Old Testament Life and Literature (1968)
Chapter 19 - From Manasseh to the Deuteronomic Reform
Read II Kings 21-35; II Chron. 33-36
In 675 Tarqu, an Ethiopian pharaoh (cf. II Kings 19:9-Tirakah), joined the king of Tyre in an anti-Assyrian alliance. By 671 Esarhaddon had invaded Egypt, routed Tarqu's forces and laid claim to the title "King of Upper and Lower Egypt"-a title more high sounding than factual. When Esarhaddon had left, Tarqu, with numerous local princes, laid claim to Lower Egypt. Once again Esarhaddon marched on Egypt but died en route (669).
Esarhaddon had planned carefully the future of his kingdom, and, in accordance with an agreement, two sons came to power, Shamash-shum-ukin as crown prince of Babylon and Ashurbanipal as ruler of Assyria. Migrating Scythians and Cimmerians2 on the northern border of the empire, powerful Median tribes to the east, and restless Chaldeans in the lower Euphrates region kept the two kings busy protecting their inheritance. Meanwhile, Tarqu went unpunished for insurrection. Ashurbanipal finally marched on Egypt, recruiting on the way from vassal kingdoms, including Judah. Egypt once again became part of the Assyrian Empire.
New problems were to trouble the empire. The Elamite kingdom on the eastern side of the lower Euphrates was being weakened by an invasion of Iranian peoples, later known as Persians. Shamash-shum-ukin of Babylon allied with Chaldeans and Elamites against Ashurbanipal. In Egypt a new rebellion led by Psammetichus, a former Assyrian favorite who had replaced Tarqu, weakened Assyrian power. Attacks by Arab tribes aided the Babylonian cause. Ashurbanipal attacked Babylon. Shamash-shum-ukin committed suicide during the siege and Ashurbanipal placed a puppet ruler in charge. Arabs and Elamites were overcome and the leaders were viciously punished.
Throughout this troubled time, Manasseh of Judah remained loyal to Ashurbanipal. If the note in II Chronicles 33:11 ff. is accurate, Manasseh was taken as a prisoner to Babylon and humiliated, perhaps for some minor security infraction, but there is no mention of this event and no record of any trouble with Manasseh in Assyrian records.3 The only references are to payment of tribute4 and cooperation in warfare.5 According to Assyrian custom, subject nations were bound by an agreement and an oath sworn before the great gods of Assyria; violation of the contract incurred divine wrath and punishment.6 Subject nations also worshipped Assyrian deities, and Ashurbanipal erected altars to Ashur in conquered areas.7 In Judah, with full cooperation from Manasseh, Assyrian worship flourished, together with cultic rites (including child sacrifice) that had not been operative since before Hezekiah's reform. No prophetic utterances and very little other reference to the worship of Yahweh have come from Manasseh's long reign. It is possible that pro-Assyrianism and anti-Yahwism went hand-in-hand. The report of Manasseh's return to Yahweh in II Chron. 33:15 ff. seems incongruous and stands in sharp contrast to the Deuteronomist's accusation that Manasseh's evils caused Yahweh to punish his people by exile (II Kings 21:10 ff.).
Manasseh died in 640 and was succeeded by Amon, his son, who continued his father's policy of cooperation with Assyria during the two years of his reign. Amon's murder by servants brought eight-year old Josiah to kingship. It is not recorded who influenced Josiah's early life, but the king became an enthusiastic supporter of Yahwism. Ashurbanipal's annals do not go beyond 639 and hence there are no Assyrian records concerning relationships with Josiah. Information about Assyrian affairs from commercial records and state documents indicate that the disintegration of the empire had begun.
When Ashurbanipal died in 626, the Chaldean Nabopolassar seized the throne of Babylon and formed alliances with Median tribes. In the same year a movement of peoples out of the north, including Cimmerians and Scythians, pressed southward to threaten Assyrian holdings in Syria and Palestine. Herodotus (I, 103-106) says that the Scythians swept through Palestine, but there is no archaeological evidence of such a movement, so far.
No hint of the prophet's personality is given in his words. It has been suggested that he may have belonged to the temple cult8 but this cannot be known for sure. The prophet's lineage, carried back four generations to a certain Hezekiah in the superscription, has been interpreted as an indication of royal blood, but Hezekiah is not an uncommon name (cf. I Chron. 3:23; Ezra 2:16). Nor can the name Cushi be interpreted as anything more than a proper name, despite the generic significance of "Ethiopian" or "man of Cush."
Zephaniah's major emphasis is eschatological, not in the sense of "that day" found in the eighth century prophets where Israel or Judah was singled out for destruction, but in a new, universal sense, in which man and beast, fish and plant are swept away (1:2). Nevertheless, within the universal setting, it is Judah and Jerusalem that are the foci of the prophet's and Yahweh's concern. Indictment of apostasy, familiar from eighth century prophetic literature, appears again with a specific condemnation of the worship of Milcom, god of the Ammonites, Ba'al of Canaan, the host of the heavens (cf. 1:4-6), and of those who affect foreign attire and rites. The prophet also indicts those who deny Yahweh's action in human affairs (1:12). Like his eighth century predecessors, he calls for repentance (2:1-3, cf. Isa. 1: 18 f.; Amos 5:15; Hosea 14:1).
A literary arrangement familiar from previous analyses of prophetic writings occurs in Zephaniah. Following the indictment of the nation, the prophetic attack moves to foreign nations (2:4-15), and after a brief interruption in which Jerusalem is again condemned (3:1-7), the book closes with oracles of restoration and promise. The oracles against foreign nations predict the doom of Philistia, then Egypt and Assyria. (The Moab oracles are late, 2:8-11.) In the day of Assyria's greatness, Zephaniah saw the weakening of the nation and its ultimate destruction. The Jerusalem oracles condemn officials, prophets and priests (3:1-7).
For the most part the prophet concentrates less on specific evils than upon devastating judgment. The opening oracle, describing the "sweeping away" of all life, is expanded in fierce and terrible images of destruction. There is no hint given of the direction from which the trouble would come, and no mention is made of the instrument of Yahweh's anger. What effect Zephaniah's words had upon the people and upon King Josiah cannot be known, but it is not impossible that the prophet helped to spur the reform movement that was to occur a short time later. Attempts to include oracles of restoration and healing in the collection of authentic pronouncements of Zephaniah are not convincing, for not only do these additions remove the force of the prophetic promise of destruction, but they reflect the mood, setting and hopes of the late Exilic period.
The book may be analyzed as follows:
THE DEUTERONOMIC ERA
In Judah, young Josiah began to challenge Assyrian control. A section of the Assyrian province in what had been the kingdom of Israel which included the city of Bethel was seized. Some foreign religious influences were removed. In Jerusalem, in 621 Yahweh's temple was refurbished, and during the process a scroll of the law, purporting to be a covenant made between Yahweh and his people in the time of Moses, was found and taken to the King. Josiah's frightened concern that no one had ever kept the agreement and the observation of a Passover unlike any kept since the time of the Judges (II Kings 23:22) suggest that the scroll contained new regulations. The general consensus of scholars is that the bulk of the seventh century scroll is contained in our present book of Deuteronomy. Determined to fulfill the requirements of this Mosaic covenant and encouraged by the promise of the prophetess Huldah that he would die in peace (II Kings 22:20), Josiah instituted a reform-by-violence movement and a sincere effort was made in Judah to perform the will of Yahweh.
The book of Deuteronomy purports to contain the words of Moses, spoken in a farewell address just before the invasion of Canaan. The setting of the oration is the eastern side of the Jordan River. The general tone of the book is a combination of the homiletic and legalistic. It contains a brief history of events from the experiences at Horeb to the conquests on the eastern side of the Jordan, lists numerous laws together with exhortations to hear and obey, promises blessings if the rulings are obeyed and curses if they are violated, and concludes with the death and burial of Moses.
The Mosaic authorship has been successfully contested on several bases. Moses died before the Hebrews entered Canaan (ch. 34), but there is evidence that Deuteronomy was written in Palestine, for the writer speaks of the Transjordan area as "the other side of the Jordan," a term that would only be used by someone within Canaan (1:1-15; 3:8; 4:46). The concluding chapter tells of Moses' death and burial (ch. 34). The use of the aetiological formula "to this day" indicates that the writer lived after Moses' time (3:14; 10:8; 34:6) and Moses is referred to in the third person (ch. 27). There is good evidence that the book is a composite post-Mosaic compilation.
From very early times, scholars recognized the relationship of Deuteronomy to the scroll found in the Temple of Yahweh in 621,9 but it was not until the nineteenth century that DeWette identified Deuteronomy as the book upon which the Josianic reforms were based. The identification rests upon the following arguments:
The date, place of origin and authorship of Deuteronomy have been the subject of much inquiry and debate. The terminal date for Deuteronomy is 621 because Josiah's reform of that year was founded on it. Another theory argues that a Jerusalem priest, deeply affected by prophetic preaching, sought to heal the breach between prophet and priest and composed Deuteronomy during the seventh century.11 It has also been suggested that Deuteronomy is a seventh century work of Levites and aristocracy.12 A completely different hypothesis, one that has gained a large following, surmises that Deuteronomy originated in the northern kingdom of Israel, possibly at the old amphictyonic shrine at Shechem; that its time of origin was in the century or so preceding the Josianic reforms; and that its preservation and introduction in Judah was the work of conservative, rural, Levitical priests.13 Arguments that the book must have come from the late Exilic14 or post-Exilic periodl5 have not been persuasive. Nor have the theories that the bulk of Deuteronomy originated in Solomon's timel6 or in Samuel's dayl7 found many supporters.
II Kings 22:8-10 describes two readings of the entire scroll of Deuteronomy in a single day, and it has been suggested that the original scroll may have contained a somewhat smaller legal corpus than our present book of Deuteronomy. There are indications that different collections of materials have been brought together or that additions may have been made from time to time. For example, the requirement that sacrifice be made in a single place is repeated (cf. 12:5-7 and 12:11-12) and so are the rules for slaughtering for food (cf. 12:15-17 and 12:20-25). A small collection of cultic regulations (16:21-17:7) interrupts the discussion of the duties of officials (cf. 16:20 and 17:8 ff.). There are four separate introductory statements (cf. 1:1; 4:44 f.; 6:1; 12:1) and two introductory units (1:1-4:40 and 4:45-5:31; 4:41-43 is from P). There are two concluding speeches, 28:1-69 and 29:1-30:20, and in the second there is clear indication of knowledge of the Exile (cf. 30:1 ff.). There are sudden shifts in person, from the second person plural (cf. 12:1-12) to the second person singular (cf. 12:13-31).18
Attempts have been made to discover the original core of Deuteronomy and to trace the various editions through which it may have gone, but it seems simpler and perhaps more accurate to recognize the principle of progressive or continuing interpretation at work: additions were made to the central core of material, at times embodying total units and at other times taking the form of minute details as in the P contributions. Each addition gave a slightly different emphasis to the total work or to some sensitive point. It can still be maintained that D drew from older sources and interpreted and supplemented the material. The relationship between D and the Covenant Code of E clearly illustrates this point. Exod. 21:2-11 prescribes for the freedom of the male slave after six years of servitude; Deut. 15:12-18 reinterpreted this law, making provision for the liberation of the female slave and adding a characteristic Deuteronomic humanitarian touch: that the owner should not send his former slave away empty-handed, but should provide a liberal supply of food to sustain him as he entered his new life of freedom. Similarly, in expanding the law providing for the return of strayed animals (Exod. 23:4), the Deuteronomist placed the responsibility for the care and feeding of the animal upon the finder until the rightful owner was located (Deut. 22:1-3).19 Chapters 12-26, 28 are usually identified as the core of the book, and in this section there is a close relationship to the E material. The general setting is provided by Chapters 1-11 which places the entire book into a hortatory or sermonic framework. A more detailed analysis follows.
I. Chapters 1:1-4:43 A survey of the past and a statement of the people's duty.
II. Chapters 4:44-11:32 A statement of the nature of Israel's duty.
III. Chapters 12-26, 28 The rules for life in Canaan.
IV. Chapter 27 A composite chapter providing for a covenant rite to be instituted at Shechem. Note the mention of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim.
V. Chapters 29-30 Threats and promises. 30:1-5 refers to the Exile.
VI. Chapter 31 The writing of the law and the commissioning of Joshua.
VII. Chapter 32 The song of Moses (verses 48-52 are from P).
VIII. Chapter 33 The blessing by Moses.
IX. Chapter 34 Moses' death and burial.
Read 12-26; 28
Read 27; 29-34
PLOWING WITH A COW AND DONKEY YOKED TOGETHER - A VIOLATION OF DEUT. 22:10 The reason for the Deuteronomic prohibition, which is one of several rulings against mixing materials, seed or animals, is not understood.
THE MAJOR TEACHINGS OF D
Despite the fact that older material, including the Covenant Code from E, was used by the Deuteronomists and that the place of origin may have been the amphictyonic center at Shechem, Deuteronomy has been preserved as a Judaean document, a product of the seventh century. The fall of Israel foreseen by the prophets, whose warnings that apostasy, ignorance of Yahweh's law and man's inhumanity to his fellow, would not go unpunished, had not been heeded, and the fact that a multitude of shrines, feasts and festivals had not saved Israel was a matter of deep concern. The patterns of faith and conduct that had, according to the prophets, brought about Israel's downfall were prevalent in seventh century Judah. Deuteronomy was, therefore, an attempt to resolve tension between cult and conduct, between ritual behavior and moral action. In Deuteronomy the demand is not one over against the other, but both; not an assertion that God demands ritual and moral purity, but an affirmation that Yahweh was the source of both. Here the cult is exalted as the divinely instituted means of mediation between God and man, for in and through the cult the divine enters the world of men to purify, cleanse, bless, and enable men to find their way through the confusion of the world. For the first time in biblical literature, we encounter a fully developed statement of the significance of the cult and of cultic and moral law. The law (Torah) was God-given at Horeb as a means of accomplishing a divine-human fellowship, and this fellowship was bound into the sacred agreement-the covenant. The wider problem of Israel's relationship to the rest of mankind was not solved; indeed, it is barely touched upon. What was essential was the achievement of a full understanding of God-man relationships within the family of Yahweh. The following points appear to have been central:
Apart from the homiletical framework, it is clear that the book was related to a cultic ceremony, and this cultic setting gave the work the characteristic of immediacy or constant relevance. Each enactment of the covenant ritual was an act of renewal in which the past became alive in the present, and participants shared in a ceremony through which the community of Yahweh's followers was regularly brought into being (cf. Deut. 5:3).
THE IMPACT OF DEUTERONOMY
Read II Kings 23:4-27; II Chron. 34:33-35:27
What the reactions to the infringement on local religious life might have been are not recorded, but some local priests eschewed the privilege of serving in the Jerusalem temple. What hardships were wrought on the people cannot be known, but as we shall see, there are hints in Jeremiah of resentment against Deuteronomic law. Ultimately, Jeremiah appears to have found the legislation inadequate, and this led him to propose a covenant of the heart. The Deuteronomists were impressed with what Josiah did and, because he acted in accordance with the covenant requirements, all of his accomplishments receive approbation.
There can be no doubt that Deuteronomy played a part in Josiah's break with Assyria. The first move, the refurbishing of the temple which led to the discovery of Deuteronomy, was in itself an act of rebellion. Then, strengthened by the assurance of divine approval and encouraged by Huldah's prediction of a peaceful demise, Josiah took bolder steps away from Assyrian control. The Judaean kingdom was extended by the seizure of surrounding cities and lands. In each locale the demolition of sacred shrines demonstrated the new power of Jerusalem, the capital city with its solitary Yahweh temple. It is possible that Josiah's death at the hands of Necho resulted from his conviction that, as a man under divine protection, he could not be stopped or injured.
How long support for Deuteronomy continued cannot be determined, but from Jeremiah, as we shall see, there is some evidence that enthusiasm was cooling. Perhaps so long as Josiah was alive and neonationalism was stressed from the throne and the temple, Deuteronomic law was generally observed. When Josiah died, a king of a different temperament, Jehoiakim, was soon to become ruler, and Deuteronomic principles do not appear to have received the same support. Traditional evils which the Deuteronomists had hoped to eliminate were once again engaged in openly.
Perhaps by its very nature Deuteronomy was marked for limited success. Events were soon to shake the foundations of the neat theological analysis, "Obey Yahweh and prosper, disobey and suffer punishment," and new questions demanding new answers were raised. Even the Deuteronomic historians were compelled to recognize that the principle had not worked for Josiah and his reform, and thus they blamed the failure to receive blessings upon the accumulated evils of Manasseh's reign (II Kings 23:26). Furthermore, sweeping reforms introduced by fiat and carried out by force require constant vigilance and long enforcement to become custom. Josiah had neither the time nor the strength. On the other hand the Deuteronomic reform did not fail. Deuteronomic historians continued to write well into the Exilic period, interpreting history in accordance with their theology, and both the Deuteronomic historical interpretation and the Book of Deuteronomy were to become part of the official canon of the Judaeans, the Jews.
Old Testament Life and Literature is copyright © 1968, 1997 by Gerald A. Larue. All rights reserved.
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