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PERSIA & CREATION OF JUDAISM

Book 3. Ezra & The Law

Deuteronomic History and the Prophets


 

Deuteronomic History

 

The Former Prophets equate with the Deuteronomic History. The Deuteronomistic History was noted first by Martin Noth. It stands for the work of a school of authors who wrote what Noth saw was a coherent history from Deuteronomy (except chapters 32-34) to 2 KingsJoshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings—books that follow the criteria of Deuteronomy and are likely therefore to spring from the same source.

The Deuteronomic History introduces David, Saul and Solomon but depicts the monarchy as corrupt, blasphemous and always bringing misfortune to the people. Needless to say, biblical scholars have had many views and formulated many theories about it, most, if not all of which accept it at its own value. However, most of these scholars will accept that these books have one main theme that they will not dispute—that they express the central view of Deuteronomy, that disobedience of the law will bring punishment by God, and particularly the withdrawal of the gift of the land.

The chronology is coherent, the language, style and sentence structure is characteristic, the text is periodically broken by speeches by the leading participants summarising the story so far, and looking ahead, and the author’s purpose is clear and consistent—to condemn apostasy and warn about its dire consequences for the people.

Under the influence of Noth, the books of Kings were considered coherent enough to have been written complete, by a single author, but few scholars honestly accept that view today—they are made up of several layers of redaction. Modern exegesis dates the “Historic Books” of the Bible (Genesis to 2 Kings) from the time of “Exile.” They originated after the exile in the Persian period.

The author of Isaiah saw the victory of Cyrus over Babylonia as punishment of the Babylonians by Yehouah for abducting the leading Israelites. But Cyrus himself had a different view. He declared to the Babylonians that their own god, Marduk, had punished them for their own sins. This is interesting in several ways. It shows that the worshipper of any god will claim historical events as interventions of their own deity when it suits them. It shows Cyrus as saying to the Babylonians exactly what he said to the Jews—their own god would punish them if they resisted the policies of the king of kings. It shows him using religion for his own purposes, just as he did with Judaism. It equates Marduk with Yehouah in that the God of Heaven favoured the Persian king, the agent through which He acted on earth. The objective of the historians the Persian king despatched to various places was to get over this message.

The Purpose of the Deuteronomists

The Persian kings did not want to restore local kings but hoped to control people by religious authority—the God of Heaven had his reign on earth in the person of the king of kings—the Persian king. The present recension of the Jewish scriptures is even later—from the time of the Maccabees. Indeed the findings at Qumran show that they were still being written in the first century BC.

So, Noth is correct that there is a clear cohesion about the Deuteronomic History but wrong to conclude that it implies a single author. The cohesion is conditioned by the unity of purpose of the books, which cannot be lost provided that each editor had the same central purposes. Editors might have intended to add, or clarify or repair when the original was damaged or lost, but even if they had different minor themes, so long as the central themes remained those of the Deuteronomist, the books would remain coherent. After a few generations, say 100 years, the Deuteronomic History was accepted by all as God’s word, and future editors would have been unwilling to alter it.

The messages conveyed in the books were those of the Deuteronomist. The northern kingdom, Israel, disappeared from history because its kings, from Jeroboam I on, were sinners. Sin is, of course, not any particular moral wrongdoing but simply disobedience to Yehouah and apostasy. The name “Israel” signifies those who worhipped El. By contrast, the southern kingdom of Judah was treated favourably by the redactors because its kings were considered of the line of David and mostly aspired not to sin. The few who did sin eventually brought “the exile” to the people of Judah as a punishment. The name “Judah” signifies those who worshipped Yehouah.

In these myths, Israel is the embodiment of Canaanite apostasy from Yehouah and His laws, laws that were only introduced in the Persian period as Ezra admits. These new and largely alien laws were justified by re-writing Canaanite history. Eventually, even the people of Yehud had been wicked enough to attract the wrath of Yehouah in the sack of Jerusalem and the exile, but the reward of a righteous “remnant” was to be returned by the Persians as colonists. Apparently, Israel had been too wicked to be returned, because they stood for all the people who worshipped the traditional gods of Canaan and not the instrument of Persian foreign policy, Yehouah. Kings pretends that Yehouah struggled throughout history against a wilful and unworthy people and failed, so He had to destroy them! Nearly the same happened to the Jews, but they were not so unworthy and were saved by a remnant, those sent as colonists from Syria to start up the temple state of Yehud. Nevertheless, these myths signified that their position was precarious indeed, so they had better be exemplary people. Attached to this theme of God’s punishment for disobedience is the eulogising of the “prophets.”

Prophets

The supposed act of reading the future was common in the Fertile Crescent in the first millennium BC and even before. Seers advised kings and lesser ones gave oracles to anyone willing to pay, like fortune tellers today. They were astrologers, Chaldaeans, Magi, oracles and prophets. In texts from Phoenicia, Aram (Syria), Ammon, Anatolia, Emar, Mari, Assyria and Babylon, prophets appear of either sex. Only Egypt seems to lack the equivalent position, but they had their schools of life which might have included such a function.

The ancient astrologers of Mesopotamia were a profession of advisors to the king and the country, looking to the skies for omens, studying not just the rising and setting of stars and the motions of the planets, notably the moon, but also meteorological phenomena like clouds and and thunder.

The Dead Sea Scrolls show that, at the turn of the era, some Jews were immensely interested in such matters, and their absence in the scriptures looks odd. The Maccabees fought the northern Greeks of Babylon, and, it seems rejected their astrological magic when they repaired the damage of the sacred books in the war. The Essenes however, remained loyal to the original Persian forms of Judaism, including astrology. They called themselves prophets!

Prophets claimed skills like these and more mundane ones like interpreting dreams and examining entrails. Biblicists find it difficult to call astrologers and augurers prophets, so they call them just oracles, or even “oracular speakers,” so that the faithful will not get them mixed up, but they all had essentially the same job. The scriptures note ecstatic prophets (1 Sam 10:5), and ordinary people could be prophets, if Amos is to be believed.

The scriptural Huldah is a female prophet (2 Kg 22:14), supposedly called “Weasel,” when her name probably signifies “Beautiful Disc.” Her husband is Shallum, looking like a variant of Solomon (Shalim), the evening sun, and therefore perhaps Huldah meant the moon. She had to be visited to elicit her prophecy, making her sound like Python at Delphi. Otherwise female prophets seem to have been expurgated from the scriptures, if others were originally present, by later biblical editors determined to take patriarchy to its limit. Ezekiel, a late work, condemns female prophets (Ezek 13:17-23), so the direction was clear.

Propagandists

About the time of Cyrus the Persian, some kings had realized that the prophecies of these men could be used as propaganda, demoralizing enemy countries and arousing patriotic fervour, as the case might be. It was a powerful psychological weapon. There is evidence of the Persians using this method in Babylon and in Anatolia. If biblicists suppressed their kneebending inclinations in favour of looking at the Jewish scriptures as historians, they would find the scriptures were excellent historical evidence that the Persians did the same in Yehud. So, prophets became under the Persians, if not before, a propaganda machine. Baruch Halpern sees the prophets as essentially agents of a totalitarian state agenda (J S Cooper and G M Schwartz (eds), The Study of the Ancient Near East in the Twenty-First Century ). If there is any distinction between prophecy and divination, it is only that prophecy assumed this propaganda role, and thus became less mechanical and more attuned to the political needs of the hour.

Prophets were the spokespeople of different “political parties,” one of which would have favoured the foreigners. The Jewish scriptures could not be clearer that the party of those loyal to the practice of worshipping Baal, had their own prophets, and so did worshippers of Asherah, the goddess (1 Kg 18:19). The scriptures are clear that there were schools of prophets which disagreed, but the impression clerics give is that they were like the Greek schools of philosophy or the medieval schools of theology.

The record left to future generations is that of the victors, so we have a record of the Persian salvation prophets, those who presented the conquerors as saviours. In the mythical histories of the Jews, the prophets often predict disaster and it comes about, surely proof that the accounts were not written by genuine contemporaries. The kings of Israel, and sometimes Judah, and even the people are often denigrated by the prophets, yet there they are—recorded! If Jews wrote these accounts they did it under Persian hegemony to suit the wishes of their masters. They had only one treaty, called a covenant, with their Persian suzerains, and other alliances and coalitions were forbidden. Oracles against foreign nations were warnings not to think of making them.

The success of the prophets plainly gave them authority, as the scriptures expressly say. It was authority that came from them being on the right side. But the writers who came to write their exploits, or if not them, later elaborators, wanted to show that they always had authority. Hermann Gunkel showed that the original prophecies of the recorded prophets became literature in a complex process. They introduced “call” narratives, and “disputes” among prophets to show they spoke truly.

No one suggests that the prophets did not have opponents but the truth will have been suppressed and lost, and the “disputes” added as fiction. They could be set convincingly in period because pre-Persian societies had their prophets, and to show the propagandist prophets in a suitable historical situation was no difficult task. It suited the Deuteronomic message that their reception was mixed to allow their “apostate” opponents to be highlighted. The original propagandists voiced their view against the other parties, and at some personal risk. Their messages in support of a foreign power were not necessarily well received, not least by the local authorities, so there was a basis in fact for stories of prophetic conflict, and they were retrojected mutatis mutandis to past times and places. Conflicts like that of Micaiah and the 400 (1 Kg 22) show the righteous prophet standing up against the odds, an illustrative myth set in the past, but meant to justify the Persian officials called prophets.

It is often poetic, but oracles in many societies from the Delphic Oracles through the Sybilline ones to Nostradamus are often poetry, however crude. Many scriptural prophetic works were refined by skilled poets, and Ezekiel might have been completely rewritten or composed anew to replace a lost original. In the literary process, especially when the original purpose was forgotten or had to be hidden, contradictions amerged making prophecy often seem incoherent or abstract, though it is plain enough that the central purpose remains Deuteronomistic.

The role of prophets in the history of appointing and deposing kings can hardly have been that of real prophets who were at the mercy of kings. Amos calls Jeroboam II to order, to Amaziah’s horror. Nathan condemns David. Elijah condemned Ahab. Jeremiah condemned Jehoiakim. It is mythology again aimed at puffing the Persian officials. The astrological prophets of Babylon had a precarious existence, depending upon the patronage of the king, who often neglected to reward them, as we know from plaintive letters found on cuneiform tablets. They were also liable to suffer the ultimate penalty if their prophecy was wrong. The scriptures say the same was true of biblical prophets. Jeremiah was threatened and Uriah killed.

The Persian prophets might sometimes have had the power to act directly for the Shahanshah himself, above the head of the local satrap or governor. They were men to be listened to—Hearken to me! P D Miller comments that “such political matters were always ultimately theological,” and vice versa, and that is because the tenor of Deuteronomy echoes throughout.

The Persians were careful to tell the people who the right prophets were (Dt 18:20,22). The prophets of the Persian party could make promises that they knew the Persian chancellery could bring about. Others were false prophets and their fate was death. They were, of course, those who prophesied against Persian rule. Prophets therefore would be careful to prophesy what the Persians wanted.

Popular prophecy, according to J S Holliday Jr, is not attested anywhere else except in Assyria, but the Persians inherited and applied more effectively what they had learnt from being neighbours of the Assyrians for centuries. Persian archives have been thoroughly destroyed by the Greeks and the Moslems, leaving us with astonishingly little knowledge of the first great world empire, whereas Assyrian records were preserved on clay tablets beneath the desert sands. This is why biblicists have been able to ignore Persia in exploring biblical origins, even though it is plain that Judaism began with the Persians, the only people at that time with an ethical, monotheistic and eschatological religion.

Concerns of the Prophets

Patrick D Miller, Jr in Old Testament Interpretation, summarises the topics addressed by the prophets as:
tyranny;
injustice and social oppression;
military conquest;
people directionless in starting a new life;
people lamenting their exile;
political alliances;
apostasy.

 

There could be hardly a better summary of the concerns that faced the Persian colonists deported from their homes into an alien and hostile environment by their conquerors. They show the propaganda concerns of the prophets, and fit the concept that they were propagandists for a foreign power. Cyrus the Persian used such propaganda, as is an unarguable fact, and we can be sure that, even before the conquest, spokespeople for his pro-Persian parties would have railed against the injustice, oppression and tyranny of native rulers, depicting the conquerors as saviours, and would have recommended the political alliances that favoured the invaders and denigrated others.

They would have painted the foreign take-over as a necessary act ordained by a just god who would favour those who supported Him and punish enemies and apostates, so the best way to avoid hardship, injury and death was to support the just god and His cause. When deportees were moved in as rulers of the new colony, their problems of estrangement alienation and dispiritedness also were addressed. They were faced with the task of building a new life and society in the face of hostility from the local population, while lamenting their exile from their homeland, and their confusion in an unfamiliar place. All of this then is evident in the scriptures, even though the circumstances are sometimes altered into a mythical past, or the exile is rendered ambigously. Understanding this is the key to understanding “prophecy” in the bible, even though the prophetic works themselves have been substantially altered in later times when Persian requirements no longer pertained.

Messengers of God

The Hebrew word used for prophet, still used in the Arabic, is “nabi,” a word that it is impossible not to associate with the god, Nebo, the Babylonian equivalent of the Greek god Hermes (Mercury), the messenger of the gods. Prophets are precisely that—messengers of God.

The prophetic oracle is a message… from the divine assembly where the decrees of God are set forth and transmitted as a divine proclamation or message by the prophetic herald: “Thus said the Lord.”
P D Miller Jr
The prophet came to speak… as an emissary of the heavenly assembly to the covenant people who were in league with the deity Yehouah.
P D Miller Jr

 

Or, to be less mythological, as an emissary from of the Persian court to the vassal people whose universal god, Yehouah, acknowledged the Persian king as his agent on earth. This heavenly assembly appears in these monotheistic religions unequivocally (1 Kg 22:17-23; Isa 6; Jer 23:16-22), and prophets would describe a sight of it as proof of their authenticity. The executive assembly was in reality the Persian court, but the theory of the universal god of heaven was that the earth reflected what went on in heaven, and so the Persians actually presented their own court as the heavenly one. The Persian king was God’s khalif on earth, so what came from God came from the Shahanshah. The Persian kings never claimed to be gods themselves, but effectively they were God! Heaven spoke through the prophet but the rules that emerged were those of the Persian king.

Yes, there were prophets in the ancient near east before the Persian period but mainly they were court officials engaged as advisors to the king, as the scriptures show. The popular prophets, who were really propagandists might have appeared in the Assyrian period, but most of the biblical narratives about them were mythical anachronistic retrogressions of the Persian prophets, whose task was to urge obedience to the regulations of the universal god—in practice the laws of the Medes and Persians.

Scholars accept, in Miller’s words, “the prophetic insistence on justice and righteousness was rooted in the covenant traditions of Yehouahism.” What they are incapable of understanding is that gods are inventions of the human imagination and are incapable of forming covenant relationships with anybody. Covenants and treaties are made between people! Even though the mythical history of the bible is less credible than Santa Claus, they believe it as true and fail to see the real history in it. The covenant relationhip the scriptures speak of was with Persia in the fifth century not a transcendental being at the time of Noah, Abraham, Moses or anyone else. That is the mythological basis used to justify the covenant with the masters of the Jews, the Persians.

Prophecy

The rabbis believe Kings is written by Jeremiah (Babylonian Talmud, Baba bathra, 15a,). These biblical prophets uttered warnings not to apostatize to the kings and increasingly in the biblical chronology to the people. Prophets in the Persian period were propagandists, and the authors of the original scriptures written by the Persians wanted to establish them as people to be heard with respect as messengers of Yehouah! So, the history depicts the prophets of Yehouah as repeatedly warning the people and their kings. The archetypal prophet was Elijah, whose very name (“My God is Yehouah”) declares his purpose, as names often do in the scriptures, though most believers either do not realize it, or take it as a miracle! Even rulers had to obey the prophets in these cautionary tales, declaring in effect that the ultimate ruler, the Shahanshah, did himself, and that local rulers had better do also—though they were never kings as such.

R R Wilson, in an article in Old Testament Interpretation, says that the themes of the Deuteronomists were not “particularly prophetic.” He is ambiguous, but it is an astonishing claim if he means to say that they were not concerned with the prophets. Obeying God is the sine qua non of the prophets, and, in practice, obedience meant obeying God’s law! Deuteronomy was God’s law, so the Deuteronomic authors of the Former Prophets meant these books to give reason for obeying it.

The Deuteronomic History is not interested in prophecy as a profession or in any other way other than that prophets carried God’s messages and should be heard but too often were ignored. The message not the messengers is ultimately the theme of the Deuteronomic Historians, and in this sense, it might be possible to agree with Wilson that these authors had little interest in “prophecy,” but Yehouah’s prophets were depicted as right, and their enemies and detractors as wrong.

Walter Dietrich saw an interest in prophecy in Kings, and attributed it to a particular editor that he thought he could date to within a few decades. He was at least a century too early, because biblical scholars often find themselves omniscient—doubtless led by God. At least Dietrich saw different editors at work. A F Anthony finds a ninth century prophecy primer for trainee prophets in Kings! All of us need only read the Janet and John of Prophecy to become professional prophets!

Biblicists can fill supposedly learned tomes with unadulterated garbage for the same reason that computer programmers have the cautionary acronym GIGO, “Garbage In, Garbage Out.” Their initial beliefs are fairy tales and, since nothing serves as an external standard for their empty speculations, they can publish any rubbish they can get away with. The principle conditions are to have a respectable academic address, to couch it in the suitably pious received style of biblicists, to dot it with Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic words to prove you are indeed a scholar, and cite as many biblicist authorities as you can fit in, whether relevant to your argument or not. Adding thus to the quagmire of biblical “knowledge” will earn you respect from your peers, possibly a DD and many will imagine a place in heaven!

Robert Wilson points out quite simply that scholars must first decide how they will recognize a prophetic editor in the Deuteronomic History before they run off to look for one. One such imagined criterion is that the subject matter is prophecy or prophets. It seems that only prophets could write about these things. Another is use of language peculiar to the prophets, but there is no agreement on any such language because others who were not prophets also used “prophetic” phrases. The language is in any case largely rendered uniform through the recognizably Deuteronomic language of the Deuteronomic editors. They use idioms and words that punctuate these books throughout, and clearly identifiable blocks of prophetic work are not convincingly separable. The Deuteronomists talk about prophecy in essentially the same style as they address other subjects.

References to prophecy and prophets are inherent in the Deuteronomists’ text and not an added layer. The invective threat of punishment in Kings was thought by Campbell and Dietrich to mark out a prophetic layer but it is not found in the accepted work of the prophets! The central purpose of both the Deuteronomists and the prophets was the same—to warn against disobeying God. The common purpose conditions the textual content and blurs any differences in origin.

Fulfilment of Prophecy

These books were aimed at those who worshipped Canaanite gods and so were accused of apostasy from Yehouah, the one true god. Different threats were doubtless directed at the different gods depending on the nature of their worship, but the character of the universal god of heaven shines through, showing the earliest period these works could have been written—after the Persian conquest. Much of the accepted prophetic corpus is later than the Persian period and edited or written to suit the Jewish religion as it evolved in the Hellenistic period. Prophecy is therefore not theologically consistent, a sign either that God is incoherent or that these works have bothing to do with any god but with the evolution of men’s thoughts.

A theme of Kings is fulfilment of prophecy. The altar at Bethel (1 Kg 12:1-10) has a prophecy against it fulfilled in Josiah’s reforms (2 Kg 23:15-18). Bethel might have been an early sanctuary of the Persian colonists, but evidently to El as the universal god, a decision later changed. Josiah, a variation of Joshua (“Yehouah saves”), is chosen as the king who rejects this “apostasy” in the salvation history. Other fulfilled prophecies are against the early kings of Israel, about whom nothing or little is known other than what biblical mythology tells us. They are deposed or their dynastic line ends for unknown sins:
Ahijah of Shiloh prophesies the end of Jeroboam’s dynasty in Israel (1 Kg 14:1-16; 1 Kg 15:27-30).
The end of Baasha’s dynasty is prophesied (1 Kg 16:1-4; 1 Kg 16:11-14).
Elijah condemns Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kg 21:20-24); 1 Kg 22:37-38; 2 Kg 9:26-37; 2 Kg 10:17), each being punished and Ahab’s dynasty ending.
Elijah prophesies the death of Ahaziah (2 Kg 1:2-4; 2 Kg 1:17-18).
God, peculiarly and unexpectedly, restricts Jehu’s dynasty Himself (2 Kg 15:12).

 

Some prophecies are mentioned in passing with no mention of the prophecies themselves, such as those which could have averted the fall of Samaria (2 Kg 17:13) and then of Judah (2 Kg 24:2). In this prophesying, it is Israel who is normally hit rather than Judah, showing that Judah was seen as those who obeyed Yehouah while Israel stood for the “apostates” who did not. The worshippers of Canaanite gods were punished while those who worshipped Yehouah, nominally at least in the refinement of the history, were not, or less so. When the battle against the “diva” gods was won, only the worshippers of Yehouah remained and the second part of 2 Kings deals only with Judah, and contains no prophesies other than the obscure reference to the fall of the state.

Israel and Judah

Much of the rest of the prophetic narrative relates to the authentication of the state of Israel as approved by the prophets but remaining negligent in religious matters. The prophets are shown as directly involved in good government, and attempt to give them a worthy history to legitimize their role as propagandists in Persian times. Omri (Khumri) is known in history from Assyrian tablets, and the Mesha stone, and might have been the historical founder of the Samarian state, but kings such as Jeroboam I are unknown, except in the bible, and will be as mythical as David and Solomon.

Jeroboam, the successor of Solomon, is a key figure in the history written in the bible because it is in his reign when the pharaoh of Egypt, Sheshonk, attacked and destroyed the power of the Israelite kings supposedly built up under David and Solomon. Jeroboam was a commoner before he became king and yet his detailed history is still known and reported in the scriptures. The supposed sources of these accounts are presumed to have been sources mentioned in the bible itself, such as the Scroll of the Acts of the Kings of Israel. Yet the examples of such books as we have from much more powerful states like Assyria are extremely terse, and have even been described as written in a shorthand, they are so abbreviated. Not only that, but obviously the acts recorded were important ones to the state and not the domestic history of usurpers before they became king. The bible has the acounts in the detail of a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel. It is a romance.

The contemporary of Jeroboam was Sheshonk I (946-913 BC), and Hiram of Tyre preceded him by only a few years as the contemporary of Solomon. Jeroboam I ruled 931-910 BC (attested in the bible). Hiram I of Tyre ruled 970-936 (attested by Josephus and inscriptions). Jeroboam II (794-754 BC) lived at the same time as Tiglath-pileser III as did Hiram II of Tyre in about 740 BC, both being mentioned in tribute lists. By coincidence, a king of Egypt also called Shoshenk ruled from 773 to 735 BC, and so was a contemporary of Jeroboam II and Hiram II. The Hirams seem historical, as do Jeroboam II and the Shoshenks, but nothing other than the bible attests to Solomon and Jeroboam I.

The kindest interpretation, given no better evidence of such mighty kings as Solomon and Jeroboam, is that the author has confused the two Hirams and Shoshenks and thought that Jeroboam was the contemporary of the earlier ones. If it was a deliberate error, it was done knowing that few people would ever find out, or would be able to distinguish different kings with the same name, and those who did would not want to tell. The ancient author was correct in this assumption.

Kings

The whole of Kings has the theme of God punishing sinners to lead up to the destruction of Jerusalem and the “Exile” in preparation for the “Return.” The “Return” was the start of Jewish history.

Kings must have been written after 561 BC when Evil-merodach acceded to the throne of Babylon and Jehoiachin was released from captivity. That is evident and uncontroversial. But commentators fatuously argue the book could not have been published after 539 BC, because the author omitted reference to Babylon falling, and the “return” to Palestine during the reign of Cyrus the Persian. The same commentators say that the history is a sacred history, and not factual in the sense that a social, economic or military history would be.

Thus the founder of Samaria is dismissed in a few verses, Menahem is shown in a bad light though the country seems to have been peaceful and prospered under his sensible policy of submission to the Assyrians. Uzziah was supposedly king of Judah for 50 years but is only briefly mentioned. The purpose of the author is to condemn the people as serial apostates, and rebels from the rule of God. His aim was not to show that they had been forgiven by God allowing them to return, but to realize that punishment still awaited them if they cntinued to apostatize in future. The author therefore omitted the return as counter to his aim, and the book could easily have been written a hundred or more years later. It was.

To suggest the book was written during the “exile” is fantastic. The fantasy has it that the deported Jews lived in freedom and, within fifty years, luxury, with leisure time to seek out and consult the annals of their former kingdom and write an extended history before they, by surprise, with the unexpected victory of the Persians, were able to return to their own barren land. No doubt Jews and Christians will see the finger of God in this, but scholars ought to see something quite different—mythologizing!

In reality, the ruling elite of the Judahites were sent as captives abroad with no prospect of returning. These deportations were permanent, not merely a sentence. Deported people were put in difficult situation, administering a distant province as a foreign elite, but disliked by the natives they were put in charge of. The people deported were clever and skilled, rulers, and they were made rulers of an alien country. It was meant to be a precarious existence that occupied their time fully, preventing them from plotting uprisings themselves for fear and lack of native support, but, while they ruled successfully for the Persian kings, they were rewarded and protected, and so had the chance of being prosperous, even if unpopular. The “returning Jews” were in just that boat themselves, being in reality the deported rulers of other Persian conquests.

The language of Kings belongs unmistakably to later than the Persian conquest. Many words and phrases in the book do not appear elsewhere in scripture. The language of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Kings closely resemble each other, and there is the rabbinic tradition that Jeremiah wrote Kings. The language of Kings and of Jeremiah seem so similar that the authors were either the same or one deliberately imitated the other. Characteristic similarities show it:
hardened their neck (2 Kg 17:14; Jer 7:26)
vanity and became vain (2 Kg 17:15; Jer 2:5)
cast them out of His sight (2 Kg 17:20; Jer 7:15)
for a prey and for a spoil (2 Kg 21:14; Jer 30:16)

 

There are many others, yet Kings does not mention Jeremiah in its account of the last days of Judah, and he is only mentioned twice in Chronicles (2 Chr 35:25; 36:12). As one commentator, James E Smith, remarks:

The role which Jeremiah played during those crucial days was so significant that it is hard to conceive of any impartial, not to mention pious and prophetic, historian ignoring both his name and his work.

 

Indeed, that seems to be what the redactor of Chronicles thought, and felt obliged to fill the gap, evven if inadequately, but this biblicist commentator can come to no sensible conclusions—the prophetic author of Kings was just modest.

It is unlikely, if not impossible, that Jeremiah lived in the times claimed internally in Jeremiah and yet wrote Kings. Jeremiah would have been too old. His prophetic years supposedly began in the thirteenth year of Josiah, 627 BC. If Kings could not have been completed before 561 BC, sixty-six years later, Jeremiah would have been about eighty-six. It is possible that such an old man would have started writing a book of history, but this, with the linguistic evidence, shows he did not.

Jeremiah can have had nothing to do with this fall of Jerusalem, but a later one, to the Persians during a rebellion, and that therefore is when he lived. Redacters have conflated the two occasions because they had no genuine accounts of the original fall of Jerusalem after perhaps 200 years and so they used a more recent seige. Moreover, scholars think Kings was written in Babylon, and Jeremiah never went there, but the author evidently did:
He knew what happened in the court of Evil-merodach in Babylon.
Kings does not mention the remnant of Jews that fled to Egypt after the fall of Jerusalem.
In 1 Kings 4:24 the region west of the Euphrates River (Syria and the Levant) is called, literally, “beyond the river.” if this is just a relative reference then the author of Kings must have been east of the Euphrates, probably in Babylon. More likely however, the reference is to the name of the satrapy, Abarnahara, which means the same, but shows the book was written in the Persian period.

 

The translators of the Jewish scriptures have constantly tried to keep the name of the Persian satrapy out of the text because it is a givaway, but “beyond the river” occurs frequently. It mostly literally translates Abarnahara.

Throughout Kings are passages in which the author reflects upon what he is relating and interprets it in the light of his overall theme. This is the Deuteronomistic framework which gives coherence and purpose to the book. The author is committed to the concept of a centralized sanctuary, at Jerusalem. Kings rails against the high places, and the book also attacks the infiltration of Baal worship into the kingdoms.

Another concern of the editor of Kings is the monarchy of Judah. A late and substantial redaction portrays David, the mythical first noble king of Judah, as a God-fearing, ideal king (1 Kg 11:33, 38; 14:8), and the standard by which all the kings were judged. Kings of Israel are secondary and incorrigible anyway. The reason is that Israel, Samaria, no longer existed. Only Judah remained. Archaeological material for the study of Judah after 722 BC is abundant, not before, when the abundant material pertains to Samaria. Of the forty kings of Israel and Judah who are named in Kings, only fourteen are named in the inscriptions thus far unearthed by archaeologists, and none of the Jewish kings are early.

The reigns of the kings of the two countries do not match up without fudges, and unlikely presumptions. Josiah was born when Amon was sixteen, and Jehoiakim was born when Josiah was fourteen. Some have alleged that Hezekiah was born to Ahaz when the latter was eleven! Athaliah, queen of Judah, and Jehu, king of Israel, began to reign the same day. The city of Samaria fell in the sixth year of Hezekiah (2 Kg 18:10). Athaliah to Hezekiah Year 6 adds up to 165 yrs. Jehu to the fall of Samaria adds up to 143 yrs. Co-regencies are specifically indicated only on two occasions (1 Kg 1:34, 35; 2 Kg 15:5).

Coregency was the ancient means of guaranteeing succession and was not unusual, but Biblicists use it to settle the problem of dates—they reckon arbitrary years of coregency in the total of years attributed to both kings. If a father and son shared the rule for ten years, that ten years would be counted in the total number of both kings’ reigns. It just becomes a question then of juggling the reigns and regencies to get the desired numbers. Problem solved! But the dates are conjecture.

Most of the Judahite kings are seen by the Deuteronomists favourably, unless they had a Samaritan connexion or refused to destroy the “High Places.” For the kings of Judah, only Hezekiah (2 Kg 18:3-7) and Josiah (2 Kg 22:2) are mentioned uncritically. Asa (1 Kg 15:11-14), Jehoshaphat (1 Kg 22:43), Jehoash (2 Kg 12:2-3), Azariah (2 Kg 15:3-4), and Jotham (2 Kg 15:34-35) are treated with some favour, while the other kings of Judah are condemned as evil (2 Kg 8:18, 27; 21:2, 20).

The “High Places” look likely to mean Canaanite shrines, but could refer mythically to early shrines of the colonists, whether to El (originally) or to Yehouah, when the decision was taken to centralize worship in Jerusalem. Hezekiah is shown as the first king to address this issue but both he and Josiah look like retrogressed salvation kings—they are depicted as introducing Persian reforms anachronistically to give a spurious historical legitimacy to the reforms when they were really introduced new by Ezra in the fifth century BC. The Deuteronomists give Hezekiah unequalled praise for his “reform,” so much so that he is the Messiah in some Jewish traditions. Since the scriptures depict Cyrus as the Messiah, the two are equated. Hezekiah’s reforms are those of the Persian kings. I Provan suggests that Kings once ended here with no reference to the fall of Jerusalem. Instead the Persian colonists were the immediate successors of the mythical reformers in Hezekiah’s reign, and the reforms seemed continuous. Some later editor thought there was an omission and filled it.

The kings of Israel are unanimously condemned in Kings for not doing what was right in the sight of the Lord (1 Kg 15:26, 34; 16:25). The condemnation even falls on Jehu, the greatest defender of Yehouah in the north (2 Kg 10:29-31), though it is mollified. It is no accident of history or God that Judahite kings were often reforming ones while Isrelite kings were apostatizing ones. Yehud was being set up among people who worshipped Canaanite gods. The history depicted worshippers of Canaanite gods as apostatizing from their proper god, Yehouah. Among this phony historical condemnation of the intransigence of the people, some hope was needed.

So the righteous people who remained true to Yehouah were saved. The main prophet of Kings (2 Kg 18-20) is Isaiah, meaning “Salvation is Yehouah.” The Yehudim (Jews) were those who worshipped Yehouah and Yehud (Judah) was their country. Besides those already mentioned, Asa (“Salvation”) is a reforming king (1 Kg 15:11-15) and so is Jehoash (2 Kg 12:2-16) meaning “Yehouah Saves”. The even more favourable account in Chronicles gives more good Jewish kings.

Foreign Alliances

Another theme is that of foreign alliances. Jehoshaphat did not remove the high places, but also made a treaty with the king of Israel (1 Kg 22:44). Indeed, Jehoshaphat seems to be a vassal of the Israelite king (1 Kg 22:1-4). The purpose of this being mentioned in the history, whether it is true or not, is to warn the Jews, whose suzerain was Persia, not to make covenants with other countries. it was a requirement of ancient covenant treaties and this is a reminder of it.

Jehoram (2 Kg 8:16-19) forms a treaty with Israel and so did Ahaziah (2 Kg 8:25-29), and Jehoash, a forty year king (signifying God’s favour) paid all the wealth of the temple to Hazael of Damascus in tribute. Ahaz similarly settled with the Tiglath-pileser of the Assyrians (2 Kg 16:1-20), but he was also an apostate. In contrast, good king Hezekiah apparently rebelled against the Assyrians and was rewarded. Neither Isaiah nor Kings favour foreign alliances, but want the people to have faith in Yehouah providing they are righteous. This suited the Shahanshah but he could hardly have viewed favourably a successful rebellion against the foreigner.

The Deuteronomist always wanted the threat of God’s wrath for wrongdoing, yet here is a promise of God’s eternal protection of Jerusalem. It seems unlikely that this could be the work of the original Persian authors, and the rebellion might be a later addition in Maccabaean times, the narrative at this point becoming conspicuously layered (2 Kg 18:13-19:37). The story of Sennacherib’s invasion appears three times, the first one merely in brief. The Persian one must have been that of Hezekiah following the advice of the salvation prophet, Isaiah, and securing the safety of Jerusalem (2 Kg 18:7-19:9,36). The original author probably meant the Assyrians to represent the Persians as foreign conquerors, and meant foreign treaties to be respected, but a later editor thought it wrong or dangerous to encourage any foreign alliances, and God’s destruction of the Assyrian army was added, perhaps even signifying the destruction of Persia.

Some Prophets

According to R P Carroll, the prophets were “invented.” The post-Persian editors of the prophetic works did not understand the prophecies of the earlier practical period of Jewish formation, and were swayed by the subsequent evolution of the cultus and its mythology in the Greek period, so they introduced errors of transcription and irrelevant and misleading “explanatory” glosses.

Zephaniah seems to have been composed in the time of the seventh century reforms of Josiah, king of Judah, but its awareness of a world wide judgement and restoration of Jerusalem betrays its origin in the Persian period to rational minds.

Isaiah seems to be set towards the end of the eighth century when the Assyrians were subjecting Palestine but the identification of Second and Third Isaiah as identifiably later, and many “interpolations” in the first 39 chapters, show it to be a production of the Persian period when the temple state of Yehud was “saved” from extinction. Words written three centuries before turn out to be prophetic of the fifth century colonists building Yehud. They were contemporary texts written to encourage them and give them a spurious history.

Amos seems to be set even before Isaiah, in the middle of the eighth century. Amos (“The People are Saved”) begins by being a prophet of salvation but ends being a prophet of judgement. Biblicists accept the book’s own date even though the book has plain signs it was written later. It is because of later redaction, they say, and doubtless editors did work on it after the original writer, but it was not written when it claims anyway. Indeed, even if there were a book about a man called Amos written in the eighth century, what we have now was written much later. Once it is accepted that the book was actually written later and is not contemporary with its contents, it could be purely fictional, merely set at a time in the past.

Believers and biblicists will rarely consider this, for the simple reason that they have already convinced themselves that the bible must be “the word of the Lord.” They end up in a conspiracy of lies to uphold their God and His holy word, as they see them. That is just what has happened for centuries, and continues today, though their line is untenable. Liars write for other liars, refusing to think what is for them the unthinkable and refusing to voice any doubt out loud for fear of losing their admission to God’s balmy place. They happily explain to us God’s Truth knowing but not admitting it to be lies. They call themselves biblical scholars, thus reducing scholarship to deceit. They know what they want to be the core of these works, and do not mind arbitrarily rejecting what reveals it as false, called the “interpolations” of later editors. Lo! They find just what they expected—the utterances of an eighth century prophet. Mention of the Assyrians prove the time as the eighth century. So the author of a play called Julius Caesar must have been a first century BC Roman not an Elizabethan English playwright.

Amos is a defender of the poor in a supposedly rich kingdom, and a critic of the king and the national cultus, said to be based at Bethel, a place that archaeology cannot find at that time. Amos prophesies that the kingdom would be swept away. It was indeed! The picture is written as a mirror of what happened to Judah, which the Persian claimed to be reversing, thus saving the people. That is the very meaning of the name, Amos. A miracle, apparently. Amos issues a whole series of oracles not just against Israel and Judah, but against the “nations” who strangely are those that constitute the Persian satrapy of Abarnahara. Each begins with, “Thus said Yehouah” showing that Yehouah was meant to be the god of all of these nations. He was the god of all of the people of Abarnahara—the Hebrews!

Imaginary History

The Deuteronomists and later editors did not necessarily write pure fiction. They did not have to invent all of these sagas, but had material to work from that they edited in such a way that the aims of the returning priests were fulfilled. They put their own extensive gloss on the fragments of legend they already had, recasting them as allegories of the struggles of the foreigners deported into Israel by the Persians, and later editors fleshed it all out with fiction based on events they knew such as the guerilla war of the Maccabees against the Greeks. That is, new legends were added by the Hasmonaean editors to give the newly founded free state of Judah a history.

What began as an instrument of Persian foreign policy finished up as an imaginary history to found the national identity of the Jews when the national state was set up as independent by the Maccabees. Inventing history might have exceeded the boundaries of Jewish piety by then, but taking the ragbag of legends and romances they had and reworking them to suit their own aims did not. Thus, the history of the mixed peoples of Palestine was revised to give them a national and ethnic identity to be proud of, to show the hand of the god of the second temple, Yehouah, behind that history and to show the Israelites apostatizing as ever.

 

Continue: 

Joshua, Josiah and the Deuteronomic Historian

 

 

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