Klaas Spronk, Nahum

(Historical Commentary on the Old Testament), Kok: Kampen 1997, pp.6-10

published here with the permission and help of the author

1.5 Sources of inspiration

1.6 The book of Nahum as a source of inspiration

1.7 The place within the canon

1.5 Sources of inspiration

As was remarked above, the poet was familiar with Mesopotamian literature and wove many references to Assyrian royal texts into his book (see also the examples given by Machinist 1983, 735f.; and the surveys by Cathcart 1973 and Johnston 1992, 330-398). It has also been long recognized that the book of Nahum shows affinities with the language of the Psalms, especially in the first chapter (see the remarks on 1:2-9 and also 3:19). For Gunkel this was reason to suggest that this part of the book is a post-exilic addition. Although his view about a complete acrostic is no longer shared, the related literary critical suggestion is still found with many scholars.

The relation with cultic literature induced Humbert, who interprets the book of Nahum as a unity, to formulate the theory that it was written as a liturgy celebrating the downfall of Nineveh in a ceremony in the temple in the autumn of 612 BCE. Initially, this idea received some support (Sellin, Bi), but it was soon rejected as too hypothetical and because it is contradicted by the fact that the book of Nahum describes the end of Nineveh as a future event.

A cultic background was also assumed by Haupt who relates it to the `day of Nikanor' mentioned in 1 Macc. 13:51f. Haldar bases his cultic interpretation on relations with Mesopotamian myths, especially En_ma eli, and places it in the context of the assumed Israelite popular-synchristic cult celebrating Yhwh as a dying and resurrected deity. Both theories have rightly been dropped, but it would be wrong to deny any relation with the cult. Like Humbert, some scholars still place the book of Nahum in the Jerusalem liturgy (cf. De Vries 1966). Jeremias 1969, 19, suggests a post-exilic reinterpretation by cultic prophets. It would have been used in the liturgy as a prophetic answer to a song of complaint by the people. Eaton 1981, 15, suggests that Nahum spoke on an autumn festival closely before the fall of Nineveh or perhaps some decades earlier. Coggins 1982, 92, remarks - more cautiously - that `there is no ground for doubting that one aspect of the Jerusalem cult would have been prayer for victory over foreign enemies, and every reason to suppose that the prophets would have been enlisted in such a campaign.' In this framework he mentions Nahum together with Habakkuk, Joel and, possibly, Obadiah. However, affinities with language used in the cult do not necessarily imply a cultic status of the prophet or his words. It is more likely that the poet simply used expressions and forms (the alphabetic acrostic) he heard and read in Jerusalem. He may have had his contacts in cultic circles (NH Ridderbos, 30).

A third source of inspiration - next to the Assyrian literature and the cultic texts - were the words of Isaiah, who had lived and worked in Jerusalem at the end of the previous century (Kleinert 1910, 520f.; Armerding, 453ff.; Spronk 1995a, 46f.). As will be demonstrated below, the words of Nahum can often be read as a reinterpretation of oracles in, for instance, Isa. 5:24-30; 10:5-19; 14:24-27; and 30:27-33 (see, amongst others, the remarks on Nah. 1:10, 13; 3:1).

1.6 The book of Nahum as a source of inspiration

In its turn the book of Nahum has influenced later prophecies (cf. Kleinert, 99; Helberg 1969; Cassuto 1973, 168-171; Coggins 1982, 82ff.; Spronk 1995a, 47-56). The book of Habakkuk looks like a mirrored replica of its predecessor in the canon. The hymn in the last chapter balances the opening hymn in Nah. 1. The heading in Nah. 1:1 has its counterpart in Hab. 2:2. Note also the relations between Hab. 1:8f.; 2:12 and Nah. 2:4f.; 3:1ff.; between Hab. 3:6, 10 and Nah. 1:5; between Hab. 3:8ff. and Nah. 1:4; between Hab. 3:16 and Nah. 1:7. The most important example of possible influence upon the Second Isaiah is the well-known text about the messenger bringing the good tiding of peace (Nah. 2:1 // Isa. 52:7; see the remarks below). Isa. 47:1-5 (cf. Nah. 1:2, 8, 10; 3:5ff., 13); 51:19f. (cf. Nah. 2:11; 3:7, 10); and post-exilic texts like Isa. 13:14 (cf. Nah. 3:18); 24:1-4 (cf. Nah. 1:10; 2:2, 10f.); and 33:1-12 (cf. Nah. 1:4, 8, 10; 2: 1, 14; 3:7, 15) contain many reminiscences of the book of Nahum as well. The same can be said of Jer. 30:7-15 (cf. Nah. 1:3, 8, 13; 3:19) and 46:2-12 (cf. Nah. 1:8; 2:5, 9; 3:3, 9). The book of Nahum also had its influence upon the description of the divine judgement in later apocalyptic literature (cf. Isa. 59:17ff.; 66:13-16) and especially in the imagery of the Day of Yhwh (cf. Cathcart 1975).

1.7 The place within the canon

The book of Nahum is the seventh of the Twelve (`Minor') Prophets. In the MT it is preceded by Micah, in the LXX by Jonah. Recently there has been a revival of the old theories by K. Budde, ZAW 39 (1921) 218-237, and R.E. Wolfe, ZAW 53 (1935) 90-129, about traces of editorial activities in the formation of the Twelve (see the survey of previous research by Nogalski 1993a, 2-12, and Jones 1995, 13-40). It has to be doubted whether these new theories will lead to convincing and commonly accepted results. The examination of the text of the book of Nahum offered in the present commentary does not tally with the suggestions by Nogalski 1993 ascribing part of 1:2f. (cf. also Van Leeuwen 1993), 4b, 6a; and 3:15f. to this redaction (see also the critical remarks by Jones 1995, 38). It cannot and should not be denied that there are many crossreferences between the prophetic books, but it is more likely that they have to be ascribed to one prophet influencing the other than to editorial activities.

Within the canonical approach it is more interesting and more fruitful to study the order in which the Twelve have been placed. The differences between the MT and the LXX must have had their reasons. Coggins 1994, 64, observes that the overall shape of the Book of the Twelve resembles the way the other prophetic books are built up. They begin with words of doom against their own sinful people (Hosea-Micah; cf. Isa. 1-12; 24-34; Jer. 1-25; Ezek. 1-24). Then follows a section mainly dealing with foreign nations (Nahum-Zeph. 2; cf. Isa. 13-23; 34; the second part of LXX Jer.; Ezek. 25-32) and in conclusion we find words of hope for restoration of the community (Haggai-Malachi; cf. Isa. 40-66; the conclusion of LXX Jer.; Ezek. 33-48). With regard to Nahum this comparison with Isa. 13-23 is underlined by the use of massa in the heading (cf. Isa. 13:1; 15:1 etc.). It also has its implications within the theological context (see the remarks below).

Another important issue is the relation to the book of Jonah. This story concerns the same city of Nineveh, which is confronted with the same message of doom, but with a completely different outcome. There can be no doubt about it that the book of Jonah was written after the book of Nahum. It is probably even to be regarded as reacting to it `in stiller Zwiesprache' (Dietrich 1994b, 741; cf. also Coggins 1994, 66, who speaks of two different solutions to the same problem of foreign powers). Jonah repeated the announcement by Nahum and hoped for a similar effectuation, but he was corrected by Yhwh (note the close relation of Jon. 4:2 and Nah. 1:3, the use of ___ in Jon. 4:2, and the final question in both books). As the book of Jonah probably was the last to enter the collection of the Minor Prophets, the placement after the book of Malachi in the fragment found at Qumran (4QXIIa) may represent the original order of the books (cf. Jones 1995, 129-169). In the LXX sequence the book of Jonah is placed right before the book of Nahum. Apparently, thematic correspondence (the theme of Nineveh) took precedence here over the chronological considerations leading to the arrangement in the MT, which follows the dates given in the headings of the books of Jonah and Micah. We find it explained in the Targum adding to the heading in Nah. 1:

`Previously Jonah, the son of Amittai, the prophet from Gath-Hepher, prophesied against her and she repented of her sins; and when she sinned again there prophesied once more against her Nahum of Beth Koshi, as is recorded in this book.'

The new sins of Nineveh probably refer to Mic. 5:4f., speaking of Assur entering the territory of Judah. According to Jones, the order of books in the LXX is older than the arrangement in the MT. In his view the change of place of the book of Jonah marks a development in its interpretative history: `from a narrative postscript on Israelity prophecy to an example of Israelite prophetic literature and finally to a historical account of an eighth century prophetic figure' (Jones 1995, 239). He assumes that the juxtaposition of Jonah and Nahum in the arrangement of the LXX `may have been motivated by an attempt to balance the portrait of divine justice toward the nations that is contained in the books of Joel, Obadiah, and Nahum with the message of Yahweh's sovereign mercy in the Book of Jonah' (p. 228). In the arrangement of the MT this thematic connection would have been adumbrated by more historical concerns.

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