Tag Archives: Judah

The Bible in and as History: The Book of Habakkuk and the Book of Zephaniah

icon_of_zephaniah_2817th_c-2c_north_russia2c_priv-_coll-29A review of the Historical aspect of the Book of Habakkuk will be short and sweet because there just isn’t much.  We have no idea who Habakkuk was, and there isn’t any agreement on his identity.  Placing the work historically is difficult; we know it’s been canonical for a long time as there are examples as part of the Dead sea scrolls, but other than that only vague guesses serve us.  A mention of the Chaldean’s suggests something near the end of the 7th century, but no more helps us.

The theme and tenor of this book are again, similar to what has come before.  Habakkuk begs god for answers, specifically to the question of how he can permit the Chaldean’s(the Babylonians) to attack his chosen people.  The answer is one we have heard before; the Chaldeans’ are an instrument of gods Justice for the iniquity of the Israelites.  This does have another interesting theme, however; unlike some of the other works, in which the foreign invaders are merely an instrument of Gods will, a tool like a Sword or Hammer, in Habakkuk, they are identified as people who will themselves be judged.  The Chaldeans are themselves subject to Gods judgement, and more the harshly.  This itself is a paradox similar to the one in Exodus wherein God ‘hardens Pharaoh’s heart’.  One can see in it future theological disputations.  Do the Chaldeans have free will?  Is this merely an example of Gods perfect knowledge of the Future?  What does it mean to be punished for something that is apparently Gods will?

The book ends with Habakkuk coming to accept God’s divine will.  The text is an exhortation towards faith.  This is probably why it is quoted later by early Church fathers.  It will appear again in the Epistles apparently, but that gets way ahead of ourselves.  One can readily see how this text would be useful for both Christianity in broad terms and Protestantism in particular.  There is a long history of the idea of enduring through prosecution for your faith in Christianity.  First beneath the Romans, and later in regards to various other authorities.  Be it in the ‘Holy Wars’ of the 16th and 17th Centuries or other persecutions that arose even after the peace of Wallphalia.

Zephaniah we have a better time placing in history.  We only have his own avowed text, but that text informs us that Zephaniah was a Great-Great Grandson of King Hezekiah of Judah, the 13th king of Judah according to the bible.  We know he prophecized during the era of King Josiah of Judah, placing him between 641 and 610 BCE, and also making him contemporary with Jeremiah.

Zephaniah as a prophet continues similar themes we have seen before; God will visit destruction upon Judah in general and Jerusalem in particular.  Like Habakkuk, it places judgement over others besides the Israelites, inferring a world-wide judgement by God.  There is a bit of a focus on idolatry and degeneracy in religious life, but otherwise, it’s something we’ve seen time and again.  The prophecies also foretell of a union of the world beneath a Messianic kingdom, a restoration.  Thus again the theme; Punishment for failure to hold to God, followed by a promise of redemption.

So of the Minor prophets, we have Hagai, Zechariah, and Malachi.  I may try and do all three in one post, though it will probably make for a bit of a long one, just to finally finish off the Tanakh/Old Testament.  I may then do a bit of a looking back before going right into the Gospels.  Till then.

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The Bible in and as History: Book of Micah and Book of Nahum

I’m going to continue my doubling up of the minor prophets for a bit, and see how that goes, especially as the pace is going to slamicah_2cken when I hit the New Testament and get to go through the Gospels.

So the Book of Micah identifies itself as being the collection of the sayings of Micah, a Prophet living under the reign of Yehotam, Ahaz, and Heziak, kings of Judah is the period of 700-750 BCE.  This was a period of Assyrian ascendancy and aggression against the Semitic kingdoms and during the middle part of this period, Judah had been reduced to series of vassalized city-states.  Israel eventually rebelled and its capital of Samaria was destroyed as a result.

Micah has a potentially interesting compositional history.  Without further evidence, most accept that the first several chapters are either written by the prophet or transcription of generally accepted sayings and prophecies.  It is also held by scholars that the later portions are additions; reworkings of a prior set of prophecies in the post-exilic period.  The prophet foretells of the destruction of the temple, though the wording of the prophecies seems to indicate soon, rather than in the centuries to come, as one example.

Thematically the book has similarities to other prophets; disobey God bad, Samaria was destroyed for its sins and failures to honour god, etc.  Foretelling the rise of Israel and a return to glory once the people return to God.  While hardly unique with regards the prophets, it does show us how the act of taking historical works and repurposing them to later function has an ancient pedigree.  Just as Christians would later take various elements of the Hebrew bible and see in them evidence for their saviour, post-exilic priests could look to past prophecies for evidence both of divine power(i.e. Look, the prophet foretold this would happen!  God is great!) and as apparatus for political control or motivation(i.e. Don’t turn away from God and the Priesthood!  If you stay with us the Prophets say we will return to Glory!).

The book of Nahum has a less certain providence and authorship.  From the text, we can date it to after the destruction of Themes in 663 BCE.  It mentions the event and it seems unlikely the work could be written either.  It draws on the destruction of Themes to talk of a more present act; the destruction of Nineveh, Capital of the Assyrian empire by the Babylonians.  These place it at the end of the 7th century BCE.

Nahum is poetic about the coming destruction of the city and has a sort of schadenfreude with regards the Israelites enemies and conquerors impending destruction. The comparison with Themes is at once historical; so fall all tyrants and all great cities not beholden to God it seems to say.  Those that brought us low are now brought low.  Otherwise, there isn’t much to say about it.  It’s poetic and draws strange metaphors and symbols.  The author is at one point a seeming participant in a battle to defend the city for example.

Only five more minor prophets to go; Next up are Habakkuk and Zephaniah.

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The Bible in and as History: Book of Amos

russian_icon_xviii_century_-_amos_and_obadiah

Unlike some of the Minor prophets, so called because they are a lot shorter in length than the Major prophets, Amos can be placed in a very narrow place in history.

 

 

 

 

The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake.

This is how Amos opens, and it presents us with things we can use to ‘hang’ an identification on.  Obviously, we can’t be absolutely sure, but barring counter-evidence we know that Amos must have operated during the rule of Jeroboam II, between 788 and 747 BCE.  The earthquake turns out to be a historical event we can narrow down even further, with some verifiable evidence, to somewhere between 765 and 760 BCE.

So Amos is prophecizing during the period of Judah and Israel as two separate kingdoms.  prior to the Babylonian captivity, or the fall of Judah.  This puts him a bit distinct from most of the other prophets we have dealt with.

Amos’ themes start out similar in some respects; a look at Israel and the surrounding nations, then details of the sins of Israel.  We then get visions God sends the prophet, which include visions of retribution and punishment.  God’s chosen people must be moral and are not exempt from Gods judgement but a focus of it.  We see here an example of God as the god of all people, wich is an interesting juxtaposition from the usual structure of most old testament books which seem interested in other peoples only as instruments of gods justice.

Another theme that is highlighted in Amos that isn’t in all other prophets is the centrality of the responsibility of the wealthy to the poor.  The sins of Israel include the wealthy exploiting the poor, and has similar themes to popular works from other era’s and times; poor people turning away from the honest work because they are exploited and going into corrupt work, in this case growing oil and grapes for export rather than local foods.  While there have been shades of this elsewhere, this is the clearest example I think I have seen in the Old testament of a duty to the poor, though also, one must not, an expectation of social hierarchy.  I do wonder if the poor farmers growing grapes really did think their lives better growing food for subsistence living?

Because Amos is possibly the oldest of the minor Prophets, some of his wording and elements have already shown up in previous works and will again.  References to national sins, comparison with other states, and of course, an angry God who meets out judgement which is only averted by returning to grace.

Well try to keep rolling right along and go into Obadiah, possibly do that with Jonah, as they are both really short.

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The Bible in and as History: Jeremiah

806px-rembrandt_-_jeremiah_lamentingSo After a long hiatus I am back and hopefully for the sustained rush to the end of this project and the start of others.  I can say that while personal events have kept me from completing this project within it’s initial time-span, I have a greater deal of respect for people who have read the whole thing inside of a year.

I plan on doing some discussion of the entire ‘Old Testament’ when I hit it’s end, but already I see that plenty of these books end up sounding repetitious on first reading.

So the Book of Jeremiah.  Unlike some of the other books of the bible, whom we have to place in history by supposition or comparison with other texts with known dates, we can discern the time-period.  Jeremiah began his mission according to the text, during the Reign of King Josiah of Judah, around 627 BCE, until King Zedekiah, around 586 BCE.  This is a period that starts with Judah’s subjugation by the Egyptians, followed by the Babylonians defeating both the Assyrian s and the Egyptians to become Judah’s overlord.   Subjugated beneath the Babylonian Empire, Judah rebelled several times until it’s elite were exiled to Babylon and it became a province of the Babylonian empire.  This is a story we’ve heard before, and much of the text of the bible was composed during this period or at least formalized there-after.  We can surmise, given the specifics, at Jeremiah being a real person, a real prophet, who left behind actual words.  What within the text is actually his words though is harder to determine.  We know for certain that parts of the text were edited by various authors over the course of the following centuries and it’s unlikely it gained it’s final form until the 2nd century BCE, nearly four hundred years after the events in question happened.

There are two extant versions of the text itself; one of Greek, one of Hebrew.  The later is shorter, but both are contained within the Dead Sea Scrolls.  There is some scholarly disagreement on the nature of these two versions, but what I’ve read seems to indicate that the Greek is probably derived at a later date from the Hebrew.  Like all the texts of the bible we are reminded that their transmission, in a time before the printing press, was by manual copying.  One must assume by priests, whose historical and vested interests would alter over time.  It’s not a question of whether the text is edited, but how much and by whom to what end.

Looking at the text we see an alignment with what has gone before.  Prominence is played onto the Covenant between God and the people of Judah.  The idea being that there is a contract between the people and God.  Like a traditional marriage, where-in the Husband is above the Wife, the people are beneath god and thus correction, judgement and punishment is inevitable because of the peoples betrayal of the covenant.  The deal was struck, one side broke the dead, Gods punishment is essentially just.

This is a running theme we see again and again in the Deuteronomic portions of the bible.  The  fate that befalls the nations of Israel and Judah being divine justice for the falling from the path.

Beyond descriptions of the events surrounding the prophets life, and the descriptions of the fate already befallen, we have actual prophecies.  These are less specific, though some might be taken as that, and more repetitions on a theme.  This bad thing will happen and than this bad thing, and these things will be the result of the broken covenant.  God will use the Babylonians as an instrument of his judgement but than he will bring low the Babylonians themselves and so forth.  The Prophecies both explain the present circumstances of the people, but also point them towards a triumphant future.

Obviously this text holds importance in both Jewish and Christian history.  Besides the actual historical elements, the text frames what will be the various struggles of the Jewish people even after the Captivity is over.  After the destruction of the second temple during the Roman era it would continue as explanation for the state of the Jewish people and part of the promise of the future.  It could also be held as prophecy fulfilled.  God promised Jeremiah that Babylon would be brought low, and look it was.  Jeremiah as a figure is thus referenced elsewhere.

To Christians Jeremiah is a prophet foretelling the coming of Jesus.  The idea that god would forge a new covenant fits into the Christian world-view, with the people of the word filling in for the people of Judah, and Jesus new covenant filling in for the obedience that the people in the ‘New Kingdom’ will show.  What was probably than a literal, somewhat political text initially, with a spiritual dimensions, gains express and complete spiritual dimensions by later peoples.  The ‘New Kingdom’ becomes not a literal kingdom but an imagine future Utopia.  Jeremiah is not the first, nor will he be the last of the Old Jewish prophets to be put to use by later theologians.

That’s it for Jeremiah.  Next it’s on to the fore-heads of ashes and weeping with Lamentations.

 

 

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