Michael D. Coogan

in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, Augmented Third Edition, New Revised Standard Version

Published in print February 2007 | ISBN: 9780195288803
Published online April 2009 |

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Although the book of Nahum does not begin with a date formula, its allusions to historical events date it to the late seventh century bce. Nahum refers to the fall of the Egyptian capital of Thebes to the Assyrians in 663 bce; the book must have been written after that. The focus of the book, as its title “An oracle concerning Nineveh” indicates, is the fall of the Assyrian capital Nineveh, which occurred in 612; Nahum's triumphal ode was written close to that event, which it anticipates or describes. The placement of Nahum, together with the other late seventh‐century prophets Habakkuk and Zephaniah, seems to be roughly chronological, since these three books follow that of Micah, who was active in the late eighth century. The author of the book of Nahum is identified only by his name (which means “comforted”); even the location of his home, Elkosh ( 1.1 ), is unknown.

As is typical of Israelite prophecy, Nahum's words were prompted by the dramatic events of international history. The Assyrian Empire, whose power had for centuries been felt and feared from Mesopotamia to the Mediterranean, crumbled quickly after the death of Ashurbanipal (627 bce). Under the combined assaults of the Medes from north of Persia and the Chaldeans from southern Babylonia, the ancient Assyrian city Asshur fell in 614. When the renowned Nineveh was destroyed in 612, Assyrian domination of the Near East was ended, though its imperial structures served as a template for subsequent empires.

The fervent reaction to the overthrow of Assyria, expressed by the peoples long subjected to its yoke, is nowhere seen more clearly than in Nahum. The core of the book is a superb, vivid poem ( 2.3–9; 3.1–3 ) extolling Nineveh's destruction. The prophet spells out the reason for the Assyrian downfall: It is the Lord's judgment against an oppressor.

This basic theme makes clear that Nahum's thought is passionately partisan. He asserts boldly that the Lord is the avenger of cruelty and immorality. Prophetic collections often include oracles against the nations (e.g., Isa 13–23; Jer 46–51 ). In essence, the brief book of Nahum, like that of Obadiah, belongs entirely to this genre, and does not discuss the consequences of divine justice for Israel itself. The book and its sentiments toward Nineveh are often contrasted with those in the book of Jonah (contrast Nah 3.11 with Jon 4.11; Nah 1.2–3 with Jon 4.1–2 ).

Chapter.  1533 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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