least because of the centuries
of redaction, transmission, and interpretation that characterize these texts.
Perhaps due to this complexity, the discipline of Israelite and Judean his-
tory has made uneven use of prophetic texts as historical sources or over-
looked them altogether in favor of narrative "historiographical" literature.
As a result of these (and other) trends hi Hebrew Bible scholarship,
one presently encounters scholarly views on the question of the relation-
ship between the prophetic literature and Israelite history that range from
confidence to skepticism. Often missing from the contemporary discus-
sion, however, is a sustained and multi-faceted inquiry into the nature of
2 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
that relationship, an inquiry that focuses on the intersection of the texts
and history at both macro and micro levels. This volume aims to fill that
gap by offering a "round-table" discussion of many points of view that
examines one central thesis, namely, that the study of the prophetic
literature and Israelite history are best undertaken in interaction with one
another. The collection here is unified by consideration of that conviction
but affords a mixture of twenty-one scholars of history and prophets the
opportunity to dialogue with, support, oppose, or illustrate the thesis at a
general or specific level. The essays explore the question of what impact
the fields of prophetic research and Israelite history can and should have
on one another by examining broader perspectives and methods in his-
torical and prophetic studies, offering new interpretations of prophetic
texts that understand their relationship to history in a variety of ways,
and considering the reception of the prophetic literature and Israelite
history both within the Hebrew Bible and since. The individual historians
and prophetic scholars enter the discussion from their own perspectives
and bring to the table issues ranging from the usefulness of the prophetic
texts for writing Israelite history, to the role of rhetorical tendencies,
archaeological data, and social realia in understanding specific texts, to
the place of the prophets in the development of human civilization.
By following this course, the present volume is an appropriate way to
celebrate Professor Hayes, whose interests and influence in the fields of
Israelite history, prophecy, and the history of interpretation are impres-
sive and wide-ranging (see the selected bibliography of John H. Hayes
included in this volume). All the contributors have engaged Professor
Hayes's ideas as students, colleagues, or fellow researchers. Specifically,
Professor Hayes is known for a unique approach to understanding the
prophets and the importance of history for them, one that might be called
the "direct historical approach." In this view, almost every aspect of the
prophetic texts needs to be understood as a direct reflection of a histori-
cal situation. Going hand in hand with this approach is his provocative
idea that many of the prophetic books are in fact unified rhetorical com-
positions that reference a chain of closely connected political-historical
circumstances throughout.
Such an approach to the prophets certainly
inspires discussion and even argument, and manifestations and ramifi-
cations of Professor Hayes's views are evident in several of the articles.
1. For example, Hayes suggests that the book of Amos is best understood as a
single oration given by the prophet himself on the eve of the fall festival of 750-749
B.C.E. in Israel, perhaps at Bethel. The historical circumstance is political and theo-
logical tension in Israel due to rival claims to the throne and pro-Assyrian and pro-
Damascene factionalism. See J. H. Hayes, Amos, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His
Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988), 38.
KELLE AND MOORE Introduction 3
The first section of essays, entitled "The Prophets in Historical Per-
spective," begins at the macro level and considers a variety of perspec-
tives on the prophetic literature's potential historical dimensions, tenden-
cies, and usefulness. The first essay, "Israel's Past: Our 'Best Guess Sce-
nario,'" by J. Maxwell Miller, reviews historical scholarship in the mid-
and late twentieth century and discusses historical method and decision-
making in Miller and Hayes's historical publications, such as A History
of Ancient Israel and Judah.
Because of Miller's role as co-author, he is
able to offer a short biography of Professor Hayes's intellectual journey
into history and prophets, as well as a discussion of the influence of a
"direct historical approach" to the prophets on writing about Israel's past.
This article also provides a glimpse into another side of scholarship that
typifies Professor Hayes's career, namely, collaboration and large-project
Also dealing with historical method, Megan Bishop Moore's "Writing
Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books" discusses ways that pro-
phetic texts may contribute to Israel's history and proposes that the
prophets' concern with nations other than Israel and Judah should lead
historians to broaden their subject and perspective. The essay entitled
"De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies in the Twelve Prophetic
Books" by Ehud Ben Zvi, however, argues that study of the prophetic
books needs to be de-historicized since knowledge of precise events and
historical figures is of secondary importance, or even of no importance,
for understanding the divine messages communicated and shaped by the
books. Ben Zvi particularly emphasizes the low number of explicit refer-
ences to specific persons, events, and circumstances in the prophetic
books and explains this phenomenon as a deliberate effort of editors to
de-emphasize historical contexts. In "Ancient Israelite Prophets and
Greek Political Orators," Brad E. Kelle also notices the lack of explicit
references to historical events and situations in the prophetic books but
explains this phenomenon differently. He examines the Hebrew Bible's
presentations of prophets, constructs a theory of prophetic discourse that
emerges from them, and concludes that the presentations and discourse
call for the use of interpretive analogies and models such as those used
for the Greek political orators. On this analogy, there is an inextricable
link between historical situations and prophetic discourse, but the shared
rhetorical situation of the audience and speaker eliminates the need for
explicit historical references and makes metaphorical and allusive refer-
ences more persuasive.
2. J. M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah (Phila-
delphia: Westminster, 1986; 2d. ed., Louisville, Ky: Westminster, forthcoming).
4 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Following these considerations of the broader dimensions of the rela-
tionship between prophets and history, the second and longest section of
the book, "The Prophets in Historical Context," moves through the pro-
phetic literature not in canonical order but following the usual under-
standing of the prophets' historical sequence. The essays here provide
case studies of particular prophetic books, texts, and issues that interpret
them vis-a-vis history but from a variety of perspectives. The open-
ing articles on Amos by Gene M. Tucker, Marc Zvi Brettler, Philip R.
Davies, J. Gordon McConville, and Oded Borowski, for example, form
a virtual round-table discussion of their own, as they offer different
approaches to the book's historical context, composition, and redaction.
Tucker offers a balanced survey of the issues involved in considering
Amos's context and composition. Brettler focuses on the text of Amos
and uses Amos 2:45 to contest the assumption of Hayes and others that
the book is a unified composition from an eighth-century prophet. Davies,
however, elucidates historical references within Amos and concludes that
the book is a coherent composition but one that conies from the fifth
century rather than eighth century B.C.E. Both Davies and McConville
thus examine the role of historical re-traditioning in the development of
meaning for the designation and legacy of "Israel." Finally, Borowski
inserts a new perspective into the conversation by using archaeology to
suggest that knowledge of the ring kernos holds the interpretive key to
Amos's description of people drinking mazreqs of wine (]"
The next group of essays explores various possibilities for the relation-
ship of Hosea's metaphors and rhetoric to political undertakings in Israel
throughout the late eighth century B.C.E. Stuart A. Irvine uses textual
analysis and extrabiblical evidence to propose a link between Hos 13:15a
and political developments in late eighth-century Israel, while Peggy L.
Day and Susan E. Haddox examine Hosea's gendered language and meta-
phors as vehicles for political commentary. Similarly, J. J. M. Roberts
and Brent A. Strawn address the relationship of texts in Isaiah to
Assyrian and Egyptian political history and extrabiblical parallels and
sources for reconstruction. Marvin A. Sweeney, Julie Galambush, and
Alice Hunt attempt to untangle the historical referents and contexts of
texts in Ezekiel from differing points of view. They examine the texts'
references, backgrounds, and transmission in association with the settings
of Josiah's reign, Nebuchadnezzar's activity, and the post-exilic priest-
hood respectively. Going further into post-exilic Judah, Bob Becking
offers a proposal concerning how prophetic texts such as Zechariah may
profitably be used in historical reconstruction and concludes that a
particular type of compositional analysis is the required preparatory work
for the use of prophetic texts in history writing.
KELLE AND MOORE Introduction 5
Having examined a variety of views and case studies on the historical
dimensions of prophetic texts, the final section of the volume once again
broadens toward the macro level. Questions about the relationship
between the prophets and history involve not only what lies "behind" the
texts but also what lies "in front" of them, that is, the reception and
development of the prophets in historical tradition. Carol A. Newsom's
"Rhyme and Reason: The Historical Resume in Israelite and Early
Jewish Thought" examines such development within the Bible by dis-
cussing the appearance of "historical resumes" in a variety of texts.
David L. Petersen's "The Ambiguous Role of Moses as Prophet" contin-
ues the broader focus by looking at the ancient reception history of the
prophets and arguing that there was no line or tradition of prophets "like
Moses," going against the usual interpretation of Deut 18:18. Finally,
Martin J. Buss's "The Place of Israelite Prophecy in Human History"
expands the consideration of the historical dimensions of prophetic texts
to its broadest perspective by investigating the modern reception history
of the prophets and comparative understandings of prophets' roles in
religion and society.
Taken as a whole, this volume offers a wide-ranging survey of inquir-
ies into the complex relationship between the prophetic texts and Israelite
history. The ways in which prophetic scholars and historians negotiate
this relationship, as well as the assumptions involved in those negotia-
tions, often do not garner thorough and explicit discussion, yet they
frequently shape the conclusions at which both types of scholars arrive.
The diversity of approaches and conclusions within this volume serves
not only to illustrate this point but hopefully also to invite further inten-
tional reflection on the issue at hand and its implications. This collec-
tion's diversity is also a testament, however, to the persistent problems
and possibilitiesthe dark cloud and silver liningof the inextricable
connection between Israel's prophets and Israel's past. Much like the
contributors to this volume, readers who are in touch with these prob-
lems and possibilities will likely have a variety of responses to the main
thesis that the study of prophetic texts and Israelite history are best under-
taken in conjunction with one another, including, perhaps, the rejection
of that thesis. Even so, one will surely find that the articles herein offer
many specific and rewarding by-products and insights that can delight
the mind and stimulate discussion. As the honoree's southern cooking
culture would remind us, alongside an unpalatable main dish may be a
host of tasty tidbits. Or, as Professor Hayes would say, "If you can't eat
the possum, learn to enjoy the sweet potatoes."
3. See J. H. Hayes, "If You Can't Eat the Possum, Learn to Enjoy the Sweet
Potatoes: Fifty Principles of Universal Applicability" (unpublished manuscript).
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J . Maxwell Miller
It was my special privilege to serve on the Emory University faculty with
John Hayes for three decades and to collaborate with him on two
volumes pertaining to ancient Israelite history: Israelite and Judaean
History and A History of Ancient Israel and Judah.
An update of the
latter appeared in August of this year.
Along the way, John and I have
spent countless hours discussing biblical history and have introduced a
generation of graduate students to the issues and complexities involved. I
am pleased to join some of these former students, along with other col-
leagues whose careers have been enriched by J ohn's scholarship, in this
tribute to him. For my contribution, I propose to offer some reflections
on the two volumes mentioned above: what we were attempting to do in
each case; why we thought that was a worthwhile undertaking at the
time; how we went about it; and what sorts of updates seemed necessary
to us if the latter volume was to continue serving as a useful textbook for
teaching the history of biblical times.
Some Biographical Notes
John and I met in 1969 at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical
Literature, held that year in Toronto. John read a paper that was rather
daring: he argued that the "Patriarchal Age" may not have corresponded
to the Middle Bronze Age but rather to the Late Bronze Age, challenging
a view that was virtually canonical in American circles that were at the
time under the heavy influence of W. F. Albright and his students. From
1. J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller, eds., Israelite and Judaean History (Philadel-
phia: Westminster, 1977); J. M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel
andJudah (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986).
2. A History Ancient Israel andJudah (2d. ed. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John
Knox, 2006).
10 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
his name, I recognized John as the author also of an intriguing paper
about prophetic oracles against foreign nations that had appeared in a
recent issueof JBL.
We met between papers; it turned out that he had
read my recent JBL article about the Elisha narratives, and we sat out the
next several papers comparing views and exchanging ideas.
During the
course of the conversation we observed that it was time for a systematic
re-examination of Israelite history. Three years later, John moved to
Atlanta and we picked up on the conversation where we had left off in
The two of us had much in common in addition to being approxi-
mately the same age. Both of us grew up in small southern townsJohn
was from Alabama and I from Mississippi. Both of us were products of
conservative Protestant church communitiesJohn was Southern Baptist
and I United Methodist. And both of us had found our way into the
academic study of the Bible. John had gone the usual route via seminary
to advanced graduate training (Princeton B.D. 1960 and Ph.D. 1964). I
had gone directly from a college degree in History (1959) to a newly
established graduate program in Biblical Studies at Emory University.
Mine was the first Ph.D. degree in Old Testament Studies to be granted
at Emory (1964).
John and I were in graduate school at the same time, therefore, and
this was a time when the so-called Biblical Theology and Biblical
Archaeology movements were still very much in full swing. Both of us
assumed that proper training in biblical studies necessarily involved
archaeological field experience, and John managed to get his field
experience during his graduate years (Petra 1962 and Hebron 1964).
Mine would come later (1966 and following). While both of us were
deeply interested in the archaeology and history of biblical times, neither
of usand I think this is importantstudied under what would have
been regarded a "leading authority" of the day on either of these related
Two schools of thought tended to dominate academic discussions
pertaining to biblical archaeology and history from the 1940s through the
1960s. Widely accepted on the European continent and especially in
German-speaking circles was the approach pioneered by Albrecht Alt
and developed by his student Martin Noth. This Alt-Noth approach,
relying heavily on literary-critical analysis of the biblical texts and
3. J. H. Hayes, "The Usage of Oracles Against Foreign Nations in Ancient
Israel," JBL 87 (1968): 81-92.
4. J. M. Miller, "The Elisha Cycle and the Accounts of the Omride Wars," JBL
85 (1966): 441-54.
MILLER Israel's Past 11
sociological theories of the day, was cautious about making loose con-
nections between archaeology and the Bible, and traced the origins of
ancient Israel to an amphictyonic league that would have emerged on
Palestinian soil during the opening centuries of the Iron Age. Very influ-
ential in English-speaking circles, on the other hand, and largely domi-
nating American scholarship, was the approach of W. F. Albright and his
studentsthe so-called Biblical Archaeology approach. This approach
sought to correlate the archaeological record with the biblical account of
Israelite history and to favor resulting archaeological interpretations over
any literary-critical observations or uncertainties to the contrary.
Accordingly, the Middle Bronze Age was identified as the "Age of the
Patriarchs (and Matriarchs)," the Exodus was dated to the closing decade
of the Late Bronze Age, and the opening centuries of the Iron Age was
the time of the Judges.
The results of these two approaches were spelled out in two competing
histories of IsraelMartin Noth's Geschichte Israels and John Bright's
A History of Israel* The debate was fierce at times, and the prominent
leaders of both "schools" looked after their ownor so it seemed to many
of us young American scholars during the 1960s who had not trained
under bone fide Albrightian professors. In the long run, this probably
worked to J ohn's and my advantage. With less commitment to either the
Alt-Noth or the Albright approach, we were better able to recognize the
strengths and weaknesses of both. And when both approaches began to
run aground during the late 1960s and early 1970s, as indeed they did,
we were open to new directions.
Israelite and Judaean History and
The History of Ancient Israel and Judah
By 1973, when John and I began working on Israelite and Judaean
History (hereafter UH), it was becoming increasingly clear that the basic
methodology of the Albrightian approach was flawed and that some of
the basic sociological assumptions of the Alt-Noth approach were
problematic, as well. Even while IJHwas in progress, several important
studies appeared. Among these were Thomas Thompson's The Historic-
ity of the Patriarchal Narratives, John Van Seters's Abraham in History
and Tradition, William Dever's Archaeology and Biblical Studies:
Retrospects and Prospects, and Norman Gottwald's paper "Were the
5. M. Noth, Geschichte Israels (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1950);
J. Bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1959).
12 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Early Israelites Pastoral Nomads?" which anticipated his The Tribes of
Yahweh (1979).
Our plan was not to produce a new history of Israel, not yet, but to
compile a volume that would appraise the current status of research and
facilitate new directions of thinking. Toward that end, we divided the
history of ancient Israel (as traditionally understood, following the basic
storyline of the biblical narrative) into tentative periods and invited a
different person to write on each period. We intentionally sought out
scholars who we believed were already exploring new directions and
asked them to do three things with respect to their particular period:
(1) survey and evaluate the written and archaeological evidence available
for the period; (2) identify the historical issues that had emerged during
past scholarly investigation of the period, especially since the 1940s;
(3) reconstruct the history of the period as he or she thought it might
have unfolded. John wrote an introductory chapter for the volume that
surveyed "The History of the Study of Israelite and Judaean History"
through the mid-twentieth century, and I, in addition to writing the
chapter on "The Israelite Occupation of Canaan," prepared an appendix
that compared various chronologies that had been proposed for the
Israelite and Judean Kings.
Because it was intended as a research tool,
we packed the volume from beginning to end with bibliography. The
volume was well received, gained wide acceptance, and I think did much
to help facilitate new ways of thinking about ancient Israelite history.
Still today it is a useful information source for graduate students who
want to review developments and trends through the mid-1970s.
Our first mistake with the second volume, A History of Ancient Israel
and Judah (hereafter HAIJ), was the title. Because its name was so
similar to that of our previous volume, Israelite and Judaean History,
many apparently assumed that it was a new edition of the same book. Of
course it was not. IJH was a collected work intended primarily as a
6. T. L. Thompson, The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives (BZAW 133;
Berlin: de Gruyter, 1974); J. Van Seters, Abraham in History and Tradition (New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1975); W. G. Dever, Archaeology andBiblical Stud-
ies: Retrospects and Prospects (Evanston, 111.: Seabury-Western, 1974); N. K.
Gottwald, "Were the Early Israelites Pastoral Nomads?," in Rhetorical Criticism:
Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg (ed. J. J. Jackson and M. Kessler; PTMS 1;
Pittsburgh: Pickwick, 1974), 223-55; idem, The Tribes of Yahweh: A Sociology of
the Religion of Liberated Israel 125 0-105 0 B.C.E. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1979).
7. J. H. Hayes, "The History of the Study of Israelite and Judaean History," in
Hayes and Miller, eds., Israelite and Judaean History, 33-69; J. M. Miller, "The
Israelite Occupation of Canaan," in ibid., 213-84; and "Appendix: Chronology of
the Israelite and Judaean Kings," in ibid., 678-83.
MILLER Israel's Past 13
research tool. HAIJ was intended as a proper history itselfvery dif-
ferent from either Noth's Geschichte Israels or Bright's A History of
Ancient Israel, but of the same genre.
None would have challenged during the early 1980s that the time was
right for a new treatment of Israelite history, except perhaps a few who
were beginning to doubt whether writing a history of ancient Israel was a
legitimate undertaking at all. This skepticism would grow much stronger
over the next two decades, reinforced to some degree by the issues and
uncertainties highlighted in our history. During the early 1980s, how-
ever, when John and I were researching and hammering out the details of
HAIJ, this was not yet a major factor in the academic debate. More in the
forefront at the time was the contention by some, stimulated especially
by Gottwald's Tribes ofYahweh, that sociology would succeed where
archaeology had failed in clarifying the origins of ancient Israel.
In the 1980s, important developments were underway on the archaeo-
logical front, as well. Palestinian archaeologists were becoming more
professionalized, making more use of regional surveys in addition to
excavations at key sites, and becoming more interested in anthropologi-
cal and sociological matters (as opposed to searching for connections
with biblical history). Two important studies, both of which were reach-
ing fruition about the same time as our history, illustrated these trends:
Larry Stager's study of "The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient
Israel" and Israel Finkelstein's The Archaeology of the Israelite Settle-
ment* Finkelstein's study especially seemed compatible with a notion
that had been explored by G. E. Mendenhall in the early 1960s and
recently revived by Gottwaldnamely, that the early Israelite tribes did
not migrate to Palestine from elsewhere, such as Egypt or the Trans-
jordan, but emerged from the indigenous population of Palestine itself.
Along with these studies, HAIJ departed from traditional treatments of
biblical times in many ways. The title signals one important departure
we depicted the Israelites and Judeans as neighboring peoples who were
unified temporarily under David and Solomon and again under the
Omrides, rather than an originally unified people who were divided after
Solomon's death. Also, in keeping with the "new directions" that were
being explored during the 1970s and '80s, our history had no "Patriar-
chal Age," no Israelite exodus from Egypt, and no early twelve-tribe
8. L. E. Stager, "The Archaeology of the Family in Ancient Israel," BASOR 260
(1985): 1-35; I. Finkelstein, The Archaeology of the Israelite Settlement (Jerusalem:
Israel Exploration Society, 1988), which appeared in Hebrew in 1986.
9. See G. E. Mendenhall, "The Hebrew Conquest of Palestine," BA 25 (1962):
14 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
league. Our earliest Israel, on the contrary, was essentially the tribe of
Ephraim along with several satellite tribes (such as Benjamin and
Gilead) that tended to be overshadowed by Ephraim. We left open the
possibility that some of the earliest Ephraimites/Israelites may have
found their way to Palestine from Egypt or from the Transjordan, but
suggested tentatively that most of them probably descended from the
indigenous and heterogeneous population of Palestine itself.
Moving on into the monarchy, our King Saul was essentially a tribal
warlord in the tradition of Jephthah, and the same was true of David,
certainly during the early years of his reign. There was no "Solomonic
Empire" that stretched from the Egyptian frontier to the Euphrates,
although we held that Solomon was an historical figure, and possibly of
some local renown. To the extent that there was an ancient Israelite
"golden age," it was the time of the Omrides, not of Solomon. We con-
tended that certain of the narratives that the biblical compilers associated
with the Omride kings probably pertained to the later Jehu dynasty, and
we utilized them as such, that is, as potential sources of information for
the Jehu rather than the Omride period. Assyria's collapse toward the end
of the seventh century did not bring about a sudden political change in
Judah because, in our history, Assyria and Egypt were closely allied
during the years leading up to the collapse and Judah already had been
transferred gradually to Egyptian control.
Another feature ofHAIJ, perhaps not a total departure from earlier
histories of Israel, but noteworthy nevertheless in terms of the amount of
attention given, was the transparency of the processes by which we
examined the sources and constructed our history. HAIJwas intended as
a textbook, and we wanted students to understand fully that writing a
history is not a matter of assembling facts but of constructing "best guess
scenarios" based on interpretations of sources. We wanted to show that
all of our sourcesarchaeology and ancient inscriptions as well as the
biblical narrativepresent interpretational problems that require judg-
ment calls. We especially wanted our readers to understand how heavily
dependent all historians are upon the Hebrew Bible for information about
ancient Israel and how foreign the assumptions and sensibilities of mod-
ern historiography are to the Hebrew Bible. Largely for these reasons we
introduced each chapter by rehearsing the relevant segment of the Bible
story, exaggerations, miracles, and all.
Though HAIJ received much positive response, we had predicted in
the Preface that we would receive negative responses, and we did. Some
were put off by its caution regarding the historical reliability of the
biblical story, and at the same time others regarded it as too trusting of
MILLER Israel's Past 15
the biblical materials. Since, for the most part, however, HAIJ was distin-
guished by its daring departure from traditional treatments of Israelite
history, its sharpest criticisms came from conservative circles. In today's
climate, HAIJ clearly belongs to the cautious side of the divide, and now
represents a more moderate position than it did when originally pub-
lished. The reason for this is that the center of gravity of the ongoing
debate has shifted in adjustment to the growing polarization between
scholars on the one side who argue for restored confidence in the his-
toricity of the biblical materials, and scholars on the other who have
carried caution to skeptical extremes.
In any case, many of the historical interpretations pioneered in HAIJ
found their way into mainstream thinking and, compared to the far more
radical positions espoused by scholars skeptical of the biblical account,
have come to be regarded as moderate or even conservative. Consider for
example our contention that the historical Solomon probably was of
more local than international renown. That seemed radical in the mid-
1980s and met with instant opposition from conservative scholars such
as Allan Millard.
Today, as likely to be challenged from the opposite
direction is our assumption that Solomon was a historical figure at all.
Updating HAIJ
After twenty years in service, it is to be expected that HAIJ requires
some updating. Continued research in related disciplines, particularly
Hebrew Bible, epigraphy, and archaeology, has resulted in new discover-
ies and insights. Also, the vigorous academic debate mentioned above
has touched on virtually every aspect of Israelite history. In our opinion,
however, neither the new discoveries nor the vigorous debate call for
major revisions in the overall contours of Israelite history as we envi-
sioned it in the original edition. Indeed, we think that HAIJ anticipated
10. One may think first of the so-called maximalist-minimalist debate popularized
in Biblical Archaeology Review and featuring William Dever vs. Thomas
Thompson. But Dever and Thompson have so entangled the historical issues with
personal and ideological baggage, in my opinion, that they do not quite mirror the
polarization evident in mainstream scholarship. Better representative, on the one
side, are I. Provan, V. P. Long, and T. Longman, III, A Biblical History of Israel
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2003) and on the other side, I. Finkelstein,
and N. A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient
Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts (New York: Free Press, 2001).
11. A. Millard, "Texts and Archaeology: Weighing the Evidence, the Case for
King Solomon," PEQ 123 (1991): 19-27.
16 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
surprisingly well the direction that scholarship would move over the next
two decades. What sort of updating, then, needed to be made?
Basically, we identified four areas for revision: (1) continued research
and new discoveries required thinking and updating of certain segments
of the history. The Tell Dan Inscription's implications, especially for
Israel's international relations during the Omride period, is a prime
example. (2) A legitimate complaint about the first edition of HAIJ was
that we wrote it without footnotes. Our thinking at the time was that its
heavily documented predecessor, IJH, would be documentation enough.
A weak excuse then, and no excuse at all now, the updated edition is
fully documented. (3) Working back through HAIJ, we were struck by
the fact that it really is not as user-friendly as it could be. How many
students must have struggled through its long paragraphs and been
bogged down in the detailed literary analysis of this or that biblical
passage! Details and complexity cannot be avoided altogether; the
evidence has to be examined and a case made for positions taken. Yet we
hope to have improved the readability of the new edition by screening
out some of the analysis and argumentation that is not absolutely
necessary and by introducing many more maps, charts, and illustrations.
Finally, and this is perhaps the most significant way that we have
updated HAIJ, (4) we have restated and reargued our "best guess
scenario" for the history of ancient Israel with today's readers in mind
rather than those of twenty years ago. In the early 1980s, for example,
Albright's legacy and the constructs of Biblical Archaeology remained
deeply ingrained. Consequently, we were much concerned to explain
why the overall storyline of the Genesis-2 Kings account could not be
followed uncritically, even if it could be brought into reasonably close
alignment with archaeological data. Now, equally strong challenges
come from the opposite direction. Why, some serious scholars have
argued very forcefully, should a modern historian bother with the biblical
materials at all? Why not set the Hebrew Bible aside and work only with
first-hand written sources (epigraphy) and scientifically controlled data
(archaeology, sociology, etc.)?
Such an approach sounds good in
theory, but does not work out very well in practice, and we felt that it
needed to be addressed. Thus, in order to explain why we regard the
Hebrew Bible as a useful source of historical information that must not
be ignored, and at the same time to address the strengths and limitations
of all of our sources (epigraphy, archaeology, and sociology, as well as
12. For a clear statement of this programmatic approach, see T. L. Thompson,
The Origin Tradition of Ancient Israel. Vol. 1, The Literary Formation of Genesis
and Exodus 1-23 (JSOTSup 55; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987), 26.
MILLER Israel's Past 17
the Hebrew Bible), we expanded Chapter 2 of the original volume into
two chapters now titled: "Epigraphy and Archaeology" and "The Biblical
Co-editing and Co-authoring with John Hayes
John deserves the lion's share of the credit for seeing our first volume,
IJH, through to publication. Gene Tucker, another of our Emory col-
leagues, used to say: "First you write a book; then you make it." His
point was that after completing a manuscript, there remains much to do
before a book is ready for the publisherPreface, Table of Contents,
List of Abbreviations, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index, and so on. In
addition to all of that, which was fairly new to me at the time, IJH was a
multi-authored volume and some of the chapters required heavy editing;
one was submitted in long-hand. John and I worked together on all of
this, and our graduate students helped as well. But it was he who knew
what had to be done to "make the book" and how to go about it.
With HAIJ, I was better able to shoulder my share of the load This
time, however, we had set about to co-author a book rather than co-edit
one, which turned out to be much more difficultnot so much because
we disagree on matters of Israelite history (although we do in some
areas), but because our writing styles are different and because we have
different approaches to historical argumentation. After exchanging
numerous drafts, revisions, and re-revisions of every chapter, we finally
decided, following the lead of Abraham and Lot, to divide the turf.
Namely, we agreed that, although both of us had worked on all of the
chapters, I would take responsibility for the final content and wording of
the first half of the volume (the chapters covering through the period of
the Jehu dynasty) and that John would take responsibility for the second
half (which originally covered through the Roman Period). Proceeding in
that fashion, we produced a volume that the publishers decided was
much too massive for the market. They suggested and we agreed to end
coverage with the Persian Period, which meant dropping almost half of
J ohn's chapters. Later he reworked these chapters for another book
coauthored with Sara Mandell: The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity:
From Alexander to Bar Kochba.
Another issue arose due to J ohn's expanding ideas about the historical
value of the prophetic books. During the five years following the initial
publication of HAIJ, John and two of our graduate students, Stuart Irvine
13. J. H. Hayes and S. Mandell, The Jewish People in Classical Antiquity: From
Alexander to BarKochba (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1998).
18 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
and Paul Hooker, developed some very intriguing theories regarding the
eighth-century prophets.
Specifically, they read the prophetic texts,
especially First Isaiah and Amos, as works entirely from the mouths of
the prophetsa tendentious but historically significant assumption, of
course. Related are their arguments that the book of Isaiah was arranged
in chronological orderin other words ch. 1 is the earliest oracle, ch. 6
is not Isaiah's initial prophetic call, and so forthand that Amos was
one single composition delivered at Bethel "just prior to the fall festival
beginning the year 750-749."
The conclusions drawn from reading
Amos and Isaiah with such presuppositions are further intertwined with
particular implications for the chronology of the Israelite and Judean
Kings. For instance, Hayes and Hooker formulate detailed conclusions
about the calendrical systems of the two kingdoms, claim that there were
no co-regencies ever in Judah and Israel, and have complex positions on
which information from the Masoretic text is trustworthy and which is
Given J ohn's new ideas about chronology, which I find plausible but
not compelling, "co-authorship" was all the more difficult when John
and I set about to updateHAIJ. In the original edition we followed a
chronology that I had worked out early in my career, one that could not
be separated easily from my treatment of the Omride and Jehu periods in
the original HAIJ and in several other publications.
By the same
measure, J ohn's more recent thinking about the later years of Israelite
and Judean history presupposes and cannot be separated easily from the
Hayes-Hooker chronology. Of course any chronology for the Israelite
and Judean kings is conjectural to some degree, and the differences
between the actual dates of the Miller and Hayes-Hooker chronologies
are relatively minor. Still, it would not be an easy matter for me to refit
my chapters with the Hayes-Hooker dates, or for John to rework his
chapters with mine.
14. See J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His
Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987); J. H. Hayes, Amos, the
Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon,
1988). See also S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, Ahaz, and the Syro-Ephraimitic Crisis (SBLDS
123; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990).
15. Hayes, Amos, 3 8.
16. J. H. Hayes and P. K. Hooker, A New Chronology for the Kings of Israel and
Judah and Its Implication for Biblical History and Literature (Atlanta: John Knox,
1991); see pp. 12-15 for a summary of their conclusions.
17. See, e.g., J. M. Miller, "Another Look at the Chronology of the Early
Divided Monarchy," JBL 86 (1967): 276-88.
MILLER Israel's Past 19
For the updated version of the history, therefore, we settled upon a
new division of turf. I took responsibility for the chapters through
Solomon's reign, and wrote a new chapter that overviews the separate
kingdoms, surveys the sources of information pertaining to them, and
anticipates the main interpretational issues (including chronology). John
took responsibility for the remaining chapters that treat the separate
kingdoms by sub-periods and in more detail.
On the Legitimacy of the "History of Israel" Genre
HAIJ belongs to a modern literary genre that one might identify as
"histories of Israel," or, more specifically, to a sub-genre "critical histo-
ries of Israel." Its closest contemporary is Alberto Soggin's History of
Ancient Israel, and its immediate predecessors are Noth's Geschichte
Israels and Bright's A History of Israel, discussed above.
The pedigree
of the genre goes back much further. Among notable scholars of earlier
generations who produced volumes that fit this genre are Milman, Ewald,
Wellhausen, Kittel, and Oesterley and Robinson.
In the past decades,
especially since the original publication of HAIJ, the legitimacy of the
genre has been challenged. The objections, it seems to me, boil down to
the following three, each of which invites response.
(1) Writing any sort of history, certainly a history of ancient Israel, is
illegitimate because it is impossible to achieve historical objectivity. All
of our written sources from times past are biased to some degree, and
archaeological data are selective by nature, but perhaps the most serious
barrier to historical objectivity is unavoidable subjectivity on the part of
historians. Every historian approaches the past with a particular slant
determined by his or her own moment in history, cultural heritage, status
in society, gender, and so on. "Any history book reveals as much about
its author as it does about the period of time treated."
18. J. A. Soggin, A History of Israel: From the Beginnings to the Bar Kochba
Revolt, AD 135 (London: SCM Press, 1984).
19. H. H. Milman, The History of the Jews, From the Earliest Period Down
to Modem Times (London: John Murray, 1829); G. H. A. Ewald, Geschichte des
Volkes Israel bis Christus (Gottingen: Dieterichschen Buchhandling, 1843-55);
J. Wellhausen, Israelitische undjiidische Geschichte (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1894);
R. Kittel, Geschichte der Hebraer (Gotha: Friedrich Andreas Perthes, 1888-92);
W. O. E. Oesterley and T. H. Robinson, A History of Israel (London: Oxford Uni-
versity Press). For a comprehensive list of "Major Histories of Israel and Judah," see
Hayes and Miller, eds., Israelite andJudaean History, xxv-xxix.
20 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
I quite agree; in fact the statement quoted above is my own.
But if
writing truly objective history is impossible, so also is ignoring history
impossible. The past happened, impressions and assumptions about the
past enter into our thinking at every level, and these impressions inevita-
bly influence the way we encounter the present. I doubt that it is really
possible, for example, for one to read the Hebrew Bible without harbor-
ing at least some deep-seated notions about whether there was such a
time, place and people as ancient Israel, and without these notions influ-
encing his or her engagement with the text. So the issue, in my opinion,
is not whether we will deal with history, but how we will deal with it.
Will we leave to chance our impressions and assumptions about the past?
Or, in spite of the impossibility of achieving complete objectivity, will
we at least make our best effort in that direction? Obviously John and I
favor the latter option, and we offer HAIJ as our best effort, nothing
more. It represents our "best guess scenario" for the time, place, and
people of ancient Israel and Judah.
(2) The "history of Israel" genre is illegitimate because there was no
ancient Israel. The Israel that we encounter in the Hebrew Bible, and
which modern histories of Israel set about to explain, never existed. It
was a literary construct from the beginning, an idealized time, place, and
people perpetrated by late Jewish theologians.
Clearly there is some truth here; the story of ancient Israel presented
in Genesis-2 Kings is more akin to theological treatise than to histori-
cal reality. But to suggest that it was concocted entirely from theology,
propaganda, and thin air is far fetched. My response to this second
objection, in other words, is simply to disagree, and to offer HAIJ as my
grounds for disagreement. We have attempted in HAIJ to take full account
of the literary complexities and theological agendas of the Hebrew Bible.
Having done so, and having examined the available extra-biblical evi-
dence as well, we conclude that the idealized Israel presented in the
Hebrew Bible was at least reminiscent of an ancient historical reality,
and HAIJ embodies our "best case scenario" for what that reality might
have been.
20. J. M. Miller, "Reading the Bible Historically: The Historian's Approach," in
To Each Its Own Meaning: An Introduction to Biblical Criticisms and Their Appli-
cation (ed. S. L. McKenzie and S. R. Haynes; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John
Knox, 1993), 12.
21. See, e.g., P. R. Davies, In Search of "Ancient Israel" (JSOTSup 148;
Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), andK. W. Whitelam, The Invention of Ancient Israel:
The Silencing of Palestinian History (London: Routledge, 1996).
MILLER Israel's Past 21
(3) Typical histories of Israel fail to qualify as proper histories because
they focus too narrowly on the people and events of the Hebrew Bible.
This objection comes in at least two variations: (a) ancient Israel was but
a moment in the long sweep of Syro-Palestinian history, the Israelites
were a relatively insignificant people during that moment, and the indi-
viduals featured in the Hebrew Bible played a much more minor role in
shaping events than the Bible would have us suppose. A proper history
should explore the big picture, consider recurring patterns of change over
time, and give full attention to climate, topography, vegetation, animal
population, agricultural potentialities, and such.
(b) Typical histories of
Israel, like the biblical narratives upon which they depend so heavily,
give too much attention to the politics of kings, deeds of prophets, and
attitudes of priests, virtually all of whom were men. A proper history of
Israel should focus more on the underside of ancient Israelite society, the
real people, including women.
These objections are to be taken seriously. Perhaps we should concede
that the long line of volumes featuring the term "history" in their titles
(all the way back to Milman and Wellhausen) are misnamed. Rather than
calling them "histories of Israel" (or of Judah; or of Israel and Judah),
perhaps we should call them something like "investigations into the pos-
sible historicity of biblical events and characters." But before we dismiss
the "history of Israel" genre entirely, there are some practical matters to
take into account. True, for a comprehensive history of any people, the
historian should take into account such factors as climate, topography,
vegetation, and so on. But this is not an entirely new concept for the long
line of scholars who have written histories of Israel; the real difficulty is
in understanding how all of these factors interrelate historically, and in
getting it all in balance and on the page at the same time.
True also, any
well rounded investigation of ancient Israel should look beyond palace,
temple, and documents from the literary elite. But that, too, is easier said
than done. Monumental buildings leave more physical remains for
archaeologists to examine than ordinary dwellings, to say nothing of
22. Among scholars who have called for this approach, pioneered by F. Braudel
and theAnnales school, are R. B. Coote and K. W. Whitelam in The Emergence of
Early Israel in Historical Perspective (The Social World of Biblical Antiquity 5;
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1987).
23. See, for example, Gosta Ahlstrom's The History of Ancient Palestine from
the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993),
brought to publication after his death in 1992 by Diana Edelman. As indicated by the
title, Ahlstrom intended to deal with the ancient history and peoples of Palestine in
general rather than focusing on ancient Israel and biblical times. Whether he
accomplished this is open to question.
22 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
hovels and tent dwellings. The lower classes in ancient times did not
leave a written trail, and neither did women for the most part. In the end,
historians must work with what is available. And for ancient Israel, the
Hebrew Bible is "the elephant in the room."
In any case, John and I grew up in religious communities, heard the
Bible stories from childhood, and have enjoyed exploring the possible
historical connections and ramifications of the people and events featured
in these stories. For those who share our interest, we offer our findings,
our "best guess scenario" for ancient Israel, in A History of Ancient
Israel andJudah.
Megan Bishop Moore
Identifying and assessing information about Israel and Judah's past using
biblical sources is sometimes akin to faying to unravel a massive spider's
web. The information is a jumble, and strands lead to other strands as
characters, events, books, and authors interweave and stick together. The
historian simultaneously attempts to contribute his or her own strand
while explaining the others and not becoming hopelessly entangled.
Fortunately, the careful scholar can sometimes pull apart the strands and
identify clusters that have spawned imitations, reinterpretations, and
additions in the web.
Surely the prophetic books constitute some of the densest and most
inter-connected clusters in the biblical web. Looking outward from the
prophetic material, one direction their strands go leads to the events and
situations that inspired the prophetic books. Scholarship is indebted
to John Hayes's contributions to the investigation of these links. The
makeup of the prophetic clusters themselves is also interesting, and dis-
tinguishing earlier and later strands within the prophetic books is an
ongoing enterprise. In this article, I will neither attempt to identify par-
ticular historical referents for prophecies, nor will I try to untangle
the knots that are the prophetic books. Rather, I will follow the strands
that lead out of the prophets to the modern discipline of writing Israel's
history, paying special attention to the prophetic books' connections to
comprehensive histories. This investigation will have three avenues,
asking (1) whether prophetic books can be considered history or histori-
cal; (2) what specific types of information about the past may be found in
the prophetic books and how scholars have used this information; and,
(3) how the prophetic corpus additionally might be used in writing about
Israel's past.
24 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
I. Are the Prophetic Books History?
Certainly the prophetic books, that is, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the
Twelve have some historical features. Ezekiel set up a comprehensive
historical (albeit allegorical) context for the current situation he observes
by telling the story of Jerusalem's past as a narrative of birth, adoption,
and whorings (Ezek 16). Importantly also, the biblical writers and editors
attempted to tie the prophets to historical contexts and events, and like-
wise saw the prophetic books as repositories for historical information.
Thus passages such as Isa 36-39 (with parallels in 2 Kgs 18-20) and the
narrative portions of Jeremiah exemplify later generations' desire to
locate the prophets within a trajectory of events that led to their own
These features of prophetic books, however, do not justify calling them
"history," even in a broad sense of the word. Calling a text "history"
brings into play particular assumptions about its genesis, form, context,
intention, and reliability. Pre-eminent is the assumption that the text in
question was written with the intention of recording significant events
from the near or distant past for future generations. Another common
assumption is that history is narrative (or at least was in ancient times).
Also, most definitions of history require that the narrative was written for
reflective or didactic purposes (as opposed to chronicling, record-keep-
ing, or for antiquarian purposes).
Thus, several features of the prophetic
books distinguish them from history. First, much of the books' content is
poetry, not narrative prose. Narrative context-setting passages, whether
from the prophet himself or a later editor, do not constitute enough of a
framework to make any prophetic book history. Also, the prophetic books
portray most of the prophets as observing and commenting on current
events in order to urge their contemporaries to change their behavior.
History, in general, analyzes past events and sometimes, but not always,
connects these events to the situation at the time of the historian. In other
words, the apparent simultaneous involvement of the prophets in the
1. Jewish tradition has long associated prophets with narrative prose, considering
Moses the author of the Pentateuch and including Joshua2 Kings in the Nevi'im, or
prophets, of the Hebrew Bible. See also Josephus, C. Ap. 1.3941.
2. The order of the prophetic books apparently also reflects a hypothetical
chronology for the prophets.
3. See, e.g., L. Stone, "The Revival of Narrative: Reflections on a New Old
History," Past and Present 85 (1979): 3-24.
4. For a description of how history differs from antiquarianism, see A. Momigli-
ano, "Ancient History and the Antiquarian," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld
Institutes 13 (1950): 285-315.
MOORE Writing Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books 25
events on which they comment precludes the perspective of reflective
hindsight commonly associated with history.
In addition, we do not
know if the prophets' words were recorded for posterity at the time of
their pronouncement, that is, in a journalistic fashion, or later, in a his-
torical fashion, when subsequent events appeared to have borne out the
words' importance.
On the whole, then, the prophetic books do not have enough general
characteristics of history to qualify as such. This is not to suggest, how-
ever, that the prophets can contribute nothing to our understanding of
Israel's past.
Rather, it reminds us that the process of garnering informa-
tion about the past from the prophetic books and evaluating its reliability
requires some variations from the processes of reading, comparing, and
testing that historians use when considering intentional narrative sources
such as the Deuteronomistic History. Therefore, the next steps for the
historian are determining what kind of information about the past can be
found in the prophetic books and how to go about using it to tell Israel's
II. What Kind of Information About the Past
Can We Find in the Prophetic Books?
Certainly some aspects of the prophetic books look promising for histori-
ans hoping to find information about the past in them. For example, the
superscriptions of the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah,
Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah appear at first glance to be boons for
historians since they purport to set these books in historical contexts.
Unfortunately, it is hard to confirm that these superscriptions are correct,
and even if historians accept these superscriptions as reliable, the super-
scriptions often raise as many questions as they provide answers.
5. Classical historiographers used speeches of persons involved in events as a
vehicle to include reflective analyses of past situations in history writing. Redac-
tional interpretations of Israel's prophets do suggest that later editors used the pro-
phetic figures for similar purposes, putting in their mouths words more meaningful
to the editor's audience man to the prophet's contemporaries. See, for example, the
article by E. Ben Zvi ("De-historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies in the Twelve
Prophetic Books: A Case Study of the Heuristic Value of a Historically Anchored
Systemic Approach to the Corpus of Prophetic Literature") in this volume.
6. It is also not meant to imply that ancient history is necessarily a reliable source
of evidence about the past. For a discussion of the problems ancient histories present
for historians, see M. I. Finley, Ancient History: Evidence and Models (London:
Chatto & Windus, 1985), 9-11.
7. For discussion, see E. Ben Zvi, "Studying Prophetic Texts Against Their
Original Backgrounds: Pre-Ordained Scripts and Alternative Horizons of Research,"
26 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
for the reigns of the Israelite and Judean kings are notoriously hard to pin
down, so that, at best, superscriptions give historians only a general date
range for the prophets' oracles. Historians then must decide whether this
range is adequate for understanding the historical situation to which the
prophet is presumably responding, and, if not, whether the context can be
narrowed in any way.
The historian attempting to go any further into the
web at this point can find him- or herself grasping unsupported strands or
diving head-first into more sticky situations.
The prophetic texts are also full of imagery that may allude to events
of historical significance. Often, however, it cannot be determined what
actual event inspired the image, or if, conversely, the imagery draws on
motifs that have little connection to a real occurrence. One example is
the question of the conditions that inspired the description of the
devastated land in Isa 1:7-9. Many scholars believe that the Assyrians
under Sennacherib caused the desolation, fire, and isolation of Jerusalem
described there.
On the other hand, Hayes argues that the earthquake
mentioned in Amos 1:1 and Zech 14:5 caused this destruction.
interpretations discussed here agree that some actual event is behind
Isaiah's description, that is, that the image is not entirely metaphorical.
Yet the event that inspired the image remains unknown. Therefore,
historians who seek knowledge of how the ancients saw earthly events
reflecting Yahweh's dissatisfaction with the people, or even how an
observer might have described the destruction caused by the earthquake
or Sennacherib, are without a potentially very helpful piece of evidence.
In short, the prophetic books appear to be a questionable source of
information about Israel's past for a number of reasons. First and fore-
most, in order for a source to be useful to historians, knowledge of the
in Prophets and Paradigms: Essays in Honor of Gene M. Tucker (ed. S. Reid;
J SOTSup229; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 125-35.
8. Thus, Hayes's work on the chronologies of the Israelite and Judean kings is
directly tied to his interpretation of the historical situation the prophets address. See,
e.g., J. H. Hayes and P. K. Hooker, A New Chronology for the Kings of Israel and
Judah and Its Implications for Biblical History and Literature (Atlanta: John Knox,
9. This opinion likely qualifies as the standard interpretation of the passage. See,
for example, the notes on the passage by J. J. M. Roberts in The HarperCollins Study
Bible: New Revised Standard Version (ed. W. A. Meeks; New York: HarperCollins,
1993), 1014.
10. Hayes bases his opinion partly on his belief that the mention of Sodom and
Gomorrah points to a divinely directed natural disaster rather than an invading army.
J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His
Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987), 71-73.
MOORE Writing Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books 27
date of its production and the events it describes are crucial. As discussed
here, even when there is a superscription or some indication of a date for
a prophetic book, usually its context and time of writing cannot be deter-
mined with enough certainty to make it useful for the understanding of
specific events. In addition, many of the events and situations that inspired
the prophets' imagery are unknown or poorly understood. Furthermore,
even when prophetic texts appear to contain relatively clear information
about their context and the referents and audiences of their prophecies
seem evident, prophetic books may not contain much that helps the his-
torian say more about the past than he or she could say without the pro-
phetic source. For instance, Ezek 1 and other passages throughout the
book locate Ezekiel in Babylon after the forced exile from Jerusalem in
597 B.C.E. However, this determination does not automatically give his-
torians access to information about conditions in Babylon or Jerusalem
during the Babylonian exile.
Given the many difficulties involved in reading the prophets for what
might be called intentional historical information, that is, information
that the author intended to impart for posterity, it is not surprising that
historians often look instead for incidental or non-intentional historical
information in prophetic books. Such information, according to the
historian Marc Bloch, is what "the past unwittingly leaves all along its
trail" that allows us to know "far more of the past than the past itself had
thought good to tell us."
Incidental or non-intentional information can
include descriptions of names, places, practices, social patterns, prevail-
ing mores, and general attitudesanything that was assumed by the
writer or inherent in the culture that produced and is reflected in the text.
For instance, mentions of domestic life may indicate what roles and
duties were filled by women, accounts of religious reform may reveal
information about popular piety, and references to daily commerce may
indicate the types of goods and people involved in trade.
In recent decades, the recovery of non-intentional information has
been one of the predominant contributions of the prophetic books to the
study of Israel's past. For instance, non-intentional information from the
prophetic books contributes to our understanding of so-called "daily
11. M. Bloch, The Historian's Craft (New York: Vintage, 1953), 62, 64.
12. Bloch (ibid., 62) also expressed the idea that non-intentional evidence is as
reliable, and perhaps more reliable, than information intentionally recorded, since a
historian may distort intentional information due to intent or bias. In this opinion,
Bloch is in line with Finley and many modern historians, including minimalist his-
torians of ancient Israel, who view ancient history as a very problematic source of
evidence for the past due to its overarching intentions or aims.
28 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
life," which encompasses the way Israelite life operated on a daily basis,
the materials and objects used in daily life, and the ideas that were current
among the populace. Thus, the prophets can give us clues about topics
such as ancient engraving, commodities, and symbolism.
tional information shows up in event-oriented histories of ancient Israel
also, because authors of such works tend to use the prophetic books as
"a useful cross-reference" that helps illuminate the "main narrative
accounts" of the Deuteronomistic History and Chronicles.
Another area of Israel's past to which the prophetic books contribute
evidence is the study of Israel's religion. It is impossible to discuss
Israel's religion, its god, its covenants with its god, its cultic practices, or
any other social, theological, or cultic aspect of Israelite faith without
turning to the prophets, Israel's presumed "religious specialists."
the prophetic books have become primary sources for understanding the
details of religious practices in ancient Israel, and arguably are the main
sources for researching broader indications of Israel's state of religious
piety. Yet using the prophets to understand particular aspects of Israelite
religion has had its twists and turns. For instance, in the past, historians
and commentators saw Hosea's mention of the zond in Hos 4:14 as an
indication of cultic prostitution in Israel. Over the past decades, scholars
have re-examined the evidence for cultic prostitution within and outside
of Israel and have raised a number of cautions against assuming its
existence in Israel, partly because the word zond refers to prostitution in
general (e.g. Lev 21:7). Taking it further, some scholars have suggested
that if a zond lacks cultic, ritualistic, or sacred associations, religious
interpretations of Hosea are weakened and Samaria/Israel's lovers in
Hos 2, with whom she has played the whore, ought to be understood as
foreign allies, not foreign gods.
As compelling as these suggestions are,
13. F. E. Deist, The Material Culture of the Bible: An Introduction (The Biblical
Seminar 70; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 139-40, 185, 213. P. J.
King and L. E. Stager, Life in Biblical Israel (Library of Ancient Israel; Louisville,
Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2001) use incidental information from the prophetic
books in similar ways.
14. I. W. Provan, V. P. Long, and T. Longman III, A Biblical History of Israel
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2003), 242.
15. P. M. McNutt, Reconstructing the Society of Ancient Israel (Library of
Ancient Israel; Ixmisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1999), 179.
16. B. E. Kelle, Hosea 2: Metaphor and Rhetoric in Historical Perspective
(Academia Biblica 20; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2005); J. H. Hayes, "Hosea's Baals and
Lovers: Religion or Politics?" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society
of Biblical Literature, New Orleans, 1990); A. Keefe, Woman's Body and the Social
Body in Hosea (Gender, Culture, Theory 10; JSOTSup 338; Sheffield: Sheffield
MOORE Writing Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books 29
time, language, imagery, and our own limited knowledge stand between
the prophet's referents and our understanding of the purview and inter-
ests of the prophets and Yahwistic religion in ancient Israel.
Besides using the prophetic texts for indications of specific practices
and beliefs in ancient Israel, historians have also used them to evaluate
the state of religion and society there. The prophets' emphasis on obedi-
ence to Yahweh in general, and calls for social justice in particular,
combined with the deuteronomistic perspective that Israel's failure to
keep Yahweh's commandments caused its defeats and downfalls, have
sometimes tempted historians to adopt a negative view of Israelites and
their society. The evaluation of John Bright stands as one example:
The eighth century in Israel reached its mid-point on a note of hideous dis-
sonance. The state of Israel, externally strong, prosperous, and confident
of the future, was inwardly rotten and sick past curing... It was thanks
primarily to the prophets that, as the northern state went to her grave, to be
followed more tardily by her southern sister, Israel's faith received a new
access of life.
In the years since Bright wrote, trends in the study of history in general
might make historians less likely to be so judgmental about the ancients.
First, historians have become more aware that no report from or descrip-
tion of the past can be purely objective. Thus, historians must consider
the possibility that the prophets' descriptions of Israelite worship and
piety could be biased to the point of distortion or inaccuracy.
Also, the
rise in popularity of so-called "history from below," or history of the
"common people," has helped turn the spotlight away from the unethical
behavior of the presumed elites and toward the people within the same
society who might have been victims of this injustice.
In short, a critical
stance towards the claims of the prophetic texts is necessary when they
are used to describe Israel's religion. In addition, the use of conclusions
Academic Press, 2001); G. Yee,"' She Is Not My Wife and I Am Not Her Husband':
A Materialist Analysis of Hosea 1-3," Biblnt 9 (2004): 345-83.
17. J. Bright, A History of Israel (4th ed.; Louisville, Ky: Westminster John
Knox, 2000), 266. The first edition was published in 1959.
18. Cogently pointed out by D. J. A. Clines in "Metacommentating Amos," in Of
Prophets' Visions and the Wisdom of Sages: Essays in Honour ofR. Norman Why-
bray on His Seventieth Birthday (ed. H. A. McKay and D. J. A. Clines; JSOTSup
162; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993), 142-60.
19. J. E. Sanderson, "Amos," in The Women's Bible Commentary (ed. C. A.
Newsom and S. H. Ringe; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox), 206: "As Amos
singled out wealthy womena small groupfor special condemnation, a balanced
analysis would also have singled out poor womena much larger groupfor special
3 0 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
from archaeology and information from other cultures will continue to
help historians use the prophetic literature productively and as objec-
tively as possible when writing about Israel's religion.
A final category of history that sometimes draws on the prophets is the
military and political history of ancient Israel. Hayes, for instance, has
shown that the oracles against the nations stem from military contexts,
and has reconstructed the military and political history of certain time
periods largely on the basis of these and other prophetic pronounce-
Using such oracles to reconstruct military and political events,
however, raises methodological problems similar to the ones discussed
already, particularly questions of dates and referents, as well as bias or
perspective in reporting.
Despite the drawbacks of using the prophetic books as sources of
evidence about religion, daily life, and military-political events in ancient
Israel, historians have and will continue to do so. Historians should not,
however, limit their interest in the prophets to seeking information about
these topics, as a closer look at the prophetic books shows that they
address or imply other concerns of ancient Israel, as well. Here I will
focus on one aspect of Israel's existence that I believe comprehensive
histories of ancient Israel have not adequately addressed, namely, the
role other nations played in the formation of Israel's identity and its
understanding of the political and economic realities it encountered.
III. The Prophetic Books and the Overall Picture
of Israel's Past in Histories of Ancient Israel
As mentioned above, the enterprise of relating the words and messages
of the prophets directly to events or situations in historical contexts goes
back as far as the biblical authors and editors who added narrative
20. In light of growing skepticism about the historical reliability of the Bible and
the concurrent desire to include more findings of archaeology in Israel's story, some
scholars see religion as a topic in which the Bible (including the prophets) and
archaeology can combine to say something true about Israel's past. See, among
others, W. G. Dever, What Did the Biblical Writers Know and When Did They Know
It? What Archaeology Can Tell Us about the Reality of Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2001), 173-97, and also idem, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and
Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
21. J. H. Hayes, "The Usage of Oracles Against Foreign Nations in Ancient
Israel," ./BL 87 (1968): 81-92; for historical military-political reconstructions based
on prophetic texts, see idem, Amos, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His
Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988); Hayes and Irvine, Isaiah; Hayes and
Hooker, A New Chronology.
MOORE Writing Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books 31
indications of these contexts. Furthermore, the image-laden language of
the prophets combined with the difficulties in dating the writings assures
that evaluating such connections and making new ones will not be easy
for modern interpreters. On the other hand, the prophetic books can pro-
vide history a broader perspective. Stepping back from the specific con-
texts and concerns of the prophetic books, we see in them indications
that Israel intensely recognized that it was part of a large and diverse
world. Almost all of the prophetic books relate changes and problems
in societypolitical, economic, religious, and socialto forces or hap-
penings elsewhere: foreign powers may be the cause of events, such as
destructions; at times, the degradation of social conditions is attributed to
foreign elements; other times, the prophets hold up the experiences of
other nations as examples of what might happen to Israel; and, especially
in oracles against the nations, the prophets inform other nations of what
they can expect from Yahweh thanks to their own behavior (often actions
against Israel). Thus, it is evident that the prophetic books want Israel to
look outward in order to learn about right and wrong conduct by
comparing themselves to others and in order to see the power of Yahweh
at work around the world.
The list of cities, peoples, and lands that the prophetic books use to
make these points is formidable. The prophets point to places ranging
from the well known, such as Nineveh (Nah 2:8; Jonah 1:2), to the
obscure, such as Jazer and Sibmah (Jer 48:32). Yet the prophets saw all
of these places as relevant to Israel in some way, and presumably would
not have included them in their oracles if their mention would not have
been recognizable and persuasive. Put in fashionable academic speak, we
can say that the world outside of Israel is an emic concern of Israel,
abundantly evidenced throughout the written records of this culture. The
evidence for this claim is found not only in the prophetic books, but also
in the geographical genealogies of the Primeval History and the many
etiologies and stories in the Pentateuch and Deuteronomistic History that
22. N. K. Gottwald, All the Kingdoms of the Earth: Israelite Prophecy and
International Relations in the Ancient Near East (New York: Harper & Row, 1964),
argues this point in much more detail. This book is a comprehensive survey of how
the prophets, both writing prophets and others such as Elijah, understood and com-
mented on Israel's foreign relations. It also reflects on how modern readers can
relate the prophetic perspective to current international relations. Gottwald follows
up on this latter topic in "Prophetic Faith and Contemporary International Relations,"
in idem, The Hebrew Bible in its Social World and Ours (Atlanta: Scholars Press,
1993), 291-306; repr. from P. Peachey, ed., Biblical Realism Confronts the Nation
(Nyack: Fellowship, 1963), 68-87.
32 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
tell of Israel's interaction with and relationship to other nations and
Given the concern of the prophetic books and the rest of the Hebrew
Bible for happenings outside of Israel, it would seem natural that histo-
ries of Israel would pay some attention to positioning Israel in this world
and discussing how Israel interacted with it. Furthermore, it would
appear that the role other nations play in Israel's self-definition and its
understanding of its political, economic, social, and even religious reali-
ties would be a productive topic for combining the insights of archaeolo-
gists and biblical scholars. Certainly such work is taking place, but an
Israel that looks outward as much as inward rarely appears as the subject
of a history of Israel.
Before I make some suggestions for incorporating this international
perspective into Israel's story, reasons for its absence ought to be
explored. I believe that, at least recently, pressure to de-center histories
of Israel from an Israel denned in biblical terms has changed the way
historians write, or do not write, about Israel's past. So-called minimal-
ist historians of ancient Israel have championed this approach, which
" 'downgrades' Israel to the status of one people among many peoples in
Palestine and 'de-centers' Israel from the position of dominant sub-
ject. . .to the parity position of being one subject among many interacting
The real Israel of the past, minimalists argue, is barely worthy
of special historical consideration. Furthermore, they find the real Israel
almost impossible to locate historically, since most of the evidence
historians use to define ancient Israel conies from the Bible, and the
Bible is, in their opinion, historically unreliable in many aspects. Thus,
minimalists imply, historians should write histories of a broader swath of
time and place than the putative setting of ancient Israel (central Pales-
tine from 1000 B.C.E. to 586 B.C.E. or 323 B.C.E. or so), or should offer
histories of ideas, such as the idea of Israel and how it developed and
took hold within a certain group of people in the ancient world.
23. E. Bloch-Smith, "Israelite Ethnicity in Iron I: Archaeology Preserves What Is
Remembered and What Is Forgotten in Israel's History," JBL 122 (2003): 401-25, is
one recent example of integrative scholarship. K. L. Noll, Canaan and Israel in
Antiquity: An Introduction (The Biblical Seminar 83; London: Sheffield Academic
Press, 2001), is a comprehensive history that presents Israel as intertwined with its
"Canaanite" cultural environment.
24. N. K. Gottwald, "Triumphalist Versus Anti-Triumphalist Versions of Early
Israel: A Response to Articles by Lemche and Dever in Volume 4 (1996)," CurBS 5
(1997): 15-42(30).
25. An example of the former approach is G. Ahlstrom, The History of Ancient
Palestine from the Palaeolithic Period to Alexander's Conquest (Minneapolis:
MOORE Writing Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books 33
Scholars have heard the minimalists' concerns, and as the debate goes
on, a few trends have become evident. First, compilations of methodo-
logical discussions about Israel's history have become a common type of
publication in the field.
Many focus on the questions of how to locate
and define Israel and what evidence is relevant to this endeavor.
these cases, discussions of what actually happened in the past and why in
such publications, that is, history writing about ancient Israel, are con-
fined to analysis of small parts of Israel's story. At the same time, only a
few scholars have undertaken histories of an Israel akin to biblical Israel
Perhaps the ongoing questions about the Bible as evidence
combined with the pressure to include in Israel's story more discussion
of its place among other nations and peoples has made the viability of
Israel as a historical subject too difficult to defend and thus has made
large-scale histories of Israel too difficult to write. Yet, most historians
appear to want to negotiate a position between cutting Israel off from the
surrounding world and making its boundarieschronological, geographi-
cal, and culturalso fluid that they risk losing Israel entirely.
Fortress, 1993). This is hardly a minimalist work since its approach to the Bible as
evidence is positive overall. Ahlstrom does give the Transjordan some attention
(Chapters 9 and 15, especially), and though his treatment of that region is slimmer
than that of Israel's, his history's purview is not entirely Israel-centric. The latter
approach, writing a history of ideas about Israel, can be found in T. L. Thompson,
The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel (New York: Basic
Books, 1999). For a fuller exposition of minimalists and their proposals for subjects
of history, see M. B. Moore, Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of
Ancient Israel (LHBOTS 435; New York: T. & T. Clark International, 2006),
75-107 (Chapter 4).
26. For example, the European Seminar in Historical Methodology series edited
by L. L. Grabbe (now a sub-series of LHBOTS, published by T. & T. Clark Inter-
national); D. V. Edelman, ed., The Fabric of History: Text, Artifact and Israel's Past
(JSOTSup 127; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991); and V. P. Long, ed., Israel's Past in
Present Research: Essays on Ancient Israelite Historiography (SETS 7; Winona
Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1999).
27. Such as L. L. Grabbe, ed., Can a "History of Israel" Be Written? (JSOTSup
245; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997).
28. E.g. Provan et al., A Biblical History of Israel, Noll, Canaan and Israel in
Antiquity; V. H. Matthews, A Brief History of Ancient Israel (Louisville, Ky.: West-
minster John Knox, 2002); and the recent second edition of J. M. Miller and J. H.
Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel andJudah (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John
Knox, 2006).
29. This is not the place to make a detailed argument for the suitability of Israel
as a historical subject. Suffice it to say that from the perspective of the present-day
historian, Israel should be an acceptable subject of history due to the relevancy of
its past to modern religious beliefs and, by extension, much of human culture in
34 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Israel's prophets were also concerned about losing Israel. They believed
that its existence was threatened by the degradation of religious beliefs
and social principles, and that this degradation was due to a number of
causes, both internal and external. As I have argued here, the prophets
held up examples of Yahweh's dealings with the world, not just Israel, to
make these points. Therefore, an outward-looking Israel as history's
subject would be richer, more well-rounded in terms of a non-Israel-
centric perspective, and also truer to the Israel presented in the Bible.
If historians accept that a history of Israel can and should be written
with more attention to Israel's place in its cultural and geo-political
environments, a number of practices and traditions familiar to readers of
histories of Israel might change. For instance, historians writing compre-
hensive histories of Israel might alter the near-standard outline that begins
with matters of setting (geographical and chronological) and methodol-
ogy, moves to a discussion of Israel's origins, and men presents Israel's
history following the monarchies and events reported in the Deuter-
onomistic History, generally splitting up the sections on the northern and
southern kingdoms and perhaps ending somewhere around the time of
Alexander's conquest.
In this scheme, happenings that affected Israel
from the outside can easily be dealt with in a few sentences and men-
tioned only as background for events such as dynastic changes and wars.
Likewise, this outline allows the significance of places and events alluded
to in the oracles against the nations and in the rest of the prophets to be
left to the commentaries, since these may fall outside of the main story
line of the emergence, monarchies, and exiles of ancient Israel and
general. As S. Scham ("The Days of the Judges: When Men and Women Were
Animals and Trees Were Kings,''JSOT 97 [2002]: 37-64 [41]) notes, "Ultimately,
we must ask ourselves if it really makes sense to divorce a scholarly discipline from
its primary basis of relevance to the rest of the world." One can defend writing a
history of Israel on the basis of having evidence about it, as well, as long as histori-
ans recognize that Israel is not easily defined either by using the Bible or by looking
at material culture. For further discussion, see Moore, Philosophy and Practice,
13 8-83 (Chapter 6).
30. In such histories, the linear progression through time is usually tied to a
geographic narrowing such that Jerusalem is all that is left of Israel after both the
northern and southern kingdoms are destroyed and their inhabitants taken to exile.
For a discussion of problems with this perspective, see H. Barstad, The Myth of the
Empty Land: A Study in the History and Archaeology of Judah During the "Exilic "
Period (Symbolae Osolenses Fasciculi Suppletorii; Oslo: Scandinavian University
Press, 1996).
31. See, e.g., V. H. Matthews, The Social World of the Hebrew Prophets (Pea-
body, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2001). The first chapter presents "historical geography"
MOORE Writing Israel's History Using the Prophetic Books 35
Histories organized around the Pentateuchal-Deuteronomistic History
outline may not only leave out events and situations important to the
prophets, they also leave very little room for discussion of the thought
worlds of ancient Israel. Since Israel's main legacy is the Bible and,
more specifically, lasting ideas about community makeup, responsibility,
and the relationship of people to God, histories of Israel addressed to the
modern world should give readers some idea of how the drastic changes
in conditions Israel faced over almost one thousand years affected these
ideas. Therefore, discussing in histories how the prophetic books reflect
the ways that Israel came to terms with these changes would make the
history of Israel more relevant to many of the modern communities inter-
ested in the Bible and would make history better reflect the community
that produced the Bible, as well.
In some ways, then, I am arguing that attention to the prophetic books
should inspire a new kind of history of ancient Israel. This history would
keep Israel as its subject but include in its purview other areas of Pales-
tine and the ancient world. Such a history would also attempt to tie
events within Israel and outside of it to the development of ideas and
richness of expression found in the Bible, and would provide a forum for
integrating the Bible, including the prophetic books, with material cul-
ture's indications of how the ancients constructed their thought world
and ethnic identity. On the other hand, the type of history I propose for
ancient Israel is not new, but follows in the vein of William F. Albright's
From the Stone Age to Christianity.
From today's perspective, Albright's
belief that the Bible combined with archaeology could explain (and legiti-
mate) the progression of religious belief from polytheism to Protestant
Christianity is too biased for modern sensibilities. Furthermore, Albright's
optimism about the historical reliability of the biblical sources and the
ability of archaeology to confirm Israel's picture of itself is of course
no longer tenable. Yet Albright's approach is worthy of evaluation,
dicussion, and consideration since it attempts to address many aspects of
Israelite existence besides the succession of kingdoms, to take the proph-
ets seriously as useful witnesses to Israel's past, to understand the wide
world of thought and experience of ancient Israel, and to take into account
the relevance of Israel's history to the modern community.
but then hardly mentions other nations as part of the prophets' social world again,
except for a short discussion of the oracles against the nations (pp. 139-40).
32. W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity: Monotheism and the
Historical Process (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1940; 2d ed.
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957).
3 6 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
TV. Conclusion
Israel's prophets were not historians, and the prophetic books are not
history, but the prophets can contribute to the study of Israel's past.
Incidental information found in the prophetic books can help historians
understand the details and organization of Israelite life. The prophetic
books can also offer information about how ancient Israel practiced its
religion and understood its god and how he worked in the world, and
perhaps may give us some insight into political and military relation-
ships. Calling the prophets "religious specialists" or limiting the histori-
cal interest in the prophets to these topics, however, limits the usefulness
of the prophetic books for history. The prophets urged Israel to look
outward and to see how the wider world could help Israel understand its
experiences and its destiny.
History will benefit from following the
prophets' lead.
33. This view of the prophets also implies that the prophetic canon is held
together in part by an outward-looking perspective, and thereby supports the
inclusion in the prophetic canon of books that have little to say about Israelite
religion or experience, such as Jonah. Also, as Gottwald (All the Kingdoms of the
Earth, 4585) implies, the idea that prophets looked outward also has the potential to
illuminate our understanding of prophecy in general, as prophets such as Elijah and
Samuel deal directly with non-Israelites.
Ehud Ben Zvi
The first time I met John Hayes was a very few days after my arrival
to Atlanta for graduate studies at Emory University. In less than five
minutes we were involved in a vigorous debate about the book of Isaiah
and some exegetical works on it. Ever since that day, we have debated
with the same gusto about prophetic books, ancient Israelite history, and
related topics. What a great teacher is the one who not only allows but
encourages his/her students to disagree with him/her! This essay is a
token of my deeply felt appreciation.
I. Introduction
This article explores the heuristic potential of what might be described as
a historically anchored systemic approach to the corpus of prophetic
literature. Such an approach would focus on implicit rules of selection
that were at work in the production and "consumption" of prophetic
books in ancient Israel. It would, for instance, deal with the identification
of traits or features that were preferred (or dispreferred) and increased (or
decreased) the chances that a book be read, reread, studied, and become
part of the authoritative repertoire of the Jerusalemite literati in the
Persian period.
* An oral version of this essay was presented at a session on "The Twelve" at
the 2005 meeting of the Society of Biblical literature held in Philadelphia. I wish to
thank the participants for their comments.
1. Assuming, as it is most likely, that both the present form of most prophetic
books and the repertoire of authoritative prophetic books, at least in the main, took
shape in this period.
3 8 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Of course, the question arises: How can we know about these implicit,
systemic rules of selection? The answer may be found in analyses of the
outcome of these rules. In other words, we should look at clearly non-
random distribution of traits.
Our attention should focus on clusters of
selective (or disselective) properties that at least in the surface seem
consistent with the discursive/ideological worlds of the literati of ancient
One of the potential advantages of this approach for historical studies
bears particular note. Since it is based on strong, general trends and sure
cases of non-random distribution of traits rather than on particular
instances, it is grounded on a more solid evidentiary basis than exegetical
conclusions regarding individual texts, which by nature are more open
for debate.
Within this general heuristic frame, this essay focuses on constructions
of the past. One reason for this is, of course, the interest of the honouree
of this volume in history; another is my own research interests as a his-
torian; but above all, the reason is that all prophetic books provide
images of the past. All are set in the past, as are the divine or human
utterances that they report. Moreover, through their reading and reread-
ing of prophetic books, the literati, who constituted the primary reader-
ship of the prophetic books, could not but evoke, develop, shape, and
reflect images of the past.
There are different types of constructions of the past. For instance,
they may emphasize general, relatively long periods of time character-
ized or partially characterized by generic features that are not by them-
selves strongly anchored to a narrowly defined particular period, or that
2. One may approach the presence of such traits from the perspective of genre
studies. After all, the selected traits become usual features attested in and charac-
teristic of the genre of the prophetic book. I have focused, however, on the systemic
aspect of this approach, namely, on the existence of a social and discursive system of
rules of selection and disselection. This said, a genre-based approach to these mat-
ters may be considered the other side of the coin of the one explored here.
3. There is no point in dwelling on the obvious, such as that texts that claim that
deities other than YHWH are to be worshiped are most strongly disselected. For this
approach to be meaningful, it should focus only on traits that at least on the surface
could have been attributed to prophetic texts or godly characters, but tended not to
be. These cases raise the heuristically significant, historical question of why such
was the case.
4. To be sure, these particular exegetical conclusions regarding individual texts
are indispensable for most kinds of studies on prophetic literature. The point advanced
in this essay is only that a general, systemic approach is heuristically valuable for
particular purposes and should be explored.
BENZ vi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 39
from a pragmatic perspective seem quasi-atemporal or transtemporal.
Society is thus portrayed from a general overview perspective, as it was
imagined to have existed during a substantial span of time, and is charac-
terized, in part at least, by some attributes that in the essence could have
potentially been associated with other periods (e.g. corruption of justice,
oppression of the weak, sinful elites and their usual manifestations within
agrarian societies).
Alternatively, constructions of the past may place their emphasis on
punctual time, on particular "historically unique" moments or events, on
clear dates, which by necessity can appear only once in history. These
images bring attention to unique moments within the social memory of
the community/ies rather than on that which is general.
Both types of constructions of the past appear in prophetic literature.
Of course, the past is not evoked, at least in the main, for its own sake,
but to provide the context necessary for the understanding of the text
within the intended community of readers (or better, rereaders). These
books, in fact, tend to carry clear textually inscribed markers asking their
intended and primary rereaders (hereafter, and for simplicity, "the target
rereaders" or "the target rereadership") to approach and understand them
from a perspective that is strongly informed by either (a) a general image
of a society associated with the past and characterized at least in part by
attributes that resonate with other periods, or (b) a sharp snapshot of a
narrowly defined period of time or set of circumstances that is unique in
the main. In the first case, one may say that the text carries a tendency
towards partial de-concretizing or de-historicizing. It de-emphasizes
historical uniqueness or the importance of narrowly denned historical
events and circumstances for the understanding of the book as a whole
and the didactic prophetic readings that stand at its core. In the second
case, one may say that the text carries a strong historicizing tendency.
This essay will analyze the non-random distribution of these tenden-
cies in the collection of books later called "The Twelve" (hereafter, "the
twelve prophetic books") and explore the reasons behind the clear pref-
erence of one over the other in these books in general, as well as the
reasons for the salient exceptions to the rule. Strong preference for one or
the other tendency carries implications for the constructions and uses of
the past in prophetic books and for the modes of reading and emphasis
that they carried from the perspective of the target rereaders. Such
preference also sheds light on the social, didactic, and ideological func-
tions of prophetic books, as well as on the societies that composed, read,
and reread them. The collection of the twelve prophetic books in particu-
lar provides a broad sample of several works that allows for solid conclu-
sions about non-random trait distribution among separate compositions.
40 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
And this specific collection demonstrates a clear preference for one of
these tendencies. Yet attention may also be given, albeit briefly, to some
of the heuristic questions that this analysis raises in relation to the larger
prophetic books (i.e. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel).
It is a very significant piece of information, though not one usually
emphasized, that most of the twelve prophetic books consistently pre-
sented themselves to their readerships as not anchored in precise, particu-
lar historical circumstances. These books tended not to refer to concrete
events or individual historical figures beyond those mentioned in the
superscription and, for the most part, tended not to mention even those
events or figures explicitly in the main body of the book. For instance,
one may ask in vain where and when, within the world of Hosea, did
YHWH speak the words reported in Hos 3:1 or whether YHWH spoke to
Hosea those words reported in Hos 1:2 when he was alone or in a public
place where others heard. The text was simply not designed to help the
target rereaders reconstruct the actual sequence of events in the life of the
historical Hosea. The knowledge of that sequence was not considered to
contribute much to the didactic and socializing purposes for which the
book was written, read, and reread. The thrust of the book was to kindle
the imagination of the target rereaders toward the portrayed ideal future
and to remind them of the terrible sins that characterized monarchic
Israel and led to its downfall.
To be sure, for reasons to be discussed below, a substantial number of
these books had to be explicitly set in the late monarchic period. Unam-
biguous references in the superscription of these books served that pur-
pose. In six out of twelve books, however, the superscription lacks any
explicit reference to the temporal setting for the book (see Joel, Obadiah,
Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Malachi). Moreover, in the majority of those
books set in the late monarchic era, the superscription refers to& general
period of several decades as the time in which the world of the book is
set (see Hosea, Micah, and Zephaniah). These books suggested to their
target readership that knowledge about the precise circumstances in
which a (reported) revelation was received or proclaimed was secondary,
if relevant at all, for the process that mattered the most: the development
among the target rereaders of an understanding of the divine messages
communicated and shaped by these prophetic books.
The repertoire of twelve prophetic books, however, includes Haggai, a
book that explicitly and emphatically dates most of its reported oracles to
narrow circumstances (see Hag 1:1,15; 2:1,10,20). Moreover, the book
of Zechariah shows examples (see Zech 1:1, 7; 7:1) of this tendency in
its first main set of readings (Zech 1-8), even if this tendency disappears
BENZ vi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 41
in the latter part of the book and is less salient in the whole than in
As it will be shown below, both the de-historicizing and historicizing
tendencies strongly influenced, though in different directions, the literary
form in which these books and the prophetic readings that comprised
them were presented to the target rereaders, as well as the way in which
the latter read the texts. Each tendency carried its own implications and
served its own rhetorical purposes. This being so, the presence of these
two tendencies, along with their non-random distribution among the
twelve prophetic books, raises important questions: Why did the two
tendencies coexist within the accepted repertoire of prophetic books?
Why did they tend not to coexist within the same book within the reper-
toire of the twelve prophetic books? Why was one tendency so dominant
in these books? And conversely, what was so unique in some cases that
the other tendency was prioritized? What was at stake in those cases that
overrode a strong systemic trend? Finally, even if it is beyond the scope
of this essay, how do these considerations play in the larger prophetic
books outside of the twelve, and why do the larger books contain both
tendencies in ways rarely seen in the twelve?
These matters are systemic and cut across the borders of particular
prophetic books. Hence, one should take into account the interpretative
expectations raised by the genre of prophetic book, as well as the func-
tions the twelve prophetic books served in society. Particular attention
should be paid to how rhetorical stances about historical circumstances
serve to convey didactic and ideological messages.
II. The Dominant Tendency in the Twelve Prophetic Books:
Partial De-Historicizing for Didactic Purposes
The ancient readers for which these books were composed would have
easily noted that nine of the twelve prophetic books (Hosea, Joel,
Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Malachi)
included no readings in which the reported production of human or
divine utterances or any communicative event was directly associated
with a set of precise historical circumstances within the world of these
books. Of course, these utterances and communicative events assumed
some world of knowledge shared by authorship and readership, as well
as by the speakers and their addressees in the world of the book, but even
these addressees were often not identified in a precise way or tended to
42 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
These features contributed to the shaping of the affective appeal of
the text to its literati readers, who lived in very different times than those
portrayed in the world of the book. The features also shaped the appeal to
those to whom these literati readers, who embodied the voice of the text
and its characters, read the text.
Moreover, it can be argued that even a tenth book, namely Amos,
participates in the main in this tendency. There is the reference to the
"two years before the earthquake" in Amos 1:2 and the Amaziah episode
in 7:10-17. But the former may have simply communicated that YHWH
did roar from Zion soon after the reported speech in Amos 1:2 (i.e. even
sooner than the relatively short period of three years; cf. Gen 11:10;
41:1; Jer 28:3, 11). In other words, it may convey a meaning akin to
m~lp (e.g. Isa 13:6, 22, passim) and provide the obvious association
between YHWH's roar and the earthquake. As for the Amaziah episode, it
is an atypical narrative within the twelve prophetic books. It is also
significant that the narrative does not temporally narrow the episode to
any period within the lengthy reign of Jeroboam.
In any event, the point here is one of general tendencies (non-random
distributions) and not one of compliance in every single case. There can
be no doubt about the general trend: the twelve prophetic books did not
ask their readers to approach them as a whole, nor the different readings
that each contains, within a narrow set of historical circumstances. Neither
did they ask readers to historicize the texts through emphatic mimesis.
After all, these prophetic books were not really about mimesis or
historicity in contemporary terms, but about the learning of YHWH,
Israel, and the relationship between the two in the past and the future.
This learning included lessons, hopes, and implications for peoples other
than Israel. Israel in these discourses was construed as a transtemporal
entity whose manifestations included the Israel of the Exodus, Sinai, the
monarchic polities, exilic Israel, and, of course, the community centred
around Jerusalem in the Persian period, especially the authorship and
readership of the books themselves in that Jerusalem community. These
books were meant to be read and reread by readers who were supposed
to identify with the books' main ideological characters: a transtemporal
5 . For example, who is the addressee of the human monologue in Hos 3 and
when did it take place? Another example of a lack of clarity is the "her" at the end
of Hos 9:2, which stands instead of an anticipated "them" and can only refer to the
landYHWH'S land. This contributes to the construction of an ideological overlap of
images between people and land. References to Israel also shift from the second to
the third person and vice versa in Hos 9:17a to maximize the rhetorical power of
the text.
BEN TNI De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 43
YHWH and a transtemporal Israel. Significantly, the target rereaders
were, for the most part, far removed from the times in which the pro-
phetic books were set. Therefore, among the underlying, systemic rea-
sons for the tendency to avoid as much as possible stress on narrowly
construed circumstances was the obvious rhetorical need to bridge the
gap between the Israel of the target rereaders and the Israel in the world
of the book. This bridge increased the affective power of the book, con-
veyed a sense of continuity between the Israel portrayed in the book (and
any manifestation of transtemporal Israel) and the target rereadership of
the bookwhich is essential to the latter's self-understandingand pro-
vided paradigmatic examples from which the target rereaders and their
society could learn. There is nothing strange about this. Prophetic books,
as any book for that matter, bore the stamp of two worlds: (1) the world
in which the book is set and (2) the world of the target rereaders. The
more the message of a prophetic unit was dependent on unique, narrowly
defined circumstances in the past, the less relevant it became to reader-
ships living in substantially different circumstances. And certainly it
becomes harder for the target rereadership to identify affectively with the
book's characters. The more open the text was, however, the more these
readers were able creatively to imagine themselves into the book and
vicariously to partake in it. Thus, the more likely that the book would
fulfil its functions in the text-centred discourse of the literati of ancient
Israel/Yehud. Of course, the more successful the prophetic book was, the
larger the chances that it will be read, reread, studied, and copied by the
Jerusalemite literati, generation after generation. In other words, we are
dealing with systemic aspects of the production and use of prophetic
It is therefore not surprising that the prophetic figures that populate
these books tend to be construed in a way that either verges on a-tempor-
ality (e.g. Joel) or partial a-temporality. Moreover, if they are or have
to be anchored (for reasons discussed below) in a certain period, then
they are associated within a limited set of wide, generally characterized
periods in the past rather than with single points in time or with any spe-
cific past period. For example, the prophetic books within the twelve pro-
phetic books that are set in monarchic times tend to concentrate around
either the late northern Israelite period
and its counterpart in Hezekianic
Judah (Hosea, Amos, Micah; cf. Isaiah) or the late Judahite monarchic
period (Zephaniah, Habakkuk; cf. Ezekiel, Jeremiah). No prophetic book
6. The destruction of the northern Israelite polity was understood as a prefigura-
tion of that of the southern.
44 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
is set in the time of Omri or Ahab, or for that matter David or Solomon.
The periods that were systemically selected shared one central quality:
they were imagined, from the perspective of the target rereaderships of
the books, as directly leading to the destruction of the monarchic polities
and, above all, leading Israel to exile.
This selection carries several implications. The relevant prophetic
books reflected and communicated a basic structural metanarrative of
central importance within the discourses of Yehud. The metanarrative
has several parts: (a) Israel grievously sinned in the past; (b) its punish-
ment was announced to it at the time of its sinning by prophets,
who at
times unsuccessfully called it to repentance;
(c) from the perspective of
the target rereaders of these books, though not necessarily from that of
those who populated the world of the book, Israel's punishment was ful-
filled; and (d) an Utopian future already decided by YHWH was explicitly
announced by godly speakers (the deity or a prophets) and was announced
to Israel at precisely the time of and despite its seemingly incurable sin.
These announcements provided much hope to the target rereaders of the
book and contributed significantly to their construction of the character
of YHWH and the relationship between their deity and transtemporal
Israel. In other words, no matter what a particular manifestation of Israel
would do, no matter even if its sin was as grievous as to justify exile and
destruction of the Jerusalemite Temple, city, and monarchy, YHWH will
make Israel reconcile with its deity and bring the people back.
Of course, these prophetic books could communicate this metanarra-
tive and its associated messages only if the world of the books and the
reported words of its godly characters (either prophetic or divine) were
set in the monarchic period, before the announced fulfilment of YHWH's
judgment. This basic constraint could not be avoided,
but it is worth
7. The book of Jonah is probably atypical in this regard. The target rereaderships
likely related, at least at some level, the character in the book and Jonah the son of
Amittay of 2 Kgs 14:23-29. On this matter and the atypical character of Jonah, see
E. Ben Zvi, Signs of Jonah: Reading and Rereading in Ancient Yehud (JSOTSup
367; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 40-64, 80-98.
8. I am referring here not only to the material state of being in exile but also and
mainly to the theological conception of exile.
9. Prophets, of course, were construed as always prophesying to the future.
10. A theological principle of warning before the divine execution of a "fatal"
punishment seems at work. Cf. Zech 1:4-5; 2 Kgs 17:13-15.
11. See, especially, Hosea.
12. Similarly, the text of Nahum does not set the book in any particular period in
monarchic Judah. From the perspective of the target rereadership, the only restriction
was that Nahum must have lived before the destruction of the city because prophetic
BENZ vi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 45
stressing that, within the books that fall into this category and are among
the twelve prophetic books, one does not find any temporal anchoring
that goes beyond setting the book in a general period that lasted decades.
There is no temporal anchoring that narrows matters to a particular point
in time. The periods in which these books are set were consistently por-
trayed in general terms. No clear information about precise dates within a
period, nor about the deeds or sins of named individuals in society, was
given to the target rereaders. For instance, the common reference to the
sin of Jeroboam I in Kings (e.g. 2 Kgs 15:24; 17:22) has no counterpart
in these books. Neither Jeroboam I nor his sin is mentioned in prophetic
Manasseh, whose sin is so central in Kings (see 2 Kgs 23:26;
24:3; cf. 2 Kgs 21:10-16) is also not mentioned at all. In fact, it is worth
noting that no prophetic book was set in his reign. Neither is Ahab and
his house (cf. 2 Kgs 21:3, 13) mentioned except once in Mic 6:16. The
pattern is clear: for didactic purposes, "paradigmatic" sins were chosen.
Thus, it is not surprising on the whole within the genre of prophetic books
as opposed to historical narrative, for instancethat general descrip-
tions of habitual sins, which serve to portray in general terms the behav-
iour and spirit of a particular manifestation of Israel in the past period,
tend to be preferred over descriptions of one-time, unique, sinful actions.
Likewise, these books consistently refrain from emphasizing the sins of
particular individuals, even if theirs were construed as paradigmatic or
decisive in terms of divine judgment in other corpora of literature within
the repertoire of Yehud.
characters in a prophetic book are supposed to prophesy about what will be and not
about what has already happened. Significantly, Nineveh was both a historical city
and a symbol of a sinful, overbearing, exceedingly oppressive political structure
whose fate was unlike all comparable cities in their world: it was totally destroyed
and never rebuilt. From the perspective of target rereaderships well aware of the fall
of Nineveh, such a fall from the pinnacle of glory and might becomes a paradigmatic
example of the fate of worldly, powerful oppressors and, above all, of the even
greater power of YHWH who brings them down. As such, the book provided a mes-
sage of hope and trust in YHWH to those who saw themselves as oppressed by their
own "Nineveh." See my introduction to Nahum in A. Berlin and M. Z. Brettler, eds.,
The Jewish Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 1219-20. Cf.
Ben Zvi, Signs of Jonah, 1433.
13. For the position that the Jeroboam of Amos 7 was understood at some point
as Jeroboam I, see C. Levin, "Amos und Jeroboam I," VT45 (1995): 307-17. The
intended and primary readers of the present book of Amos were, however, led to
believe that this Jeroboam is Jeroboam II (cf. Amos 1:1).
14. To be sure, it is very likely that the precise historical circumstances in which
flesh and blood prophets prophesied played, consciously or unconsciously, a role in
their actual sayings just as those of anyone around them. But we are dealing with
46 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Additionally, the twelve prophetic books carry textual markers that
ask their readers to de-emphasize mimetic approaches to the readings of
which they consist. Since boundaries between reported utterances, liter-
ary units, general outlines, and the identity of speakers and audiences are
often fluid, they are inconsistent with a historicist approach that would
try to understand them as a mimetic report of separate, individual events
that took place at various times, places, and occasions. By contrast, pro-
phetic texts consistently point readers only to other texts in the book. The
Sitz im Buck is presented to the target rereaders as far more important
than the precise circumstances in the world portrayed in the book. The
target rereaders of these books were rarely explicitly informed about that
In other words, these books shaped, reflected, and interpreted con-
structions of the past for didactic purposes, to socialize their readers; but
they were not about "historicity" nor did they require their readers to
focus mainly in narrowly conceived mimesis. Their textually inscribed
markers strongly suggested to their readers that the markers of historical
narratives (e.g. precise locations for events, definite dates, emphasis on
the detailed actions of individuals, clearly named kings and leaders) are
not the type of knowledge that should inform them as they read, reread,
and study these books. Hence, it is only to be expected that these books
would tend not to contain readings framed in the form of historical
narratives. Rather, these books suggested a different kind of knowledge
that readers should keep in mind as they read, reread, and study these
books. The writings abound in textually inscribed markers that serve as
signposts linking different units or texts within them. These markers indi-
cated to the target rereaders that they should read each text of a book in a
way informed by the others and thus create networks of meanings that
are deeply interwoven in the book.
The cumulative evidence of these
and have access to only prophetic characters in literary works. It is the historical
circumstances of the target rereaderships of prophetic books that should draw our
attention, since they played a substantial role in the shaping of the characterization
of the prophetic figures that populate these books.
15. I discussed these networks in detail in Micah (FOTL 21b; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2000) and Hosea (FOTL 21 A, part 1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).
See, for instance, the following quotation from the latter (pp. 269-70):
"[I]t is worth stressing that this reading [Hos 13:1-14:1], as any in this set of
readings (Hos 12:1-14:9) explores further some of the main themes advanced in
4:1-11:11 and is closely linked to readings in that set by a network of textually
inscribed signposts that contribute to the continuous rereading and study of the book
within the target readerships. At the same time, it also contains subtle signposts that
remind the readers that Hos 13:1-14:1 leads into Hos 14:1-9. A few examples will
BEN Zvi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 47
ubiquitous networks strongly suggested to the target rereadership that
neither the book's different units nor their meanings were independent
of each other and should not be approached as such. The implied authors
of these books were masters of interweaving different units within each
book so they may inform each other. Needless to say, these networks of
meaning contributed much to the feasibility and vitality of the continu-
ous reading and rereading of each of these books by communities of
literati in Persian Yehud. These very same communities were not asked
by textually inscribed markers to look for punctual historical referents
against which to read the book nor to expect a strongly mimetic book.
In sum, there was an overwhelming tendency among the prophetic
books that were included in the Twelve to contextualize their readings in
terms of the book, to reduce their mimetic appeal, and partially to de-
historicize them. Readers likely understood such tendencies as consistent
suffice. Hos 8:4 brings together two main offenses of Israel, the making of kings and
of idols (D'DXI?), which are two main themes in this reading (see v. 2 and 10-11 [of
Hos 13]; on D^SU? ct. Hos 14:9). Further, ine Cin 'an artisan made it' in Hos 8:6
finds a counterpart D"
ETin n&UD 'the work of an artisan' in Hos 13:2, and both reflect
and communicate a theological mindset in which aniconic worship was seen as a
central tenet to such extent that iconic worship of any kind is strongly derided...
Explicit references to the '(male) calf/calves' (^U) appear in Hos 8:5,6 and 13:2
also cf. Hos 10:5...again linking the two readings. There is a difference, however:
whereas according to Hos 8 Israel/Ephraim will be sent into exile and its cities will
be destroyed, according to Hos 13:1 Israel/Ephraim dies. Significantly, according to
Hos 14:9, Ephraim/Israel will reject the idols (D^UD) and according to Hos 14:4b
will not consider irT HIPPD 'the work of our [Ephraim's/IsraeFs] hands' (i.e. the
calves) to be their gods (cf. and ct. Exod 32:4, 8; 1 Kgs 1:28-29)... The expression
"]^n D^OD *7BD1 "ipD ]3J ?D 'like a morning mist/cloud or like dew that goes away
early' appears in Hos 13:3 and Hos 6:4, but nowhere else in the HB. The expression
serves as a signpost suggesting the readers to relate one unit in the book to another.
Whereas Hos 6:4 informs them that Israel's loyalty (hesed) to YHWH is as ephemeral
as morning mist or dew and does not last long, Hos 13:3 portrays Israel/Ephraim
itself as ephemeral as morning mist or dew, because its does not keep its loyalty to
YHWH (see Hos 13:1-2, cf. Hos 14:1). Significantly, in Hos 14:6, it is YHWH who
will be like a nourishing dew that does not fail to appear and whose effects are long
lasting. It is worth noting that within the world of postmonarchic literati, dew may
raise connotations of bringing those who are dead to life (see Isa 26:19) and cf. Hos
6:2...and also 13:14....
The expression DnSQ pKD "pn
^Tl "33R1 'I am YHWH,}>0wr [Ephraim's/trans-
temporal Israel's) God since (your days) in the land of Egypt' occurs word for word
in Hos 12:10 and 13:4. In the former instance, it serves to explain why Israel will
eventually be saved...; here it serves to emphasize Israel's guilt (see w. 1-3 [of Hos
13]), while at the same time cannot but evoke in the readers a sense that YHWH will
save Israel (see Hos 12:10 and cf. also 13:4b with 13:10a and 14:4)."
48 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
with the authorial intention of the books. The overwhelming character of
this trend within the twelve prophetic books is a bit astonishing given the
high level of diversity that characterized the literary repertoire of ancient
Israel. Yet the trend is somewhat anticipated given that it was consistent
with and reflected systemic needs and functions related to the production
and use of prophetic books among the postmonarchic literati and their
ideological need to bridge gaps between themselves and previous mani-
festations of Israel.
If these conclusions hold, they raise questions concerning some
prophetic books that do not seem to follow the de-historicizing tendency.
For example, the diametrically different tendency at work in the book of
Haggai, and to a less extent in the first main set of readings in the book
of Zechariah (Zech 1-8), is particularly salient. Why did such a very
different tendency take priority in these works? In addition, systemic dif-
ferences are noticeable between the smaller prophetic books eventually
included in the twelve prophetic books and the larger prophetic books,
especially Ezekiel and Jeremiah, since the latter do not follow the twelve
prophetic books' tendency in this matter. Certainly, the matter is not
simply one of size. It involves matters of structure and intention in their
form-critical senses.
The implications of these considerations will be
adumbrated only briefly below. The matter goes well beyond the scope
of this essay. As the honouree of this volume would often say in class,
scholarly contributions are helpful not only for the questions they answer
or attempt to answer, but also, and perhaps even more so, for those that
they raise for future research.
III. A Second Tendency:
Partial Historicizingfor Didactic Purposes
The book of Haggai opens with the following statement, "In the second
year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the
word of the LORD came by the prophet Haggai to Zerubbabel son of
16. Contrast with K. Budde, "Eine folgenschwere Redaktion des Zwolfproph-
etenbuchs," ZAW39 (1922): 218-29.
17. Each prophetic book is presented as a separate textually coherent unit, that is,
as a "system." Of course, the level of complexity and properties of, as well as the
possibilities engendered by, such systems vary if it includes one chapter (Obadiah)
or sixty-six (Isaiah). So even "size" is not simply "size." To be sure, these are all
authoritative prophetic books; they share a basic, encompassing genre. But this fea-
ture does not preclude substantial differences. Certainly, the target rereaderships of
Jeremiah or Ezekiel noticed that the book they were reading was different from the
books of Zephaniah, Nahum, or Obadiah.
BENZ vi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 49
Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high
priest" (Hag 1:1). The first thing that the target rereaderships are told is a
very specific date. The narrative unit continues until a second date, the
twenty-fourth of the same month, is given (1:15a). The next main unit in
the book (1:15b-2:9) also opens with a specific date (the twenty-first of
the next month), and so do the other two main units (2:10-19, whose
world is set on the twenty-fourth of the ninth month, and 2:20-23, which
seems to be set on the very same day). Not only the world of every single
reading in the book was set in specific dates, but the book as a whole was
structured around reports associated with particular dates.
This feature can be explained in terms of the form in which the book
as a whole presents itself to the target rereaders. It is a prophetic book
that consists of an apologetic, sequential narrative about the past, which
advances a particular plot and contains several different scenes whose
boundaries are marked by dates.
Narratives about the communal past,
that is, "historical" narrativeswhether accurate from our perspective or
notmost often tend to contain temporal anchors and refer to particular
18. Whether this is the result of redactional activity is not relevant to the present
discussion, since the target rereaders of Haggai (as opposed to any hypothetical
forerunner) were obviously asked to read a book strongly characterized by this struc-
ture and historicizing. It is abundantly clear that the final form represents the (even-
tually?) preferred structure of the book within the system in which it developed. On
redactional and compositional proposals for Haggai (and Zech 1-8), see, among
many others, W. A. M. Beuken, Haggai-Sacharja 1-8: Studien zur Uberlieferungs-
geschichte derfruhnachexilischen Prophetic (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1967); R. Mason,
"The Purpose of the 'Editorial Framework' of the Book of Haggai," VT21 (1977):
413-21; J. E. Tollington, Tradition and Innovation in Haggai and Zechariah 1-8
(JSOTSup 150; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press); idem, "Readings in Haggai:
From the Prophet to the Completed Book. A Changing Message for Changing
Times," in The Crisis of Israelite Religion: Transformation of Religious Tradition in
Exilic and Post-Exilic Times (ed. B. Becking and M. C. A. Korpel; OtSt 42; Leiden:
Brill, 1999), 194208; and note the summary of research on the matter in M. Boda,
"Majoring in the Minors: Recent Research on Haggai and Zechariah," CurBS 2
(2003): 33-68 (esp. 33-37).
19. David Petersen characterizes the form of the book as "brief apologetic
historical narrative" and as "apologetic history" and identifies this genre with that
which Norbert Lohfink recognized in Jer 26; 36, and 37-43. Michael Floyd refers to
it as "prophetic history." See D. L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (OTL;
Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 33-36; cf. N. Lohfink, "Die Gattung der 'His-
torischen Kurzgeschichte' in the letzten Jahren von Juda und in der Zeit des Baby-
lonischen Exiles," ZAW9Q (1978): 319^7; M. H. Floyd, Minor Prophets Part 2
(FOTL 22; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 260-62, 639^0; see also idem, "The
Nature of the Narrative and the Evidence of Redaction in Haggai," FT 45 (1995):
50 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
circumstances in the social memory of the group. These circumstances
were within the range of constructions of the past that were agreed or
potentially acceptable within the group. So it is not surprising that dates
and references to particular individuals and circumstances appear promi-
nently in these cases. When prophetic readings appear in the form of
narratives about some aspect of the communal past, they cannot but
historicize themselves and present themselves as deeply bound with
narrowly defined circumstances in the social memory of the community.
This is precisely one of the main reasons for the general lack of narratives
about the communal past in the vast majority of the twelve prophetic
Whatever one's approach to the relationship between Haggai and Zech
it is obvious that Zech 1-8 are also presented to their target
rereaderships by and large in the form of a "historical narrative." Sykes
refers to these texts as "Prophetic Chronicle" and even compares them to
the Babylonian Chronicles, with some success.
Of course, chronicles
are historical narratives in which temporal anchors serve as main struc-
tural markers.
In all these cases, the use of a particular literary form
cannot but result in historicizing the text.
20. For a summary of research on the matter and main bibliographic references,
see S. S. Tuell, "Haggai-Zechariah: Prophecy in the Manner of Ezekiel," in
Thematic Threads in the Book of the Twelve (ed. P. L. Redditt and S. Schart; BZAW
235; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003), 273-91, and Boda, "Majoring," 51-53. My own
position on the matter is that the target rereaderships of the books of Haggai and
Zechariah were asked to approach them as two separate books, each with its own
main prophetic character. Significantly, they characterize Zechariah and Haggai
differently (cf. Petersen, Haggai-Zechariah 1-8, 124). At the same time, these
rereaderships were asked to relate the books and these characters as they construe an
image of the past described in the books. Not only are Haggai and Zechariah pre-
sented as contemporary prophets, but they deal with partially similar circumstances.
Moreover, stylistic features such as the references to precise dating, shared person-
ages (e.g. Zerubbabel), and the adoption of a form of historical narrative (in the first
chapters of Zechariah) suggest that the rereaders were supposed to understand each
book in a way informed not only by their world of knowledge in general, but by a
section of it in which the other book and prophetic character figure prominently.
21. See S. Sykes, "Time and Space in Haggai-Zechariah 1-8: A Bakhtinian
Analysis of a Prophetic Chronicle," JSOT 76 (1997): 97-124. Sykes refers to
Haggai-Zech 1-8 as a unit, but even if this position is not accepted, the heuristic
value of the comparisons with Babylonian Chronicles and of the structural slots that
different types of characters fulfil (e.g. some of the roles of the Babylonian king are
taken by YHWH) remain valid.
22. Even the exceptional character of Amos 7:10-17 in the rest of the twelve
prophetic books may perhaps be understood in the same way, that is, as a prophetic
reading that uses the form of a "historical narrative."
BENZ vi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 51
Yet this formal explanation does not solve the basic issue at stake; it
only slightly shifts and rephrases the question. Why would there be an
entire prophetic book (i.e. Haggai) and at least a substantial portion of
another (Zech 1-8)
that defy the dominant tendency in the twelve pro-
phetic books and historicize the text by means of a prominent use of the
form of "historical narrative"?
Considerations about the enhanced verisimilitude created by strongly
historicizing a story per se do not contribute much to the elucidation of
these matters. Surely, references to concrete dates, individuals, and
places convey a sense of verisimilitude, but the question would be why
similar considerations did not govern the choices expressed in the other
books within the twelve prophetic books. The books that were eventually
included with Haggai in the twelve prophetic books give considerations
of verisimilitude nearly no sway and undermine the notion that a strong,
explicit sense of narrow mimesis (or heavy historicizing) was necessary
for or strongly contributed to the theological authority of a prophetic
book. To address this question one must move beyond choices of par-
ticular literary forms and stylistic devices that may enhance verisimili-
tude. The focus should be on why an atypical choice was selected in the
case of Haggai (and to some extent in the first eight chapters of Zech-
ariah) rather than on the literary ways through which this choice was
The case of Jonah is relevant in this respect. Here formal uniqueness
reflected and drew attention to a substantial level of uniqueness in con-
tents and message.
Likewise, atypical and emphatic historicizing in
Haggai most likely reflected and drew the attention of the target reread-
ers to the set of distinct matters that the book addressed and the central
importance of the book's messages for its discourse(s).
Unlike the others in the twelve prophetic books, Haggai, in which the
tendency towards historicizing texts reaches the level of the whole book,
dealt directly with the Temple's construction, necessity, and centrality,
23. The process of historicizing as expressed by precise dating is more emphatic
in Haggai than in Zechariah. Not only are there more dating formulas in both relative
and absolute numbers in Haggai than Zechariah, but also in the former they delineate
the very structure of the book as a whole. In the latter they may mark the boundaries
of an extended introduction (Zech 1:1-6) and two subsets of readings (1:7-6:15 and
7:1-14) within the first main set of readings in the book (1:7-8:23). It is, however,
unclear whether the target rereaders were supposed to understand all eight visions in
1:7-8:23 as taking place in one single day. Moreover, the central and cumulative
role of the visions provides the text with a somewhat less than typical historicizing
flavour. There is nothing like Zech 1:7-6:15 in Haggai.
24. See Ben Zvi, Signs of Jonah, 80-98.
52 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
and indirectly with the Temple's legitimacy. The narrative is about the
beginning of the building of the Temple, which was a process ideo-
logically associated with the activities of Haggai (and through him,
YHWH) and which was envisaged as the beginning of the ideological
"return" of Israel as a worshiping community centred around its Temple.
The described process is given prophetic authority (and thus YHWH's
authority) and is thereby marked for a particular time (cf. 1 Kgs 6:1;
2 Chr 3:2),
just as the actions of kings were usually construed in such
It is also deeply marked for a particular time because the
deed itself was construed as a significant turning (temporal) point in the
sequential relationship between Israel and YHWH and in the memory of
the target rereaderships. This was a turning point like the exodus or the
destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. The target rereaderships were
supposed to understand that theprecise historical circumstances in which
the world of the book was set were most significant for understanding the
messages conveyed by the book. Certainly the main goal of the book and
of its implied author was not to describe a kind of general attitude that
characterizes a particular manifestation of transtemporal Israel and might
be applicable to other manifestations of Israel, including that of the target
rereadership, but to describe attitudes and godly utterances associated
with a very narrow but crucial period.
Additionally, Haggai's references are to the beginning of the building
of the Temple and not to its completion. In fact, the book explicitly places
the full establishment of the Temple in an Utopian future (Hag 2:6-9,20-
23), which the target rereaderships of the book knows too well remains
in the future. The strong temporality of the project's beginning is bal-
anced with the open character of its completion.
Time is also marked and organized in Haggai (and Zech 1-8) around
the years of a Persian king. This is unlike 1 Kgs 6:1, in which time is
organized both in terms of years counted from the exodus, an event
which may be construed as the beginning of YHWH's kingship/rulership
over Israel (cf. Hos 11:1; 12:10; 13:4),
and in terms of the years of
Solomon over Israel. Not surprisingly, however, Haggai balances and
integrates the implicit message of such an organization of time with stress
on the prophetic authority of Haggai, YHWH's actual kingship, and a
partial exaltation/Davidization of Zerubbabel, even if the latter is always
referred to as governor.
25. Also cf. Exod 19:1-3; 40:2, 17.
26. That is the only main feature one would expect in a book presented to its
target rereaderships as an apologetic prophetic narrative about the past.
27. Cf.Hos9:10andNum33:8.
28. On some of these matters, cf. Sykes, "Time and Space."
BENZ vi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 53
The first eight chapters of Zechariah show some of the motifs and con-
cerns of Haggai, but the book as a whole, and even these chapters alone,
are markedly different in style, structure, and some content. Zechariah
emphasizes repentance and exhorts the community directly addressed
within the book, and, above all, that of its rereadership, to behave in
accordance with the divine will, so as to avoid the fate of their ancestors
(see, e.g., Zech 1:2-6; 7:8-13; 8:13-17). At the core of Zech 1-8 stand
the visions (1:7-8:23), which have no real parallel in Haggai. Most
significantly, chs. 1-8 is only a set of readings within a book and not a
prophetic book by itself.
The fact that the book of Haggai is presented
as more emphatically historicized than the book of Zechariah is consis-
tent with these differences, and the fact that the first chapters of Zech-
ariah are partially historicized is consistent with the similarities in content
between the two books, as well as with a sense that these books are par-
tially related to and informed by each other. At the same time, the target
rereaderships of the book of Zechariah surely noted that the historicizing
never reaches the level it attains in the book of Haggai and, more impor-
tantly, fades away completely as the book progresses. In some way, one
may say that Zech 9-14 "normalize" the book of Zechariah (cf. Isa 40-66
and Ezek 40-48).
IV. Implications for Further Research on Historicizing
and De-Historicizing in the Larger Prophetic Books
Although the present study focuses on the twelve prophetic books, it car-
ries implications and raises questions for the study of the larger prophetic
books as well. Perhaps the most obvious observation that comes to mind
once the researching gaze turns to these bookswithin a research frame-
work informed by the previous discussionis that they seem to be some-
what in the middle between the two poles of the majority of the twelve
prophetic books on the one hand and the book of Haggai on the other.
29. It has been argued that the book of Zechariah originally included only
chs. 1-8 and that only at a later stage were chs. 9-14 attached to them. This may
well be the case, but the book of Zechariah in its present form does not ask its read-
ers to approach it with this information in mind. To the contrary, the book associates
all its texts with the prophet Zechariah mentioned in Zech 1:1. Moreover, if one
were to grant for the sake of the argument that chs. 9-14 were attached to a pre-
existent chs. 1-8, the fact that chapters so saliently different from Haggai were
attached to chs. 1-8 strengthens the notion that there was an ancient understanding
of the different qualities of the books of Haggai and the (reconstructed) book of First
54 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The target rereaders of the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel would have
easily noticed that numerous examples of precise dating appear in these
but also that not every reading in either book was set in narrowly
defined dates. The target rereaders of the book of Isaiah also would have
noticed a few cases in which the year of a revelation or its proclamation
or both is saliently mentioned (see Isa 6:1; 14:28; 20:1), but also that
most of the readings in the book are not dated or explicitly attached to
precise historical circumstances. Neither do most of the readings contain
clear textually inscribed markers that ask the rereaders to approach them
from a perspective strongly informed by a particular construction of a
certain moment in the past. True, the target rereaders of Ezekiel and
Jeremiah would have noticed the presence of readings shaped as bio-
graphical/historical narratives, and those of the book of Isaiah could not
have missed the obvious (historical) narrative character of chs. 36-39.
But significantly, Isa 36-39 led them to Isa 40-66 in which partially de-
historicizing tendencies are dominant. In Ezek 40-48 (and esp. 40^-43)
historicizing seems strongly defamiliarized: a literary text portraying the
building of an ideal temple replaces the building of the temple itself. The
book does not authorize or legitimize an existing temple nor look forward
to its future completion. Rather, the mental image the book creates stands
instead of or as a (partial) substitute for the actual temple. Not surpris-
ingly, seemingly historicizing markers (e.g. dates, spatial data) serve only
symbolic purposes here.
In sum, the target rereaders of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel noticed a
substantial presence of both partial de-historicizing and strong histori-
cizing tendencies in the larger books. This presence distinguishes them
from both the majority of the twelve prophetic books and from Haggai.
To some extent, the difference may be associated with the literary possi-
bilities and constraints created by the sheer size of these books, which
30. See Jer 1:2,3; 25:3; 28:1; 32:1; Ezek 1:1; 26:1; 29:17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1,17;
33:21; 40:1.
31. On these matters, see H. Liss," 'Describe the Temple to the House of Israel':
Preliminary Remarks on the Temple Vision in the Book of Ezekiel and the Question
of Fictionality in Priestly Literatures," in Utopia and Dystopia in Prophetic
Literature (ed. E. Ben Zvi; Helsinki: University of Helsinki Press, 2006), \22-A3;
cf. Tuell, "HaggaiZechariah: Prophecy After the Manner of Ezekiel," 276. Tuell
argues for Ezekielian influence on a book consisting of Haggai and Zech 1-8. The
general thrust of this contribution, and factors such as the lack of references to or
direct quotations from Ezekiel in the text and the lack of a well-established web of
allusions (both acknowledged by Tuell), seem in my opinion to undermine his
position on the matter.
BEN Zvi De-Historicizing and Historicizing Tendencies 55
may have been more than conducive to a substantial presence of both
tendencies. But other principles of selection may be at work too.
For instance, the systemic approach adopted here suggests that the
temporal distribution of the larger prophetic books is not random. Two of
the three relevant prophetic characters are explicitly associated with a
period that crosses the line between monarchic and postmonarchic Judah.
They and the books associated with them convey and symbolize the con-
tinuous existence of Israel and directly bridge the chasm of the destruc-
tion of Jerusalem and monarchic Judah.
Significantly, Jeremiah and
Ezekiel are the only two prophetic personages within the entire collection
of prophetic books to which this characterization applies. The third
relevant prophetic figure, Isaiah, was strongly associated with the mem-
ory of an invasion/salvation in ancient Israel, as demonstrated by not
only Isa 36-37 but also 2 Kgs 18:13-19:37. Yet, this invasion was con-
strued in the social memory of the literati as a kind of counter-example to
the fall of Jerusalem.
It seems reasonable to assume that the unique
temporal attributes of these three characters, and accordingly of the
world in which the books are set, had much to do with the fact that these
books, rather than other prophetic books (e.g. Hosea, Amos, Micah,
Joel), took (eventually) the form of large volumes.
As in the cases discussed above, in many instances within these books
strong historicizing is associated with narratives about the past and nar-
rative frameworks. Much of this strong historicizing concerns punctual
circumstances that were considered turning points within the social mem-
ory of Israel (e.g. the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the counter
memory of the great salvation of Jerusalem at the time of Sennacherib's
invasion) or crucial steps on the way to these heightened turning points
a kind of mental "via dolorosa" of temporal events.
None of these
circumstances can be described in terms of a habitual past but of precise,
non-repeatable events. In this regard, the considerations advanced above
32. Cf. the explicit reference to the prophecy of Jeremiah in 2 Chr 36:22 and
Ezra 1:1 as a bridge over the chasm. Cf. the shared conclusion of Jeremiah and
2 Kings.
33. On the substantial relation between the constructions of the two in post-
monarchic times, see my "Malleability and Its Limits: Sennacherib's Campaign
Against Judah as a Case Study," in "Like a Bird in a Cage ": The Invasion of Sen-
nacherib in 701 BCE (ed. L. Grabbe; JSOTSup 363; European Seminar in Historical
Methodology 4; London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 73-105.
34. From this perspective, the larger books seem to stand somewhat between the
rhetorical poles and needs represented by the book of Haggai, on the one hand, with
its attention to particular focus on unique moments in the memory of Israel, and the
majority of the twelve prophetic books, on the other hand, with their focus on longer
periods and general characterization.
56 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
about Haggai bear some implications for the study of the larger prophetic
In sum, several elements suggest that a study of strong historicizing
and partial de-historicizing tendencies in the larger prophetic books
needs separate treatment: (1) the complexity of the web of messages that
each of the larger prophetic books conveyed to their target rereaderships;
(2) the presence of substantial narrative sections in books such as Isaiah,
which cluster around the Hezekiah/Sennacherib episode; (3) the substan-
tive presence of a deuteronomistic linguistic flavour, albeit with a par-
ticular twist, in Jeremiah but not in other prophetic books;
(4) instances
such as Ezek 40-48, in which an on-the-surface case of historicizing
is so strongly defamiliarized that it conveys a de-historicizing agenda;
(5) matters involving the communicative significance of an association of
the entire book of Isaiah with the character portrayed in Isa 1:1 (see Isa
6:1; 14:28; 20:1); and (6) the different contributions to partial de-histori-
cizing vs. strong historicizing that make Isa 40-66 (particularly as they
follow Isa 36-39), on the one hand, and Jer 52, on the other. Yet the con-
siderations advanced here about the twelve prophetic books, along with a
more systemic approach to the distribution of substantial features within
the corpus of prophetic books, are certainly not irrelevant to that endeav-
our, especially since one may anticipate, at least from a heuristic perspec-
tive, that a similar, basic logic of temporal preference and dispreference
is, at least in part, at work in both sets.
35. This matter should not be explained in terms of "deuteronomistic schools"
or the like, but as a matter of characterization of texts. On this matter and on the
related and very questionable proposals about (separate) deuteronomistic schools,
see E. Ben Zvi, "A Deuteronomistic Redaction m/Among 'The Twelve': A Contri-
bution from the Standpoint of the Books of Micah, Zephaniah and Obadiah," in
Those Elusive Deuteronomists (ed. L. S. Schearing and S. L. McKenzie; JSOTSup
268; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 232-61.
36. This is to be expected, since this type of logic reflects some of the most basic
ideological assumptions of the literati and those who identified with their message in
Yehud. These assumptions are not dependent on the particularities of a book but are
Brad E. Kelle
Throughout the last century of prophetic research, interpreters have
searched for and proposed various analogies or models to aid in under-
standing what Israelite prophets were, how they functioned in their
social-historical context, and how the writings associated with them
ought to be read. The search for analogies and models has most often
taken the form of attempting to identify those figures and functions in
different societies, both contemporary with ancient Israel and from later
periods, which potentially offer points of comparison with the biblical
Since the Hebrew Bible presents prophecy as a complex
reality with a variegated character,
the models and analogies provided a
step toward conceptual clarity concerning identity and function.
The typical procedure of such study moves as follows. Interpreters
begin by developing a heuristic model for Israelite prophets/prophecy
from a variety of comparative sources. They then use this model to under-
stand the nature of prophetic discourse, which, in turn, leads to a way of
reading the biblical prophetic literature. The purpose of this article is to
investigate what happens if one reverses this typical procedure. Perhaps
the quest for the nature of prophets and prophecy should begin by analyz-
ing the presentation of prophets and their discourse within the biblical
texts themselves. What dominant analogy or model do these texts seem
to demand?
* It is an honor to dedicate this article to John H. Hayes, who has enriched my
life by being teacher, mentor, and friend, and who first helped me encounter the
prophets as rhetorical orators.
1. See, e.g., T. W. Overholt, Prophecy in Cross-Cultural Perspective: A Source-
book for Biblical Researchers (SBLSBS; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986), 7.
2. See J. H. Hayes, An Introduction to Old Testament Study (Nashville:
Abingdon, 1979), 261.
5 8 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
With this question in mind, the present article examines the commonly
used models for Israelite prophets in terms of their relationship to the
biblical presentations and then proposes another possible analogy for the
prophets: the political orators of ancient Greece (e.g. Demosthenes in the
fourth century B.C.E.). A fuller extrapolation of this analogy, which has
been partially suggested by, among others, John Hayes and his students,
will show that it aligns well with the available textual data. The nature
and function of the Greek orators, while different from the prophets in
many respects, provide a heuristic (rather than historical) model with
phenomenological similarities in social patterns, structures, functions,
and characteristics. This analogy also leads to a positive assessment of
the connection between the prophetic texts and Israelite history.
I. The Presentation of Prophets in the Hebrew Bible
As noted above, prophetic study has typically proceeded by first devel-
oping a model for the prophets and their roles using various comparative
sources, and then allowing that model to determine an understanding of
3. Several earlier writers suggested the use of the Greek political orators as a
potential analogy for the prophets in ways that they did not fully develop: E.
Strachey, Hebrew Politics in the Times ofSargon and Sennacherib: An Inquiry Into
the Historical Meaning and Purpose of the Prophecies of Isaiah, with Some Notice
of Their Bearings on the Social and Political Life of England (London: Longman,
Brown, Green & Longmans, 1853), 2; B. Duhrn, Die Theologie derPropheten als
Grunlage fur die innere Entwicklungsgeschichte der Israelite Religion (Bonn:
Marcus, 1875), 23; M. Buss, The Prophetic WordofHosea (BZAW 111; Berlin:
Topelmann, 1969), 125. For more recent works that employ the analogy but do not
offer detailed treatments of the Greek orators, see J. H. Hayes, Amos, the Eighth-Cen-
tury Prophet: His Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988); Y. Gitay,
Prophecy and Persuasion: A Study of Isaiah 40-48 (Forum Theologiae Linguisticae
14; Bonn: Linguistica Biblica, 1981); S. Irvine, Isaiah, Ahaz, and the Syro-Eph-
raimitic Crisis (SBLDS 123; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990); C. Shaw, The Speeches
ofMicah: A Historical-Rhetorical Analysis (JSOTSup 145; Sheffield: JSOT Press,
1993); B. Jones, Howling Over Moab: Irony and Rhetoric in Isaiah 15 -16 (SBLDS
157; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1996); B. E. Kelle, Hosea 2: Metaphor and Rhetoric in
Historical Perspective (Academia Biblica 20; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature
Press, 2005). Note also the rhetorician George Kennedy's implicit comparison of
Demosthenes to a prophet (G. Kennedy, The Art ofPersuasion in Greece [Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1963], 225).
The stress on the relationship of speech and historical setting, which forms a
central part of the orator analogy, has its roots in prophetic studies from the first half
of the twentieth century that stressed the interrelationship of prophets and politics.
See, e.g., H. Winckler and H. Zimmern, eds., Die Keilinschriften unddasAlte Testa-
ment (3d ed.; Berlin: Reuther & Reichard, 1902-1903), 170-75.
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 59
the nature of prophetic discourse and a way of reading prophetic texts in
the Hebrew Bible. Sufficient attention given to the pictures found in the
prophetic texts themselves is often missing from contemporary study,
yet the biblical texts represent the largest and most contemporary collec-
tion of available data about the Israelite prophets. The starting point for
the consideration of analogies and models for the Israelite prophets should
be the textual presentations in the Hebrew Bible, a collection that comes
from the very culture in which the prophets were active.
As the follow-
ing discussion will show, many of the common analogies and models do
not correspond adequately to the way the Hebrew Bible pictures the
There are two caveats to be made at the outset. First, the available
biblical texts for such an analysis are those primarily associated with the
so-called "classical" prophets of the Assyrian through Persian periods.
Whereas the "pre-classical prophets" appear mostly as characters in
deuteronomistic narratives, it is with the latter prophets that one finds
extensive accounts of speech and action attributed to individuals. Addi-
tionally, the texts relating to the pre-classical prophets present a picture
of prophetic activity that is significantly more diverse than that of the
texts related to the classical prophets.
In the texts of the latter prophets,
some of the earlier diversity seems to have dissipated, and a more spe-
cifically defined practice of prophecy is apparent. The questions of the
relationship between classical and pre-classical prophets and the reasons
for the changes between periods remain vexed, largely due to the differ-
ences in type and quantity of data. Hence, any analogy that emerges from
the main prophetic texts applies primarily to the classical prophets of the
later periods.
A second caveat concerns the accuracy of the textual presentations of
the prophets. Scholars increasingly warn that the connection between the
textual depictions and the social/historical phenomenon of prophecy is
4. For an endorsement and discussion of the approach taken here, see H. M.
Barstad, "No Prophets? Recent Developments in Biblical Prophetic Research and
Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy," in The Prophets: A Sheffield Reader (ed. P. R.
Davies; The Biblical Seminar 42; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996),
5. Even if some of the biblical texts reached their final form in the later Persian
period, there does not seem to be sufficient reason for assuming that Persian-period
society was radically discontinuous with pre-exilic Israel and Judah.
6. For discussion, see J. Blenkinsopp, A History of Prophecy in Israel (rev. and
enl.; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 40-64; J. H. Hayes, "Prophecy
and Prophets, Hebrew Bible," DBI2:3\0; D. L. Petersen, The Prophetic Literature:
An Introduction (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2002), 215-38.
60 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Even so, the reality of the available data demands that one
begin at the literary level. Only when the literary evidence has been
taken seriously can one proceed to inquire about its connection to histori-
cal phenomena.
Moreover, as the following discussion will show, these
texts suggest one characteristic model of prophecy that fits well within
the context of the ancient Near East.
At the outset, one must acknowledge the diversity of the Hebrew
Bible's depictions. As Hayes notes, there are no general explanations of
the nature of prophecy given in the biblical texts, and the examples of
prophetic activity are multifold: proclaiming the people's unfaithfulness
and judgment, preaching repentance, predicting the future, rallying the
troops for battle, denouncing the enemy, and more.
Prophets also appear
in connection with a variety of contexts and institutions: the royal court
(1 Kgs 22), cultplaces (2 Kgs 4:18-25), ecstatic bands (1 Sam 10:5-13),
Nonetheless, when one turns to the literature associated with the
classical prophets, there emerges a depiction of prophecy characterized
by at least three traits that runs through the diversity of pictures and
seems to demand a certain kind of analogy.
First, the prophetic texts contain long addresses, not short, isolated
statements, which are consistently communicative and argumentative
in character. The prophetic texts are in the form of public address or ora-
tory and thus call for models and methods that emphasize the "dynamic
mechanism of public address" and "communicative discourse designed to
appeal to its audience."
In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
7. For example, see the collection of essays in J. C. de Moor, ed., The Elusive
Prophet: The Prophet as a Historical Person, Literary Character, and Anonymous
Artist (OtSt 45; Leiden: Brill, 2001).
8. So H. M. Barstad, "Comparare necesse est? Ancient Israelite and Ancient
Near Eastern Prophecy in a Comparative Perspective," in Prophecy in Its Ancient
Near Eastern Context: Mesopotamian, Biblical, and Arabian Perspectives (ed. M.
Nissinen; SBLSymS 13; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2000), 11.
9. Hayes, "Prophecy and Prophets," 310.
10. See Hayes, Introduction, 261 -62, and R. Hutton, Fortress Introduction to the
Prophets (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 14.
11. Gitay, Prophecy and Persuasion, 26-27. Cf. Shaw, Speeches, 19. Northrop
Frye observes that the dominant idiom of the Hebrew Bible in its entirety is oratori-
cal and that the canon has a pervasive emphasis on the importance of speech. See
N. Frye, The Great Code: The Bible and Literature (San Diego: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1983); cf. G. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation Through Rhe-
torical Criticism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 4,11. This
characteristic is never clearer than in the prophetic texts. Witness, for example, the
concerns over speaking and speaking well that are attributed to various prophets
(e.g. Isa 6:5, 9; Jer 1:6; Ezek 2:4).
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 61
the dominant understanding of prophetic discourse treated prophetic
words as isolated oracles. In Sigmund Mowinckel's words, "[T]he rela-
tively brief, in itself, complete and concluded, independent separate say-
ing ('oracle') is the original and real form of a prophetic 'speech'...."
As Yehoshua Gitay rightly observes, this view, which was steeped in
form criticism's assumptions about the brief and conventional nature of
prophetic speech, failed to attend adequately to the rhetorical and oratori-
cal dimensions of the prophetic texts. Even newer literary and canonical
approaches to the prophetic books typically overlook the argumentative
nature of the texts,
yet the prophetic texts call for a model that can
account for this characteristic.
A second observable characteristic is the large variety of styles and
genres that are utilized in the prophetic texts. The argumentative addresses
employ a diversity of styles and forms that includes rebuke, encourage-
ment, sarcasm, metaphor, and more.
These stylistic variations appear
to be connected with different methods of persuasion for audiences in
different situations.
In contrast to form criticism's assumption that pro-
phetic discourse is conventional and formulaic, the texts attest pragmatic
stylistic variation.
A final observable feature is that prophetic discourse in the Hebrew
Bible has a specific, contextual, rather than general, focus. Prophets do
not address religious, moral, or political issues in general; their argu-
mentative addresses are envisioned as responses to particular situations.
Prophetic speech is most often religious discourse offered against a
background that assumes certain political or social circumstances. Even
if these circumstances are not always fully described, the prophetic mes-
sages assume a set of shared persons and events. Prophetic speeches
often appear, for example, in a chronological framework (e.g. Isa 1:1;
2:1; 6:7; 7:1; 20:1; Hos 1:1; Amos 1:1). Hence, Isa 7-12 presents the
prophet's speeches not as "general theological statements" but as "con-
crete sayings for a definite circle pursuing specific policies at a particular
12. S. Mowinckel, Prophecy and Tradition: The Prophetic Books in the Light of
the Study of the Growth and History of the Tradition (Oslo: Jacob Dybwad, 1946),
60 (emphasis added).
13. Y. Gitay, "The Realm of Prophetic Rhetoric," in Rhetoric, Scripture and
Theology: Essays from the 1994 Pretoria Conference (ed. S. E. Porter and T.
Olbricht; JSOTSup 131; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 220 n. 6.
14. See J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His
Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987), 61.
15. For example, Y. Gitay ("Prophetic Criticism' What Are They Doing?': The
Case of IsaiahA Methodological Assessment," JSOT96 [2001]: 114-15) notes
how different stylistic designs serve as personal appeals to listeners in various texts.
62 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The argumentative nature of biblical prophetic speeches noted
above thus relates to particular circumstances. The speeches reveal an
intention to argue, often calling for particular audiences to give counter-
arguments (e.g. Isa 1:18; Mic 6:3).
Thus, the biblical texts present
prophecy as a discourse whose goal is to persuade for decisions to be
made about belief and action in particular situations. Furthermore, the
argumentative nature of prophetic speech, mentioned above, suggests a
pragmatic function dependent on particular historical situations.
John Barton, in an article that has received too little attention, provides
a summary of the biblical picture of prophetic discourse in keeping with
the recognition of these three characteristics. Barton notes that the
Hebrew Bible's presentations lead one to conclude that the prophets did
not passively receive their messages but constructed them by analyzing
contemporary social and political situations from moral and theological
perspectives. The prophets actively shaped and creatively constructed the
messages they gave, even those purported to be divine words, in order to
fit particular situations and to achieve the goal of persuasion:
The genius of the classical prophets was to take the highly recalcitrant
facts of history, whose religious and moral implications were in fact
extremely ambiguous, and to give an account of these facts which would
convince people not only that the hand of God could be seen in them, but
that the operations of the divine hand were entirely comprehensible in
human moral categoriesindeed that given the right ethical framework
one could see that history could not but have unfolded in the way that it
did. Prophetic rhetoric is designed, that is to say, to make the contingen-
cies of human history look like divine necessities.
In this view, the prophets arrived at their conclusions in much the
same way as all other analysts assess a situation, namely, they observed
and evaluated the political and social developments. The prophets
offered, however, a theological interpretation of these events, which did
not simply deal in Realpolitikbut interpreted situations in light of Yah-
weh's will and attempted to persuade others of this theological dimen-
This conception of prophetic discourse may explain why prophetic
texts are often vague about specific circumstances (e.g. if the prophet is
really talking about a treaty with Assyria, why does he not say so?).
16. Irvine, Isaiah, 17.
17. Gitay, "Realm," 220.
18. J. Barton, "History and Rhetoric in the Prophets," in The Bible as Rhetoric:
Studies in Biblical Persuasion and Credibility (ed. M. Warner; London: Routledge,
1990), 52. Barton (ibid.) notes that this idea was suggested earlier in E. W. Heaton,
The Old Testament Prophets (Atlanta: John Knox, 1977), 36.
19. Barton, "History and Rhetoric," 54.
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 63
Prophetic discourses assumed a political or social situation recognized to
some degree by the audience and interpreted in various ways by involved
parties. The prophets' goal was not to extrapolate the circumstances but
to cast them in a different light designed to change the audience's per-
ception and action.
In sum, the Hebrew Bible characteristically presents prophets as those
who engage in discourse that is communicative, argumentative public
address, which relates to specific, contextual needs and employs a wide
variety of styles for persuasive effect.
The texts call for analogies and
models that can elucidate the nature and function of figures who deal in
the realm of oratory and offer interpretations of events and circumstances
designed to persuade audiences from theological perspectives. These
observations lead one to reconsider the analogies used to understand
prophets in light of their correlations with the biblical depictions.
n. Analogies for the Israelite Prophets
At this point, a brief note is in order concerning the most commonly used
analogies and models for the prophets. The analogies/models used
throughout the history of prophetic interpretation have been both his-
torical and typological in nature: "historical" analogies being drawn from
the same time period as Israel's prophets, and "typological" analogies
being drawn from non-contemporary time periods. Since several surveys
and evaluations of common analogies/models are available, the follow-
ing discussion will provide only some selected examples that focus on
the relationship of the analogies and models to the biblical presentations
of the prophets.
20. Significantly, the reference to a prophet in the Lachish Letters, the only
extrabiblical pre-exilic evidence of Israelite prophecy, also portrays that prophet as
offering a dire warning about political actions in the particular circumstances sur-
rounding 586 B.C.E. See M. Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy in the Ancient Near
East (SBLWAW 12; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2003), 212-18.
21. For surveys and evaluations of the most prominent analogies for the proph-
ets, see D. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy and Prophetic Literature," in Nissinen, ed.,
Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context, 33-44, and D. L. Petersen, "Ways of
Thinking About Israel's Prophets," in idem ed., Prophecy in Israel: Search for an
Identity (IRT 10; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987), 1-21. Cf. D. W. Baker, "Israelite
Prophets and Prophecy," in The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Con-
temporary Approaches (ed. D. W. Baker and B. Arnold; Grand Rapids: Baker,
1999), 266-94. For an example of the search for analogies, see L. L. Grabbe,
"Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy from an Anthropological Perspective," in Nissinen,
ed., Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context, 13-32.
64 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
David L. Petersen provides a useful typology under which one can
organize the modern period's primary models for Israelite prophets.
first rubric includes analogies that operate with the view that a prophet is
someone who "has an intense experience of the deity."
This rubric
encompasses the analogy ofecstatics for Israelite prophets, an analogy
that focused on the psychology and personal experiences of the prophets
and compared the prophets with religious persons from various cultures
who underwent transnormal experiences such as frenzies or trances in
order to receive or communicate messages from the deity.
second rubric encompasses models that see the prophet as one "who
speaks or writes in a distinctive way."
Under this rubric falls the anal-
ogy of poets. As expressed in the key work of Johann Gottfried Herder,
this model emphasizes the poetic nature of the prophetic literature but
The explicit use of analogies began in earnest with the modern period (eighteenth
century C.E.). The Protestant Reformation, however, saw the emergence of views of
the prophets that would feed directly into later analogies. Even during the periods of
the Qumran community, early Christianity, and early Judaism, implicit models
guided the understanding of who the biblical prophets were and how their texts
should be interpreted. For both Qumran and the early church, prophetic texts were
read as apocalyptic predictions of events to be fulfilled at the end of time or as
descriptions of the history and destiny of the respective present communities. These
reading strategies implied an understanding of prophets as predictors of the near or
distant future, even if only at an unconscious level (see Hayes, "Prophecy and
Prophets," 311). By contrast, Mishnaic and Talmudic Judaism saw the prophets pri-
marily as proclaimers and expositors of the Torah, who made no innovations. These
later Jewish traditions began to view the prophets through the analogy of a rabbi, that
is, one who expounds insights from older, authoritative traditions. See N. N. Glatzer,
"A Study of the Talmudic Interpretation of Prophecy," RR 10 (1946): 115-37.
22. This typology and the following discussion present the analogies themati-
cally, rather than chronologically in the order of their development. For an earlier
version of this typology, see Petersen, Prophecy in Israel, 1-21. Cf. Hayes's (Amos,
2939) typology of three main phases in the history of prophetic interpretation from
Kuenen and Duhm to Alt and Weber.
23. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy," 33.
24. See H. Gunkel, "Die gehimen Erfahrungen der Propheten Israels: Eine
religionspyschologische Studie,"Das Suchen derZeit: Blatter Deutscher Zukunft 1
(1903): 112-53, and G. Holscher, Die Profeten: Untersuchungen zur Religions-
geschichte Israels (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1914). For discussion, see Hayes, "Prophecy
and Prophets," 315-16, and D. Petersen, The Roles of Israel's Prophets (JSOTSup
17; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981), 25-26. Anthropologists today more carefully
distinguish between "trance" (ecstasy) as a kind of behavior (not a form of com-
munication) and "possession" as a means of communication, which may be accom-
panied by ecstatic behavior (so Overholt, Prophecy, 333-34).
25. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy," 34.
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 65
also sees the prophets as something akin to European Romanticists:
brave individualists or free spirits, who provided oppositional voices to
the institutions of their day.
The third rubric of Petersen's typology sees the prophet as one who
"acts in a particular social setting."
This statement encompasses the
model of cultic functionaries for Israelite prophets.
Within the general
model of cultic functionary is the more specific model ofcovenantmedia-
tor, the prophets as functionaries who spoke at covenant renewal cere-
monies in Israel and whose preaching guarded and relied upon earlier
covenant traditions.
Petersen's fourth rubric encompasses the analogy
of charismatics: "The prophet possesses distinctive personal qualities,
for example, charisma."
Max Weber saw prophets as individuals who
had an extraordinary power and authority that attracted loyal bands of
They exercised this authority by working outside of tradi-
tional institutions.
The fifth rubric of Petersen's typology, the "prophet is an intermedi-
ary," encompasses a number of suggested analogies.
Several of these
emerged from comparative sociological and anthropological research on
the prophets, which began in earnest in the 1960s and focused on inter-
mediaries, shamans, and diviners from other ancient and modern socie-
ties, such as Native American, African, and Indian.
The general analogy
26. J. G. Herder, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry (2 vols.; Burlington, Va.: E. Smith,
1833). Cf. A. Heschel, The Prophets (2 vols.; New York: Harper & Row, 1962). For
more contemporary examples of this analogy, see R. P. Carroll, "Poets Not Prophets:
A Response to 'Prophets Through the Looking Glass,'" in Davies, ed., The Prophets,
43^49, and D. Robertson, The Old Testament and the Literary Critic (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1977).
27. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy," 35.
28. In the mid-twentieth century, Mowinckel led the way in arguing that the
prophets did not simply use cultic forms of speech but functioned within the realm
of the temple and were often depicted as closely related to the priests (e.g. Jer 23:11;
26:7, 16; 27:16; Zech 7:1-3). See S. Mowinckel, Psalmenstudien III (Kristiana:
Jacob Dybwad, 1921). Cf. A. R. Johnson, The Cultic Prophet in Ancient Israel
(Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1962), and Hayes, Introduction, 264-65.
29. E.g. R. E. Clements, Prophecy and Tradition (Oxford: Blackwell, 1975);
J. Muilenburg, "The 'Office' of the Prophet in Ancient Israel," in The Bible in Mod-
ern Scholarship (ed. J. Hyatt; Nashville: Abingdon, 1967), 74-97; G. von Rad, Old
Testament Theology, vol. 2 (New York: Harper & Row, 1965).
30. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy," 36.
31. M. Weber, The Sociology of Religion (Boston: Beacon, 1964); cf. Petersen,
Roles, 10.
32. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy," 37.
33. See especially Overholt, Prophecy; Petersen, Roles; and R. R. Wilson,
Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980). For example,
66 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
of intermediary represents a religious figure who stands between humans
and the deity to transmit divine messages.
Another group of analogies, one that also falls under Petersen's fifth
rubric, emerges from comparison with ancient Near Eastern prophets,
especially those mentioned in the main prophetic collections from Mari
and Assyria.
At Mari, for example, some prophetic groups engaged in
criticism of the king, especially concerning cultic matters, and prophets
in both Mari and Assyria occasionally addressed public audiences in
order to influence behavior or opinion.
Most of the Assyrian oracles also
stand against the background of particular historical situations facing the
royal court (cf. e.g. Isa 7-11).
The comparison with ancient Near Eastern data has also given rise to
two specific analogies that emerge from political and social realities. The
analogy of ancient messengers found early expression in the work of
Claus Westermann, who began with the conviction that the messenger
speech and accompanying messenger formula were the primary form of
prophetic discourse.
James Ross developed this analogy by drawing
T. Overholt ("Prophecy: The Problem of Cross-Cultural Comparison," Semeia 21
[1981]: 55-78) compares Jeremiah and Handsome Lake, a Seneca Indian from the
late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries C.E.
34. See Overholt, Prophecy, 2, and Nissinen, Prophecy in Its Ancient Near East-
ern Context, vii.
35. For overviews of this area of study, see Nissinen, ed., Prophecy inlts Ancient
Near Eastern Context; Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy; Barstad, "No Prophets,"
106-26; H. Ringgren, "Prophecy in the Ancient Near East," in Israel's Prophetic
Tradition (ed. R. Coggins, A. Phillips, M. Knibb; Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1982), 1-11; H. B. Huffmon, "The Expansion of Prophecy in the Mari
Archives: New Texts, New Readings, New Information," in Prophecy and Prophets:
Diversity of Contemporary Issues in Scholarship (ed. Y. Gitay; SemeiaSt; Atlanta:
Society of Biblical Literature Press, 1997), 7-22; S. Parpola, Assyrian Prophecies
(SAA 9; Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1997).
While the texts from Mari and Assyria constitute the primary corpora of ancient
Near Eastern prophetic texts, for other texts often cited in the scholarly discussion
like the Zakkur Stela, Deir
Allah inscription, and the report of Wenamon, see
Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy, 1,201-3,219-20, and Ringgren, "Prophecy in the
Ancient Near East," 1-11.
36. See Parpola, Assyrian Prophecies, XLV, and Huffmon, "Expansion," 18.
37. For example, ten oracles of the first Assyrian collection come from the set-
ting of Esarhaddon's war with his brother before 681 B.C.E. See Nissinen, Prophets
and Prophecy, 10111.
3 8. Westermann argued that the basic messenger speech consisted of the follow-
ing parts: (1) messenger formula, (2) description of the situation, (3) wish of the
sender, and (4) concluding characterization. See C. Westermann, Basic Forms of
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 67
more directly upon the characteristics of royal messengers in the ancient
Near East. On analogy with the king and royal court, the prophets located
their authority in the one who sent them and received their messages
from the deity and divine council.
Similarly, John Holladay, Jr., drew
specifically upon Assyrian statecraft and diplomatic practices to offer the
analogy of royal heralds for the Israelite prophets. As Holladay described,
the royal herald "stood in the court of the Great King, participated in the
deliberative processes of the court, received the declaration of the king's
wishes from the king's own mouth, and then carried the tablet or sealed
roll of papyrus to its destination.. ."
The final rubric of Petersen's typology, the "prophet has a distinctive
message," encompasses two other models/analogies.
Under the nine-
teenth-century influence of Julius Wellhausen, Bernhard Duhm, and
others, when the view of prophets shifted from "fore-tellers" to "forth-
tellers," an emphasis also emerged on morality as the defining charac-
teristic of prophetic religion and preaching.
Hence, scholars offered the
model of ethical monotheists to characterize the prophets. In this view,
the prophets were bold individualists, whose preaching centered on reli-
gious issues and stressed the individual and internal elements of religious
experience. A similar analogy partially returns to the generation after the
Protestant Reformation but moves in a slightly different direction: social
reformers. This analogy sees the prophets as challenging existing insti-
tutions related to religion, politics, and so on.
Prophetic Speech (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1967), and Hayes, Introduction,
39. J. F. Ross, "The Prophet as Yahweh's Messenger," in Petersen, ed., Prophecy
in Israel, 112-21.
40. J. Holladay, Jr., "Assyrian Statecraft and the Prophets of Israel," in Petersen,
ed., Prophecy in Israel, 122-43. It is significant to note that the offices of messenger
and herald are non-prophetic offices, yet they come from societies that had prophetic
figures. The fact that it is these non-prophetic offices that are held up for comparison
reminds us that the most useful analogies for understanding Israel's prophets may
not be other so-called "prophets." This observation is important for assessing the
analogy of the Greek orators offered here, since ancient Greece also knew of "proph-
ets," but the following discussion will suggest that Greece's political orators provide
a better analogy for Israel's prophets.
41. Petersen, "Defining Prophecy," 38.
42. For discussion, see Hayes, "Prophecy and Prophets," 315.
43. For example, see A. S. Kapelrud, Central Ideas in Amos (Oslo: Universitets-
forlaget, 1961); cf. M. A. Cohen, "The Prophets as Revolutionaries,"^/? 5 (1979):
12-19; H. Gossai, Justice, Righteousness and the Social Critique of the Eighth-
Century Prophets (American University Studies 7: Theology and Religion 141; New
York: Peter Lang, 1993).
68 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The point of this listing of sample analogies and models is to show
their lack of correspondence with the Hebrew Bible's depictions of the
classical prophets. As the previous section suggested, the biblical texts
most characteristically present prophetic discourse as communicative,
situational, argumentative public address. Although each of the common
models/analogies for Israelite prophets captures some elements of the
Hebrew Bible's depictions, they do not seem fully adequate when closely
compared with the textual presentations. The analogies of poets, charis-
matics, and social reformers, for example, which cast the prophets as
heavily anti-institutional, falter because the biblical texts often portray
the prophets as functioning in conjunction with, rather than in opposi-
tion to, the major institutions of their day.
One simply cannot restrict
the prophets to oppositional revolutionary leaders. While they predomi-
nantly call for change, the prophets do not seem to articulate a morality
or vision of society that is in complete discontinuity with the contempo-
rary institutions of their society.
Conversely, the models of cultic func-
tionary or covenant mediator accurately represent that cultic institutional
connections were present for some prophets, but these connections do
not appear as an essential characteristic of prophets in general.
Similarly, the intermediary analogies drawn from anthropological data
often come from contexts that do not involve states that are headed by
kings and possess active political and legal institutions. Even the analo-
gies of royal messenger and herald, which are drawn from evidence for
prophecy in other ancient Near Eastern cultures, have a larger set of dis-
similarities with the biblical presentations than is normally recognized.
Assyrian prophecies, for example, consistently emanate from the temples
of Ishtar, serve to offer divine support for the king, and depend for their
legitimacy upon testing through divination.
More importantly, these
analogies, which have both phenomenological and historical points of
contact with Israelite prophets, imply a near-passive transmitting or
mediating function for the prophet. Even though Holladay allows that a
44. For example, Carroll's argument ("Poets," 47) that, as the prophetic literature
developed, the originally anti-institutional prophets were redacted to serve the very
structures they opposed is a tacit acknowledgment that the biblical texts do not
envision a model of prophets as anti-institutional individualists.
45. So Petersen, Prophecy in Israel, 15, and Gene M. Tucker, "The Role of the
Prophets and the Role of the Church," in Petersen, ed. Prophecy in Israel, 166.
46. For example, Wilson (Prophecy and Society, 235-52) argues that the cove-
nant mediator role of prophets is prominent only in northern or Ephraimitic traditions.
47. For discussions of similarities and differences, see Barstad, "Comparare,"
3-11, and H. B. Huffinon, "A Company of Prophets: Mari, Assyria, and Israel," in
Nissinen, ed., Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Context, 4770.
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 69
herald was involved in the construction of the king's message, these
analogies seem to miss the creative and shaping (i.e. rhetorical) dimen-
sion of the prophet's speaking that appears in the biblical presentations.
III. Israelite Prophets and Greek Orators: A New Analogy?
Given the apparent amount of distance between prophetic study's most
common analogies and the Hebrew Bible's presentations, the political
orators of ancient Greece may provide an analogy that better elucidates
the nature and function of Israelite prophets and suggests a particular
way of reading the prophetic literature with implications for the relation-
ship between the prophetic texts and Israelite history.
Studies of Greek oratory typically focus on the stylistic characteristics
of the orators and their speeches and the legal or political situations that
produced the speeches.
To these foci one should add the social roles
and functions of Greek orators. As the following discussion will show,
the Israelite prophets played a social role similar to that of the political
orators in ancient Greece. This comparative social function, then, illumi-
nates other analogous characteristics, which operate at the levels of topics,
styles, and circumstances. Thus, the comparison is typological (rather than
historical) and examines similar phenomena in different cultural contexts
without positing any direct connection between Israel and Greece.
The designation "Greek political orators" traditionally identifies the
ten so-called "Attic Orators" from the fourth century B.C.E., with
Demosthenes as the most significant representative.
Historians typically
see the fourth century as a period of decline for ancient Athens, a decline
marked by the Peloponnesian War and ending with the conquest of
Alexander the Great.
Athens's troubles particularly came in the form of
Philip of Macedonia, who rose to dominance during this time and came
48. Kennedy, Art of Persuasion, 125-26.
49. J. Pairman Brown (Ancient Israel and Ancient Greece: Religion, Politics,
and Culture [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003], 1,71) suggests that there may be histori-
cal connections between the Hebrew and Greek worlds, but he compares Israelite
prophets with Hellenic reforming poets rather than political orators. Prophets were a
part of ancient Greek society, but they primarily functioned as part of the temple
personnel, who communicated the ecstatic messages of priestesses of Zeus or Pythia.
They also appear as ecstatic groups connected with the cult of Dionysos and as
predictors of the future. See Blenkinsopp, History of Prophecy, 27.
50. Kennedy, Art of Persuasion, 125.
51. See H. Montgomery, The Way to Chaerona: Foreign Policy, Decision Making
and Political Influence in Demosthenes' Speeches (Oslo: Oslo Universitetsforlaget,
1983), 9.
70 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
into conflict with a league of Hellenic states that included Athens. During
this turbulent period, the Greek political orators functioned within the
Athenian law courts and political assembly. The majority of orations
were judicial speeches designed to function in the law courts. Some
extant speeches, however, were deliberative addresses by the orators in
the Athenian political assembly and were connected to political and
social circumstances in the 300s B.C.E.
In their speeches that emerge from this context, figures like Demosthe-
nes define the functions and duties of an orator. Demosthenes's On the
Crown (246) provides the most important of such statements as a defense
of his own performance:
[Tjhose duties for which [an orator] should be held responsible...what are
those duties? To discern events in their beginnings, to foresee what is
coming, and to forewarn others... Again it is his duty to reduce to the
smallest possible compass, wherever he finds them, the slowness, the
hesitation, the ignorance, the contentiousness.. .he must stimulate men to
unity, friendship, and eagerness to perform their duty (246).
This conception provides the closest comparison to the Hebrew Bible's
presentation of the Israelite prophets. The Greek orators discern and
articulate the meanings and implications of events before they are evi-
dent to the common people. They also deal in the realm of ethics, as they
seek to move people to just and harmonious relations. Finally, the orators
not only interpret situations and events, but they specifically aim to con-
vince and convict their hearers to follow the courses they see as right.
Put simply, an orator is a rhetor, that is, one who is skilled in speaking
and addresses a public audience in order to have an effect upon it.
Milns concludes, "The orator frequently exhorts his fellow citizens to
rouse themselves from their apathy, to serve in person, to order their
priorities correctly and to uphold and emulate the glorious traditions and
examples of their ancestors."
This nature and function of the Greek orators, as well as their correla-
tions with the Israelite prophets, become clearer when one attends to
52. Kennedy, An of Persuasion, 125-27,152. Kennedy notes that the third main
type of oration was epideictic and that orators delivered speeches at city festivals and
multi-city games (see ibid., 152-53, 166).
53. A. W. Pickard-Cambridge, trans., Demosthenes' Public Orations (London:
Everyman's Library, 1963), 385-86.
54. D. Jasper, Rhetoric, Power and Community (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster
J ohnKnox, 1993), 17.
55. R. D. Milns, "The Public Speeches of Demosthenes," in Demosthenes:
Statesman and Orator (ed. I. Worthington; London: Routledge, 2000), 215.
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 11
their social location. The social setting of most of the extant speeches of
the Greek orators was the law court. Athenian legal practice centered on
trial by jury, and the litigants were required to speak for themselves in
court by offering a speech delivered without interruption.
Juries in
Athens, however, were often very large, at times numbering in the hun-
dreds and thousands, so this legal presentation took the form of a public
persuasive speech. Perhaps for this reason, litigants could have profes-
sional orators write and/or present their speeches for them, and several
prominent orators like Demosthenes functioned in this capacity.
The social location of the law court and its concomitant social role for
the orators does not closely correlate with the Hebrew Bible's portrayals
of prophets. The role of the Greek orators in the Athenian political assem-
bly, the orators' other major social location, however, forms a closer
comparison. This context was not entirely discontinuous with the legal
setting. The courts themselves often heard political trials that were out-
workings of the political assembly and allowed the people to decide
between rival political leaders and courses.
Yet the Athenian assembly
was responsible for political decisions and the orators played a part in
that process. Since Athens was an "open society" and full democracy, all
citizens were involved in the political process of the assembly.
process involved the gathering of information about events, the proposal
of a decree or recommendation, and the pursuing debate leading to a
decision. The latter stage of public debate saw the orators perform their
role. The Greek orators addressed the audience with regard to a particular
situation and employed all available means of persuasion to lead to
action. The orators' aim was never simply observation but persuasion.
They sought to help the public discern the significance of what was
transpiring and to lead them to see its ultimate conclusion or to steer
them toward an appropriate response.
56. Kennedy, Art of Persuasion, 126-27. There are very few extant political
speeches from the assembly but many from the law court. For example, only about
fifteen of Demosthenes's assembly speeches are extant (see Montgomery, Way, 12).
57. C. Carey and R. Reid, eds., Demosthenes: Selected Private Speeches (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 1-8. The profession of speechwriter
(logographos) emerged in the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. but functioned
much like a modern lawyer.
58. Ibid., 12-13; cf. H. Yunis, Demosthenes On the Crown (Cambridge Greek
and Latin Classics; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 8.
59. Nonetheless, the "citizens" actually constituted a minority of the population:
women, foreigners, and slaves were excluded from the assembly (Montgomery,
Way, 11).
60. See ibid., 28, and L. Pearson, The Art of Demosthenes (American Philologi-
cal Association Special Publications 4; Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1981), vii.
72 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The specific functions of the orators' political speeches were diverse, a
factor that may also illuminate the speeches of the classical prophets. In
some cases, for instance, the orators commended a particular course of
action, while in other cases they dissuaded the assembly from what they
thought was a bad decision. For example, in his speech On the Peace,
Demosthenes tried to convince a hesitant assembly to accept new
arrangements of peace with Philip of Macedonia being made at Delphi,
while in his earlier On the Symmories, he tried to dissuade an excited
assembly from going to war against the king of Greece.
In all cases, the
orators attempted such persuasion not only by giving information but
also by placing the event into a broader social and historical context and
extrapolating the future consequences of various courses of actions. The
orators, not unlike the prophets, relied on the prediction of future out-
comes as a powerful means of persuasion. In his Third Philippic, for
example, Demosthenes warned the Athenians against engaging Philip in
battle by predicting their imminent defeat.
Again not unlike the proph-
ets, the Greek orators found themselves functioning in an assembly that
was often divided among competing groups and attacking the competing
voices of other orators, who were advocating opposing courses of action.
Hence, Demosthenes's Against Medias accused wealthy orators of
speaking only for the interests of the wealthy citizens.
Another way in which the nature and function of the Greek orators and
their correlations with the Israelite prophets become clear is through the
styles and topics they employ. Any single orator cannot be limited to one
particular style that characterizes all of his authentic words, and he may
even use contradictory styles and topics in different orations.
The likely
explanation for this phenomenon is the determinative role of the audi-
ence and context in the orator's speeches. The circumstance determines
the style, and the orator may take up any style that serves to persuade the
audience within that circumstance.
Several specific topics and styles that appear in the Greek orators bear
similarities to the speeches of the prophets and may attest to phenome-
nologically shared practices among those who functioned as orators in
61. Montgomery, Way, 49.
62. Ibid., 53-54.
63. Ibid., 21-22.
64. For a discussion of the various rhetorical devices used by the Greek orators,
see J. F. Dobson, The Greek Orators (repr.; Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries
Press, 1969), 244-52.
65. See J. Miller, "Warning the Demos: Political Communication with a Democ-
ratic Audience in Demosthenes," History of Political Thought 23 (2002): 401-17
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 73
various societies. For example, the Greek orators appeal to national
character and identity as motivational bases for their arguments, espe-
cially arguments for unpopular courses of action. A particular type of
this appeal that finds counterparts in the prophetic literature is the use of
historical retrospectives, that is, references to past events or traditions to
support the orator's advocacy.
The orators also frequently employ
metaphorical imagery in their discourses that is not unlike what one finds
in prophetic texts. One sees in Demosthenes, for example, metaphors of
disease/sickness to describe political situations and the imagery of a trial
scene to litigate against his Athenian audience (cf. Mic 1:9; 6:l-8).
Demosthenes in particular also engages in verbal and metaphorical per-
sonal abuse of his opponents. Although normally used to attack indi-
viduals rather than groups, this abuse often takes the form of language
related to gender and sexuality not unlike some prophetic texts. In his On
the Embassy, for instance, Demosthenes claims that Aeschines's mother
was a prostitute and his father a slavea family background that renders
Aeschines depraved in Demosthenes's assessment.
The orators also
occasionally attack the character of the demos itself.
Attention to social
issues concerning the wealthy and poor is an area of concern that pro-
duces such attacks and constitutes another parallel with the function of
the prophets. Demosthenes's On the Crown calls upon the wealthy to
shoulder the burden of needed state preparations and even explicitly
demands that they stop oppressing the poor. In words reminiscent of the
biblical polemic against false prophets, Demosthenes insists: "[I]n
internal policy, I did not prefer favors from the rich to justice toward the
66. See Montgomery, Way, 52, and Milns, "Public Speeches," 215. Demosthe-
nes ' s For the Liberty of the Rhodians uses references to Persia's past difficulties in a
particular rebellion to emphasize their present weakness, and his On the Symmories
refers to the past battles of Salamis and Marathon for guidance in a present situation.
Cf. the use of appeals to the Jacob tradition in Hos 12.
67. E.g. see Demosthenes, On the Cheronese. Cf. Montgomery, Way, 52, and
Milns, "Public Speeches," 213.
68. Pearson, Art, 189. m other contexts, Demosthenes attributes loose sexual
conduct to his opponent personally (see Montgomery, Way, 78). Dobson (Greek
Orators, 233) observes that Demosthenes tends to avoid such personal attacks in the
political assembly but not the law court.
69. See Miller, "Warning," 408-17.
70. J. J. Keaney, "Demosthenes' Oration On the Crown (a Translation)" in
Demosthenes' On the Crown: A Critical Case Study of a Masterpiece of Ancient
Oratory (ed. J. Murphy; A Random House Study in Speech; New York: Random
House, 1967), 81.
74 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
A final characteristic that clarifies the Greek orators' nature and
function is the contextual dimension of rhetorical speech. The orators'
discourses are not general but are related to and shaped by particular
situations or issues before the assembly. Hence, they contain references
to contemporary political and social events.
The majority of these situa-
tions center on actions to be undertaken by Athens, often in the realm
of foreign policy. Some speeches, however, address the internal politics
of other countries. Demosthenes, for example, critiques the actions of
Philip's soldiers and the conditions within Macedonia.
The reliability of
the orators' depictions of other countries is, of course, unclear, but they
would likely have gained information from Athenian emissaries abroad.
Yet a lack of explicit detail is characteristic of the orators' speeches.
Though clearly offered in response to particular situations, the orations
often do not spell out the persons, events, and details involved. Full
understanding of a speech requires that its references be supplemented
with information gained from other sources. The fact that the orators'
discourses took shape within a historical situation that was shared by the
speakers and their audience provides a likely explanation for this phe-
nomenon. There is no need to name explicitly the persons and events
involved. Indeed, imagistic, metaphorical, or allusive references may
prove more persuasive to the audience. The discourses do not offer
descriptions but interpretations of events, which assume that the audi-
ence knows the events themselves. The goal of the orators is not an
objective report but a compelling construal of the past or present.
This sketch of characteristic functions, locations, and phenomena sug-
gests that the analogy of the Greek orators fits better with the three major
characteristics of the Hebrew Bible's presentation of the prophets than
any of the traditional analogies noted above. First, the Hebrew Bible pre-
dominantly characterizes the classical prophets as figures who expressed
their convictions through the medium of the spoken word, a medium
that took the form of extended discourses rather than brief sayings.
As Nissinen has observed, all other factors, such as social location,
psychological factors, and so on, must be seen as subordinate to the
71. See, for example, Demosthenes' s speeches For the People of Megalopolis,
which responds to a request for help from Sparta and Megalopolis, and On the Peace,
which responds to a communication received from Delphi concerning Philip. Cf.
Dobson, Greek Orators, 217.
72. Montgomery, Way, 16.
73. As Carey and Reid (Private Speeches, 19) remark concerning discourse in
the law court: "Its end is persuasion; this need not rule out, but it does not necessi-
tate, truth. The Greek litigant is not an objective narrator of truth but a man with
something at stake. Anything he says must be treated with caution."
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 75
"transmissive or communicative aspect" of prophecy that centers on a
divine message, human transmitter, and human recipient.
The Greek
orators also typically offer sustained, communicative addresses designed
to persuade an audience. While these orations do not usually have a reli-
gious or theological component, that feature represents only an optional
variation on the shared phenomenon of persuasive oratory.
Secondly, the biblical texts picture prophetic discourse as using a wide
variety of styles, forms, and topics: rebuke, assurance, sarcasm, meta-
phor, and so on. The Greek orators help explain this practice by showing
that the style or topic of an oration shifts on the basis of circumstance
and audience. The nature of rhetorical oratory itself demands that style,
form, and topic at times be inconsistent. Along these lines, the third char-
acteristic element of the Hebrew Bible's depiction of the prophets is that
they do not address religious, social, and political issues in general but
tailor their comments to specific situations. The Greek orators also both
contrive and deliver their orations in response to particular exigencies
associated with domestic or international circumstances. Both prophets
and orators develop their messages on the basis of what they perceive to
be the broader theological, political, or social significances of local, con-
tingent events. Like the orators, however, the prophets do not often make
explicit and detailed references to the presumed historical situation. One
may ask, for example, "If Isaiah is referring to a treaty with Assyria, why
does he not say it?" The orator analogy suggests that the familiarity of a
shared situation between the speaker and audience renders such explicit
references unnecessary and perhaps even less rhetorically effective.
Alongside these specific correlations, there is above all a similarity in
the general functions of the prophets and orators. The prophets as depicted
in the Hebrew Bible fulfill Demosthenes's functions of the orator given
above. Like their Greek analogues, the prophets discern the meaning of
contemporary events, often before it is evident to the common people
whether those events be a shift in Assyria's strength or a newly instituted
policy of royal latifundialization. In keeping with these perceptions, the
prophets frequently foresee results and forewarn others. They then also
engage in the practice of calling the public to address the ills of their
society and insisting that they attend to ethics and character. While the
Greek orators may make their appeals on the basis of near-mythological
74. Nissinen, Prophets and Prophecy, 1-2. For an example of the analysis of a
prophetic text as a "full [persuasive] speech and not a brief communication," see Y.
Gitay, "Rhetorical Criticism and the Prophetic Discourse," in Persuasive Artistry:
Studies in New Testament Rhetoric in Honor of George A. Kennedy (ed. D. Watson;
JSOTSup 50; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991), 13-24.
76 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
national traditions about the character of Greece and the prophets may
find their bases in the revealed traditions and character of the god
Yahweh, both use rhetorical oratory as the means to their end.
IV. Implications: On Reading, History, and Models
If the analogy of the Greek orators holds, it raises implications for at
least three areas of prophetic study: (1) ways of reading prophetic texts,
(2) connections of prophetic texts and Israelite history, and (3) concep-
tions of the nature and function of models/analogies in general. Although
they cannot all be developed in detail here, some of these implications
are particularly germane to the question of the intersection of the
prophetic literature and Israel's past.
The first implication concerns the way of reading prophetic texts that
emerges from the Greek orator analogy. If the analogy holds, one should
understand prophetic discourse in terms of a rhetorical perspective that
focuses on the transaction between a speaker and audience within a shared
situation. Hence, one may profitably analyze the prophetic texts, which
ostensibly present these discourses, from the perspective of rhetorical
criticism. The rhetorical criticism envisioned here is not the stylistic criti-
cism represented within biblical studies by the work of James Muilenburg,
but a method informed by the study of classical rhetoric in antiquity.
Taking its cue from the ancient Greek practice of public speaking in the
law courts and assemblies and from Aristotle's definition of rhetoric as
"the faculty of discovering in the particular case what are the available
means of persuasion,"
this approach understands rhetorical discourse as
persuasive speech designed to affect particular social and political circum-
75. See J. Muilenburg, "Form Criticism and Beyond," repr. in Beyond Form
Criticism: Essays in Old Testament Literary Criticism (ed. P. House; SETS; Winona
Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1992), 49-69. For a critique of the limitations of the
stylistic approach to rhetorical criticism and a description of the system of classical
rhetoric, see Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 3, 12-30. Several scholars
have recently taken a more "classical" rhetorical approach to the prophetic literature
in particular and offer examples of its results. See especially, M. Fox, "The Rhetoric
of EzekieFs Vision of the Valley of the Bones," repr. in The Place Is Too Small For
Us: Israelite Prophets in Recent Scholarship (ed. R. Gordon; SETS 5; Winona Lake,
Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1995), 176-90; Gitay, Prophecy and Persuasion; and Kelle,
Hosea 2, 2934, and the works cited there.
76. Aristotle, Rhetoric (trans. L. Cooper; New York: Appleton, 1932), 1355.
77. So Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 3; Fox, "Rhetoric"; and C.
Black, "Keeping Up With Recent Studies XVI: Rhetorical Criticism and Biblical
Interpretation," ExpTim 100 (1988-89): 252-58 (254).
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 77
Thus, rhetorical criticism of the prophetic texts examines the transac-
tion between the speaker and audience by focusing on the persuasive
elements of the text and their relationship to the rhetorical situation
presupposed by the text.
This process involves reading for the external
factors of the audience, situation, and problem being addressed, as well
as the internal factors of the styles, devices, and arrangements used.
contrast to older historical-critical methods, however, this process does
not attempt to bring closure through a definitive statement of an author's
intentions and a text's historical context. Rather, operating from the text's
presentation of the prophets and their discourse, rhetorical criticism
offers a heuristic model for reading. It does not preclude other means of
engaging the prophetic literature that do not take the text's presentation
of the nature and role of the prophets as their starting point.
78. Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 13-20. The emergence of rhetoric
as a technique for persuasion is usually connected with Syracuse in the fifth century
B.C.E., particularly the works of Corax and Tisias. "Classical rhetorical theory" then
refers to the system developed to put the phenomenon of rhetoric into Greek catego-
ries. The basic concepts of this rhetoric appeared in Aristotle's Rhetoric (mid-fourth
century), which drew on Plato's Phaedrus, and were later developed by Cicero and
Quintilian. See Kennedy, New Testament Interpretation, 11-12,52-124. For a fuller
discussion of the components of classical rhetoric and a survey of its historical
development, see E. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student (2d ed.;
New York: Oxford University Press, 1971), and G. Kennedy, "Historical Survey of
Rhetoric," in Handbook of Classical Rhetoric in the Hellenistic Period 330 B.C.-
A.D. 400 (ed. S. E. Porter; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 3-42. Such criticism centers on the
major factors of speaker, audience, and discourse, and involves the classical elements
of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery, as well as proofs related to
ethos, pathos, and logos.
79. See J. M. Ericson, "Rhetorical Criticism: How to Evaluate a Speech," in
Murphy, ed., On the Crown, 129-36. Cf. Kennedy's (New Testament Interpretation.,
33) steps of determining the unit, identifying the situation and "rhetorical problem,"
and examining the arrangement.
80. The Greek orator analogy may answer some possible objections to the use of
rhetorical criticism for biblical interpretation. First, one may question how rhetoric,
which originated in the study of oratory, can rightly be employed on written texts.
As Gitay (Prophecy and Persuasion, 45) notes, however, the distinction between
oral and written literature was less pronounced before the modern period, and virtu-
ally identical rhetorical techniques are employed in both oral and written discourse.
One may also ask how the later practice of Greek oratory can legitimately be applied
to biblical texts. While one might be able to claim direct influence on the New Testa-
ment writers, the same claim cannot be made for the Hebrew Bible. As Kennedy
(New Testament Interpretation, 10-11) notes, however, rhetoric is a "universal facet
of human communication," and the Greeks simply provided a system and categories
for this universal phenomenon.
78 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The second implication of the orator analogy is the most relevant to
the issues under consideration in this volume. If the prophets are analo-
gous to the Greek orators and the prophetic texts preserve their speeches
that are analogous to rhetorical oratories, then there is an inextricable
link between the prophetic discourses and specific historical circum-
stances, which should be at least partially recoverable through the texts
themselves. In recent prophetic scholarship, however, difficulties involved
in the use of texts to reconstruct history have produced skepticism about
the ability to relate the biblical prophets and their sayings to the historical
realities of ancient Israel. Contemporary prophetic study is predominantly
literary in perspective and focuses on canonical and theological analysis
of artistically designed books, often with little optimism expressed about
the connection of these texts to historical prophets and contexts.
The same debate exists within the study of the Greek orators. The long-
standing assumption is that, since rhetorical orations intended to per-
suade audiences and influence behavior, they necessarily presupposed
and depended upon specific contexts that initiated the appeals. Hence, the
discourse contains and reflects elements of the circumstance. This under-
standing grows out of the key concept of the "rhetorical situation." As
Lloyd Bitzer defines it, the rhetorical situation is a circumstance with an
exigency, which calls forth and controls the discourse that seeks to
address it.
In this view, the rhetorical situation is essentially equivalent
to the historical situation, and without it, the discourse makes no sense.
So, for example, Demosthenes's On the Crown is typically read as a
source for political, social, and legal events and circumstances that led
up to the battle of Chaerona in 338 B.C.E. and Ctesiphon's trial in 330
In recent rhetorical study, however, some rhetoricians have questioned
whether the extant speeches of the Greek orators are reliable sources for
reconstructing the history of ancient Greece.
As noted above, the
speeches characteristically offered only analyses and interpretations not
extended and concrete descriptions of the shared situation.
the orators' efforts to persuade at times seem to have produced occasional
81. For discussion of this trend, see Barton, "History and Rhetoric," 51-64, and
Gitay, "Prophetic Criticism," 101-27.
82. L. Bitzer, "The Rhetorical Situation," Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968):
1-14. For a discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of Bitzer's definition of
the rhetorical situation, see Kelle, Hosea 2, 2427.
83. See, for example, Yunis, Demosthenes, ix, 1-6.
84. For instance, Yunis (ibid., 97) notes that recent scholars have expressed
skepticism about the history presented by Demosthenes's On the Crown.
85. See Pearson, Art, 31, and Montgomery, Way, 40.
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 79
errors in specific details. Some scholars have also questioned the concept
of the rhetorical situation and its determinative function for the speeches.
Richard Vatz, for instance, argued that the rhetorical situation is more
akin to an implied situation derived from the text, which is not always
primary for the discourse and cannot be assumed to equate with the his-
torical situation.
These challenges have even led some interpreters to
conclude that the extant political speeches originated as purely literary
products, which did not stem from the orator's original words in a
specific setting.
One of the issues that has produced this debate is that the orators'
extant political speeches show evidence of having been reworked after
their original oral delivery. While such editing was likely done by the
orators themselves for the purpose of immediate publication, the process
raises doubt about how accurately the speeches reflect their historical
On the Crown, for example, was not written down at the
time of delivery but circulated later in a written version likely including
minor editorial changes made by Demosthenes himself.
A much more significant issue that has prompted the debate over the
usefulness of the orators' speeches for historical reconstruction is that
the persuasive aims of these speeches led the orators not simply to repre-
sent but to shape, color, and even distort the events to which they refer.
Rhetoric by nature does not simply communicate the truth but partially
creates it.
As Worthington states,
There is no such thing as an objective presentation of information in ora-
tory, since we are dealing with rhetoric; when dealing with past and even
contemporary history in speeches, facts, persons and events were exploited
and manipulated in order to persuade the audience, all causing us to doubt
the accuracy of the historical information found in the Greek orators.
86. R. Vatz, "The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation," Philosophy and Rhetoric 6
(1973): 15461. For further discussion, see D. Watson, "The Contributions and
Limitations of Greco-Roman Rhetorical Theory for Constructing the Rhetorical and
Historical Situations of a Pauline Epistle," in The Rhetorical Interpretation of
Scripture (ed. S. E. Porter and D. Stamps; JSOTSup 180; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1999), 128-29.
87. Montgomery (Way, 40) attributes this view to E. Schwartz as early as 1893.
88. Support for such editing largely emerges from the comparison of extant manu-
scripts; see Worthington, ed., Demosthenes, 6, and Kennedy, Art of Persuasion, 128.
89. Yunis, Demosthenes, 26.
90. Porter and Olbricht, eds., Rhetorical Interpretation, 18. See also H. Yunis,
"Politics as Literature: Demosthenes and the Burden of the Athenian Past," Arion 8
(2001): 100, and Pearson, Art, v.
91. Worthington, ed., Demosthenes, 6. See also I. Worthington, "Greek Oratory,
Revision of Speeches and the Problem of Historical Reliability," Classica et
80 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Notwithstanding the significance of some of these challenges to the
historical usefulness of the Greek orators, the majority view within the
study of rhetoric remains that the present literary quality of the extant
speeches does not invalidate them as historical sources; rather, they yield,
in various degrees, direct and indirect information concerning situations
and events in Greek history.
Their persuasive goals certainly shape
some, if not many, of their depictions, and one should guard against the
simple acceptance of a speech's rhetorical situation as the historical situa-
tion. Nonetheless, the crucial role played by rhetoric in Athenian society
makes it likely that the orations hold high historical value: even a speech's
constructed rhetorical situation must have borne significant continuity
with the original circumstance for the sake of credibility.
The similarities of these points of debate with the questions about the
relationship of the prophetic literature and Israelite history are unmis-
takable. One may similarly raise the issue, for example, of whether the
prophetic discourses correspond to and accurately represent rhetorical-
historical situations. Can the preserved speeches be relied upon as sources
for reconstructing the circumstances that may have prompted them? As
discussed above, the prophetic texts often lack explicit and concrete
details. Many of them also show evidence of later editing that resulted in
their canonical form, and some interpreters conclude that the texts origi-
nated as purely literary compositions. Evidence of editorial activity does
not, however, automatically entail the "death of the historical prophet."
Assyrian prophecies show that the collecting and ordering of prophetic
messages was known at least as early as the seventh century B.C.E., and
such editing surely maintained some kind of significant contact with the
original content and context of the prophet's words. As was the case with
the Greek orators, the prophets themselves may have done some of the
editing of prophetic speeches.
In any case, without falling victim to
Mediaevalia 92 (1991): 5574. For a discussion of the shaping activity of rhetori-
cal discourse, particularly in connection with the rhetoric of New Testament texts,
see Jasper, Rhetoric, 18-41.
92. Dobson, Greek Orators, 4,201; see also Montgomery, Way, 40; C. Perelman
and L. Olbrechts-Tytecha, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation (Notre
Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1969), 20-21; Watson, "Contributions," 125.
93. So Montgomery, Way, 58, and Watson, "Contributions," 131.
94. Y. Gitay, "The Individual Versus the Institution: The Prophet Versus His
Book," in Religion and the Reconstruction of Civil Society: Papers From the
Founding Congress of the South African Academy of Religion, January 1994 (ed. J .
W. de Gruchy and S. Martin; Miscellania Congregalia 51; Pretoria: University of
South Africa Press, 1995), 290.
95. For example, A. A. Macintosh (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on
Hosea [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997], Ixxiii) argues that Hosea withdrew
KELLE Ancient Israelite Prophets and Greek Political Orators 81
simplistic, positivistic assumptions, redaction criticism can help identify
the relationship between original and redactional materials.
If the Israelite prophets were analogous to the Greek orators, their
original speeches likely shaped, colored, and perhaps even distorted the
events to which they referred in the service of persuasion. Just as with
the Greek orators, however, this rhetorical practice of shaping does not
entail a complete lack of historical usefulness. While prophets may have
shaped the presentations of events and circumstances, it seems most
unlikely that they could have made a presentation that did not have at
least a significant connection with the historical realities as observed by
their audience. While not every detail of a prophet's speech represented
straightforward presentation, the nature and function of prophecy surely
demanded a certain level of plausibility and accuracy in order for the
prophet to be credible to the audience. The realization that the Israelite
prophets possibly shaped what they presented as "divine revelation"
may, in fact, be one of the greatest benefits of the orator analogy. The
Jewish and Christian traditions have often resisted this notion on the basis
of beliefs concerning divine mediation and inspiration. Yet the Hebrew
Bible has preserved the impression that the prophets were more than
passive mouthpieces. If prophets were analogous to orators, the effec-
tiveness of their speeches required rhetorical competence and crafting.
Thus, if the analogy of the Greek orators fits the Israelite prophets, it
leads to the likely conclusion that the prophetic discourses in the Hebrew
Bible reliably link to and reveal specific historical circumstances and
events. Even if these discourses present only "rhetoricized history"
designed to appeal to an audience and cannot be historicized in a sim-
plistic way, the nature and function of rhetorical discourse demands that
they should not be excluded altogether from providing some usable infor-
mation for historical reconstruction, evidence to be used in conjunction
with other sources.
A rhetorical or oratorical approach to these biblical
from public life around 733 and reworked and expanded his publicly delivered
96. Yunis ("Politics," 101-2) reaches the same conclusion concerning Demos-
thenes's speeches. For example, L. Boadt ("The Poetry of Prophetic Persuasion:
Preserving the Prophet's Persona," CBQ 59 [1997]: 1-21) argues that the prose of
certain prophetic texts contains "marks of orality" that point to public oration, marks
such as formulaic language, repetitions, structural unity, and dramatic echoes. He
concludes that these marks indicate that extended discourses in the prophetic books
were originally given as public orations and can be used to identify the parts of the
discourse that are original to the prophet. Similarly, Gitay ("Realm," 227) argues
that rhetorical criticism of the prophets "enables us to sense the person behind the
speech rather than simply regard the book as a literary-theological production."
82 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
texts may help develop a connection between literary and historical stud-
ies of the Bible. The "rhetorical situation" envisioned by the discourse
must have some significant continuity with the original historical circum-
stances or else the discourse would have been ineffectual. Admittedly,
however, moving from this rhetorical situation to the historical situation
is difficult. It is, for example, somewhat circular to use the discourse to
reconstruct the situation and then use the situation to interpret the
discourse. Hence, one must see the historical interpretation of prophetic
texts as able to produce only a hypothetical reconstruction of a rhetorical
situation that can undergo adjustment and thus can continually cast the
text in new lights.
As a final implication alongside those of a way of reading prophetic
texts and the question of their connections to history, one might ulti-
mately conclude that the exploration of a new possible analogy such as
the Greek orators, as well as the uncertainties and difficulties it entails,
underscore the tentativeness of all such models and analogies for the
prophets. The temptation throughout the history of scholarship has been
to see models such as ecstatics, charismatics, poets, and so on, as captur-
ing the historical reality of the prophets. Even if the Greek orator model
comes the closest to achieving this goal, the uncertainties involved sug-
gest that all analogies ultimately remain at the level of heuristic devices.
After all, the primary focus of prophetic interpretation is the reading of
texts, assisted by imaginative devices that provide illumination. Whatever
contributions the analogies for the prophets make to the reconstruction of
Israel's past, it is perhaps best to see them ultimately as metaphors for
reading and imagination rather than models of precise historical reality.
Part II
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Gene M. Tucker
If more than a century of critical inquiry has taught us anything it has
taught us that the books of the Bible emerged from a strange and
different world. Furthermore, it is only with great effort if at all that one
can read a biblical text without presupposing some ancient historical
horizon. Thus, to open any biblical book is to enter a different world, one
in a distant past. This is no less true for the prophetic books than for
those such as 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and 1-2 Chronicles that report and
interpret the events of the past in chronological order. First, the prophetic
texts consider history, understood as events in time and space, of great
importance; in fact, these events bear ultimate significance since they
result from the interaction of human and divine decisions. Everything
from the language to the specific contents of the prophetic books reflects
and often speaks directly of such events. Second, all readers of these
books have inherited some image of the past, for good or ill. Thus, when
readers go to a book such as Amos, they carry with them a vision of the
world from which it came. The image they take to the book may be
shaped by a religious or theological tradition, or it may be formed by
either vague or detailed knowledge of the history of interpretation. Read-
ing will evoke further images of that world. Therefore, interpretation of
biblical texts must take historical questions seriously, and critically
examine all preconceived images as well as all historical reconstructions.
* In an era when many question the importance of history in biblical inter-
pretation, few in our generation have done more than John Hayes to keep historical
issues alive in the scholarly debate. It is no secret that he and I have very different
approaches to the prophetic literature in particular and have reached very different
conclusions about it. This was the source of many years of collegial conversation,
but neither of us has managed to persuade the other. These reflections on Amos are
offered as a contribution to that discussion, and with respect for the work of John
86 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
I. Historical Method
That the history of Israel and the history of biblical literature are
inexorably linked has been recognized since the rise of historical-critical
methods. One cannot write a history of Israel without first reaching con-
clusions about the dates and circumstances of the sources for that history,
including the books of the Bible. After all, the purpose of Wellhausen's
Prolegomena was to write the history of the development of the Penta-
teuch in order to provide the foundation for writing the history of Israel,
particularly its religion.
History is a human enterprise, a game played according to certain
rules. So what are the rules of the game? Some students of the Bible
make the rules for writing the history of Israel too easy and some make
them too difficult. The present situation in the study of the history of
Israel makes the conflict in the 1950s and 1960s between the Albright/
Bright approach on the one hand and that of Alt and Noth on the other
look like a tempest in a tea cup, as recent approaches appear to be testing
the extremes. That is, many now trust the historical references in the bib-
lical texts with little or no question, and others trust them not at all.
With regard to the prophetic books, and Amos in particular, several
recent works trust the received form of the book and reconstruct the life
and teachings of Amos with confidence.
On the other hand, some his-
torical critical works restrict themselves to the interpretation of the final
form of the written work and its use in its supposed time of composition.
1. J. H. Hayes, Amos, the Eighth-century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1988); S. M. Paul, Amos: A Commentary on the Book of
Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991); F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freed-
man, Amos: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (AB 24A; New
York: Doubleday, 1989). See M. D. Carroll R., AmosThe Prophet and His
Oracles: Research on the Book of Amos (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox,
2003), for an extensive bibliography and analysis.
2. See especially the works of E. Ben Zvi: Micah (FOTL 21B; Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 2000); Hosea (FOTL 21 A/1; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005); A Histori-
cal-Critical Study oftheBookofZephaniah (BZAW 198; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1991),
A Historical-Critical Study of the Book ofObadiah (BZAW 242; Berlin: de Gruyter,
1996). These are perceptive and valuable analyses of the received forms of the books
in question in the historical context in which Ben Zvi believes them to have been
written and originally read. He concludes that there is insufficient evidence for any
history of composition before that. Cf. also R. F. Melugin, "Prophetic Books and the
Problem of Historical Reconstruction," in Prophets and Paradigms: Essays in
Honor of Gene M. Tucker (ed. Stephen Breck Reid; JSOTSup 229; Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1996), 63-78.
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 87
Other literary and theological approaches question or even reject histori-
cal inquiry as a distraction or irrelevant to the interpretation of the texts.
For instance, Brevard Childs' canonical interpretation of Amos focuses
upon the final composition and seeks to understand "how the message of
Amos was appropriated and formed to serve as authoritative scripture
within the community of faith."
Others focus on various literary features
they see in the received form of the book.
Treatments of the history of the composition of the book of Amos also
push at the extremes. Many, such as the creative and innovative com-
mentary by John Hayes, take the book as composed of the words of
Amos in the eighth century. Shalom Paul treats the final form as a unit
from the eighth century, and uses the historical and archaeological data
from that time to explain the text. At the other extreme are those who
treat Hans Walter Wolffs six redactional stages as far too modest, iden-
tifying a dozen or so stages.
Jrg Jeremias does not see so many stages,
but he links the history of the composition of Amos with others of the
book of the Twelve.
The fact that the final form of a prophetic book is a coherent presenta-
tion does not necessarily demonstrate that it had no history of develop-
ment and composition, as those at the one extreme argue. On the other
hand, the fact that a book had a history of composition does not necessar-
ily mean that there is sufficient evidence to reconstruct all the steps in
that history, as many redaction critics insist with confidence. Generaliza-
tions are no substitute for the careful critical analysis of individual texts
and the presentation of evidence and arguments for their provenance.
Thus, the prophetic literature, by its very contents, demands answers
to historical questions. What is one to do? Is it possible to deal reasona-
bly with historical issues without moving to one extreme or the other? Is
it possible that the problem lies in the old nineteenth-century definition
of historical inquiry as "scientific," as the confident determination of
"what actually happened"? Such goals set the bar too high. It is never
3. B. S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1979), 400, and for more detailed application of the approach see his Isaiah:
A Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 2001).
4. Paul's Amos is a good example of the integration of literary and historical
approaches. For a summary of various literary interpretations of Amos, see Carroll
R., Amos, 43-47.
5. H. W. Wolff, Joel and Amos: A Commentary on the Books of the Prophets
Joel and Amos (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977); D. U. Rottzoll, Studien zur Redaktion
und {Composition des Amosbuches (BZAW 243; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1996).
6. J. Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary (Louisville, Ky. : Westminster
John Knox, 1998).
88 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
possible to know what actually happened, especially in an ancient era for
which the evidence is so meager. Nevertheless, answering questions
about the past are life and death issues that human beings must resolve
every day, for example in law courts. In American law courts it is not
simply a question of what happened, or who said what and when, but of
what can be demonstrated with reliable evidence and testimony.
In the
courts, the "facts" are not the reconstructions of the events by attorneys
and juries, but the evidence upon which such reconstructions are based.
In American criminal trials, the burden of proof rests with the prosecu-
tion, and guilt must be demonstrated "beyond a reasonable doubt" in
order to protect the rights of the accused. In the reconstruction of the
events and circumstances of antiquity, including ancient Israel, seldom is
there sufficient evidence to meet the standard of "beyond a reasonable
doubt." The model of American civil cases fits these circumstances
better. Li such cases juries are told to reach their conclusions based on
"the preponderance of the evidence."
If one continues the image of the law court, where does the burden of
proof lie when considering the history of Israel or of a book such as
Amos? Does one assume that the text is what it says it is unless proven
otherwise? Or does one begin with a hermeneutics of suspicion, assum-
ing the text is misleading unless shown to be reliable? I am convinced
that one must assume the burden of proof to establish that the text is not
what it claims to be; one should trust but verify. So, if a prophetic text is
presented as from a particular era, such as the eighth century for Amos,
that needs to be the starting point. Of course, one must read the text
closely in order to establish what it actually claims to be. Indeed, Amos
1:1 locates the prophet historically and geographically, but that verse
(along with 1:2) clearly is secondary to what follows, an interpretation of
the prophet and his words. Thus, the first verses of Amos do not claim to
be the words of the prophet, but is a third person report about him and
must be treated critically. It is perhaps better to put it this way: anyone
who puts forth a case for a particular interpretation must assume the
burden of proof and produce evidence and argumentation.
An additional caution that needs to be kept in mind when locating the
prophets and their books historically, and in interpretation generally, is
that historians and interpreters bring their own values into the analysis.
With regard to historical questions, often judgments of fact (e.g. date and
7. G. M. Tucker, "The Futile Quest for the Historical Prophet," in A Biblical
Itinerary: In Search of Method, Form and Content. Essays in Honor of George W.
Coats (ed. E. E. Carpenter; JSOTSup 240; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
1997), 144-52.
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 89
authorship) have been confused with judgments of value such that either
earlier or later material is considered better, more valid, or more "authen-
tic." In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, for instance, the
earlier or more primitive material was valued more highly than the later,
and for a variety of reasons. In the case of Amos in particular, the actual
words of the inspired individual were considered to be the voice of God,
and "secondary" additions were genuinely inferior.
Likewise, some
early form-critical works seemed to value the supposedly original oral
utterances and evaluated the later written work as mere serialization.
On the other hand, Childs and others explicitly value the canonical form,
and its use in communities of faith, above any earlier stage.
Value judgments of either sort are fully legitimate, and in many ways
unavoidable, but they must be distinguished from historically informed
conclusions. In other words, if one concludes that some parts of a book
arose at different times and in different circumstances, judgments about
the worth or validity of those different parts will need to be made apart
from the historical judgments. Moreover, if one is concerned to interpret
the text, no part of it nor any discernible stage in its development should
be thrown away. Both before and after one reaches conclusions concern-
ing historical background or the history of the book's development (e.g.
that a particular section is a secondary addition), the interpreter must face
the text in its final form. That, finally, is what the interpreter or historian
must deal with, and what we must deal with when considering Amos.
II. Historical Allusions in Amos
Historical allusions within the prophetic books are crucial both for locat-
ing the prophet in some historical horizon as well as for reaching conclu-
sions about the history of the book's composition. To be sure, in both
cases other evidence must be considered, including literary features such
as affinities with other literature that can be dated with some reliability
and the compositional evidence within the book that might indicate how
its parts were either composed, edited, or collected. Nevertheless, the
interpreter must investigate all possible historical references and allu-
sions in order to understand their contexts in the past. The identification
and interpretation of such allusions depends in turn on information
8. W. R. Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea
(ICC 23; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1910).
9. Koch, however, argues for attention to all stages in the development of
genres, noting how they change from oral to written; see K. Koch, The Growth of the
Biblical Tradition: The Form Critical Method (New York: Scribner's, 1969), 220.
90 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
concerning the history and culture of Israel as well as that of the wider
ancient Near East.
It is not surprising that students of Amos, from the
earliest times to the present day, have identified historical references
throughout the book. Doubtless there are a great many allusions to events
and circumstances. A few allusions in Amos are clear and specific, but
many are not. The problem, then, is determining the specific events and
activities to which they allude.
The main basis for the dating of Amos, from the earliest times to the
present, is the date in the superscription (1:1). The superscription con-
tains not one but two historical allusions, as well as some information
about the background of the prophet. The synchronistic royal date, "in
the days of King Uzziah of Judah and in the days of King Jeroboam son
of Joash of Israel," has always been the foundation for dating the activity
of the prophet. Of course, details of the dates of these two kings continue
to attract debate, but this certainly locates Amos in the mid-eighth cen-
tury B.C.E. and thereby enables one to relate the prophetic words to con-
ditions (often imagined) in the period before Israel and Judah faced the
rise and advance of the Assyrian empire. This historical location of the
prophet has profoundly influenced the interpretation of the prophet,
providing the point of departure for any historical conclusions.
The accuracy of this synchronistic royal date cannot go unquestioned.
It is clear on the face of it that this verse is not part of the words of
Amos, nor does it claim to be. Rather, like other superscriptions to the
prophetic books, it is a later addition. One might legitimately consider it
the earliest attempt to place the prophet in a particular historical horizon.
Like the other superscriptions to the prophetic books, however, this one
was not developed primarily to provide what we would consider reliable
historical information. The prophetic superscriptions have theological
The editors who added them wanted to make it clear that the
words that followed were divinely inspired, addressed to a particular set
of historical events, and that the written form of the old addresses was
authoritative. Specifically, the editor responsible for the superscription in
Amos 1:1 would have wanted to legitimize the words of Amos as pro-
phetic words by locating him before the fall of the northern kingdom.
11. The frequent prophetic references to future events do not constitute historical
allusions unless it can be shown that they have been provided after the fact.
11. E. Ben Zvi, "Studying Prophetic Texts Against Their Original Backgrounds:
Pre-Ordained Scripts and Alternative Horizons of Research," in Reid, d., Prophets
and Paradigms, 125-35.
12. G. M. Tucker, "Prophetic Superscriptions and the Growth of a Canon," in
Canon and Authority: Essays in Old Testament Religion and Theology (d. G. W.
Coats and B. O. Long; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 56-70.
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 91
It is possible, even likely, that the superscription's date is correct and
that it was not pulled out of the air because there is evidence within the
book for locating Amos in the time of Jeroboam. The account in 7:10-17
of the confrontation between Amos and Amaziah the priest identifies
Jeroboam as king in Israel, as does the announcement in 7:9. These pas-
sages, in fact, are the superscription's main sources for dating Amos.
These sources are not necessarily neutral; the account of the encounter
between Amos and Amaziah is a third person report that probably came
from early supporters of the prophet. Yet, there is no good reason to mis-
trust the identification of the king in that account, and more importantly,
the other allusion to Jeroboam is embedded in a prophetic address that
appears to be among the earliest tradition of Amos's words (see below).
The second historical allusion in the superscription is quite specific,
referring to "two years before the earthquake." There has been no short-
age of attempts to date this particular event, and to draw conclusions
about the activity of Amos from it. Specifically, this reference has been
used to support the conclusion that Amos was active for only a short
time, and that conclusion appears to be justified. But how could it be pos-
sible to use this reference to date the prophet's activity? Surely earth-
quakes would not have been unusual in that geologically instable region.
Nevertheless, the allusion suggests but does not prove something signi-
ficant about the history of the development of the book; precisely because
earthquakes were not uncommon, the hand that supplied at least this part
of the superscription would not have been far removed from the time of
Amos. Otherwise this "date" would have been confusing to the readers.
This factor, along with the syntax of the superscription, suggests that
the superscription itself has a history of composition. A shorter version
of the superscription probably existed, and may have circulated at the
head of the collection of vision reports in Amos 7-9, since the title refers
to the words that Amos "saw" (HT!"!).
The superscription reflects scribal
and scholarlythough not necessarily "wisdom"concerns.
All of the oracles against the nations in Amos 1-2 (with the exception
of the one against Judah, 2:45) contain allusions to international events.
The references to events are presented as violations of the accused nation
against a neighbor, violations that the original hearers of the prophet are
supposed to have understood. That is, they appear as events in the remem-
bered and even likely recent past. All of them, however, are so vague and
unspecific as to be unidentifiable by the modern reader; there simply is
not enough evidence to correlate the references with particular events,
13. A. Weiser, Die Profetie des Amos (BZAW 53 ; Giessen: Tpelmann, 1929),
255; cf. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 117.
92 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
not beyond a reasonable doubt, nor even is there the preponderance of
What can be said is that a striking number of the elements of
this unit derive from the traditions concerning Yahweh's holy war.
Hayes has shown that the dominant original setting of the oracles against
the nations was warfare, and that is particularly obvious here.
ally, John Barton has shown that Amos knows and appeals to conven-
tional or customary law about international conduct, especially concerning
The next obvious historical allusions are the references to Jeroboam
in 7:9 and 10. They are different in important respects. The one in v. 9
appears in the concluding line of a prophetic announcement of judgment,
itself part of the third prophetic vision report (7:7-9). The announcement
does not mention the king directly but "the house of Jeroboam." This
phrase could be taken as a reference to the dynasty, but in any case
locates the prophet in the time of that particular king. The reference in
v. 10 is part of the third person account of the confrontation between
Amaziah, "the priest of Bethel," and Amos. The priest is said to have
sent an accusation against Amos to "King Jeroboam of Israel." This
would have been the same "Jeroboam son of Joash" of Amos 1:1, gener-
ally dated 786-746 B.C.E. Since it seems likely that the editor who sup-
plied the synchronistic royal date of the superscription likely relied on
these references in 7:9-10, these two verses provide the most reliable
basis for dating the activity of Amos in the mid-eighth century B.C.E.
Moreover, the vision reports in the first person are the most likely of all
the material in the book to come from the earliest Amos tradition, if not
from the prophet himself. Consequently the allusion to Jeroboam in 7:9
is the most substantial evidence for the date of the prophet.
Additionally, the book of Amos contains a great many references to
practices and circumstances and other reflections of culture seen through
the eyes of the prophetic speaker. These do not constitute historical allu-
sions in the precise sense, but they may allow one to reconstruct some-
thing of the time and circumstances from which the prophetic words
emerged. To be sure, many of these allusions to social and religious
circumstances could apply to almost any time during the period of the
divided kingdom, including accusations against the rich and powerful
because of their oppression of the weak (2:6-7; 3:15; 4:1; 6:4-6; 8:4-6),
14. Melugin, "Prophetic Books and the Problem of Historical Reconstruction,"
15. J. H. Hayes, "The Usage of Oracles Against Foreign Nations in Ancient
Israel," JBL 87 (1968): 81, 83.
16. J. Barton, Amos's Oracles Against the Nations: A Study of Amos 1.3-2.5
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 59-60.
and pronouncements about corrupt courts (5:10-13). Such circumstances
are consistent with a period of relative political stability leading to self-
satisfaction on the part of those in power, and with social and economic
conditions that led to a widening gap between rich and poor. But even
those circumstances can be reconstructed only with caution since, after
all, what we have in these texts in the perspective of a prophetic critic of
It is also noteworthy that in Amos there is no clear allusion to either
the Assyrians or the Babylonians. This makes it is reasonable to locate
Amos historically before the incursions of the Assyrians into Israel and
Judah. This was indeed a time of relative stability in Israel, although this
would not have been the only time when the ruling powers and classes
could have been accused of being self-satisfied.
The references to Bethel and Gilgal are also significant. The prophet
has Yahweh promising to "punish the altars of Bethel" (3:14) and admon-
ishing the people against seeking Bethel or entering Gilgal "for Gilgal
shall surely go into exile, and Bethel shall come to nothing" (5:5). He
utters the ironic call to the people: "Come to Betheland transgress; to
Gilgaland multiply transgression" (4:4). Amaziah, "priest of Bethel,"
(7:10) identifies Bethel as a royal sanctuary, "a temple of the kingdom"
(7:13). Hans Barstad goes too far in concluding that Amos attacks these
worship centers because their cults were "non-Yahwistic or strongly
Yahwistic/synchrestic," and Paul, along with most other commentators,
correctly rejects this interpretation of the references to Bethel and
The important point from the perspective of historical inquiry is
the obvious one: the prophetic addresses assume that Bethel and Gilgal
are flourishing religious centers. This perspective is fully consistent with
a mid-eighth-century horizon, before the fall of Samaria to the Assyrians.
Now that we have a general time frame for the historical horizon of
Amos, what, if anything, can the historian know about the Amos men-
tioned as the source of the prophetic words in the book? Although there
are a few references to Amos and his background, it must be emphasized
at the outset that none of reports about him originated with what we
would call a biographical purpose, that is, in order to give insight into his
personality. Direct references to Amos the person appear in two places:
(1) in the superscription, and (2) in the account of the prophet's encoun-
ter with Amaziah, the priest of Bethel (7:10-17). The superscription, as
we have seen, has a fundamentally theological intention, and the histori-
cal and personal information about Amos serves that intention. The
17. H. M. Barstad, The Religious Polemics of Amos (VTSup 34; Leiden: Brill,
1984), 56; Paul, Amos, 139.
94 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
purpose of the third person report in 7:10-17 concerns the authenticity
and authority of the prophet, and provides the context for the announce-
ment of judgment against Amaziah, the one who opposes the word of
Yahweh through Amos.
Nevertheless, these two texts provide some
evidence for the prophet's background. The lines in 7:12 make no sense
unless Amos was a Judean who came to Israel to announce the word of
Yahweh. The superscription is more specific, locating him in the Judean
town of Tekoah, in the hills south of Bethlehem.
The few words concerning Amos' occupation have evoked consider-
able speculation and debate. In 1:1 he is called one "among the shep-
herds of Tekoah," and the account of the confrontation with Amaziah has
him saying that he was "a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees...
following the flock" (7:1415). Was he poor or rich, educated or unedu-
cated? Given especially the knowledge of history and tradition reflected
hi the earliest prophetic material, he could hardly be called uneducated.
Most likely he was neither poor nor rich, but a member of the traditional
rural, agrarian culture of Judah.
His reported response to Amaziah's
charge indicates that he has an occupation apart from that of some kind
of religious specialist. The enigmatic sentence "I am no prophet nor a
prophet's son" (trDD p K1?! 'DJK ira K1?, 7:14) has been at the center of
the discussion of whether or not Amos was, or considered himself to be,
a prophet. But since the unexpressed verb of the two clauses can be read
either as present or past tense, the argument cannot be resolved on the
basis of this verse. According to the report in 7:10-17, Amos understood
himself to have been called to prophesy to Israel (7:15). Moreover,
regardless of whether he was willing to accept the title "prophet," in
every way he functioned as one. Put another way, if one defines an insti-
tution as customary practices and language over time, Amos was a part
of a prophetic institution: he uses traditional prophetic language and
appeals to commonly held religious traditions.
One cannot say a great deal about Amos the prophet and his historical
context, but some cautious conclusions can be drawn. Amos would have
been active in the mid-eighth century B.C.E. during the time of Jeroboam,
before the Assyrians moved against Israel. With the exception of some
later additions (see below), there is nothing in the book that contradicts a
18. G. M. Tucker, "Prophetic Authenticity: A Form Critical Study of Amos
7:10-17," Int 27 (1973): 423-34.
19. Wilson probably goes too far in concluding that Amos was "a member of the
Judean establishment"; see R. R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), 270. See his discussion of the issues related to trans-
lating D"Hp3 (1:1) as "shepherds" (p. 268). The identification of Amos as a shepherd
in 7:1415 is less problematic.
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 95
mid-eighth-century date for the prophet. Most likely, given the reference
to "two years before the earthquake" in 1:1 and the account of Amaziah's
move against him, including his report to the king, it is likely that Amos
was active for only a short time. Just how long cannot be known. Also,
since so many of the words are addressed to Bethel and Samaria, it is
reasonable to conclude that he presented at least some of his addresses in
those two centers.
HI. The History of the Composition of the Book of Amos
It is clear on the surface that the book of Amos did not originate all at
one time, written by a single author, whether in the eighth century B.C.E.
or later. At the very least, the superscription and the account in 7:10-14
are third person reports that present themselves as distinct from the
speeches and vision reports. These texts thus open the question of the
growth of an earlier "book" into its received form. When examining this
growth, the issue is not fundamentally what the history of composition
was, but how much of that history one can reconstruct. In other words,
how much evidence is there for different stages in authorship and their
relative or absolute dates? These questions may be approached from two
directions. One is to sort out the most likely secondary material on the
basis of the balance of probability, that is, to re-examine the old "source-
critical" proposals. A second is to examine the structure of the book for
evidence of how it came together.
Throughout the modern history of the interpretation of Amos, many
parts of it have been considered "secondary." Among the most obvious
of these, as I have pointed out, are the superscription (1:1) and the third
person account in 7:10-14. These two very likely stem from quite differ-
ent eras. The report of the conflict between Amos and Amaziah is written
from the perspective of one who presents himself as an eyewitness who
shares the perspective of the prophet. It is not possible to know if the first
of these claims is true, but it is likely that the report arose and was per-
petuated by supporters if not disciples of Amos. The superscription in its
present form presumes the existence of a book (not necessarily the final
form of the book), and, as discussed above, reflects the scribal concerns
of groups or individuals that wished to identify books as sacred scrip-
Also, Amos 1:2 most likely should be included with 1:1 as an
introduction to and interpretation of the book that follows, as this verse is
unlike most of the prophecies of judgment in the remainder of the book.
Unlike other prophecies in Amos, 1:2 is a broad and general statement
20. Tucker, "Prophetic Superscriptions."
96 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
about the effectiveness of Yahweh's word from Jerusalem, lacks any
reasons for judgment, and is hymnic in style.
The only clear secondary addition among the prophecies against the
foreign nations and Israel (1:3-2:16) is the announcement against Judah
(2:4-5). Although this announcement uses most of the formulas found in
the other oracles, the remaining language and content are significantly
distinctive. This unit employs technical theological language common
to Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomistic History to specify reasons for
punishment: "rejected" (DKD), "law of Yahweh" (niPP min), and "after
which their fathers walked."
The addition of this prophecy alone
regardless of one's judgment concerning other possible additions
demonstrates that the setting for the final redaction of our unit was with
deuteronomistic circles in Judah in the exilic or postexilic period. As a
result, the words of Amos continued to liveand to be reinterpreted
long after the punishment prophesied for Israel had occurred, and even
after a similar disaster had befallen Judah as well.
Many commentators consider the oracles against Edom (1:11-12) and
Tyre (1:9-10) secondary as well, primarily because of their formal
similarity to the one against Judah. That is possible, but the case is not
convincing. Structural or formal evidence alone is not sufficient without
clear and convincing linguistic and historical-linguistic evidence.
The so-called "epilogue" (9:8c-15) long has been considered a secon-
dary edition. First it should be pointed out that these verses are not a
single unit, and can be called an "epilogue" only because they comprise
the final part of the book. The line that concludes v. 8, "except that I will
not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, says the LORD," has the
appearance of a Judean gloss on the preceding announcement of total
destruction of "the sinful kingdom" (9:8). The line is most likely a
correction from the perspective of the time of the Babylonian Exile. It is
not unreasonable, however, to argue that the prophetic voice responsible
for the announcement of judgment is clarifying its meaning.
The second part of the section, 9:9-10, is suspect on the grounds of its
contents. It introduces an understanding of Yahweh's judgment not
found elsewhere in the book, namely, that there will be a separation
between the guilty and the innocent: "All the sinners of my people shall
die by the sword, who say, 'Evil shall not overtake or meet us.'" Not
only in the preceding announcement (9:8) but throughout the book, the
prophet announces judgment on the people as a whole. On the other
hand, one finds individuals (7:16-17) or groups (4:1-3) singled out for
21. W. H. Schmidt, 174-78; Wolff, Joel and Amos, 163-64; J. L. Mays, Amos: A
Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 41-42; and many others agree.
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 97
judgment, and condemnation of people for arrogance is a major basis for
judgment in Amos. So these two verses may or may not be secondary.
The strongest case can be made that the final verses of the book, 9:11-
15, the announcement of restoration, are secondary additions. Although
both the language and the vision of the future are unlike those in the rest
of the book, this is not the primary basis for considering these verses to
be much later than the eighth century B.C.E. These lines should not be
considered secondary because the prophet would have been incapable of
announcing salvation after announcing judgment, but mainly because of
their historical perspective. The expressions "the booth of David that is
fallen," "rebuild as in the days of old" (v. 11), "restore the fortunes of my
people Israel," "rebuild the ruined cities" (v. 14), and "they shall never
again be plucked up" (v. 15) presume that the announced destruction has
come. The unit assumes disaster and announces reconstruction. Addi-
tional evidence is the distinctive style and vocabulary.
Of course it is
possible that a prophet could turn from the announcement of judgment to
salvation. In this case the critical historical imagination must posit one of
two things: first, that the eighth-century prophet has projected himself
into the era of the exile to announce that once the judgment has come
then will come salvation. The interpreter will need to supply the missing
transition. Second, that a subsequent editor/author has seen the destruc-
tion and then reinterpreted the prophetic voice, the word of God, in a
new time. Given the facts that there is other evidence for a history of
redaction (Judah oracle, third person materials, etc.), and that the pattern
of judgment followed by salvation is known in other prophetic books,
the latter is the more likely, and meets the balance of probability. The
conclusion that these words do not come from the original prophet in no
way diminishes their validity; rather, it shows that subsequent tradents
have continued to take the old words seriously and reinterpret them in a
new age.
The three hymnic passages in Amos (4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6) raise impor-
tant questions about the history of the redaction the book. Each one
stands out in its context as distinctive, because in every case there is a
dramatic break in style and function. There is a shift from the words of
Yahweh to words addressed to Yahweh, from announcement of the future
to praise of the creative activities of the one whose name is Yahweh, the
God of hosts. Using series of predicative participles and refrains they
affirm the power and authority of the one who has just pronounced judg-
ment on his people, and have most appropriately been called doxologies
22. See, e.g., Harper, Amos and Hosea, 192-200.
98 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
of judgment.
Because of their common themes and refrain, "the LORD,
the God of hosts is his name" (127 HINDim
^mrp), it has been
commonly concluded that the three are parts of a single hymns.
argue there is no reason to believe the hymn could not have been in use
in the time of Amos.
It certainly is possible that they were known
before the mid-eighth century, but they hardly correspond to the style
and genre of the Amos discourses, and they clearly reflect a cultic,
liturgical setting.
Based on the structure and setting of the final form of
the book, it is most likely that the hymnic fragments reflect the liturgical
use of the prophetic traditions in the exilic or post-exilic period. Efforts
to see these doxologies as conclusions to distinct sections of the book,
like the hymns in Isa 12, have been unsuccessful. Nevertheless, they,
along with the old prophecies, functioned for the community that had
experienced the judgment as confession and praise of the one who was
both creator and judge.
This is a modest list of later additions to an earlier form or forms of
the tradition. There doubtless are more additions and modifications than
we can establish on the basis of the balance of probability. That leaves
most of the book, not as the original oral or written words of Amos, but
as the most likely early tradition. When these later texts are set aside we
are not left with the ipsissima verba of Amos. There is no way to reach
that level of certainty. Rather, what remains is the earliest tradition of the
words of the eighth-century prophet. Moreover, although one can iden-
tify different additions to the book from various periods and perspec-
tives, we are not left with a series of redactions of an original text,
although there is evidence for texts from different periods. For any
further insight into the history of the redaction of the book we need to
turn to its structure.
23. See especially J. L. Crenshaw, "Amos and the Theophanic Tradition," ZA W
80 (1968): 20316; idem, Hymnic Affirmation of Divine Justice: The Doxologies of
Amos and Related Texts in the Old Testament (SBLDS 24; Missoula, Mont.:
Scholars Press, 1975); F. Horst, "Die Doxologien im Amosbuch," ZA W41 (1929):
45-54; repr. in idem, GottesRecht (TB 12; Munich: Kaiser, 1961), 155-66; K. Koch,
"Die Rolle der hymnischen Abschnitte in der Komposition des Amos-Buches," ZA W
86 (1974): 504-37.
24. For the history of interpretation, see Werner Berg, Die sogennanten Hymn-
fragmente in Amosbuch (Europaische Hochschulschriften 12; Bern: Herbert Lang,
25. Mays, Amos, 83-84. Paul attributes them to the prophet (Amos, 152-56).
26. Crenshaw identifies the unit concluded by the first doxology (4:6-13) as "a
liturgy of wasted opportunity"; see J. L. Crenshaw, "A Liturgy of Wasted Oppor-
tunity (Am. 4:6-12; Isa. 9:7-10:4; 5:26-29)," Semitics 1 (1970): 27-37 (36).
27. Cf. Josh 7:19, and Horst, "Die Doxologien im Amosbuch."
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 99
The question of the history of the composition of the bookindeed,
all issues of interpretationmust be based on a descriptive analysis of the
configuration or outline of the book in its received form. How many units
are there, and what is their relationship to one another? There are many
legitimate answers to the question of how many units there are, depend-
ing upon one's perspective and the goals of the interpretation. Of course,
there is one unit, the book itself. But at another level even that "unit" is
part of a larger one, the Book of the Twelve. Or there are two units, the
introduction ( 1:1-2, or 1:1, some would argue), and the body of the book
(1:3-9:15). It is also accurate to say that there are fifty-five or even more
units. In that analysis one needs to recognize that many of those smaller
units are constitutive parts of larger wholes, such as the specific addresses
in the announcements against the foreign nations and Israel (1:2-2:16).
So, the question is not just how many units and what they are, but what
conclusions one draws from such distinctions. For example, were they
originally independent oral addresses, as early form-critical analysis
often argued, or simply parts of a greater literary whole? Answers cannot
be taken for granted, but must be determined in each case.
Remarkably, at the level of the outline of the book as a whole there is
widespread agreement among interpreters. Such agreement stems from
the fact that there are so many clear markers for units and sections. There
is, of course, considerable disagreement about what to make of that
structure, including the relationship of the parts to one another and
especially concerning the history of the book's composition.
There are markers for units that signal both conjunction and disjunc-
tion, that is, some that link units and some that separate them. Formal
indicators that show the connection of units to one another include
refrains or repeated formulas, such as those in each of the sections of
1:3-2:16 and the refrain "yet you did not return to me, says the LORD"
(miT DK3 ni? DraerX 4:6-12). The common genre, structure, and for-
mulas link the five vision reports together (7:1-9:4) in spite of inter-
vening material. Introductory formulas, such as "Hear this word" ("1UEE?
^mrrnK) in 3:1; 4:1, and 5:1, as well as "Woe" ('in, 5:18; 6:1) clearly
indicate the beginning of a new unit, if not necessarily an originally
independent speech. Shifts in genre, for example, from prophetic address
to narrative or hymnic language, indicate breaks in the book. Some
markers signal both conjunction and disjunction, such as the catchword
"Jeroboam" in 7:9 and 10 (cf. also Isa 1:9 and 10).
28. One could go even further to argue that each sentence, as the smallest unit
of meaning, is a unit, but each one is significant fundamentally as part of larger
100 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
One can hardly think of Amos as a single composition, organized
sequentially, either in terms of development of thought or chronologi-
cally. To be sure, elements of organization and development can be dis-
cerned, particularly in individual sections. The body of the book readily
divides into two major sections, the first as a series of prophetic addresses
(1:3-6:14) and the second shaped around the five vision reports (7:1-
9:15). The contents of the first section are organized variously. Some parts
are longer compositions and others appear as collections of independent
prophetic speeches. Because of their rhetorical consistency, the oracles
against the nations and Israel (with the prophecy against Judah in 2:4-5
as a later addition) would have been a composition; none of the parts
would have been independent speeches. Also, the calls to attention in
3:1; 4:1, and 5:1 frame separate more-or-less organized collections of
prophetic addresses. Moreover, in the context of the collected speeches
of Amos, the general and somewhat reflective theological character of
3:1-2 allows it to serve as a fitting introduction to the collection of
speeches in 3:1-6:14.
One also may argue for the existence of compositional units in the first
six chapters of Amos on the basis of literary features. Because of the
appearance of mrP "Ql ("the LORD has spoken") in 3:1 and ~D1 HIT
("the LORD has spoken") in 3:8, Melugin has concluded that 3:1-8 is a
composition rather than a collection of diverse speeches.
although 5:1-17 consists of quite distinct materials with clearly discerni-
ble shifts of genre, speaker, addressee, and theme, there is sufficient
coherence and organization to conclude that diverse materials were
assembled to form a compositional unit rather than a simple collection of
diverse speeches.
Another principle for the organization of some of the
material in the book appears to have been geography, as the speeches in
Amos 3-4 focus upon Samaria in particular. On the other hand, scholars
have tried in vain to discern the geographical pattern of the prophecies
against the foreign nations in 1:3-2:16, apart from the turn to Israel in the
last unit. Although some prophetic books, such as Isaiah and Jeremiah,
follow a broad chronological organization, there simply is insufficient
evidence in the form of specific historical allusions to make such a case
for the book of Amos.
29. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 175.
30. R. F. Melugin. "The Formation of Amos: An Analysis of Exegetical
Method," in SBL Seminar Papers, 1978 (2 vols.; SBLSP 13-14; Missoula, Mont;
Scholars Press, 1978), 1:369-91.
31. J. de Waard takes this conclusion further to argue for a careful literary
composition in "The Chiastic Structure of Amos V 1-17," VT21 (1977): 170-77.
TUCKER Amos the Prophet and Amos the Book 101
Amos 7:1-9:15 is organized around the five vision reports. As argued
above, an earlier form of that section concluded with 9:8b. Although this
section includes a third person narrative, prophetic addresses, and one of
the doxologies of judgment, the vision reports present themselves as a
once independent composition that has been expanded by the other
materials. All of the reports have a great deal in common: they are first
person accounts of prophetic visions that turn to announcements. It is
their differences, however, that reveal the rhetoric of the composition. In
the first two (7:1-3, 4-6) the prophet sees a threat to the people
("locusts," "shower of fire"), intercedes with Yahweh on their behalf,
and Yahweh relents. In the next two (7:7-9; 8:1-3) the vision is not a
threat ("plumb line," "basket of summer fruit") but an occasion for a
proclamation of judgment, given without any explicit reasons for it.
Amos does not intercede. The final vision (9:1-4) is introduced differ-
ently for it is a vision of the Lord himself proclaiming total and unrelent-
ing destruction from which there is no escape. It is tempting to relate this
development to the life of the prophet, interceding early on but eventu-
ally convinced that the end will come. Given, however, the rhetorical
coherence and power of these reports as a whole, it is unlikely they were
originally independent vision reports given at different times.
The early tradition of the vision reports has drawn other material into
its orbit. What accounts for the insertion of the third person account of
the conflict between Amos and Amaziah (7:10-17) between the third and
fourth vision reports? A simple answer is the connection of the catch-
word "Jeroboam" in w. 9 and 10. But the connection is deeper. The third
vision report concludes with the Lord's promise to "rise against the
house of Jeroboam with the sword," and Amaziah reports that Amos has
said "Jeroboam shall die by the sword" (7:11). Preservation of the story
of the conflict in relation to an announcement that provoked it was more
significant to an editor than maintaining the coherence of the vision
It is not so difficult to understand the location of the prophecies of
judgment between the fourth and fifth vision reports (8:4-14). For the
most part their theme is consistent with that of the vision reports, and
especially the final one: the end has come for Israel. Moreover, both the
first person vision reports and the third person narrative contain procla-
mations of judgment.
32. Mays, Amos, 123. For a different view, see P. R. Ackroyd, "A Judgment
Narrative Between Kings and Chronicles? An Approach to Amos 7:9-17," in Coats
and Long, eds., Canon and Authority, 71-87, and Jeremias, Amos, 137.
102 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
IV. Conclusion
It is not possible to know as much as one would want about the historical
context of Amos and the history of the book's development. It is possible
to reach some reasonable historical conclusions, including locating the
prophet in the mid-eighth century B.C.E. and knowing a few facts about
his background. It is also possible to recognize some of the steps along
the way from the earliest tradition of the words of Amos to their appro-
priation and modification in the exilic and post-exilic periods. With
regard to both history and the history of composition, one does well to be
cautious and modest about one's conclusions and claims.
Marc Zvi Brettler
How should a historian of ancient Israel view the book of Amos? Cer-
tainly, it may be used as a source to be mined, so that a more complete
picture of the eighth century might emerge.
It is, however, difficult to
make use of prophetic material, with all its rhetoric, as a straightforward
historical source. Furthermore, the issues related to the composition of
Amos are so complex, with different scholars suggesting wildly different
ideas of the book's redaction and when various parts were composed.
This makes it especially difficult to know which sections of Amos may
be used to reconstruct the eighth century. The following comments will
examine these issues in relation to the well-known oracle against Judah
(Amos 2:4-5), the penultimate oracle against the nations. It is especially
appropriate to dedicate this study to Professor Hayes, who has done so
much important research in prophetic material and in reconstructing the
ancient history of Israel.
The oracle reads:
Thus said the LORD: || For three transgressions of Judah, || For four, I will
not revoke it: || Because they have spurned the Teaching of the LORD ||
And have not observed His laws; || They are beguiled by the delusions ||
After which their fathers walked. || I will send down fire upon Judah, ||
And it shall devour the fortresses of Jerusalem.
1. See most recently W. Houston, "Was There a Social Crisis in the Eighth
Century?," in In Search ofPre-Exilic Israel (d. J. Day; JSOTSup 406; London: T.
&. T. Clark International, 2004), 130-49.
2. As summarized by S. N. Rosenbaum, "Amos," DBI, 32, scholars "seem to vie
with each other in proposing ever more layers of accretions."
3. Since Professor Hayes always enjoys good academic debate, I am certain that
he will not mind my approach and my differences with his Amos the Eighth Century
Prophet: His Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988).
4. Unless indicated otherwise, translations follow NJPS Tanakh. The siglum ||
indicates the conventional poetic division of the text.
104 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
nm-iir^in rmrr ^us ntfw^B mrr no rn
TIB? ^ rpm mrr rmrrn oawy^s "WOR n
^nn^en orrirm orrat* iD^mon crrnn mum
o'^enT mao-ia n^Di rmrrn
Two main problems are typically discussed in relation to this passage:
whether or not it is original to Amos, and the referent of D^TD, here
translated as "delusions." Unfortunately, most scholars have not realized
the extent to which these two issues are intertwined. I will highlight this
issue by focusing on two major, relatively recent Amos commentaries:
the Anchor Bible Commentary by Francis Andersen and David Noel
Freedman, and the second Hermeneia commentary on Amos, by Shalom
Though these commentaries are quite different in many ways, includ-
ing their interpretation of these verses, they are fundamentally similar
in that they focus on the book of Amos. For example, Andersen and
Freedman note that even though "[a]n editor is at work putting the book
together, certainly using materials taken directly from the prophet,"
"[w]e are more concerned with its literary form as a finished, though not
necessarily perfect, product than with the forms of the numerous and
very diverse ingredients that were used in the making of it."
Their logic
for interpreting in this manner is not entirely consistent. On the one hand,
they present what seems to be in interpretive premise: "What concerns us
most is the interpretation of the book of Amos as it now stands com-
On the other hand, they claim:
If we finish with a reluctance to discard any part of the book as "certainly
not Amos," it is partly because we have come to the conclusion, after work-
ing through the whole business many times and weighing all arguments,
that there are no compelling reasons against accepting most if not all of the
book as possibly, indeed probably (we can never say "certainly") Amos.
It is thus somewhat unclear if their reading of the book as a literary unity
is their beginning point or their conclusion; if it is both, the argument is
certainly circular.
5. F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos (AB 24 A; New York: Doubleday,
1989); S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991). This follows
H. W. Wolff, Joel and Amos (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977). Not surpris-
ingly, the OTL commentary by J. Jeremias, The Book of Amos: A Commentary
(Louisville, Ky.: Westminster, 1998) does distinguish between editorial layers, even
setting them in distinct typefaces in the translation.
6. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 74, 3.
7. Ibid., 143.
8. Ibid., 143-44.
BRETTLER Redaction, History, and Redaction-History of mos 105
Paul is also deeply critical of the "scissors-and-paste method" used by
many German scholars.
He claims that rejecting this approach was not
his starting point, but was developed after close analysis convinced him
"[a]lmost all of the arguments for later interpolations and redactions,
including a Deuteronomistic one, are shown to be based on fragile foun-
dations and inconclusive evidence."
These scholars may be seen as representative of a new tendency in
prophetic studies, in fact, in biblical studies as a whole. Many scholars
have begun to doubt our ability to discern different layers in texts, and
have instead studied texts as complete entities.
Attention has moved to
the prophetic book as it now stands, rather than to its building blocks.
Perhaps this is a reaction against the hyper-critical methods practiced in
Germany and elsewhere.
This is not the place to critique holistic read-
ings of texts. Given, however, that Andersen and Freedman and Paul
claim that they conclude rather than assume that the book is a composi-
tional unity, it is appropriate to offer a test example in order to see if the
text of the oracle against Judah bolsters their position.
My beginning point, which may differ from that of many of my read-
ers, comes from my study of biblical historical texts. I contend that each
historical text must be examined independently, with neither a presump-
tion that it is historically accurate nor a presumption that is historically
Similarly, each prophetic oracle needs to be examined inde-
pendently, and there is no reason either to presume that, for example, just
because something is in the book of Amos it is by Amos, or that nothing
in Amos is by the prophet of that name. As seen with Andersen and
Freedman and Paul, some scholars seem to assume that a proper initial
assumption is that all of Amos is by Amos unless over-riding proof may
9. Paul, Amos, 6. A similar argument is made by Hayes, Amos, 33,37-38,54-58.
10. Paul, Amos, 6.
11. The most famous statement about this is by Edmund Leach, who described
source criticism as "unscrambling the omelette"; see E. Leach, "Introduction," in
Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth (ed. E. Leach and D. A. Aycock;
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 3.
12. See especially E. Ben Zvi, "The Prophetic Book: A Key Form of Prophetic
Literature," in The Changing Face of Form Criticism for the Twenty-First Century
(ed. M. A. Sweeney and E. Ben Zvi; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 276-97.
13. Note especially Paul's (Amos, 26) explicit comment that "It is not probable
that any Hebrew prophet wrote with the fear or the standards of German literary
criticism before his eyes."
14. See M. Z. Brettler, "Method in the Application of Source Material to Histori-
cal Writing (With Particular Reference to the Ninth Century BCE): Textual Sources,"
in Understanding the History of Ancient Israel (d. H. G. M. Williamson; British
Academy Symposium Series; Oxford; Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
106 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
be found that this is not the case. Given, however, what we understand
about other prophetic books like Isaiahnamely, that it had a long and
complicated historyand of non-prophetic works such as the Deuter-
onomistic History, which underwent complex editing, I do not under-
stand why we should presume that all of Amos is by Amos unless we can
adduce very strong evidence to the contrary. Every oracle or phrase in
the book of Amos should have the initial status of "possibly belonging to
Amos," and it is our job as scholars to adduce evidence of different types
that suggests, with different degrees of probability, that it either is or is
not original to that prophet.
I believe that scholars such as Hans Walter Wolff have offered evi-
dence that suggests that Amos 2:4-5, the oracle against Judah, is likely
secondary, though not all of the arguments that Wolff adduces are
equally compelling.
For example, his claim that the phraseology of the
verses is deuteronomistic, even though v. 4 uses D^DTD rather than the
expected ^IFI, is of no value. His general arguments are weighty, how-
ever, including his observation that the oracles against Damascus, Gaza,
Ammon, and Israel, which he considers original, share a common five-
part structure: an introductory formula, a claim or irrevocable punish-
ment, an indictment using ^U followed by the infinitive construct plus
pronominal suffix, an announcement of punishment, and a concluding
formula, "said the LORD" (mrr "ID). When these criteria are brought to
bear on the oracle against Judah, it is obvious that the final element, "said
the LORD" is missing. In addition, the third section (indictment) is longer
than that found in the oracles that are likely original, while the announce-
ment of punishment is shorter. In addition, YHWH is mentioned only in
this oracle in the third personcontrast 2:4, mrr mirm DDKU'^r
1"1QCD * ? Vpm ("they have spurned the Teachingof the LORD \\ And have
not observed #w laws"), with 2:9, DiTDfiD "HDKrrnK TTOZn '33K1 ("Yet
I Destroyed the Amorite before them"). Especially if we start from the
neutral position that any verse may or may not be original to the prophet,
it seems that Wolff's conclusions should be accepted.
Paul directly addresses Wolffs points, especially in a section "Addi-
tional Literary and Form-critical Criteria," where he claims that even the
oracles that Wolff views as original show some variation, so the deviation
of the type seen here with Judah should not suggest that it is secondary.
15. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 140. According to John Barton (Amos's Oracles
Against the Nations: A Study of Amos 1.3-2.5 [Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1980], 24), the oracle against Judah is "certainly.. .not by Amos."
16. Paul, Amos, 2427. Some similar arguments for the originality of this oracle
are made by Hayes, Amos, 101-4.1 will not focus on this work, since the arguments
of Paul and Andersen and Freedman are more recent and more detailed.
BRETTLER Redaction, History, and Redaction-History of Amos 107
The internal differences, however, between Wolffs original oracles are
much smaller than the differences between those four and the oracle
against Judah. In general, Paul objects to the idea that variations indicate
secondary insertions, suggesting instead that later editors "naturally
would have harmonized the differences and produced a literary unity."
This is incorrect. J effrey Tigay has adduced several examples where
awkward redaction is found in the standard version of the Gilgamesh
Also, I have shown how the four originally separate stories that
now comprise the Samson cycle have beenpartially homogenized, while
some tensions still are allowed to exist.
Thus, Paul's contentions that
later editors succeeded in introducing their additions in a neat, unified
fashion, and that lack of unity is some sort of indication of originality,
are faulty.
Furthermore, Paul's argument that if we keep all of the
oracles we have a 7-8 pattern, well-known in the Bible and the ancient
Near East, carries little weightalmost every type of X/X+1 pattern is
well-known in the Bible and the ancient Near East.
Finally, and most
significantly, as I will show below, the content of the oracle suggests that
it is very unlikely to be original.
In many ways, the arguments of Andersen and Freedman are similar to
those of Paul. For example, they note:
In terms of plan and style, Amos 2:4-5 is not much different from 1:3-
2:3... Only v 4b is distinctive; and there are two questions: (1) Is it so
different from genuine Amos that we cannot leave it with the rest of his
17. Paul, Amos, 26.
18. This and many other helpful insights are found in J. H. Tigay, ed., Empirical
Models for Biblical Criticism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press,
1985), to which M. Cogan, "Some Text-Critical Issues in the Hebrew Bible from an
Assyriological Perspective," Textus 22 (2005): 1-20, should be added.
19. M. Z. Brettler, The Book of Judges (Old Testament Readings; London: Rout-
ledge, 2002), 40-60. For example, the editor of these texts has allowed it to remain
ambiguous whether Samson is naturally strong, as when he rips off the city gates of
Gaza (Judg 16:1-3), or if he is strong only when the spirit of the LORD descends
upon him (see, e.g., 14:6).
20. I also do not find compelling the arguments of A. E. Steinmann, "The Order
of Amos' Oracles Against the Nations: 1:3-2:16," JBL 111 (1992): 683-89. Several
of the patterns that he discerns strike me as overly subtle, and he never explains the
purpose of these patterns. In addition, his evidence from concatenous patterns may
be editorial rather than compositional, as is the case in adjacent units in the book of
Judges. (See the discussion cited in the previous note.)
21. Paul, Amos, 27-30. On X/X+1 patterns, see W. G. E. Watson, Classical
Hebrew Poetry: A Guide to Its Techniques (JSOTSup 26; Sheffield: JSOT Press,
1986), 144-49.
108 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
word? (2) Does it resemble Deuteronomistic writings, so that its source
can be discovered or at least suspected?
Contrary to Andersen and Freedman, v. 4b is not the only problemthe
Judah oracle does not contain the concluding formula "says the LORD"
and its announcement of punishment is shorter than the other oracles.
Any claim that all the oracles are from the same hand must deal with all
the evidence. Furthermore, like Paul, they claim that this oracle is really
similar to the others, while it is not. They do not explain why certain
types of variation are found in these oracles, why four are so alike, and
why the rest are different in a variety of ways. Without specific sugges-
tions for why the particular variations appear in these specific cases, it is
worth considering these verses as secondary, especially if other evidence
is available.
In addition, I believe that the way that Andersen and Freedman frame
their question is wrong. They ask, "is it [the oracle against Judah] so
different from genuine Amos that we cannot leave it with the rest of his
word?" The issue is not whether we can or "cannot leave it with the rest
of his word." That phraseology requires a strong burden of proof before
something is found secondary. Instead, we should ask, more neutrally,
should we or should not view it as original, given its form and content
and what we understand about the process of composition of prophetic
books? I believe that we should consider it secondary since, as discussed
above, its structure is exceptional, and, as I will now discuss, its content
suggests that it is secondary. As Wolff notes, "the isolation of a secondary
stratum... is based not only on form-critical analysis of the transmitted
text, but can be judiciously supported by linguistic and historical-theo-
logical considerations."
Most scholars suggest that the transgression (I7CS) of Judah in the
oracle is idolatry. Already Wolffhas inadvertently highlighted the prob-
lem of this interpretation: "delusions" (3TD), which appears in v. 4b,
never elsewhere refers to idols.
Thus, Paul is inaccurate in stating "The
Hebrew D^TD ('delusions, lies') is one of several cacophonie words
employed in the Bible to describe idolatry."
Instead of "idolatry," the
standard understanding of this word, it is better to follow the suggestion
of the late twelfth and early thirteenth-century Jewish exegete and gram-
marian, David Qimhi, who glosses "They are beguiled by the delusions"
22. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 295.
23. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 140.
24. Ibid., 164.
25. Paul, Amos, 75 . So more recently in R. J. Coggins, Joel and Amos (NCBC;
Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 98.
BRETTLER Redaction, History, and Redaction-History of Amos 109
(Dn'DTD DIIHTI) as "pen ^D] nmOH, "these are the words of the false
prophets." This interpretation has been rediscovered by Andersen and
Freedman, and by Eberhard Bons, who have not, however, cited Qimhi.
The most compelling supporting evidence that they adduce is mat the
noun DTD ("delusions") is used seven times of false prophets in Ezekiel
(13:6, 7, 8, 9, 19; 21:34; 22:28), and that the verb '0n ("to beguile"),
found in the same verse in Amos, is also at home in false-prophet
pericopae. Thus, the phrase D1TDTD D1Um suggests that false prophecy is
being condemned; the following phrase DiT"inK DPIDK ID'n "1BR ("After
which their fathers walked") suggests that the children were misled by
the very same (optimistic, but false) prophecies that had already misled
their parents, so they did not change their ways.
The rest of this oracle contains additional phrases that appear
elsewhere in conjunction with false prophecy. For example, miT mm
("the Teaching of the LORD") refers to prophetic teachings in a variety of
In addition, 1"1DC? &'"> Vpm ("And have not observed His
laws") likely also refers to prophetic words, as in 2 Kgs 17:13, where
they (Tllpn) were "transmitted to you through My servants the proph-
ets." In sum, the study of other appearances of terms in Amos 2:4 sug-
gests strongly that this verse is condemning Judah for not heeding the
prophets, the transmitters of "the teachings of the LORD," and for ignor-
ing true prophetic "injunctions" (Vpn).
Instead, the people of Judah and
their parents have been misled by false prophets and their prophecies,
that is, "their delusions" (D TDTD).
Thus, biblical usage suggests that this interpretation of "their delu-
sions" (D T3TD), advocated by Qimhi, Bohns, and Andersen and Freed-
man, is preferable to the suggestion that it refers to idolatry. It is very
unlikely, however, that an oracle condemning false prophecy would have
26. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 300-304; E. Bons, "Das Dnott von D T3TD
'ihre Lugen' im Judaspruch Am 2,4-5," ZAWU8 (1996): 201-13 (209-13). His
arguments overlap very significantly with Andersen and Freedman's.
27. For a discussion of various uses of torah in the Bible, see Michael Fishbane,
"Torah," Encyclopedia Biblica (9 vols.; Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1950-88
[Hebrew]), 8:469-83, and F. Garcia Lopez, "min torah" ThWAT'8.597-637. On its
possible meanings in Amos, see Bons, "Das Dnott," 205-9. Most scholars, how-
ever, do not adequately emphasize the extent to which torah may refer to prophetic
teachings. Hayes (Amos, 1024), suggests that torah here is neither a religious refer-
ence nor a reference to false teachings but refers to proper political courses of action.
28. I am not following NJPS here.
29. Contrast, for example, the position of Bons, "Das Dnott," 213, who has a
different understanding of torah here, and thus speaks of "der Achtung der Tora
Jahwes und seiner Propheten" (my emphasis).
110 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
arisen at the beginning of the period of classical prophecy.
and Freedman are aware of this problem, and suggest: "The problem of
false prophets was long-standing in Israel" and they speak of "the pre-
occupation of all eighth-century prophets with it."
This strong assertion,
however, is not bolstered through the citation of sufficient sources. The
book of Amos contains no parallels to units like Jer 23:9-40, the col-
lection condemning the false prophets, or Jer 27-28, which highlights
Jeremiah's conflict with Hananiah son of Azur, or Ezek 13, which con-
demns those who prophesy lies pTD).
Finally, even though it is possible
that false prophecy is as old as the rise of classical prophecy and the
period of Amos, it is highly unlikely that it would be offered as the single
reason for condemning Judah in the eighth century. Furthermore, it
would be inaccurate to criticize Judah by claiming that this has been
going on for generations ("after which their fathers walked").
As suggested earlier, the positions of Paul and Andersen and Freed-
man may be seen as a reaction against those scholars who had earlier
distinguished a specific number of clearly delineated redactional layers in
Amos. Their positions also could be seen as a continuation of the critique
by Roy Melugin, who noted already in 1978: "Indeed, anyone who
studies the problem of the formation of the Book of Amos must ask to
what extent such a reconstruction is even possible."
The legitimate cri-
tique, however, that it is difficult to determine precisely these redactional
layersa critique supported by the tremendous diversity of models
suggested by different scholarsdoes not mean that we should treat the
book as a unity. Instead, it suggests that we need to present any redac-
tional conclusions more tentatively, and can rarely, if ever, be positive
that a specific verse should be assigned to a specific level of redaction
and dated to a very specific time. As a result, only general suggestions
about the redaction of books such as Amos should be made. This does
not, however, mean that we are better off suggesting that Amos is the
author of the entire book.
In addition to the points raised here, I would explore the oracle against
J udah's connection to Amos 3:7 and 8:11. Those verses also deal with
30. I am not following here the position of R. R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society
in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980), who suggests that the term "classical
prophecy" should be abandoned; I continue to find this term helpful.
31. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 304.
32. On this unit as a collection or a cycle, see, for example, R. P. Carroll,
Jeremiah (OIL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986), 449-50.
33. R. F. Melugin, "The Formation of Amos: An Analysis of Exegetical
Method," in SBL Seminar Papers, 1978 (2 vols.; SBLSP 13-14; Missoula, Mont;
Scholars Press, 1978), 1:369-91 (375).
B R E T T L E R Redaction, History, and Redaction History of Amos 111
prophecy, and also show signs of being secondary. Some indications of
their secondary nature include the fact that "Indeed, my L ord GOD does
nothing || Without having revealed His purpose || T o His servants the
prophets" (3:7) is in prose (in contrast to the surrounding poetry) and
interrupts the flow of the rhetorical questions in SrS S.
Furthermore, the
phrase "His servants the prophets" is "otherwise used chiefly by writers
of the age of Jeremiah."
In sum, 3:7 is likely post Amos.
L ikewise, the famous, "A time is comingdeclares my L ord GOD
when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst
for water, but for hearing the words of the LOR D" (8:11) is also likely
post Amos.
Its opening phrase, "A time is coming" (D^ N D U* !"!]!"[) is
predominantly found in Jeremiah, while the phrase "words of the LOR D"
(mrp *HD"7) in the sense of a prophetic oracle, is found in the prophets
almost exclusively in Jeremiah.
T hus, one or more editors concerned
with prophecy as an institution probably added verses to the prophetic
book of Amos, projecting backwards key ideas concerning the nature of
prophecy, the evils of false prophecy, and the ultimate end of prophecy.
It is difficult, however, to determine if these verses are the product of a
single or multiple school of redactors, and when he or they lived, and
what other verses he or they might have been responsible for.
T hese
difficulties or uncertainties do not mean, however, that it is best simply
to assign them to Amos, as some have done.
34. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 181.
35. S. R . Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos (CBC; Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1915), 162.
36. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 324 25.
37. Fifteen out of 19 or 20 occurrences of D^ N D D"
^ run are in Jeremiah. T he
others are Amos 4:2; 8:11; 9:13; 2 Kgs 20:1 Isa 39:6. Whether we speak of 19 or
20 occurrences depends on whether or not the parallel texts from 2 Kings and Isaiah
are counted as one or two texts. In the case of miT "HUT , I am not including cases of
the singular miT ~ Q "T ; the occurrences of the plural are Jer 36:4, 6, 8,10,11; 37:2;
43: l; E zek 11:25.
38. T he projection of the present backwards when reconstructing the past is a
fundamental principle of pre modern history writing, including biblical history
writing. See M. Z. Brettler, The Creation of History in Ancient I srael (London:
R outledge, 1995). T here is no reason to assume that the prophetic corpus would be
any different.
39. Although the tendency in scholarship would be to speak of a single later
redactor concerned with prophecy who added these three verses, I am becoming
more sympathetic in general to fragmentary hypotheses, which see a much more
complex and nuanced history of the development of the text. See my forthcoming
"Method in the Application of Source Material to Historical Writing (With Particular
R eference to the N inth Century BCE ): T extual Sources."
112 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Why does any of this matter? There are many ways of reading biblical
texts, and of using biblical texts. One use of these texts is to reconstruct
history. For this purpose, it is important (1) to understand properly the
referent of "their delusions" (DTDTD) in Amos 2:4; and (2) to understand
when this text was written. I believe that this study does not produce any
evidence pertinent to the eighth century, since Amos 2:4-5 was likely
written later than that. Given that "delusions" likely refers to false
prophets, this text instead should be grouped with other texts that show
significant anxiety about the nature and power of false prophecy and
provide additional evidence for the later concern that prophecy is a dan-
gerous institution because prophets have tremendous power to mislead
the people with their "delusions."
40. See, for example, J. L. Crenshaw, Prophetic Conflict: Its Effect Upon Israel-
ite Religion (BZAW 124; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1971), and Thomas W. Overholt, The
Threat of Falsehood: A Study in the Theology of the Book of Jeremiah (SBT 216;
Naperville, 111.: Allenson, 1970). Concerning Deuteronomy's very ambivalent atti-
tude to this issue, see H. M. Barstad, "The Understanding of the Prophets in
Deuteronomy," SJOT8 (1994): 236-51, and, concerning a similar attitude in Kings,
see E. Ben Zvi, "Prophets and Prophecy in the Compositional and Redactional Notes
in I-n Kings," ZAW105 (1993): 331-51.1 would like to thank Professor Ben Zvi for
offering comments on an earlier draft of this essay.
Philip R. Davies
The relationship between literature and history has always lain at the
centre of biblical exegesis. In recent years some literary critics have
ignored history or relegated it to a place of minor importance in biblical
studies, seeing the Bible as a collection of contemporary texts to be
addressed by self-consciously modern authors. John Hayes is not such a
scholar; on the contrary, he has distinguished himself by his work on
Israelite and Judaean history. He has also shown a keen interest in the
prophets, in which the literary and historical issues, that is, the relation-
ship between the author and the book, are at the fore. In this tribute to
John Hayes I want, therefore, to make some observations about the
prophet as author and as literary character, as creator and as creature. I
shall take Amos as my example and Hayes's influential 1988 commen-
tary on Amos as a starting point.
My thoughts are unlikely to provoke
his agreement, but a man with such a fine sense of humour will surely
derive some amusement from my impudence.
Searching for Unity in Amos
Hayes's commentary set a new agenda for Amos studies in suggesting a
unified message in the book and a precise historical context for that
message. His interpretation is, as he makes clear, somewhat innovative:
During the past century of research on Amos, scholars have repeatedly
defended a number of conclusions about the book and activity of the
prophet, some of which have reached the level of presupposed axioms
from which any interpretation must begin... None of these conclusions
can withstand close scrutiny; all should be discarded as interpretative
1. J. H. Hayes, Amos, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching
(Nashville: Abingdon, 1988).
2. Ibid., 13.
114 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
These "interpretative assumptions" he lists as follows:
Amos was the earliest of the "classical" prophets;
He addressed a nation prosperous under Jeroboam II;
He delivered a large number of short addresses;
His primary concerns were social justice;
For him, the essence of religion was ethical behaviour;
Amos offered a pessimistic view of Israel's future;
He saw Assyria as the instrument of divine punishment; and
The book is the product of a long editorial process.3
Hayes concludes that Amos delivered his speeches on one occasion, at
the autumn festival in 750, at a time not of prosperity but of economic
retrenchment, and that the enemy to which Amos alludes threateningly is
not Assyria, but a coalition formed against Assyria by the very nations
listed in the oracles in 1:3-2:3. Moreover, according to Hayes, Amos
"never unequivocally proclaimed the total destruction and end of the
the final words promising restoration and addressing a defeated
and exiled Judah (9:11-15) in particular "should be considered authentic
to the prophet Amos."
As for the origin of the book, "it is easier to
assume either that Amos wrote his own words, whether before or after
delivering them, or, more likely, that they were written down by some-
one in the audience."
A number of other commentaries have followed Hayes's lead in
defending all or nearly all of the book of Amos as the work of the
prophet, including the promises of survival. In most instances, such
commentaries also find a rhetorical and theological unity to the book's
contents as well. Andersen and Freedman, Paul, and Sweeney all follow
Hayes in challenging the "traditional" critical view (as represented, for
instance, by the commentaries of Mays and Wolff), that the original
words of Amos consisted of short sayings that were secondarily supplied
with doxologies including 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6 and, especially, 9:11-15.
Also, according to the still more usual view, 9:11-15, hi their positive
forecast, seem to overturn the message of unqualified destruction that
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid., 39.
5. Ibid., 223.
6. Ibid., 39.
7. F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos (AB 24A; New York: Doubleday,
1989); S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991); M. A. Sweeney,
The Twelve Prophets (2 vols.; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2000); J. L.
Mays, Amos: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969); H. W. Wolff, Joel
and Amos (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977).
DAVIES Amos, Man and Book 115
appears to characterize the rest of the book. The counter-argument offered
is that such a message would make little sense and that these final verses,
far from being a corrective or an afterthought, are central to the prophet's
message. Sweeney, for instance, contends that the prophets would surely
not have confronted their listeners with the unavoidable prospect of
destruction or exile without offering some grounds for positive reaction
that might avert that fate:
Such a contention seems to be the more morally defensible and intellectu-
ally consistent route insofar as it portrays the prophetsand G-das
figures who are ultimately interested in effecting constructive change in
ancient society and indeed as figures who are themselves morally account-
Sweeney appeals further to Amos 5:4 and 6, where we find the exhorta-
tions to "seek me and live, but do not seek Bethel," and "seek Yahweh
and live." These sayings, as he rightly points out, have not generally
been regarded as later additions to an original message, and hence it has
been acknowledged, at least implicitly, that Amos did call for a change
of behaviour that could avert the threatened punishment:
Such exhortation establishes the fundamental rhetorical purpose of Amos'
portrayals of coming judgmentand restoration. Amos' oracles can not be
taken individually as past scholars have done, but as components of a
larger well designed textwhether oral or writtenthat presents a rhe-
torical argument designed to convince its audience to adapt the book's
viewpoint and recommended course of action.
Paul makes a similar point:
Punishment for punishment's sake is not the prophetic ideal. The prophet's
chastisement is meant to serve as a transitional stage to a period of future
restoration, at least for the surviving remnant.
This view has a certain logic, even common sense, but quite apart from
the contention of Jer 28:8-9 that "the prophets who preceded you and me
from ancient times prophesied war, famine and pestilence against many
countries and great kingdoms," it does not follow necessarily that these
final words actually do come from Amos (even if he might have agreed
with such sentiments). Does the oracle against Israel in 2:6-16 imply a
8. M. A. Sweeney, "The Dystopianization of Utopian Prophetic Literature: The
Case of Amos 9:11-15," in Utopia and Dystopia in Prophetic Literature (d. E. Ben
Zvi; Publications of the Finnish Exegetical Society; Helsinki: Finnish Exegetical
Society, 2006), 175-85.
9. Ibid.
10. Paul, Amos, 289.
116 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
call to repentance? If so, should the same not also be true of the other
oracles in 1:3-2:3? From the opposite perspective, Auld points out that
"nowhere in the preserved public words of Amos do we find any
intercession for his people (assuming he did regard them as 'his' people),
since the intercession within the visionsif that is the correct term
takes place after the destruction has occurred."
Another approach to the unity of the book is to attribute virtually all of
the book to the prophet on literary grounds, as do Andersen and Freed-
man. They claim that the book is a "highly structured unity" because
they "recognize the early prophets, and Amos in particular, as versatile
verbal craftsmen, quite capable of using cultic and wisdom pieces as well
as the more direct oracles in their speeches."
A "highly structured
unity," however, can as well indicate an editor with some literary skill,
while their claim that the prophets possessed a variety of literary skills is
a mere assertion that contradicts a large body of work on the Hebrew
Bible generally. The evidence of their own commentary points, if any-
thing, towards a highly competent assembly of various pieces of material
into a coherent and well-structured whole.
Despite the weaknesses in some of the arguments for Amos's unity,
Hayes and his successors have a point: the "traditional" critical view
effectively sees the message of the prophet and that of the book in
tension, holding that the words of Amos were transmitted and remained
relevant for succeeding generations, and that the book in its canonized
form addresses readers that the prophet did not originally confront. This
11. A. G. Auld, Amos (OTG; Sheffield, JSOT Press, 1986), 22. It might be coun-
tered that in the first two visions of Amos (7:2, 5), the prophet intercedes, but,
according to 7:2, the locust plague is already over ("TON
? n^D'DN; NRSV: "When
they had finished eating"). Some interpretations, however, have implied that the
locusts are about to consume and thus left open the possibility for Amos's interces-
sion. For instance, Charles Torrey's emendation to n^3Q N1H TP1 (C. C. Torrey,
"Notes on Am 2:7; 6:10; 8:3; 9:8-10," JBL 13 [1894]: 63), is followed by Mays,
Amos, 127. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 292, translates the phrase, without emendation, as
"about to finish off." Paul, Amos, 228, on the contrary, insists that the destruction has
occurred, and that Amos is asking for pardon and for no further action. Likewise,
n^DKT in 7:4 is more probably a simple perfect; the fire had already consumed,
despite the NRSV's "was eating up." It might be that Amos is interceding, not to avert
the punishment but for there to be no more of it (so ^"F!"!, v. 5).
12. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 144.
13. The rhetorical study of K. Mller, A Prophet in Debate: The Rhetoric of
Persuasion in the Book of Amos (JSOTSup 372; London: Sheffield Academic Press,
2003), by contrast, does not attempt "to establish an Amosian authorship" (p. 118)
on the basis of a coherent structure, though Mller does in fact prefer a date before
the end of the kingdom of Judah.
DAVIES Amos, Man and Book 117
traditional view of the book does makes sense of the fact that the words
of Amos, or at least a book in his name, were preserved well after he is
supposed to have lived. If this understanding is correct, the tension is not
really a problem. Indeed, any tension inherent in the disjunction between
the words' original context and later contexts in which they were read
may in fact be tension that ancient (as well as modern) readers were well
able to sustain, as they saw the words of a prophet from the past coining
home to them in a different place and time. But as usually formulated,
the traditional view also maintains that a prophetic "tradition" or a set
of short oraclesabout Israel, that in fact turned out to be correct, was
preserved, somehow re-applied to Judah after the fall of Israel, and then
contradicted, first in 9:8c (regarding Israel? or Judah?) and then by 9:11-
15. The final words, when read from an exilic or postexilic standpoint,
are not, then, seen to apply to the "house of Israel" that had long dis-
appeared, but refer to Judah, which can also see itself in some way as
In arguing against this understanding of the growth of the book, Hayes
is right to point out that there is "no evidence whatever" for any "disci-
ples" developing and transmitting an "Amos tradition."
It certainly has
to be conceded that at the heart of scholarship on biblical prophecy lies a
deep chasm of ignorance about how and why prophetic scrolls were
really written down, then copied and recopied, reworked and canonized.
Thus, though the "traditional" view may not in fact be wrong, it is rather
hypothetical, and is hardly a model of coherence. The efforts of Hayes,
Andersen and Freedman, Paul, and Sweeney to find a more coherent
interpretation are understandable. Yet are they on the right track by
simply assigning virtually everything in the book to the original prophet?
In addressing this question, we may as well maintain the focus on
9:11-15 and the reference to the "falling (or fallen) booth of David"
(n^SDH TIT HDD, v. 11). In what sense would an eighth-century prophet
have used this term in addressing Israelites? Andersen and Freedman,
with Paul, explain the promise of a reconstituted Davidic line by assum-
ing Israelite awareness of a once glorious past in which Judah and Israel
were united under David. Thus Paul speaks of a "nostalgic reflection
14. Hayes, Amos, 39.
15. Cf. Ibid. : "how the book of Amos came into being remains unknown." I have
discussed the problemwithout providing any definite solutionin an essay on the
literary origins and transmission of the prophetic literature: P. R. Davies, "'Pen of
Iron, Point of Diamond' (Jer 17:1): Prophecy as Writing," in Writings and Speech in
Israelite and Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy (ed. M. Floyd and E. Ben Zvi; Atlanta:
Scholars Press, 2000), 65-81.
118 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
upon the ideal period of David"; for him, the "fallen booth" was the
"concomitant result of the rupture of the United Kingdom."
and Freedman likewise regard the "fallen booth of David" as the
"empire" that "had happened long ago," a "nostalgia" that "must have
started early and increased steadily over the years."
Some caution must
be taken with this assumption. First, the view that the "booth of David"
refers to a once-united kingdom depends, of course on accepting that such
an entity actually existed, which the present state of discussion leaves far
from certain.
Also, for this interpretation, the more plausible translation
"falling" for n^S3n should surely be preferred; it is strange, then, that
these supporters of an eighth-century date prefer "fallen," which favours
exilic dating.
Hayes (followed by Sweeney) indeed insists that the
"booth of David" is described as "falling," not "fallen," and so is still in
existence, though in a weak state relative to its neighbours, especially
Yet another way to account for these verses as Amos's is demon-
strated by Sweeney, who sees in them a possible attempt by the prophet
to elicit repentance from his audience by employing Utopian images of
the idyllic future that will follow a change of attitude. As for the specifics
of such an idyll:
Given the presentation of Amos as a Judean who appears at the northern
Israelite sanctuary at Beth El at a time of Judean subservience to northern
Israel and the Jehu dynasty, such an idyllic scenario would call for the
rejection of the house of Jehu and the restoration of Judean, Davidic
kingship over Israel.
The suggestion that Amos uttered such words at Bethel is problematic.
Perhaps, as Sweeney suggests, there were (Judaean) traditions (whether
based on historical reality or not) that underlay Amos's words, but, even
so, could Amos have really been unaware that these might not be shared,
16. Paul, Amos, 291.
17. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 916.
18. The debate about the historicity of the United Monarchy remains intense and
unresolved. See I. Finkelstein, "The Archaeology of the United Monarchy: An
Alternative View," Levant 28 (1996): 177-87, and A. Mazar, "Iron Age Chronology:
A Reply to I. Finkelstein," Levant 29 (1997): 157-67, for the beginning of the
ceramic aspects of the debate. For a good review and discussion of the wider ques-
tion, see G. Knoppers, "The Vanishing Solomon: The Disappearance of the United
Monarchy from Recent Histories of Ancient Israel," JBL 116 (1997): 19-44.
19. Andersen and Freedmen, Amos, 885; Paul, Amos, 288.
20. Hayes, Amos, 224.
21. Sweeney, "The Dystopianization of Utopian Prophetic Literature," 178.
DAVES Amos, Man and Book 119
let alone welcomed, by Israelites? Even allowing for a memory of a
historical "united monarchy" among the population of Israel, the biblical
traditions themselves imply a good deal of animosity between the two
"houses," beginning in the time of David himselfan animosity perhaps
fuelled by the quite different policies and relationships towards Assyria
which Israel and Judah promoted. It is doubtful that any political "unity"
between Israel and Judah, whether or not it had existed previously,
would have been welcomed by Israelites. In short: to present rule under a
member of the Davidic dynasty as a reward for repentance would have
been tactless and counter-productive in the eighth century B.C.E.
Hayes, as usual, is alert to the problem and offers at least a partial
solution: Amos was calling for an uprising against Jeroboam, inviting his
hearers to switch their allegiance to Jerusalem. For Hayes, "at a mini-
mum, Amos may have considered the Davidic house to represent the
only viable political entity among his people" or, as an alternative, Amos
"actually exhibits a pro-Davidic bias."
Hayes further claims that Amos's
threats against the "house of Israel" are confined to the ruling dynasty in
Israel, which will be toppled by an invading force (Aram and Philistia).
The "house of Jacob" in 9:8 denotes, by contrast, the wider Israelite
nation, some of whom would survive.
Judah would be strengthened by
the fall of the Israelite dynasty and could turn its attention to recovering
territory from Edom.
In addition, Hayes's suggestion makes good sense
of Amaziah's message to the king in 7:10 (though Amos's expulsion
from Bethel must then have been an extremely mild reaction!).
Hayes's case for the "authenticity" of Amos 9:11-15 is sustained by a
unique reconstruction of the historical context. Otherwise, there remains
a high degree of implausibility in Amos's offering his Israelite audience
the prospect of a Judaean resurgence. If Amos is not inviting the alle-
giance of its hearers to the Judaean ruling dynasty, promises about the
future of Judah would not have resonance in Bethel at all, and might well
hinder the impact of his call for a rebellion against Jeroboam.
22. Hayes, Amos, 226, 227.
23. The problem here is that deportation was unlikely to be foreseen at the hands
of the Philistines or Aramaeans: to where would they have exiled Israelites? And
why? By contrast, deportation was a well-known Assyrian imperial strategynot
merely a punitive measure, but politically and economically rational.
24. Hayes, Amos, 220.
25. Ibid., 225.
26. An additional problem is how such positive predictions for Judah here fit
with the oracle against Judah in 2:4-5, which, despite these verses' curious content,
Hayes also takes to be authentic words of Amos. Unfortunately there is no space
here to discuss this issue in detail. Concerning the oracle against Judah, Hayes says,
120 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Beyond the difficulties of 9:11-15, there are other problems with
systematizing the entire contents of the book as a coherent message of an
eighth-century prophet. I noted earlier Sweeney's allusion to Amos 5:4
and 5:6 as calls to repentance. The verb in these instances, CTfT, "seek,"
implies of course some kind of cultic activity, and the book's critique of
cultic behaviour deserves more attention than it generally receives. This
is especially important since in the book no specific cultic malpractice is
adduced and it is hard to see exactly what an eighth-century Amos would
have been objecting to. Some clues might be found in 4:4, where we find
Bethel and Gilgal as places where people "sin" (I7CS), and 5:5, which
specifically threatens doom on them, as well as on Beersheba. The ref-
erence to Beersheba looks very much out of place here, but it recurs in
8:14. Paul suggests that some Israelites used to cross the border to visit
But what would Amos have against this (non-Israelite) sanc-
tuary? An eighth-century prophet is unlikely to have held the view that
Jerusalem was the only proper place for worship, and had he expressed
that view, his effectiveness at Bethel would surely have been rather
minimal. Is there perhaps some other agenda requiring an attack on a
sanctuaries challenging Jerusalem through their geographical proximity?
We might turn to 5:21-25 for some indications of what Amos is cri-
tiquing. It reads, in part: "I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no
delight in your solemn assemblies... Did you bring to me sacrifices and
offerings the forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel?" These
statements, however, seem to relate to all sacrifice, without discrimina-
tion, and thus presumably would include sacrifice at Jerusalem.
gious practice without a cult makes no sense in any period of ancient
Israelite or Judaean history, except perhaps in the Babylonian exile, and
Amos the prophet can hardly have favoured the abolition of cult. Most
commentators thus understand that the words mean only that cultic
behaviour should be accompanied by social justice, but this attitude
"The generality of the statements concerning J udah's wrongdoings make it difficult
to know to what Amos was referring," (ibid, 103), but Hayes does try to impart a
political/ethical meaning to its deuteronomistic-sounding language.
27. Paul, Amos, 163.
28. Note the interesting but speculative suggestions by Bic that Amos was a
cultic official (a hepatoscoper), in M. Bic, "Der Prophet AmosBin Haepa-
toskopos?" FT 1(1951): 293-96, and the suggestion by Steiner that Amos supplied
sacrificial animals for the Jerusalem temple (a view, incidentally, that in my own
undergraduate days was relayed by G. Henton Davies in his lectures), in R. C.
Steiner, Stockmen from Tekoa, Sycomores from Sheba: A Study of Amos ' Occupa-
tions (CBQMS 36; Washington, D.C.: Catholic Biblical Association of America,
DAVffiS Amos, Man and Book 121
hardly justifies an attack on the sanctuaries themselves. There is a hint of
idolatrous practice, perhaps, in 5:26 and 8:14, where again Beersheba is
mentioned, and there are threats against deities invoked in Samaria and
(perhaps) in Dan, but no critique along the lines of Hosea or Isa 40-55
seems to be part of Amos's agenda. Thus in such criticisms we encounter
an issue intrinsic to the rhetoric of the book of Amos that has yet to find
a satisfactory explanation: Amos is here presented as calling for these
sanctuaries to be abandoned, and is predicting their destruction. This
certainly runs counter to the widely prevailing traditional view that Amos
was concerned only with social ills and not bothered about cultic matters.
There are further difficulties facing any attempt to create more
coherence in the book of Amos, namely, the question of whether we have
a secure knowledge of a historical prophet behind the book whose life
and message we can reconstruct.
Searching for the Prophet
What we know about the prophet Amos is frequently taken for granted,
but is far from solid, as the advocates of the "traditional" view of the
book generally recognize. The superscription in 1:1 is agreed to be edito-
rial (even by the scholars mentioned earlier who promote the book's
original eighth-century unity), and follows the pattern of many such head-
ings in the Book of the Twelve that seem based on correlations with
2 Kings.
Where does this historical dating, and the other information
in 1:1, come from? Some of it could be derived from elsewhere in the
book, such as the dating to Jeroboam II, which could derive either from
7:9 (the culmination of the third vision report) or 7:10 (the narrative).
29. Hayes (Amos, 157-58) excepts himself from the views that Amos implies
that Jerusalem is the "only legitimate place of worship." He associates Bethel and
Gilgal with Jeroboam and Pekah, and thus worship there as activities of "rival politi-
cal groups" (p. 145). Beer-sheba, he says, was likely the cult centre of a Judaean
anti-Assyrian faction (p. 159). Amos's insistence that worshippers avoid these
places, Hayes claims, is his way of urging "non-participation in the civil strife that
soon tore Israelite society apart" (ibid.).
30. The correlation here with Uzziah conforms to the statement of 2 Kgs 15:1. A
table and an analysis of the superscriptions can be found in Davies, " 'Pen of Iron,' "
66-69. On the problematic chronology of Uzziah, see Hayes, Amos, 45. It is worth
asking why Amaziah is not mentioned, as he reigned in Judah during the first part of
Jeroboam's reign. In the superscriptions of Hosea and Micah more than one Judaean
king is named; why not here? A simple explanation is that the editors took Amos to
have uttered his words within a year, and perhaps, ideally, shortly before Jeroboam
122 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Similarly, the description "among the herdsmen" could be derived from
7:14, though this cannot be certain. The reference to Tekoa certainly
must come from information external to the book, especially since, as
most commentators point out, Tekoa is not a place for sycamores.
same appears true of "two years before the earthquake" (or "for two
years..."); the reference to the earthquake might be partially deduced or
amplified from 1:2, but the "two years" is presumably derived from
elsewherepossibly reflecting some obscure chronological deduction,
but also possibly a memory of an event associated with the words of
Thus "two years before the earthquake" and "from Tekoa'" are
the only data that could not be created out of the contents of the book
itself and thus may in fact be part of the original collection.
If the scroll
of Amos's words had an original title, then, it may have been "Words of
Amos of Tekoa: what he saw about Israel. Two years before the earth-
quake," in other words, author, content, date (the latter being sufficient as
long as the earthquake was remembered).
If the narrative of 7:10-17 is reliable, of course, then we can add its
details to our knowledge of the prophet. But even those scholars who
regard it as a reliable report accept that it appears to be secondary to the
vision cycle in which it is embedded and which it interrupts.
obviously raises a question about its provenance. Was it transmitted
together with the words of Amos (though not among his "words"?). Even
scholars of the "traditional" persuasion largely assume that it relates a
real event, including Wolff, though he observes that the story is primarily
about Amaziah and his fate, not about Amos, Israel or Jeroboam.
then, was it inserted into a scroll of Amos's words? What exactly is its
function? It certainly fulfils several incidental functions: offering data
31. See Steiner, Stockmen from Tekoa, for amplification.
32. Zech 14:5, of course, alludes to an earthquake in the time of Uzziah, and the
possibility of an inventive link with this on the basis of 1:2 cannot be ruled out.
33. If, however, noqedis not a clarification ofboqer, then the entire phrase "who
was among the noqedim from Tekoa" might have been part of an original collection
of Amos sayings rather than editorially deduced. Paul, Amos, 248, claims that there
is simply no contradiction between the terms (which to many interpreters seem to
imply different kinds of animal), but even if he were right, the use of two different
words remains to be explained.
34. Several commentators find the collocation of "seeing" and "words" trouble-
some, though it occurs also in Isa 2:1 and Mic 1:1. My proposal to separate the two
as indicated in my translation here avoids that issue and could also apply to the
Micah superscription, but not to the Isaiah text.
3 5. Including Hayes, Amos, 231.
36. Wolfif, Joel and Amos, 308.
DAVTES Amos, Man and Book 123
about the circumstances of Amos's call and about his profession, and
repeating the threat of exile for Israel. But a complicating issue is the
parallel story in 1 Kgs 13, in which an unnamed prophet prophesies the
destruction of Bethel's altar. A Judaean connection, a Jeroboam, the
Bethel altar and eating bread are shared features of both narratives.
we have more than a coincidence here, then one story is influenced by
the other (or both by a common tradition). The issue of historicity in the
case of Amos is thus rather fraught.
By way of illustrating the possibilities of exploiting the Kings
narrative, I shall allude to Christoph Levin's far-reaching deductions.
He suggests that the phrase "house of Jeroboam" in 7:9 implies Jero-
boam I, the founder of the "high places" and of the kingdom of Israel,
rather than Jeroboam II. This connection would give a particular empha-
sis to the promise of restoration of the "fallen/falling booth of David"
since this restoration would amount to a reversal of Jeroboam's "sin"
both in setting up Bethel and in breaching the unity of the kingdom.
Thus, "the message of Amos about the end of Israel will have included
the entire history of the northern kingdom, up to its downfall" and "at the
time of the later conclusion to Amos the connection between Amos and
Jeroboam I was still current."
In Levin's view, the relationship between
1 Kgs 13 and Amos 7:10-17 confirms that this identification continued to
be made when the latter narrative was inserted into the Amos scroll. The
author of the superscription, however, misunderstood Amos 7 and placed
Amos in the time of Jeroboam n, leading also to a misreading of the
point of the message that the prophet had given. Other scholars have
explored with less radical conclusions the relationship between 1 Kgs 13
and Amos 7:10-17. Ackroyd, for example complicated the issue by
noting the case of 2 Chr 25:14-16, in which the Judaean king Amaziah is
challenged by an unnamed prophet.
Whatever view is taken of these intriguing aspects of the Amos narra-
tive, we must not allow ourselves to assume that the narrative has its
origin in a historical event involving Amos that was reliably transmitted.
And since so much of what we know, or think we know, about the
prophet Amos is derived from this narrative, any interpretation of the
book that is based on a detailed reconstruction of Amos's career and
37. Auld, Amos, 28, adds the "lion" (Amos 1:1; 3:4, 8; 5:20).
38. C. Levin, "Amos und Jerobeam I," FT
45 (1995): 307-17.
39. Ibid., 310,313.
40. P. R. Ackroyd, "A Judgment Narrative Between Kings and Chronicles: An
Approach to Amos 7.9-17," in Canon and Authority (ed. G. W. Coats and B. O.
Long; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 71-87.
124 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
historical context requires a good deal of conjecture. The profile of the
prophet is simply not a historical "given," as even Hayes seems to me to
I do not, of course, wish to argue a historical Amos out of existence
simply by raising doubts or from a prejudicial scepticism. That a written
collection of oracles entitled as suggested above came from a historical
Amos is quite probable. It is certainly not unreasonable that written
collections of prophetic words were lodged in the palaces and temples of
Israel and Judah; we have ample evidence of such texts and of their
preservation in archives.
But we cannot be confident that everything in
the book comes from this prophet, nor that the legend about him in 7:10-
17 really is reliable. The insertion of the narrative itself suggests that the
scroll was later modified and that the original contents did not remain or
were not simply retrieved in their pristine state until their incorporation
in a Scroll of Twelve Prophets. But equally, the "traditional" idea that the
scroll was transmitted as an ongoing religious or theological resource,
teaching Judaeans a lesson about the fall of Israel before being reapplied
to Judah itself, is not the only alternative. There is another possibility,
one that also maintains a coherence within the book without assigning
the entire contents to a prophet whose profile cannot really be recon-
structed with great confidence.
The Unity of the Book of Amos
Arguments about the "unity" of a prophet's message are in the end argu-
ments about the unity of the book itself. While it is never wise to
presume that all biblical books must display some kind of literary unity,
we should always expect to discover a certain integrity of purpose and
theme. These are not necessarily the result of a single author; they are as
much a product of a reasonably skilful editor, or even of a process of
transmission in which the shape and purpose of the document is gradu-
ally acquired, in some cases bringing originally disparate contents into a
meaningful shape.
How do we, then, decide whether the book of Amos
is best understood as the product of a single prophet (as Hayes and the
other commentators mentioned earlier argue), or a longer process of
41. See, e.g., Floyd and Ben Zvi, eds., Writings and Speech in Israelite and
Ancient Near Eastern Prophecy, throughout, and H. Huffinon, "A Company of
Prophets: Marl, Assyria, Israel," in Prophecy in Its Ancient Near Eastern Environ-
ment (d. M. Nissinen; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 2000), 47-70.
42. The very fact that a document was preserved and copied itself presupposes a
certain purpose, whether or not that purpose coincides with that of the text's original
DAVIES Amos, Man and Book 125
redaction (the "traditional" critical view), or a single process of composi-
tion, using existing and newly created material? While there should be
no presumption in favour of any of these, the existence of the superscrip-
tion and the narrative of 7:10-17, and of different forms and diction (the
hymn fragments, the occasional Deuteronomic phrases, all of which have
been identified and discussed at length in the commentaries) show that
the prophet Amos himself was not simply "the author" of the book
bearing his name. If the contents were even largely Amos's own words,
the fact of their preservation well beyond their immediately relevant
context points to purposes or "messages" in the book beyond those of the
prophet himself.
Apart from Hayes, virtually every commentator has concluded that
that the book of Amosand the message of the prophet himselfis
primarily concerned with social justice in Israel. But the book itself has
other features that do not fit this topic. The prediction about the "booth of
David" does not fit (and, I have suggested, does not fit any plausible
historical scenario for the prophet himself). Neither do the hymnic
passages (Amos 4:13; 5:8; 9:5-6), whose lofty creation theology is close
in sentiment and language to Second Isaiah (compare Isa 45:7 with
Amos 5:8-9). But particularly awkward is the attack on Israelite sanc-
tuaries, especially Bethel (and its priest), which points to other concerns
as well.
The book's invective has, in fact, three targets: Israel as a whole,
the city of Samaria, and Bethel (sometimes with other sanctuaries). The
first assault on Israel in 2:6-16 is quite general, as it is in ch. 3, where
"Samaria" in w. 9 and 12 is perhaps singled out because it is the royal
seat and thus the seat of royal luxury and oppression. That critique is
resumed in 4:1. But Bethel is singled out for punishment in 3:14 and
again, with Gilgal, in 4:4. After this, Samaria is mentioned again in 6:1
and (indirectly) in 8:14, while in 5:45 Bethel (and other sanctuaries) are
also singled out again. In ch. 6, the sins of Samaria are laid outwealth
and oppressionand in ch. 7, while the first two visions relate to "Jacob,"
the third vision (7:7-10) speaks not just of the destruction of Israel but
specifically of the "sanctuaries of Israel."
The use of "Jacob" is also important here. It occurs six times in the
book altogether: we find "house of Jacob" in 3:13 and 9:8, and "pride of
Jacob" in 6:8 (which Hayes thinks may be a reference to Samaria; the
literal, abstract meaning would be, as Wolff notes, unusual for Amos)
and again in 8:7.
"Jacob" alone occurs in 7:2 and 9:8. The proximity of
"Jacob" and "Bethel" in Amos 7-9 is especially significant, since Bethel
43. Hayes, Amos, 188; Wolff, Joel and Amos, 282.
126 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
was the sanctuary especially connected with that ancestor. The fate of the
sanctuaries of Israel remains a topic in the book until the end (even if in
8:3 ^!DTI means "palace" rather than "temple," 8:5 alludes to new moons
and sabbaths, and 8:10 to religious festivals [D3T1]). The section also
those who swear by Ashimah of Samaria,
and say, "As your god lives, O Dan,"
and, "As the way of Beer-sheba lives"
they shall fall, and never rise again.
The vision series then culminates in 9:1-4 with a vision of an altar being
destroyed and the people killed and exiled. Which altar? Most, including
Mays, Paul, Andersen and Freedman, and apparently Hayes ("worshipers
at the royal festival") assume Bethel.
The text then moves on to the
prospect of exile, until it returns to the "booth of David." What, then,
might we expect the "booth" of David to refer to? As discussed above,
the almost universal assumption is the Judaean dynasty, but the context
suggests rather that it is the sanctuary of Jerusalem. This meaning creates
a more powerful opposition than the political regimes of Israel and
Judah, namely, the hegemony of Jerusalem vs. the existence of other
sanctuaries, and especially Bethel. And this is an opposition that we
could not plausibly assign to an eighth-century prophet.
Hayes makes another critical point: "there is nothing in the book that
would indicate the Israelites were officially practicing any form of
religion other than Yahwism."
Although as early as the Masoretic
tradition 5:26 seems to be interpreted as an indication of idolatry, JTOD
seems to be the same word as used in 9:11, where, I have suggested, it
means the Jerusalem sanctuary, while DDTI^N does not have to be trans-
lated as a reference to multiple deities. Hayes's comment also underlines
a crucial aspect of the book's critique: while the crimes of "Israel" and
"Samaria" are all too clearly spelled out, those of Bethel (and other
sanctuaries) are not. It is almost as if their existence were of itself an
offence, or, perhaps, that while offering no specific pretext for their own
destruction, they are guilty just by being Israelite.
In short, the themes of social injustice, national destruction, exile, cult
and Bethel are thus intertwined in the book of Amos in a way that is hard
44. Mays, Amos, 152; Paul, Amos, 274; Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 835;
Hayes, Amos, 217.
45. Hayes, Amos, 39.
46. Contra Hayes, Amos, 157-58, who says, "The statements themselves are not
a condemnation of certain sanctuaries and, by implication, advocacy of Jerusalem as
the only legitimate place of worship."
DAVffiS Amos, Man and Book 127
to attribute to an eighth-century prophet. Furthermore, the intertwining
forms a kind of pattern, with a gradual shift of emphasis from national,
social transgressions towards more specifically cultic ones (though neither
of these aspects is ever entirely absent; they are juxtaposed throughout).
This trajectory suggests that the end of the book may not be, after all, an
afterthought or a correction, contradicting the "social" message of the
remainder; rather, it may be precisely the culmination of the book's main
theme: the supersession of Israelite sanctuaries by Jerusalem within the
context of a broader supersession of "Israel" by Judah, or, perhaps, a
supersession of "old" Israel by "new Israel."
The idea of the ascension of a "new Israel" over an "old" Israel can
indeed be discerned in the book itself. In his comments on ch. 9, Hayes
separates the "booth of David" in 9:11, meaning the Judaean royal house,
from the "remnant" of Jacob in 9:8, which, he claims, means the rump of
the kingdom of Israel.
A similar distinction is made by Paul, for whom,
however, the "booth of David" is a unified "Davidic" empire.
As long
as both verses are assigned to an eighth-century prophet, such a differ-
entiation is unavoidable, but problematic. Wolff also finds two distinct
addresses, for he concludes that 9:8, though not from Amos but his disci-
ples, refers to survivors of the kingdom of Israel, and regards 9:11 as a
later addition emanating from, and referring to, Judah.
At least his
different entities relate to different times and purposes. Mays, however,
while agreeing that 9:11 comes from, and relates to, exilic Judah, asserts
that "In its present form the text of 8b simply contradicts the rest of the
oracle and makes the foregoing pointless."
In fact, he suggests emend-
ing the text from
D DSN to N *?!"!, "shall I indeed not destroy the house of
Mays thus seeks a greater consistency in what the "traditional" inter-
pretation sees as the book's closing Judaean gloss, but he overlooks that
fact that after the fall of Samaria, and especially in texts of the sixth-fifth
century B.C.E., "Jacob" is apparently used in prophetic texts to refer to
Hear this, O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and
have come out of the waters of Judah, who swear by the name of Yahweh,
and make mention of the god of Israel, but not in truth, nor in righteous-
ness. (Isa 48:1)
47. Ibid., 221-22.
48. Paul, Amos, 284-85.
49. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 348, 352-54.
50. Mays, Amos, 160.
51. Ibid.
128 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of
my mountains: and my elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall live
there. (Isa 65:9)
This phenomenon is also evident in Isa 46:3 and 58:1, but can also be
discerned in First Isaiah (Isa 10:20-21; 14:1; 29:22) as well as in
Jeremiah (2:4; 5:20; 10:16,25; 30:7,10,18; 31:7,11; 33:26; 46:27-28;
51:19), Micah (5:7,8) and in Lamentations ( 1:17 and in 2:2-3: "Yahweh
has swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and has not shown
pity.. .he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire").
When and why the name "Jacob" was transferred from the kingdom of
Israel to Judah is too large a question to consider in detail here, but it is
likely to be connected (either as a period of origin or as one of reinforce-
ment) with the period after Benjamin was annexed to Judah. This proc-
ess, too, is extremely difficult to reconstruct, but it almost certainly
occurred after the fall of Samaria.
Another crucial question here is the
precise status of Bethel, both religiously and politically, not only in the
eighth century but in the succeeding era. According to Josh 18:22, Bethel
is allotted to the tribe of Benjamin, yet it was taken over by the "house of
Joseph" in Judg 1:22. According to 2 Kgs 23, Josiah sacked Bethel,
which scholars usually take to be part of an attempt at expanding his
territory (but which on a careful reading of 23:19 is not included in the
territory of Samaria). In Ezra (implicitly 2:28) and in Neh 11:31,
Benjamin belonged with Judah: "The people of Benjamin also lived from
Geba onward, at Michmash, Aija, Bethel and its villages."
At all events, during the Neo-Babylonian era the territory of Benjamin
was at the political heart of Judah. Blenkinsopp has argued that at this
time Bethel also became the major sanctuary of Judah.
Unlike Jerusa-
lem, it was not destroyed by the Neo-Babylonians (nor, apparently, was
it destroyed by the Assyrians when Samaria fell). This fact might seem to
favour an eighth-century date for Amos, when Bethel was presumably
still a royal Israelite sanctuary, but in fact it does not. The memory of
Bethel's earlier prestige would have lingered, especially as Bethel
remained a sanctuary in Judah until some point in the Persian period
52. The account in 1 Kgs 12:16-21 that links Benjamin with Judah in the time
of Rehoboam is almost certainly secondary; note the statement in v. 20 that "There
was no one who followed the house of David, except the tribe of Judah alone" and
v. 21, where Rehoboam "assembled all the house of Judah and the tribe of Benja-
min." Yet see further in 2 Chr 13:19, where the Judaean king Abijah, the successor
of Rehoboam, captured Benjamin from Jeroboam.
53. J. Blenkinsopp, "The Judean Priesthood During the Neo-Babylonian and
Achamenid Periods: A Hypothetical Reconstruction," CBQ 60 (1998): 25^3.
DAVIES Amos, Man and Book 129
which we cannot as yet determine. The same is probably true of Gilgal
and Beersheba. During the Neo-Babylonian period, Beersheba would
have been in the territory of Edom. This explains why Amos 9:12, pro-
claiming the restored sovereignty of the Jerusalem temple, embraces the
reconquest of Edom in its Utopia: how else could Jerusalem ensure the
destruction of all its Yahwistic rivals?
The above observations, though far too brief, permit the statement of a
new hypothesis about the origin and purpose of the book of Amos: it was
compiled in the fifth century B.C.E. (or possibly somewhat later) as part
of a much wider process of text-production in which the former political
hegemony of Benjamin and the privilege enjoyed by its sanctuaries was
removed and Jerusalem became not only once more the capital of Judah,
but also for the first time championed as the only legitimate sanctuary for
How do the contents of the book of Amos fit this agenda? First, we
can reasonably assume that a collection of "words of Amos" formed the
starting point: here were oracles that denounced Israel's depravity and
were probably preserved in Bethel, the royal sanctuary; it was, after all,
the custom for prophetic oracles to be addressed to the king and to be
deposited in the royal archives (as mentioned earlier). There is, corre-
spondingly, little reason for them to have been kept anywhere else (except
possibly Samaria)certainly not in Jerusalem; Amos the prophet had no
message for Judah and his message for Israel had little relevance in
The growth of the book begins, then, after Bethel has become part of
Judah and as its status is being challenged by Jerusalem. The oracles
create a pretext for a scroll that not only denounces Israel and proclaims
its death as divine punishment, but is expanded to identify Judah as the
"remnant" of "Jacob" that has been divinely preserved. The destruction
of Yahwistic sanctuaries (Bethel, Gilgal, Beershebaand Samaria?)
is now explicitly included, and the story of the prophet who prophesied
the destruction of Bethel, of which we find a version in 1 Kgs 13, is
exploited in an inserted narrative that denounces the high priest of Bethel
(possibly, indeed, Amos was "identified" as the unknown prophet, if
Levin's hypothesis is correct). Finally, as a climax, the restoration of
Jerusalem as the sole temple of the sole god (the monotheistic features of
the book ought not to be overlooked, especially the hymnic passages and
54. For more information on this process, see D. Edelman, The Origins of the
"Second" Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem (Lon-
don: Equinox, 2005).
130 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
9:7, though not 3:2, which nevertheless might reflect a covenant theology
not present in the original oracle collection) is proclaimed as a divine
Amos is thus a book that betrays the same processes that we find else-
where in the Hebrew Bible: the denunciation of the now defunct king-
dom of Israel and the claim of Judah to be the legitimate survivor of an
"Israel." (The tradition that this "Israel" once included both former
kingdoms is not assumed in the book, however.) But why did Judaeans
need to take on the identity of Israel? Two answers may be given. First,
for over a century most Judaeans had come to be addressed by their god
as "Jacob," which, we may infer, was standard practice in Benjaminite
sanctuaries, and probably in other Israelite sanctuaries also. This identity
could not have been denied without effectively proclaiming and enforc-
ing a new god in Judah, hence the strategy of identifying Judah as the
remnant of Jacob, so securing the legitimacy of the returning Judaeans
(almost all, presumably, "Zionists" in the strict sense) as representatives
of the "god of Jacob." A second reason was the existence of a Yahwistic
Samaria. No doubt for some time after the restoration of Jerusalem as
capital of Judah both Judah and Samaria coexisted relatively peacefully
as Yahwistic entities, to the extent of sharing a common canonized Torah
(with minimal textual divergences). Jerusalem's ambitious claim for pre-
eminence as the only seat of the universal god Yahweh could not there-
fore deny some degree of legitimacy to Samaria, while requiring by all
means possible to characterize its population either as secondary Yah-
wists (see 2 Kgs 17:24-28; note the pointed reference to Bethel in v. 28)
or, more harshly, as formerly chosen by Yahweh but later rejected
because of its sins. (Or, as the Chronicler chooses, effectively ignored
Conclusion: AmosBook Rather than Man
My hypothesis has much in common with Hayes's conclusions in his
Amos commentary. I agree with him that the book has a fairly unified
message that makes sense within a reasonably specific political context.
I also agree that the core of the book consists of some probably genuine
oracles from an Amos, perhaps even written by the prophet himself since
in the ancient Near East oracles were regularly transmitted to their
55. It may be added that the oracle against Judah in 2:4-5 reflects the concerns of
the ruling elite in Jerusalem in the fifth century onwards for the acceptance of the
torah of Yahweh as the basis of social and religious life.
DAVS Amos, Man and Book 131
recipient in writing.
Whether the original Amos was from Tekoa or was
at least a Judaean we shall never be certain.
I further agree with Hayes about the importance of 9:11-15 to the
message of the book as a whole. I would, however, disagree with him
about the content of what the prophet Amos said (or even wrote); Amos's
original pieces were most probably individual, short pieces collected and
then copied onto a scroll that dealt mostly with social behaviour.
Whether the foreign nation oracles or visions, both neat rhetorical units,
subsequently disturbed, are also to be attributed to Amos or to some later
contributor to the book, is also very hard to say, and also relatively unim-
portant. The rhetorical arrangement looks to be more likely the product
of the author of the book, not by the author of the original oracle collec-
tion. The unifying agenda of the book of Amos, at any rate, is one of turn-
ing a scroll of collected oracles from the past to legitimize later Judaean
assumption of the mantle of "Israel." Its purpose is to justify Jerusalem's
triumph over Bethel and J udah's over Israel.
If recent work on prophecy has moved towards any broad conclusions,
it is that surely we should pay closer attention to what the existence of
prophetic literature tells us about the history of Israel and Judah rather
than trying to make plausible historical figures from their heroes. I hope
that despite his almost certain disagreement, John Hayes will agree with
me that history is still not only very important, but can be a lot of fun.
56. See Floyd and Ben Zvi, Writings and Speech, throughout.
"How CA N J A COB ST A ND? HE is so SM A L L !" (A M OS 7:2):
J. Gordon McConville
The prophet Amos is best known, rightly, for his uncompromising
demands for justice and righteousness in Israel. Perhaps only secondar-
ily, however, is he remembered for the curious incongruity between the
place of his origin and the place of his proclamation. The "herdsman and
dresser of sycamore trees" from Tekoa in the southern kingdom of
Judah, without prophetic pedigree, finds himself in the northern kingdom
of Israel, in classic prophetic mode, confronting royal authority at its
Yet this dislocation is arguably the single most intriguing feature
of the portrayal of the prophet's life and message. The question of where
he belongs and where he has a right to prophesy is the issue identified by
Amaziah the priest of Bethel as he exerts the authority of state and
sanctuary to expel the turbulent Judean (7:12-13). Was Amos, after all,
"in his own country," to borrow the later words of Jesus about unwel-
come prophets (Luke 4:24)? In my view, both the narrative of the
encounter at Bethel and the vision sequence in which it is embedded
pose a question that goes beyond Amos's identity: they forcefully raise
the question of the true nature of Israel. Hence, my interest in the present
essay is in the concept of Israel in Amos, especially how that concept is
expressed in the visions and narrative of Amos 7-9. The question that
stimulated the inquiry is why Amos used the name "Jacob" in the first
two visions (7:1-3,4-6) in imploring God not to permit the catastrophes
portrayed there to occur. I want to suggest that Amos's choice of this
name in his first two visions opens the question as to the true nature of
1. The exact nature of Amos's occupation, though much discussed, need not
concern us here. We will return below to the meaning of his famous "not a prophet"
declaration (7:14). The suggestion that he may not have been a southerner, but rather
from a certain Tekoa in the north, has received little following; see J. Jeremias, The
Book of Amos (OTL; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1998), 13.
McCONVlLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small! " 133
Israel and that the visions, narrative, and oracles in chs. 7-9 combine to
offer an answer to this question with persuasive force. The rhetorical
function of Amos's terms for Israel appears when these terms are con-
sidered against the prophet's historical context: Amos uses the concept of
a historic "Israel" to call into question false notions of Israel that prevail
in his day. Since this essay is particularly concerned with the interaction
of prophetic rhetoric and rhetorical situations, I am pleased to dedicate it
to John Hayes, who has done so much to further the understanding of the
rhetorical effectiveness of the prophetic books.
I. Jacob, Israel, and Others in Amos
The book of Amos compels us from the outset to think about the duality
of Israel and Judah. Its opening line, in introducing what follows as "the
words of Amos," already postulates the enigmatic relation between
"Tekoa" and "Israel," a duality men reinforced by the names of the kings
Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam n of Israel (1:1). Separate oracles for the
two kingdoms are also included among the Oracles Against the Nations
(2:45, 6-16), and Zion and Samaria are cited in parallel in 6:1.
But what part does this doubleness play in the book? Is Amos not after
all essentially a prophecy to the northern kingdom of Israel, with the
prophet's origin in Judah somewhat incidental, and the scattered words
concerning the southern kingdom merely tangential? The underlying
narrative of Amos's purposeful trek north inclines us to the supposition
that the recorded words of Amos had the north as their immediate target.
Yet this understanding has its own difficulties, because there are texts in
which neither Judah nor the northern kingdom is precisely in view, but
rather a concept of the historic people of Israel, who were brought out of
the land of Egypt as the object of God's choice (2:10; 3:1-2; 9:7-8). At
the least, then, behind the separate kingdoms of his day lies the memory
of an Israel that corresponded exactly to neither.
This observation raises the question not only of what Amos means
each time he uses the name "Israel," but also of the nature of his mission.
Does the memory of historic Israel's past serve simply to persuade the
northern kingdom to become a better form of itself? This might be
implied by the allusion to the exodus in 2:10, in an oracle against
"Israel" which (at least in the book's present form) is distinguished from
Judah. Or is the memory of historic Israel in Amos broader, and perhaps
more subversive, than this?
These questions yield quite disparate answers among commentators.
Hans Walter Wolff is one of those who regularly take "Israel" to refer to
134 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
the north. When, in Amos's second vision, Yahweh says: "I am setting a
plumb-line hi the midst of my people Israel" (7:8),
Wolff writes:
"'Israel' means here, as always in Amos, the northern kingdom," and
reinforces the point by observing the contrast between "Israel" and
"Judah" in 7:12,15.
This view is then applied consistently to other texts.
"Isaac" (7:9) also means the north because of pilgrimages by northerners
to the sanctuary at patriarchal Beersheba (cf. 5:5),
and "Jacob" in the
visions is regarded simply as a synonym for Israel, that is, the northern
kingdom. Of Amos's use of this name in 7:2 Wolff thinks it does not
imply any appeal to ancient tradition, whether promise or election; it is
merely a device to picture Israel's helplessness.
By taking the rhetorical
force of the name in this way he has neatly parried the possibility of an
echo in it of the unified people.
To account for those places where allusions to Judah and the historic
people Israel are inescapable, Wolff postulates southern redactional
layers. A Josianic layer steps up the invective of the prophet against
Bethel in keeping with the account of Josiah's measures against that
sanctuary (2 Kgs 23:15). This may be seen in certain additions to Amos's
words (e.g. 3:14bcc; 5:6), designed to recall the destruction of Bethel and
persuade a Judean audience not to fall victim to the same fate.
A further
deuteronomistic layer brings in the oracle against Judah (2:4-5) along
with oracles against Edom and Tyre (1:9-12) and the allusion to Zion in
6:1. It is also responsible for 2:10-12 and 3 : Ib, in which the grounding
of the prophetic message in the election of the historic unified people of
Israel is unmistakeable. Finally, Wolff sees the superscription (1:1), with
its chronological interest and its identification of both Israel and Judah as
the scope of the prophet's words, as clearly deuteronomistic.
By these
means Wolff is able to sustain his view that when Amos said "Israel" and
"Jacob" he meant the northern kingdom only. A number of others adopt
a similar position.
The important factor to note for our purposes is that
2. The meaning of the difficult "pN requires no special discussion here as it does
not affect the point being pursued.
3. H. W. Wolff, Joel and Amos (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 301.
He goes on to say: "Israel as the unified people of God would have been called
'Israel, my people' (
D17 ^HKT)"; (ibid). He does not substantiate this, however. The
terms QS and ^NIET are variously combined in the exodus narrative.
4. Ibid., 301-2.
5. Ibid., 297-98.
6. Ibid., 111.
7. Ibid., 112-13.
8. Cf. R. B. Coote, Amos Among the Prophets: Composition and Theology
(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1981 ), 48,63. Coote postulates a three-stage composition, in
McCONVlLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small! " 135
no attempt is made to offer a coherent understanding of the meaning of
Israel in the book.
Shalom Paul, for example, is like Wolff in his opinion that Amos
thought of the northern kingdom when he spoke of Israel and Jacob and
also in his supposition that Amos's use of the name Jacob in his
intercession does not have connotations of the election of historic Israel.
However, he credits Amos himself with almost all of the sayings in the
book, and so attempts to give a coherent account of them.
The oracle
against Judah, for instance, is attributable to the prophet and rhetorically
effective in a series designed to culminate in the unexpected accusation
of (northern) Israel.
The allusion to Zion in 6:1 is merely an allusion en
passant in an oracle essentially directed to the north.
For Amos 3:lb,
however, Paul adopts a redactional solution and, like Wolff, suggests it is
an addition to show that the oracle applies to Judah as well as Israel.
this way, Paul maintains that "Israel" consistently means the north, but
he is not quite able to avoid the redactional method that he otherwise
largely eschews. His projectto explain Amos entirely in terms of
Amos's mission to the northern kingdomstumbles over the meaning of
"Israel" itself.
Francis Andersen and David Noel Freedman, who also attribute most
of the book to the prophet, examine at length each case of the various
names used in the book.
They attempt to resolve the problem inherent
in the names, especially in the double potential of "Israel," by assigning
fixed meanings to the names and their variations. Thus, "Israel," when it
stands alone, means the northern kingdom, a usage derived from the
contemporary political environment. This accounts well for many
instances, such as the beginning of the oracle in 2:6. Other terms, such as
"Joseph" and "Isaac" are parallels to "Israel" and also designate the
northern kingdom. Expanded phrases such as "my people Israel," "house
of Israel," and "sons of Israel," however, refer to historic Israel, or the
united kingdom, or a future ideal kingdom. This deals well with the
important passages 3:1 and 9:7a. Similarly, they state, "...ycfqb
[Jacob] always stands for historic Israel, not for the northern kingdom as
which a major B-redaction, post-722 B.C.E., challenges the claims of the Bethel
sanctuary and is close to Dtrl.
9. S. M. Paul, Amos (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 229.
10. Ibid., 6.
11. Ibid., 20-24.
12. Ibid., 200.
13. Ibid., 100.
14. F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Amos (AB 24a; New York: Doubleday,
1989), 98-139.
13 6 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
such, for that usage is never elsewhere attested."
In Andersen and
Freedman's view, therefore, unlike the views of Wolff and Paul, "Jacob"
in Amos's first two visions refers to historic Israel.
Andersen and Freedman have made an important contribution to
understanding the problem of the names in Amos. Yet their analysis is
strained at certain points. At 7:10, where Amaziah uses the extended
expression "house of Israel" in his complaint against Amos, the context
strongly suggests a reference to the northern kingdom, as Andersen and
Freedman concede. They sustain their thesis here, however, by suppos-
ing that Amaziah deliberately includes the south in his accusation of
conspiracy, knowing that Amos was from the south. This seems unlikely
because it attributes to Amaziah a view of "Israel" that runs counter to
the view he evinces in the dialogue, which involves an opposition
between "Israel" and "Judah" (7:10-12).
Andersen and Freedman
encounter a further difficulty in 9:7-8, where, following their hypothesis,
"Jacob" (v. 8b, historic Israel) is distinguished from "the sinful
kingdom" (8a, the north), which in turn is identified with "Israel" in v. 7.
This is supported by a reading of v. 7 in which "Israel" (in v. 7b) means
the northern kingdom, while "sons of Israel" (v. 7a) refers to the historic
people. Andersen and Freedman are aware of the anomaly of taking
"Israel" as northern kingdom in 9:7, yet they maintain it on the basis of a
chiasmus of Israel-sons of Israel-sons of Israel-Israel in 2:6, 11; 9:7.
Yet the explanation runs counter both to a natural understanding of 9:7
and to the parallelism in it of the two phrases "Israel" and "sons of
The above examples demonstrate that the attempt to resolve the prob-
lem of the names for Israel in Amos by attaching permanent fixed mean-
ings to them fails to deal with the nuances of some of the actual texts. A
more important issue is raised, however, by the method adopted by
Andersen and Freedman. If Amos speaks sometimes about the northern
kingdom and sometimes about historic (or ideal future) Israel, what is the
rhetorical and theological significance of this? When there appears to be
some tension in a text between the narrower and broader meanings of
Israel, Andersen and Freedman tend to interpret this by saying that Amos
is simply not thinking exclusively. In 2:9-11, for example, where they
acknowledge a shift at v. 9 to a memory of historic Israel, they explain
that Amos is using these traditions to show that what he is saying applies
15. Ibid., 98-99.
16. I shall return to Amaziah's concept of Israel below, as it is central to the
argument offered here.
17. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 122-24.
McCONVlLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 137
to both kingdoms.
At 3:13, "Jacob," which they take to be always
inclusive, occurs in a context which clearly has only the north in view.
They meet this difficulty by arguing that, while the term includes the
north here, "the emphasis is on the non-Israelites in the audience."
Thus, they explain the incongruities between the narrower and broader
references by relating them to audiences whom Amos may have in mind.
In so doing, they overlook the question of whether Amos may be using
the names with the rhetorical and theological intention of asking a
question about the true nature of Israel.
II. The Visions of Amos 7-9 in Rhetorical Context
The historical impact of the visions in chs. 7-9 is bound up with the
narrative in 7:10-17. While the visions and narrative are widely held to
be unified in the present text, this unity is generally regarded as secon-
dary, since the narrative interrupts the first four visions that originally
formed a unit in themselves. Hence, scholars account for the present
form of the text in numerous ways.
According to Wolff's redactional
account, for example, the visions and narrative explain each other: the
third and fourth visions explain how Amos came to the conviction that
he must preach judgment on the north, and, conversely, "the eviction
from Bethel (7:12) explains why Amos wrote down his visions."
kind of explanation tries to understand the literature in terms of Amos's
experience. Wolff goes on to speak of the prophet's painfully won con-
viction concerning his message of judgment on the northern kingdom:
"[T]he hard road along which Amos was led in the visions, unbroken
until at least the third or fourth vision, must be considered the decisive
preparation for his appearance in the northern kingdom."
Jorg Jeremias
and Andersen and Freedman also explain the progression from oracles of
forbearance in 7:1-6 to oracles of judgment in 7:7-9 and 8:1-2 in terms
of Amos's own experience, memorializing a change of mind either in
himself or in Yahweh.
These commentators again understand the
18. Ibid., 101.
19. Ibid., 103.
20. An account of the various theories is given by H. G. M. Williamson, "The
Prophet and the Plumb-Line: A Redaction-Critical Study of Amos vii," OTS 26
(1990): 101-21 (esp. 101-5).
21. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 295.
22. Ibid., 296.
23. Jeremias (Amos, 125) sees the sequence of visions as charting the prophet's
learning curve: "Amos had to learn that there are limits to the divine patience... This
changes the prophetic function in a fundamental way." Andersen and Freedman
138 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
juxtaposition of visions and narrative in terms of events and moments in
the prophet's life. In this approach, Amos's experience is apparently
understood by analogy with that of the prophet Jeremiah.
Reconstructions of this sort suffer from the general weakness that they
have to postulate much that is unknown about the prophet's life and
experience. In addition, they rarely explain satisfactorily why w. 10-17
are inserted between the third and fourth vision rather than after the
fourth (or indeed in some other position in the book).
In my view,
however, their greatest weakness is that they fail to see the challenge that
the discourse puts to the concept of Israel itself because they sit too
comfortably within "northern" or "southern" readings. If we postpone
historical reconstructions and read the text according to its internal
development, I suggest that a different picture emerges.
The careful integration of the visions and narrative in the present text
is well known. The naming of Jeroboam (II) (7:10) at the beginning of
the narrative forms a catchword link with the final phrase in v. 9, which
announces the destruction of the "house of Jeroboam." Yahweh sets a
plumb-line "w the midst (3"lp3) of my people Israel" (7:8b); Amaziah
accuses Amos of fomenting conspiracy "w the midst p"lpD) of the house
(Amos, 750) associate the visions closely with the plague-sequence in 4:6-11. The
first two visions correspond to occasions when Yahweh brought a halt to the plague,
while the second two visions signal "a radical change in Yahweh's policy: no more
postponements." Their thesis involves a degree of speculation about other oracles
that must have been given (ibid.): "There must have been oracles of repentance
along with the plagues, and the result is coherent if Amos himself brought them."
24. This is acutely observed by Brueggemann as a tendency in the history of
Amos studies, especially in English, citing G. A. Smith and R. S. Cripps. See W.
Brueggemann, "Amos' Intercessory Formula," FT 19 (1969): 385. The tendency is
noticeable in Wolff (Joel and Amos, 302b) too, however: "The prophet leaves no
doubt that he, for his part, passionately suffered with Israel and, in solidarity with the
helpless, strove with the Almighty on their behalf (7:2, 5)."
25. Williamson ("Plumb-Line," 104) points out this problem specifically in
Wolffs theory. In his own account (ibid., 116), the narrative follows on the "plumb-
line" vision because the prophet himself is presented as "the plumb-line," the means
by which Israel is found wanting. This requires placing the decisive shift towards
judgment between the third and fourth visions, however, which underestimates "I
will never again pass by them" in v. 8c. R. O'Connell ("Telescoping N+l Patterns in
the Book of Amos," VT 46 [1996]: 56-73) offers a different kind of argument,
finding that the intrusion of the narrative into the sequence of the first four visions
yields an example of the 3 +1 pattern exhibited elsewhere in Amos, for example, in
1:3-2:16. J. Limburg ("Sevenfold Structures in the Book of Annas" JBL 106 [1987]:
217-22) had previously also identified 7:1-8:3 as a redactional unit (one of six in
Amos) on the basis of seven occurrences of divine speech-formulae in each unit.
McCONVlLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 139
of Israel" (7: lOb). Yahweh says: "I will no longer (Til? syDWK'?) pass by
them" (7:8c); Amaziah tells Amos: "You shall no longer (TIE *f DirTK
prophesy" (7:13). Other links involve "the sanctuaries C'CTTpD) of Israel"
(7:9), "the king's sanctuary (enpQ)" (7:13), the "sword" (7:9, 17), and
the name of Isaac (7:9, 16), which is unusually spelt in both places and
occurs nowhere else in Amos.
In addition may be noted the resonances
of Jacob (in the first two visions), Bethel (in the narrative), and Jeroboam
(in both parts). Jacob met God at Bethel (Gen 28:10-22), and Jeroboam I
set up a calf for worship there (1 Kgs 12; cf. Exod 32). While the
reference to "Jeroboam" may strictly be to Jeroboam II in both w. 9 and
10, Jeroboam I is also inevitably brought to mind by the theme of Bethel
and worship. These echoes between the narrative and the visions make it
clear that it has been forged into a redactional unit with them.
If, then, we have a redactional unit of visions and narrative that begins
Amos 7-9, upon what rhetorical traditions about "Israel" does this unit
rely for its rhetorical strategy? For example, does the name "Jacob" make
an implicit appeal to ancient election tradition? Paul thinks that Amos, in
his response to the first two visions, makes no appeal to "traditional
guarantees of salvation" and indeed his prayer "is not even motivated by
a reminder of Israel's election."
This is in direct contrast to Bruegge-
mann, who finds in Amos's prayers examples of an intercessory formula
rooted precisely in election and covenant, and thinks Amos himself
functioned as a covenant mediator within the southern Davidic tradi-
In these two opposing views, quite different rhetorical values are
put upon the use of the name "Jacob." Interestingly for our purposes,
these stress respectively Amos's address to the north (Paul) and his
origin in the south (Brueggemann).
A consideration of Brueggemann's approach will help us take further
our inquiry as to the rhetorical context of the visions and their terms. He
proposes a connection between Amos's plea that Jacob is "small" (|Dp)
and the Jacob narratives in Genesis. In Genesis, Jacob is "small" in the
26. These links are noted by Jeremias, Amos, 137. He refers to H. Utzschneider
for fuller analysis: "Die Amazjaerzahlung (Am 7,10-17) zwischen Literatur und
Historic," #41 (1988): 76-101. See also J. Wood, Amos in Song and Book Culture
(JSOTSup 337; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 73; and Paul, Amos,
249, on the spelling of Isaac (pHET
27. Paul, Amos, 229.
28. Brueggemann, "Intercessory Formula," 397-99; cf. M. Policy, Amos and the
Davidic Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 159. Others too have
thought that Amos was originally a salvation-prophet, active in a cultic context, for
example, E. Wiirthwein, "Amos-Studien," ZA W62 (1950): 10-52. Paul (Amos, 236)
cites Weiser and Reventlow for similar views.
140 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
sense of "younger," in contrast to Esau, who is older (Gen 27:15,42). A
similar sense of "small" occurs in a number of other texts in Genesis and
elsewhere. This smallness implies helpless dependence on another, a
feature of the Jacob narrative that reappears in his prayer to Yahweh for
help in his impending encounter with Esau on his return from Aram (Gen
The comparison between Genesis and Amos at this point is
helpful, in my view, not only because of the conjunction of "Jacob" and
"small," but also because the idea of Jacob/Israel's "smallness" as
grounds for the appeal to Yahweh is hard to account for apart from such
an explanation.
Brueggemann is less convincing, however, in his further argumen-
tation, in which he attempts to show that Amos's language, including
Kin ]Bp
D ("he is [so] small"), n^D ("forgive"), and
rrn ("cease"),
derives from a covenantal, cultic tradition and that Amos operated as a
covenant mediator within the Davidic covenant. This is based on his
view that the first two visions express a theology of divine grace, as in
the Davidic theology (2 Sam 7:18-28), and that this is resumed in Amos
The chief problem with this, I think, is that it does not account
adequately for the transition from the first two visions to the remainder
of the material in chs. 9-II.
When we read the first two visions in
29. Brueggemann, "Intercessory Formula," 386-87. Brueggemann refers also to
Rachel (Gen 29:16-18), Benjamin (Gen 42:13, 15), Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen
28:19), Saul (1 Sam 15:17), and Solomon (1 Kgs 3:7).
30. Jeremias (Amos, 128) appears to accept the same idea but without expressly
referring to Genesis: "Jacob is, after all, 'small,' that is, diminutive, powerless, and
thus incapable of life without the help and care of its God, who has taken up with the
weak... It is the name of Jacob with all its attendant associations [i.e. not merely a
name for the northern kingdom] that brings success to the intercession." He refers
further to J . Jeremias, Hosea und Amos: Studien zu den Anfangen des Dodeka-
propheton (WMANT 35; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchen Verlag, 1970), 257. Wolff
and Paul, in declining "pregnant" readings of Jacob's smallness, offer little expla-
nation of the choice of terms apart from their belief that Amos does not appeal to the
election tradition as a basis of salvation. See Wolff, Joel and Amos, 297-98, and
Paul, Amos, 229. For Wood (Amos in Song and Book, 41 and note), "small" refers
prosaically to Israel's actual weakness politically, and in the face of God's superior
might. She declines to interpret it according to wider biblical usage in the manner of
31. Brueggemann, "Intercessory Formula," 388,397-99. "Perhaps the center of
Amos is not to be found in chapters iv-v where we have usually located it but in the
promise of ix 11-15 where the fidelity of Yahweh is affirmed and therefore the
future of Israel is secured" (ibid., 399).
32. A further problem is that the covenant is not appealed to in Amos as a basis
of salvation. As Paul (Amos, 229) notes: "For the prophet, the special status of Israel
McCONViLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 141
relation to what follows we will find that Amos is postulating a concept
of Israel that is not defined by the Davidic covenant.
III. Jacob/Israel in Amos 7-9
Throughout the preceding discussion, I have suggested that the conjunc-
tion of Amos's first four visions and the narrative of his confrontation
with Amaziah has the effect of posing a quite radical question about the
true nature of Israel. While the exploration of this is most penetrating in
the narrative itself, it begins in the opening two visions (7:1-3,4-6).
A. "Jacob " in Visions One and Two
Amos 7:1 is generally taken to initiate a new section of the book by
recording two visions that surprisingly report for the first time acts of
forbearance on Yahweh's part (7:1-6). This is done, as has been widely
observed, without reference to either particular sin or repentance, though
sin is acknowledged in the prayer to "forgive." The accent is all on
Yahweh's decision to relent from his revealed purpose to bring judg-
ment. The first two visions are in a sense complete in themselves,
charting a course from vision through intercession to Yahweh's decision
to relent: "This shall not be" (7:3). More precisely, they are complete as
a pair, the conscious doubling signalled by the variation of the second
word of forbearance to "This also shall not be" (7:6). The repetition of
the pattern, like the double dream of Pharaoh (Gen 41:14-36), has the
function of reinforcement.
The variation from "forgive" (7:2) to "cease"
(7:5) even seems to tip the balance further in favour of forbearance
grounded in mercy alone.
These opening visions stir the reader's curiosity. The text is silent on
whether the visions correspond to actual disasters that almost came about
but were forestalled.
The relation of the visions to Amos's preaching up
to this point is unspecified and obscure. Indeed, they run counter to the
drift of that preaching. If Amos's rhetoric typically packs an unexpected
punch at the end of units,
here is a surprise at the beginning of a new
section. Is this a new definitive word, overturning what went before?
does not serve as a pretext for any favoured treatment or privilege, but is rather the
basis for judgment (compare Amos 3:2)."
33. Note v. 32 in particular; see C. Westermann, Genesis 3 7-5 0 (London: SPCK,
1986), 37-38.
34. This is the question which Andersen and Freedman answer by linking the
visions with the plague sequence in ch. 4.
35. See O'Connell, "Telescoping N+l Patterns," 56.
142 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Among the factors stirring the reader's curiosity are the terms that
Amos employs. In the predicate "small" we have already found an echo
of the narrative of the patriarch Jacob, and so of the merciful but
inscrutable providence of Yahweh. But the term "Jacob" in Amos 7 is
also somewhat open. We have seen above that commentators who think
it interchangeable with "Israel" have assigned it quite different values
(congruent with either north or south). In the context of these visions,
however, which, as we have seen, are also opaque in other respects, the
choice of "Jacob" seems significantly different from a choice of "Israel."
At the least "Jacob" avoids the possible ambiguity in "Israel" between
the historic people and the northern kingdom.
But there is more than
this to its rhetorical effect. The image of a "small," defenseless Jacob
trades on the notion of the individual in a way that the name "Israel"
could not, despite its bestowal on the same Jacob in Gen 32:28, because
it is customarily used to designate the nation. This is the Jacob whose
early confidence was chastened by experience into the knowledge that
he could not master people or events, let alone God, who faced Esau in
weakness and fear (Gen 33:6-12), and who was finally the helpless vic-
tim of his sons' rash actions (Gen 34:30).
Even then, the question remains how the choice of "Jacob" relates
to the Israel (or Israels) of Amos's day. Some have rightly seen that
"Jacob" here is not congruent with the extant political entities.
has no immediately obvious referent, and there is in this opacity an
invitation to inquire into what Jacob truly is. It is as if the memory of the
patriarchal tradition is held up against the realities of the day in an
expression of perplexity that has echoes of the lament.
The question
implicit in the use of the term is further accented by the strange phrase
3plP D1|T 'D. This is usually translated, "How shall Jacob stand?," but
the interrogative ''Q, regularly "Who?" in Biblical Hebrew, is admittedly
anomalous. Proposed analogies for the meaning "How?" are imperfect,
36. Cf. Jeremias, yl/Hos, 128.
37. For Jeremias (ibid.), "...'Jacob' [in Amos] never refers to the state, but rather
always to that entity which is totally focused and dependent on God."
38. Wood (Amos in Song and Book, 4142) notes an echo of 5:1-2, with its
lament for the fallen virgin Israel, especially because of the verb Dip in both places:
"there is none to raise her up" (5:2). Brueggemann ("Intercessory Formula," 394)
also finds affinities with the lament.
39. Ruth 3:16 is often cited as an analogy, where TQ fWQ is generally trans-
lated with "How," for example, "How did you fare, my daughter?" (RSV; cf. Paul,
Amos, 229). But the cases are dissimilar, since '0 in Ruth is followed by a pronoun
rather than a verb and is intelligible literally. The translation with "How?" is an
attempt to give an idiomatic rendering. Paul's alternative, the use of
Q as an
MCCONVILLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 143
and emendation to "Who will raise up Jacob?," based on LXX, unsatisfac-
Thus, there is good reason to retain the personal interrogative,
with Wolffs literal reading, "As who [ =how] can Jacob stand?"
perhaps best.
However (pace Wolff), this "As who?" is not simply a
practical equivalent of "How" but supports the rhetorical effect of the
question about the true nature of Jacob, albeit in a way that is difficult to
B. Israel and Isaac in Vision Three
We now need to ask how the next section of the discourse develops the
line of inquiry opened up by the first two visions. The third vision (7:7-
9) begins, like the first two, with the phrase ^vnn ro, "he showed me,"
but thereafter varies markedly from them. Yahweh is no longer specified
as the subject of the verb but becomes part of the vision, in which he
holds a plumb-line beside a wall (7:7) and addresses Amos, explaining
that the vision symbolizes his purpose to destroy Israel. There is no
intercession and no relenting. The dominant tone of Amos's prophecies,
with the accent on judgment, is thus resumed. Furthermore, the nomen-
clature moves towards specification: we no longer read of Jacob but of
"my people Israel," "the high places of Isaac," "the sanctuaries of Israel,"
and finally, "I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword"
(7:8-9). "My people Israel" evokes the historic people involved in the
ancient redemption from Egyptian slavery.
"Isaac" has been taken
variously to refer to the north and the south.
It may be that "high places
interrogative in later Hebrew, producing "Will Jacob survive?," is also unlikely in
the absence of evidence in Biblical Hebrew, and also, in my view, because it would
be rhetorically weak.
40. Brueggemann and others ("Intercessory Formula," 393; cf. W. R. Harper, A
Critical andExegetical Commentary on Amos andHosea [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T.
Clark, 1905], 160) read D^p"
(Hiphil), following the LXX, rather than Dip
resulting in: "Who will raise up Jacob?" The LXX presumably knew no alternative to
"Who?" for ""Q but found the construction with Qal difficult; cf. Wolff, Joel and
Amos, 292.
41. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 292. B. K. Waltke and M. O'Connor (An Introduction
to Biblical Hebrew Syntax [Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1990], 320 n. 10) find
that the use of
D in this case cannot be classified under regular uses of the pronoun
but suggest, "Who is Jacob that he can stand?" This rightly retains the personal
interrogative, but the translation needs refinement.
42. Pace Wolff, Joel and Amos, 301.
43. Wolff (Joel and Amos, 302) thinks it points to the north because of pilgrim-
ages made by northerners to Beersheba (5:5). This underestimates the force of an
allusion to Beersheba at Bethel. J. H. Hayes (Amos, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His
Times and His Preaching [Nashville: Abingdon, 1988], 206) takes the Beersheba
144 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
of Isaac" and "sanctuaries of Israel" together connote both north and
south. The triplet in v. 9 culminates, however, with the finger pointing
unmistakeably to the ruling house of the northern kingdom. Jeroboam is
named here for the first time since the superscription (1:1), and on the
brink of the encounter between Amos and Amaziah. The stage is set for a
turn to the underlying narrative of Amos's northern mission.
The third vision, in itself, has the effect of negating or at least neutral-
izing the first two. There is something ominously terminal about, "I will
no longer pass by them" (v. S).
Yet this new triad is no more conclusive
than the combination of the first two. There is an eloquent silence: should
not Amos intercede again, as we expect him to? Unlike Jeremiah, he has
not been forbidden from doing so (Jer 7:16). The postponement of the
fourth vision, which resembles the third in form, shows that the imme-
diate answer lies in the intervening narrative.
C. "Israel" in the Narrative of Amos 7:10-17
With the turn to narrative (7:10-17), the time, place, and purpose of
Amos's mission are only now fully disclosed. In 7:10, we are transported
into the royal sanctuary at Bethel, the sphere of Jeroboam, upon whom
Yahweh's word of judgment has just been announced. And we discover
for the first time that Amos is present in the north. Hitherto we have
observed only that most of his prophecies have been directed against the
north, but that in itself does not entail his presence there, any more than
his oracles against Philistia, Aram, and others (Amos 1) implied his
presence in those places. The superscription apparently placed him in
Tekoa (1:1), and Yahweh made his voice heard "from Zion" (1:2). While
Amos is inevitably read from the perspective of the information in ch. 7,
a rhetorical analysis must give due weight to the novelty of the infor-
mation at this point. Verse 10 has the effect of suddenly placing the
prophet at the heart of the kingdom upon which he has been announcing
God's judgment, facing a formidable foe in the person of "Amaziah the
priest of Bethel." This character is previously unknown but politically
diametrically opposed to Amos. In Amaziah's words, Amos is situated
"in the midst of the house of Israel."
The impact of the unexpected switch of scene, with the new light it
sheds on the setting of the prophetic words, is heightened immediately
connection to point more directly to the south and thinks Amos has a coalition of
rebellious southern cities in mind.
44. The expression*7 "QI? must be taken in a salvific sense, as is clear from the
context. It is close to the Deuteronomic ^S
? "Qtf, which signifies God's accompany-
ing presence with Israel on their successful occupation of the land (cf. Deut 9:3).
McCONVlLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 145
by the fact that the new scene is portrayed in the words of Amaziah. The
device of Amaziah's communication with Jeroboam, postponing the
crucial encounter of priest and prophet, both signals that Amos is
effectively confronting the highest power in the land and allows the
whole issue at stake to be viewed from the standpoint of that power. That
being so, the language chosen by Amaziah for his report of "conspiracy"
must be read with a careful eye on its ideological assumptions and its
intended impact on the king.
The description of Jeroboam as "king of Israel" (7:10) is not merely a
point of clarification but implies the claim that Israel is defined as the
northern state.
Amaziah then interprets Amos's words as a conspiracy
against Jeroboam himself. The threat of conspiracy may have been much
in the air in Samaria. According to 2 Kgs 15, the period between Jero-
boam and the fall of the northern kingdom comprised a succession of
short-lived reigns in which conspiracy and palace coup played a recur-
ring part.
There is no evidence of Amos having been party to such a
conspiracy against Jeroboam, and, as Hayes points put, no other Old
Testament prophet met this precise accusation.
Amaziah's accusation of a conspiracy of regicide is now located "in
the midst of the house of Israel" (SKHCTTI'O DlpD). In this expression
Amaziah both echoes and departs from Yahweh's words in the second
vision, "in the midst of my people Israel" ("aner
DI 7 mpH, 7:8).
Jeremias rightly observes the statist tendency of this shift: "The differ-
ence between the two formulations is that in the first case, the election
('my people') is threatened, and in the second the state ('the house of
Israel...'). This underscores the enormous difference from the very
outset in the perspectives of God and of Amaziah."
The perspective of
Amaziah, indeed, is shaped by the fact that he represents the cult at
Bethel, which, according to Kings, is synonymous with the establishment
of the non-Jerusalemite succession to Solomon in a northern state. The
whole language of the priest must be heard accordingly. When he says
"the land" (HDl^n, 7:8, 1 Ib), he echoes the Deuteronomic language in
which "the land" (both HQln and pKH) is Yahweh's gift to his chosen
45. One is reminded of the repeated designation of Ahab as "the king of Israel"
in 1 Kgs 20, with certain ironic connotations; cf. 2 Kgs 3:9-20. Jeremias's (Amos.
138 n. 7) remark that the phrase shows the text "is directed at Judean readers" fails
to pick up this ideological note.
46. See Jeremias, Amos, 138, for other echoes of Kings in Amos 7.
47. Hayes (Amos, 232) notes that Uriah and Jeremiah both drew down the wrath
of the authorities but without being charged with conspiracy as such (Jer 26:7-24;
cf. 37:11-15). Isa 8:12 is perhaps closer, if it implies an accusation of Isaiah.
48. Jeremias, Amos, 138.
146 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
people Israel, but he means by it the land of the state of Israel. In his
view this is distinct by definition from "the land of Judah" (miIT j* ")N,
7:12), with a line between them across which Amos can be deported.
Amaziah's language presents the northern state as the true heir to the
covenantal privileges of Yahweh's chosen people. The land indeed
cannot bear the words of a prophet (7: lOc) who calls such an account of
Israel into question.
Amaziah's report of Amos's words also expresses his own agenda. In
7:9, Amos threatened that Yahweh would "rise against the house of
Jeroboam with the sword," but Amaziah turns this into a threat against
Jeroboam himself (7:11), in line with his accusation of conspiracy.
Amos had threatened exile (Amos 6:7; cf. 5:5, 27), but Amaziah
formulates his report of the prophet's words to reiterate the connection
between "Israel" and "his land" in such a way as to assert by implication
his own belief in their inseparability.
The clash between Amos and Amaziah comes to a head in their
exchange recorded in 7:12-17. In these verses, scholarly discussion has
focused on Amos's denial that he was (or had been) a N"OD (7:14). Was
Amos denying that he was a IT 3D even as he spoke to Amaziah, or that
he had not been one until Yahweh had called him from his regular work?
Either is possible, since his exact words contain no verb. Context offers
no conclusive guidance. Either way, he insists on divine warrant for his
mission. It is probably best to suppose he means that he has never been
one of those who might be recognized as prophets but that he now asserts
his divine authority to "prophesy."
Amos's response to being called run
is to talk about his right to "prophesy," or be a prophet (N'OD), and this
may merely mean that he equates the two terms.
In that case, it is part
of Amos's concern to rebuff his opponent's implication that he is a time-
49. In fact the sword would fall on Jeroboam's son Zechariah (2 Kgs 15:8-10).
Amaziah's reported words of Amos do not support the view that Amos prophesied
wrongly concerning Jeroboam and that his error was later corrected by the editor
responsible for v. 9 (as Wolff, Joel and Amos, 295,310). This mistakenly supposes
that Amaziah reports Amos factually. Hayes (Amos, 207, 233) rightly sees that w.
10-17 represent a take on what Amos said, not necessarily what he actually said (cf.
Paul, Amos, 240).
50. Wolff and Paul are close on this point. See Paul's full account of the issues in
Amos, 24347; cf. Wolff, Joel and Amos, 312-13. Amos's experience is in this
respect close to Jeremiah's, who had to contend that his prophetic words could only
be verified apart from publicly acknowledged prophetic status (Jer 23:9-40; 28).
51. Paul (Amos, 241; cf. Hayes, Amos, 233-34) says that Amos's response gives
an "oblique identification of the two terms." Wolff (Joel and Amos, 309a), in
contrast, thinks Amaziah may actually have used the term IT 31
McCONVlLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 147
Yet is there a function in this dissonance between the priest's use of
HTn and the prophet's use of WD3? It has been thought that the former
might be a distinctively southern term, while the latter was more at home
in the north. While this is not sustainable as a general rule, Amaziah's
employment of HTFI is bound up with his instruction that Amos should go
back to his own country. The issue about Amos's status is not just
whether he is a true prophet, but how his prophetic calling relates to
Israel. In his response to the priest, Amos refuses to engage the terms of
Amaziah's polemic: he declares Amaziah's radical distinction between
Israel and Judah false and invalid. To the priest's reduction of Amos to
"a seer in Judah," Amos responds that he is authorized to prophesy to
what Yahweh calls "my people Israel." There is no overt response to the
statist claim about Bethel, with its near-incantational bid to put it beyond
the reach of reproach: "for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of
the kingdom" (7:13). Rather, Amos's unexpected line, "my people
Israel," repudiates this claim by arguing that Yahweh's Israel is not the
same as Amaziah's Israel. Amos's assertion of his own qualification to
prophesy simultaneously challenges both his opponent's qualification to
dispose over prophecy and the authenticity of his authority in Israel.
Where Amaziah says: "Go, flee away to the land of Judah," Amos calls
in evidence Yahweh's contrary word: "Go, prophesy to my people
Israel." The dialogue culminates in a proclamation by which Amos,
citing the priest's prohibition of his prophetic activity, defies him by
uttering a word of judgment, which not only invokes exile on Israel, but
also exile and ruin for Amaziah himself. If Amaziah had some kind of
final word in the form of an escort to the border, the editor of Amos
allows him no response to this.
D. Re-Imagining "Israel"
As we come to the fourth vision (8:1-3), we not only recognize that the
pattern of the third vision is now repeated, and thus we return in a sense
to a previously established train of thought (inevitable ruin), but we have
also witnessed Amos's deconstruction of the false notion of Israel held
by Amaziah, the priest of Bethel. "My people Israel" is now understood
to be a different entity from "the house of Israel" construed as "the house
of Jeroboam." The force of Amos's searching plea, "How can Jacob
stand?" comes more clearly into focus. Amos of Tekoa, preaching in
Bethel, takes in the full sweep of the northern and southern kingdoms
and confronts both with the destiny of Israel.
The final two chapters of the book tend to evoke Israel in its largest
scope. In 8:13-14, Amos's habit of criticizing the worship at certain
sanctuaries recurs, with the triad of Samaria, Dan, and Beersheba. While
148 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Samaria and Dan need no special explanation in the context, the pairing
of Dan and Beersheba occurs in other contexts as a way of expressing the
full extent of the land incorporating both Israel and Judah.
ancient association with the patriarchs, furthermore, suggests that it
should not be viewed in Amos as merely a place of resort for northerners.
At other points, however, Amos's language shows a studied ambiguity,
and might be taken to refer to either the northern kingdom or the historic
people. In the fourth vision, for example, the phrase "the songs
of the
temple shall become wailing on that day" (8:3 NRSV) is admittedly
ambiguous, since"EDTF might be palace, and even, though less probably,
the sanctuary at Bethel (which was ETTpQ in 7:13). Commentators often
take it, along with the reference to "the altar" in 9:1, in the context of
Bethel, because of their understanding that Amos still essentially
addresses the north.
What Amos actually had in mind when he uttered
this line is beyond our reach. In terms of the text as it stands, with the
nature of Israel posed afresh to the reader or hearer as a question, and the
image of Yahweh "roaring from Zion" in the farther background (1:2), a
reference to the songs of the Jerusalem temple comes readily to mind.
The same is true for the vision of Yahweh standing beside "the altar" in
9:1. The idea of such a vision at Bethel, though unparalleled, cannot be
excluded, since this is an appearance of Yahweh in judgment. But Bethel
is not specified, and so once again the language and ideas can equally
imply Jerusalem. It follows that ch. 8 in its entirety can be taken to relate
to all Israel in the whole land on the grounds that Amos has turned the
concepts of people and land in that direction. The closure of the chapter
with the reference to Beersheba supports this conclusion.
This broad concept of Israel continues in Amos 9, which opens with
an echo of the temple and moves through to a vision of restoration whose
scope is clearly the whole people and land. Amos's rhetoric turns
explicitly to the tradition of the election of Israel in 9:7-8, as it did at 3:2.
52. Cf. 1 Sam 3:20; 2 Sam 3:10; 17:11; 24:2. This isrecognized by Andersen and
Freedman (Amos, 707), who say of the text: "Because the three named cover the full
length of both countries or greater Israel, they seem to be representative rather than
53. "Songs" is a hapax legomenon often taken as "songstresses" (see Wolff,
Joel and Amos, 317, and Paul, Amos, 254b). Andersen and Freedman (Amos, 798)
moderate, saying that the expression "should mean singers but apparently means
'songs.'" The reading "songstresses" may push the meaning towards "palace," but
the point is moot.
54. Andersen and Freedman, Amos, 798,835; Paul, Amos, 254b, 274; Jeremias,
Amos, 145-46; D. A. Hubbard, Joel and Amos (TOTC; Leicester: InterVarsity Press,
1989), 219.
McCONVELLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 149
In both these places, expectations associated with election are turned on
their head, and the point is comprehensible only in terms of the notion of
the ancient unified people. In the light of w. 7 and 8, it is clear that the
thrust of 9:1-10 is to dismantle the election of the historic people: "all of
them" (D^D, v. I),
"sons of Israel" ("aner 'Dn, v. 7), "house of Jacob"
rrn, v. 8), and "house of Israel" ('arier rT3, v. 9) all refer in effect
to the historic people. So too does the "sinful kingdom" (rtNBnn ra'^DDD,
v. 8a). This phrase chimes with 7:13, where the "house of the kingdom"
(ro^DQ ITQ) is expressly northern, but the chord struck is ironic, because
the new context shows that it is Israel in its broadest sense that suffers
this accusatory epithet.
The effect of w. 7-8ab is to challenge the concept of election. Verse
8c (" 'except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,' says the
LORD") is also to be understood in this context. It is a mistake to try to
apportion separate meanings to the names in these verses in order to
overcome the difficulty of contradiction hi v. 8.
The plain sense of w. 7
and 8 is that the whole historic people is intended throughout. The final
line, in that case, is to be reckoned with as what it is, a word of grace
supervening on a word of judgment, that is, a non-sequitur exactly mir-
roring the non-sequitur that occurred in the progression from the first two
visions to the third, where grace gave way to judgment. Judgment now
gives way to grace. The mercy of Yahweh towards his people will come
by means of a differentiating judgment (Amos 9:9-10). Then, however,
restoration will follow (w. 11-15).
In the final passage (9:11-15), the vision of restoration is evidently a
vision of Israel in its broadest sense. The reference to raising "the booth
of David that is falling" (9:11) is too narrowly understood if taken to
mean the restoration of the primacy of Jerusalem and Judah. The critique
of all Israel has been too thoroughgoing for such a conclusion. The
allusion to David evokes the promises of perpetuity, and the Edom
connection (9:12), with its origins in the Jacob story, recalls Israel's
ancient election by another route. The image of the bountiful restored
land has echoes of Exodus and Deuteronomy (Exod 3:17; 33:3; Deut
6:10-11; 8:7-10; 11:10-12); "my people Israel" (9:14) is the historic
people and the land the whole land.
55. The first half of v. I b is obscure, but the term D^D is clear.
56. Here I differ directly with Andersen and Freedman (Amos, 869): "The refer-
ence to 'kingdom' could be an oblique attack on some specific monarchical regime.
In the wake of chap. 7, it could only be that of Jeroboam" (emphasis added). In my
view the effect of ch. 7 on the meaning of chs. 8-9 is diametrically opposed to this.
57. As Andersen and Freedman (Amos, 124-25; 869-70) do.
150 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
IV. Conclusion: Israel in Amos 7-9
I have argued that Amos's prayer following his first two visions (Amos
7:1-6), and his use of the name "Jacob" in that prayer, function to open
the question of who Israel really is. The confrontation with Amaziah at
Bethel sharpens the issue by highlighting the division of Israel, north and
south. Yet the issue is not a simple clash of rival claims.
Rather, Amos
deconstructs Amaziah's equation of Israel with the northern state and re-
directs attention to the fundamental calling of historic Israel. The
narrative's interruption of the vision sequence paves the way for a
reading not only of the fourth vision but of the remainder of the book.
The inbuilt ambiguity of some of the language there ("Israel," "people,"
"land") is best understood, especially following 7:10-17, as referring to
the historic nation in relation to its vocation.
Paradoxically, the refutation of the northern kingdom's claim to
embody historic Israel has an impact on Judah too. This may count as
one of those rhetorical surprises for which Amos is known (not unlike
the oracle against the northern kingdom in 2:6-16). The exploration of
what is truly Israel has been won via a confrontation with a candidate to
be "Israel." Judah may become anotherand others down the line. Yet
no claimant to be "Israel" can assert that it embodies "Israel" absolutely
or unconditionally.
Amos's rhetoric has the effect of always bringing
hearers back to first principles.
The message of Amos goes deeper than
the simple question of whether he speaks only to and about the north and
whether he speaks only about a coming once-for-all judgment on that
nation. The issue is always the nature and prospect of salvation. Bruegge-
mann rightly sees that the theology of grace invoked in the first two
visions re-emerges in 9:11-15.
What the sequence of visions, narrative,
and oracles in chs. 7-9 establishes, however, is that forms of "Israel"
58. Pace Coote(Amos Among the Prophets, 48), who finds in his "Amos B" "a
religiopolitical opposition between Bethel and Jerusalem as cult sanctuaries." Like-
wise pace Policy (Amos and the Davidic Empire), who thinks Amos has a southern
nationalist agenda.
59. R. Bach (Die Aufforderungen zur Flucht und zum Kampf im alttesta-
mentlichen Prophetenspruch [WMANT 9; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag,
1962] ,155; cited in Paul, Amos, 100) rightly observes, with respect to Amos 3:1-2;
5:25; 9:7: "Amos refers to two 'Israels': the nation =northern Israel, (and) a people
with a history.. .two repositories of IsraelIsrael and Judah." But these "reposito-
ries" have only passing and relative status and are subject to prophetic correction.
60. Jeremias (Amos, 128 n. 3 7) expresses this when he offers his interpretation of
the name Jacob.
61. See Brueggemann, "Intercessory Formula," 388, 397-99.
McCONViLLE "How can Jacob stand? He is so small!" 151
that co-opt the traditions of election and covenant to support a statism
that must defend itself at all costs are liable to judgment, and that the
way of salvation lies in the recovery of a true vocation to be God's elect
Oded Borowski
During his scholarly career, John Hayes has dealt in depth with the
prophetic literature, especially its connection to historical situations and
events. In his honor I devote this paper to the examination of a particular
term used by the prophet Amos (and also found in Jeremiah and
Zechariah), in order to see if it can be identified and illustrated with
material culture examples supplied by archaeology. I hope in doing so
we can get a clearer picture of the background of the text, and in
particular, the offenses that Amos found so egregious.
In Amos 6:4-6 we read:
You loll on beds inlaid with ivory
and lounge on your couches;
you feast on lambs from the flock
and stall-fed calves;
you improvise on the lute
and like David invent musical instruments;
you drink from ]"
and anoint yourself with the richest of oils...
The biblical term plTD is quite puzzling. The term appears frequently in
a cultic context.
For the Hebrew term }" ""pHTD in Amos 6:6, Philip J.
King offers the traditional translation "wine bowls" and further claims
that these bowls were used in the marzeah ritual.
King offers two
1. See, e.g., Zech 14:20 and 2 Chr 4:8. The plTD discussed here (pi. D'pnTQ) is
probably different then the ones named mplTD (nplTD) that appear in Exod 27:3;
38:3; Neh 7:69. Also, thep~I TD mentioned in Num 7 must be a different vessel since
it is used to hold a mixture of flour. The references in Exodus and Numbers are
identified as being from P, thus likely being much later than Amos, as well.
2. P. J. King, "The marzeah: Textual and Archaeological Evidence," Erlsr 20
(1989): 98-106. For the marzeah more generally, see J. L. McLaughlin, The mar-
zeah in the Prophetic Literature: References and Allusions in Light of the Extra-
Biblical Evidence (VTSup 86; Leiden: Brill, 2001).
BOROWSKI The Biblical p-rtti 153
examples of bowls that might have been used in the performance of the
marzeah, one from an uncertain provenance in Lebanon and the other
from Dan.
The one from Lebanon has an inscription dedicating "two
cups to the marzeah of Shamash"
however, the term inscribed on the
bowl itself is DIDp rather than p~lTQ. The biblical equivalent of DIDp is
ninp, which appears in Isa 51:17 and 51:22 and in both instances it is
connected with DID ("cup"), a use which suggests that DIOp indeed was
an open vessel, possibly a bowl. This still leaves the term plTQ unex-
plained, and I would like to suggest that this term refers to the ring kernos
and the kernos-type bowl. My suggestion is based on the cultic nature of
the vessel and on a linguistic analysis of its name.
First, what is a kernos? A kernos is a clay vessel made of a tubular
ring with protrusions attached to its top (Fig. 1). These protrusions are in
the shape of animals or birds, fruit (pomegranates), or other objects all of
which are hollow. The number of the protrusions can range from as few
as four (Fig. 2)
to as many as eight.
Most ring kernoi come from Iron
Age I levels and the majority are connected with Philistine sites or sites
where Philistine cultural influence can be detected. It has been suggested
that the origins of this type of vessel are in either Cyprus or the Aegean
In addition, some vessels that are not actually ring kernoi are consid-
ered kernos-type. One example is the kernos bowl from Beth Shemesh,
which has a tubular ring forming its rim and two animal heads attached
to the ring on opposite sides. One head is raised and is pointed forward
while the other is attached behind and is bowed down as if drinking from
the bowl (Figs. 3 and 4).
Another example is the Iron Age II rimmon-
bowl from Tell Halif, which has a hollow clay pomegranate attached in
the center of a red burnished, shallow bowl.
3. King, "The marzeab" 104-5.
4. Ibid, 104.
5. See Z. Gal, "A Kernos from Horvat Rosh Zayit in Lower Galilee," Qad 23,
no. 1-2 (1990): 51-52, and also idem, "Two Kemoi from Lower Galilee," Atiqot 23
(1993): 121-24, esp. Fig. 2.
6. See R. Amiran, The Ancient Pottery of Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem: Bialik
Institute, 1963), 366 PI. 358.
7. See T. Dothan, The Philistines and their Material Culture (Jerusalem: Israel
Exploration Society, 1982), 225 PI. 8 and 226 Fig. 4. A similar vessel is shown in
Gal, "Two Kernoi from Lower Galilee," Fig. 3.
8. See J. D. Seger and O. Borowski, "The First Two Seasons at Tell Halif," BA
40 (1977): 156-66; O. Borowski, "News from the Field: Tell HalifBiblical
Rimmon(?)," BA 40 (1977): 99; idem, "The Pomegranate Bowl from Tell Halif," IEJ
45 (1995): 150-54.
Figure 1. Kernos ring from Beth Shan (middle)
flanked by fragments of other rings with bird protrusions
(courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
Figure 2. Kernos ring from Rosh Zayit (courtesy of Z. Gal)
Figure 3. Kernos bowl from Beth Shemesh
(courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)
Figure 4. Drawing of a kernos bowl from Beth Shemesh
(T. Dothan, The Philistines and Their Material Culture;
by permission of the author)
156 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
In describing the cultic use of ring kernoi, Trude Dothan notes that
"each of the attached vessels was connected to the hollow ring, so that
any liquid poured into one vessel would circulate and could be poured
out again through the bull," adding that "it can safely be assumed that
these kernoi were used in ritual libations."
It is most likely that kernos
vessels were used in cultic rituals, and Dothan is also correct in her
suggestion concerning the way bowl kernoi were used, especially those
with two animal heads. According to her, "[I]f one were to suck at the
spout (the bull facing forward), any liquid in the bowl would be drawn
up into the mouth of the other (drinking) bull, along the tubular rim, and
out through the spout."
This method was probably used also with ring
kernoi. Furthermore, as suggested by Dothan, tipping the ring kernoi
forward when it was full was another way of using this vessel; the front
of the vessel can be carefully tipped down so the liquid would pour out
in an arch from the spout to the mouth of the drinker.
It appears that the ring was filled through a cup-shaped protrusion,
which in many kernoi, such as those from Megiddo and Rosh Zayit, is
positioned opposite the spouted animal. The other protrusions have very
small openings not large enough for pouring in liquid.
It seems that the
air hole at the top of each protrusion could be blocked by the fingers of
the worshipper sucking from the ring kernos or by the priest holding the
kernos and ministering. By blocking the holes, a large amount of liquid
could be sucked out. With one of the holes of any of the protrusions
uncovered, however, the kernos could be refilled with liquid even during
the "sucking ceremony" and thus the ring could have been kept full con-
tinuously while, one after the other, worshippers would suck the liquid
out of the spout. Thus, the ring kernos could serve a long line of wor-
shippers without interruption, while the kernos bowl allowed only a limi-
ted number of worshippers to suck liquid before having to stop for a refill.
Now, how can we tie together the cultic vessel we call kernos and the
p"lTQ? The termp~)TQ stems from the root p"IT that appears frequently in
the Old Testament in cultic context and can mean "to throw, cast" and
"to sprinkle, scatter."
As mentioned above, the traditional translation
9. Dothan, The Philistines, 222.
10. Ibid., 224.
11. Some protrusions, such as those resembling birds, do not have any openings.
12. See L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Hebrdisches undAramdisches Lexikon
zum alien Testament (5 vols. and supplement; Leiden: Brill, 1967), 2:272, who
interpret the verb p~lT I as "sprengen, werfen" and interpret the root in Akkadian as
"schutten"; see CAD, 21:65 for zaraqu, "to sprinkle (liquids)"; and Affw 3:1515 for
zaraqu(m), "(be)sprengen, streuen." Mishnaic and Talmudic language support the
association of pIT with "throw" or "cast" rather than "sprinkle." See D. G. H. Dalman,
BOROWSKI The Biblical p-V 157
for p~lTQ is "bowl," and, indeed, translators have sought to connect this
bowl with throwing, as evidenced by BDB's suggestion "bowl, basin
(prob. vessel for throwing or tossing a liquid)."
However, it would be
much more appropriate to identify the p~lTQ with the kernos. As described
above, drinking from a kernos can be done by suction, and it can be used
for pouring also, like a spouted jar. Since in the latter instance the liquid
is being thrown in an arch from the vessel to the mouth of the drinker,
the ring kernos as p")TD fits very well with the root p"lT.
This identification of the ring kernos as Amos's p~)TD makes the
behavior of the drinkers in Amos 6 easier to visualize and the prophet's
disgust easier to understand. One gets the impression, upon reading
Amos 6:4-6, that he describes a Bacchanalia of the worst kind. What
would be more disgusting than watching the drunken nobility pouring
wine into their mouths, and even missing it, creating a big mess?
One final note about the p""!TQ: on the basis of Jer 16:5, King concludes
that the marzeah was, at times, connected with mourning and funerary
The discovery of the nwmow-bowl, a kernos-type vessel, at an
Iron Age II tomb at Tell Halif, and the fact that the rimmon (pomegran-
ate) was considered in the ancient Near East a symbol of life and fertility,
strongly suggest that kernoi were used at funerary rituals.
How ironic,
then, that the revelers in Amos 6 act out a ritual appropriate for a funeral
without concern for the "ruin of Joseph."
Aramdisch-Neuhebrdisches Handworterbuch zu Targum, Talmud und Midrash
(Gottingen: Pfeiffer, 1938), 134, and J. Levy, Worterbuch iiber die Talmudim und
Midrashim (Berlin: Hartz 1924), 556.
13. BDB, 284; see also L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Lexicon in Veteris
Testamenti Libros (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1953), 511, who interpret it as a "bowl (for
tossing; of metal)" and the term in Amos 6:6 as "Weinschale." Similarly, W. L.
Holladay, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Grand
Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 189, calls it "metal sprinkling basin." W. Gesenius,
Hebrdisches und Aramdisches Handworterbuch iiber des alte Testament (Leipzig:
Vogel, 1910), 408, interprets the term in Amos 6:6 as "Weinkrater," and B. Davis,
Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (London: Asher & Co., 1872),
345, calls it "a sprinkler or basin, for sacrificial use" that in Amos 6:6 is, more spe-
cifically, "a wine-bowl, perhaps so called from its resemblance to the sacred basin."
All of these interpretations do not relate at all to the archaeological evidence. No
metal bowl dating to the Iron Age II has been found in archaeological excavations.
14. King, "The marzeah" 100, citing D. Bryan, "Texts Relating to the Marzeah:
A Study of an Ancient Semitic Institution" (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University,
1973), M. H. Pope, "A Divine Banquet at Ugarit: Response to Sasson on the
Sublime Song," Maarav 2, no. 2 (1979-80): 207-14 (209), and B. Margalit, "The
Ugaritic Tale of the Drunken Gods: Another Look at RS 24.258 (KTU 1.114),"
Maarav 2, no. 1 (1979-80): 65-120.
15. Borowski, "The Pomegranate Bowl from Tell Halif," 150-54.
Stuart A. Irvine
Historical reconstruction and the study of Hebrew prophecy are mutually
supportive. On the one hand, the prophets often speak about people and
events in poetic, figurative, even cryptic language, and usually they
assume, rather than state explicitly, the situations they address. Modern
interpreters must reconstruct those situations primarily on the basis of
historiographical texts, for example, the biblical books of Kings and
Near Eastern inscriptions. Only then can they hope to grasp the import of
the prophetic speeches for ancient audiences. On the other hand, the
speeches themselves can serve as sources for historical reconstruction.
They occasionally provide information that contributes to an understand-
ing of Israel's past, especially the settings in which the prophets preached.
Relating prophets and history has been a prominent feature of John
Hayes's scholarship during the past twenty years. Our commentary on
Isaiah, as well as his on Amos, regard the prophets as orators concerned
with the political and social developments of their time, and interpret
their speeches in the light of very specific and often novel historical
Conversely, in works devoted primarily to Israelite his-
tory, Hayes frequently cites prophetic texts as evidence for the historical
details of the eighth through sixth centuries B.C.E.
This practice is espe-
cially clear in an article written with J effrey Kuan on the final decade of
the northern kingdom.
A brief examination of their reconstruction of
1. J. H. Hayes and S. A. Irvine, Isaiah, the Eighth-Century Prophet: His Times
and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1987); J. H. Hayes, Amos, the Eighth-
Century Prophet: His Times and His Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon, 1988).
2. J. M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel andJudah (Philadel-
phia: Westminster, 1986). See especially Chapters 10-14.
3. J. H. Hayes and J. K. Kuan, "The Final Years of Samaria (730-720 BC)," Bib
72 (1991): 153-81.
IRVINE Relating Prophets and History 159
events in 725-724 B.C.E. serves to highlight the potential usefulness of
prophetic texts as historical witnesses.
According to Hayes and Kuan, the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V
campaigned to the west in the late spring and summer of 725 B.C.E. His
goal was to subjugate Tyre and Israel, both of whom had revolted the
previous year. The king moved first against Israel. He destroyed Beth-
Arbel (Hos 10:14), looted the royal sanctuary of Bethel and confiscated
its calf image (Hos 10:15a), attacked and captured Samaria (Babylonian
Chronicle l.i.28; Isa 32:14), arrested and imprisoned the Israelite king
Hoshea (2 Kgs 17:4b; Hos 10:15b), and ordered the provincialization of
the state. Subsequently, Shalmaneser marched against Tyre, and when he
failed to conquer the city, he placed it under a blockade that would last
until the fall of 722 B.C.E. (Josephus, Ant. 9.283-87; Hos 9:13). As
Assyrian forces fought against Tyre in 725, the Israelites rebelled again.
They enthroned a new king in Hoshea's place and established a new
sanctuary, with a new calf icon, in or near Samaria (Hos 8:46; 10:5;
Nimrud Inscription of Sargon II, Fragment D. col. IV:32). In the fall of
724, Shalmaneser responded to the revolt by invading "the whole land"
and besieging the capital city (2 Kgs 17:5; 18:9). The Assyrian siege of
Samaria would last until the fall of 722 B.C.E. (2 Kgs 17:6; 18:10-11).
While much of the evidence for this scenario comes from histo-
riographical texts, the contribution of prophetic speeches is clear. One
may observe, furthermore, that the value of the speeches as reflections of
historical events depends often on translations that avoid unwarranted
emendations of the Masoretic text (MT). Thus, for example, Hayes and
Kuan retain "TUJ
? in Hos 9:13a and thereby preserve the allusion to the
siege of Tyre: "Ephraim, just as I have seen Tyre.. .so Ephraim will lead
his sons to slaughter" (cf. NRSV). Or again, in Hos 10:15, they retain
* * rrT3 and translate the perfect verb n&U in the past tense. Thus, they
see a reflection of Shalmaneser's actions against the sanctuary of Bethel:
"Just as he [Shalmaneser] did to you, O Bethel..." (cf. RSV and JB).
In the rest of this essay, I wish to continue the work of Hayes and
Kuan by exploring the possibility that Hos 13:15a is another allusion to
circumstances during the last years of Israel. As with many texts in the
book of Hosea, the interpretation of this passage involves issues of text
and translation.
I. The Translation of Hosea 13:15 a
Hosea 13:15-14:1 predicts imminent disaster upon Ephraim. The pas-
sage begins, J^HST DTTK p Kin "* D, and then threatens, "an east wind
shall come, a wind from Yahweh is about to ascend from the wilderness,
160 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
and his [Ephraim's] fountain shall dry up
and his spring shall run dry."
The description of punishment continues: Ephraim's treasury shall be
plundered (13:15b|3) and Samaria shall be conquered with excessive
brutality (14:1).
The opening*3 clause in v. 15 appears to say literally, "Although he
among brothers flourishes."
Most scholars regard the clause as prob-
lematic because its meaning within the immediate context is obscure and
because it views Ephraim as simply one of several brethren tribes that
constituted Israel, especially in pre-monarchical times. Elsewhere in the
book of Hosea, the name Ephraim refers to the whole northern kingdom
of the prophet's own day, not to one tribe among others. This is true even
in an earlier section of ch. 13, where the names Ephraim and Israel are
used synonymously (13:9, 12).
The usual solution is to emend the MT. For example, William Rainey
Harper changes DTIK p to infc D^Q pD and translates the line, "Although
he, as does the reed-grass in water, shows fruitfulness."
Theodore H.
Robinson reads ima for DTTK p and msr for WIST, and thus he ren-
ders the text, "Wenn es wie Riedgras bliiht."
James L. Mays, following
Hans Walter Wolff, emends irisr DTTK to KnSD 1FTK and translates,
"Though he were to flourish midst the rushes."
Jorg Jeremias handles
the Hebrew in the same way, and the reading proposed by Douglas Stuart
is similar.
Most of the major translations speak of Ephraim flourishing
among "reeds" (see NRSV, NJPSV, JB, NEB, and TEV), and so they too
reflect the same change of DTfN ("brothers") to inN ("reeds, rushes,
4. Read CET1 (the Qal of BT, "be dry") for the MT's BIT! ("and he shall be
ashamed"). Cf. the LXX'S ("he shall dry up [his veins]"), which seems to assume a
Hiphil form of 2D\
5. This translation regards the preposition in the MT as a defective spelling of)
("between, among") and the verb tiHST as a Hiphil form of the root ms ("be fruit-
fill"). See GKC, 216-17 (par. 75rr).
6. W. R. Harper, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Amos and Hosea
(ICC; New York: Scribner's, 1905), 402, 406. J. Wellhausen earlier proposed the
same emendation (Die kleinen Propheten ubersetzt underkldrt [3d ed.; Berlin: de
Gruyter, 1898], 133).
7. T. Robinson and F. Horst, Die zwolf kleinen Propheten (2d ed.; HAT 14;
Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1954), 52.
8. J .Mays,Hosea(OTL;Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 179,183;H. Wolff,
Hosea (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974), 222.
9. J. Jeremias, Der Prophet Hosea (AID 24/1; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &
Ruprecht, 1983), 160; D. Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (WBC 31; Waco, Tex.; Word, 1982),
IRVINE Relating Prophets and History 161
The noun I ffK is an Egyptian loan-word that occurs only three other
times in the Hebrew Bible. Job 8:11 hints at the demise of the godless by
asking rhetorically, "Can reeds flourish where there is no water?"
Genesis 41:2 and 18, which narrate a dream of Pharaoh, speak of sleek
and fat cows rising from the Nile River and grazing "in the reed grass."
The rarity of this noun presumably helps to explain why the Masoretic
copyists failed to recognize it in Hos 13:15 a. The word provides a floral
image that is thought to fit well with the subsequent threat against
Ephraim's sources of water (cf. again Job 8:11). Wolff suggests further
that, as an Egyptian loan-word, I ON makes for an apt allusion to the
Egyptian king and military, whose help the Israelites solicited in 725-
724 B.C.E. for their rebellion against Assyria (see 2 Kgs 17:4a).
As sensible as the case for emendation may seem, it suffers from a
complete lack of textual support in the ancient Versions. For example,
the Septuagint (LXX) reads "Because this one in the midst of brothers
(a8eX(j)cc)v) shall cause a division." The Vulgate reads, "Because he shall
make a separation between brothers (frates)" Likewise, the Peshitta
reads, "Because of him, the house of brothers (>/p) is divided," and the
Targum translates, "For they are called sons (p3), but corrupt deeds
they have multiplied." The Greek, Latin, and Syriac readings all match
the MT in regard to the word "brothers" but not in regard to the verb
(they appear to assume I"
, the Hiphil of "PS, meaning "divide, sepa-
rate," rather than tVIS
). The Aramaic translation of the Targum is highly
paraphrastic, and it is difficult to discern the exact Hebrew text behind it.
Like the other versions, however, it knows nothing of the image of
A few commentators retain the MT but construe the verb as a Hiphil
denominative related to the noun K1S, "wild ass." Andersen and Freed-
man thus render the Hebrew, "He became the wild one among his
The translation of Macintosh is similar: "Since he is the one
who behaves wilfully among brothers."
According to these scholars, the
prophet employs the verb N'HB'
here as a pun on the name Ephraim
(D'HSK) and thereby suggests that, by its essential character, the nation is
10. Wolff, Hosea, 224, 228.
11. The specific restoration ofinN p in v. 15a is objectionable for another
reason. The word iriK is a collective noun which, as Gen 41:2 and 18 indicate,
properly goes with the preposition 3, notp. Cf. A. A. Macintosh, Hosea: A Critical
andExegetical Commentary on Hosea (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997), 551.
12. F. I. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Hosea (AB 24; Garden City, N.Y.:
Doubleday, 1980), 625, 640.
13. Macintosh, Hosea, 550-52.
162 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
wild, wilful, or selfish. Hosea 8:9 supposedly supports this view by attest-
ing the same word-play: "For they have gone up to Assyria, a wild ass
(K~!S) wandering alone; Ephraim has bargained for lovers." As for the
reference in 13:15a to Ephraim's wildness specifically "among brothers,"
Macintosh explains that "the contemporary nation in relation to its
neighbors is pictured as if in terms of the eponymous son of Joseph and
his relationship with his brothers (cf. Gen 48:19)."
A close look at all of Hosea's puns on "Ephraim" raises doubt about
this interpretation. The prophet plays on the name four times, and in two
instances he clearly connects it with a nominal form ofms, "be fruit-
ful." Hosea 9:16 thus reads: "Ephraim has been struck, their root is dried
up, they shall not bear fruit (HB)." The divine speech in 14:9 presents
the same pun: "Ephraim, what are cultic images any longer to me?... I
am like an evergreen tree, from me your fruit CyHS) is found."
The MT in Hos 8:9 does describe Ephraim as a "wild ass wandering
alone," but the image seems to conflict with the rest of v. 9, which speaks
of the nation's association with Assyria and "lovers." Elsewhere I have
argued for repointing the Hebrew here as D'HSIJ "ft TH N"1S and trans-
lating the sentence, "Ephraim has sprouted up on his own." As a form of
mB, the verb K"}2 is reflected by the LXX ("flourishes"), and the idea of
the nation "sprouting" fits well with the agricultural imagery and talk of
consumption in 8:7-8a.
If this translation of 8:9 is accepted, three of Hosea's four puns on
Ephraim relate the name to the root ms, "be fruitful," and so the likeli-
hood of the same word-play in the fourth instance, 13:15a, is strong.
There, too, the image of the nation "flourishing" fits the immediate con-
text, which predicts the drying up of the nation's "spring" and "fountain."
The best solution to the problem of 13:15a is to retain the MT and
rethink the meaning of DTFK. The noun PIN literally means "brother," but
occasionally it has the political connotation of "ally." In 1 Kgs 9:13, for
14. Ibid., 552.
15. See S. A. Irvine, "Politics and Prophetic Commentary in Hosea 8:8-10,"
JBL114 (1995): 292-94.1 argue further that the sentence should be (a) moved from
v. 9 to a position immediately after v. 8a, and (b) understood as an allusion to the
Israelite rebellion in 725-724 B.C.E.
16. As additional support for this view, one might note the etymology of the
name Ephraim in Gen 41:52: "And the second [child] he [Joseph] named Ephraim,
'for God has made me fruitful 031BH) in the land of my misfortunes.'" Macintosh
defends his translation by pointing to Gen 49:22, which refers to Joseph as a ms p
(Hosea, 553). Even if the phrase were rendered as "wild ass" (the traditional
translation is "fruitful bough"), it still applies to Joseph. Macintosh must guess that
"Joseph" is a late substitution for "Ephraim."
IRVINE Relating Prophets and History 163
example, Hiram of Tyre refers to Solomon as "my brother." The two
were allies by virtue of an economic treaty (see 1 Kgs 5:26). Similarly, in
1 Kgs 20:32, the king of Israel declares that Ben-Hadad of Aram-
Damascus is "my brother," that is, a treaty partner (see 20:34). The same
sense is apparent in Amos 1:9, which castigates Tyre for not honoring
the "covenant of brothers," that is, Tyre's treaty with an ally, probably
Ancient Near Eastern inscriptions also attest the political
meaning of "brother." In the thirteenth century B.C.E., the treaty between
the Hittite king Hattusilis and Ramses n of Egypt refers to the former as
the latter's "brother" and speaks of the peace and "brotherhood" between
them(ANET, 199,201). Similarly, in the eighth century B.C.E., Barrak-
kab of FWy-Samal boasts of his prestige among allies: "My brethren, the
kings, are envious because of all the prosperity of my house" (ANET,
If DTIK means "allies" in Hos 13:15a, the full line can be rendered,
"Although he [Ephraim] hopes to flourish among allies."
Some sort of
political scheming appears to be in mind, and the rest of the verse asserts
that it will fail. It remains to be seen what specific historical situation the
passage addresses.
II. The Historical Context ofHosea 13:15 a
If Hos 13:15 derives from the same period as the rest of 13:1-14:1, one
should think of a time between what the prophet describes as the "death"
of Ephraim (13:lb) and a siege of Samaria (14:1).
The material could
17. See J. Priest, "The Covenant of Brothers," JBL 84 (1965): 400-406.
18. For a fuller discussion of the idea of "brothers" in Near Eastern diplomacy,
see E. Gerstenberger, "Covenant and Commandment," JBL 84 (1965): 40-46.
19. This translation construes the imperfect verb iV IS
as desiderative (compare
Wellhausen's rendering of the verb: "Mag Ephraim griinen..." [Kleinen Propheten,
20]). The text, then, does not presuppose a period of prosperity, as some scholars
have thought (see, e.g., G. I. Davies, Hosea [NCBC; London: Marshall Pickering,
1992], 285, 297).
20. According to Wolff (Hosea, 224), 13:1-14:1 consists of several rhetorical
units relating to a single speech occasion in 724 B.C.E. Jeremias (Hosea, 161) sees
the material as a redactional unity composed of originally independent oral sayings,
but he assigns all of them to the same general period, 724-722 B.C.E.. Stuart (Hosea-
Jonah, 184-88; 198-202) takes 13:1 as the conclusion to the unit beginning in 12:1
and interprets 13:2-14:1 as an oracle from 725 or 724 B.C.E. The detachment of 13:1
from what follows is questionable. The threat against Ephraim in 12:15b ("his Lord
shall repay [ITC
] him for his contempt") forms a good ending to the "indictment"
(T"!) by Yahweh beginning in 12:3, and the repetition of the verb T2T in 12:3
and 15 reinforces this impression. Furthermore, the past tense of the final statement
164 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
refer to developments during the last three years of Israelite independ-
ence. Hayes and Kuan argue persuasively for the following reconstruc-
tion of events in 722-719 B.C.E.
In the late fall of 722 B.C.E., Samaria surrendered to Assyrian forces.
Apparently Shalmaneser V was not personally present to confiscate spoil,
and thus, when his troops looted the city's sanctuary, they sent its calf
image to the king in Assyria.
With Shalmaneser's death in December of
722 B.C.E., Sargon II became king of Assyria. The Assyrian forces
occupying Samaria quickly returned home to attend to the turmoil that
accompanied the new king's accession. Sargon's troubles were consider-
able during his first year in power. He faced opposition within Assyria
proper, as well as an uprising in Babylon aided by the king of Elam. In
addition, widespread revolt erupted in the west, led by Yaubi'di king of
Hamath and Hanno king of Gaza. An Egyptian force supported this
rebellion, and Arpad, Simirra, Damascus, Samaria, and probably Hadrach
were participants. Not until the end of his second year (720-719 B.C.E.)
did the Assyrian king finally campaign to the west. Besides defeating
Hamath, Gaza, and the Egyptian army, Sargon besieged and captured
Samaria, confiscated "the gods of their trust," appointed one of his offi-
cers as governor, and enacted other provincializing measures.
Several statements in Hos 13:1-14:1 make good sense against this
background. In 13:lb, the prophet declares that Ephraim already has
"died." The metaphor indicates the severity of the disaster, and the allu-
sion is probably to the capitulation of Samaria in 722 B.C.E.
The fall of
in 13:1 ("he [Ephraim] died [nb-?l ]") fits poorly with the future tense of the threat in
12:15b (Stuart has to revocalize the verb as miTl, "he must die"). Finally, 13:1 and
14:1 form an inclusio by means of the repeated verbal root ntBN ("incur guilt, bear
the punishment of guilt").
21. Hayes and Kuan, "Final Years," 168-78.
22. As evidence for this detail, Hayes and Kuan cite Hosea's speech about Israel
in 10:1-8. According to their translation, w. 5-6a state: "Over the calf of the house
of iniquity they have been agitated, the one set up in Samaria. Surely its people
mourn over it, and its priests concerning it. They wailed over its glory, because it has
departed from them; for it has been carried as tribute to Assyria to the great king."
Presumably this calf image is the one that Israelites manufactured in the fall of 725
B.C.E. (see Hos 8:5-6). Its loss in 722 is presupposed by Hos 13:2, which attests the
production of new calf icons in 721-720 B.C.E.
23. According to other scholars, Hos 13:Ib reflects back on the events of 733
B.C.E., when Tiglath-pileser in supposedly imposed harsh punishment on Israel (see
Wolff, Hosea, 225; Mays, Hosea, 172; Jeremias, Hosea, 161-62). Elsewhere I have
argued that the Assyrian king's treatment of the northern kingdom was relatively
lenient in 734-731 B.C.E. ("The Southern Border of Syria Reconstructed," CBQ 56
[1994]: 21-41). The areas that he converted into the provinces of Megiddo, Gilead,
IRVINE Relating Prophets and History 165
the city marked the end of the Israelite rebellion that had begun three
years earlier and perhaps also the initial implementation of Assyrian
measures for the provincialization of the state.
Hosea 13:2 charges that Israelites again are sinning, even after the
"death" of the nation. Their activity includes the manufacture of new
religious images and human sacrifice. In 8:4-10, which comments on
events in 725-724 B.C.E., the production of cultic paraphernalia is related
to the enthronement of a new Israelite king and rebellion against Assyria.
One may reasonably guess that the images described in 13:2 similarly
were part and parcel of a political revolt, specifically the one that erupted
after the death of Shalmaneser. Presumably the new cultic icons in
Samaria are the same as "the gods of their trust" that Sargon counted as
spoil in 720-719 B.C.E.
Verse 7 presents a divine threat against the Israelites: "I [Yahweh]
like a lion to them; like a leopard I lurk (TICK) beside the road." The
verb here appears to pun on the name "Assyria" ("11 OK), and the state-
ment makes sense as an allusion to the imminent attack of Sargon in
720-719 B.C.E.
The threat is matched by the more explicit prediction in
14:1: Samaria soon "shall bear the punishment of her guilt.. .they shall
fall by the sword; their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their
pregnant women shall be ripped open." Hosea apparently expected
Sargon's capture of the city to involve great atrocities.
Finally, if Hos 13:15a is translated correctly to say, "Although he
[Ephraim] hopes to flourish among allies," it too reflects circumstances
in 721-719 B.C.E. As noted above, the nation's revolt in 721 was not
an isolated uprising. The recent death of Shalmaneser and the attendant
and Dor probably had been confiscated from Aram-Damascus, not Israel. Further-
more, in 731 B.C.E. Tiglath-pileser may have re-established an Israelite entity called
"Beth Omri" under the rule of Hoshea. The state probably lay west of the Jordan
River and south of Jezreel, and perhaps exercised control over the kingdom of Judah
as well (for the details of this reconstruction, see Hayes and Kuan, "Final Years,"
154; and especially B. Kelle, "What's in a Name? Neo-Assyrian Designations for
the Northern Kingdom and Their Implications for Israelite History and Biblical
Interpretation," JBL 121 [2002]: 659-61). These circumstances hardly provide a
plausible background for understanding the prophet's statement about the death of
24. Read nTWl ("I am" or "I shall be") for the MT's TWl ("I was"). Cf. the LXX
and the imperfects that follow in v. 8a.
25. Rather than construe the consonants "1108 as a verb that plays on the name
"Ashur," the LXX understands the word explicitly as Assyrians and connects it to v.
8a: "Along the way of the Assyrians, I will meet them..."
26. Historically, the Assyrian punishment of Samaria in 720-719 B.C.E. turned
out to be moderate; see Hayes and Kuan, "Final Years," 178.
166 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
turmoil in Assyria and Babylon emboldened states and provinces through-
out the west to revolt against Assyria, and the inscriptions of Sargon
name a number of them. In several texts, Sargon blames the extensive-
ness of the rebellion specifically on the machinations of Yaubi'di of
Hamath: he "induced the cities Arvad, Simirra, Damascus and Samaria to
desert me, made them collaborate and fitted out an army" (ANET, 285).
The accusation clearly indicates a high degree of coordination among the
various rebels, and the prospects of their joint success undoubtedly looked
more and more promising in 721 and 720 B.C.E., as Sargon delayed in
responding to them. Against this background, Hosea's statement about
Israelite confidence in "allies" is easy to understand.
III. Conclusion
While text criticism and translation are fundamental to all biblical
exegesis, they are especially crucial in the interpretation of prophetic
speeches. The MT is not sacrosanct, and strong arguments can be made
for departing from its exact wording in places. Nevertheless, one should
always be mindful of the risk involved in emendation, namely, that one
thereby forfeits a surprising but historical meaning in pursuit of a mean-
ing that is expected but unhistorical.
The case of Hos 13:15 demon-
strates this danger. Scholars have been too quick to change DT1N to iriK,
and thus they have failed to recognize the text's value as an historical
witness. By retaining the reference to Ephraim "among brothers/allies,"
one salvages an allusion to the political scheming of the nation in its final
27. See J. H. Hayes, "Historical Reconstruction, Textual Emendation, and Bib-
lical Translation: Some Examples from the RSV," Perspectives 14 (1987): 5-9.
Peggy L. Day
The personification of Jerusalem and Samaria as adulteresses and whores
in the Hebrew Bible prophets has recently received a great deal of
scholarly attention.
In this brief paper, I wish to focus on two, related
features of Jerusalem figured as a prostitute that have, to date, not been
adequately explicated in the scholarly literature. In Ezek 16:1-43, Jerusa-
lem is figured as both adulteress and whore in an extended metaphor that
condemns Jerusalem's political and religious elite for acts of apostasy
(16:16-22) and for pursuing alliances with Egypt, Assyria, and Chaldea
(16:23-29). While whoring as a metaphor for apostasy was a well-
established trope in both prophetic (e.g. Hos 2;
4 [esp. w. 10-14];
6; Jer 2 [esp. v. 20]; 3:1-13; 13:20-27 [esp. v. 27]) and extraprophetic,
especially deuteronomistic, literature,
its use as a metaphoric vehicle for
1. For specific references, see my "Adulterous Jerusalem's Imagined Demise:
Death of a Metaphor in Ezekiel XVI," VT 50 (2000): 285-309 (288 n. 13), and
"Yahweh's Broken Marriages as Metaphoric Vehicle in the Hebrew Bible Prophets,"
in Sacred Marriages in the Biblical World (ed. M. Nissinen and R. Uro; Winona
Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, forthcoming), esp. nn. 1 and 6.
2. For a detailed presentation of the view that Hos 2 is concerned with foreign
alliances rather than apostasy, see B. E. Kelle, Hosea 2: Metaphor and Rhetoric in
Historical Perspective (Academia Biblica 20; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature
Press, 2005). His interpretation founders primarily because it necessitates understand-
ing the chapter's references to Baal (2:10, 18) and the Baals (2:15, 19) as having
political overlords as their implicit tenors.
3. For the use of HDT as a figure for cultic apostasy in Hos 4:1314, seeK. Shrofel,
"No Prostitute Has Been Here: A Reevaluation of Hosea 4:13-14" (M.A. thesis,
University of Winnipeg, 1999), esp. 167-84.
4. For citation and discussion of the relevant texts, see E. Adler, "The Back-
ground for the Metaphor of Covenant as Marriage in the Hebrew Bible" (Ph.D. diss.,
168 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
the condemnation of foreign alliances receives extensive employment
only in Ezek 16:1^13 and 23:1-35.
It is this latter figurative use of pros-
titution that will concern us here. In Ezek 16:3 lb-34, the text acknowl-
edges two prominent features of J erusalem's metaphorical whoring that
are contrary to the practice of prostitution, literally understood. These
features are giving payment rather than receiving it (16:31, 33-34; see
also 16:41) and actively pursuing liaisons rather than being sought out
for them (16:33-34). In what follows, I shall demonstrate that previous
scholarship has treated these features inadequately. I shall then bring
Ezek 16:3 lb-34 to bear on the larger topic of the use of extended meta-
phors in the Hebrew Bible prophets. But first, the text. After accusing
personified Jerusalem of building multiple structures for prostitution
and of whoring insatiably with foreign nations (16:23-3 la), we read
(16:3 lb-34 [my translation]):
But by scorning payment you
were not like a
prostitute, O adulterous
wife, who takes strangers
instead of her husband. To all whores a gift
is given, but you gave your gifts
to all your lovers, and you bribed them
to come to you from round about in your whorings. You were unlike
' in your whorings: you were not sought out for prostitution, and
by your giving hire rather than hire being given to you, you were [liter-
ally, "became"] different.
University of California, 1989), 31749, and J. Galambush, Jerusalem in the Book of
Ezekiel: The City as Yahweh 's Wife (SBLDS 130; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992),
5. See n. 2.
6. Reading second person feminine singular, with the Qere, rather than first per-
son singular. The necessity to follow the Qere in this regard is frequent throughout
Ezek 16:1-43 (cf. w. 13, 18, 22, 31a, and 43).
7. Hebrew n]lJ 3. The definite article functions to denote membership in a group,
in this case, prostitutes. My translation is not controversial: see the standard com-
8. Numerous commentators have noted that the direct object marker of MT with
the indeterminate D^I T is awkward here. For varying resolutions of this problem, see
the standard commentaries.
9. MT n"|] is a hapax. I am following the standard commentaries by translating it
as "gift."
10. MT ^3*1) evidences another hapax, rendered "gifts" in the standard com-
11. MT D^n. The definite article denotes women as a group. My translation,
"women," is not controversial.
DAY A Prostitute Unlike Women 169
That the implicit metaphorical tenor
of the above verses is indeed
foreign alliances and not apostasy is clear. Elsewhere in Ezek 16 (w. 36
and 37) and 23 (w. 5,9, and 22), the term "lovers" (C'OnKD) is used only
of foreign nations and never of foreign gods. This usage also coheres
with treaty terminology
and is therefore particularly apt for denoting
the foreign nations whom personified Jerusalem is accused of pursuing.
Furthermore, v. 33's employment of the verb "IlfC?, "to bribe," is consis-
tent with the use of this word's nominal form to describe the material
incentives (silver, gold, etc.) offered to foreign rulers in exchange for
political alliance and military support (1 Kgs 15:18-19; 2 Kgs 16:7-9;
cf. Isa 45:13).
Thus, in my understanding of the passage, personified
Jerusalem is described as having sought out foreign alliances via bribery.
These aspects of personified Jerusalem's alleged behavior directly
contradict the potential client's propositioning and payment for services
that was characteristic of literal prostitution as the author of the passage
knew it. Hence, in these respects, personified Jerusalem's metaphorical
whoring was different from literal prostitution. ^Jerusalem's whorings,
we are told, she was "unlike women" (16:34).
My basic quarrel with the manner in which the vast majority of com-
mentators explicate the passage in question
is that, by various means,
12. In some metaphorical statements (e.g. "life is a cabaret"), both the tenor and
the vehicle of the metaphor are explicit. When the tenor of a metaphor is not explic-
itly stated, I refer to it as an implicit tenor. See further my "Adulterous Jerusalem,"
13. W. L. Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background for the Love of God in
Deuteronomy," CBQ25 (1963): 77-87; J. A. Thompson,"Israel's 'Lovers,'" VT21
(1977): 475-81. Kelle(Hosea 2, 156-58) cites four additional examples from the
treaties of Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal. See S. Parpola and K. Watanabe, Neo-
Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths (SAA 2; Helsinki: Helsinki University Press,
1988), 37 1. 207, 391. 268, 66 11. 18', 32'.
14. Note also Aramaic ] "in EM, in a broken context in a list of treaty stipulations
imposed upon a vassal king, in Sefire III 28. See J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic
Inscriptions of Sefire (BibOr 19; Rome: Pontifical Biblical Institute, 1967), 100.
15. Numerous scholars (e.g. W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1 [Hermeneia; Philadelphia:
Fortress, 1979], 345^6; G. A. Cooke, The Book of Ezekiel [ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T.
Clark, 1937], 172; W. Eichrodt, Ezekiel [OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1970],
208) opine that all or part of 16:3 lb-34 is secondary. For my purposes, whether the
verses are secondary or not is largely irrelevant, as they expand upon metaphorical
language that is clearly intrinsic to the primary level of the text.
16. It is impractical, and perhaps unfair, to footnote all of the scholars I have read
who have commented on the passage. It is impractical because of the number of
citations that would be required, and perhaps unfair because not all of the scholars
who have commented seem to have given the passage much thought. Thus, I am
170 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
they collapse (or conflate)
literal and metaphorical prostitution such that
the distinction between the two is minimized, if not entirely erased. This
conflation evidences a failure to grasp the fundamental fact that some
degree of dissonance, or difference, between tenor and vehicle is a fea-
ture of every metaphor.
This notion of dissonance is crucial to under-
standing the passage at hand correctly as it explicates two ways in which
personified Jerusalem's activities do not cohere with the activities of
real-life prostitutes. This lack of coherence signals that prostitution as a
metaphoric vehicle for seeking foreign alliances is not apt with respect to
who propositions and pays whom.
The first means by which scholars obscure the differences between
literal and metaphorical prostitution is by typing personified Jerusalem in
our passage as an uncommon or unnatural prostitute
on the basis of her
unwhorelike behavior. This typing maintains that personified Jerusalem's
abnormal behavior does not disqualify her from being categorized as a
whore. It understands her to be a deviant whore, but a whore nonetheless.
This interpretation is dependent upon collapsing the passage's references
to literal whores (H31T, 16:31; m^T, 16:33) and Jerusalem's metaphorical
whoring (* ni3Tn, 16:33,34) into a single semantic entity. Regarding per-
sonified Jerusalem as an uncommon or unnatural literal prostitute flies in
the face of the plain meaning of the text when it states "but by scorning
payment you were not like a prostitute," "to all prostitutes a gift is given,
but you gave your gifts to all your lovers," and "you were not sought out
for prostitution, and by your giving hire rather than hire being given to
you, you were different."
While not as explicit as those scholars who describe personified
Jerusalem as an uncommon or unnatural harlot, a similar collapse of
confining myself primarily to citing the authors of major, critical commentaries, as
well as of books and articles that treat Ezek 16 in some depth.
17. Shrofel, "No Prostitute," 142. See further my "Metaphor and Social Reality:
Isaiah 23.17-18, Ezekiel 16.35-37 and Hosea 2.4-5," in InspiredSpeech: Prophecy
in the Ancient Near EastEssays in Honor of Herbert B. Huffman (ed. J . Kaltner
and L. Stulman; JSOTSup 378; London/New York: T. & T. Clark International,
2004), 63-71.
18. For further discussion, see my "Metaphor and Social Reality."
19. K. W. Carley, The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1974), 99; J. W. Wevers, Ezekiel (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1969), 99; Zimmerli, Ezekiel 1,328; Eichrodt, Ezekiel, 200; Galambush, Jerusalem,
98; G. Baumann, Love and Violence: Marriage as Metaphor for the Relationship
Between YHWH and Israel in the Prophetic Books (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical
Press, 2003), 150; cf. N. Stienstra, YHWH is the Husband of His People (Kampen:
Kok, 1993), 148.
DAY A Prostitute Unlike Women 171
metaphorical and literal whoring is evidenced by those scholars who
maintain personified Jerusalem's identity as a whore in spite of the text's
assertion to the contrary. One means of accomplishing this identification
is to qualify the passage's references to whores by adding the adjective
"other," which does not appear in the text. A good example of this line of
interpretation can be found in Moshe Greenberg's commentary on Eze-
kiel. Greenberg translates 16:31b as "nor were you like other harlots, in
that you scorned hire."
Similarly, Carol Dempsey states that "Jerusalem
was different from other whores because.. .she sought the men for pros-
titution instead of vice versa."
This addition of the adjective "other"
serves to conflate literal and metaphorical whoring such that personified
Jerusalem continues to be viewed as a prostitute despite the text's clear
statement to the contrary. Ronald Hals and Lamar Cooper, for example,
achieve the same effect by simply asserting personified Jerusalem's con-
tinued membership in the category of whore. Regarding personified
Jerusalem in w. 30-34, Hals states that "this whore must pay her 'cus-
tomers' in reversal of the standard practice."
Likewise, Cooper asserts
that "while most harlots exacted a price for their services, Israel [sic] the
harlot bribed her clients and paid them to commit adultery with her."
20. M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 1983), 271
(emphasis mine); cf. 284, 293, and "Ezekiel 16: A Panorama of Passions," in Love
and Death in the Ancient Near East (eds. J. H. Marks and R. M. Good; Guilford,
Conn.: Four Quarters, 1987), 144.
21. C. J. Dempsey, "The Whore of Ezekiel 16: The Impact and Ramifications
of Gender-Specific Metaphors in Light of Biblical Law and Divine Judgment,"
in Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East (ed. V. H. Mat-
thews, B. M. Levinson, and T. Frymer-Kensky; JSOTSup 262; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1998), 68 (emphasis mine).
22. R. M. Hals, Ezekiel (FOTL; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 106 (emphasis
mine). Note that Hals places quotation marks around the word "customers," thus
indicating that he understands the word figuratively. He does not offset the word
"whore" in like fashion, which leads me to conclude that he takes the word literally.
23. L. E. Cooper, Sr., Ezekiel (NAC; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994),
173. M. Shields ("Multiple Exposures: Body Rhetoric and Gender Characterization
in Ezekiel 16," JFSR 14 [1998]: 5-18) does not contemplate our passage in much
depth. She does, however, make this puzzling statement regarding Jerusalem's
actions (p. 11): "rather than being paid, like a prostitute, she pays her clients for
sex." While this statement seems to exclude personified Jerusalem from the category
of literal prostitute, it also evidences a lack of clarity of exclusion in that "she pays
her clients for sex" retains the language of the vehicle of the metaphor, that is
prostitution. To my knowledge, the only scholar who maintains a clear distinction
between personified Jerusalem's giving payment and literal prostitution is G.
Corrington Streete (Power and Sex in the Bible [Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John
172 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The final means I shall document by which scholars conflate literal
and metaphorical prostitution is also the most common. Verse 34 says of
personified Jerusalem, "you were unlike women in your whorings." In
my reading, this statement expresses a demarcation between literal and
metaphorical prostitution by distinguishing prostitution as practised by
women (i.e. literal prostitution) from personified Jerusalem's alleged
activities (i.e. metaphorical prostitution). The verse goes on to specify in
what respects literal and metaphorical whoring differ. Literal prostitution
entails being sought after and payment for services; personified Jerusa-
lem's metaphorical whoring does not. These dissonances are compro-
mised by scholars who append "other" to "women" in their translation
and/or discussion of v. 34.
Adding "other" (i.e. "you [Jerusalem] were
unlike other women in your whorings," or the like), which does not
appear in the text, effects an inclusion of personified Jerusalem among
the ranks of real-life women, which in turn bespeaks a conflation of the
literal and the metaphorical. Jerusalem can be a figurative woman, but
most decidedly cannot be a literal one.
What can the passage under consideration teach us about the use of
metaphorical language more broadly in the Hebrew Bible prophets? I
will address this question with particular respect to the passages that
personify cities or countries as adulteresses and whores, as this is the
material with which I am most familiar. If I understand w. 31b-34
correctly, an important inference that we need to draw from them is that
actions portrayed in the language of metaphor need not be constrained by
a necessity of having an appropriate counterpart on the literal level.
According to our passage, all real-life prostitutes receive payment, but
this characterization does not prevent the author from presenting Jeru-
salem's metaphorical whoring as characterized by giving payment rather
than receiving it. Real-life prostitutes, the author says, are sought out for
Knox, 1997], 93), who states: "Ezekiel/YHWH points out the real difference between
a whore and his bride: the former takes payment, while the latter, an adulterous wife,
does it for nothing, exchanging strange men (zarim [sic]) for her husband (v. 32).
The whore receives gifts, but the adulterous wife bestows the gifts her husband gave
her on foreigners in order to entice them to her 'whorings' (w. 33-4)."
24. Of the scholars previously cited, Carley (The Book, 99), Greenberg (Ezekiel,
271), Eichrodt (Ezekiel, 200), Galambush (Jerusalem, 66-67, 98), Cooke (Ezekiel,
172, "(other) woman [sic]"), and Baumann (Love and Violence, 137) add "other." So
also do A. B. Davidson, The Booh of the Prophet Ezekiel (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1906), 111; W. H. Brownlee, Ezekiel 1-19 (WBC; Waco, Tex.:
Word, 1986), 217; and S. T. Kamionkowski, "Gender Reversal in Ezekiel 16," in
Prophets and Daniel (ed. A. Brenner; FCB, Second Series 8; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 2001), 181.
DAY A Prostitute Unlike Women 173
prostitution by their potential clients, but this does not prevent the author
from portraying J erusalem's metaphorical whoring as characterized by
the active pursuit of liaisons. These dissonances can be accounted for by
what the author seeks to convey about the actions of Jerusalem's elite
with respect to making foreign alliances, that is, on the level of the implicit
tenor of the metaphor. Jerusalem's elite are understood as having actively
pursued alliances with foreign nations and as having paid said nations to
enter into these politico-military alliances,
and it is this understanding
that determines our passage's depictions of personified J erusalem's
metaphorical whoring. The lesson to be learned from Ezek 16:3 lb-34 is
that we must jettison the idea that all aspects of figurative portrayals
must be consistent with the commonplaces
associated with the same
language employed literally. Otherwise personified J erusalem's meta-
phorical whoring could not include giving payment rather than receiving
it, and could not be described as unlike the prostitution engaged in by
25. For further examples and discussion of extended metaphorical portrayals
being controlled by what the respective Hebrew Bible authors wish to express on the
level of the tenor, see my "Yahweh's Broken Marriages."
26. Associated commonplaces are those culturally conditioned qualities or activi-
ties commonly associated with either the tenor or the vehicle of a metaphor. For
further discussion and illustration, see my "Metaphor and Social Reality," 64-66.
Susan E. Haddox
Much of the content of Hosea's oracles can be related to political situa-
tions in the eighth century B.C.E. According to the superscript, he prophe-
sied during the reigns of Jeroboam of Israel and Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz,
and Hezekiah of Judah, which corresponds to the period from the end of
the Jehu dynasty through the end of the northern kingdom. During this
period Israel suffered considerable domestic political turmoil, which
stemmed at least to some degree from shifting foreign policy alliances.
Hosea's critique of the political decisions of Israel's leadership is sharp
and employs gendered language. While a significant amount of attention
has focused on the female imagery found particularly in the first three
chapters of Hosea, the following study suggests that the key to Hosea's
rhetoric is an attack on the masculinity of Israel's leaders. Hosea utilizes
standard conceptions of masculinity found in the ancient Near East,
which are particularly developed in the language of politics and warfare.
Hosea uses his oracles to criticize the leaders for offending YHWH
through their political actions. Analyzing the book from the perspective
of masculinity studies provides insight into the way the oracles function
rhetorically within a historical-political context.
I. The Political Situation and Hosea's Audience
If, as the following discussion argues, Hosea's gendered language repre-
sents his criticism of Israel's political misdeeds, then the geo-political
situation of the prophet's audience is crucial for interpreting that imagery.
During the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E., Assyria was the dominant
power, controlling much of the ancient Near East, primarily through
1. Several of the elements of masculinity in Assyrian political rhetoric are
described in C. R. Chapman, The Gendered Language of Warfare in the Israelite-
Assyrian Encounter (HSM 62; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004).
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 175
vassal relationships. Both biblical texts and Assyrian records, for exam-
ple, show that Israel paid tribute to Assyria. Such vassal relations with
the highly bureaucratic Assyrian empire were cemented through treaties,
which were witnessed by the gods of both sides.
Vassal treaties gener-
ally imposed substantial tributary obligations on the vassal nation, which
put stress on the economic system and reduced local autonomy. These
conditions led to frequent revolts in various parts of the empire. Assyrian
records show that dating back to the Omride dynasty, Israel vacillated
between submission to Assyria and rebellion against it, usually in alli-
ance with Syria.
Jehu appears to be the first Israelite king to take a pro-Assyrian stance,
and his gifts are recorded in Assyrian inscriptions.
He seems to have
maintained his loyalty for his entire reign, and the successors in his
dynasty also followed a pro-Assyrian policy. During the period of the
Jehu dynasty, Aram frequently dominated Israel.
Because of this, when
Assyria was strong and oppressed Aram, Israel fared more favorably.
Israel's strength was linked to that of Assyria.
Israel's pro-Assyrian stance lasted throughout the Jehu dynasty, when
Hosea began prophesying, but dissatisfaction with that stance may have
led to the downfall of the dynasty. Shallum, likely supported by a rising
anti-Assyrian faction, usurped the throne from Zechariah. Shallum, who
may have been the choice of the general populace, did not gain the
2. A. A. Macintosh, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Hosea (ICC;
Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1997), 238; J. Galambush, Jerusalem in theBookofEzek-
iel: The City as Yahweh 's Wife (SBLDS 130; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), 34. The
understanding that an offense against a political treaty impugned the name of the god
can be seen in the writings of the time. For example, in the annals of Aurbanipal,
an entry describing an Arab revolt reads: "The People of Arubu asked one and other
[sic] again and again, 'Why has such an evil thing as this overtaken Arubu?' (and)
they say, 'Because we have not kept the mighty oaths of the god Assur, we have
sinned against the favor shown us by Assurbanipal, the king beloved of Enlil,"
quoted in W. L. Moran, "The Ancient Near Eastern Background of the Love of God
in Deuteronomy," CBQ 25 (1963): 83-84.
3. Several Assyrian inscriptions mention Israelite kings in lists of those defeated
or paying tribute. See, for example, the Monolith Inscription of Shalmaneser HI in
4. An inscription dated twelve years after Shalmaneser's 853-852 campaign
records a tribute from Jehu. The Black Obelisk Inscription records Jehu's tribute in
greater detail (see J. K. Kuan, Neo-Assyrian Historical Inscriptions and Syria-Pales-
tine [Jian Dao Diss. 1; Hong Kong: Alliance Bible Seminary, 1995], 63-64).
5. J. M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel andJudah (Phila-
delphia: Westminster, 1986), 289.
6. Kuan, Neo-Assyrian Historical Inscriptions, 65.
176 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
support of Israel's leaders and was quickly deposed in favor of Mena-
Menahem evidently had difficulty establishing full control over the
country and turned back to the Assyrians, sending to Tiglath-pileser IE
in order to hire a mercenary army (see 2 Kgs 15:19-20). The Iran Stela, a
summary inscription of Tiglath-pileser shows that Menahem continued
to pay tribute in subsequent years.
When Pekah deposed Menahem's successor, Pekahiah, Israel's pro-
Assyrian policy came to an end.
Pekah apparently had widespread
support from the anti-Assyrian contingent in Israelite society, and he
joined Rezin of Damascus in rebelling against Assyria.
Their attempts
to persuade Ahaz of Judah to join forces with them resulted in the Syro-
Ephraimitic War. When Tiglath-pileser HI responded to the rebellion in
his campaign of 734-732 B.C.E., he quashed the revolt led by Rezin and
Pekah, destroying Damascus and turning Syria into an Assyrian province.
He also took control over most of the territory of Israel, except for the
hill country surrounding Samaria, so that Ephraim was all that remained
of the northern kingdom.
Although Tiglath-pileser apparently did not
have a direct role in Pekah's overthrow, his attack on the country gave
impetus to the pro-Assyrian movement in Israel that deposed Pekah,
placed Hoshea on the throne, and quickly paid concessionary tributes to
The pro-Assyrian party did not retain ascendancy, however, and after
a few years Hoshea withheld tribute from Assyria and made overtures to
"King So" of Egypt (2 Kgs 17:4). The rebellion resulted in Hoshea's
arrest, the siege of Samaria, the deportation of its intelligentsia, cultic
7. J. H. Hayes and P. K. Hooker, A New Chronology for the Kings of Israel and
Judah and Its Implications for Biblical History and Literature (Atlanta: John Knox,
1988), 55.
8. Kuan, Neo-Assyrian Historical Inscriptions, 147-48.
9. There is much confusion about the chronology of Pekah's reign, which
according to 2 Kgs 15:27 was twenty years. Such a long reign does not fit well into
the parallel Judean royal chronology. Pekah may have established a rival kingdom in
about 750 B.C.E., composed of most of the territory outside of Samaria and the sur-
rounding hills. His twenty-year reign would include both the time he ruled concur-
rently with other kings and the time after he seized power in Samaria from Pekahiah
(H. J. Cook, "Pekah," VT14 [1964]: 121-35; Hayes and Hooker, A New Chronol-
gy> 54).
10. Hayes and Hooker, A New Chronology, 60.
11. Miller and Hayes, History of Ancient Israel, 332; Hayes and Hooker, A New
Chronology, 63. Syria may have already controlled most of the former Israelite
12. Miller and Hayes, History of Ancient Israel, 334.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 177
and political leaders, and large landholders, and the eventual conversion
of what remained of the nation into an Assyrian province.
Hosea's metaphorical imagery for the nation's turning from YHWH
makes sense against the background of this political situation. Hosea
criticizes the extensive political maneuvering of Israel's leadership and
warns of the negative effects it will have on the state. Although it has
frequently been argued that Hosea opposed all foreign alliances as
rebellions against YHWH, a policy of non-alignment was not a serious
political option in the region.
Rather, Hosea opposes rebellion against
Assyria. As noted above, Israel had a vassal relationship with Assyria.
When Ephraim appeals to Egypt and rebels against Assyria, it violates a
treaty sworn in the name of YHWH. Hosea's oracles describe YHWH's
displeasure with such violations and his threats to enforce the curses
listed in the vassal treaty between Israel and Assyria, which frequently
invoke elements of masculinity.
It is particularly this implied audienceIsrael's political decision-
makersthat calls for analysis of Hosea's imagery as an attack on the
masculinity of Israel's leaders. The oracles in Hosea are either directly
addressed to men (priests, prophets, and rulers) or discuss their actions
and thoughts.
When women are mentioned outside of Hos 1-3, they are
not directly addressed. Instead, their fathers or husbands are the ones
spoken to and held accountable.
Even within Hos 1-3, where the
addressee is ostensibly the wife, she represents a larger political entity,
rather than an individual woman.
Moreover, most of the oracles address
issues that concern leaders, rather than common men or women, and
their topics include foreign alliances, cult matters, political coups, and
13. For assertions of Hosea's anti-alliance stance, see, among others, J. Day,
"Pre-deuteronomic Allusions to the Covenant in Hosea and Psalm LXXVm," VT36
(1986): 1-12; J. Mays, Hosea (OIL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969), 112.
14. See Hos 4:5-9; 5:1, 10; 6:9; 7:3, 5, 7, 16; 8:4,10; 9:15.
15. For example, in 4:13-14, Hosea complains about the seeming idolatry of the
people and continues: "That is why your daughters fornicate and your daughters-in-
law commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters for their fornication and your
daughters-in-law for their adultery, because they [m.pl.] turn aside with prostitutes
and sacrifice with the holy women."
16. The exact nature of this entity is a subject of debate, but nearly all of the
commentators agree that the wife represents some political entity (city, land,
country, people of Israel/Ephraim, etc.) of which males are the leaders and are thus
the main focus of the oracles. I assume the wife represents the capital city of Samaria
as discussed in B. E. Kelle, Hosea 2: Metaphor and Rhetoric in Historical Perspec-
tive (Academia Biblica 20; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2005); cf.
Galambush, Jerusalem, 45.
178 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
appointments. These considerations suggest that even when Hosea uses
female imagery, it is directed towards males.
II. Masculinity Studies
Because Hosea's implied audience is male and his rhetoric is geared
toward male concerns and sensibilities, masculinity studies provide a
helpful interpretive lens. The field of masculinity studies examines the
construction of the male gender and shares with feminist studies the goal
of bringing ideas about gender and sex roles into consciousness.
distinguishes the relatively recent interest in masculinity studies from the
centuries of scholarship that focused almost exclusively on men is the
degree of self-awareness. Rather than assuming that men and the mascu-
line are the norm for analysis, masculinity studies look specifically at the
role and expectations for men in a given culture.
Masculinity studies examine the ways in which masculine elements
and ideals pervade the scaffolding of society as a whole.
of masculinity is usually associated with construction of power in a
society. Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfarne observe:
17. Among others emphasizing this point are C. Bucher, "The Origin and Mean-
ing of ZNH Terminology in the Book of Hosea" (Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate
School, 1988), 162-63; R. P. Carroll, "Desire Under the Terebinths: On Porno-
graphic Representation in the ProphetsA Response," in A Feminist Companion to
the Latter Prophets (ed. A. Brenner; FCB 8; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press,
1995), 285; R. J. Weems, Battered Love: Marriage, Sex, and Violence in the Hebrew
Prophets (OBT; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 41-^2; M. J. Winn Leith, "Verse and
Reverse: The Transformation of the Woman, Israel, in Hosea 13," in Gender and
Difference in Ancient Israel (ed. P. Day; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989), 97-98;
F. Landy, "Fantasy and the Displacement of Pleasure: Hosea 2:4-17," in Brenner,
ed., Feminist Companion, 155.
18. The term "gender" usually implies a social construction, rather than a
biological marker, of sex. Marilyn Strathern (The Gender of the Gift: Problems -with
Women and Problems with Society in Melanesia [Studies in Melanesian Anthro-
pology 6; Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988], ix) provides a typical
definition: "By 'gender' I mean those categorizations of persons, artifacts, events,
sequences, and so on which draw upon sexual imageryupon the ways in which the
distinct!veness of male and female characteristics make concrete people's ideas
about the nature of social relationships."
19. See, for example, H. Brod, "Introduction and Theses of Men's Studies," in
The Making of Masculinities: The New Men's Studies (ed. H. Brod; Boston: Allen &
Unwin, 1987), 2.
20. Here I utilize primarily an anthropological approach. The other main approach
to masculinity studies is a psychoanalytic perspective. The most prominent source for
such work is M. Foucault's Histoire de la sexualite (3 vols.; Paris: Gallimard, 1976).
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 179
Interpretations of maleness, manhood or masculinity are not neutral, but
rather all such attributions and labels have political entailments.. .the proc-
esses of gendering produce difference and inequality: and nowhere more
obviously than in the versions of masculinity associated with (masculin-
ized) notions of power.
Masculinized power as a social structure can be further distinguished
from that of individual men because it is usually presented as "hege-
monic masculinity."
There are two elements of this hegemony that are of interest here. One
is the establishment of a particular definition of masculinity as norma-
tive, to the exclusion of any other expressions of masculinity. Few, if
any, men may actually conform fully to this definition, but it is the
standard that most men in the society accept and upon which social
relations are built.
The imposition on a society of a particular kind of
masculinity as the norm leads into the second element of hegemony:
hegemonic masculinity makes itself known through the institutions and
power structures of society. It is not a static concept, but reflects power
struggles within a given culture:
"Hegemony," then, always refers to a historical situation, a set of circum-
stances in which power is won and held... To understand the different
kinds of masculinity demands, above all, an examination of the practices
in which hegemony is constituted and contestedin short, the political
techniques of the patriarchal social order.
21. A. Cornwall and N. Lindisfarne, "Introduction," in Dislocating Masculinity:
Comparative Ethnographies (ed. A. Cornwall and N. Lindisfarne; Male Orders; New
York: Routledge, 1994), 10. Even when women act in power structures traditionally
dominated by men, they are sometimes described by male characteristics. In
Andalusia, a powerful female entrepreneur is sometimes described as a cojonuda, a
"big-balled woman." Such women are said to "have balls inside" and "should have
been bom as men" (S. Brandes, Metaphors of Masculinity: Sex and Status in
Andalusian Folklore [Publications of the American Folklore Society New Series 1;
Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980], 93). Philo, known for his
denigration of women, argues in his commentary on Gen 18:11 that the verse "and it
had ceased to be for Sarah according to the ways of women," refers to the "ways of
women" as irrational passions. Sarah now is in the place of men "where properly
dwell the masculine thoughts (that are) wise, sound, just, prudent, pious, filled with
freedom and boldness, and kin to wisdom" (QG 4.15, trans. L. E. Galloway in
Freedom in the Gospel: Paul's Exemplum in 1 Cor 9 in Conversation with the Dis-
courses ofEpictetus and Philo [CBET 38; Leuven: Peeters, 2004], 128).
22. T. Carrigan, B. Connell, and J. Lee, "Toward a New Sociology of Mascu-
linity," in Brod, ed., Making of Masculinities, 92. Carrigan introduced the term
"hegemonic masculinity."
23. Carrigan et al., "New Sociology," 94.
180 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Those who "win" the power dictate the norms of masculinity. When the
elements of a particular hegemonic masculinity become embedded in the
power structures, however, they become self-perpetuating.
Once a hegemonic masculinity takes hold, gender comes to symbolize
aspects of power and social organization. Often gender represents the
contrast between domestic production and public activity, traditionally
female and male realms, respectively.
Political weakness and lack of
social status are often expressed in sexual or gender-linked language.
Becoming like women or being feminized, for example, functions as a
metaphor across various cultures to represent loss of social prestige or
Losing, whether in the area of politics, economics, or class, is
equated with feminization.
These observations from anthropological masculinity studies suggest
that across many cultures, conceptions of gender and gendered language
signify complex relations of power, economics, and social status. In these
relations it is usually the masculine that comes out on top, so to speak, at
least in public arenas. Hence, there is great concern among men with
maintaining and enhancing their masculinity, as well as with keeping
themselves from becoming feminized, which would lower their status in
many aspects of social life.
24. Strathern (Gender of Gift, 77) notes that in Melanesia, when men encourage
each other to be involved in public activity, they say not to "behave like women."
25. Brandes (Metaphors of Masculinity, 6, 12, 25, 31, 63,212) observes that in
Andalusian male folklore, the butt of a joke is often a male character who is put in
the position of a woman sexually. Conversely, G. P. Miller in his study of the Song
of Deborah ("A Riposte Form in the Song of Deborah," in Gender and Law in the
Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East [ed. V. Matthews, B. M. Levinson, and T.
Frymer-Kensky; JSOTSup 262; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998], 114)
proposes that claiming that a society's women were acting like men was an insult
and associated with uncouth hill people. He argues that as a riposte, the song accepts
the truth of part of the insult and turns it around as a virtue. In this way, the manly
women dominate not their own men, but Sisera and the Canaanites. One should note,
however, that the insult in Judges was not solely that the women were manly, but
that they dominated their men, who were thus feminized.
26. The connection between politics, social standing, and gender is explored in
Andalusia by D. D. Gilmore, "Above and Below: Toward A Social Geometry of
Gender," American Anthropologist 98 (1996): 56. P. Loizos ("A Broken Mirror:
Masculine Sexuality in Greek Ethnography," in Cornwall and Lindisfarne, ed.,
Dislocating Masculinity, 72) notes that sexual penetration is a symbol of subordina-
tion in the Greek community he studied. The stigma of a homosexual relationship
fell mainly on the passive partner, who took the female position, whereas the mas-
culinity of the penetrating partner could even be enhanced.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 181
A. Masculinity in the Ancient Near East
Ancient Israel and its neighbors share characteristics with some of the
Mediterranean societies that have been the focus of much anthropologi-
cal work on masculinity: clear gender role distinctions, power based in a
patriarchal system, and an emphasis on honor and shame, among others.
In particular, the connection between political rhetoric and gendered
imagery is quite strong in biblical and other ancient Near Eastern texts.
Assyrian royal inscriptions describe several important elements of
masculinity: sexual potency and military prowess, an ability to provide
for and protect one's family or people, the ability to leave an inheritance
for one's family or people, and bravery. The Assyrian king is shown to
possess these traits in abundance. The inscriptions often explicitly claim
through various epithets that the king is a man who possesses potency
and vigor.
Palace reliefs invariably portray the king with a full beard in
a strictly upright posture, often carrying a drawn bow.
Vassal kings, in
contrast, prostrate themselves before the Assyrian king, and sometimes
are shown wiping the king's feet with their beards.
Assyrian texts often
describe defeated kings as fleeing in fear to save their own lives, aban-
doning their people. Assyrian treaties also reflect these standards of mas-
culinity. The curse lists in the treaties involve several threats to the
masculinity of the vassal kings. They threaten that the rebellious king
and his soldiers will become women, that they will lose their land, that
their people will be deported from their inheritance, and that the king's
family will become vulnerable to capture and starvation.
27. See, for example, the work of H. Eilberg-Schwartz, primarily on Genesis
(God's Phallus: And Other Problems for Men and Monotheism [Boston: Beacon,
1994]); D. J. A. Clines, who focuses on David, but also treats some of the prophets
(Interested Parties: The Ideology of Writers and Readers of the Hebrew Bible
[JSOTSup 205; GCT 1; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995]); H. C. Wash-
ington, who examines the relationship between masculine imagery and warfare
("Violence and the Construction of Gender in the Hebrew Bible: A New Historicist
Approach," Biblnt 5 [1997]: 324-63); and K. Stone, who focuses on David (Sex,
Honor, and Power in the Deuteronomistic History [JSOTSup 234; Sheffield: Shef-
field Academic Press, 1996]). Stone turns his attention to components of masculinity
in Hosea in "Lovers and Raisin Cakes: Food, Sex, and Divine Insecurity in Hosea,"
in Queer Commentary and the Hebrew Bible (ed. K. Stone; Cleveland: Pilgrim,
2001), 116-39. For an anthology with an excellent bibliography of masculinity stud-
ies, see S. D. Moore and J. Capel Anderson, eds., New Testament Masculinities
(SemeiaSt 45; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature Press, 2003).
28. See Chapman, Gendered Language, 22-24.
29. Ibid., 26.
30. Ibid., 39.
182 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
B. Virility as Power in the Biblical Texts
In the patriarchal context of the biblical texts, especially that of eighth-
century Israel, sexual potency is likewise an important symbol of power.
The ability to display one's sexual virility was thus an important com-
ponent of male honor.
In 2 Sam 16, for example, after Absalom has
claimed his father David's kingdom, he proves his potency as a potential
king by having intercourse with his father's concubines one after another
in the view of "all Israel" (2 Sam 16:22). Through this action he not only
displays his own potency, but also demonstrates David's impotence,
which is evidenced by his inability to protect his household, an important
aspect of masculinity.
Ahithophel advises Absalom to perform this act
so that Israel may hear that he has become odious (fllZ J K23~
'D) to David.
The same terminology appears in 2 Sam 10:4, when the Ammonites
shaved the beards of David's envoys and cut off their robes "in half, up
to their hips" (diTmne? Itf ^TO), which probably left their genitals
exposed, or nearly so. These particular actions were a direct assault on
the men's masculinity, causing them shame. David recognized this and
let them stay in Jericho until their beards grew back. Because the act was
intended to shame David and his messengers, and not merely to rebuff
them, the Ammonites became "odious" to David.
The use of the termHE?ND] thus underscores the idea that Absalom's
assault on David's concubines was a direct challenge to his masculinity
in several ways.
First, he caused David to flee, leaving his family
behind. As noted above, in the Assyrian curses and chronicles, the
shamed and defeated king flees to save his own life, but leaves his family
to fend for themselves. Second, Absalom's actions underline the fact that
David left his concubines to guard the house. Not only did he flee
himself, but he did not even appoint another man to protect his family.
Instead, he left his concubines in charge, women with even lower status
than his principal wives. Third, Absalom had intercourse with David's
wives, cuckolding him. He made himself odious to David and simultane-
ously raised the status of his own masculinity.
The inverse situation occurs in 1 Kgs 1, where the symbol of David's
final decline and loss of political control is his impotency in the presence
of Abishag, the most beautiful virgin in the land (1:4). His impotence
extends to matters of state, as he remains out of the loop in the battle for
succession and learns of the situation from his wife (1 Kgs 1:18). Solo-
mon's potency as king is, in turn, partially expressed through his harem,
31. G. Yee, "Hosea," NIB 7:208.
32. Stone, Sex, Honor, and Power, 121.
33. Ibid., 121-22.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 183
which comprises 700 princesses and 300 concubines (1 Kgs 11:3). The
princesses display his political power, representing the many alliances he
has made with other nations. The concubines represent his sexual
potency. While these many wives ultimately led to Solomon's downfall,
in his prime they symbolized the great extent of his power.
III. Gender Imagery in Hosea
Similar to the above examples, male sexual imagery forms an important
component in Hosea's oracles, which has been largely overlooked in
previous studies. Much of the gender-based imagery in Hosea shares the
perspectives on masculinity in the Assyrian and biblical texts cited
above. In fact, Hosea may be deliberately invoking treaty curses against
the apostate Israelites. As the following discussion will show, Hosea
employs both female and male imagery in the text, but both primarily
address masculine concerns.
The female imagery primarily addresses
challenges to YHWH's masculinity, whereas the male imagery focuses on
human masculinity.
A. Female Imagery
1. Marriage metaphor. Female imagery occurs primarily in the first three
chapters of Hosea, with a few additional references later. The image that
has the most narrative development is the marriage metaphor, which is
one of the most discussed prophetic images in the literature. The image
begins in ch. 1 when YHWH orders Hosea to marry aD^I UT H2JN ("woman
of fornications") and he marries Gomer.
The text implies that the wife
has sexual relations with a man other than her husband, but the exact
nature of the relationship is not described, which probably indicates that
the details are not important to the rhetorical point of the author. The
focus is not ultimately on the woman, but rather on the husband and the
marital relationship. The point is that the woman has sex outside of the
marital relationship, which symbolizes the fact that the land, Israel, has a
34. Gender and gender relations in the text do not, of course, necessarily reflect
actual gender relations in ancient Israel. Real gender relations are complex and often
differ from normative statements (see J. K. Chance, "The Anthropology of Honor
and Shame: Culture, Values, and Practice," Semeia 68 [1994]: 145-46).
35. Many interpreters translate this as "harlot," which does not have the profes-
sional connotations of prostitution. Phyllis Bird translates this with the more
rhetorically neutral "woman of promiscuities" ('"To Play the Harlot': An Inquiry
into an Old Testament Metaphor," in Day, ed., Gender and Difference, 7594). I use
the term "fornication" to represent extra-marital sexual relations, without the need
to go into details.
184 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
relationship outside of its bond with YHWH. Supporting the idea that
YHWH is the focus here more than the wife/land is the somewhat unusual
terminology mrp miKD pan rmn ronD ("The land fornicates from
after YHWH"). Though the Israelites are frequently accused of "HOR H3T
("whoring after") other gods in deuteronomistic texts,
this phrasing
places the other gods as the object, not YHWH. In deuteronomistic texts
the Israelites whore after other gods, whereas in Hosea they rather awk-
wardly whore "from after" YHWH.
This observation suggests two points.
First, YHWH is the focus. Where the wife/land goes is insignificant
what is important is that she is going away from YHWH. Second, other
gods are not specifically mentioned, meaning that the phrase does not
necessarily refer to cultic matters, as is usually assumed.
The marriage metaphor is further developed in Hos 2, where the rela-
tionship is clearly between YHWH and his wife, likely Samaria. In 2:7,
YHWH accuses the wife, or rather the mother of the children, of fornicat-
ing and acting shamelessly, which has caused her children to be declared
illegitimate. Further, she pursues her lovers, attributing to them her
bread, water, wool, wine, oil, and drink. That this pursuit will be fruitless
is iterated in 2:8 and 2:9. She will not be able to find her paths; she will
pursue her lovers, but will not overtake them.
In 2:4, the wife/mother becomes the object of rebuke. She will be
stripped naked as on the day of her birth, turned into a desert, and left to
die of thirst (2:5).The husband will snatch away his wool and flax that
cover her nakedness and will expose her before the eyes of her lovers
(2:11-12). The husband will also take away the food provisions. The
grain, oil, and wine that the husband initially provided (2:10) will be
taken away (2:11). Similarly, the wife's fig trees will be destroyed by the
husband, because she thinks them her fee from her lovers (2:14). They
will be left uncultivated and the wild beasts will eat them (2:14). The
husband will also put an end to the wife's celebrations by removing her
festivals. He will hedge up her ways so that she cannot find her lovers. In
addition, not only will he punish the wife, but he will disown her chil-
dren (2:6-7).
2. Implications of the female imagery for masculinity. This female
imagery gives rise to three major categories of implications for the meta-
phorical husband's masculinity.
36. Galambush (Jerusalem, 37) notes that "whoring after" is used as a dead meta-
phor in extra-prophetic texts, representing cultic apostasy. A dead metaphor is one
that ceases to be considered a metaphor in typical speech, such as the leg of a table.
37. Bird ("Play the Harlot," 81) observes that this construction appears only in
Hosea and in Ps 73:27.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 185
a. Provisioning. Providing sufficient provisions for his wife and family
was an important part of the male role in the ancient Near East. Many
marriage contracts required the husband to provide his wife with
stipulated amounts of items such as clothing, oil, and foodstuffs.
to do so could be grounds for divorce in the Middle Assyrian Laws.
same is true in at least one set of circumstances in biblical law: "If he
takes another [wife], he shall not diminish her food, clothing, or marital
rights. If he does not do these three things for her, she may go out freely,
without [paying] money" (Exod 21:10-11).
Additionally, many of the curses in Assyrian treaties relate to the
provisioning/protecting features of masculinity.
The curses contain
threats to the vassal king's personal family, as well as the larger popula-
tion. One common curse predicts that cannibalism will result from the
king's inability to provide food for his people, once he has violated the
treaty. For example, the Treaty of Assur-nerari V with MatiMlu, king of
Arpad, curses the violator, saying: "May Adad, the canal inspector of
heaven and earth, put an end to MatiMlu's land, and the people of his
land through hunger, want, and famine, may they eat the flesh of their
sons and daughters, and may it taste as good to them as the flesh of
spring lambs."
Similar curses occur in Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty,
which phrases the predicted cannibalism in more personal terms for the
rebellious king. The most developed example states:
May Adad, the canal inspector of heaven and earth, cut off sea[sonal
flooding] from your land and deprive your fields of [grain], may he [sub-
merge] your land with a great flood; may the locust who diminishes the
land devour your harvest; may the sound of mill or oven be lacking from
your houses, may the grain for grinding disappear from you; instead of
grain may your sons and your daughters grind your bones; may not (even)
your (first) finger-joint dip in the dough, may the [...] of your bowls eat
up the dough. May a mother [bar the door] to her daughter. In your
hunger eat the flesh of your sons! In want and famine may one man eat
the flesh of another; may one man clothe himself in another's skin.
In light of these expectations of provisioning, the wife's misattribution of
the provisions of the grain, oil, wine, and clothing in Hosea is an insult to
38. M. Buss, The Prophetic Word of Hosea (BZAW 111; Berlin: TSpelmann,
1969), 88. See also H. J. Hendriks, "Juridical Aspects of the Marriage Metaphor in
Hosea and Jeremiah" (Ph.D. diss., University of Stellenbosch, 1982), 67.
39. See MAL A 36 (ANET, 183).
40. Chapman, Gendered Language, 42-43.
41. S. Parpola and K. Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties and Loyalty Oaths (S AA
2; Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1988), 11.
42. Ibid., 46.
186 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
the husband's honor, in effect stating that her husband did not provide
for her, but rather another man did. As Stone notes, this misattribution in
Hos 2 affronts the husband's masculinity just as much as the sexual
b. Fidelity. The second categorythe threat of the wife's infidelity
has been discussed more thoroughly in scholarship. The fidelity of a
man's wife is necessary for his honor and thus his masculinity. If a
man's wife strays, it affects masculinity in multiple ways. First, the hus-
band faces the shame of not controlling his wife. Julie Galambush
applies this idea to her analysis of the marriage metaphor in the prophetic
texts: "Although adultery did not defile the name of the husband, the
shame created by Yahweh's failure to keep his subjects 'at home' would
have found powerful expression in the image of the god as cuckolded,
and therefore shamed, husband."
Second, adultery may suggest to other
people that the husband has failed to provide the necessities of life:
sufficient food, clothing, and other provisions and/or sufficient virility.
In such a case, the shame falls on the husband rather than the wife. Third,
the lover himself may be seen as challenging the husband's masculinity.
In a society in which male relatives are responsible for the protection of a
female, provisionally and sexually, the making and breaking of relation-
ships between men and women are in large part relations between men,
with the woman as the focal point.
The issues related to the wife's
infidelity therefore also challenge YHWH's masculinity by reflecting his
inability to control his people and raising questions about his provision
for the people.
43. Stone, "Lovers and Raisin Cakes," 128-30.
44. Galambush, Jerusalem, 34. That the shame of the cuckolded husband, in this
case the man Hosea, has occurred to readers in the past is expressed poetically by
E. H. Plumptre, Lazarus and Other Poems (4th ed; London: Griffith & Farran,
1884), 86.
45. David Gilmore cites a case in which the wife of a childless couple ran off
with another man. Villagers suspected that the husband was impotent, so in this case
the blame and shame fell on the husband rather than on the wife. See D. D. Gilmore
"Honor, Honesty, Shame: Male Status in Contemporary Andalusia," in Honor and
Shame and the Unity of the Mediterranean (ed. D. D. Gilmore; Special Publication
of the American Anthropological Association 2; Washington, D.C.: American
Anthropological Association, 1987), 96-97.
46. See D. D. Gilmore, "Introduction," in Gilmore, ed., Honor and Shame, 4-5;
Stone, Sex, Honor, and Power, 48. The challenge to the man's protection and
provision do not have to be true to affect his social status as a man negatively. See
N. Lindisfarne, "Variant Masculinities, Variant Virginities: Rethinking Honor and
Shame," in Cornwall and Lindisfarne, eds., Dislocating Masculinities, 87.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 187
c. Reproduction. The strong emphasis on female fidelity in marriage is
often justified by a concern with paternity. In order to assure that a man's
offspring are indeed his own, he must make sure that he is the only one
having intercourse with his wife. Children themselves, especially sons,
serve, among other things, as proof of their father's virility. Although the
female who is childless is often castigated as barren, in many areas of the
world the male is considered the real source of the child, while the
mother serves as an incubator. The language of seed, sowing, insemina-
tion, and so forth is quite common cross-culturally, including ancient
In this model the male provides the seed, while the female is the
soil. Soil can be fertile or barren, but it ultimately plays a passive role.
The active role of the male must be continually proved.
In Hosea's
female imagery, the presence of children vouches for the virility of the
husband, but the possibility that they are not his threatens this element of
his masculinity.
3. Responses to challenged masculinity. The husband's response in chs. 2
and 3 indicates his desire to defend and regain control of his masculinity.
Part of the irony of a system of hegemonic masculinity is that the sub-
ordinated female has considerable control over the reputation of the
dominant male.
Considerable pressure is put on the male relatives
to ensure their reputations through their females' chastity. Having an
unchaste female relative causes the man to lose honor, but the most
shameful situation in many cultures is for a husband to know about his
wife's infidelity and do nothing about it.
The metaphorical husband in Hosea tries to avoid this fate. He
threatens to disown the children and to punish the wife.
In addition to
47. JHT is the most common way to discuss progeny in the biblical texts. See,
e.g., Gen 12:7; 35:12; 38:9; 2 Sam7:12. It was also used to refer to semen, see, e.g.,
Lev 15:16. Likewise treaty curses often include the threat to destroy the king's seed
from the land, meaning his progeny. See Parpola and Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian
Treaties, 46, 51.
48. See C. Delaney, "Seeds of Honor, Fields of Shame," in Gilmore, ed., Honor
and Shame, 35^8.
49. For procreation as expected evidence of virility, see Gilmore, "Honor, Hon-
esty, Shame," 96; idem, "Introduction," 10; Lindisfarne, "Variant Masculinities," 88.
50. Cornwall and Lindisfarne ("Dislocating Masculinity," 25) note that this sort
of backhanded power has not been sufficiently studied from the viewpoint of the
subordinate, whose actions may be intentional.
51. See Brandes, Metaphors of Masculinity, 88.
52. The effect of the punishment on the perception of the husband's masculin-
ity is undercut, however, by the desire to reconcile expressed in the second half of
188 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
reclaiming his masculinity through his direct actions on his wife and
children, the husband makes a counter-attack on the masculinity of the
lovers: "Stripping her naked before her lovers will not only expose her
body and the foolishness of her ways, it will also prove, contrary to her
claims, how feeble and impotent are her lovers to protect and provide for
her (v. 12)."
Showing that the lovers are incapable of saving the woman
from the punishment of her husband places the blame for the straying
back on the woman. The wife did not leave because her lovers were more
manly than her husband.
4. Rhetorical effects of the female imagery. In addition to addressing
challenges to YHWH's masculinity, the female imagery has important
implications for the masculinity of the male audience. Because the
largely male audience of the oracles is cast in the role of the wife in Hos
1-3, the rhetorical force is to turn the men into women.
The metaphor of turning men into women has several powerful sig-
nifications. Primary among these is the fear of men in most cultures of
appearing to be feminized,
especially as a symbol of the loss of power
in political offices, social status, and economic arenas, as well as in sex-
ual contexts. To portray the male, elite audience as a woman thus attacks
many facets of their self-identity. According to Yee, this results in a loss
of status, and effectively "castrates" the elite. In political terms, repre-
senting the elite as the promiscuous, penetrated wife symbolizes the
nation as penetrated by foreigners.
By portraying the men as women,
Hosea emphasizes the idea that they are not really in charge. They may
think they are the potent, active partners, making and breaking alliances
to control the destiny of the country, but in fact, they are the passive
As noted above, the shame of becoming women appears in both bibli-
cal and ancient Near Eastern texts (e.g. 1 Sam 4:9). Nahum 3:13 char-
acterizes the useless and fearful soldiers of the defeated Nineveh as
women: "Truly your troops within you are women; the gates of your land
indeed were opened to your enemies." The transformation of men into
women is also a treaty curse in Esarhaddon's succession treaty: "May all
the gods who are called by name in this treaty tablet spin you around like
Hos 2 and in Hos 3, although this reconciliation will be on the husband's terms. He
rejected the wife's attempt to return in 2:9.
53. R. J. Weems, "Gomer: Victim of Violence or Victim of Metaphor?," Semeia
47 (1989): 97.
54. See Gilmore, "Introduction," 9.
55. G. Yee, Poor Banished Children of Eve (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 98-99.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 189
a spindle-whorl, may they make you like a woman before your enemy."
Similarly, the treaty between Assur-nerari V and MatiMlu, the king of
Arpad threatens,
If MatiMlu sins against this treaty with Assur-nerari, king of Assyria,
may MatiMlu become a prostitute, his soldiers women, may they receive
[a gift] in the square of their cities like any prostitute, may one country
push them to the next.
Notable in this curse is that the king and the soldiers are not only cursed
with becoming women, but with becoming prostitutes, who are near the
bottom of the social status structure. This curse is the closest match with
the situation in Hos 1-3, with the difference that Hosea characterizes the
men as an adulterous wife rather than as a prostitute. The former may, in
fact, may be considered worse because it represents a stronger challenge
to masculinity and thus warrants harsher punishment.
The rhetoric of the female images in Hos 1-3 thus serves two major
purposes. First, it accuses the men of challenging YHWH's masculinity
by breaking the treaty and shaming him like a cuckolded husband. The
rhetoric responds to this challenge by placing the blame on the wife,
showing the impotence of the lovers, and reasserting the husband's power
to punish and restore at his whim. Second, the rhetoric undercuts the
masculinity of the leaders who had raised the challenge by portraying
them as a woman. They are not treated on an equal basis as a rival man
but are put in their place as a woman under the authority of YHWH the
B. Male Imagery
In addition to undermining the masculinity of the male audience by
portraying them as a wife, Hosea also makes direct attacks against them
through male imagery, which predominates in chs. 414. Much of the
male imagery in Hosea has been overlooked in favor of the female
imagery. An examination of ancient Near Eastern texts that have overt
sexual and gender connotations, however, reveals a common image base,
which is useful for bringing to light some of the more obscure metaphors
56. Parpola and Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties, 56. Spindles are instruments
used to signify women in many Akkadian texts, as bows often symbolize men. The
transformation of men into women (and vice versa) is especially attributed to Inanna,
a goddess associated with love and war. See K. McCaffrey, "Reconsidering Gender
Ambiguity in Mesopotamia: Is a Beard Just a Beard?," in Sex and Gender in the
Ancient Near East [ed. S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting; Helsinki: The Neo-Assyrian
Text Corpus Project, 2002], 380).
57. Parpola and Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties, 12.
190 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
in Hosea. A collection of seventh-century Akkadian potency incantations
with accompanying rituals, called the SA.ZI. GA ("Rising of the Heart"),
provides a particularly illuminating comparison.
While Hosea may or
may not have been aware of these or similar texts, they serve to illustrate
what kinds of images for male sexuality were present in the cultural
milieu of the ancient Near East under Assyrian domination.
1. Categories of male imagery. Hosea's male imagery takes a variety of
forms. First, he uses illicit sexual relationships to associate men with
treachery and deceit. He also challenges potency, an important compo-
nent of masculine identity, by using categories that include sticks and
staffs, J 1K, baking imagery, and bow imagery.
a. H3T. The termH3T characterizes the first category of illicit sexual
relationships. Forms of 113T occur in nine verses in Hos 4-14 with a male
subject or implied subject.
While much scholarly attention has focused
on the cases with a female subject, including long discussions about
whether they are intended literally or figuratively, the cases with male
referents have largely been neglected.
Treatments of the male cases
jump to a figurative interpretation almost immediately, so that in effect
the metaphor is treated as if it were dead.
While this may be true of the
non-prophetic material, in Hosea, at least, the metaphor seems to be very
much alive, and as such, has broader rhetorical implications.
The first time the verb appears in the masculine is 4:10: &7\ 1*7381
tf7\ 1DTH liner ("They will eat, but not be sated, they will fornicate
but not break out/through").
The verb )HS has two basic meanings: to
break through, as in breaching a wall, and to break out, or to multiply
58. R. D. Biggs, SA.ZI.GA: Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations (TCS 2;
Locust Valley, N.Y.: J. J. Augustin, 1967).
59. Marvin Chancy, of San Francisco Theological Seminary, introduced me to
the relevanceof SA.ZI. GA literature to the text at hand in a seminar on Hosea.
60. See 4:10, 11, 12, 15, 18; 5:3,4; 6:10; 9:1.
61. Bird ("Play the Harlot," nn. 33 and 50) acknowledges the presence of male
referents and proposes that the Hiphil form, which appears three times in Hosea
(4:10, 18; 5:3), could indicate the male role in prostitution. She characterizes the
other references as still playing on female imagery, despite the male subject.
62. See, for example, Bucher, "Meaning ofZNH" 146. John J. Schmitt highlights
the multiple instances of il3T with a male subject, but his main point is that Israel
always takes the masculine gender ("The Gender of Ancient Israel," JSOT26 [1983]:
63. JPS translates the verb here and in 4:18 as "to drink," but as "fornicate" in
5:3.1 translateH3T as "fornicate" to emphasize the illicit nature of the sexual activity.
While not all male extra-marital activity may have been considered illicit, that with
women under the supervision of other men would have been.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 191
quickly and spread out in space. There is thus a possible double entendre
in the verse. One connotation relates to infertility: the man will be pro-
miscuous, but will not have offspring. Loss of fertility even with much
effort is a common treaty curse. The treaty between MatiMlu and Assur-
nerari V, for example, reads: "may Mati'ilu's (sex) life be that of a
Similar curses come from Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty:
"May Belet-ili, the lady of creation, cut off birth from your land; may she
deprive your nurses of the cries of little children in the streets and
The second connotation relates to lack of satisfaction in the sexual act
itself. The male will fornicate, but will not breach the female's "wall."
The imagery of breaking through is sometimes used in the military defeat
of cities, which are often portrayed as female. Breaching the wall is the
symbolic equivalent of sexual penetration.
Either of these two connota-
tions parallels the preceding colon expressing the lack of satisfaction
from food.
Other uses of H3T link fornication with shamefulness and impurity
(4:18; 5:3; 6:10) and with apostasy (4:11,12,15; 5:4; 9: l).The references
to male illicit sexual activity keep the rhetorical focus on the wrongdoing
of the audience as males, excluding the possibility of evading respons-
ibility through the construction of a female "other," as occurs in Hos 1-3.
b. * )&]. Hosea also characterized the men as adulterers (7:4).
tery" in Hosea's context denoted sexual relations with or by a married
woman, regardless of the marital status of the man. Adultery was thus a
crime against a husband rather than against a wife. In the context of a
chapter filled with political intrigue and apparent conspiracy against the
king, committing adultery against the king means that the conspirators
are making a direct challenge to his masculinity.
By comparison, the
64. Parpola and Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties, 12.
65. Ibid., 46.
66. Francis Landy links sexual and sacred boundaries, interpreting the audience
as the priests, who in this verse are "threatened with unremitting frustration"; see his
Hosea (Readings; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 58-59.
67. Chapman, Gendered Language, 88, 110.
68. A few commentators emend this to a form of * pN ("to burn") in the sense of
consuming rage. See, e.g., S. Paul, "The Image of the Oven and the Cake in Hosea
VII4-10." VT18 (1968): 115; cf. W. Rudolph, Hosea (KAT 13; Gutersloh: Gerd
Mohn, 1966), 146.
69. Hendriks ("Juridical Aspects," 89) sees Hosea as an innovator in the figura-
tive use of * }t. He notes that the context clearly suggests the word is a figure for
political, not cultic or marital situations. Outside the prophetic literature, * ]tW is used
only twice in a feminine form (Lev 20:10; Prov 30:20). Within the prophets, the
feminine form occurs eleven times, most of which are in figurative expressions. In
192 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
strong masculine images in Hos 7 also suggest that the issue is a contest
between men.
In addition to the use of adultery as a trope for competing potencies, it
also implies treachery and deceit.
An analogous passage appears in Jer
9:lb, which pairs adulterers and bands of traitors, who tell lies and
forsake truth: D'TD m!H? D'BiWD D^D 'D ("because they are all adulter-
ers, an assembly of traitors"). What makes this an especially relevant
parallel is that treachery pervades Hos 7 and a raiding band appears in
7:1. Both passages link adultery, deceit, and celebrations, while women
are conspicuously absent. The adultery imagery emphasizes the treacher-
ous competition between men.
c. Sticks and staffs. In addition to the fields of illicit sexual relations,
there are several categories of masculine imagery in Hosea that relate to
potency. One of the more blatant cases of potency imagery is in 4:12,
which reads: 1 * ? Tr 1 bpDI ^WT13JID ^U ("my people asks his stick and
his staff tells it"). The majority of commentators interpret the stick and
staff as cultic items.
Another way to interpret the verse, however, is
through phallic imagery, where the rod and staff are euphemisms for
the penis.
The immediate context of an oracle describing promiscuity
and adultery increases the likelihood that this is phallic imagery. The
oracle follows w. 10b-l 1: :^TI|T BTTTTI ]"T niDT "IDE/? 1372 mrPTltr'D
("Because they abandoned YHWH to observe fornication, and wine and
new wine takes away [their] heart") and precedes v. 12b: D^IST m~l ""3
DlTn^N nnnD 1]n ni?nn ("For a spirit of fornication leads them astray,
the masculine form the verb occurs nine times in a literal context (Exod 20:14; Lev
20:10 [3x]
Deut 5:18; Job 24:15; Prov 6:32; Isa 57:3; Mai 3:5) and five times in
what are probably figurative contexts (Jer 5:7; 9:1; 23:10; 29:23; Hos 7:4), in which
adultery seems to be a symbol for lying and deception in general, and perhaps also
of apostasy.
70. So also F. Andersen and D. N. Freedman, Hosea (AB 24; New York:
Doubleday, 1980), 455.
71. See Mays, Hosea, 73; H. W. Wolff, Hosea (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: For-
tress, 1974), 84; M. Sweeney, The Twelve Prophets (Berit Olam 1; Collegeville,
Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2000), 48. Landy (Hosea, 61) likewise sees these as idols
even though he interprets nearly everything else with sexual connotations. Macintosh
(Hosea, 151-52) acknowledges that others have seen these as phallic symbols, but
finds this interpretation unlikely. Andersen and Freedman (Hosea, 366) mention the
possibility, but then equate this with either phallic shaped idols or with a derogatory
reference to the idols.
72. So JPS; Bird, "Play the Harlot," 83; H. L. Ginsberg, "Lexigraphical Notes," in
Hebrdische Wortforschung (ed. James Barr; VTSup 16; Leiden: Brill, 1967), 74.
Compare line 28 from the Akkadian potency incantation no. 22: "May the penis of
NN son of NN be a stick of warfti-wood!" (Biggs, SA.ZI.GA).
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 193
and they fornicate from under their God"). In other words, wine has taken
away the men's minds and they are thinking with another part of their
The chapter as a whole is quite dense with sexual imagery,
especially concerning excessive or illegitimate sex, and the phallic nature
of the rods and staffs fits nicely in that context.
Cognate literature also provides several examples of rods and staffs as
phallic imagery. In the Ugaritic text of "The Birth of the Gods of Dawn
and Dusk," for example, after having intercourse with his two wives
(with his "hand" as long as the sea), El evidently needs a break before
resuming activities with his passionate wives:
Surely El entices two women; lo! the two women cry out:
"Oh husband, husband, thy sceptre is lowered, the staff of thy hand laid
aside (?)
Lo! the bird is roasted at the fire; scorching hot at the coals are
the two women, wives of Elwives of El (now) and for evermore!"
d. )1N. The word }1N is an equivalent term to potency in English, with
connotations of sexual, physical, economic, and political power.
exerts himself with God in his ]1N ("manly vigor") in 12:4. Eilberg-
Schwarz comments on the allusion to Jacob in this passage and its impli-
cations of unwarranted pride:
Hosea's retelling emphasizes that J acob's struggle with God occurred in
his manhood ('ono). Furthermore, it makes Jacob's supplanting of Esau
parallel Jacob's struggle with God. Hosea views the struggle with God as
part of Jacob's (Israel's) hubris. He is so defiant that he is willing to stand
against God.
73. Brandes (Metaphors of Masculinity, 92) observes that in Andalusia the male
genitals are referred to as the source of the will. If a man does something because he
wants to, and does not really care what other people (especially his wife) think, he
says he is doing it "because it comes to me from the balls" or "because it comes out
of my prick." A related expression with more pejorative connotations is present in
American slang. "Thinking with one's dick" indicates that lust is overriding rational
74. Translation by G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends (OTS 3; Edin-
burgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956), 123. S. H. Smith (" 'Heel' and 'Thigh': The Concept of
Sexuality in the Jacob-Esau Narratives," FT40 [1990]: 467) translates the phrase as
"Your staff is going down; weakened is the rod of your hand."
75. Multiple connotations of the term are evident in Gen 49:3. Cf. Deut 21:17;
Ps 78:51.
76. Eilberg-Schwarz, God's Phallus, 156. He also asserts that in the Genesis
version, J acob's "hip" injury is really a genital injury, thus making Jacob submit his
potency to God's power. With regard to the Hosea version, he writes: "Although
194 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The economic connotations of jlK appear a few verses later in Hos 12:9,
still in a context of unwarranted hubris, where Ephraim says: "Surely I
have become rich. I have found potency (jlN) for myself." This is fol-
lowed by the enigmatically worded justification: "All of my acquisitions
do not find for me iniquity (pi?) that is sin." There is a play here between
what Ephraim has found for himself (J IN) and what his acquisitions have
not found for him (J 1J 7).
Of course, the implication of the passage is that
iniquity has indeed been found.
e. Baking imagery. Another group of male sexual images, especially
prevalent in Hos 7, relates to baking. The relationship between food and
sex is common in Hebrew and other literatures and vernaculars. Song of
Songs provides particularly obvious food linkages.
Judges 14, which
recounts the tale of Samson and his Philistine fiancee, associates honey
with marriage and sex. Negative connotations of food and sex appear in
Prov 30:20, which describes an adulteress with implications of eating:
"Thus are the ways of a woman who is committing adultery: She wipes
her mouth and says I have done no wrong." Connections between food
and sex in Hosea occur in ch. 2, where the promiscuity of the wife is
rewarded or punished through the giving and taking away of foodstuffs.
The baking metaphor in Hos 7 links issues of food and potency. First,
the image of the oven itself occurs three times in w. 4, 6, and 7. The
type of oven here is a "H3P, which is an upright cylindrical oven. The fire
is lit at the bottom, and the food, usually bread, is placed through a hole
in the top.
The image has obvious phallic possibilities, which warrant
further exploration because of the link between sexual and political
potency. Verse 4 most clearly puts the oven in the realm of sexual
symbolism: "They are all adulterers (D^Bi^O) like an oven (Ttfn) stoked
by a baker (nSNQ)." The verse connotes the heat of the oven and the heat
of illicit sex, an association underscored by the play between D^StWD
("adulterers") and HSKQ ("baker").
All of this heat in turn symbolizes
political treachery and regicide. The next use of "TUP is in 7:6: "They
brought near their hearts like an oven ("nuro) in their ambush."
Theremainder of the verse describes how their baker slept all night, then
Hosea does not explicitly allude to Jacob's injury, Jacob's weeping may be an
oblique reference to that event. In his manhood, he has been made to cry."
77. R. B. Coote ("Hosea 12," VT2\ [1971]: 393) assertsthatpfc and|1K meaning
''iniquity" (cf. 12:12), were pronounced identically in northern Israel. Thus the
mention of the former in this verse brings up the connotations of the latter.
78. See, e.g., Song 1:2; 2:3,4; 4:11, 16; 5:1.
79. J. F. Ross, "Bread," IDE 1:462.
80. KB notes that the verb HSK is mostly used for men, and lists only one instance
of female bakers mSN in 1 Sam 8:13.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 195
in the morning flared up like a blazing fire. Subsequently in 7:7: "All of
them burned (1QIT) like an oven (T13rD) and consumed (I^DNI) their
rulers. All their kings have fallen." The conspirators assert their own
potency over that of the kings and princes, who have fallen, a description
of impotency in all of its various senses.
A second group of baking images concerns dough and bread. In addi-
tion to the oven and adultery references mentioned above, 7:4 states: "He
stops stoking from the kneading of the dough until its leavening." While
waiting for the oven to blaze up in full strength, the conspirators wait for
their potency to rise. The first stage of bread preparation has shown the
conspirators' assessment of their own potency as growing and consum-
ing their rulers. Hosea then develops the imagery further in order to show
that their self-image is delusional. The people are not kneaded into
potency, rather in 7:8: "Ephraim is kneaded/mixed up (^DTP) among
the peoples." The related Akkadian root is used in Assyrian texts to indi-
cate the mixing of peoples for trade and other purposes.
Thus the impli-
cation may be that the conspirators will not gain independent political
power, but will be subject to Assyrian control.
Moving onto the next phase of baking, 7:8 reads: "Ephraim is a cake
not turned (rmsn ^D)." Such a cake would be raw on one side and
burned on the other, unfit for human consumption.
Here Ephraim thinks
it is potent, like risen bread, but turns out to be simultaneously burnt and
squishy, that is, impotent.
In political terms, Ephraim is caught between
two nations. Its appeals to Egypt are unsuccessful, and its revolt against
Assyria has dire consequences. In the terms of the imagery, Ephraim is
unsupported by Egypt (squishy) and burned by Assyria.
Finally, there are images relating to the finished bread in 7:9: "Strang-
ers consume his strength (1PQ), but he does not know (ITP). Also gray
hairs/mold (ra^tD) sprout on him, but he does not know." Ephraim is
unaware that strangers consume his "strength."
!"D like "pR connotes
81. Paul, "Image of the Oven," 118. See H. Tadmor, "The Campaigns of Sargon
n of Assur: A Chronological-Historical Study," JCS12 (1958): 34: "The Assyrians
and the Egyptians I mingled together and made them trade with each other."
82. Macintosh, Hosea, 268; Mays, Hosea, 108; Rudolph, Hosea, 153.
83. While E. Nwaoru ("The Role of Images in the Literary Structure of Hosea
VII 8-Vffl 14," FT 54 [2004]: 219) does not discuss this chapter in particular, his
assessment of the imagery used here is telling: "The prophet's verdict is that
Ephraim is totally worthless in his international contacts, for his failed political
outing results in a total emasculation as expressed in the subsequent verbal meta-
phors" (emphasis added).
84. Ironically, here the conspirators who have consumed (^SK) their rulers in 7:7
are themselves consumed (^DK). Nwaoru (ibid., 221) notes that the imagery recurs in
8:8 where Israel is S^ ("swallowed up").
196 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
virility as well as physical strength, power, and the produce of the land.
Ephraim's lack of knowledge about being eaten has multiple implica-
tions. First, in the symbolic realm, Ephraim has lost his virility and is no
longer able to "know," that is, to perform sexually; moreover, he does
not even realize it. Second, in the political and economic realm, Ephraim
has lost his potency, being mixed up among the nations, but again does
not realize it. Third, Ephraim's military might has been eviscerated, but
he does not realize this, as evidenced by the multiple rebellions against
The subsequent line has similar connotations. The translation is some-
what difficult, being either "gray hairs sprout on him" or "mold sprouts
on him." Paul supports the latter meaning and notes that the phrase !"QT
np"lT has an Akkadian equivalent in the Gilgamesh epic: siba ittadi ("it
had thrown off a mold"), although siba means literally "white hairs."
is possible that a pun is intended, playing off both meanings. Mold, of
course, sprouts on bread and denotes decay, the opposite of potency.
Gray hair symbolizes old age, with its attendant loss of virility (cf. Gen
f. Bow imagery. A significant field of male sexual imagery that finds
many analogies in ancient Near East literature revolves around military
might. In particular, the image of the bow as a symbol of potency is
widespread. As an instrument of power in military situations and in hunt-
ing, it is a natural symbol for masculinity in general.
In both biblical
texts and ancient Near Eastern texts and reliefs, bows and archers repre-
sent strength and dominance. Many occurrences of HCp throughout the
biblical texts, for example, serve to describe warriors, both Israelite and
85. Paul, "Image of the Oven," 119. The meaning of mold is clearly intended
because the story describes the level of decay a cake of bread shows after a par-
ticular number of days.
86. At an age when wisdom is supposed to be present, Ephraim does not even
know his own condition. Choon Leong Seow ("Hosea 14:10 and the Foolish People
Motif," CBQ 44 [1982]: 212-24) notes that motifs from wisdom literature, particu-
larly relating to the foolish person, appear several times in Hosea, including this
87. Harry A. Hofmer Jr. ("Symbols of Masculinity and Femininity: Their Use in
Ancient Near Eastern Sympathetic Magic Rituals," JBL 85 [1966]: 326-34 [327])
observes that since "the ancients" assessed masculinity through prowess in battle and
the ability to sire children, the image fields often overlapped, so that, in particular,
weapons took on sexual symbolism. Pamela Gordon and Harold C. Washington
("Rape as a Military Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible," in Brenner, ed., Feminist Com-
panion, 308-25 [313]) also link military and sexual imagery, but concentrate on the
representation of military defeat and violence as sexual violence.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 197
foreign (e.g. 2 Sam 1:17-27). Elsewhere the vanquished flee before the
bow (e.g. Jer 4:29; Isa 21:15; Ps 11:2). If a warrior is particularly blessed
and strengthened he will bend an extra strong bow. David, for instance,
praises God for strengthening his hands for battle so that he can bend a
bow of bronze (2 Sam 22:35; cf. Gen 49:23-24; Ps 18:35).
A broken bow, on the other hand, indicates total defeat. In the biblical
texts, it is often YHWH who breaks the bows, as a symbol of YHWH'S
dominion. The nations whose bows are broken are no longer the power-
ful actors, and in the particular contexts of the verses, this signals a signi-
ficant reversal of power. For example, Hannah champions the overturning
of the expected order, where the powerful are dethroned: "The bows of
the mighty are broken, and the faltering are girded with strength" (1 Sam
2:4). Broken bows also signify peace under the dominion of YHWH (e.g.
Ps 46:9; Zech 9:10). The first reference to the bow in Hosea employs
these connotations of YHWH's dominion: "I will break the bow of Israel
in the valley of Jezreel" (1:7). Assyrian reliefs also often show the king
standing upright, holding a bow, representing his power and dominance,
while the defeated parties appear with their bows down or abandoned.
One particular relief depicts a prisoner kneeling next to a stack of bows
he has surrendered, while Assurbanipal stands upright, testing the newly
confiscated equipment, with a bow fully drawn.
Thus, the bow is a multifaceted symbol, incorporating several ele-
ments of masculinity. Some of these features appear in ancient Near
Eastern treaties of the time, especially in the extensive curse lists. These
lists also contain references to sexuality and its connotations for fertility.
Hence, the threat to break bows symbolizes the crushing of both military
might and sexual power. Violating the treaty engenders punishments in
which many of the important elements in the construction of masculinity
are destroyed: military might and protective, provisional, and procreative
abilities. The curses in the Sefire inscription, for example, after describ-
ing how the land, as well as its inhabitants, will become barren and how
the fields will be sown with salt and weeds, adds, "Just as (this) bow and
these arrows are broken, so may Inurta and Hadad break [the bow of
Mati'el] and the bow of his nobles!"
Likewise, a treaty between Assur-
nerari V and Mati'-ilu reads:
88. See Chapman, Gendered Language, 173-79.
89. Ibid., 176.
90. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (rev. ed.; BibOr 197A;
Rome: Pontifical Bible Institute, 1995), 47.
198 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
May Mati'-ilu's (sex) life be that of a mule, his wives extremely old; may
Istar, the goddess of men, the lady of women, take away their bow, bring
them to shame, and make them bitterly weep: "Woe, we have sinned
against the treaty of AsSur-nerari, king of Assyria."
The association between having one's bow broken and being forced to
crouch also appears in treaty curses.
Esarhaddon's Succession Treaty,
for instance, states: "[May Istar, lady of warfare, break his bow in] the
thick of battle, and have him crouch as a captive [under his enemy],"
and "May Astarte break your bow in the thick of battle and have you
crouch at the feet of your enemy, may a foreign enemy divide your
The humiliation of breaking a man's bow and forcing him to crouch
takes on special significance when one considers the sexual connotations
of the bow image. Bows appear in the Ugaritic poem, "The Birth of the
Gods of Dawn and Dusk," as a symbol of sexual potency:
'El bends his bowstave, He drew his mighty shaft, He lifts (it), He shoots
skyward. He shoots a bird in the sky, He plucks (it), he sets (it) on coals.
'El seduces his wives, Lo, the two women cry: O husband! Husband!
Stretched is your bowstave, Taut is your mighty shaft.
Bows are also used in the SA.ZL GA incantations. Two examples are No.
3, line 20, "And who has made you fall limp like slack cords?,"
and No.
18, lines 3'-4', "May the [qu]iver not become e[mp]ty! May the bow not
become slack! Let the batt[le of] my love-making be waged! Let us lie
down by night!"
A further example comes from a Hittite impotency
ritual of the sorceress Paskuwatti, which involves taking a spindle, a
mirror, and women's clothing from the impotent man and giving him the
bow and arrow.
Psalm 127:3-5 also incorporates fertility, protection,
and military might in its bow imagery:
91. Parpola and Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties, 12. This treaty seems to
involve the same person as Sefire treaty, as Mati'ilu and Mattel are equivalent. The
mysterious king of KTK has not been identified, however, so one cannot say that
these are versions of the same treaty.
92. Note that crouching puts the man in a submissive, feminized position.
93. Parpola and Watanabe, Neo-Assyrian Treaties, 23.
94. Ibid., 27. Note here the additional humiliation that the man will not be able to
protect his possessions.
95. F. M. Cross, Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1973), 35.
96. Biggs, SA.ZI.GA, 19.
97. Ibid., 37.
98. Hoffher, "Symbols of Masculinity," 331.
HADDOX (E)Masculinity in Hosea 's Political Rhetoric 199
Sons are the heritage of YHWH, a reward is the fruit of the womb
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior thus are the sons of youth
Happy is the man who fills his quiver with them.
He will not be ashamed when they drive away the enemy at the gate.
The above material suggests a possible solution to the translation prob-
lems of Hos 7:16. The first line is quite terse: ^S vft imtZ T ("they will
return but not up[ward]")." The comparative imagery suggests that one
translate the line as it stands: "not up."
Read with the following colon,
it is a potency image: "They return, not 'up'they are like a slack bow!"
The surrounding context supports this understanding, as YHWH com-
plains that the people have been deceitful. YHWH has strengthened their
arms (another potential military image), but they plot evil against him.
Then they return but "not up"; they are like a slack bow, and their
officials will fall by the sword (7:15-16). They are defeated and (sym-
bolically) emasculated.
2. Implications of male imagery for masculinity. The several types of
male imagery contribute to a multi-dimensional picture of masculinity.
The terminology of illicit sexual unions, for example, represented by the
use of HDT and ^ND, suggests the treachery and deceit of the male leaders,
as well as their challenge to YHWH's masculinity. The potency images
relate more directly to general characteristics of masculinity. The general,
multi-faceted term for masculine virility, ]1K, is played upon, showing
that the source of masculine pride can lead into hubris and self-delusion,
which often lead one into iniquity and forgetting the true top of the power
structure, namely, YHWH. The phallic imagery of the sticks, staffs, and
bows has a visceral connection to masculine understanding, which is
then ridiculed. The men are shown to be self-deluded about their potency
and will suffer military humiliation and defeat.
The extended imagery of baking also allows for the development of
several aspects of masculinity. The initial association of men with food
99. Translation proposals include understanding "upward" is a reference to
YHWH (see Wolff, Hosea, 108; Landy, Hosea, 99; Macintosh, Hosea, 284); taking
bu Kb together as "Not High," a disparaging reference to Ba'al (see Sweeney,
Twelve Prophets, 83; Andersen and Freedman, Hosea, 477); emending the text itself
to tob (see H. D. Beeby, Grace Abounding [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989], 92;
William Rainey Harper, Amos and Hosea [ICC 23; Edinburgh: T. &T. Clark, 1905],
307); and emending or reversing the words to "turn to what is nothing/useless" (see
Mays, Hosea, 110; Rudolph, Hosea, 151).
100. hs is a rare term. A similar construction occurs in 2 Sam 23:1: DKD1
bu Dpn "O3n ("The utterance of the man who has been raised up").
200 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
reminds one of the provisioning aspect of male honor. Sexual heat and
power mix with political intrigue and power structures, which rise like
dough before breaking forth into lawlessness and murder. Inappropriate
mixing with foreign nations leads to political and economic impotence,
and decay ultimately sets in for old bread and old men, leaving them
useless and weak, consumed by others.
IV. Conclusion
The gendered language in Hosea has two major rhetorical effects on the
male audience. First, the female imagery feminizes them, casting them in
the role of the wife. This imagery identifies the breaking of the treaty in
question as an affront to YHWH. By playing on the fears and concerns
about masculinity in the lives of the leaders, the rhetoric dramatizes the
nature of the offense against YHWH. As often threatened in the treaties
themselves, the men are turned into women. The imagery also details the
punishment that the city will face when besieged by the Assyrians.
Second, the male imagery emasculates them. The oracles enumerate
the various ways that the men are not as manly as they think they are.
The rhetorical effect of the fairly dogged assault on the audience's
masculinity is to disparage their political decisions and capabilities. The
men are not acting with honor. They are instead deceitful, treacherous,
and ultimately impotent. Because of their maneuverings, they have
brought upon themselves the treaty curses. Their bows will be broken,
their pride will be humbled, they will face infertility and starvation. The
males in the text strive after the normal attributes of masculinity,
including military prowess, the ability to provide for and protect one's
family, and the desire not to be perceived as feminized. It is those very
goals that they will lose through breaking the treaty.
By contrast, the gendered language portrays YHWH as the ultimate
masculine figure: the husband to the leaders' wife, the bow-breaker, the
one who reveals the leaders' impotency. Because the leaders have vio-
lated the treaty with the Assyrians that YHWH had witnessed, YHWH now
enforces the curses against an Israel powerless to resist. Hence, Hosea
effectively criticizes the actions of Israel's leaders using the rhetoric of
masculinity, which is central to the construction of political power. The
leaders are weak and delusional, not acknowledging that YHWH holds the
true power.
J. J. M. Roberts
In addition to a number of brief allusions to Egypt's role in Israel's early
history (Isa 10:24-26; 11:11,15-16) and to its contemporary roles as an
agent of Israel's punishment (7:18), as a place of Israel's exile (11:11),
and as a shocked observer of Tyre and Sidon's fates (23:5), Isaiah of
Jerusalem also issued a number of oracles specifically concerned with
Egypt (19-20; 30:1-7; 31:1-3) and Nubia (18; 20).
If one could date
these oracles, they would provide a fascinating historical commentary on
Isaiah's interpretation of Israelite-Egyptian relations in the late eighth
century B.C.E. Isaiah 20's synchronism with Sargon's Ashdod campaign,
anchors it to a particular circumstance, but the other oracles are lacking
such a secure anchor, and their contents allow more than one possible
historical context. The purpose of this study is to explore those possible
contexts, to suggest the more likely, and to comment on the resulting
picture of Isaiah's critique of late eighth-century Judean and Israelite
foreign policy.
Before turning to the biblical texts, however, it will be helpful to
review Danel Kahn's revision of the chronology of the Egyptian Twenty-
fifth or Nubian Dynasty necessitated by the republication of Sargon H's
* It is a delight to present this study to John Hayes, a friend and discussion
partner of many years. While I have often differed from J ohn's conclusions, I have
always learned from the acuteness with which he poses the questions and from his
critical evaluations of the various options.
1. Standard English translations customarily render 271D as Ethiopia, but modern
Ethiopia is too far east to correspond to biblical "Cush." The term refers to the area
of the Nile Valley between Aswan and Khartoum, the area of southern Egypt and
northern Sudan that used to go by the name Nubia.
2. See my "Egypt, Assyria, Isaiah, and the Ashdod Affair: An Alternative
Proposal," in Jerusalem in Bible and Archaeology: The First Temple Period(ed. A.
G. Vaughn and A. E. Killebrew; SBLSymS 18; Atlanta: Society of Biblical
Literature Press, 2003), 265-83.
202 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
inscription at Tang-i Var.
Since this inscription, dating from 706 B.C.E.,
specifically names Shebitku, not Shabako, as the Nubian king who extra-
dited Yamani, the leader of the Ashdod revolt, from Nubia to Assyria,
Shebitku must have succeeded Shabako by 706, not 702 or 701 as earlier
assumed. That in turn requires an adjustment in the dates assigned to the
earlier members of this dynasty. According to Kahn and Anson Rainey,
who follows him,
the dates assigned to the members of this dynasty are
as follows:
Alara ?
Kashta ? to 753 B.C.E.
Piye (Pi-
ankhy) 753-721 B.C.E.
Shabako 721-706 B.C.E.
Shebitku 706-690 B.C.E.
Taharqa (Tirhakah) 690-664 B.C.E.
Tantamani 664-653 B.C.E.
According to Kahn, Piye's campaign against Tefhakht of Sais and his
Delta allies began in 734 B.C.E. and was the reason why Hanun of Gaza,
who had sought asylum with his Egyptian supporters, now threatened by
the Nubians, did not remain in Egypt but returned home to submit to
Tiglath-pileser EL Better the evil that Hanun knew than the unknown
and uncertain evil of the Nubians. Nubian contact with Assyria is clearly
attested by 732, when both Nubians and Egyptians were among those
receiving rations of wine at the Assyrian capital Calah.
Piye did not
remain in the Delta to consolidate his rule, however, and Tefhakht soon
reasserted control of the Delta and assumed royal titles from ca. 733-
725. He was the major power in the Delta, and it was either to him
directly or perhaps to him through his vassal Osorkon IV of Tanis that
Hoshea sent tribute to secure Egyptian aid for his revolt against
Shalmaneser V. Temakht was succeeded by his son Bakenranef (725-
720), who attempted to regain control of Memphis, provoking a Nubian
3. D. Kahn, "The Inscription of Sargon II at Tang-I Var and the Chronology of
Dynasty 25," Or n.s. 70 (2001): 1-18. His doctoral dissertation, "A Grammatical
Analysis of the Victory Stela of Pianky and the Political, Military, Cultural Reality
Arising from the Text" (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2001), was not
available to me. For the inscription itself, see G. Frame, "The Inscription of Sargon
II at Tang-i Var," On.s. 68 (1999): 31-57.
4. A. F. Rainey and R. S. Notley, The Sacred Bridge: Carlo's Atlas of the
Biblical World (Jerusalem: Carta, 2006), 233.
5. J. V. Kinnier-Wilson, The Nimrud Wine Lists: A Study of Men and
Administration at the Assyrian Capital in the Eighth Century B. C. (Cuneiform Texts
from Nimrud 1; London: The British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 1972), 91-92.
ROBERTS Isaiah's Egyptian and Nubian Oracles 203
response. Shabako invaded Egypt in 720, killed Bakenranef, and
reasserted control over the Delta. Yet he also continued the anti-Assyrian
policies of the Delta rulers. In 720, he apparently sent an army under Reu
to relieve Sargon's siege of Gaza. Reliefs from Sargon's palace at Dur-
sharruken show Nubian soldiers defending the walls of Raphia and
In 715 B.C.E., when Sargon sent an Assyrian army to replace the
rebellious Azuri in Ashdod and to deal with the Arabs on the Egyptian
border, Osorkon IV of Tanis sent a gift of horses to the Assyrian court,
and this may have provoked a hostile Nubian response in the eastern
Delta. Such a response would help explain the boldness of the Ash-
dodites in throwing out Ahimeti, whom the Assyrians had appointed king
in Azuri's place, and in elevating an apparent foreign adventurer, vari-
ously known as Yamani or Yadna, as their king.
This Yamani resumed
the anti-Assyrian diplomacy of Azuri with the obvious expectation of
Egyptian and Nubian support. Isaiah 20 suggests that such expectations
of Egyptian and Nubian support for this revolt were widely held in Judah
and the other Palestinian and Transjordanian states that Yamani had
invited to participate. Those expectations are easier to understand if
messengers from the Nubian court and their Egyptian vassals had actu-
ally visited the royal courts of these small states, including that of
Hezekiah in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, despite the protracted negotiations
of 714-711, Judah did not join the revolt, and, when the Assyrians
marched on Ashdod in 711, no Nubian-Egyptian army came to the
rescue of the city. Yamani fled through Egypt to the border of Nubia
where he received political asylum for the rest of Shabako's reign. When
Shebitku replaced Shabako in 706, however, the new Nubian king
decided that an exiled Yamani was no longer of value to him, and he
extradited him to Assyria. Whether this was a serious attempt to establish
6. N. Franklin, "The Room V Reliefs at Dur-Sharruken and Sargon IF s Western
Campaigns," TA 21 (1994): 255-75, esp. 264-68 Figs. 3-7.
7. The variation in the name suggests that both names might be nicknames,
derived from the man's ethnicity or place of originYamani as a gentilic JOHWK for
"the Greek" and Yadna as a shortened form of Yadnana, "Cyprus," for "Cypriot."
Some have rejected this explanation, however, because neither Yamani nor Yadna
are written in Akkadian with the normal Akkadian gentilic ending -ayyu. Yet this
would be a compelling argument only if the names had been given by the Assyrians.
It is far more likely they were nicknames given by Phoenicians or Philistines
speaking a West Semitic dialect in which the gentilic ending is simply i. The
Assyrian scribes may have understood the names as simple proper names and
rendered them as they were pronounced, rather than converting them into proper
Akkadian forms.
204 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
more amicable long-term relations with Assyria, a temporary appease-
ment to gain more time to prepare for serious conflict, or a tactical move
to get rid of an expensive and no longer useful vassal in exchange for
better intelligence on the plans and capabilities of the Assyrian state is
hard to say. Whatever the motivation, it did not produce long-term peace
with Assyria. When Sargon died unexpectedly in 705, Nubia became a
major supporter of the anti-Assyrian revolt in the west, and in 701 a
Nubian-Egyptian army tried to drive Sennacherib's army from southern
As mentioned above, Isa 20's account of Isaiah's repeated public
appearances in the nude during his shocking three-year long demonstra-
tion against any possible Judean participation in the Ashdod revolt
clearly relates to the years 715-711 B.C.E. Isaiah's explicit announce-
ment of judgment on both Egypt and Nubia in 20:3-5 suggests that
during the extended negotiations between Hezekiah and Ashdod the
promise of Egyptian and Nubian support for the revolt was communi-
cated not just by Philistine messengers, but by actual envoys from Egypt
and Nubia. Isaiah took the promise of Egyptian and Nubian military
assistance seriously enough to direct his main threat against these powers
in whom the Philistines were placing their reliance.
Several other texts are probably best dated to this period as well.
Unless one emends the text, the oracle against the Philistines in Isa
14:28-32 dates to the year of Ahaz's death. According to the synchro-
nism in 2 Kgs 18:13, Ahaz died in 715 B.C.E., the approximate time that
the Philistines of Ashdod under Azuri began sending letters to the sur-
rounding states asking them to join in a revolt against Assyria. The death
of Ahaz, who had remained a staunch Assyrian ally during his whole
reign, may have encouraged the Philistines, who imagined that Hezekiah,
Judah's new king, might be open to their entreaties. The references in
14:29 to the rod that smote the Philistines and to the root of the serpent
from whom will emerge a viper and a flying cobra are often taken as
references to the Assyrians, but it is more likely a reference to Ahaz and
his successor Hezekiah as oppressors of Philistia. Hezekiah certainly
became a dominant force in Philistine affairs as his later imprisonment of
Padi, the loyal Assyrian vassal and legitimate Philistine ruler of Ekron,
Biblical readers tend not to attribute such a reputation to
Ahaz, however, since the Deuteronomistic Historian attributes no
military successes to Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:1-20) and the Chronicler has the
Philistines oppressing Ahaz, not the reverse (2 Chr 28:18). Yet one
8. D. D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (OIP 2; Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1924), 31 ii 73-78; 32 iii 8-17.
ROBERTS Isaiah's Egyptian and Nubian Oracles 205
should not make too much of this. The Deuteronomistic Historian and
the Chronicler both have a theological bias against Ahaz, and, while the
Philistines as a part of the anti-Assyrian coalition probably did ravage
Judean territory early on during the Syro-Ephraimitic war (Isa 9:11), it is
likely that Ahaz, as the sole loyal Assyrian vassal in the region, ulti-
mately benefited from the outcome of that war. Just as Sennacherib
rewarded the loyal Padi with Judean territory after the Assyrian defeat of
Hezekiah in 701,
the loyal Ahaz likely benefited from the Assyrian
defeat of Philistia in 734. There are hints in Hosea that Judah extended
its border northward into former Israelite territory in the aftermath of the
Syro-Ephraimitic war (Hos 5:10), and it would be surprising if Judah did
not also extend it westward into Philistine territory at that time.
Moreover, as a loyal Assyrian vassal, Ahaz probably also benefited from
Sargon's defeat of the Hamath-Samaria-Philistine coalition of 720. If
these conclusions hold, the "messengers of the nation(s)" in Isa 14:32
would be the messengers from Azuri, and perhaps slightly later from
Yamani, encouraging Hezekiah to join Ashdod and the Philistines in
their revolt against Sargon. If the plural reading "nations" is correct,
these messengers might also have included Egyptian and Nubian
representatives. Isaiah's answer to these messengers is, "No thanks.
Yahweh has founded Zion, and we will take our refuge in the security
God has promised it, not in the bogus security of an anti-Assyrian
alliance supported by Egypt and Nubia."
A similar background should probably be assigned to Isa 18. The
reference to swift messengers moving back and forth by boat to and from
Nubia suggests very active diplomatic activity in Palestine by Nubian
messengers. Though not as clear as one could hope, the reference to a
"tall and smooth-skinned nation" fits the ancient portrayals of the often
beardless Nubians far better than it fits the Assyrians.
Yahweh's quiet,
uninvolved, and patient observation from his abode on Mount Zion
suggests Isaiah was recommending a Judean response to all this diplo-
matic activity very similar to that articulated in Isa 14:32: "Do not join
the revolt; wait patiently in Jerusalem for Yahweh's resolution of the
The oracle or oracles in Isa 19:1-15 are more difficult to date. The
reference to internecine warfare pitting Egyptian against Egyptian (19:2),
ultimately resulting in Egypt being delivered into the hands of a harsh
9. Ibid., 33 iii 31-34.
10. Note the beardless, curly haired Nubian warriors, in contrast to the bearded
warriors of Assyria, Philistia, and Samaria, in Franklin, "Room V," 26469 Figs, 3
7. Cf. also the beardless Nubian troops inANEP, 5 5 figs. 179-80.
206 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
ruler (19:4), fits two different scenarios reasonably well. One could think
of Tefhakht's forcible unification of the Delta and his march south,
which resulted in Piye's Nubian conquest of Egypt in 734 B.C.E. Or one
could think of Bakenranef s foolish attempt to regain control of Mem-
phis, which led to Shabako's Nubian invasion of the Delta in 720.1 am
inclined to opt for the later date, since Shabako's control of the Delta
was far more complete, and, if we may judge from the traditions pre-
served in Manetho, his treatment of his Egyptian opponents was far
harsher than that of Piye.
The prose material in Isa 19:16-25, which is often dated far later than
Isaiah of Jerusalem and which may indeed have been updated by later
editing and secondary additions, also likely dates to ca. 720 B.C.E.
Sargon claims to have opened trade with Egypt, a claim that is usually
dated to the period immediately following Sargon's successful suppres-
sion of the Hamath rebellion in 720. The years between the suppression
of that revolt and the revival of Philistine unrest in 715 appear to have
been a brief period when Assyrian-Egyptian relations were relatively
positive. Osorkon IV of Tanis even sent a gift of horses to Sargon in 716
or 715. Hence, this was a period in which a peaceful Judah under Ahaz
could enjoy and perhaps even participate in the profit from the free flow
of trade moving back and forth between Assyria and the Delta region of
The dating of the closely parallel oracles in Isa 30:1-5 and 31:1-5,
along with the related material in 30:6-7 and possibly 28:14-19, is more
problematic. Some have read 30:1-5 and 31:1-5 as originally directed
against northern Israel, either at the time of the Syro-Ephraimitic war,
when an appeal to Egypt is assumed, or at the time of Hoshea's revolt
against Shalmaneser V, when the Deuteronomistic Historian reports that
Hoshea sent messengers to So, king of Egypt (2 Kgs 17:4). One could
also think of the Hamath-Samaria-Philistine revolt of 720 B.C.E., which
was supported by Egyptian and Nubian troops, or the events of 715-711,
when the Judean court was considering joining a coalition that depended
on Egyptian and Nubian support. Nevertheless, while ceding the possi-
bility that Isa 30:1-5 and 31:1-3 may have originally been formulated in
one of these earlier historical contexts, the present context and associa-
tions of these oracles suggest they were formulated or, at the very least,
reused during Hezekiah's revolt against Sennacherib in 705-701.
Such reworking of oracles originally directed against Syria and Israel
at the time of the Syro-Ephraimitic war to be critiques of Judah or
judgments on Sennacherib's Assyria is not uncommon. Isaiah 28:1-6 is
an oracle originally directed against the northern kingdom, probably
ROBERTS Isaiah's Egyptian and Nubian Oracles 207
from the period of the Syro-Ephraimitic war, but the clear transition at v.
7, "and also these stagger with wine...," suggests, as William Holladay
argued years ago,
that Isaiah has updated this earlier oracle to redirect it
against a Judean audience. The personal scoffing attack on Isaiah
reflected in w. 9-13 fits a Judean audience far better than a fictive
Israelite audience, since, unlike Amos, there is no evidence that Isaiah of
Jerusalem ever prophesied in the north before an actual northern
audience. Moreover, v. 14 associates these scoffing opponents with the
rulers in Jerusalem, not Samaria. According to v. 15, these scoffers relied
on a covenant with death, while Isaiah set God's promise to Zion (28:16-
17) in contrast to that false hope. Yet because the Judean scoffers relied
on that false hope they would find their hope swept away in the storm
(28:18-20) when Yahweh arose to do his strange work in the environs of
Jerusalem (28:21). Their only hope was to cease their scoffing (28:22).
The parable about the farmer in w. 23-29 then justified Yahweh's alien
work as wise, despite its apparent strangeness.
Isaiah 29 also begins with an oracle of harsh judgment on Jerusalem
followed by a miraculous deliverance of the city. It continues with a
reference reminiscent of 28:7-8 to the drunkenness of Jerusalem's
leaders, a drunkenness that has silenced the prophetic word. In response
to the false piety that has replaced reliance on the prophetic word, God
again threatens to do a marvelous work that will destroy the wisdom of
their wise (29:14). The juxtaposition with the immediately following
oracle in w. 15-16 suggests that this judgment on the wise is God's
response to their attempt to hide their counsel from Yahweh. One should
probably associate this motif with the complaint in both 30:1-2 and 31:1
that the ruling authorities have sought support from Egypt without first
consulting Yahweh, that is, seeking prophetic oracles to approve their
foreign policy.
Following the Egyptian oracle in 30:1-5, there is another short oracle
that mentions the uselessness of sending money to buy Egyptian aid
(30:6-7). An oracle that attacks the people for rejecting the prophetic
word (30:8-11), and relying instead on oppression and deceit (30:12) or
11. W. L. Holladay, Isaiah, Scroll of a Prophetic Heritage (New York: Pilgrim,
1987), 59.
12. See my "Blindfolding the Prophet: Political Resistance to First Isaiah's Ora-
cles in the Light of Ancient Near Eastern Attitudes Toward Oracles," in Oracles et
Propheties dans I 'Antiquite, Actes du Colloque de Strasbourg 15 -17juin 1995 (ed.
J. G. Heintz; Universite des Sciences Humaines de Strasbourg; Travaux du Centre
de Recherche sur le Proche-Orient et la Grece Antiques 15; Strasbourg: De Boccard,
1997), 135-46.
208 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
horses (30:15-16) then follows w. 6-7. These choices will result in the
offenders' object of trust being as useless as a collapsed and thoroughly
shattered wall (30:13-14). They will find themselves reduced to a bare
remnant, like a mere flag on a hilltop (30:17). This last image is strik-
ingly similar to Isaiah's description of besieged Jerusalem in Isa 1:8, a
passage that is generally regarded as reflecting Sennacherib's isolation of
Jerusalem in 701 B.C.E.
The oracle in 31:1-3 continues in w. 49 with a threat of Yahweh's
judgment on Jerusalem followed by a promise of his deliverance of the
city and judgment on Assyria. This continuation again suggests a Judean
audience tempted to rely on Egyptian help in a period when Assyria
represented the main threat to Jerusalem's security.
If these oracles as presently shaped presume an address to Judean
officials, it is difficult to assign them to any period earlier than the reign
of Hezekiah. There is no evidence that Ahaz was ever tempted, much
less succumbed to the temptation, to turn to Egypt for aid against the
Assyrians. All available evidence suggests that Ahaz remained a loyal
Assyrian vassal throughout his reign. Hezekiah, on the other hand, was
clearly tempted to rely on Egyptian help at the time of the Ashdod revolt,
as Isaiah's vigorous public objections indicate (Isa 20). On that occasion,
however, Isaiah seems to have been successful in dissuading Hezekiah
and his court from succumbing to the temptation. In the general revolt
against Assyria that broke out after the unexpected death of Sargon in
705 B.C.E., however, Isaiah was less successful. Hezekiah was a major
player in the revolt, clearly far more important than the Philistine
nobility of Ekron. When they removed their pro-Assyrian ruler Padi,
they handed him over to Hezekiah, who kept Padi imprisoned in Jerusa-
lem until the Judean ruler finally submitted to Sennacherib. The Assyrian
king claims that the nobility of Ekron called upon the Egyptians and
Nubians for help,
but it is hard to imagine that this took place without
Hezekiah's approval or involvement. Sennacherib's attribution of this
action solely to Ekron's leaders, whom he executed,
is probably no
more than an attempt to cover up Sennacherib's embarrassment at his
inability to impose the same punishment on Hezekiah. While the Deuter-
onomistic Historian treats Hezekiah as one of the heroes of faith and is
reluctant to say anything negative about him, he does allow the Assyrian
Rabshakeh to suggest that Hezekiah was relying on Egypt, and that this
reliance was primarily for chariots and horsemen (2 Kgs 18:19-24). The
Rabshakeh also mentions Hezekiah's possible reliance on Yahweh, a
13. Luckenbill, Annals, 31 ii 73-81.
14. Ibid., 32 iii 8-17.
ROBERTS Isaiah's Egyptian and Nubian Oracles 209
reliance more acceptable to the Deuteronomistic Historian's theology, but
there is no indication that either charge would have been unbelievable to
the Rabshakeh's Judean audience. The propaganda value of his speech
depended on its general correspondence to what his audience knew to be
true. The Deuteronomistic Historian also preserves the tradition of
Merodach-baladan's embassy to Hezekiah (2 Kgs 20:12-19), a state visit
that probably dated to the outbreak of the general rebellion against
Sennacherib and provided Babylonian encouragement for Hezekiah to
open a second front against the Assyrians. The Deuteronomistic Histo-
rian admits that Isaiah was upset by Hezekiah's positive reception of the
Babylonian mission, which may imply that Hezekiah agreed with their
proposal. Isaiah apparently found out about this state visit only by ques-
tioning the king after the Babylonian embassy had concluded its negotia-
tions and departed, a fact that suggests Isaiah was deliberately left out of
the diplomatic loop. This is analogous to the claim in Isa 30:1-2 and
31:1 that the negotiations with Egypt took place without prior consulta-
tion of the prophetic oracle. These oracles against trusting in Egypt and
their horses and about the uselessness of sending tribute to buy Egyptian
aid fit perfectly in the period of Hezekiah's revolt against Assyria.
If this dating is correct, it suggests that Isaiah's view of Israel's and
J udah's foreign policy remained remarkably consistent during the whole
period of Isaiah's ministry. Isaiah unalterably opposed reliance on treaty
relations with Assyria, Egypt, Nubia, Babylonia, Philistia, Aram, or any
other nation. Israel's and J udah' s security lay exclusively in their trust in
Yahweh and the promises Yahweh had made to the Davidic dynasty and
his chosen city Jerusalem. Such trust would enable God's people to
promote justice and relieve the suffering of the poor, while the pursuit of
international coalitions would lead them to practice deceit and further the
oppression of the poor. Whatever the merits or shortcomings of Isaiah's
views, there is little evidence that his views changed in any significant
way during the whole course of his ministry.
Brent A. Strawn
For myself, even an inadequate comparison of the work of Herodotus and
the early Hebrew historians has helped.. .to a little more intelligent under-
standing of the work of the great men of Israel... and, at the same time,
has given a better appreciation of the genius exhibited in Herodotus's
almost single-handed achievement.
Herodotus's account is a useful piece in the puzzle and must be recog-
nized as such; however, it must not be shaped by biblical scissors before
fitting it into place.
* It is an honor to dedicate this essay to my friend and colleague, John H.
Hayes, and to use this occasion to thank him for his kindness to me. In addition to
many interests, we also share the same alma mater. I am delighted to celebrate his
unparalleled achievements here and to recognize him as the most famous of Old
Testament scholars to take the Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. I am
grateful to the following individuals who read and commented on earlier drafts or
aspects of this article: Bill T. Arnold, Joel M. LeMon, James K. Mead, and John T.
Ma. The origins of the study lie in a seminar in 1996 taught by Katherine Doob
Sakenfeld, to whom I am also indebted. A version was later presented to the Tanakh
colloquium in Princeton (February 1998), and I thank Bernard M. Levinson and J. J.
M. Roberts for their instructive feedback at that time. It is obvious from these dates
that the essay by L. L. Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men: Herodotus 2.141 and
Sennacherib's Campaign in 701 BCE," in "Like a Bird in a Cage ": The Invasion of
Sennacherib in 701 BCE (ed. Lester L. Grabbe; JSOTSup 363; ESHM 4; London:
Sheffield Academic Press, 2003), 11940, only came to my attention long after my
own argument was developed.
1. H. T. Fowler, "Herodotus and the Early Hebrew Historians," JBL 49 (1930):
2. Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 139.
STRAWN Herodotus' Histories 2.141 211
I. Introduction
The search for contexts, antecedents, and parallels for biblical texts has
ranged far and wide in biblical scholarshipboth chronologically and
geographically. In the light of the Western intellectual tradition and the
late (and, according to recent judgments, increasingly later) first-millen-
nium provenance of so much of the Hebrew Bible, it should come as no
surprise that scholars eventually turned their attention to later and west-
ern sources, specifically those in Greek. In historiographical discussions,
much credit (or blame, depending on one's perspective) for this develop-
ment must be given to the pioneering work of John Van Seters.
instructive comparison of biblical historiography (if it is that)
to Greek
sources, particularly Herodotus of Halicarnassus (ca. 484414[?] B.C.E.),
has been pursued by many scholars since.
At least one result of this line
3. J. Van Seters, In Search of History: Historiography in the Ancient World and
the Origins of Biblical History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), esp. 8-54.
Van Seters' work was quickly seconded by B. O. Long, / Kings: With an Introduc-
tion to Historical Literature (FOTL 9; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 15-30.
4. Compare, for example, M. Bauks, "Quelques reflexions pour ou centre 1'appa-
rition d'historiographies bibliques a 1'epoque perse," Transeu 21 (2001): 43-59,
with A. R. Millard, "Story, History, and Theology," in Faith, Tradition, and History:
Old Testament Historiography in Its Near Eastern Context (ed. A. R. Millard, J. K.
Hoffineier, and D. W. Baker; Winona Lake, Ind: Eisenbrauns, 1994), 37-64, both of
whom make appeal to Herodotus. See also E. Nicholson, "Story and History in the
Old Testament," in Language, Theology, and the Bible: Essays in Honour of James
Barr (ed. S. E. Balentine and J. Barton; Oxford: Clarendon, 1994), 135-50, who
develops Barr's earlier contrast between Old Testament "history" and Greek histori-
ography (see J. Barr, "Story and History in Biblical Theology," JR 56 [1976]: 1-17;
repr. in idem, The Scope and Authority of the Bible [Philadelphia: Westminster,
1980], 1-17). Both Barr and Nicholson prefer the descriptor "story."
5. For the dates, see D. Lateiner in Herodotus: The Histories (ed. D. Lateiner;
New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004), xi-xii. There is some debate about the
death date; it could be ca. 425 (see J. P. A. Gould, "Herodotus," in OCD, 696).
6. The literature is now rather large. For monographs, note especially (in
chronological order): P. Gibert, Verite historique et esprit historien: L 'historien
biblique de Gideon face a Herodote: Essai sur leprincipe historiographique (Paris:
Editions du Cerf, 1990); S. Mandell and D. N. Freedman, The Relationship Between
Herodotus' History and Primary History (SFSHJ 60; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993);
F. A. J . Nielsen, The Tragedy in History; Herodotus and the Deuteronomistic
History (JSOTSup 251; CIS 4; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997); J.-W.
Wesselius, The Origin of the History of Israel: Herodotus's Histories as Blueprint
for the First Books of the Bible (JSOTSup 345; London: Sheffield Academic Press,
2002); and P. Niskanen, The Human and the Divine in History: Herodotus and the
Book of Daniel (JSOTSup 396; London/New York: T. & T. Clark International,
212 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
of research is that the biblical materials (including their putative
"sources") are increasingly downdated and located as late as the Helle-
nistic period.
Of course, such a position has not gone unchallenged.
2004). For periodical literature, note especially Wesselius, "Herodotus, vader van de
bijbelse geschiedenis?," wACEBT 14 (1995): 9-61; idem, "Analysis, Imitation and
Emulation of Classical Texts in the Hebrew Bible," Dutch StudiesNear Eastern
Languages and Literatures 2 (1996): 43-68; idem, "Discontinuity, Congruence and
the Making of the Hebrew Bible," SJOT 13 (1999): 24-77; idem, "The Language of
the Hebrew Bible Contrasted with the Language of the Ben Sira Manuscripts and of
the Dead Sea Scrolls," in Sirach, Scrolls, and Sages: Proceedings of a Second
International Symposium on the Hebrew of the Dead Sea Scrolls, Ben Sira, and the
Mishnah (ed. T. Muraoka and J. F. Elwolde; STDJ 33; Leiden: Brill, 1999), 338-45;
idem, "Collapsing the Narrative Bridge," in Unless some one guide me...: Festschrift
forKarelA. Deurloo (ed. J. W. Dyk et al.; ACEBT Supplement Series 2; Maastricht:
Shaker, 2001), 247-55; K. Stott, "Herodotus and the Old Testament: A Comparative
Reading of the Ascendancy Stories of King Cyrus and David," SJOT16 (2002): 52-
78. This type of work, which sees Herodotus as an antecedent to and/or influence on
the biblical texts on a grand scale (usually with some admission of differences
between the two corpora) is related to, but should not be overly identified with,
studies that treat Herodotus' accounts of later periods (esp. the Persian Period) that
are also reflected in the Bible. See, e.g., H. Fahr, Herodot undAltes Testament (EH
266; Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1985), which deals exclusively with Cambyses and
Cyrus. Note also the literature relating Herodotus to materials outside of the
Deuteronomistic History proper. See, e.g., T. B. Dozeman, "Geography and History
in Herodotus and in Ezra-Nehemiah," JBL 122 (2003): 449-66; G. N. Knoppers,
"Greek Historiography and the Chronicler's History: A Reexamination," JBL 122
(2003): 627-50; and R. L. Hubbard, Jr., "Leveling the Playing Field: A New Read-
ing of Herodotus and Esther" (unpublished paper; my thanks to Hubbard for sharing
this paper with me).
7. See N. P. Lemche, "The Old TestamentA Hellenistic Book?," mDidMoses
Speak Attic? Jewish Historiography and Scripture in the Hellenistic Period (ed. L.
L. Grabbe; JSOTSup 317; ESHM 3; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001),
287-318 (repr. from SJOT1 [1993]: 163-93). See also idem, "Good and Bad in
History: The Greek Connection," in Rethinking the Foundations: Historiography in
the Ancient World and in the Bible: Essays in Honor of John Van Seters (ed. S. L.
McKenzie, T. Romer, and H. H. Schmid; BZAW 294; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000),
127-40. Similarly Nielsen, The Tragedy in History, 164.
8. See, e.g., B. Becking, "Is de Hebreeuwse Bijbel een Hellenistisch boek?,"
NedTT5 4 (2000): 1-17; H. M. Barstad, "Is the Hebrew Bible a Hellenistic Book?
Or: Niels Peter Lemche, Herodotus, and the Persians," Transeu 23 (2002): 130-51;
and the essays, both for and against, in Grabbe, ed., Did Moses Speak Attic? Note
also the insightful critiques of Nielsen, The Tragedy in History, in the review by D.
F. Murray (JTS5 0 [1999]: 183-87). It is illuminating in this debate to read Fowler's
early essay ("Herodotus and the Early Hebrew Historians," 207-17; not cited by Van
Seters), which proceeds from very different presuppositions and arrives at drastically
different conclusions than Van Seters et al.
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories 2.141 213
The present study cannot engage, let alone resolve, the many aspects
of these important discussions. Its purpose is more modest, though it
remains challenging precisely because of those discussions. It is simply
this: to explore the relationship between Herodotus' account of Sennach-
erib's miraculous defeat at Pelusium by means of field mice(Hist. 2.141)
and the biblical account of the deliverance of Jerusalem
by the
mrf jfa (2 Kgs 19:35; Isa 37:36; and 2 Chr 32:20).
The Herodotean
text is often cited by scholars as a "parallel" to the biblical account;
however, remarkably little discussion has been devoted to analyzing or
justifying this comparison or relationship (if it is that). But such analysis
is absolutely critical if this oft-cited passage in Herodotus is to have any
significant impact on our understanding of the 2 Kings account.
over, the specific uses to which scholars put Hist. 2.141 vary. Some take
the existence of the Herodotean passage to indicate that the biblical
material is folkloristic at best;
others take it as proof that "something"
(real? historical? miraculous?) happened to Sennacherib's forces that
caused them to withdrawthat is, it permits some to find a "kernel" of
9. The exact locale of the "deliverance" is admittedly confused. Suffice it to say
that, despite 2 Kgs 19:8, which places "the king of Assyria" at Libnah, Hezekiah was
in Jerusalem (19:14) when he received the oracle of comfort from Isaiah (19:21-34).
Further, the large number of slain (2 Kgs 19:35) may pick up on the "great army"
before Jerusalem in 2 Kgs 18:17. Questions such as these have often led scholars to
differentiate distinct accounts of Sennacherib's invasion of Judah: A (2 Kgs 18:13-
16) and B; B itself with two versions, Bj (2 Kgs 18:17-19:9a, 36-37) and B
(2 Kgs
19:9b-35). In a recent summary of the archaeological evidence, Grabbe points out
that "the nearest evidence of the Assyrian army is presently at Ramat Rahel, four
kilometres from Jerusalem" ("Introduction," in Grabbe, ed., "Like a Bird in a
Cage", 20).
10. The three biblical accounts are not identical, but for the sake of simplicity, I
will refer to the complex as "2 Kgs 19:35." The larger context, too, ought not to be
neglected (2 Kgs 18:13-19:37; Isa 36-37; 2 Chr 32). Again, for simplicity, I will
refer to this complex as the "2 Kings" or the "biblical" account.
11. Prior to Grabbe's essay ("Of Mice and Dead Men"), the only article that
deals exclusively with the Herodotean and 2 Kings texts is that of W. A. Comaby, "2
Kings xix.35 (Is. xxxvii.36) and Herodotus, ii.141," ExpTim 25 (1913-14): 379-80,
which treats the texts from a medical perspective.
12. E.g. B. S. Childs, Isaiah and the Assyrian Crisis (SBT 3; London: SCM,
1967), 101 n. 70; J. M. Miller and J. H. Hayes, A History of Ancient Israel and Judah
(Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986), 349-50; cf. also W. Baumgartner, "Herodots
babylonische und assyrische Nachrichten," in idem, Zum Alten Testament undseiner
Umwelt (Leiden: Brill, 1959), 282-331 (305-9); C. F. Keil, The Books of the Kings
(Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1872), 458 n. 1; M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, IIKings (AB
11; New York: Doubleday, 1988), 250-51; and J. A. Soggin, An Introduction to the
History of Israel and Judah (2d ed.; Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity, 1993), 252.
214 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
historicity in the accounts.
In the latter view, the Herodotean text pro-
vides a kind of independent attestation and/or confirmation of the biblical
account (with appropriate qualifications); in the former, it is evidence
that 2 Kgs 19:35 is historically unreliable.
The present investigation offers a detailed analysis of Hist. 2.141
one of the only places where Herodotus mentions an event also attested
in the biblical material and where the possibility of some sort of (direct?)
relationship existsin order to determine if the Herodotean text is truly
"parallel" and what that might mean for the interpretation of the biblical
account and for the interpretation of the Histories.
1 will argue that it is
most probable that Hist. 2.141 is not an independent account, but is
likely dependent on (a) Judean source(s), and that this has significant
bearing on how it ought to be understood and utilized in discussions of
the deliverance of Jerusalem. In the final analysis, then, the present study
offers both support and critique of the ways Herodotus has been utilized
by biblical researchers.
II. The Herodotean "Parallel"
Although scholars often cite Herodotus' Hist. 2.141 in discussions of
Zion's deliverance from Sennacherib's forces, they frequently do not
explain how they came to such a conclusion; neither do they credit a
critical source that first compared the texts. Since the connection was
made already in Josephus's Jewish Antiquities, it is possible that all subse-
quent scholarship is indebted to him. Whatever the case, the comparison
13. See the comments of Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 119-40, and idem,
"Reflections on the Discussion," in Grabbe, ed., "Like a Bird in a Cage", 313-14,
321. See also, e.g., J. Bright, A History of Israel (3d ed.; Philadelphia: Westminster,
1981), 288, 301; J. A. Montgomery and H. S. Gehman, The Books of Kings (ICC;
Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1951), 497-98; J. Gray, / & II Kings (2d ed.; OIL; Phila-
delphia: Westminster, 1970), 694; I. W. Provan, Hezekiah and the Books of Kings: A
Contribution to the Debate About the Composition of the Deuteronomistic History
(BZAW 172; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1988), 128 and nn. 108-11; F. J. Gon9alves,
L 'Expedition de Sennacherib en Palestine dans la litterature hebraique ancienne
(Publications de 1'rnstitut orientaliste de Louvain 34; Louvain: Institut orientaliste,
1986), 120-21, cf. 484; and W. R. Gallagher, Sennacherib's Campaign to Judah:
New Studies (SHCANE 18; Leiden: Brill, 1999), 245.
14. See S. Sandmel, "Parallelomania," JBL 81 (1962): 1-13, for some pertinent
comments on what parallels are, how to identify them, and so forth. Cf. also H.
Eilberg-Schwartz, "Beyond Parallel-anoia: Comparative Inquiry and Cultural Inter-
pretation," in idem, The Savage in Judaism: An Anthropology of Israelite Religion
and Ancient Judaism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), 87-102.
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories 2.141 215
has become so axiomatic in scholarship that the Herodotean text is cited
everywhere and as if it needed neither support nor justification. But, in
light of the differences in opinion on how this parallel ought to be
understood and utilizedand in order to see if one of those opinions is
better than anotherit is necessary to undertake what most scholars have
left undone: namely, a detailed analysis of the Herodotean text, because
"it is [only] in the detailed study rather than in the abstract statement that
there can emerge persuasive bases for judgment."
A. Herodotus, Histories 2.141
1. After him, then, there became king the priest of Hephaestus, whose
name was Sethos. This man held in contempt the warriors among the
Egyptians and mistreated them, as having no further need of them; in
addition to dishonoring them in other ways, he took their land away from
them. (Each man among them had, in the time of the former kings, been
assigned twelve choice fields.) 2. Thereafter there came against Egypt a
great army (orpccTov n^yccy), and its leader was Sennacherib, king of the
Arabians and the Assyrians (Iccvaxapi{3ov fkxaiAEcc 'Apafiicov TE KCU
' Aooupicov); but the warrior Egyptians would not fight him. 3. The priest
of Hephaestus was utterly at a loss and went into his great hall to the
god's image (irpbs TcoyaX|ja) there and bewailed what was to betide him.
And as he made his lament, sleep came upon him, and in his vision there
seemed to him that the god (TOV 6ebv) stood over him and bade him be of
good heart: "You will suffer nothing untoward if you confront the
Arabian host; for I will send you allies." 4. He trusted in this dream, and,
taking with him such of the Egyptians as would follow him, he pitched
his camp in Pelusium(kv TTr|Aouoico), for that was where the enemy was
to invade. There followed him not one of the warriors, but shopkeepers
and handworkers and fellows from the market place. 5. But when their
enemies came, there spread out against them, at nightfall, field mice (pus
dpoupccious), which gnawed their quivers through, and through, too, the
bows themselves and the handles of their shields, so that on the next day
they fled, defenseless, and many of them fell. 6. So nowadays this king
stands there, in stone, in the temple of Hephaestus, and in his hand he
holds a mouse(MUV), and he speaks these words through the inscription
that is there: "Look on me, all of you, and be pious."
15. Sandmel, "Parallelomania," 2.
16. The translation is that of D. Grene, Herodotus: The History (Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 1987), 192-93, which I feel to be the best. For the Greek
text, see C. Hude, Herodoti: Historiae (3d ed.; 2 vols.; OCT; Oxford: Clarendon,
1927), vol. 1. The versification is from this edition. Another edition of the Greek text
(virtually identical to Hude's) with English translation is found in A. D. Godley,
Herodotus I: Books IandII(LCL 117; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1966), 446-49. For other English translations, see G. Rawlinson, The History of
216 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
B. Analysis of the Text
As noted above, until quite recently, there has been a lamentable dearth
of work done on Herodotus by biblical historians.
But even with a good
deal of recent biblical scholarship devoted to Herodotus, one feels at a
disadvantage in the face of an oft-quoted "parallel" like Hist. 2.141, for
here is a complicated matter. The problems are compounded by the fact
that this story is preserved in a number of ancient sources. Josephus, for
example, seems to have conflated the biblical account with Herodotus'
version inAnt. 10.15-23.
Sirach 48:17-22 recounts Hezekiah's struggle
against Sennacherib (levvaxnp'M/S'HrtiD) and follows 2 Kgs 19:35
explicitly if somewhat poetically in Sir 48:21: "The Lord struck down
(sTrccTa^Ev) the camp of the Assyrians, and his angel (6 cxyyeXos CCUTOU)
wiped them out (e^ETpi^ev aujous)."
The number of the slain is
Herodotus (4 vols.; New York: Appleton, 1859), 2:188-89; A. de Selincourt and
J. Marincola, Herodotus: The Histories (rev. ed.; London: Penguin, 2003), 153; and
Lateiner, Herodotus: The Histories, 126.
17. Studies by historians of or from the perspective of ancient Egypt or the
ancient Near East have been more substantial. See, e.g., O. E. Ravn, Herodotus'
Description of Babylon (Copenhagen: NYT Nordisk Forlag, 1942); Baumgartner,
"Herodots," 282-331; R. Rollinger, Herodots babylonischer Logos: Eine kritische
Untersuchung der Glaubwurdigkeitsdiskussion (IBKS 84; Innsbruck: Verlag des
Instituts fur Sprachwissenschaft, 1993); P. Hogemann, Das Vorderasien und die
Achameniden: Ein Beitrag zur Herodot-Analyse (BTAVOB 98; Wiesbaden: Ludwig
Richert, 1992); and A. B. Lloyd, Herodotus: Book II, Introduction and Commentary
1-182 (3 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1975-88).
18. For the Greek text and an English translation, see R. Marcus, Josephus. Vol.
6, Jewish Antiquities, Books IX-XI (LCL 326; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1978), 162-71. Josephus cites Berossos the Chaldean in support of
this story (Ant. 10.20). See F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker.
Vol. 3, Geschichte von Staedten und Voelkern (Horographie und Ethnographie).
Part C, Autoren ueber einzelne Laender Nr. 608a85 8 (Erster Band: Aegypten-
Geten Nr. 608a-708) (Leiden: Brill, 1958), 385 (F.7a); G. P. Verbrugghe and J. M.
Wickersham, Berossos andManetho, Introduced and Translated: Native Traditions
in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
2001), 53 (F8a); and Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:103. The context suggests that Josephus
cites Berossos against Herodotus: note 8e and the reference to Sennacherib's
(levccxsipiMou) campaign throughout Asia and Egypt(KCCI STI trocar]eTreaTpccTEUoccTO
TTJ 'Aaicc Km rfj 'AiyuTtrco). Unfortunately, at the point where Josephus introduces
the Berossos citation (Xeycov OUTCOS), the manuscript tradition apparently breaks off,
so that what follows(Ant. 10.21-23) returns to the biblical material. The Berossos
material is thus lost. See Marcus, Josephus, 166 n. 4,167 n. e.; and Verbrugghe and
Wickersham, Berossos andManetho, 53.
19. Due to the poetic structure, two parallel terms are used to describe the
destruction. It is of interest that the verbs are those used in LXX 2 Kgs 19:35 and LXX
2 Chr 32:21, respectively; the verb used in LXX Isa 37:36 (dcvaipeco) is not employed.
STRAWN Herodotus' Histories 2.141 217
preserved in the prayer of Judas in 1 Mace 7:41: "When the messengers
from the king spoke blasphemy, your angel went out and struck down
(ETTCXTQ^EV) one hundred eighty-five thousand (EKCCTOV 6y6or|KOVTa TTEVTE
iAid6as) of the Assyrians." These references do not take into considera-
tion the versions of the story in Isa 37:36 and 2 Chr 32:21, each of which
differ, at least slightly, from 2 Kgs 19:35. The similarities and differences
between these accounts are fascinating in their own right and worthy of
prolonged analysis. For the purposes of the present study, however, the
main question is whether or not Herodotus is discussing the same event
as the biblical texts, and, if so, what significance pertains to that.
It is clear from even a casual reading that Herodotus' account is
radically different from the biblical story. His version tells the story of an
Egyptian priest of Hephaestus ('H4>aioTou),
named Sethon (l6cov),
who became king, and what this rather despotic (at least at first) priest-
king did upon encountering Sennacherib's advance.
The not-so casual
readernamely, one who is aware of the issues surrounding Sennach-
erib's 701 campaignwill also notice further problems. First, there is no
Egyptian evidence of a priest by the name of Sethon who later became
king. Second, Sennacherib is designated as "king of the Arabians and
Assyrians." This is rather odd, especially given the word order, which
seems to emphasize the Arabian contingent more than the Assyrian one.
Third, there is no evidence that Sennacherib ever penetrated south as far
as Pelusium or even to Egypt on his 701 campaign.
Fourth and finally,
though this is not the last of the difficulties by any means, the story
For the Hebrew text, see P. C. Beentjes, The Book of Ben Sir a in Hebrew: A Text
Edition of All Extant Hebrew Manuscripts and a Synopsis of All Parallel Hebrew
Ben Sira Texts (VTSup 68; Leiden: Brill, 1997), 86-87. Sir 48:21 is broken in the
only manuscript that preserves it (MS B): HS2Qn DOITl TIBR njn[...].
20. Namely, Ptah, whose temple was in Memphis (see Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:90).
21. Lloyd {Herodotus, 3:101) points out that Herodotus' preservation of the name
lavaxcxpi^ov is quite close to the Akkadian Sin-ahhe-eriba and thus constitutes
evidence that Herodotus' "version is.. .very accurate." He, however, then states that
"Sennacherib is the only Assyrian king known to H[erodotus]," which contextualizes
his former statement considerably.
22. Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus, 2:188 n. 3. The problem was noted as
early as Josephus(Ant. 10.19): "at just this point he [Herodotus] is in error, calling
him king of the Arabs instead of king of the Assyrians" (Marcus, Josephus, 166-67).
Lateiner, Herodotus: The Histories, 126 smoothes things by indicating that Senn-
acherib's invasion had "Arab guides." See further K. A. Kitchen, "Egypt, the Levant
and Assyria in 701 BC," in Fontes Atque Pontes (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1983),
245; and Cogan and Tadmor, II Kings, 250-51.
23. See Kitchen, "Egypt, the Levant and Assyria," 245; and Cogan and Tadmor,
II Kings, 250.
218 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
seems clearly etiologicalthat is, its purpose seems to be to account for
the statue that stands in the templemore specifically, to address why
this statue holds a mouse in its hand. This etiological Tendenz also seems
to be overlaid by Hellenic motifs such as the monument's inscription,
which sounds typical of Greek inscriptions and art. Indeed, upon closer
examination, the reader discovers that the inscription and etiology are but
the beginning of the religious and cultural traces that Herodotus and/or
his source(s) have left on this story (see below).
Each of these are weighty objections that caution against a too quick
or overly facile identification of Hist. 2.141 as a "parallel" to 2 Kgs
19:35. In fact, it is only if and when these questions are answered that
one can address the larger question of whether or not a parallel exists and,
if so, what that means. Moreover, these objections must be examined on
both the specific and general levels: specifically, the problematics of the
details must be worked out on a case-by-case basis; more generally, there
are large questions concerning Herodotus' historical methods, his (use
of) sources, and the reliability of the latter, if they existed.
Perhaps the most significant problem on the first, more specific level is
the identification of the priest-king. Herodotus only gives the accusative
of the name, though according to C. Sourdille "the accusative Is0cov
surely corresponds to a nominative leScos."
Sourdille believes a con-
nection to the Pharaoh Seti is probable, though she admits that another
possibility is Satni, a son of Ramses II, who figures prominently in
several Egyptian short-stories.
A. B. Lloyd, however, has argued that
the name Sethon is a corruption of Sebithos on the basis of Manetho's
reading Sebichos (le^cos), which is in turn derived from Egyptian
Sj-bj-tj-kj.26 The pharaoh at hand, then, must be Shebitqo (ca. 702-690
B.C.E.), the successor of Shabaqo.
Lloyd's philology makes much more
24. C. Sourdille, Herodote et la religion de I 'Egypte: Comparaison des donnees
d'Herodote avec les donnees egyptiennes (Paris: Leroux, 1910), 253 n. 2 (my trans-
lation); hence Grene's "Sethos."
25. Sourdille, Herodoteet la religion del'Egypte, 253 n. 2,141n. 1, respectively.
26. I.e., Sj-bj-tj-kj > Sebichos/Ie^ixcos (Manetho) > Sebithos/IE|3i0cos >
Sethon/IeScov (Herodotus). The last development assimilates the medial bilabial
stop; the second-to-last retains the alveolar stop but omits the guttural (see Lloyd,
Herodotus, 3:100). Herodotus demonstrates the same problem with the name
Psammetichos, which he preserves as Psammis (ibid.). For the Manetho text (Frag.
66), see W. G. Waddell, Manetho (LCL 350; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1980), 166-67; Verbrugghe and Wickersham, Berossos and Manetho, 147.
27. The names follow the Kushite reconstructions used in L. TQrok, The
Kingdom ofKush: Handbook of the Napatan-Meroitic Civilization (HO 31; Leiden:
Brill, 1997), 131 n. 3. See further there, esp. 169-70, for more on Shebitqo. Chronol-
ogy follows K. A. Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period in Egypt (1100-65 0 B.C.)
STRAWN Herodotus' Histories 2.141 219
sense given the chronology of the 25th Dynasty, since Seti's dates are far
too early (Seti I = 1294-1279 B.C.E.; Seti II = 1200-1194 B.C.E.) and
since Satni never took the throne.
Even this does not solve all the
problems with Herodotus' dynastic reconstruction, however, since he
dates the invasion of Sennacheribafter the Ethiopian departure, though it
actually took place almost fifty years prior to it.
Although Herodotus'
chronological problems, especially with early Egypt, are well known,
Lloyd has accounted for this "misinformation" by arguing that Herodo-
tus' sources "telescoped all the kings of the XXVth Dyn[asty] into one
symbolic figure, Sabacos. The latter's successor must, therefore, become
non-Ethiopian" in order to account for the dynastic succession.
also notes that the problems of the Third Intermediate Period in Egypt
are notoriously complex even to modern scholarship, let alone to ancient
historians or ancient Egyptian priests (Herodotus' presumed source).
Last, and perhaps most important, is the observation that the Egyptians
would have wanted to claim such a stunning victory over Assyria for an
Egyptian Pharaoh. That this king happens also to be called a priest is
probably due, in Lloyd's opinion, to the 25th Dynasty's "reputation for
piety.. .and its particular devotion to the shrine of the Memphite Ptah."
In short, then, despite its problems, it seems probable that the Herodotean
text is dealing with the same time period and same campaign as 2 Kgs
(2d ed.; Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1986); and idem, "Egypt, History of (Chronol-
ogy)," ABD 2:329.
28. Lest one object to circular reasoning at this point, one should note Herodotus'
mention of Sabacos/Ia|3aKco? (Shabaqo =ca. 716-702 B.C.E.), Shebitqo's imme-
diate predecessor, in Hist. 2.137-39. But see, for example, Jeremy Goldberg,
"Legends of Iny and 'les brumes d'une chronologic qu'il est prudent de savoir
flottante,'" JSSEA 26 (1996): 22-41, who suggests that Menkheperre (whom he
argues shared power with Shebitqo) should be identified with Sethon; and Detlev
Fehling, Herodotus and His "Sources ": Citation, Invention and Narrative Art (trans.
J. G. Howie; ARCA 21; Leeds: Francis Cairns, 1989 [German orig. 1971]), 137,
who believes Sethon is Taharqo.
29. See Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:99-l00.
30. Ibid., 2:100. That such telescoping took place in Herodotus (or his source[s])
may lend further support to the perspective that telescoping also took place in 2 Kgs
19:9 which calls Taharqo (Tirhaqa) "king of Cush." For another example of tele-
scoping in Herodotus' presentation of Egyptian rulers, see Grabbe, "Of Mice and
Dead Men," 129-34. The classic example of Herodotus' chronological problems
with early Egypt is his grossly incorrect dating of the Pyramid kings (4th Dynasty)
to the early Iron Age(Hist. 2.127-35). See Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:188-89, for a full
31. See Kitchen, The Third Intermediate Period, passim.
32. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:100.
220 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Once the correct pharaoh is identified, many of the other textual oddi-
ties can be understood. For example, the epithet "king of the Arabians,"
which seems so inaccurate, may be due to the fact that as early as "the
time of Tiglath-pileser HI (745-727) contingents [for the army] were
drawn from all parts of the Assyrian Empire and it is known that Arabian
camel-drivers were employed."
Whether or not such conscripted mili-
tary service justifies the title "king of the Arabians" remains a question,
but one that might be addressed to Herodotus' source(s) as much as to
him. Since the same holds true for many of the details surrounding the
site of the battle and the etiology of the statue, it is necessary to turn to a
discussion of Herodotus' sources.
C. Herodotus' Sources
The question of Herodotus' sources for the Histories is, not surprisingly,
quite complex and has been vigorously debated since ancient times.
Classicists have long dealt with this problem and the resulting assess-
ments of Herodotus' historical value (as well as that of his sources) have
run the gamut of perspectives, from complete skepticism
to extreme
33. Ibid., 3:101. Cf. Rawlinson's reference to Berossos, who indicated that Ara-
bian kings were sometimes "paramount over Assyria" (The History of Herodotus,
2:188 n. 3; cf. Verbrugghe and Wickersham, Berossos andManetho, 51-52 [F5]).
Rawlinson posits that in Herodotus' account the roles may have simply been
34. See Gould, "Herodotus," 698, and note Thucydides (1.21-22), Aristotle
(Gen. an. 3.5) and Plutarch's work, The Malice of Herodotus (see Anthony Bowen,
Plutarch: The Malice of Herodotus [Warminster: Aris & Phillips, 1992]). As repre-
sentative of the modern discussion, see the extremely skeptical view in Fehling,
Herodotus and His "Sources ", and the robust rebuttal by W. K. Pritchett, The Liar
School of Herodotus (Amsterdam: Gieben, 1993). See further K. H. Waters, Hero-
dotos the Historian: His Problems, Methods and Originality (Norman: University of
Oklahoma Press, 1985), 76-95; Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:77-140; D. Lateiner, The
Historical Method of Herodotus (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), 59-
113; E. M. Yamauchi, "HerodotusHistorian or Liar?," in Crossing Boundaries
and Linking Horizons: Studies in Honor of Michael C. Astour on His 80th Birthday
(ed. G. D. Young, M. W. Chavalas, and R. E. Averbeck; Bethesda: CDL Press,
1997), 599-614; and J. L. Moles, "Truth and Untruth in Herodotus and Thucydides,"
in Lies and Fiction in the Ancient World (ed. C. Gill and T. P. Wiseman; Exeter:
University of Exeter Press, 1993), 88-121. For a general treatment of Greco-Roman
historiography under the rubrics of information, disinformation, and misinformation,
see M. Grant, Greek and Roman Historians: Information and Misinformation
(London: Routledge, 1995).
35. In addition to Fehling, Herodotus and His "Sources" (in general), and
Rollinger, Herodots babylonischer Logos (on Babylon), see O. K. Armayor's work
pertaining to Egypt: "Did Herodotus Ever Go to Egypt?," JARCE15 (1978): 59-73;
STRAWN Herodotus' Histories 2.747 221
Divergent viewpoints have spread to all corners of Herodo-
tus' Histories, including the question of whether or not he actually went
to any of the places that he claims to have visited.
Yet, despite Herodo-
tus' detractors, the skeptical school of Detlev Fehling et al. has not
carried the day in Herodotean studies.
The historical veracity of much
of the Histories has, therefore, been admitted, though usually (and
rightly) with much qualification.
The fact that in Book II Herodotus is
fairly explicit about his sources puts us in good position to analyze their
value (or lack thereof) for historical reconstruction.
In general, it seems that Herodotus gained much of his information
from oral sources. These, as such, varied widely
in the degree of authenticity of the original source, in the kind and the
intensity of any bias concerned (individual, political, patriotic, racist) and
in the amount of unintentional corruption incurred in transmission from
person to person, generation to generation, language to language. They
and idem, Herodotus' Autopsy of the Fayoum, Lake Moeris and the Labyrinth of
Egypt (Amsterdam: Gieben, 1985). Note also idem, "Did Herodotus Ever Go to the
Black Sea?," HSCP 82 (1978): 45-62.
36. See, for example, E. M. Yamauchi, Composition and Corroboration in Classi-
cal and Biblical Studies (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1966), 16-19, for
some positive re-assessments of Herodotus in the twentieth century and for his own,
overly optimistic conclusions.
37. For example, Babylon, on which compare Ravn (Herodotus' Description of
Babylon, 86) and Yamauchi (Composition and Corroboration, 18) with Rollinger's
negative assessment (Herodots babylonischer Logos). For the latter, see R. Drews'
review (JNES 56 [1997]: 125-26).
38. It is worth noting that much of the biblical scholarship that has engaged
Herodotus has been overly influenced by Fehling, and was either written prior to or
takes insufficient account of responses to his work such as that by Pritchett (The Liar
School). Nielsen, for example, includes Pritchett in the bibliography but states that it
arrived too late to be included in the argument (The Tragedy in History, 42 n. 60),
despite the fact that Nielsen's book appeared four years after Pritchett's (admittedly,
the speciale on which the book is based was delivered in 1994 [see ibid., 8]).
39. For example, despite the fact that the Themistocles' Decree, discovered in the
mid- twentieth century, contradicts Herodotus on the evacuation of Athens under the
threat of Xerxes, W. K. Pritchett ("Herodotos and the Themistokles Decree" AJA 66
[1962]: 43-47) argues that "Herodotus has in fact been proven to be correct in so
many cases where he had earlier been doubted, that when a late document is found
which flatly contradicts him, this document has to be considered a priori suspect."
Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 87-88, accounts for the discrepancy by different
means: the inscription "may very well not have been visible when... [Herodotus] was
there. In general, he was keen to inspect epigraphic evidence (for example, 4.88,
5.77), even if it was in an indecipherable script or tongue." See further below on
Herodotus' use of inscriptions.
222 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
also differ in age and especially for oral sources the greater the time
elapsed since the events narrated, the larger the number of mediating
individuals, and the greater the likelihood of unintentional inaccuracy or
deliberate perversion.
Oral sources have other inherent problems as well, not the least of which
are the problems involved in the interview process. That is, there was no
doubt a tendency for "Herodotus...to see and hear what evidence he
subconsciously wished to find"; still further, "[n]ot only the researcher,
but the interviewee or the interpreter may have been affected by a
complementary weakness, in wishing to supply the type of answer which
would please the inquirer."
Lloyd has made a similar point by stressing
that the "acquisition of all knowledge by otKori is subject to the perils of
the leading question."
Nevertheless, it is to Herodotus' credit that he
was "often aware of tendentiousness in the answers of his informants,
and not infrequently expresses his doubt, or straight-out disbelief of
Yet, despite this critical capacity, Herodotus is clearly "taken"
with Egypt, especially with its antiquity, and often evidences an attempt
to stress the superiority or originality of the Egyptians.
As for the AiyuirToi Aoyoi proper, Herodotus testifies that he received
his information from various sources: aKorj ("hearsay") was his primary
evidence (see Hist. 2.123), but ctyis ("autopsy") also played a role, as did
yvconrj ("opinion") and ioTopir| (literally, "history," but here approximat-
ing "investigation" or the likemostly via oral enquiry).
goes so far as to rank implicitly these various sources and thus sets up a
hierarchy of authenticity. "Genuine knowledge, at the top of the scale, is
generally a matter of autopsy, or a study of sources with the application
of reasoning."
Next in usefulness is hearing, and eye-witnesses are
without doubt the most accurate because sight is better than hearing (cf.
Hist. 1.8-9). Lowest on the scale is hearsay without eye-witness support.
Beginning with Hist. 2.99 and thereafter, with minor exceptions, Herodo-
tus must rely solely on this latter category:
40. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 96.
41. Ibid., 89. It goes without saying that Fehling finds such reasoning completely
unconvincing (seeHerodotus and His "Sources", 134).
42. Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:116; on CXKOTI, see below.
43. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 90.
44. Cf. ibid., 86. See further Lateiner, The Historical Method of Herodotus, 147-
45. See Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:81-84; Gould, "Herodotus," 697.
46. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 90.
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories2.141 223
So far it is my eyes (apis re spri), my judgment (yvcopn), and my search-
ing (ioTOpin) that speak these words to you; from this on, it is the accounts
of the Egyptians that I will tell to you as I heard them (rjxouov), though
there will be, as a supplement to them, what I have seen myself (1%ipfis
(Hist. 2.99)
But even this admission casts light on Herodotus' method; that is, his
critical mind and careful discernment (in short, his airoSexis lOTopiris) is
evident even at the point where he is most vulnerable and dependent
upon source material.
In fact, Herodotus often adjudicates among
variant accounts of stories or informs his reader what is "probable" or
From Hist. 2.99 onwards, then, Herodotus' primary source was the
oral information he received from the priests (pi ipEEs). Here, too, debate
rages over the reliability of these persons. K. H. Waters thinks that
the so-called "priests" were no better than might be expected. The propor-
tion of the population in ancient Egyptian towns or villages employed by,
or in, or connected with, the temples was very considerable, and Herodo-
tos would not be likely to encounter high-ranking dignitaries among
Other scholarly assessments are more positive in the light of Herodotus'
self-stated method that typically involved checking a body of informa-
tion "by investigation, particularly by questioning people who he had
good reason to believe knew the truth."
The priests were these types of
people, as Waters himself admits, for their "status would have been taken
as guaranteeing the authenticity of the information offered, as the tem-
ples were the obvious repositories of knowledge of the past."
47. Grene, Herodotus, 171. Cf. also Hist. 2.123 (cited below).
48. See Lateiner, The Historical Method of Herodotus, passim, esp. 3-10,50-51
for a discussion of Herodotus' apodexis historic. See also Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:81-84.
49. See, e.g., Hist. 6.121-22; 7.152; Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 90-91;
and Gould, "Herodotus," 697. Cf. Hist. 2.123: "As for the stories told by the
Egyptians, let whoever finds them credible use them. Throughout the entire history it
is my underlying principle that it is what people severally have said to me, and what
I have heard, that I must write down" (Grene, Herodotus, 184-85). Even under the
category of "hearsay" Herodotus differentiates between Egyptian and non-Egyptian
sources (Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:89).
50. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 79. On the priests as sources of
misinformation, see also E. Yamauchi, "Cambyses in Egypt," in "Go to the Land I
Will Show You ": Studies in Honor ofDwight W. Young (ed. J. E. Coleson and V. H.
Matthews; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1996), 371-92.
51. Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:82.
52. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 76.
224 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
native writers such as Berossos and Manetho, often thought to be more
reliable than Herodotus on important points of Egyptian history, had to
rely on the priests.
Nevertheless, Waters is wise to caution that much of
the "Egyptian logos is in indirect discourse.. .not so much for the sake of
variety perhaps as to indicate a degree of skepticism in the historian."
In short, then, the would-be analyst of Hist. 2.141 must tread carefully.
The situation is worsened, to be sure, by the fact that it is highly improb-
able that Herodotus knew the Egyptian language. Though some of the
Egyptians may have known some Greek, fluent bilingual speakers were
likely few in number, thus making the mediation of an interpreter
inescapable from both sides of the communication process.
Despite these difficulties, there is much in the Egyptian logoi that
commends itself. In Lloyd's opinion, the sources behind Hist. 2.99-142
are "almost certainly the Priests of Memphis."
Though such priests
could not possibly have shared our modern conceptions of history and
would have been highly prone to theological interpretations, they
nevertheless would have had recourse to "folk memory and literary
While folk memory may at first appear highly problematic,
there are examples of "historical matter enmeshed in folk elements.. .in
ancient Egypt" that have survived in written forms "not likely to be far
different from that current amongst the people."
Literary tradition, in
turn, could be comprised of propaganda but also biographical pieces and
didactic literature.
All educated Egyptians would have had at least some
access to historical data via sources such as these, despite the fact that
they were marked by "folk motifs, burlesque fantasies.. .propaganda...
[and] gnomic lore."
This amalgam is quite alien and suspect to mod-
ern(ist) historical sensibilities, to be sure, but it seems to reflect accu-
rately what those "on the ground" actually knew of their past history;
moreover, it is what Herodotus claims to have faithfully recorded for
53. See L. W. King, Legends of Babylon and Egypt in Relation to Hebrew
Tradition: The Schweich Lectures 1916 (London: British Academy, 1918), 27 n. 1.
54. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 79.
55. Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:116. Herodotus mentions interpreters in Egypt (Hist.
2.154) and Persia(Hist. 3.38, 140).
56. Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:90. So also Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 135.
57. Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:95-100.
58. Ibid., 1:102; see 1:102-4, for some examples.
59. Ibid., 1:104-6.
60. Ibid., 1:106.
61. Cf. the citation of Hist. 2.123 above; also Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:106.
STRAWN Herodotus' Histories 2.141 225
To summarize to this point: it is altogether possible that in Hist. 2.141
Herodotus is recording a popular Egyptian story, though this explanation
does not account for all of the story or its aspects. Several of the latter
can only be explained by recourse to Herodotus' Tendenzen.
D. Herodotus' Tendenzen
Herodotus' pro-Egyptian tendency and the pro-Egyptian tendencies of
Herodotus' Egyptian sources have already been mentioned. Still other
tendencies can be examined, especially Herodotus' inclination to cast his
information in Hellenic fashion.
This pro-Greek tendency is, on the one
hand, to be expected in ancient history-writing, but it is often cited as
evidence of Herodotus' lack of objectivity, though this charge loses
much of its sting the further one enters the arena of postmodern histo-
In any event, Herodotus' "Hellenocentricism" is probably
most evident in Hist. 2.141 in the temple statue with its inscription: "Look
on me, all of you, and be pious" (Es epe TI S opecov EuoEfiris EOTCO). To
begin with, there is disagreement over whom the statue depicts. Herodo-
tus is clear in Hist. 2.141.6 that it is of the priest-king, but scholars often
take it to be a statue of the god Ptah/Hephaestus, evidence for which may
be present in Hist. 2.141.3 .
Elsewhere (Hist. 3.37), Herodotus describes
this statue as "very like the Phoenician Pataici" (OoiviKr)ioioi TTaTal-
KOIOI); he then writes: "I will describe this,
for those who have not seen
it, as the likeness of a dwarf." These Pataici were apparently dwarf
figures of any one of the Phoenician gods placed by the Phoenicians on
the prows of ships (or on the poops of galleys according to Hesychius
and Suidas) for protection. Small dwarf-like statues of Ptah have been
62. E. Liiddeckens, "Herodot," in LA 2:1148: "Als interpretator graecus gibt
er interpretationes graecas." Cf. Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 89: "The ten-
dency. . .to see things from a Hellenocentric viewpoint.. .influenced the description
(by Herodotos, or his forerunners, or informants) of areas where sound information
was scanty or totally lacking." See also Gould, "Herodotus," 697.
63. See Albert Cook, History/Writing: The Theory and Practice of History in
Antiquity and in Modern Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), and
Ernst Breisach, Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern (2d ed.; Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1994). More directly related to the subject and event
under discussion is the essay by P. R. Davies, "This Is What Happens...," in Grabbe,
ed., "Like a Bird in a Cage ", 106-18.
64. Viz., the TcoyocAna, "the cult statue in the holy-of-holies" (Lloyd, Herodotus,
3:101). Cf. SouTdil\e,Herodoteet la religion del'Egypte, 141: "cette representation
n'etant qu'une forme exceptionnelle du dieu."
65. The antecedent of the demonstrative in Grene' s translation (Herodotus, 227)
is somewhat ambiguous. Most translations offer "these" (TOUTOUS), clearly referring
to the Pataici.
226 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
unearthed in Egypt, particularly around Memphis.
These perhaps lend
credibility to Herodotus' account, though his description is also reminis-
cent of iconographical representations of the god Bes. Be that as it may,
in Hist. 2.141.6 Herodotus clearly indicates that the statue is of the king
(6 fkxaiAeus IOTTIKE EV TCJ ipcp Tou'H(J >aiaTou Xi0ivos) and this seems
Hellenocentric in a number of ways. To be sure, Egyptians had numerous
statues of humans, especially kings, but these are often found in funerary
contexts or imperial cult centersthey are not used in temple contexts
with inscriptions like that preserved in Herodotus.
To have this type of
human statue, regardless of its royal subject, in one of the god's temples
with this inscription seems more Greek than Egyptian
barring, that is,
the possibility that Herodotus misunderstood the subject of the statue,
since divine statuary in anthropomorphic form is regular in Egyptian
temple contexts.
The most obvious Hellenocentric aspect of the statue,
however, is clearly the inscription, which is "entirely G[ree]k. No Eg[yp-
tian] statue-inscription would address the beholder in such terms."
the statue was of the priest-king Sethon, this too is probably due to
Hellenic influence, but in light of Hist. 3.37 and the apparent contra-
diction between Hist. 2.141.3 and 2.141.6 a final decision is elusive. A
strong case for the statue being of the god can be made, however, in light
of the intervention itself: the field mice that frustrate Sennacherib's
advance. First, it should be noted that it is in the vision/oracle of the god
that Sethon receives the news that the deity himself will send "allies"
(npcopous). These alliesthe miceare thus associated with this god.
The fact that the temple statue in Hist. 2.141.6 (=that of 2.141.3?) is
holding a mouse in its hand seems more at home in a Near Eastern con-
text of divine statuary where the gods are often represented with their
66. Rawlinson, The History of Herodotus, 2:362.
67. See, e.g., W. S. Smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt (2d ed.,
rev. W. K. Simpson; New Haven: Yale, 1981).
68. Fehling (Herodotus and His "Sources", 137) finds the entire presentation
"incredible." On Greek statuary, see J. J. Pollitt, Art and Experience in Classical
Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).
69. See Smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. Cf. Grabbe, "Of Mice
and Dead Men," 135: "The statement about a statue in the temple of'Hephaestus' is
likely to be Herodotus's own for what he thought he saw."
70. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:105; see, similarly, de Selincourt and Marincola,
Herodotus, 642-43 n. 78. Lloyd is relying on F. L. Griffith, Stories of the High
Priests of Memphis: The Sethon of Herodotus and the Demotic Tales ofKhamuas
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1900), 12. Cf. further S. West, "Herodotus' Epigraphical
Interests," CQ 35 (1985): 278-305, and Fehling, Herodotus and His "Sources",
133-40, both of which are generally skeptical of Herodotus' inscriptional data.
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories 2.141 221
animal familiars,
though both types of divine statuary (with and without
animals) are also found in Egypt.
Yet thespecific familiar in this case
tips the balance toward suspecting Hellenic bias. The god Apollo, in his
manifestation as Apollo Smintheus (literally, "mouse"), is the one who
sends plague in the Iliad by raining arrows (see //. I).
Apollo is often
associated with purification and plague and he was widely associated
with oracular function at his shrines on the Greek mainland (especially at
Delphi) and in Asia Minor.
All of these considerations lead one to suspect that Herodotus is re-
interpreting an Egyptian story that originally (i.e. in his source) referred
to an Egyptian pharaoh and an Egyptian god by means of his own thick
Greek lens.
This suspicion receives further confirmation by the lack of
correspondence between Egyptian data on Ptah and those found here in
And yet, complete Hellenic invention or interference is not
the whole story. Lloyd, for example, points out that Horus of Letopolis, a
god often associated with Memphis (and Apollo!), "had as his sacred
animal the shrew-mouse/ichneumon, the animal expressing the role of
Horus as conqueror of the forces of chaos. Therefore a triumph of that
Horus could be described as a triumph of the shrew-mouse/ichneu-
This suggests that Herodotus: (1) might have mistakenly
71. Again, see Smith, The Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt; also Henri
Frankfort, The Art and Architecture of the Ancient Orient (5th ed.; New Haven:
Yale, 1996).
72. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:105.
73. Godley, Herodotus I, 447 n. 2; Montgomery and Gehman, The Books of
Kings, 498. See further Fritz Graf, "Apollo," in OCD, 123, who refers to the god
Reshep at Ugarit (seeIf I hz rsp in KTU1.82 obv. 3).
74. See Graf, "Apollo," 122-23. In the second edition of OCD (1970), H. J. Rose
and C. M. Robertson write that Apollo was frequently introduced by Delphic propa-
ganda "into any and every myth which contained] a prophet or a prediction" (p. 82).
75. Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 135, rightly sees the Egyptian origins of
the tradition but is mistaken when he writes that "[tjhere are no obviously Graecized
features to the story," especially since he later admits to Herodotus' transformation
of the story. On the point here, see further P. Stadter, "Herodotus and the North
Carolina Oral Narrative Tradition," Histos: The Electronic Journal of Ancient
Historiography at the University of Durham 1 (1997): 1-19; online: http://www.
dur.ac.uk/Classics/histos/1997/stadter.html, who has demonstrated that retelling over
time tends to homogenize source material to the perspective of the retellers. In the
case of Hist. 2.141, such a dynamic could have been at work among both the
Egyptian priests and Herodotus himself.
76. See Sourdille, Herodote et la religion de I 'Egypte, esp. 141.
77. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:104; cf. H. T. Aubin, The Rescue of Jerusalem: The
Alliance Between Hebrews and Africans in 701 BC (New York: Soho, 2002), 121,
228 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
attributed the activity of Horus to Ptah; or (2) simply presented this
activity of Horus in such a fashion that his Greek readers would instantly
recognize their god Apollo. Either option is possible given the inherent
problems with the oral sources and Herodotus' own biases. Even so, it
seems most likely that Ptah was the original referent given the subject
and locale of the story as we have it in Hist. 2.141. Herodotus' has re-
cast the story (perhaps in light of Horus) in terms that would correspond
to the Smintheus epithet of Apollo. If so, this impacts the interpretation
of the mice event itself: the fact that it is mice that spread out against
Sennacherib's army may not be so much due to Herodotus' Egyptian
sources, nor to a rationalistic interpretation on his part of an otherwise
unexplainable deliverance, so much as further evidence of a Hellenocen-
tric glorification of Apollo.
This leads directly to the religious interpretation of the event. Despite
Herodotus' inquisitiveness and critical mind, he was certainly not above
religious (re-)interpretation.
The existence of such a religious tendency
is even more probable in his source material.
The religio-moralistic
elements in Hist. 2.141 can be seen by looking at the story's structure.
v. 1 Story of Sethon
a Name and description
b Despotic/oppressive activities: Mistreatment of warriors
c Explanation of b (former land holdings)
v. 2 Sethon's Problems
a First problem: Sennacherib's advance
b Second problem: No Egyptian warriors (due to Ibc [and
perhaps 2a?])
339 n. 14; Pritchett, The Liar School, 113-16. Fehling (Herodotus and His
"Sources ",137 and n. 14) no longer subscribes to a Greek source for the mice motif.
78. For Herodotus' own interests impacting his accounts, see Mandell and
Freedman, The Relationship Between Herodotus'History and Primary History, 146;
and Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:83-84,140. Lloyd points out that Greek elements may have
been present in some of the Egyptian sources (ibid., 1:109). See further ibid., 1:81,
for a discussion of hybrid versions in Herodotus.
79. Mandell and Freedman, The Relationship Between Herodotus' History and
Primary History, 150: "Herodotus himself may have been and probably was
responsible for the religious format of his Xoyoi."
80. For example, Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 80, highlights the fact that
Herodotus probably relied on information from the cult-centers of Delphi and
Olympia (cf. above on Apollo), both of which "could sometimes pervert the truth to
increase the glory of their divine patronand thus their own revenues." See also
Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:116: "Egyptians were quite likely to retail or develop traditions
ad maiorem Aegyptiorum gloriam." Recall that the source behind Hist. 2.99142 is
likely the Memphite priesthood (Lloyd, Herodotus, 1:90).
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories 2.141 229
v. 3 The Divine Exchange
a Sethon's "prayer"
b Dream vision and oracle
w. 45 Outcome
4a Sethon's trust and obedience
4b On to Pelusium
4c No Warriors (cf. Ib-c, 2b)
5a The Showdown
5b The Deliverance: Mice
Result of mice's gnawing =No weapons
"and many fell" (TTEOE'IV TroAAous) - Military defeat
(and/or plague?)
v. 6 Etiology for Statue
Lloyd has found evidence in the story for the "triumph of the weak, "a
motif used elsewhere in Herodotus.
Indeed, there are two examples of
this motif in Hist. 2.141:(l)the triumph of the Egyptian army, which is
comprised of "shopkeepers and handworkers and fellows from the
marketplace," over the great "Arabian host"; and (2) the triumph of field
mice over that same host. The "triumph of the weak" motif is, in fact, a
subset of another, related Herodotean motif also operative in this unit:
namely, the "reversal of fortunes." Here, too, Hist. 2.141 preserves two
examples: (1) an originally despotic king after "repenting" becomes a
hero (bad > "repent" > good);
and (2) the mighty Sennacherib, "king of
the Arabians and Assyrians," and his great host are defeated by lowly
field mice (strong > weak)! Reversals such as these are particularly
common in Herodotus' presentations of kings and tyrants, which, if not
fully stereotypical, are certainly conventional. The locus classicus for
this kind of presentation is the so-called "constitutional debate" in Hist.
3.80-88. The historicity of this unit has been questioned, but despite
some evidence that it is rooted in historical fact, its historical authenticity
need not concern us here.
What is helpful, instead, is to see how
81. That the mice either symbolize or carried a plague of some sort (bubonic?)
is often assumed though with little evidence or support. See especially Cornaby,
"2 Kings xix.35," 379-80, and further below, hi and of itself, TTITTTCO, which is often
used for falling "in battle" (see BAGD, 659), does not carry overly explicit over-
tones of plague. See further below.
82. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:101-2.
83. Note diro8uponai ("to lament bitterly") which occurs in the LXX only at
3 Mace 4:12. The context there indicates that one should not over-interpret the
term itself in a religious way: hence, "repent" in quotation marks. Nevertheless,
there is a reversal of fortune following the king's lament before the cult statue
(TcoyaXpa), which may in turn suggest a change in the king's disposition.
84. On its historicity, see Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 78-79, and E. M.
Yamauchi, "Herodotus," ABD 3:180.
230 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Herodotus frames these types of presentations and how that impacts an
assessment of Hist. 2.141.
In an important article on this subject, John G. Gammie identified six
characteristic defects of tyrants that Herodotus typically utilizes in his
description of such.
The account of Sethon corresponds to two of these:
hybris (maltreatment of the warriors) and alteration of traditional
customs (land removal) (Hist. 2.141.1). Sennacherib, on the other hand,
is not described in sufficient detail to identify conventional tyrannical
characteristics. Be that as it may, Herodotus enjoyed demonstrating how
tyrantsonce identifiedoften met up with disaster or reversal of
fortune, or both. Sethon, given his "repentance" in the temple, is spared
this fate. Sennacherib, however, meets with divine punishment, a theme
closely linked with the defect of hybris elsewhere in Herodotus. It is
probably safe to infer, therefore, that Herodotus perceived Sennacherib
as having suffered from tyrannical characteristicsespecially hybris.
Why Herodotus would chose to use this reversal motif in his repre-
sentation of both Sethon and Sennacherib is uncertain. Perhaps it is due
to his overall purpose in the Historiesthe recounting of the Greek-
Persian war (see Hist. 1.1). Perhaps, that is, Herodotus perceived Sen-
nacherib/Assyria to be a precursor to Persia and Sethon/Egypt as a
precursor to Greece.
In any event, it is clear that the religio-moralistic
cast of Hist. 2.141 also bears evidence of Herodotus' own fingerprints,
though it remains "perfectly feasible that the moral itself formed an
integral part of the tale as told by the Egfyptian] source."
E. Summary
To sum up this analysis of Hist. 2.141: it is clear that Herodotus' account
cannot be cited as a parallel to 2 Kgs 19:35 without certain qualifications.
His account is clearly marked (and marred) by the pro-Egyptian Tenden-
zen of his source(s) as well as by his own tendencies, most notably, the
Hellenocentric (re-)casting of the story. These critical observations
explain why, for example, the priest-king is identified as Sethon (Egyp-
tian), why the deliverance is credited to Hephaestus/Ptah (Egyptian),
why the battle took place at Pelusium (Egyptian), why the deliverance is
portrayed as the work of field mice (Greek and/or Egyptian?); and why
the inscription on the king's (not the god's) statue is Hellenic in tone
85. J. G. Gammie, "Herodotus on Kings and Tyrants: Objective Historiography
or Conventional Portraiture?," JNES 45 (1986): 171-95.
86. Cf. a similar argument regarding Herodotus' presentation of Sesostris in
Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 133.
87. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:105.
STRAWN Herodotus 'Histories 2.141 231
(Greek). It may also explain why the story functions etiologically
When these elements are stripped away, however, we are still
left with some fascinating details:
1. The story describes an event which took place during a cam-
paign of Sennacherib, sometime around 701.
2. Herodotus is relying on an Egyptian source(s), probably of
priestly origin, probably from the temple of Ptah at Memphis.
3. For some reason, the encounter left Sennacherib' s army (called,
here, the "Arabians") defeated.
4. This defeat was interpreted as a stunning miracle performed by a
Despite the many differences described above, these details are suffi-
ciently similar to 2 Kgs 19:35 to warrant that we have attestation of
something that is also recorded in similar fashion there.
In short, Hist.
2.141 does preserve a "parallel" account of the events of 701. It remains
to consider whether this parallel is dependent on 2 Kgs 19:35 or vice
versa (or some other scenario) and to comment on what such might mean
for the broader interpretations of each of these two texts.
III. Dependence and Possibilities
Space and time preclude an exhaustive discussion of possible (inter)de-
pendence between the various sources for the events of 701 and which
way such dependence might flow. It must suffice to repeat that the
biblical and Herodotean texts seem to record a similar event (miraculous
deliverance) against the same person (Sennacherib) in the same time
period (701), and that the two texts have interesting structural similari-
ties. Note, for example, the following outline that could be offered for
2 Kgs 18-19 (set in parallel with the one for Hist. 2.141):
88. As indicated above and substantiated in the secondary literature, several of
these details could be ambivalent: Egyptian motifs instead of Greek, Greek motifs
instead of Egyptian, or even as hybrid motifs (e.g. the mouse's connections with
Apollo and Horus, not to mention Apollo's connections with Horus). The main point
is that both Greek and Egyptian influences are at work, greatly complicating a
simplistic and straightforward delineation of "the event."
89. Even Fehling agrees that there is a connection between Herodotus and the
Bible at this point (Herodotus and His "Sources", 137). Similarly, Wesselius, The
Origins of the History of Israel, 93. Aubin points out that given the differences
between the accounts, similarities are of great import (The Rescue of Jerusalem,
232 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
a. 18:1-2
b. 18:3-5
c. 18:6-8
Story of Hezekiah 1 Story of Sethon
Name and description a. Name and description
Good and righteous
b. Despotic/oppressive activities
18:916 Problems with Assyria
a. 18:9-12 Fall of Samaria
b. 18:13 Sennacherib in Judah
c. 18:14-16 Paying tribute
18:17-37 Human Exchange 1: Assyria
and Hezekiah
19:1-7 Divine Exchange 1
a. 19:1 Hezekiah to temple in
b. 19:2-5 Messengers and their
c. 19:6-7 Oracle 1
19:813 Human Exchange 2: Assyria
and Hezekiah
a. 19:8 Temporary withdrawal
b. 19:9a News of Tirhaka
c. 19:9b-13 Message from
19:14-34 Divine Exchange 2
a. 19:1419 Prayer in the temple
b. 19:20-34 Oracle 2
Nothing bad will happen
19:35 Deliverance/Fulfillment 1
a. Fulfillment of 19:32-34
b. Angel of Yahweh strikes camp
c. 185,000 dead
19:36-37 Aftermath/Fulfillment 2
a. Sennacherib' s withdrawal (cf. 19:7,
28, 33)
b. Sennacherib' s murder (cf. 19:7)
c. Explanation ofb (former land
2 Sethon's Problems
a. First problem: Sennacherib's
b. Second problem: No Egyptian
warriors (due to Ib-c [and
perhaps 2a?])
3 The Divine Exchange
a. Sethon's "prayer"
b. Dream vision and oracle
3 The Divine Exchange
a. Sethon's "prayer"
b. Dream vision and oracle
45 Outcome
4a. Sethon's trust and obedience
4b. On to Pelusium
4c. No Warriors (cf. Ib-c, 2b)
5a. The Showdown
5b. The Deliverance: Mice
Result of mice's gnawing =
No weapons
"and many fell" (rreoeTv
TToAAous) - Military defeat
(and/or plague?)
6 Etiology for Statue
STRAWN Herodotus' Histories 2.141 233
Obviously, this particular analysis evidences marked similarities between
the two accounts. This general comparison would be further refined and
illuminated, no doubt, by examining the other versions of the story, both
biblical and otherwise.
And yet, whatever refinements, the structural
comparison comprises additional evidence that, despite the fact that
scholars have often cited Herodotus uncritically, there is in fact a rela-
tionship between Hist. 2.141 and the biblical material. Can more be said
on this score? Could one of these accounts depend directly on the other?
To begin with, we may entertain four rather straightforward and overly
simplistic scenarios:
A. Option 1: The Hebrew Bible Influenced Herodotus
That Herodotus is directly dependent upon the Hebrew Bible is highly
unlikely. As indicated above, Herodotus did not know the languages of
the indigenes he visited.
Furthermore, he never claims to have been to
Judah and probably traveled through Palestine (if at all) via the coastline.
It is unlikely that he penetrated inland.
Moreover, while the dating of
the final form of the Hebrew Bible or even of the Deuteronomistic
History is debatable, many scholars would date the former, at least, to a
time much later than Herodotus. Evidence for dependence upon a written
Hebrew version now known in the Hebrew Bible is thus virtually nil,
especially given the data that Herodotus' version apparently stems from
Memphite sources.
B. Option 2: The Septuagint Influenced Herodotus
This too is unlikely. Septuagintal language obviates the Hebrew problem,
but the LXX is too late to be the source of Herodotus' story.
Again, the
Egyptian origin of Herodotus' version must be kept in mind. Further-
more, there does not seem to be enough correspondence between the
90. Including the Isaianic and Chronicler's versions as well as the different
layers (A, B
) isolated by biblical scholars within the 2 Kings version. For 2 Chr
32, note, for example, S. Japhet, I&II Chronicles (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster,
1993), 989, who points out that prayer is the main element in the Chronicler's
version. For the Assyrian accounts, see COS 2.1198:302-303; wAANET, 287-88.
91. Cf. A. Momigliano, Alien Wisdom: The Limits ofHellenization (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1971), for the same point for Greek writers of later dates.
92. See ibid., 73, for the same being true for most Greek writers.
93. But note Mandell and Freedman {The Relationship Between Herodotus'
History and Primary History, 175), who posit that Herodotus had access to the
Primary History via an Aramaic translation or "targumic form of Primary History in
that tongue." I think this quite unlikely.
94. So also, rightly, Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 137, who also points out
that the LXX seems to have been read by few outside Jewish circles.
234 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
accounts at the lexical level to suggest direct dependence between
Herodotus and a written version related to the LXX.
C. Option 3: Herodotus Influenced the Septuagint
This is possible since the LXX was translated/composed several centuries
after Herodotus' Histories. The exact date for the translation of the
Former Prophets is uncertain, but given Josephus's knowledge of the
Herodotean text by the first century C.E., it is not completely impossible
that translators of the LXX might have shaped their story on the basis of
Herodotus. Yet the fact that the two stories are markedly different, espe-
cially in referent (Sethon vs. Hezekiah), mode (mice vs. angel), origin
(Memphis? vs. Judah?), and locality (Pelusium vs. Jerusalem) precludes
direct literary dependence, as does the lack of a notable number of
linguistic affinities (see option 2 above).
D. Option 4: Herodotus Influenced the Hebrew Bible
This relationship also poses problems. Although the dating of the com-
position and redaction of the Hebrew Bible, and especially the Deuter-
onomistic History, is highly controverted (see above), at least some
scholars would argue that Herodotus is too late to have had a direct
literary impact on the Hebrew Bible.
Of course several of the scholars
cited at the beginning of this study would argue the exact opposite:
Herodotus could and did have a direct impact on the Hebrew Bible, espe-
cially the Deuteronomistic History.
And yet, the marked differences
between the two accounts suggests otherwisethat Herodotus' version
did not influence the Hebrew Bible at this pointquite irrespective of
the dating question.
95. Relative dating is useful but non-specific; manuscript evidence, while more
certain, is hardly definitive. For Herodotus, the main manuscripts are tenth century
C.E. and later, though a few papyri are earlier (see Godley, Herodotus I, xvii; Hude,
Herodoti, v-xiii). These dates are of mixed usefulness, of course, given ancient data
that clearly demonstrates that Histories was known. Indeed, as early as 425 B.C.E.
Aristophanes parodied its opening chapters in one of his plays (see Gould, "Herodo-
tus," 696). For slightly later periods, note Aristotle's mention of Herodotus, and, still
later, Josephus'. Note also Becking ("Is de Hebreeuwse Bijbel een Hellenistisch
boek?," 13-14), who notes that at least some Greek authors writing ca. 300 B.C.E.
already presuppose the existence of parts of the Hebrew Bible (Hecateus of Abdera,
Demetrius the Chronographer, and Artapanus; for which see OTP 2:843-54; 2:889-
903; 2:905-18).
96. See above, especially Wesselius, The Origin of the History of Israel, 95, who
is one of the few to actually discuss Hist. 2.141 and the 2 Kings account, though his
treatment is less than two pages long.
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories 2.141 235
These are only four of the most obvious possibilities. What makes each
unattractive is that, in addition to being overly simplistic, each considers
only direct, literary (that is, written) dependence. But, given the oral
nature of Herodotus' sources, not to mention the differences in the
respective accounts, oral dependence and various types of interference
must be considered.
Interference has been discussed above via the ten-
dencies at work in Herodotus himself and in his source(s). When these
are considered within a primarily oral (not written) scenario of depend-
ence, it suggests the possibility that Herodotus' Egyptian source(s) might
have been ultimately dependent upon an oral version of the 2 Kings
account or vice versa.
If so, this dependence would be very primitive
indeed, concerned only with the data that: (a) Sennacherib had been
repulsed (b) by some unexplainable (and) divine act. Since both versions
of the story as they have come down to us are layered with their respec-
tive constituencies' religious ideology, how can one decide if the route
of influence was from Egypt to Judah or from Judah to Egypt? Abso-
lute certainty, of course, is precludedas it always is in things histo-
riographic. Nevertheless, the latter possibility is much more likely in
light of the full complement of extant data concerning Sennacherib's 701
campaign. That is, apart from the Herodotean tradition, there is no evi-
dence from Assyrian or other sources that Sennacherib ever campaigned
as far south as Pelusium." There is ample evidence, however, in both
Akkadian and Hebrew sources that Sennacherib did campaign in Judah
and even besieged Jerusalem.
What seems most plausible then, although
unprovable, is that Herodotus' source(s) is, in fact, giving attestation of
something that happened to Sennacherib as he campaigned against
Judah and Jerusalem, This source(s) then "redacted" the story, making
97. Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 137, too quickly eliminates oral scenarios.
98. It is probably more correct to speak of an oral source or oral sources^or the
2 Kings account.
99. See, among others, Cogan and Tadmor, // Kings. They point out that it was
Esarhaddon who first attacked Egypt in 674/673 B.C.E. Cf. Lloyd, Herodotus, 2:103:
"Probably H[erodotus] and/or his source/s (influenced by the events of 525?) simply
assumed that the confrontation between the Assyrians and Eg[yptians], the only two
combatants of whom they know, took place at the gateway to the E[gyptian]
frontier... Indeed H[erodotus]'s comment TCCUTVTI ycxp eioi cci eofioAai may even
reflect such a process of inference." See also Aubin, The Rescue of Jerusalem, 95-96.
100. This additional evidence is completely ignored by Wesselius, The Origin
of the History of Israel, 95-96, who reads the relationship between Herodotus and
2 Kings in almost polar opposite fashion as that offered here. But it is exactly this
additional material that demonstrates that Wesselius ignores it to his own (and his
argument's) peril.
236 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
it a triumph for an Egyptian pharaoh and an Egyptian god at an Egyptian
Herodotus, in turn, later overlaid the account with his own
Hellenic biases. Nevertheless, despite these later accretions, the basic
similarities between the accounts make it likely that the origin of the
Memphite story is a version akin to that found in 2 Kgs 19:35.
Herodotus' source(s) came by the Hebrew story is another complicated
and ultimately unanswerablequestion. Oral transmission between
traders or immigrants from one locale to the other, however, may provide
a likely scenario.
IV. Conclusion
In conclusion, Herodotus' Hist. 2.141does preserve a parallel to 2 Kgs
19:35. Both attest to a stunning reversal of fortune for Sennacherib
during his 701 campaign. It is most likely that the Herodotean text is not
independent but stems from an Egyptian source(s) that ultimately learned
of the story from a Judean "source"
whether that was formal or
informal can no longer be determined. If this conclusion is correct, it has
clear and obvious ramifications for the study of the 2 Kings account. In
brief, the Herodotean parallel cannot be simplistically used to discredit
2 Kgs 19:35 because, far from being an independent account which
reveals another, obviously legendary version of the story, it is ultimately
dependent on the biblical account.
And yet, neither can the Herodotus
101. The roughly 250 years between the 701 defeat and the composition of the
Histories provides ample time for the story to have been modified by the Egyptians,
whether intentionally or not. See Waters, Herodotos the Historian, 96 (quoted
above). Contrast Fehling (Herodotus and His "Sources", 137), who thinks the
change in locale is attributable to Herodotus, though his reasoning would apply just
as well to an Egyptian redaction. See also Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:100.
102. Cf. Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 128, on Herodotus' correct convey-
ance of the outlines of Darius' rise even while his details "cannot be confirmed and
may in many cases be the result of embellishment."
103. This possibility, developed independently, receives further support in the
work of A. Rof<, "Israelite Belief in Angels in the Pre-exilic Period as Evidenced by
Biblical Traditions" (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 1969), 217 (Hebrew); cited in
Cogan and Tadmor, // Kings, 252 and n. 15. Another possibility is that Judeans
fleeing to Egypt during the Babylonian threat of the late-seventh/early-sixth century
might have taken the story with them.
104. Contra Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 135-37; idem, "Introduction,"
38; idem, "Reflections on the Discussion," 313,321. Perhaps one should take note of
Fehling (Herodotus and His "Sources ", 137) who curiously disallows an Egyptian
source but allows for a Near Eastern one.
105. See nn. 10 and 98 above.
STRAWN Herodotus'Histories 2.141 237
text be used to "prove" that what took place in the Assyrian camp was
an outbreak of plague carried by mice or rats or their fleas. Such inter-
pretations are clearly conflating the biblical and Herodotean material
Perhaps all we can say ultimately is that Hist. 2.141 is
another version or an alternative account of something that happened to
Sennacherib's forces as they camped outside Jerusalem.
If so, the two
stories represent different-but-related co-optations and national-religious
interpretations of a particular event in 701. What exactly happened in
that event is irrecoverable. Perhaps the answer is "nothing" and we are
dealing, instead, with multiple attestation
of a popular legend or with
106. Discussion of the 2 Kgs 19:35 account under the rubric of "plague" is ubiq-
uitous. See, e.g., Japhet, / & II Chronicles, 990-91; Gray, / & II Kings, 694; Keil,
The Books of the Kings, 457; Montgomery and Gehman, The Books of Kings, 498;
Gon^alves, L 'Expedition de Sennacherib, 121; Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:104; A. Laato,
"Assyrian Propaganda and the Falsification of History in the Royal Inscriptions of
Sennacherib," VT45 (1995): 198-226. It appears that many of these interpretations
are indirectly dependent upon Cornaby's article ("2 Kings xix.35"). Whatever the
case, the plague interpretation conflates 2 Kgs 19:35 and Hist. 2.141 with details
from 1 Sam 5:6-6:18 to assert that mice were bearers of the plague. Note rtS2D in
1 Sam 6:4, but that term does not occur in 2 Kgs 19; Isa 37; or 2 Chr 32, though it
does occur in Sir 48:21 (see above; could this be the origin of the plague inter-
pretation?). Grabbe has argued that such conflate interpretations are inaccurate ("Of
Mice and Dead Men," 135-36,140) and has shown that there is no obvious hint of a
plague in Hist. 2.141; see also Aubin, The Rescue of Jerusalem, 120-22, 143.
Rawlinson (The History of Herodotus, 2:188 n. 1) points out that even the "plague
does not destroy upwards of 185,000 men in one night." Of course, the Hebrew
numbers could be inflated (see Bright, History of Israel, 301 and n. 13; Keil, The
Books of the Kings, 458; Cogan and Tadmor, II Kings, 239), but in general the con-
flation and thus the plague interpretation is not convincing. To strengthen the argu-
ment one would need to demonstrate that the phrases "the angel of the LORD struck,"
the root nD3 +the preposition -D, and/or "dead bodies" (D'HJS) had specific plague
connotations. Despite Keil's assertions (The Books of the Kings, 458 n. 1), I have
been unable to substantiate any of these points. Note recent variations on the plague
theory, namely, that it was caused by fetid water (e.g. B. Z. Luria, "How Hezekiah
Planned Sennacherib's Fall," Beth Mikra 32 [1986-87]: 244-52 [Hebrew]; cf. Aubin,
The Rescue of Jerusalem, 122) or "food poisoning or whatever" (K. A. Kitchen, On
the Reliability of the Old Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], 41).
107. E. Ben Zvi, "Malleability and Its Limits: Sennacherib's Campaign Against
Judah as a Case-Study," in Grabbe, ed., "Like a Bird in a Cage ", 73-105, has made
the case that when separate groups share perceptions and/or representations of the
same thing, it may point to something beyond such perception/representation
namely, something "historical." See Grabbe, "Introduction," 37; idem, "Reflections
on the Discussion," 313-14, 316.
108. Note Keil (The Books of the Kings, 458 n. 1), who wisely intimates that if
the attestation is dependent it does not necessarily strengthen a case for historicity.
238 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
religious interpretations of something that was originally due to mundane
political exigenciesthat is, perhaps Sennacherib was recalled to
Nineveh due to rebellion in Babylon or the like. Against this explanation,
however, is the rather mysterious fact that Jerusalem is left intact as is
Hezekiah's kingship.
Of course, the two options (retreat due to disaster
and news from the Babylonian front) are not mutually exclusive.
truth may lie somewhere in between. In the final analysis, whatever one
might think about what caused Sennacherib's sudden withdrawal, histori-
ans must remember that the miraculous as such is not identified by the
faithful solely by causation and explanation (or lack thereof) as by
As for historians who wish to argue that Herodotus influenced
the Hebrew Bible, the present study offers evidence to the contraryand
this on the one clear passage attested in both Herodotus and the Hebrew
For these historians, the moral of the story is not about miracles
and timing, but about the devil who resides in the details.
109. As rightly pointed out by Grabbe, "Of Mice and Dead Men," 139; idem,
"Reflections on the Discussion," 313-14, 321. Provan, Hezekiah and the Books of
Kings, 128, observes that Egypt is also left unscathed.
110. Lloyd, Herodotus, 3:102; Bright, History of Israel, 258.
111. In some ways, it is the subsequent impact and interpretation of the retreat
that evidence its spectacular nature. See W. H. McNeill, "Infectious Alternatives:
The Plague That Saved Jerusalem, 701 B.C.," in The Collected What If? Eminent
Historians Imagining What Might Have Been (ed. Robert Cowley; New York:
Putnam, 2001), 1-12. Cf. Davies, "This Is What Happens," 117: "History can be
detected in the way humans react to it, especially in the way they witness, interpret
and remember it."
112. It is striking that Nielsen, in discussing the deliverance of Jerusalem,
neglects to mention Hist. 2.141 (The Tragedy in History, 149). Nielsen also offers
the following curious remark: "In DtrH, the Assyrian Sennacherib maybe regarded
as a parallel to Herodotus' Xerxes" (ibid., n. 131). One wonders why, in light of
Hist. 2.141, the Deuteronomistic History's Sennacherib is not "a parallel to" (better
identical with) Herodotus' Sennacherib!
113. Several reviewers of the Bible +Herodotus approaches have made similar
observations. See, for example, W. Johnstone, Review of Wesselius, The Origin of
the History of Israel, ExpTim 114 (2003): 245; T. S. L. Michael, Review of Mandell
and Freedman, The Relationship Between Herodotus' History and Primary History,
JBL 114 (1995): 126; and G. N. Knoppers, Review of Nielsen, The Tragedy in
History, CBQ 61 (1999): 549.
Marvin A. Sweeney
Interpreters frequently view the oracle in Ezek 37:15-28 concerning the
reunification of Ephraim and Judah under Davidic rule as a relatively late
composition. Citing the uncharacteristic use of the term "j^Q, "king,"
rather than Ezekiel's typical use of WED, "prince," Ezekiel's tendency
to place the Davidic monarch under the authority of the priests and the
Temple, and the general scenario of the eschatological reunification of
the nation, interpreters contend that the oracle must stem from the later
years of the prophet's lifetime in Babylonian exile or from vaguely
defined later disciples or tradents. Karl-Friedrich Pohlmann, Katheryn
Darr, and others point to various later additions in w. 22-28 to Ezekiel's
words that ultimately express the ideal of national reunification and
restoration under a Davidic monarch.
Daniel Block, Moshe Greenberg,
and others argue that the oracle represents Ezekiel's hope for ideal
restoration in the aftermath of Assyrian and Babylonian deportations.
* A version of this study was read at the Annual Meeting of the Society of
Biblical Literature, Philadelphia, Pa., November 19-22, 2005.
1. K. F. Pohlmann, Der Prophet Hesekiel/Ezechiel, Kapital 20-48 (AID 22,2;
Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001), 500-501; K. Darr, "Ezekiel," in NIB
6:1505; H. McKeating, Ezekiel (OTG; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993),
107-8; L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (WBC 29; Dallas: Word, 1990), 192; K. Carley, The
Book of the Prophet Ezekiel (NCBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974),
251; R. Hals, Ezekiel (FOIL 19; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 274; J. Wevers,
Ezekiel (NCB; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 196; G. Fohrer, Ezechiel (HAT 13;
Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1955), 211-12; K. Galling, HezekieKRAT 13; Tubingen:
Mohr Siebeck, 1936), 129.
2. D. Block, The Book of Ezekiel (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998),
2:394,412; M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37 (AB 22A; New York: Doubleday, 1997),
759-60; W. Eichrodt, Ezekiel: A Commentary (OTL; Philadelphia: Westmin-
ster, 1970), 512-14; G. A. Cooke, Ezekiel (ICC; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1970),
240 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Nevertheless, there have been persistent observations that the reunifica-
tion of Ephraim and Judah under Davidic rule with the Jerusalem Temple
at their center reflects the ideals of King J osiah's program of religious
reform and national restoration. Indeed, Antti Laato contends that the
model of Davidic kingship presented in Ezek 37:15-28 must be linked to
the presentation of Davidic kingship in ch. 34 and that its salient features
reflect the royal ideology of Josiah's reign.
Walther Zimmerli is more
circumspect in suggesting that the passage has been subjected to later
expansion in w. 24b-28, but he argues that Ezekiel would have spoken
about the reunification of Israel and Judah as part of his proclamation of
salvation since the issue "had acquired a new topicality from the time of
Josiah and has also found clear expression in the book of Ezekiel."
Because scholars are divided in viewing Ezekiel's oracular promise of
national reunification under a Davidic monarch as the product of later
tradents' reflection on Ezekiel's message, as the prophet's statement of
an ideal future, or as the prophet's reflection on the concerns of Josiah's
restoration, this study will review and reconsider the issue. Based upon
an examination of Ezek 37:15-28 in relation to its current literary con-
text in chs. 33-39, a formal analysis of the passage per se, and a discus-
sion of the literary-historical dimensions of the passage in relation to
Ezekiel's birth, expectations for national reunification, and expectations
for Davidic restoration, this study argues that 37:15-28 represents Ezek-
iel's reflection on the significance of Josiah's program of reform and
restoration in relation to the later realities of the Babylonian exile.
I. The Literary Context of Ezekiel 37:15 28
An examination of Ezek 37:15-28 in relation to its immediate literary
context demonstrates that it is a component of a larger block of material
in 33:21-39:29, which asserts that YHWH is the author of creation who
brings punishment and salvation to resanctify the land. By portraying the
resanctification of the land, 33:21-39:29 prepares the reader for the
prophet's final vision of the restoration of the Temple at the center of
Israel and creation in chs. 40-48.
396-406; J. Herrmann, Ezechiel (KAT 11; Leipzig & Erlangen: A. Deichert, 1924),
237; F. Hitzig, Der Prophet Ezechiel (KHAT 8; Leipzig: Weidmann, 1847), 284-87.
3. A. Laato, Josiah and David Redivivus: The Historical Josiah and the Mesianic
Expectations of Exilic and Postexilic Times (ConBOT 33; Stockholm: Alqvist &
Wiksell, 1992), 189.
4. W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2 (Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983), 272; cf. J.
Blenkinsopp, Ezekiel (Interpretation; Atlanta: John Knox, 1990), 174-77.
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 37:15 -28 241
Many interpreters recognize that the material in chs. 33-39 (or chs. 33-
48) forms a relatively coherent unit of the book concerned with future
It follows the oracles concerning the nations in chs. 28-32 and
prepares the reader for the final Temple vision in chs. 40-48.
Most liter-
ary-structural assessments of these chapters, however, presuppose
current chapter divisions and emphasize general thematic concerns with-
out giving adequate attention to the formal literary features that signal
the literary structure of this text.
My own prior work on Ezekiel empha-
sizes the role of the chronological notices in the book as the key markers
of the major units of the book.
No chronological notice appears in 33:1,
which defines Ezekiel's role as watchman in relation to his people. A
chronological notice does appear, however, in 33:21, which dates the
following material to the tenth day of the fifth month (Av) of the twelfth
year of the exile (585 B.C.E.). The next chronological notice in the book
appears in 40:1, which introduces the final Temple vision in chs. 40-48.
Thus, 33:21-39:29 emerges as the formal unit under consideration.
The internal literary structure of 33:21-39:29 falls into two basic sub-
units. The first is the notice in 33:21-22 concerning the prophet's recep-
tion of the news that Jerusalem had fallen and that the hand of YHWH had
earlier come upon him, ending his silence and prompting him to speak.
The second is a sequence of six sub-units in 33:23-39:29, each intro-
duced by the prophetic word transmission formula, 'bfc'mDl TP1
?, "and the word of YHWH was unto me, saying.. ."
The prophetic
5. E.g. Hals, Ezekiel, 3-4.
6. Cf. J . Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration in Ezekiel 40-48
(HSM 10; Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1976), 161, who portrays Ezek40-48 as
the realization of the prophecies of restoration in chs. 33-37. Like many scholars,
Levenson distinguishes chs. 38-39 as a proto-apocalyptic unit distinct from chs. 33-
37 (cf. M. Greenberg, Ezekiel 1-20 [AB 22; Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983]).
Despite its proto-apocalyptic generic character, chs. 38-39 must still be read as a
sub-unit of the larger book.
7. For the methodological principles employed here, see my "Form Criticism,"
in To Each Its Own Meaning: Biblical Criticisms and Their Application (ed. S. L.
McKenzie and S. R. Haynes; rev ed.; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox,
1999), 58-89.
8. See my article, "Ezekiel: Zadokite Priest and Visionary Prophet of the Exile,"
in SBL Seminar Papers, 2000(SBLSP 39; Atlanta: SBL, 2000): 728-51; reprinted
in Form and Intertextuality in the Study of Prophetic and Apocalyptic Literature
(FAT 45; Tubingen: MohrSiebeck, 2005), 125^3. For discussion of 33:21-39:29,
see my "The Assertion of Divine Power in Ezekiel 33:21-39:29," in Form and
Intertextuality, 156-72.
9. For discussion of the prophetic word formula, see S. Meier, Speaking of
Speaking: Marking Direct Discourse in the Hebrew Bible (VTSup 46; Leiden: Brill,
1992), 314-19.
242 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
word formula appears in 33:23; 34:1; 35:1; 36:16; 37:15; and 38:1, where
it introduces reports of the prophet's oracles in 33:23-33; 34:1-31;
35:1-36:15; 36:16-37:14; 37:15-28; and 38:1-39:29. These reports
follow from the initial notice concerning the fall of Jerusalem and the
end of Ezekiel's silence in 33:21-22.
Each of the six sub-units presents an oracle spoken by YHWH to
Ezekiel concerning the significance of the destruction of Jerusalem and
the prospects for its restoration. Thus, the first oracular report in 33:23-
33 employs a disputation speech to assert that YHWH has brought punish-
ment on the land because the people defiled it by failing to observe
YHWH's sacred instructions.
As a result, the people will know YHWH
and that a prophet was among them. The second oracular report in 34:1-
31 employs the metaphor of shepherds guiding sheep to outline YHWH's
plans to punish Israel's leaders for their failure to provide adequate
leadership for the people and to restore Davidic rule over the nation so
that Israel will recognize YHWH. The third oracular report in 35:1-36:15
contrasts the downfall of Edom in 35:2-15 with the restoration of the
mountains of Israel in 36:1-15 so that the nations will recognize YHWH.
The fourth oracular report in 34:16-37:14 employs motifs of blood and
idol impurity together with motifs of the resurrection of the dead to
symbolize purification in an effort to provide an overview and rationale
for the entire process of punishment and restoration outlined in the book
of Ezekiel at large and in 33:2339:29 in particular. Again, the people
will recognize YHWH. The fifth oracle report in 37:1528 emphasizes
the reunification of Ephraim and Judah under the rule of a restored
Davidic king and the authority of the Jerusalem Temple so that the
nations will recognize YHWH. Finally, the sixth oracular report in 38:1-
39:29 emphasizes YHWH's fulfillment of earlier prophecy by defeating
Gog from Magog and purifying the land from the dead corpses of the
fallen enemy. Once again, both Israel and the nations will recognize
Overall, 33:21-39:29 is formulated as a disputation speech that con-
tends that YHWH is the author who brings punishment and restoration to
resanctify the land. The formal structure of the passage may be outlined
as follows:
10. For discussion of the disputational character of this text, see A. Graffy, A
Prophet Confronts His People: The Disputation Speech in the Prophets (AnBib 104;
Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1984), 78-82.
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 3 7:15 -28 243
Disputation: YHWH is the Author of Creation Who Brings 33:21-39:29
Punishment and Restoration to Resanctify the Land
I. Introduction: Report of J erusalem's fall and the end of 33:2122
Ezekiel's speechlessness: 12th year, 10th day, 5th month
II. Report of oracles spoken by YHWH to Ezekiel concerning 33:23-39:29
the destruction and restoration of Jerusalem
A. First oracular report: YHWH brings punishment to the 33:23-33
B. Second oracular report: YHWH will punish Israel's 34:1-31
leaders and restore Davidic rule
C. Third oracular report: YHWH will punish Edom and 35:1-36:15
restore Israel
D. Fourth oracular report: YHWH will resanctify the land 36:16-37:14
of Israel for the sake of the Divine Name
E. Fifth oracular report: YHWH will reunify Israel and 37:15-28
restore Davidic kingship and the Temple at Israel's
F. Sixth oracular report: YHWH will fulfill earlier 38:1-39:29
prophecy by defeating Gog and purifying the land
II. The Literary Structure of Ezekiel 37:15 -28
Having ascertained the placement and general function of Ezek 37:15-28
in relation to the immediate literary context of 33:21-39:29 and the
general literary context of the book of Ezekiel as a whole, it is now time
to examine the formal literary structure of the oracle in detail in order to
ascertain its specific concerns. Such an examination demonstrates that
the oracle is fundamentally concerned with the restoration and reunifica-
tion of the Davidic kingdom of Israel with the Jerusalem Temple as its
holy center. Although interpreters frequently contend that such a scenario
encapsulates the essential message of Ezekiel,
we should note that the
book as a whole tends to downplay the national or political elements of
restorationspecifically, the role of the kingand instead focuses on
the central role of the Temple to which the king and nation are subordi-
nate. This has implications for evaluating the overall message of Ezekiel
and the perspectives from or means by which that message is derived.
As noted above, 37:15-28 is demarcated at the outset by the appear-
ance of the prophetic word formula in v. 15.
Verses 16-28 contain
11. Cf. Hals, Ezekiel, 274, although he contends that the oracle has been updated
repeatedly so that it functions as a summary of most items in Ezekiel's message of
12. Contra C. Barth ("Ezechiel 37 als Einheit," inBeitragezuralttestamentlichen
Theologie [ed. H. Dormer et al; Fest. W. Zimmerli; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck &
244 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
YHWH's word to Ezekiel, here formulated as a lengthy instruction speech
that calls upon the prophet to engage in a symbolic action concerning the
restoration and reunification of Israel and to present two oracles to the
people that explain the significance of the action.
The prophetic word
formula in 38:1 demarcates the beginning of the next unit in the sequence
and thereby marks 37:28 as the closure of 37:15-28.
YHWH's instruction speech to Ezekiel begins in 37:16-17 with YHWH's
instructions to engage in a symbolic action that signifies the reunifica-
tion and restoration of the nation Israel. The speech addresses Ezekiel
directly with the pronoun, nriR, "you," and the title, "son of Adam," that
is, "human being," which signifies Ezekiel's identity as a priest of the
Jerusalem Temple and representative of Adam or humankind before
The instructions proceed in three stages, each of which employs
imperative verbs to convey YHWH's expectations. The first instruction in
v. 16a employs a combination of the verbs, np, "take," and nrai, "and
write," to convey YHWH'S instructions to take a piece of wood and
inscribe it with the words, "for Judah and for the sons of Israel together."
Such an inscription signifies the two major components in which the
Davidic kingship divided following the death of Solomon. The second
stage of instruction in v. 16b likewise employs the verbs, np* 71, "and
take," and Z flPDI, "and write," to convey YHWH's instruction to take a
second piece of wood and inscribe it with the words, "for Joseph, the tree
of Ephraim, and all the house of Israel together." This inscription does
not simply repeat the concerns of the first inscription for the unity of all
Israel, but addresses instead the question of the unity of the northern
tribes and the role that Joseph, here appositionally specifiedperhaps as
an additionas Ephraim, plays at the center of those tribes. In this
respect, each piece of wood identifies the two major power centers within
the tribes of Israel, that is, the tribe of Judah in the south and the tribes of
Joseph or Ephraim in the north. The instructions concerning the two
pieces of wood thereby prepare for the third instruction in v. 17, which
employs the verb, 3~ip1, "and bring near, join," to signify the joining of
Ruprecht, 1977], 39-52), who employs thematic criteria in an attempt to argue for
the literary unity of Ezek 37:1-14 and 37:15-28.
13. See K. Friebel, Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's Sign-Acts: Rhetorical Nonverbal
Communication (JSOTSup 283; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 214-
16; W. D. Stacey, Prophetic Drama in the Old Testament (London: Epworth, 1990),
14. See C. T. R. Hayward, The Jewish Temple: A Non-Biblical Sourcebook
(London: Routledge, 1996), who cites various Second Temple period texts from
Aristeas, Philo, Jubilees, Josephus, and so on, which illustrate the portrayal of the
high priest as Adam before the Garden of Eden.
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 37:15 -28 245
the two inscribed pieces and thus the reunification of the two major
components of the nation of Israel, centered around Judah and Joseph/
Ephraim. Of course, such a combination signals the reunification of
southern Judah and northern Israel, which had been split from the death
of Solomon through the lifetime of Ezekiel.
Following the instruction to engage in a symbolic action, 37:18-28
then convey the main portion of YHWH'S instruction speech to the
prophet to present two oracles from YHWH that will explain to the people
the significance of the symbolic action. The instruction to present the
first oracle in w. 18-19 begins with a temporal statement in v. 18, intro-
duced by the expression, "IIDR31, "and when," to convey the circumstance
that the people will ask for an explanation of the symbolic action in which
Ezekiel has just engaged. The temporal statement thereby introduces the
first instruction to speak an oracle in v. 19, which outlines YHWH's plans
to reunify the nation. The instruction speech per se in v. 19 begins with
the imperative verb, "Q"T, "speak (to them)," and continues with a version
of the classic prophetic messenger formula, "thus says my lord, G-d,"
which in turn introduces the oracle itself. The oracle begins with the
particle, HDPf, "behold," which introduces YHWH's first person explana-
tion that the pieces of wood inscribed respectively to Joseph/Ephraim
and Judah will be joined to form one piece of wood. The full significance
of this act is not yet spelled out, which paves the way for the instruction
to present the second oracle in vv. 20-28.
The instruction to present the second oracle in w. 20-28 begins once
again with a circumstantial clause in v. 20, which states that the people
will see the newly joined, inscribed pieces of wood in the hand of Ezek-
iel. The instruction to convey YHWH's second oracle then follows in w.
21-28. It begins once again with the imperative verbal expression, ~OTi,
"and speak (to them)," followed by the prophetic messenger formula,
which introduces the oracle per se. The contents and form of the oracle
indicate that it is a oracle of national restoration that includes two basic
components: the oracle per se in w. 21aa
-23 and the explication of the
oracle in w. 24-28.
15. Hals (Ezekiel, 272-73) views v. 20 as a somewhat awkward transition or
resumption, due to his view that the oracle has been successively updated and reinter-
preted. On the contrary, the oracle is designed to present a progressive revelation to
the reader which mirrors the process by which the sign-act is presented, its elements
successfully brought to the attention of the observer, and then interpreted by the
16. Contra Stacey (Prophetic Drama, 207-8), who maintains that this is an
eschatological vision.
246 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
The basic oracle in vv. 21acc
-23 includes three sub-units, each of
which is denned by its subject or primary actor. The first sub-unit in w.
-22aa comprises four first person statements in which YHWH
outlines actions that YHWH will undertake to restore the nations: "I am
taking" Israel from among the nations; "I will gather them" from round
about; "I will bring them" to their own land; and "I will make them" into
a unified nation. The second sub-unit in w. 22afS-23a employs third-
person verbal statements to convey the impact of YHWH's actions on the
nation: "one king" shall be king for all of them; "they shall no longer be
two nations"; "they shall no longer be divided into two kingdoms"; and
"they shall no longer be defiled" by the abominations/idols, and so on.
The third sub-unit hi v. 23b again employs first person statements to
summarize the restoration and purification of the nation in its restored
relationship with YHWH: "I will deliver them from their transgression";
"I will purify them" so that they will be a people to YHWH; and "I will be
their G-d."
The explication of the basic oracle in 37:24-28 likewise employs a
combination of first and third person statements to convey the restoration
and reunification of the nation under a Davidic monarch and its relation-
ship with YHWH, but it elaborates on the previous oracle by providing far
greater detail in its vision of the reunited and restored nation and by
emphasizing the role of the Temple in sanctifying the people at the
conclusion. It begins with third person statements, augmented by first
person references to YHWH's acts in w. 24-25, which describe the
restored nation: "my servant David will be king over them"; "they will
walk in my laws and observe my statutes"; "they will dwell upon the
land which I gave to Jacob"; "they will dwell upon forever"; and "my
servant David will be prince (fc^CE) over them forever." Altogether, this
represents a striking combination of northern tradition, focused on the
promises of possession of the land to the (northern) patriarch Jacob, and
southern tradition, focused on the promises of eternal rule granted to the
house of David. First person statements concerning YHWH's covenant
and associated acts then follow in v. 26: "I will make a covenant of peace
with them"; "an eternal covenant, I will grant them"; "I will multiply
them"; and "I will grant them my sanctuary in their midst forever." The
summation in w. 27-28 again employs a combination of first and third
person statements that convey the restored relationship between YHWH
17. Note that the last two elements, "they shall be my people," and "I shall be
their G-d," are the two fundamental elements of the covenant formula; cf. R. Rend-
torff, Die "Bundesformel": Eine exegetisch-theologishe Untersuchung (SBS 160;
Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1995), esp. 40-41, 78.
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 37:15 -28 247
and the nation Israel: "my tabernacle will be over them"; "I will be their
G-d"; "they will be my people"; "the nations will know that I, YHWH,
sanctify Israel when my sanctuary is in their midst forever."
The formal structure of this passage may then be portrayed in the
following way:
Report of YHWH'S Word to Ezekiel: Instruction Speech to
Engage in a Symbolic Action Concerning the Restoration and
Reunification of the Nation Israel 37:15-28
I. Introduction: Prophetic Word Formula 15
II. Word Proper: YHWH's Instruction Speech to Ezekiel 16-28
A. initial instruction concerning symbolic action: two
inscribed pieces of wood j oined together 16-17
a. inscribe one piece of wood with Judah and Israel 16a
b. inscribe a second piece of wood with Joseph and
Israel 16b
c. join the two pieces of wood 17
B. subsequent instruction concerning explanation of act
to people: two oracles concerning significance of act 18-28
a. first oracle: concerning joining of pieces of wood 18-19
1) circumstance: people's request for explanation 18
2) instruction to speak: restoration oracle
concerning j oining of two pieces of wood 19
b. second oracle: concerning significance of act 20-28
1) circumstance: two pieces of wood joined 20
2) instruction to speak: significance of joined
wood: nation restored 21-28
a) instruction formula 2lace
b) oracle 21acc
i. messenger formula 21acc
ii. YHWH's statement 21acc
aa. restoration oracle 21acc
i) YHWH'S actions 21acc
aa) I am taking Israel
from among nations 21 aoc
bb) I will gather them 21ba
cc) I will bring them to
their own land 21 b|3
dd) I will make them
into a unified nation 22aa
ii) results for people 22a^-23a
aa) one king shall be king
for all of them 22a
bb) they shall no longer
be two nations 22boc
248 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
cc) they shall no longer
be divided into two
kingdoms 22b(3
dd) they shall no longer
be defiled 23a
iii) summation 23b
aa) I will deliver them
From their
transgression 23boc
bb) I will purify them as
a people to YHWH 23b(i
cc) I will be their G-d 23by
bb. explication 24-28
i) results for nation 24-25
aa) my servant David
will be king over
them 24a
bb) they will walk in my
laws and observe my
statutes 24b
cc) they will dwell upon
the land which I
gave to Jacob 25a
dd) they will dwell upon
it forever 25boc
ee) my servant David
will be prince over
them forever 25b|3
ii) YHWH'S actions 26
aa) I will make a
covenant of
peace with them 26acc
bb) an eternal covenant,
I will grant them 26a
cc) I will multiply them 26bcc
dd) I will grant them my
sanctuary forever 26b(3
iii) summation 27-28
aa) my tabernacle will
be over them 27acc
bb) I will be their G-d 27a0
cc) they will be my
people 27b
dd) the nations will know
that I, YHWH, sanctify
Israel 28
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 37:15 -28 249
III. The Literary Function of Ezekiel 37:15 -28
Having analyzed the placement of Ezek 37:15-28 in the larger literary
context of 33:21-39:29 as well as its formal literary structure and
concerns, a number of observations and conclusions follow.
First, 37:15-28 seems to be well placed in its context as a component
of 33:21-39:29. The larger block of material is clearly designed to
prepare the reader for the culminating vision of the Temple's restoration
at the center of Israel and creation in chs. 40-48. It does so by focusing
on the purification of the land and people as a prelude for the placement
of the Temple at its center. Each major sub-unit of 33:21-39:29 takes up
this issue in one form or another. Thus, 33:23-33 focuses on the abomi-
nations of the people as the basis for the punishment of the land. The
sub-unit thereby defines the basic problem of impurity among the people
and its effect upon the land that requires resolution before the Temple
can be placed at the center. Ezekiel 34:1-31 develops the point made in
the prior oracle by pointing to the irresponsibility of Israel's leaders as a
key factor in the straying of the people and the desolation of the land.
Although the passage is clearly concerned with the restoration of Davidic
kingship over the people, the metaphorical portrayal of Israel's leaders as
self-interested shepherds who allow the flock to stray evokes images of
improper priestly observance: "the fat (D^nn) you eat and the wool you
wear; the fatted calf you slaughter; the sheep you do not shepherd" (34:3).
This contrasts with pentateuchal tradition, which states that the fat of a
sacrificial animal is not to be eaten but removed from the animal and
burned (Exod 29:13, 22-25; Lev 4:8-12) and that priests are to dress in
linen (Exod 28:43). Ezekiel 35:1-36:15 accuses Edom of having rendered
Israel desolate by handing its people over to the sword. Ezekiel 36:16-
37:14 points to the defilement of the land with blood and its purification
as the dead are brought back to life. Ezekiel 37:15-28 charges that the
people defiled themselves with abominations and calls for their purifica-
tion (37:23), which in turn entails the placement of the sanctuary at their
center (37:26-28). Finally, chs. 38-39 charges that the land was purged
because of the people's abomination, and it calls for the burial and bum-
ing of the corpses of Gog's army as a means to purify the land. Insofar as
37:15-28 envisions the defilement and purification of the land and
people as well as the placement of the Temple at their center, it clearly
functions as an integral component of the larger block in 33:21-39:29.
Second, although 37:15-28 serves well as a sub-unit of 33:21-39:29,
it does not appear to be designed with this role in mind. Its concern with
defilement and purification appears only in v. 23, and it is a relatively
minor issue when read in relation to the larger concerns with the
250 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
reunification of the nation, the restoration of unified Davidic kingship,
and the placement of the Temple at the center of the people. Indeed,
defilement or the prospect of purification does not appear to be a major
issue at the outset of the passage or at any point in the portrayal of the
symbolic action that represents the reunification of Judah and Joseph/
Ephraim. This is not to say that the issue of defilement and purification is
a secondary addition to this text; it is merely an element in the larger
concern with the reunification and restoration of the nation under its king
and sanctuary. Given the concerns with the defilement and purification of
the people and land in 33:21-39:29, such an observation raises questions
as to whether or not the oracle was written for its present role in the
larger text.
Third, although 37:15-28 concludes with a vision of the sanctuary
placed at the center of the reunified and restored nation of Israel, the
conceptualization of that Temple does not appear designed to address the
question of the Temple restored in the aftermath of the Babylonian exile.
Instead, the conceptualization of the Temple is explicitly tied to the
reunification of the people under Davidic rule and to YHWH's promises
made to the patriarch Jacob (37:25). This is particularly striking when
one considers the promises of land to the ancestors in the pentateuchal
tradition. In the present form of the Pentateuch, the promise of land,
nation, and so on, to the ancestors includes all of the principal ancestral
figures: Abram/Abraham (Gen 12:7; 15:18-21; 17:4-8); Isaac (Gen
26:2-5); and Jacob(Gen 28:13-15; 35:9-12). Nevertheless, Ezek37:15-
28 contains no mention of the promise to Abraham or Isaac but focuses
specifically on Jacob. This is noteworthy since, of all the ancestors,
Jacob is the only one consistently associated with the land and institu-
tions of what would later become the northern kingdom of Israel rather
than the southern kingdom of Judah. Indeed, both instances of YHWH'S
promise of land and posterity to Jacob take place in relation to the
sanctuary at Beth El, which later became the primary sanctuary of the
northern kingdom. Such an emphasis is hardly accidental. By focusing
on the patriarch Jacob and the promise of land associated with him,
oracle deliberately draws upon a primary figure and sanctuary associated
with the northern kingdom of Israel in an effort to associate it with prom-
ises and a sanctuary associated with the southern kingdom of Judah.
18. For discussion of Jacob' s association with the northern kingdom of Israel, see
my study, "Puns, Politics, and Perushim: A Case Study in Teaching the English
Hebrew Bible," Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 9, no. 3
(Spring 1991): 103-18.
19. For discussion of Davidic ideology, see M. Weinfeld, "Zion and Jerusalem as
Religious and Political Capital: Ideology and Utopia," in The Poet and the Historian:
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 3 7:15 -28 251
Davidic king is explicitly mentioned in our passage, but the sanctuary
remains unidentified. When read in relation to the proposed Davidic
monarch who would preside over a reunified kingship including Judah
and Joseph/Ephraim, one can hardly escape the conclusion that the sanc-
tuary must refer to the Jerusalem Temple.
Fourth, although 37:15-28 clearly calls for the reunification of Joseph/
Ephraim and Judah under a Davidic monarch and YHWH's Temple, there
is no indication that the Temple has been destroyed or otherwise com-
promised. Nor is there any indication that the Davidic monarch has been
removed from the throne or that the Davidic line has been disrupted. The
exile of the people is mentioned in v. 21, but there is no indication that
the people's exile must be associated with any phase of the Babylonian
exile. This is particularly striking when considered in relation to the
primary issues of the reunification of the people, the rule of a Davidic
monarch, and the central role of YHWH's sanctuary in the midst of the
reunified people and the land. Each of these elements is essential to the
program of religious reform and national restoration promoted by King
Josiah of Judah in the late seventh century B.C.E.:
reunification of Israel
and Judah in the aftermath of Assyrian collapse during this period, the
restoration of Davidic rule over the reunified people, and the establish-
ment of the Jerusalem Temple as the exclusive worship site in the land.
As part of this general restoration, texts related to the reform indicate the
expectation that Israelites/Judeans exiled from the time of the initial
Assyrian invasions would return to the land (e.g. Isa 11:1-16; Jer 30-31;
Zeph 3:1-20; cf. Hos 3:1-5; Amos 9:11-15). Such concerns suggest that
our passage was written in relation to the ideals of J osiah's reform.
Finally, readers must consider the significance of the Josianic interests
in Ezek 37:15-28 in relation to the circumstances of EzekiePs birth and
lifetime. Ezekiel 1:1 states that Ezekiel began to see visions of G-d in the
thirtieth year while in Babylonian exile. Although v. 1 does not define
the thirtieth year, the following editorial comment in 1:2 identifies the
thirtieth year with the fifth year of King Jehoiachin ben Jehoiakim' s exile.
The thirtieth year is therefore identified as 592 B.C.E. The significance of
the thirtieth year continues to be debated, but I have argued elsewhere
that the thirtieth year must refer to Ezekiel's age at the time his visions
began, and that this age corresponds to the year he would have begun
active service as a priest in the Jerusalem Temple had he not been exiled
Essays in Literary and Historical Biblical Criticism (ed. R. E. Friedman; HSS 26;
Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1983), 75-115; cf. J. Levenson, "The Temple and the
World," JR 64 (1984): 275-98.
20. For full discussion of Josiah's reform, see my King Josiah of Judah: The Lost
Messiah of Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001).
252 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
to Babylonia.
If this argument is upheld, it is of special importance for
understanding EzekieFs interest in issues raised by Josiah's reform, since
his birth would have taken place in 622 B.C.E. This would be the eight-
eenth year of Josiah's reign, which both 2 Kgs 22:3 and 2 Chr 34:8
identify as the year that Josiah began the purification and renovation of
the Jerusalem Temple.
Ezekiel's birth in 622 B.C.E. has implications for understanding Ezek-
iel the man and the formation of 37:15-28 within the book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel would have been born at the outset of Josiah's reform program,
and the interests of that reform would have influenced the young Ezekiel
as he grew up in the expectation of serving as a priest in the Jerusalem
Temple. With Josiah's death in 609 B.C.E.the year in which Ezekiel
would have turned thirteenand the subsequent decline of Judah, a
young Ezekieland indeed many in Judahwould have been forced to
rethink the principles of the reform which would have shaped his earliest
experience, education, and outlook as a prospective Zadokite priest.
Israel and Judah were not reunited, Davidic kingship was not fully
restored to its former role over a united Israel, and the Jerusalem Temple
did not yet serve as the holy center of the full nation of Israel. Neverthe-
less, the ideals of J osiah's reform come to expression in 37:15-28,
although they are now read in relation to the restoration of the Jerusalem
Temple in the aftermath of Ezekiel's conceptualization of the Babylonian
exile and destruction of Jerusalem as the means by which YHWH chose
to purge the people, the land of Israel, and creation at large in preparation
for the restoration of the Temple as the holy center of all creation. Inter-
preters may only speculate concerning the process of rethinking earlier
conceptualizations of the nation of Israel, Davidic kingship, and the
Temple in relation to Josiah's reform and concerning the process by
which 37:15-28 may have been written and then reread into a later situa-
tion and literary context. Yet the considerations brought forward above
suggest that just such a process took place, resulting in the present form
of the oracle in 37:15-28 and its placement as part of the larger unit in
21. Sweeney, "Ezekiel: Zadokite Priest," 728-51.
22. Cf. my studies, "The Truth in True and False Prophecy," in Truth: Inter-
disciplinary Dialogues in a Pluralist Age (ed. C. Helmer and K. De Troyer; Studies
in Philosophical Theology 22; Leuven: Peeters, 2003), 9-26, and "Structure and
Redaction in Jeremiah 2-6," in Troubling Jeremiah (ed. A. R. P. Diamond et al;
JSOTSup 260; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), 200-18, which likewise
argue that Jeremiah had to rethink postulates of the Josianic reform in the aftermath
of the king's death and Judah's decline. Both studies are reprinted in Form and
Intertextuality, 78-93 and 94-108 respectively.
SWEENEY The Royal Oracle in Ezekiel 37:15 -28 253
IV. Conclusion
In sum, Ezek 37:15-28 presupposes the ideals of King Josiah's program
of religious reform and national restoration during the late seventh
century B.C.E., which provides the socio-political and religious environ-
ment in which the young Ezekiel ben Buzi was born and educated.
Although one may only speculate concerning Ezekiel's view during this
period, the ideology of J osiah's reform would have informed the educa-
tion of a young Zadokite priest who was born at the outset of the reform
and who was preparing for service in the Jerusalem Temple. Given the
placement of 37:15-28 in a context that presupposes the destruction of
the Jerusalem Temple and the Babylonian exile and that anticipates the
restoration of the Temple in the aftermath of the exile, it appears that our
oracle has come to serve a function different from that which it initially
envisioned. Whereas 37:15-28 initially anticipates the reunification of
Joseph/Ephraim and Judah under the Davidic king and the Jerusalem
Temple as the outcome of J osiah's reform, our oracle now anticipates the
reunification and restoration of the nation, Davidic monarchy, and the
Jerusalem Temple as an act of YHWH, who employed the Babylonian
exile as a means to purify the land and people from defilement in prepa-
ration for the establishment of the future Temple at the center of Israel
and creation in chs. 4048. Such a conclusion has implications both for
the interpretation of 37:15-28 and for the book of Ezekiel as a whole,
insofar as such a reconceptualization of the principles of the Josianic
reform provides the model for Ezekiel's understanding of the signifi-
cance of the Babylonian exile and its aftermath.
23. Note, for example, Ezekiel's interest in northern Israel and the unified people
or house of Israel throughout the book (see, e.g., Ezek 6-7; 20; 23; 33:1-20; 35:1-
36:15). For discussion of Ephraimite influences on the Zadokite priest Ezekiel, see
R. Wilson, Prophecy and Society in Ancient Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1980),
Julie Galambush
The identity of Gog, the foe from the north in Ezek 38-39, forms a most
peculiar sort of interpretive crux. To the extent that consensus may be
said to exist, the consensus is that Gog's identity cannot be determined,
but remains "forever shrouded in mystery."
The reason given for this
mystery is Gog's status as a transhistorical or semi-mythological figure, a
reflex of ancient traditions of the chaos monster or a symbol of the ulti-
mate evil over which God will one day triumph.
But while most scholars
are agreed that Gog does not represent any known or knowable enemy of
the sixth century B.C.E., a second consensus acknowledges that in light of
the evidence, Gog should be precisely such a known enemy of Judah.
The prophet's careful dating of oracles to correspond to historical events,
the language linking the Gog oracle with Ezekiel's earlier prophecies
against specific, known enemies, and his use of real place names (Lydia,
Cush, etc.) for the allies of Gog have for generations led scholars to
conclude that a historically identifiable Gog "would be expected" in Ezek
Moreover, given the conspicuous lack of any Ezekielian oracle
1. K. P. Darr, "Ezekiel," NIB 6:15 12.
2. So, among others, D. I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25 -48 (NICOT;
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); B. Batto, Slaying the Dragon: Afythmaking in the
Biblical Tradition (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 157-62; P.
Fitzpatrick, The Disarmament of God: Ezekiel 38-39 in Its Mythic Context (Wash-
ington: Catholic Biblical Association, 2004), 87; R. E. Clements, Ezekiel (Louisville,
Ky.: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 170; A. Cody, Ezekiel, with an Excursus on the
Old Testament Priesthood (Wilmington, Del: Glazier, 1984), 183-85.
3. See, e.g., W. Zimmerli, Ezekiel: A Commentary on the Prophet Ezekiel (trans.
J. Martin; 2 vols.; Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983 [German ed. 1969]),
2:304; G. Cooke, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Ezekiel
(ICC 21; Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936), 408; A. B. Davidson, The Book of the
Prophet Ezekiel (TGV. A. W. Streane; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1916),
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 255
against Babylon, plus the precedent for such an oracle in both Isaiah and
Jeremiah, the hands-down winner among historically identifiable can-
didates is Nebuchadnezzar II, the monarch who had so recently super-
vised the destruction of YHWH's temple, land, and people. But despite
the evidence favoring the identification of Nebuchadnezzar as Gog, most
scholars continue to prefer mystery, seeing in Gog a nebulous, trans-
historical enemy of YHWH.
This study will argue that the battle between YHWH and Gog in Ezek
38-39 portrays YHWH's final and theologically necessary victory over
Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia. In addition, it will briefly consider rea-
sons why many so scholars, while accepting Nebuchadnezzar as the most
natural candidate for the role of Gog, nonetheless reject this solution and
conclude that Gog's identity is both unknown and unknowable.
The case that Gog is a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar rests on several
different kinds of evidence, the first of which might be called the "plot"
of Ezekiel. Scholars often claim that Gog seems logically superfluous to
the plot of the book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel follows a clear trajectory from
the oracles of doom preceding the destruction of Jerusalem and the
temple in 586 B.C.E. (chs. 1-24), to oracles promising restoration to the
exiled Judeans, and culminating in the vision of the new temple in chs.
40-48. In chs. 34-37, Ezekiel promises the return of the people from
their Babylonian captivity and their eternal safety in the land. The intru-
sion of yet another enemy in Ezek 38-39, after the people have returned
and are living in safety, seems jarringly out of place. This seeming incon-
sistency, however, exists only if one takes Israel's exile as the book's
central problem and their return as its resolution. Gog is superfluous only
if the book is primarily concerned with the punishment and restoration of
the Judean people.
In recent decades, however, scholars have done substantial work arti-
culating the extent to which Ezekiel is not so much concerned with Judah
and the Judeans as he is with YHWH, specifically with the divine honor,
which has been defiled by the disobedience of the Judean people.
If the
4. There have been a few exceptions, notably G. H. A. Ewald, Commentary on
the Prophets of the Old Testament (trans. J. F. Smith; Edinburgh: Williams & Nor-
gate, 1880 [German ed. 1868]), 4:181-82, 191-93; J. Boehmer, "Wer ist Gog von
Magog? Bin Beitrag zur Auslegung des Buches Ezechiel," ZWT4Q (1897): 321-55;
H. McKeatmg,zefo'e/(OTG; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993), 121-22.
5. See, e.g., W. Eichrodt, Ezekiel: A Commentary (trans. C. Quin; OTL; Philadel-
phia: Fortress, 1970), 519; Cooke, Critical andExegetical Commentary, 406-8.
6. See P. Joyce, Divine Initiative and Human Response in Ezekiel (JSOTSup 51;
Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989); T. Renz, The Rhetorical Function of the Book of
256 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
central concern of the book of Ezekiel is not the people but their God,
then the plot is as follows: YHWH's honor has been compromised (his
name denied) by the people's disobedience; therefore YHWH will use
Nebuchadnezzar as an agent to punish the people and vindicate YHWH'S
holiness (see, e.g., 21:15-16; 23:22-35). Unfortunately, the ensuing
destruction of people and temple involves further damage to YHWH's
holy name and so, after the people have been punished, YHWH will again
act for the sake of his honor, this time by bringing the people back from
exile and reconstituting them into a community of obedient worshipers
(20:40-44; 36:16-32). This restoration of YHWH's honor culminates in
his exaltation as king in the restored and invulnerable temple.
to this theocentric reading, the punishment of Nebuchadnezzar/Gog is
not superfluous, but essential to the plot, as the point where YHWH vindi-
cates his honor before the nations (39:21-24).
Narratives of temple abandonment and restoration followed a known
sequence in the ancient Near East.
A god who, angered at his own
people, had allowed foreigners to overrun his temple, first gave satisfac-
tory chastisement to the people, but then returned triumphant. In the
exilic situation, the continued dominion of Nebuchadnezzar (or Marduk,
his god) would have stood as a clear obstacle to YHWH's re-establish-
ment of his supremacy. Ezekiel, as Susan Niditch points out, employs "an
extremely ancient mythic pattern" describing "the victory and enthrone-
ment of the deity."
Although Niditch address Ezekiel's exilic context
only in passing, the identity of the power opposing YHWH, and whose
Ezekiel (VTSup 76; Leiden: Brill, 1999), 129-32; N. Habel, "The Silence of the
Lands: The Ecojustice Implications of Ezekiel's Judgment Oracles," in Ezekiel's
Hierarchical World: Wrestling with a Tiered Reality (ed. S. L. Cook and C. L.
Patton; SBLSymS 31; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004), 127-40.
7. See, among others, S. Niditch, "Ezekiel 40-48 in a Visionary Context," CBQ
48 (1986): 208-24; J. Levenson, Theology of the Program of Restoration of Ezekiel
40-48 (HSM 10; Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1976); J. Galambush, "Ezekiel," in The
Oxford One-Volume Commentary of the Bible (ed. J. Muddiman and J. Barton;
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 533-62.
8. See L. Fried, "The Land Lay Desolate: Conquest and Restoration in the
Ancient Near East," inJudah andtheJudeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period (ed. O.
Lipschits and J. Blenkinsopp; Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2003), 21-29; A.
Hurowitz, I Have Built You an Exalted House: Temple Building in the Bible in Light
ofMesopotamian and Northwest Semitic Writings (JSOTSup 115; Sheffield: JSOT
Press, 1992); D. I. Block, "Divine Abandonment: Ezekiel's Adaptation of an Ancient
Near Eastern Motif," in The Book of Ezekiel: Theological and Anthropological Per-
spectives (ed. M. S. Odell and J. T. Strong; SBLSymS 9; Atlanta: Society of Biblical
Literature, 2000), 15-42.
9. Niditch, "Visionary Context," 221.
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 257
defeat would equal the victory preceding YHWH's enthronement, would
have been obvious to all: Nebuchadnezzar.
The most common objection to the identification of Gog as Nebuchad-
nezzar is the latter's role as YHWH's ally throughout the rest of the book
of Ezekiel.
No obvious rupture indicates the change from Nebuchad-
nezzar as YHWH's covenant and military partner to Nebuchadnezzar as
YHWH's worst enemy. Such an objection, however, ignores not only the
motivation underlying prophetic claims that foreign armies are really
agents of YHWH, but also the precedent of earlier prophetic literature (Isa
10:5-19; Jer 25:8-14). The prophetic claim (and, for that matter, similar
claims issued on behalf of gods throughout the Near East) that YHWH is
using foreign armies as his tool was primarily a defensive rhetorical
maneuver. The claim counters the more obvious reading of the political
map, in which YHWH and his monarch have just been (or are about to be)
badly beaten by another monarch, sponsored by another god. Certainly
an observer from Moab or from Egypt (let alone from Babylonia) would
have seen the destruction of the Jerusalem temple and the exile as a
defeat for YHWH, rather than his successful use of the Babylonians as
tools. As YHWH himself observes to Ezekiel, the nations are saying that
"these are the people of [YHWH], and yet they had to go out of his land"
(36:20). YHWH was unable to defend his land, his temple, or his people.
Whether in Moab, in Babylon, or in Judah, claims that the people were
conquered only because their god wanted it that way, exist, at least in
part, as a response to the more obvious reality of the god's (and nation's)
Nebuchadnezzar's "alliance" with YHWH is thus a means of continu-
ing to claim the deity's superiority despite quite strong evidence to the
contrary. Such a stratagem, however, necessarily entails the problem of
what to do with the foreign monarch once YHWH stops hiding his face
and punishing the people. Does YHWH now share sovereignty with the
ruler whose armies have sacked his temple? The problem, of course, had
already been addressed long before Ezekiel's day. Assyria, the rod of
YHWH's anger in the prophecies of Isaiah, is punished for his "haughty
pride" as soon as his services become unnecessary (Isa 10:5-19). In
Jeremiah, Nebuchadnezzar is first brought in as YHWH's "servant" to
devastate Judah, but then punished for his "iniquity" in "making the land
10. Zimmerli (Ezekiel, 2:304-25) provides a typical example of this approach.
After laying out the reasons why a known, historical enemyin fact, Nebuchad-
nezzar himselfwould be expected at this point in the book, he then rejects this
hypothesis on the grounds that such an interpretation is "forbidden" by the fact that
Ezekiel never abandons his belief in Nebuchadnezzar as YHWH' s tool. The reasoning
is circular, but durable. See also, for example, Block, Book of Ezekiel, 434 n. 36.
258 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
an everlasting waste" (Jer 25:8-14; cf. 50:18). YHWH makes the problem
of competition between himself and his "servant" quite clear: "Who is
like me? Who can summon me? Who is the shepherd who can stand
before me? Therefore hear the plan that the LORD has made against
Babylon..." (Jer 50:44-^5).
It seems entirely unrealistic that Ezekiel, whose oracles so frequently
employ those of Jeremiah as their base, and who was far more focused
than Jeremiah on the need to vindicate YHWH's honor, would have
allowed Nebuchadnezzar's triumph to go unanswered.
In the exilic
context, any claim of YHWH's superiority that failed to address the far
more tangible power of Nebuchadnezzar would have been weak at best.
Agent or not, Nebuchadnezzar represented a power with whom YHWH
had, sooner or later, to reckon.
But if it is the Babylonian monarch whom YHWH must best in combat
before restoring his name and regaining his throne, why doesn't Ezekiel
just come out and say so? Why "Gog"? Henry McKeating encapsulates
the most plausible reason: if the connection between Gog and Nebu-
chadnezzar were obvious, if it could be definitively proved "by us, now,
in the twentieth century, it could have been proved then, in the sixth,
with.. .unwelcome results."
Writing in Babylon, Ezekiel had to disguise
the oracle announcing Nebuchadnezzar's demise. "Gog" is thus a subter-
fuge, a fictitious name intended to shield the writer from reprisals for
speaking out against the ruling power.
The Gog prophecies are an
example of what Yairah Amit calls "hidden polemic," polemic in which
the subject is not stated explicitly. Such hidden or veiled polemic simul-
taneously serves the author's need to communicate and a strategic "need
for concealment."
Amit argues that this rhetorical device came into
wider usage over the course of the sixth century; the case of Gog would
seem to be an example of such veiling. But, as Amit points out, in
addition to its obscurity, the veiled polemic must also be sufficiently
11. Ezekiel's pattern of expanding the prophecies of Jeremiah is well docu-
mented. See the discussion in Zimmerli, Ezekiel, 1:46.
12. McKeating, Ezekiel, 122.
13. The name itself may, as is often claimed, invoke the seventh-century Gyges
of Lydia. If so, then we see in Ezek 38-39 an early instance of the kind of displace-
ment employed in Daniel, Revelation, and other apocalyptic literature, in which the
name of a bygone empire is used as code, allowing the author to talk about the
destruction of the regime currently in power. On the question of whether Ezekiel
might, like Jeremiah, have devised "Magog" as a coded name for Babylon through
the technique of athbash (see Jer 25:26; 51:41), see Boehmer, "Wer ist Gog?"
14. Y. Amit, "The Sixth Century and the Growth of Hidden Polemics," in
Lipschits and Blenkinsopp, eds., Judah and the Judeans, 135-51.
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 259
transparent to communicate with at least a select audience. Or, to turn
McKeating's observation on its head, if the connection between Gog and
Nebuchadnezzar is so well hidden from a modern reader, how can one be
sure that it was any more obvious to Ezekiel's contemporaries?
One answer lies in Ezekiel's political situation. Ezekiel's contempo-
raries knew full well that, on the political and military fronts, Nebu-
chadnezzar was, as he called himself, "the king of kings" and supreme
monarch. At the most mundane and practical level, the barrier between
YHWH and kingship was Babylon; any claim of YHWH'S kingship strongly
implied the removal of the current king. For both theological and politi-
cal reasons, Ezekiel's readers would have anticipated a description of
Nebuchadnezzar's demise prior to a celebration of YHWH'S enthrone-
ment. Nor is Ezekiel's description as "hidden" as some consider it to be.
On the contrary, Ezekiel depicts Gog using precisely the language that
elsewhere he applies to Nebuchadnezzar. A brief survey demonstrates
the connections:
Ezekiel portrays Nebuchadnezzar as the leader of the "most terrible of
nations," a king of kings whom YHWH brings up "from the north" against
his foes (26:7; 23:24 LXX). The Babylonian monarch commands a
"horde" (^p, 16:40; 23:24, 46, 47; 26:7; 32:3) made up of "many
peoples" (D
3-| D'DU, 26:7; 32:3; cf. 23:24; 26:3), who seize spoil (H,
23:46; 26:5; 29:19) and plunder (^0,26:12; 29:19). Gog is described in
identical terms: the enemy from the north (38:6,15; 39:2), commander of
a 'Tip consisting of Dm&QU (38:6,9,15,22). Just as YHWH "brought
up" Nebuchadnezzar (n^U, 16:40; 23:46; 26:3), so also he will bring up
Gog (39:2) against his own people to despoil and plunder (38:12; cf.
39:10). The descriptions of Nebuchadnezzar and Gog are close enough to
make the comparison straightforward. As Thomas Renz has observed,
"No-one reading the book of Ezekiel (or Jeremiah) could be in any doubt
that the Babylonians had been this foe coming from the north to destroy
In fact, although Gog is, like Nebuchadnezzar, "brought up"
by YHWH to attack the people, before bringing him against the land,
YHWH must first "bring [him] back" ("[Timid, 38:4; 39:2). This is not
Gog's first campaign against Israel.
15. Renz, Rhetorical Function, 118-19 n. 149. Remarkably, while seeing clearly
that Ezekiel's foe from the north is Babylon, Renz (without explanation) wishes to
see a different and unnamed enemy in Ezek 38-39: "The question is not 'Who is the
foe from the north?,' but 'Will there be another enemy who can claim to be "the foe
from the north"?'" (emphasis added).
16. Cooke (Critical andExegetical Commentary, 408) notes that Babylon would
be the most logical nation for YHWH to "bring again," but decides that this would be
260 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
Not only does Ezekiel quote his own descriptions of Nebuchadnezzar
in presenting Gog; remarkably, he quotes Jeremiah's as well. In Jer
49:28-32, Jeremiah describes Nebuchadnezzar's attack against Kedar
and Hazor: first (v. 28), YHWH calls up the Babylonian, instructing him
to attack. Nebuchadnezzar, however, believes the attack is his own idea:
"For King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon has made a plan against you and
formed a purpose (DOT) against you. 'Rise up, advance against a nation
at ease, that lives secure,' says the LORD, 'that has no gates or bars, that
lives alone. Their camels shall become booty, their herds of cattle a
spoil'" (w. 30-31). The portrayal mirrors Ezekiel's depiction of Gog
step for step. The enemy is mustered by YHWH (38:3-9), but soon
devises his own scheme (DO!) against his victims (38:10-12). Nebuchad-
nezzar/Gog is attracted by the people's vulnerability: they live in security
?, Jer 49:31; Ezek 38:8,11), without doors or bars (DTl'TT and ma,
Jer 49:31; Ezek 38:8, 11). The attacker will come for spoil and plunder
(T3 and VyD, Jer 49:32; Ezek 38:12).
Thus, Ezekiel's depiction of Gog's attack seems to be a reworked
version of Jeremiah's depiction of Nebuchadnezzar's. Moreover, in Jere-
miah, Nebuchadnezzar's attack is followed immediately "in those days"
(Jer 50:4) by YHWH's destruction of the Babylonian and his troops, com-
plete with an earthquake (Jer 50:46; cf. Ezek 38:19-20) and a universal
despoiling of the hated despoilers (Jer 50:10; cf. Ezek. 39:10). Any claim
that Ezekiel includes "no oracles against the Babylonians" must take into
account his clear use of J eremiah's anti-Babylonian oracles to describe
YHWH'S defeat of his worst enemy. Nor does Ezekiel's description
require that one see a "change" in YHWH'S relationship with Nebuchad-
nezzar. J ust as the Babylonian monarch was YHWH's tool with which to
punish the people, so now he will be the tool by which YHWH glorifies
his name.
One final verbal clue may link Gog to Nebuchadnezzar. Ezekiel refers
to Gog by the title,
?3m "]ED m~\ STta (38:2; 39:1). The phrase is usu-
ally translated, "chief prince of Meshech and Tubal," but in fact tvtel is
pointed as a construct form: "ruler o/the head of Meshech and Tubal."
That is, Gog is not the head of Meshech and Tubal per se, but someone
standing in authority over the ruler of Meshech and Tubal. Perhaps it is
not surprising that scholars have for the most part shied away from
making use of this obscure if potentially quite explicit information. It is
difficult enough to come up with a ruler of Meshech and Tubal in the
early sixth century, let alone decide who his superior might have been.
"a large conclusion to draw from a slight hint," and instead labels the passage "an
apocalypse composed after Ezekiel's day."
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 261
Hence scholarly recourse to the seventh-century Gyges of Lydia who,
though long dead, and though having never posed any threat whatsoever
to Israel, at least had a name that sounded like "Gog," and expanded his
west Anatolian territory eastward, in the general direction of Meshech
and Tubal. Gyges has always been an unsatisfactory candidate for the
role of Gog, but has been widely accepted for want of a more likely (and
more grammatically accurate) translation of ^nni "J E D 2J R "I 233.
Nebuchadnezzar, however, claimed hegemony over "Hume, Piriddu,
and Luddu," that is, Cilicia (Hume, immediately to the south of Tubal),
Phrygia (Piriddu, another name for Meshech), and L ydia (Luddu), to
their west.
Moreover, upon Nebuchadnezzar's death, first Nerglissar
and then Nabonidus undertook expeditions to Hume (Cilicia) to reassert
Babylonian control.
While it is unlikely that Nebuchadnezzar exercised
direct control over the region, his claims are partially supported by
Herodotus' account of a war in eastern Anatolia (the region of Meshech
and Tubal), lasting from 590 to 585. According to Herodotus (1.74),
under the leadership of Gyges's grandson Alyattes, the Lydians cam-
paigned eastward into Phrygia (Meshech), engaging in a five-year war
with the Medes, who were in control of the region east of the Halys
R iver, roughly biblical Tubal. The conflict ended when, having aban-
doned the field of battle because of an eclipse, both sides agreed to a
settlement mediated by the king of Babylon and his ally, the king of
Nebuchadnezzar's or his emissary's role in the so-called Treaty
of the Battle of the E clipse either recognized or formalized Babylonian
hegemony in the region. The title, "ruler over the head of Meshech and
Tubal," would certainly have fit Nebuchadnezzar following the year 585;
it might, in fact, have been a very timely way of describing his recent
activities in Anatolia.
To summarize the argument so far: E zekiel's terminology argues
strongly that Gog is Nebuchadnezzar, the same "foe from the north" who
17. D . J . Wiseman, "Babylonia, 605-539 B. C.," in CAH 3.2:235; J . Betlyon,
"Neo-Babylonian Military Operations Other Than War," in Lipschits and
Blenkinsopp, eds.,Judah and the Judeans, 263-83.
18. Wiseman, "Babylonia," 242 A4.
19. Herodotus erroneously lists the king of Babylon in 585 as Labynetus,
possibly referring to Nebuchadnezzar's representative. The LydianMedian conflict
of 590-585 is generally ignored in discussions of E zek 38-39. A noteworthy excep-
tion is J . L. Myres, "Gog and the D anger from the North in E zekiel," PEFQS 64
(1932): 213-19. Myres argues that the prophecy responds to the conflict (with Gog/
Gyges standing for Gyges's grandson, Alyattes), but prior to the mediated settlement
of 585. Thus, the oracle was motivated by "a moment of panic," in which it appeared
that Alyattes would overrun the region.
262 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
has commanded the most terrible of nations throughout the book of
Ezekiel. Moreover, the book's plot, in which YHWH must act to vindicate
his holiness, would seem to require Nebuchadnezzar's punishment prior
to YHWH's exaltation. The only remaining problem bedeviling the firm
identification of Gog with the Babylonian monarch would seem to be the
awkwardness of having Israel restored twiceonce before Gog's attack
and a second time following his demise. In Ezek 34-37, the chapters
leading up to the Gog narrative, YHWH has described the people's return
from exile as a time of peace and prosperity. The security of the land and
its inhabitants is emphasized repeatedly: "They shall no more be plunder
for the nations, nor shall the animals of the land devour them; they shall
live in safety, and no one shall make them afraid" (34:28). Not only will
such safety be absolute; it will also be permanent: YHWH will make "an
everlasting covenant" of peace (37:26).
In fact, however, no sooner has YHWH promised to protect the people
"forever" than he invites the evil Gog to come and attack. Gog's victims
are explicitly described as the unsuspecting returnees; he comes upon "a
land restored from war, a land where people were gathered from many
nations on the mountains of Israel, which had long lain waste; [whose]
people were brought out from the nations and now are living in safety,
all of them" (38:8). In short, Ezek 38-39 seems to contradict the prom-
ises of chs. 34-37. This apparent contradiction has at times been consid-
ered evidence that chs. 38-39 were a later addition to the book.
recently, it tends to be taken as an indication that Gog is not a historical
enemy, but a cosmic foe who will appear only "in the latter years," that
is, at the end of time.
The perception that the attack of chs. 38-39 is out
of place or contradictory hinges on the assumption that the people "living
in safety" in the land of 38:8 represent the fulfillment of the prophecies
of chs. 34-37. Certainly, the people of Ezek 38 have been "gathered" from
the nations, as promised in 34:13 and 36:24, and seem, at least for the
moment, to be living "securely" (38:8), as promised in 34:27. But does
20. W. H. Brownlee, '"Son of Man, Set Your Face,' Ezekiel the Refugee
Prophet," HUCA 54 (1983): 83-110, lays out the case that Gog is Babylonia, but
rejects the proposal because he does not believe that chs. 38-39 derive from the origi-
nal prophet. G. Fohrer, in Die Hauptprobleme des Buches Ezechiel (Berlin: Topel-
mann, 1952), 93-95, on the other hand, not only accepts the chapters as substantially
original, but points out that earlier passages (20:33-44; 33:27-29; 34:17-31) seem to
allow for the possibility of a future attack against the land.
21. So, e.g., Cody, Ezekiel, 183-85. It is not clear why the arrival of a vicious
enemy (however quickly destroyed) at the end of time is any less a violation of
YHWH'S promise of "eternal" peace than the invasion of a vicious enemy in Ezek-
iel's own day.
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 263
the mere occupation of the land constitute the fulfillment of YHWH's
earlier promises?
It is attractive to see the pre-Gog situation of the people, restored to
the land, as the fulfillment of YHWH's previous promises, particularly
since Ezekiel provides no oracles in which the people return without the
accompanying blessings of peace and security. In fact, however, even if
one ignores the problem of Gog's attack, the portrayal of pre-Gog Israel
in Ezek 38 fails on many fronts to fulfill YHWH's earlier promises of
restoration. The restored people of Ezek 38 have, for example, no Davidic
monarch, as they are promised in 34:23-24 and 37:24-25, nor does the
land enjoy exceptional fertility, as promised in 34:26-27 and 36:30,35.
In fact, these promises are fulfilled only after Gog's destruction, in the
vision of restoration of Ezek 4048. Nor have YHWH's promises of
spiritual, moral, and cultic renewal been fulfilled at the time of Gog's
Throughout the book of Ezekiel, YHWH has sworn that he would first
punish the people, and then restore them in such a way that they would
be purified, obedient, and above all, ashamed of their previous behavior.
Already in 11:19-20 (and again in 36:26-27), YHWH promises to give
the people a new heart and cause them to be obedient. "Then" says
YHWH, "you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors" (36:27).
Three times, in 16:60-63; 20:40-44; and 36:31-32, YHWH announces
that the result of the people's purification will be shame and self-loath-
ing. None of thisneither the transformation nor the shameis reflected
in Ezek 38. On the contrary, it is only following YHWH's defeat of Gog
that one sees Israel purified, obedient, and prosperous. Only after Gog's
defeat do they feel the shame that was to accompany their restoration
(39:26). The pre-Gog Israel of 38:8 is simply not the idyllically restored
Israel promised throughout the book of Ezekiel. In addition, an essential
task remains to be accomplished before YHWH can recreate Israel and re-
order the world: Nebuchadnezzar must die.
YHWH's primary goal, after all, is not Israel's welfare but his own
exaltation. According to Ezekiel's theocentric perspective, the attack of
chs. 38-39 does not contradict Ezekiel's earlier prophecies of Israel's
restoration, but fulfills them. In Ezekiel's prophecies of Israel's and
J udah's restoration, he consistently links that restoration with the vindi-
cation of YHWH's name, that is, his honor. This theme is most fully
articulated in ch. 36, in which the deity explains that before the exile, the
Israelites had defiled the land through their disobedience. In response,
YHWH punished them with exile. But, YHWH says, even in exile his name
was profaned because others said "These are the people of [YHWH], and
yet they had to go out of his land." The people's exile implied that their
264 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
god had been unable to protect them. "But," says YHWH, "I had concern
for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the
nations to which they came." Accordingly, YHWH will now act again in
order to sanctify his name. But which action, specifically, will achieve
this sanctification? Part of this sanctification will involve the restoration
of Israel, but as YHWH makes quite clear, any benefit to the people is
secondary; his goal is to redeem his honor. Although he will display his
holiness before the nations by means o/Israel (DID, 36:23), his actions
are not undertaken on their behalf. "It is not for your sake that I am about
to act, says the Lord GOD; let that be known to you" (36:32; cf. v. 22). In
addition to displaying his holiness before the nations, YHWH will cleanse
the people themselves. "A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I
will put within you; I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow
my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live
in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and
I will be your God" (36:26-28). The result of YHWH's restoration is that
the nations acknowledge his sovereignty: "Then they shall know that I
am YHWH" (v. 38).
Neither YHWH's primary goal of vindicating his holiness before the
nations nor the corollary of creating a cleansed and obedient people is
achieved by the mere return of the people to the land. In chs. 34-37,
YHWH announces his intent to act on behalf of his name, and in ch. 38
we see the people, gathered from their exile and living securely in the
land. Somewhat surprisingly, however, we learn exactly nothing about
their moral disposition or their cultic behavior; instead, we are told only
that, having been "gathered" back to the land (apparently without the
defeat of Nebuchadnezzar), they are now living in "unwalled villages,"
"all of them living without walls, and having no bars or gates" (38:11).
The repetition of the people's vulnerability emphasizes their narrative
function: these are sitting ducks; they are in fact bait with which to lure
Gog. Why? In order for YHWH to be able to restore his honor and display
his holiness before the nations, Gog must attack. Simply having the
people back on their land does nothing, either to remove the stigma of
their having been deported in the first place or to gain YHWH interna-
tional recognition. In order to remove the stigma of the exile, YHWH
must repel a full-scale attack from Nebuchadnezzar, that is, from Gog.
Only a decisive victory over the Babylonians' worst offensive will
counter the impression that YHWH had proved incapable of defending his
land and people. When YHWH has destroyed Gog, then "the nations shall
know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity... So I
hid my face from them and gave them into the hand of their adversaries,
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 265
and they all fell by the sword" (39:23). This, of course, is what YHWH
has been claiming throughout the book of Ezekiel, but how many people
(or nations) believed it? By YHWH's own admission, the nations had
been gloating over the fact that YHWH'S people had been forced to leave
YHWH's land. Only with the defeat of Nebuchadnezzar can YHWH prove
beyond doubt that Israel went into captivity because of their iniquity
rather than because of Babylonian strength or his own weakness.
"This," says YHWH, "is the day of which I had spoken" (39:8). The
day of which YHWH had spoken is the day of his vindication, the day
when, as foretold in 20:40-44, he deals with Israel "for [my] name's
sake," manifesting his holiness "in the sight of the nations." It is on "that
day" (36:33) that the people will loathe themselves, bearing their shame,
but on which YHWH will recreate them, to make a people worthy of his
name (11:19-20; 36:2627; 39:29). And, as it turns out, it is precisely
after Gog's destruction and the land's purification, after he has displayed
his holiness before the nations, that YHWH will fulfill his promise to pour
forth his spirit on a newly created people.
The day of which YHWH had
spoken was not the day of Israel's restoration, but of YHWH's.
The dynamic of Ezek 38-39 is one in which the foreign monarch must
attack YHWH's people in order for him to accomplish his goal of vindica-
tion and recognition. Given the apparent humiliation of YHWH in the
exile, Nebuchadnezzar becomes a necessary enemy, whose destruction is
essential to the deity's own restoration. In this regard, the plot of Ezek
38-39 closely parallels that of the book of Exodus. In the P sections of
Exodus, YHWH states plainly (and repeatedly) that he will harden Phar-
aoh's heart, thereby preventing him from releasing the Israelites and
creating an occasion for YHWH to "gain glory" over Pharaoh (14:4; cf.
7:1-5, inter alia). Only after he has defeated the Pharaoh will the Egyp-
tians "know that [he is] the LORD" (14:4). In Exodus, YHWH must strug-
gle to overcome the stigma of having allowed his people to live in slavery
outside his land and under a hostile ruler. Given the possibility that the
P authors and the author of Ezekiel were responding to the same theo-
logical and political humiliation, the nearly identical functions of Pharaoh
and Gog/Nebuchadnezzar are all the more intriguing.
22. D. I. Block, "Gog and the Pouring Out of the Spirit," VT31 (1987): 257-70,
notes that it is only after the defeat of Gog that YHWH accomplishes the promised
pouring forth of the spirit. Block, however, sees the pouring out of the spirit as an
event that will take place in a distant "end of days."
23. On the connections between Ezekiel and P, see R. L. Kohn, A New Heart and
a New Soul: Ezekiel, the Exile and the Torah (JSOTSup 358; London: Sheffield
Academic Press, 2002); A. Hurvitz, A Linguistic Study of the Relationship Between
the Priestly Source and the Book of Ezekiel (CahRB 20; Paris: Gabalda, 1982).
266 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
In summary, the case that Gog is a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar is a
strong one. The hypothesis makes use of the verbal connections between
the Gog chapters and the rest of Ezekiel, as well as drawing on the Jere-
mianic portrayals of Nebuchadnezzar quoted in Ezek 38. Further, the
identification of Gog as Nebuchadnezzar places the phrase EJN"! ^BD
within a known historical context, without resorting to emendation. The
destruction of Nebuchadnezzar is pivotal to the book's plot, and counters
the commonsense perception that Nebuchadnezzar has, in fact, beaten
YHWH. But if Gog is Nebuchadnezzar, and if Ezekiel has, in fact, left
enough clues for this identification to be reasonably obvious, why don't
modern interpreters make the connection? The identity of Gog has been
debated for centuries; different readings have been popular in different
periods and no single answer can account for all of them. I would like,
however, to point out two factors in the history of interpretation that may
have contributed to the misreading of Gog: the belief in divine omnipo-
tence and the development of apocalyptic literature.
First and most simply, for a reader who believes in divine omnipo-
tence (and who believes that Ezekiel did so as well), a historical Gog of
Ezekiel's time period is unnecessary. If God, that is, Israel's God, is
omnipotent, then the claim that Nebuchadnezzar was YHWH's tool, and
was allowed to destroy YHWH's temple for YHWH' s own purposes, is vir-
tually self-evident. YHWH was obviously in control all along, and there is
no need for him to destroy Nebuchadnezzar or anyone else in order to
prove his power or cleanse his name from dishonor. If one affirms the
existence of a single, omnipotent God, then the rhetoric of divine self-
vindication is superfluous, symbolic at best. Only in a polytheistic con-
text (like Ezekiel's) do the actions of Nebuchadnezzar (or Marduk) have
a real effect on the honor and reputation of Israel's God. The theological
dynamic underlying the book of Ezekiel, that in order to vindicate his
name YHWH must destroy both Israel and then Nebuchadnezzar, becomes
less and less meaningful as it is interpreted in a cultural context of mono-
theism. YHWH's genuine, even urgent, need to defend his honor was lost
to scholars for generations, and it is no wonder that only in recent years
have we begun to appreciate this aspect of the book.
In addition to interpretive problems created by scholarly assumptions
of monotheism and divine omnipotence, another set of hurdles is posed
by the existence of later apocalyptic literature. The status of Ezekiel as
apocalyptic or, more plausibly, proto-apocalyptic literature is widely
debated. There is no doubt, however, that Ezekiel, especially the chapters
dealing with Israel's (and YHWH's) restoration, served as a model for
later apocalyptic writings such as Revelation. The reuse of Ezekiel in
GALAMBUSH Necessary Enemies 267
apocalyptic literature of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, however,
definitively recasts the role of Gog into the transhistorical realm. Gog is a
villain who will appear at the end of time. The existence of (and belief
in) an apocalyptic scenario in which God's decisive intervention will not
occur until the literal "last days" of the world, may have affected schol-
arly reconstructions of EzekiePs vision of events that take place "on that
day" (39:11). A specific example of such anachronistic reading is pro-
vided by EzekiePs use of the phrase D^D") D^D (38:8), which elsewhere
appears only in Josh 23:1. In Joshua, the expression "after many days"
clearly refers to a period of less than a generation in the narrative
But while scholars are universally agreed that D^D") D^D refers
to a finite and not especially long period of time in Joshua, faced with the
identical expression in Ezekiel, they interpret it as designating the far-
distant end of time. The overlap between Ezek 38-39 and later, apoca-
lyptic literature has clearly led to anachronistic assumptions that, among
other effects, make a transhistorical Gog more appealing than Nebuchad-
nezzar, the far more pedestrian Gog close at hand.
We should know better than to fall into this trap. Even in later, fully
apocalyptic texts, the villain is frequently someone like Antiochus IV
Epiphanes or Nerothat is, the ruler of an oppressive foreign power.
How much more is this likely to be the case with Ezekiel, whose intense
engagement with the military and political events of his day is widely
acknowledged, and who wrote in a period before the full development of
apocalyptic literature? A Gog forever shrouded in mystery has a certain
timeless appeal. The Gog who dominated Ezekiel's landscape, however,
and whose power had to be countered in order to display the holiness of
Israel's God, was Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
24. A related phrase, D^EFI rmnKD (38:8), appears nowhere else in the Hebrew
Bob Becking
I. The Enigma of Post-Exilic History
Zerubbabel is an enigmatic figure. This statement needs clarification,
since Zerubbabel is quite often seen as one of the important leaders of
the early Second Temple period. His role has been seen as formative for
the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. As a politician, he paved
the way for the emerging Judaism.
This picture of Zerubbabel goes hand in hand with the classical view
on the return from exile and the early formative years of Yehud. Stan-
dard textbooks on the history of Israel generally discuss the early post-
exilic period under the headings "return" and "rebuilding." The return
allegedly started already in the reign of Cyrus. The rebuilding of the
temple for YHWH in Jerusalem is almost unanimously dated in the year
520 B.C.E. In the traditional discourse, these two "events" functioned as
* This study has been written before the publication of the excellent monograph
by D. V. Edelman, The Origins of the "Second" Temple: Persian Imperial Policy
and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem (Bible Word; London: Equinox, 2005). In view of
her findings and suggestions, I probably have to review the historical implications of
my literary analysis.
1. See, e.g., G. Widengren, "The Persian Period," in Israelite and Judaean
History (ed. J. H. Hayes and J. M. Miller; London: SCM Press, 1977), 515-23;
H. Dormer, Geschichte des Volkes Israel und seiner Nachbarn in Grundziigen
(ATD, Erganzungreihe 4/2; Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986), 2:405-16;
C. Meyers and E. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 18 (AB 25B; New York: Doubleday,
1987), xxix-xl; B. Beyer, "Zerubbabel," ABD 6:1084-86; J. Tollington, Tradition
and Innovation in Haggai and Zechariah 1-8 (JSOTSup 150; Sheffield: Sheffield
Academic Press, 1993), 131-34; A. Lemaire, "Zorobabal et la Judee a la lumiere de
1'epigraphie (fin du Vie s. av. J.-C.)," RB 103 (1996): 48-57; M. H. Floyd, Minor
Prophets Part 2 (FOTL 22; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 303-17.
BECKING Zenibbabel, Zechariah 3-4, and Post-Exilic History 269
the cornerstones of a reconstruction in which Persian power is seen as
cooperating with Judean/Jewish leadership: return and reconstruction
were authorized by the Persian emperor.
Recent decades have seen challenges to this reconstruction with no
generally accepted new alternative at hand. For example, the classical
view on Zerubbabel as an early post-exilic leader is largely based on
assumptions about the historicity of the events narrated in Ezra 1-6. Here
information is given that he belonged to the first waves of returnees
(Ezra 2:2) and that he served as a Persian governor under Darius (Ezra
3:2, 8; 5:2). Recent scholarship, however, has raised three challenges to
the traditional claims. First, Joel Weinberg has analyzed the so-called
"list of returnees" in Ezra 2 and Neh 7. In his view, Neh 7:7-69 gives the
original form of the list. The purpose of this text is not to describe all
those returning from Mesopotamia, but to indicate the collectives belong-
ing to the Burger Tempel Gemeinde ("citizen-temple community") until
the year 458/57 B.C.E. This community consists of descendants of those
returning from Mesopotamia from the edict of Cyrus onward.
one cannot draw any historical conclusions on the basis of Ezra 2:2.
Second, the episodes regarding the building of the temple (Ezra 3-6)
are enigmatic. For instance, note the mention of Jeshua and Zerubbabel.
They appear in Ezra 3:2 as laying the foundation of the altar for the God
of Israel. According to the internal chronology of Ezra, this event took
place in the reign of Cyrus. According to the same internal chronology,
Jeshua and Zerubbabel were still in charge in Ezra 5:2, where they were
initiating the rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem. This initiative took
place during the reign of Darius, who governed after Cyrus, Ahasuerus,
and Artaxerxes. Moreover, it took place after the exchange of letters
mentioned in Ezra 4 during the reign of Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes.
Within the text-internal chronology there is no problem with these
features, except the fact that they suppose either a quick change in ruler-
ship at the Persian court or a long life for the two officials mentioned.
Problems arise when this text-internal chronology is related to a text-
external chronology. Either Darius mentioned in Ezra 5 must be identi-
cal with Darius I Hystaspes (522486 B.C.E.) or with Darius II Ochus
2. On this discussion, see most recently L. Fried, The Priest and the Great King:
Temple-Palace Relations in the Persian Empire (Biblical and Judaic Studies 10;
Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 2004).
3. J. P. Weinberg, The Citizen-Temple Community (JSOTSup 151; Sheffield:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1992), 41^3.
4. See also K. L. Noll, Canaan and Israel in Antiquity: An Introduction (The
Biblical Seminar 83; London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 294.
270 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
(424^05 B.C.E.). Both possibilities provoke problems. The historical
reconstruction yielded by the first identification raises problems for the
chronological order of the letters, since in this reconstruction the corre-
spondence in Ezra 5 took place earlier than the exchange of letters
referred to in Ezra 4. This seems unlikely in view of the contents of the
letters. Ezra 4 stops the building of the temple, while Ezra 5 gives
permission to complete the building activities. The second identification
supposes that Jeshua and Zerubbabel had lived superhumanly long.
Cyrus died in 529 B.C.E. and Darius II Ochus captured the Persian throne
in 424 B.C.E.
These difficulties suggest that one cannot draw inferences
about the life of Zerubbabel from the book of Ezra.
Third, since the dating of the prophetical activities of Haggai and
Zechariah is based on the interpretation of Ezra 3-6, it now seems very
unwise to use these books at face value for historical reconstruction of
Zerubbabel and his deeds.
These challenges give rise to a number of interrelated problems for
reconstructing the life of Zerubbabel.
First, it is, as noticed, not clear
whether the Persian king Darius mentioned in the biblical books of
Haggai, Zechariah, and Ezra refers to Darius I or Darius H Secondly, the
(re)construction of the historical events from the early post-exilic period
in Judah/Yehud is complicated by the scarcity of evidence. Thirdly,
when did the exiles returnand did they return massively? Fourthly,
when was the temple rebuilt? Fifthly, is Zerubbabel a historical figure or
the product of a fictional mind?
In order to make the specific argument in the present study, I operate
with the following assumptions, which cannot be defended in detail here:
(1) the Persian emperor Darius mentioned in Haggai, Zechariah, and
5. L. L. Grabbe, Ezra-Nehemiah (Readings; London: Routledge, 1998), 125-53;
B. Becking, "Ezra on the Move: Trends and Perspectives on the Character and His
Book," in Perspectives in the Study of the Old Testament and Early Judaism: A
Symposium in Honour of Adam S. van der Woude on the Occasion of His Seventieth
Birthday (VTSup 73; Leiden: Brill, 1998), 154-79; Noll, Canaan and Israel, 294;
J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 401,
6. For a recent survey of the problematic aspects in the history of the Persian
period, see L. L. Grabbe, A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple
Period. Vol. 1, Yehud: A History of the Persian Province ofJudah (LSTS 47;
London/New York: T. & T. Clark International, 2004). For an interesting reconstruc-
tion slowly parting from the traditional discourse, see R. Albertz, "The Thwarted
Restoration," in Yahwism After the Exile: Perspectives on Israelite Religion in the
Persian Era (ed. Rainer Albertz and Bob Becking; Studies in Theology and Religion
5; Assen: Van Gorcum, 2003), 1-17.
BECKING Zerubbabel, Zechariah 3-4, and Post-Exilic History 271
Ezra 5 is Darius n Ochus (424-405 B.C.E.); (2) the return from exile, a
process that allegedly started in the final decades of the sixth century,
went on for more than a century and saw waves of immigrants gradually
find their way to the Persian province of Yehud; (3) the evidence for the
rebuilding of the temple of Jerusalem as early as 520 remains question-
The current state of the questions given above shows that research on
the historical Zerubbabel is open for new perspectives. All the evidence
available needs to be rediscussed in order to get a clearer and more
historically trustworthy picture of the person. This essay lifts up the book
of Zechariah as one piece of evidence for such reconstruction. As the
following discussion will show, working with the book of Zechariah
through a particular type of compositional analysis is required in order to
provide the preparatory work for writing the life of Zerubbabel using
prophetic literature.
n. Zerubbabel and Zechariah
Zerubbabel is mentioned four times in the book of Zechariah (4:6,7, 9,
10) and plays a formative role in the reconstruction of the temple in
Jerusalem. Quite often texts identify him more fully as "Zerubbabel, the
son of Shealtiel." This patronym has given rise to the idea that Zerubba-
bel was of royal, Davidide, descent. In the book of Haggai, Zerubbabel is
referred to as the ITTirP nns, the "governor of Yehud" (Hag 1:1,14; 2:3,
22), indicating that he was an important figure in the Persian administra-
tion, or at least seen as such.
The first appearance in Zechariah connects Zerubbabel with building
activities (Zech 4:6): "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation
of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that
the LORD of hosts has sent me to you." Some scholars have used this
datum to argue that the temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt in 520 under the
human leadership of Zerubbabel, with Persian authorization but inspired
by YHWH.
This last feature is especially clear in v. 6: "This is the word
of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, 'Not by might, nor by power, but
by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.'" One should ask, however, whether
it is acceptable from the point of view of historical method to use such a
prophetic text in the (re)construction of the past.
7. See recently M. Smith, The Memoirs of God: History, Memory, and the
Experience of the Divine in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 40-43.
272 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
A. The Importance of Genre
It is of great importance to establish the character of the evidence before
drawing historical conclusions from it. Since Zech 4 is a literary text, one
should begin by establishing its Gattung. Different genres have different
historical value. There should be no automatic dichotomy, however,
between annalistic reports that purport to give "what really happened"
and poetical or prophetical texts that are often taken as only informing
about states of mind and as possessing no historical value.
The book of Zechariah
contains two parts: Zech 1-8, a collection of
night-visions from the Persian period, and "Deutero-Zechariah," a later,
probably Hellenistic text. Zechariah 1-8 may originally have been part of
a composition that included Hag 1 through Zech 8. "Night-vision" is a
sub-genre of oracular prophetic texts. These texts describe in poetic lan-
guage the encounter with the divine that the prophet had overnight. Their
point of departure generally is a real-life feature such as a stone or
almond tree that is expanded metaphorically to communicate a message.
In many cases, prophetic formulae accompany the night-vision.
Scholars disagree as to the number of night-visions in Zech 1-8, par-
ticularly whether there were seven or eight. The answers to that question
are quite often connected with the redaction-historical problem of the
development of the book. Klaus Seybold, for example, argues that origi-
nally there were seven night-visions:
Hebrew Bible
4:l-5 +10b-14
Measuring Line
Horns and Smiths
Woman in the Efa
Four Wagons
Fig. 1. The Seven Night-Visions in Zech 1-8 According to Klaus Seybold
8. See also J. Barton, Reading the Old Testament: Method in Biblical Study (2d
ed.; London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1996), 8-46.
9. For an overview of the discussion on Zechariah, see M. J. Boda, Haggai and
Zechariah Research: A Bibliographic Survey (Tools for Biblical Study 5; Leiden:
Deo, 2003); Collins, Introduction, 401-15.
10. See B. O. Long, "Reports on Visions Among the Prophets," JBL 95 (1976):
353-59; R. Hanhart, Dodekapropheton 7.1: Sacharja 1-8 (BKAT XIV 7/1; Neu-
kirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1998), 45-50.
11. K. Seybold, Bilder zum Tempelbau: Die Visionen des Propheten Sacharja
(SBS 70; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk, 1974).
BECKING Zerubbabel, Zechariah 3-4, and Post-Exilic History 273
According to Seybold, this originally well-constructed composition was
later expanded, for example, by the addition of Zech 3, most probably as
an ideological backbone to postexilic priesthood.
In his view, Zech 4 is
the pivotal element in a concentric symmetry of seven, that is, it is the
central light in a menorah-composition.
Other scholars, however, do not
construe Zech 3 as a later addition. These scholars argue for a composi-
tion of eight night-visions:
Hebrew Bible
Measuring Line
Horns and Smiths
Woman in the Efa
Four Wagons
Fig. 2. The Eight Night-Visions in Zech 1-8 According to Janet Tollington
B. Connections Between Zechariah 3 and 4
Important in this discussion is the question of whether Zech 3 can be
isolated literarily from its context. The first impression is that Zech 3
differs from its context. Its more concrete language stands apart from
the other night-visions.
The literary pattern of expanding metaphori-
cally a real life feature into a prophetic symbol is also less clearly present.
At the level of words and phrases, however, there is a strong case for
12. See also A. van der Woude, Zacharia (de Prediking van het Oude Testament;
Nijkerk: Callenbach, 1984), 29-32,61-80; Dormer, Geschichte, 414; M. van Amer-
ongen, "The Literary Unity of Haggai and Zechariah 18: A Structural Analysis"
(Ph.D. diss., Utrecht University, 2005), 152,172, 250-57, 270-77.
13. So also C. Jeremias, Die Nachtgesichten des Sacharja (FRLANT 117;
Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1993); Meyers and Meyers, Haggai, Zecha-
riah 1-8, liii-lx, 178-227.
14. Tollington, Tradition, 78-123; see also W. A. M. Beuken,Haggai-Sacharja
1-8: Studien zur Uberlieferungsgeschichte derfruhnach-exilischen Prophetie (SSN
10; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1967); Hanhart, Dodekapropheton; Floyd, Minor Prophets,
303410; H. Delkurt, Sacharjas Nachtgesichte: Zur Aufname und Abwandlung
prophetischer Traditionen (BZAW 320; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2000); T. Pola, "Form
and Meaning in Zechariah 3," in Albertz and Becking, Yahwism, 159-60; Collins,
Introduction, 404-5. M. Bid (Die Nachtgesichte des Sacharja [BibS(N) 42; Neu-
kirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1964]) opts for the authenticity of the material
but divides the visions differently in a scheme of seven.
15. So Seybold, Bilder and Jeremias, Nachtgesichten.
274 Israel's Prophets and Israel's Past
authenticity. The following discussion examines the most intriguing
connections observed by various scholars.
1. Homonyms. There are various words that occur both in Zech 3 and 4,
albeit with differences in meaning:
Zech 4
pn, "the stone"
?!?, "on one single stone"
nwnn pirnN, "headstone"
'Tlin ptma, "the stone of tin"
Fig. 3. The Noun p in Zech 3-4
The first and last attestations of pfc are especially problematic.
example, in 3:9, Meyers and Meyers take pK as an unmarked noun that
does a double duty within the prophetic discourse. The noun could be
read within a priestly as well as within a monarchic context. At this point
in the prophetic discourse, it is not yet clear whether the priest or the
king will be dominant in the era to come.
This ambivalence opens the
lane for a connection between 3:9 and 4:7. The stone in Zech 3:9 then
would anticipate t