Attitudes to Gentiles in the Minor Prophets and in Corresponding Pesharim

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This essay surveys the attitudes towards gentiles/foreign nations in constructions of the “other” in the Minor Prophets of the Hebrew Bible, and examines how the biblical trajectories are continued and reshaped in the corresponding pesharim from Qumran. The development of the biblical texts is examined from historical, literary, and theological perspectives. Thus, for example, the concrete historical encounter with Assyria shaped the original prophecies of the last three pre-exilic prophets (Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah), while later redactional layers transform these texts by incorporating the experience of the Babylonian conquest. Literarily and theologically, the initial texts focus upon individual judgement against a concrete people, and the divine salvation of Israel from this threat. In the Persian period, there is an initial expansion of the focus to universal judgment, highlighting the special status of Israel vis-à-vis other nations. This is followed by a narrowing of the group selected for salvation, so that only the righteous of Judah will survive the final judgment. In the pesharim, there is further narrowing of the discourse of alterity for internal identity formation, as the biblical prophecies against foreign enemies are applied to the group’s contemporary antagonists, including rival Jewish groups. Pesher Habakkuk closely follows the book of Habakkuk in depicting Gentiles as idolators, and in portraying foreign nations as both instruments and objects of divine retribution. The references to the Babylonians (termed “Chaldeans”) in Habakkuk are applied in the pesher to the “Kittim,” understood by modern scholars to stand for Rome. This view of Rome as a significant existential and eschatological enemy reflects a profound theological and psychological development in sectarian thought. Pesher Nahum interprets the prophecies against Gentiles in Nahum primarily as condemnation of Jewish enemies.

Attitudes to Gentiles in the Minor Prophets and in Corresponding Pesharim

in Dead Sea Discoveries




Cf. J. BartonOracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile (London: Darton, Longman and Todd1986) 203: “. . . it seems to have come to be thought normal even obligatory for prophetic books to include oracles against a variety of foreign nations.” The phenomenon does not seem to be limited to the Hebrew Bible see M. Weippert “König fürchte dich nicht! Assyrische Prophetie im 7. Jh. v. Chr.” Or 71 (2002): 1–54; for the ancient Near East and A. C. Hagedorn “Looking at Foreigners in Biblical and Greek Prophecy” VT 57 (2007): 432–48 for Greek parallels.


See D. LaCapraHistory in Transit: Experience Identity Critical Theory (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press2004) 37 who states: “Nor should it [i.e. identity] be conflated with identification in the sense of total fusion with others wherein difference is obliterated and criticism is tantamount to betrayal. But identity does involve modes of being with others that range from the actual to the imagined virtual sought-after normatively affirmed or utopian. Moreover it is important to explore the relations and articulations among various qualifiers of identity especially group identity which may be ascribed by others taken up or confronted by he self or by members of the group deconstructed refunctioned affirmed or acknowledged in more or less revised fashion earned though collective activity and recognized validated or invalidated by others.”


See P. R. Raabe“Why Prophetic Oracles against the Nations?” in Fortunate the Eyes That See: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of his Seventieth Birthday (ed. A. B. Beck et al.; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans1995) 236–57.


Thus D. L. ChristensenTransformations of the War Oracle in Old Testament Prophecy: Studies in the Oracles against the Nations (Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press1975) whose argument however that any word against a foreign nation originated in a concrete oracle of a priest or a prophet immediately before the battle is difficult to maintain; Hagedorn “Looking at Foreigners in Biblical and Greek Prophecy” 438. The arguments against such a political use of words against foreign people put forward in J. B. Geyer “Another Look at the Oracles about the Nations in the Hebrew Bible: A Response to A. C. Hagedorn” VT 59 (2009): 80–87 are hardly convincing.


M. H. FloydMinor Prophets: Part 2 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans2000) 636; for a different view see R. Albertz Israel in Exile: The History and Literature of the Sixth Century B.C.E. (Atlanta Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature 2003) 183: “This means: the widespread scholarly opinion that the foreign nation oracles represent an indirect proclamation of salvation for Israel (thus frequently denying their authorship by the classical prophets of judgment) is incorrect as a general rule.”


See A. C. Hagedorn“Nahum—Ethnicity and Stereotypes: Anthropological Insights into Nahum’s Literary History,” in Ancient Israel: The Old Testament in its Social Context (ed. P. F. Esler; Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress2005) 223–39. The rather inflationary use of the term “other” in current anthropological discourse has been critically evaluated by J. Fabian “The Other Revisited: Critical Afterthoughts” Anthropological Theory 6 (2006): 139–52.


B. AndersonImagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (rev. ed.; London: Verso1999).


See the remarks in B. HuwylerJeremia und die Völker: Untersuchungen zu den Völkersprüchen in Jeremia 46–49 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck1997) 2–5.


O. H. SteckDer Abschluß der Prophetie im Alten Testament: Ein Versuch zur Frage der Vorgeschichte des Kanons (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener1991).


B. M. Zapff“The Perspective of the Nations in the Book of Micah as a ‘Systematization’ of the Nation’s Role in Joel, Jonah, Nahum?” in Thematic Threads in the Book of the Twelve (ed. P. L. Redditt and A. Schart; Berlin: De Gruyter2003) 292–312; J. Wöhrle Die frühen Sammlungen des Zwölfprophetenbuches: Untersuchungen zu ihrer Entstehung und Komposition (Berlin: De Gruyter 2006); idem Der Abschluss des Zwölfprophetenbuches: Buchübergreifende Redaktionsprozesse in den späten Sammlungen (Berlin: De Gruyter 2008).


See R. J. Coggins“The Minor Prophets—one Book or Twelve?” in Crossing the Boundaries: Essays in Biblical Interpretation in Honour of Michael D. Goulder (ed. S. E. Porter, P. Joyce, and D. E. Orton; Leiden: Brill1994) 64; W. Dietrich “Three Minor Prophets and the Major Empires: Synchronic and Diachronic Perspectives on Nahum Habakkuk and Zephaniah” in Perspectives in the Formation of the Book of Twelve 147–56.


On this see B. U. Schipper“Egypt and the Kingdom of Judah under Josiah and Jehoiakim,” TA 37 (2010): 200–26; idem “Egyptian Imperialism after the New Kingdom: The 26th Dynasty and the Southern Levant” in Egypt Canaan and Israel: History Imperialism Ideology and Literature (ed. S. Bar D. Kahn and J. J. Shirley; Leiden: Brill 2011) 268–90. In general see R. Kessler Die Ägyptenbilder der Hebräischen Bibel: Ein Beitrag zur neueren Monotheismusdebatte (Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk 2002).


See HuwylerJeremia und die Völker73–126; P. M. Cook A Sign and a Wonder: The Redactional Formation of Isaiah 18-20 (Leiden: Brill 2011).


See the discussion in J. Barton“Amos’s Oracles against the Nations,” in Understanding Old Testament Ethics: Approaches and Explorations (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox2003) 77–129; D. L. Smith-Christopher “Engendered Warfare and the Ammonites in Amos 1.13” in Aspects of Amos: Exegesis and Interpretation (ed. A. C. Hagedorn and A. Mein; London: T&T Clark 2011) 15–40.


J. BlenkinsoppIsaiah 56–66 (New York, N.Y.: Doubleday2003) 249; and the correction of the traditional view of YHWH’s origin in H. Pfeiffer Jahwes Kommen von Süden: Jdc 5; Hab 3; Dtn 33 und Ps 68 in ihrem literatur- und theologiegeschichtlichen Umfeld (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2005) 82–86 258–68.


See E. Bosshard“Beobachtungen zum Zwölfprophetenbuch,” BN 40 (1987): 30–62 (47).


See PfeifferJahwes Kommen138–39.


See J. BartonJoel and Obadiah: A Commentary (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox2001) 110.


On Mal 3:5 see R. KesslerMaleachi (Freiburg: Herder2011) 241–44.


See WöhrleAbschluss308–9.


See SteckAbschluß124.


See O. H. Steck and K. Schmid“Heilserwartungen in den Prophetenbüchern des Alten Testaments,” in Prophetische Heils- und Herrschererwartungen (ed. K. Schmid; Stuttgart: Katholisches Bibelwerk2005) 1–36 (9): “In diesem Sinne muss vor allem die Völkermacht die zum JHWH-Gericht dienstbar war und Gottesvolk Jerusalem noch umgibt von JHWH entsprechend der Rettung seinerzeit vor Ägypten . . . oder vor Assur . . . gebrochen werden wenn für Israel Heil zurückkehren soll.”


See U. BeckerJesaja: Von der Botschaft zum Buch (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht1997) 271–80; Huwyler Jeremia und die Völker.


See O. H. SteckDie Prophetenbücher und ihr theologisches Zeugnis: Wege der Nachfrage und Fährten der Antwort (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck1996) 52–54 62–63 70–73 98.


See Köckert“Erwählung Israels” 288.


See R. VielhauerDas Werden des Buches Hosea: Eine redaktionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung (Berlin: De Gruyter2007) 201–3.


Thus R. G. Kratz“Erkenntnis Gottes im Hoseabuch,” ZTK 94 (1997) 1–24 (17–18).


M. RothIsrael und die Völker im Zwölfprophetenbuch: Eine Untersuchung zu den Büchern Joel Jona Micha und Nahum (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht2005) 291 regards this phenomenon as a societal discourse. As we only know this discourse from the prophetic books it remains difficult however to determine what the extent of such a discourse may have been.


R. S. Sadler“Representing the Cushite Other: The Use of Cushite Phenotypes in Numbers 12 and Jeremiah 13:23,” in The Archaeology of Difference: Gender Ethnicity Class and the “Other” in Antiquity: Studies in Honor of Eric M. Meyers (ed. D. R. Edwards and C. T. McCollough; Boston, Mass.: American Schools of Oriental Research2007) 127–37 (133).


On the problem see J. Gärtner“Jerusalem—City of God for Israel and the Nations in Zeph 3:8,9–10,11–13,” in Perspectives in the Formation of the Book of Twelve269–84.


On the passages see WöhrleAbschluss174–89.


See E. Bosshard and R. G. Kratz“Maleachi im Zwölfprophetenbuch,” BN 52 (1990): 27–46.


See also the remarks in E. Ben Zvi“Twelve Prophetic Books or ‘The Twelve’: A Few Preliminary Considerations,” in Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve in Honor of John D. W. Watts (ed. J. W. Watts and P. R. House; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press 1996) 131: “Even if for the sake of the argument one were to grant that the twelve prophetic books or their precursors were produced in the form of a single scroll since the Achaemenid period or even earlier from the writing of books in one scroll it does not follow that they had to be (re)read as a unified literary unit in other words as a work in which several prophetic books are integrated for beyond what may be expected from a collection or anthology of separate independent works that share only a certain type of discourse among themselves and that belong to a common repertoire.”


See M. Beck“Das Dodekapropheton als Anthologie,” ZAW 118 (2006): 558–81; and the earlier proposal by J. Barton “What is a Book? Modern Exegesis and the Literary Conventions of Ancient Israel” in Intertextuality in Ugarit and Israel (ed. J. C. de Moor; Leiden: Brill 1998) 1–14 who argues that “books” were meant to be read in excerpts in ancient Israel.


See Kratz“Der Pesher Nahum” 141–45; R. Vielhauer “Reading Hosea at Qumran” in The Mermaid and the Partridge: Essays from the Copenhagen Conference on Revising Texts from Cave Four (ed. G. J. Brooke and J. Høgenhaven; Leiden: Brill 2011) 91–108. For a general assessment of the material from the Dead Sea for biblical interpretation see R. G. Kratz “Das Alte Testament und die Texte vom Toten Meer” ZAW 125 (2013): 198–213 (esp. 210–11) who stresses the interconnectedness of inner- and extra-biblical exegesis in the pesharim and the individual biblical books: “Am Verhältnis von Text und Kommentar kann man die vielfältigen höchst subtilen Techniken der Auslegung sowie die Hermeneutik studieren die die Rezeption des Bibeltexts in den Pesharim steuert. Die Hermeneutik und einige der Techniken waren schon bei der Entstehung und innerbiblischen Auslegung im Bibeltext selbst wirksam.”


See inter alia R. Fuller“The Form and Formation of the Book of the Twelve: The Evidence from the Judean Desert,” in Forming Prophetic Literature86–101; H. J. Fabry “The Reception of Nahum and Habakkuk in the Septuagint and Qumran” in Emanuel: Studies in Hebrew Bible Septuagint and Dead Sea Scrolls in Honor of Emanuel Tov(ed. S. M. Paul et al. Leiden: Brill2003) 241–56 (245–47); G. J. Brooke “The Twelve Minor Prophets and the Dead Sea Scrolls” in Congress Volume: Leiden 2004 (ed. A. Lemaire; Leiden: Brill 2006) 19–43; H. von Weissenberg “The Twelve Minor Prophets at Qumran and the Canonical Process: Amos as a ‘Case Study’ ” in The Hebrew Bible in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls (ed. N. Dávid et al.; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2012) 357–75. In another scroll 5Q4 parts of Amos alone have survived (Amos 1:3–5 and maybe Amos 1:2–3) but the scant remains preserved in the fourteen fragments do not offer sufficient basis for determining the original scope of the scroll.


See J. Ben-Dov and S. Saulnier“Qumran Calendars: A Survey of Scholarship 1980–2007,” Currents in Biblical Research 7 (2008): 124–68. Note however the emergence of some dissenting views in scholarship about the centrality of the calendar in Qumran thought and practice. Albert Baumgarten has suggested that distinct calendars need not necessarily have precluded respectful co-existence; see A. I. Baumgarten “Karaites Qumran the Calendar and Beyond: at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century” in The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture (ed. ed. A. D. Roitman L. H. Schiffman and S. Tzoref; Leiden: Brill 2011) 603–19. Sacha Stern goes much further arguing that the calendar is not at all a polemic issue in Qumran texts. See S. Stern Calendars in Antiquity: Empires States and Societies (New York N.Y.: Oxford University Press 2012) 355–77.


See Bernstein“ ‘Walking in the Festivals of the Gentiles’ ” 24–28 33–34.


The translation is from J. C. VanderKamThe Book of Jubilees (Leuven: Peeters1989). The text continues: 36 There will be people who carefully observe the moon with lunar observations because it is corrupt (with respect to) the seasons and is early from year to year by ten days. 37 Therefore years will come about for them when they will disturb (the year) and make a day of testimony something worthless and a profane day a festival. Everyone will join together both holy days with the profane and the profane day with the holy day for they will err regarding the months the sabbaths the festival and the jubilee. 38 For this reason I am commanding you and testifying to you so that you may testify to them because after your death your children will disturb (it) so that they do not make the year (consist of ) 364 only. Therefore they will err regarding the first of the month the season the sabbath and the festivals. They will all the blood with all (kinds of ) meat.


See inter alia S. Tzoref“Pesher and Periodization,” DSD 18 (2011): 129–54.


See S. M. Andersen and M. S. Berk“The Social-Cognitive Model of Transference: Experiencing Past Relationships in the Present,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 7 (1998): 109–15.


G. J. Brooke“The Kittim in the Qumran Pesharim,” in Images of Empire (ed. L. Alexander; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press1991) 135–59.


J. JokirantaSocial Identity and Sectarianism in the Qumran Movement (Leiden: Brill2013) esp. 148–75.


See e.g. M. A. Sweeney“Structure, Genre, and Intent in the Book of Habakkuk,” VT 41 (1991): 63–83. For a convincing reconstruction of the literary origin of the biblical book see Pfeiffer Jahwes Kommen 135–66.


K. M. T. Atkinson“The Historical Setting of the Habakkuk Commentary,” JSS 4 (1959) 238–63 (243).


T. C. BrennanThe Praetorship in the Roman Republic: Volume 2: 122 to 49 BC (2 vols.; Oxford: Oxford University Press2000) 2:410–13; Eshel The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State 138–42.


See the sources listed in Atkinson“The Historical Setting ” 238–40.


JokirantaSocial Identity115.


W. Dietrich“Three Minor Prophets” 147–56.


See Berrin (Tzoref )The Pesher Nahum Scroll8.


See Berrin (Tzoref )The Pesher Nahum Scroll101–3.


See Berrin (Tzoref )The Pesher Nahum Scroll87–163; Josephus Ant. 13.372–379; An alternative interpretation by Gregory Doudna identifying the Lion of Wrath as Pompey has not been widely accepted. (G. L. Doudna 4Q Pesher Nahum: A Critical Edition (London: Sheffield Academic Press 2001) 57–73.


See NitzanPesher Habakkuk45–46.


Berrin [Tzoref ]The Pesher Nahum Scroll267–85; eadem “Pesher Nahum Psalms of Solomon and Pompey” in Reworking the Bible: Apocryphal and Related Texts at Qumran (ed. E. G. Chazon D. Dimant and R. A. Clements; Leiden: Brill 2005) 65–84. See also Atkinson “On the Herodian Origin of Militant Davidic Messianism”; idem “I Cried to the Lord”: A Study of the Psalms of Solomons Historical Background and Social Setting ( JSJSup 84; Leiden: Brill 2004) 42–46. I. Tantlevskij dated the composition of Pesher Nahum prior to Pompey’s conquest proposing a specific date of 88 B.C.E. He located this pericope in a time of Seleucid dominion prior to the reign of Salome. Among the difficulties with this suggestion is its dependence upon a purported interval of Pharisaic rule during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus which is not attested in any other source. See I. Tantlevskij “The Reflection of the Political Situation in Judaea in 88 B.C.E. in the Qumran Commentary on Nahum (4QpNah columns 1–4)” St. Petersburg Journal of Oriental Studies 6 (1994): 221–31 and the response in Berrin [Tzoref] Pesher Nahum 22–28. David Flusser who dated Pesher Habakkuk earlier than 63 B.C.E. (on the eve of Pompey’s conquest when Rome was beginning to loom as a potential threat) dated Pesher Nahum “after this terrible trauma” see D. Flusser “The Roman Empire in Hasmonean and Essene Eyes” in Judaism of the Second Temple Period: Volume I: Qumran and Apocalypticism (trans. A. Yadin; 2 vols.; Grand Rapids Mich.: William B. Eerdmans / Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press 2007) 1:175–206.


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