Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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The vision of Nahum is essentially a series of diatribes against Nineveh, interwoven with reflections on the state of Judah, and the book should therefore be read in conjunction with the book of Jonah. The relationship of the book to the actual fall of Nineveh to the Babylonians in 612 bce is much debated, but whether there is any connection between Nahum and the historical destruction of Nineveh remains open. The book seems to be partly a collection of optimistic nationalistic poems against Nineveh and reassuring Judah of YHWH's protection, in spite of the contradictory, but familiar, belief that YHWH has aroused Assyria against Judah. Nahum 1: 1–9 is part of an acrostic poem which is not maintained in the rest of the chapter. Judah is reassured: ‘Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows: for the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off’ (1: 15). Although the excellency of Jacob and Israel has been turned away (2: 2), Nineveh itself will fall: ‘And Huzzab shall be led away captive, she shall be brought up, and her maids shall lead her as with the voice of doves, tabering upon their breasts. But Nineveh is of old like a pool of water: yet they shall flee away … Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will burn her chariots in the smoke, and the sword shall devour thy young lions: and I will cut off thy prey from the earth, and the voice of thy messengers shall no more be heard’ (2: 7–8, 13). Nahum 3 is a woe oracle against ‘the bloody city’, identified in v. 7 as Nineveh, containing conventional material characteristic of diatribes against cities (cf. Isa. 26–7, 47): ‘Because of the multitude of the whoredoms of the wellfavoured harlot, the mistress of witchcrafts, that selleth nations through her whoredoms, and families through her witchcrafts. Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame. And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a gazingstock. And it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say; Nineveh is laid waste: who will bemoan her? whence shall I seek comforters for thee? Art thou better than populous No, that was situate among the rivers …?’ (3: 4–8). Apart from the images of water and rivers, this is a highly conventional diatribe. In a culture of city-states the defeat of any city was always the occasion for lamentation and expressions of joy: from Jerusalem's point of view the defeat of an enemy city was cause for celebration—what makes the Book of Jonah so subversive is that it represents YHWH's sparing of Nineveh.

Chapter.  509 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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