Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nineveh: "Though they are at full strength and many,
they will be cut off and pass away." Nahum 1:12
Many scholars agree asserting that Israelite prophecy shares many similarities in form and style with Mesopotamian prophetic literature. During the time Judah was very active with prophetic ministry, Assyrian records show also big activity in prophetism. However, as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are significant differences between the Israelite and the rest of the ANE prophecy. As an example, the latter is concerned for the prosperity of the kingdom, favoring the rulers and making sure that the gods always have nice and well-kept places of worship. The former instead concentrates in being critical of kings, in denouncing social justice issues, and in honoring YHWH with a sincere heart.

These three prophets we are studying in class now, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah, continue in a similar way the work  of those of the 8th century we have already seen (Amos, Hosea and Micah). During the political turmoil of the late 7th and early 6th centuries, these men were ready to pass judgment and warn Judah that solely on YHWH and his Law should they look for confidence; otherwise the consequences would be more than severe…

 Nahum is the seventh book of the Minor Prophets. Although we don’t have any details about the prophet or the date of the book's composition, it is very plausible to claim that the book was written after the fall of Nineveh which Nahum announces so forcefully (612 BCE). The book condemns Nineveh, Judah’s former ally, but now turned into an enemy. Nahum’s prophecy then belongs to the “oracle against the nations” category, a judgment pronounced by YHWH to peoples other than Israel of Judah (Isa 13-35; Jer 46-51; Ezek 25-32, etc). This oracle therefore is aimed to provide hope for the Judahites oppressed by the Assyrians; thus the meaning of  the prophet's name: "comfort".

Scholars divide Nahum in at least three major sections. The first part (Nah 1:2-11) presents the LORD as a warrior seeking for vengeance against the Assyrians (Nineveh is also personified as the adversary).  Then, Nah 1:12-15 is considered a hopeful oracle that Judah’s oppression is coming to an end and should await for the good news. Finally, Nah 2:1-3:19 portrays the invasion of Nineveh. Here the prophet seems to be the watchman that witnesses the enemy’s downfall, which is personified this time as a prostitute who after being violated is shown to be a spectacle to all.

"Devastation, desolation and destruction. Hearts faint and knees tremble,
all loins quake, all faces grow pale." Nahum 2:10
The use of violent language is significant and disturbing in this book (ex. 2:7; 3:3, 5-7). This has traditionally brought questions on theological and ethically sensitive issues like revenge, violence, justice, forgiveness and moreover, about women as a symbol of evil. It is worth pointing out that there is no reading from Nahum in the Jewish Lectionary, the Roman Catholic Sunday Lectionary (although there is one reading combining 2:1-3;3:1-3,6-7 on a weekday) or the Revised Common Lectionary, which make me ask if these religious communities have made a decision to avoid these texts fearing the dislike of the modern mindsets. 

 Juan Miguel Betancourt
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