Chapter 12: Tension of Mind and Faith
TIME AND APOCALYPSE: FOURTH ISAIAH, JOEL, SECOND ZECHARIAH1
On that day. . . . Yahweh will become King over all the earth.
Zech. 14:8 f.
These four chapters, Isaiah 24-27, cannot be the creation of one of the earlier Isaiahs (First or Second or “Third”), although marked affinities exist. What we loosely call “Fourth” Isaiah is certainly in the broad sense Isaianic: it comes, we suspect, out of the still continuing Isaianic circles. But the last critical Old Testament scholar of any great stature to defend the eighth-century Isaiah’s authorship of 24-27 was the remarkable Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890); and almost reluctantly, he himself came finally to abandon the identification.
Three sections in Isaiah 24-27 are more strongly apocalyptic than anything else we have yet read in the Old Testament (24: 18c-23; 25:6-9; 26:20-27:1). A now classical definition of this term apocalyptic (literally, “uncovered”) properly sees the transition from prophetic to apocalyptic literature as really scarcely traceable. But it may be asserted in general terms that whereas prophecy foretells a definite future which has its foundation in the present, apocalyptic directs its anticipation solely and simply to the future — to a new world-period which stands sharply contrasted with the present. The classical model of all apocalyptic may be found in Daniel 7 [see below]. . . it is only after a great war of destruction, a “Day of Yahweh” or day of the Great Judgment, that the dominion of God will begin.2
Isaiah 24-27 is not entirely apocalyptic: now and again the reader comes to feel that he has his eye on history. But as the sensitive Delitzsch expressed it long ago, “if we try to follow out and grasp these [historical] relations, they escape us like will o’ the wisps; because . . . they are . . . made emblems of the last things in the distant future.”3 Delitzsch is arguing with discernment that where we think we have hold of a projection of history — that is, where we think we have moved in unbroken continuity from history past and present to distant history — we discover that it is in fact no projection at all, that while the passage started us off in history, it leaves us at the end in seeming discontinuity with history and the historical process.4
The dating of the section with any measure of certainty is impossible. Seeming historical allusions have been variously identified with events in the history of the Middle East from the beginning of the Persian period down through the Maccabean Wars of the second century B.C. Happily, since the major thrust of Isaiah 24-27 is apocalyptic, the matter of date is not crucial. By universal consent it is postexilic; and we should guess that it is best assigned to the fourth century. Arguments for and against the unity of the four chapters are equally inconclusive but again not of great importance. Most frequently suspect as breaking the unity are the three songs (25:1-5,9-12; 26:1-19; and 27:2-6). If these are not of a piece with the rest, but are themselves a unity, they should probably be dated later than the long apocalyptic poem into which, in that case, they have been inserted.
In chapter 24 the reader will not fail to note a point of emphasis strongly reminiscent of the first Isaiah — the subjugation and humiliation of the proud (see especially vv. 4b and 21). Apocalyptic’s characteristic discontinuity with history is expressed in verses 19, 20, and 23:
The earth is utterly broken,
the earth is rent asunder,
the earth is violently shaken.
The earth staggers like a drunken man,
it sways like a hut;
Then the moon will be confounded,
and the sun ashamed;
Sun and moon will have no function any longer: Yahweh is the Light.
The voice of classical prophetism with its theological ethic is revived in the first of the songs:
For thou [Yahweh] hast been a stronghold to the poor a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat. (25:4)
The universalism of Second Isaiah is reflected in the prose lines of 25:6:
On this mountain [Jerusalem’s Mount Zion; see 24:23] Yahweh of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined.
This universalism is not as consistently maintained as it is in Second Isaiah, as witness the bitter words against Moab in the same passage, 25:10-12.
Discontinuity in history is again voiced in 25:8:
He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord Yahweh will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for Yahweh has spoken.
This is not a reference to life after death, but to a radically transformed age in which, simply, there will be no death.
In several ways 26:3-5 is suggestive of First Isaiah:
Thou dost keep him in perfect peace,
whose mind is stayed on thee,
because he trusts in thee.
Compare, for example, Isaiah 7:9 and 28:16. One could almost say that the apocalyptic hope is the inevitable and ultimate extension of Isaiah’s so-called quietism, his insistence that the fulfillment of existence is only in faith. And now Isaiah’s eloquent castigation of pride (see especially Isa. 2:12-17) is resounded:
For he [Yahweh] has brought low
the inhabitants of the height,
the lofty city.
He lays it low, lays it low to the ground,
casts it to the dust. (25:5)
There are probably only two passages in the Old Testament which state explicitly — beyond possibility of doubt — the belief in full life after death. One is Daniel 2:12; and the other is before us now in Isaiah 26:19:
Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise.
O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
One nevertheless recalls other lines which push hard in the direction of resurrection — Ezekiel’s vision in the valley of death (Ezek. 37); some of Job’s penetrating questions (Job 14:14 f.; 16:18 f.; 19:23; 27); Psalms 16, 73, and 139; and at least for this reader, the Servant in the fourth of Second Isaiah’s Servant Songs, Isaiah 52:13-53:12.5
Finally, we cite the appropriateness of “Fourth” Isaiah’s place among the Isaiahs as that place is supported by the affinity between the earliest and latest Isaianic Songs of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5 and 27. For the first Isaiah, Yahweh’s vineyard (Israel) was the object of Yahweh’s offended concern, his indignation, his wrath and judgment (5:1-7). Now, after the long passage of time and in the perspective of apocalyptic, the same vineyard is
A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
I, Yahweh, am its keeper. (27:2)
It is the same Song of the Vineyard, but a song transformed. It sings now of a vineyard brought out of judgment, through judgment, into fulfillment and redemption.
The three chapters of Joel (four in Hebrew) fall into two major divisions. The first is 1:1-2:27. Two overwhelming natural disasters (accompanied by lesser calamities) are described — a plague of locusts and a severe famine. These appear to have no direct connection with one another (although 2:3a may reflect an effort to relate them), since the famine is caused not by locusts but by drought (see 1:18-20). This first division of Joel closes with the community’s confession and petition to Yahweh with the consequent deliverance from the disasters.
The second division is 2:28-3:21. This is an apocalypse in which Yahweh himself visits in exterminating wrath all of Judah’s enemies, and himself establishes the utopian age in Jerusalem, to he enjoyed forever by his chosen people.
Specifically, all we know of the author is his name and the name of his father. Beyond this, it is a good guess that he was a priest, and if so, a priest possessed of the articulate gift of the classical prophet — almost. Joel speaks with a style and power which come very near meeting that very high standard. And in part for this reason a pre-exilic date for Joel was long maintained (one of the last scholars to abandon it was, again, Franz Delitzsch). In recent decades Joel has commonly been assigned to the fourth century, or even the early third century.
A recent survey of all evidence for the date of Joel sets the time between 323 and 285 (that is, between the death of Alexander the Great and of Ptolemy I): “when the northern tribes had disappeared, the Jews were scattered . . . the temple was functioning, Mt. Zion was the only Holy Mountain, the wall was standing, the priests ruled Jerusalem, the Jews had no armies, Egypt oppressed Judea, and the Greeks bought Jewish slaves.”6
The locust plague is one of a series of natural disasters which, for Joel, are sure signs of the Day of Yahweh. The plague is so graphically described after the analogy of an invading army that interpreters have occasionally (but probably wrongly) supposed that Joel envisages in fact the catastrophe of military invasion (2:25 seems clearly to refute this possibility).
Mark now the tender lines of 2:12—13:
Yet even now, says Yahweh,
return to me with all your heart,
And rend your hearts and not your garments.
Return to Yahweh your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
If something of prophetism’s verbal gift and theological insight still live in Joel, the universalism of prophetism at its highest is missing — according to the usual interpretation of Joel. “All flesh” of 2:28 is commonly taken in context as a reference only to all Judah. But is it clearly so limited? This is the beginning of the apocalypse of Joel:
And it shall come to pass afterward
[i.e., after the calamitous Day of Yahweh]
that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophecy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions. (2:28)
And what shall we say of the breadth of faith and expectation in 2:32:
And it shall come to pass that all (?) who call upon the name of Yahweh shall be delivered [from Yahweh’s wrath in the Day of Yahweh]
But in what follows, Joel sees the survival and restoration of Judah and Jerusalem and Zion, and Yahweh’s devastating judgment upon the nations that have participated in the abuse of Yahweh’s people. This is not necessarily a denial of Yahweh’s ultimate purposive concern for “all flesh.” The old covenant faith, with possible universalistic overtones, is still brilliantly sounded:
in the valley of decision!
For the day of Yahweh is near
in the valley of decision.
The sun and the moon are darkened,
and the stars withdraw their shining.
And Yahweh roars from Zion,
and utters his voice from Jerusalem,
and the heavens and the earth shake.
But Yahweh is a refuge to his people,
a stronghold to the people of Israel. (3:14-16)
It was in any case this faith, accommodating itself in one form or another to almost every conceivable circumstance of existence, which was responsible for the survival of Judaism’s essential integrity, her unique entity — and, historically assessed, for the subsequent creation of the Christian faith.
It may be that three prophetic supplements have been appended to Zechariah 1-8: (1) Zechariah 9-11 (13:7-9 is clearly out of place, and no doubt originally concluded Zech. 9-11); (2) Zechariah 12-14; and (3) Malachi.
Second Zechariah (9-14) is in general character apocalyptic. As such, it is distinguished for the variety in which it presents the apocalyptic form. Five distinct apocalypses are recorded which have no relationship to each other except the typical apocalyptic style, and, probably, a chronological arrangement and reference.
In the first of the apocalypses, 9:1-10, Yahweh’s wrath is visited on Judah’s immediate neighbors, Syria, Phoenicia, and Philistia. The instrument of divine wrath envisaged by the writer is probably the brilliant son and successor of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great (336-323), who brought the Persian empire to its end and who in the name of Greece conquered the world. The apocalypse closes with the advent of the Messiah and the establishment of universal and everlasting peace, verses 9-10.7
In the second apocalypse, 9:11-17, Greece is destroyed. All Israel, in the land of Judah and everywhere in dispersion, knows peace and security.
Upon the death of Alexander, the Greek empire was divided and the fortunes of Palestine were for a time determined by the Ptolemies of Egypt and the Seleucids of Syria (Ptolemy I and Seleucus I were both generals under Alexander). For more than a century after Alexander’s death Egypt maintained dominant political control of Palestine although until the turn of the century (301 B.C. at the battle of Ipsus in Phrygia) that control was sharply contested by the Seleucid rule. This third apocalypse, 10:3-11:3, describes ostensibly the overthrow of Assyria and Egypt; but there can be no doubt that these two divisions of Alexander’s empire are meant to be designated. It is the overthrow of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids, the empires of Egypt and Syria, that is envisaged, with particular emphasis on Syria (11:1-3).
In 12: 1-13:6 Judah and Jerusalem are vindicated against the nations and made victorious by Yahweh’s intervention; the city repents and mourns for someone martyred in a just cause (the historical allusion is unknown); and Yahweh now removes all idolatry and prophecy (degenerate prophecy, prophecy of a mercenary and corrupt form), and effects Jerusalem’s spiritual cleansing in a divine fountain. If the order of the apocalypses continues chronological, we can only assume that this is a little later in the Greek period (which is the general designation of the epoch from Alexander’s conquest to the time of Rome’s annexation of Palestine in 67 B.C.).
Like the fourth, the fifth apocalypse, chapter 14,is also obscure; but its stress upon Egypt suggests a time still a little later in the Greek period. If one may so speak, it is the most apocalyptic of all, that is, it is on a vaster scale and presents by far the most radical break with history. The catastrophe is again (as in the fourth apocalypse) an attack upon Jerusalem by all nations — but this time the city falls and half the city is taken captive. Now Yahweh intervenes. The topography of Palestine is transformed. The living waters (cf. Ezek. 47; and Joel 3:18) flow again. All the mountains are leveled except the Jerusalem hill which is raised to a still higher elevation. The nations fighting against Judah are punished; but the survivors go up to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh. Our tastes would call for the close of the apocalypse at the end of verse 16, perhaps, but the following verses do not annul its universalism; and the concluding note of priestly piety (14:20-21) intends to say simply and essentially that the community is completely devoted to Yahweh.
This brief survey of five apocalypses covers all of Zechariah 9-14 except 11:4-17 and 13:7-9. Like Jeremiah 23:1-4 and Ezekiel 34 and 37:16-28, these two passages are in the form of an allegory of the shepherd; but unlike the shepherd allegories of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the apparent detailed historical reference here remains utterly enigmatic, totally mystifying.
Time and apocalypse. When faith was able to see no possibility of the fulfillment of Yahweh’s historical purposes in the historical process, it was history, not faith, that was broken. Apocalyptic preserved the faith and made it still articulate in the vision of time and history interrupted and transformed by the decisive invasion of Yahweh himself.
Yahweh will become king over all the earth. On that day Yahweh will be one and his name one! (Zech. 14:9)
PRIDE AND JUSTIFICATION: JOB
. . . then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you!
Introduction and Outline
The book of Job belongs among the most significant works in world literature. Not only its aesthetic value, which is apparent in the power of its expression, in the depth of its sensitivity, and in its monumental structure; but also its content — the bold and colossal struggle with the ancient, and at the same time always new, human problem of the meaning of suffering — all this puts the work, in its universal significance, in a class with Dante’s Divine Comedy and Goethe’s Faust.8
Throughout the centuries, Job has received extravagant praise from literary artists and critics. Thomas Carlyle, for example, is reported to have said, “There is nothing written, I think, in the Bible or out of it, of equal literary merit.”9 The name of Job has become a commonplace in our language in the phrase “the patience of Job.” This work is, of course, beyond dispute a literary masterpiece. But the hero appears as a man of distinguished patience only in the relatively brief prologue of the work; and the sensitive reader of Job may well wonder whether the primary concern of the writing is the problem of suffering or that one vast, central problem of life under God, the life of faith.
Job is an anonymous writing. We are able to form an image of the creator of the literary Job only from the book. Job is not biography in any conventional sense of that word. It may well be that there once lived an actual historical Job; but from the once-upon-a-time beginning of the work and the overwhelming evidence throughout of a purpose quite transcending the merely biographical-historical, it is clear that only a known historical name has been employed. It was a name which traditionally conveyed an example of ultimate human righteousness, as is evident from Ezekiel 14:14 (cf. 14:20) where the name of Job is coupled with the names of Noah and Daniel.
The book of Job presents this clear outline:
3-31 Dialogue: a debate in three cycles between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Chapter 28, in praise of wisdom, has no intrinsic relationship to the dialogues but may nevertheless appear here in accordance with appropriate editorial design.10
32-37 The speeches of Elihu, a younger bystander.
38:1-42:6 The Yahweh speeches.
The composition of the present book of Job cannot be dated. The prologue and epilogue may derive from a pre-exilic Job story, perhaps an ancient and certainly widely known tale. The Elihu speeches11 and segments of the Yahweh speeches (notably on the ostrich, 39: 13-18, and Leviathan, 41:1-34) may be added after the creative unification of the rest of the literary Job; but the work as a whole unmistakably reflects Israel’s own corporate catastrophic experience of the bitter sixth century. The “biography” of Job is like the “biography” of the Servant of Second Isaiah: both are created and conditioned out of Israel’s anguished existence through destruction and exile. The purpose of Job is essentially that of Second Isaiah — to restore a lost faith and lost meaning in existence.
The Literary Problem
The prose prologue and epilogue and the body of poetry in between betray many differences other than merely form. There are striking differences in vocabulary. In the poetry of Job, the deity is rather consistently designated by terms other than Yahweh (127 times it is ‘el, or ‘eloah, or shadai). But not one of these terms appears in the prose prologue or epilogue where, in contrast, the specific Israelite name, Yahweh, is used. In the poetry, the name Yahweh occurs once only in speech (12:9, but this is commonly regarded as a later editorial addition). In the speeches of Yahweh, 38:1-42:6, the name is never used in actual monologue or dialogue, but only in simple identification of the speaker, as “Job answered Yahweh” (40:3) or “Yahweh answered Job” (40:6).
The point of view and tone differ markedly in prose and poetry. The folk quality of prologue and epilogue is pronounced. Here one is confronted by that kind of brilliant, disarming naivete which, while appearing naive, is nevertheless informed by the accumulated understanding of the centuries.12 One observes the highly stylized form with its effective use of repetition, a device characteristic of Israel’s oldest folkloristic traditions. One delights in the deftly humorous use of hyperbole — surely this is the intention, for example, of 1: 13-19.11.13 But these qualities do not appear in the dialogues. The poetry of Job is certainly also stylized, but it is stylization of a totally different character — the style of wisdom, familiar all over the ancient Middle East and quite at home in Israel from the time of Solomon.
The Yahweh of prologue and epilogue is much more intimately and charmingly envisaged than the relatively sophisticated deity of the speeches. And the character of Job himself appears to be of different stuff. The prologue justifies the popular image of Job as a man of unparalleled (indeed incredible and unhuman) patience; but in all the poetry that follows there is nothing to confirm this quality in Job, not even in the Job who accepts at last the rebuke of Yahweh (40:4-5 and 42:2-6).
In view of these and other decisive differences between the prose and poetry of Job14 we must assume that the poet, the creator of this unique work, employed an already existent prose narrative as the occasion and setting for his own brilliant literary creation. At the same tune we recall emphatically that literary-theological creativity in Israel was never exclusively a product of single authorship. From the time of the Yahwist, through the Deuteronomists and the complex of the Isaiahs and into the postexilic days of the priests, creativity was conspicuously a more corporate achievement wrought by the judicious, inspired use of existent material as well as by the artistic creation of the new.
The physical text of Job presents its own peculiar problems. The Hebrew of Job is notoriously difficult. Every page of the RSV translation betrays in footnotes the varied problems of the translator. Occasionally the structure of the underlying Hebrew is unintelligible or ambiguous and the translator must resort to the reading in the Greek or the Syriac text or even to conjecture.
In one notable case the text has suffered major disarrangement. As we move into chapter 25 we have had two speeches by each of the three friends, with Job’s reply to each; and in addition Eliphaz has delivered his third speech (ch. 22) and Job has given his response (23-24). We now naturally expect the completion of the cycle of three, with a third speech each from Bildad and Zophar and corresponding responsive speeches from Job. As the text now stands Bildad speaks briefly (it is the briefest of all the speeches) in 25:1-6. All that follows, chapters 26-27, is represented as the words of Job, together with the wisdom poem of chapter 28, and the extended final Job speech of 29-31. Not only is Zophar not heard from in the third cycle; not only is Bildad cut short; but parts of the speeches of Job in chapters 24-27 would come much more appropriately from the lips of the friends than from Job (see 24:13-25 and 27:7- 23).15 These peculiar problems of the text are answered b the following reconstruction:
Job’s answer to the third speech of Eliphaz 23:1-24: 12
Bildad’s third speech 25:1-6; 24:13-25
Job’s answer to Bildad 26: 1-27:6
Zophar’s third speech 27:7-23
This reconstruction16 gives the fullest possible endorsement to the text as it stands, and achieves the logically anticipated sequence of speeches with minimal rearrangement. Job’s answer to Zophar’s third speech has not been lost: in chapter 28 the author employs (it is unimportant whether he wrote it or not) this exquisite poem on wisdom as his own answer, not only to the friends, but to Job as well. In advance of Job’s self-indicting rebuttal (29-31), it provides the clue, reiterated in the Yahweh speeches (38-42), to the problem of Job.
The real problem of Job is not his suffering, but his status in existence. It is not affliction and anguish that he cannot accept, but his own fundamental impotence to control the terms of his total environment. In this sense, Job is an existentialist writing, and “Hioh ist da!” He is all men; he is every man!
The old problem of theodicy — the problem of vindicating the justice of God in the face of its seeming denial — is raised again. We have met the same problem earlier in Habakkuk and Jeremiah. The increasingly vigorous and sometimes almost violent running dialogue between Job and the three friends seems to center in the tension between the proposition of a just and righteous God and the fact of innocent suffering. But what is always more deeply at issue is the question of existential sovereignty: who is in control in time and history and in the life of man, who sets the terms of existence, who is lord of life — God or man? In the last analysis Job protests, not his suffering, but an order of existence in which he is unable by his own devices to maintain his life in security and to achieve its fulfillment.17 It is his role against which he rebels. And this is the same age-old theological problem which the Yahwist so brilliantly presented to Israel in the primeval stories of Genesis 2-11. It is the essential problem which prophetic Yahwism always addressed. It has been and is and will remain the primary issue in the life of faith.
Here again it is Job/Israel — as it was Jacob/Israel, King! Israel, Servant/Israel. Biblical theology is a product of history. It is the historical experience of a people that predominantly shapes the faith of the Old Testament.
Job/Israel was indeed unique, the only one who knows Yahweh.
There is none like him, on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil. (1:8)
Job/Israel looked back from post-tragedy to pre-tragedy and saw a relatively idyllic existence (1:3-5,10). Job/Israel suffered an incredible sequence of disasters resulting in the loss of everything (1:13-19). And Job/Israel bore the suffering and survived it (2: 10). But the conditions of survival were unrelentingly oppressive, and Job/Israel was inevitably proffered the “friendly” counsel of neighbors (2:11-13). This is the sense of the prologue as it is used by the author of Job.
The dialogue opens (ch. 3) with Job’s consummately articulate elaboration of the death-wish, reminiscent in the Old Testament only of Jeremiah (20: 14-18). In Moses (Num. 11:15), in Elijah (I Kings 19:4), in Jonah (4:3), as also in Jeremiah and Job, the wish or request for death is seen in the Yahweh faith as an act of defiance of deity, an unwarranted gesture of independence, a bitter — perhaps the bitterest — protest of disrespect of Yahweh. Job/Israel has come to this. This is the measure of bitterness.
The “friends” deliver the timeless note of religious piety and orthodoxy, known in and out of ancient Israel, known long before, and, alas, still long after. It is as thin as this: as a man appears, so is he. His status and condition are the sure measure of his intrinsic worth and worthiness. Job/Israel is sunk to the most miserable level of existence and is of necessity correspondingly evil.
This piece of stupidity is picked up, dusted off, examined from all sides, and powerfully shattered in Job’s several brilliant responses on this theme. But while Job devastates the friends as well as their arguments (see, e.g., 6:15 ff.; 12:1 ff.; 13:45; 16:1 ff.; 19:1 ff.; 26:1 ff.), his hardest words and increasingly his attacks are directed at God himself, in the strongest and certainly the most sustained language of its kind in the Old Testament (see, e.g., 7:11-21, with a vitriolic parody of Ps. 8 in vv. 17-19; 9:7-12,30-35; 10:1-9,18-22; 13:3,14-15,20-28; 14:1-2,7-12,14-15,18-22).
The second cycle of speeches begins with Eliphaz’ second discourse in chapter 15, and the third cycle at chapter 22. The passage most difficult to interpret and perhaps most disputed in Job falls in the course of the second cycle, in Job’s response to the second Bildad speech:
Oh that my words were written!
Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
Oh that with an iron pen and lead
they were graven in the rock for ever!
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and at last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then without my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another
[or, not as a stranger?]. (19:23-27)
So the RSV renders the passage, but the notes indicate the ambiguity or uncertainty of the Hebrew text. The question under debate is whether the character of Job is here intentionally represented as affirming faith that he will achieve his justification with God in life beyond death; or whether the redeemer is in the original sense of the word (in Hebrew, go’el), the kinsman who, in this case, succeeds in ultimately exonerating Job. In the second of these alternatives, the crucial verses yield to this interpretation:
But I know that my defender lives! He will survive my unjust death, and over the dust of my grave [cf. the use of the word ‘aphar in 7:21; 7:16; 20:11; 21:26; also 10:9; 34:15; Ps. 104:29] he will stand at the last instant. Through his intermediation, by his activity, he will summon God and me together, and bring me before the face of God!18
If, on the other hand, Job affirms that God will himself redeem him in death, it is a position only very fleetingly held, since Job has consistently defied God up to this point and continues to do so in following speeches. But this by no means rules out this interpretation. It is not at all beyond the author’s superb gifts of imagination and subtlety to effect precisely this kind of summit in the center of the dialogues.
But now Job/Israel is brought to the ultimate protest of worthiness and righteousness which is self-indicting in its very vehemence. The prophetic code of morality has already been extensively stressed in chapter 22 where Eliphaz, in his third speech, accuses Job of its wholesale violation. Job, in his long speech of final rebuttal in chapters 29-31, makes Israel’s prophetic code his theme and in effect claims its flawless performance. In having him speak so, it may well be that the author means to present us with the prototype of the Pharisee who justifies himself by his overt performance of a set of relatively agreeable prescriptions and in that performance takes an inordinate and insufferable pride. The days before tragedy are recalled:
Oh, that I were as in the months of old,
as in the days when God watched over me
When the ear heard, it called me blessed
and when the eye saw, it approved;
because I delivered the poor who cried,
and the fatherless who had none to help him.
The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me,
and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy.
I put on righteousness, and it clothed me;
my justice was like a robe and a turban.
I was eyes to the blind,
and feet to the lame.
I was a father to the poor,
and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know,
I broke the fangs of the unrighteous,
and made him drop his prey from his teeth.
Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest,
and I shall multiply my days as the sand,
My roots spread out to the waters,
with the dew all night on my branches,
My glory fresh with me,
and my bow ever new in my hand.’
Men listened to me, and waited,
and kept silence for my counsel.
After I spoke they did not speak again,
and my word dropped upon them.19
They waited for me as for the rain;
and they opened their mouths as for the spring rain.
I smiled on them when they had no confidence;
and the light of my countenance they did not cast down.
I chose their way, and sat as chief,
and I dwelt like a king among his troops,
like one who comforts mourners. (29:2,11-25)
In view of earlier prophetic castigations of pride, this kind of protest of prophetic virtue becomes its own denial; and in the next line the code which the speaker thought to uphold is brutally shattered in one of the most arrogant statements in the Old Testament:
But now they make sport of me,
men who are younger than I,
whose fathers I would have disdained
to set with the dogs of my flock! (30:1)
The vacuous piety of the orthodox friends is rebuked; but so is the colossal pride of Job/Israel. Perhaps the most significant lines in the often soaring, rhapsodic Yahweh speeches are these categorical words — strongly in the Isaianic tradition — calling Job/Israel away from pride to the life of faith again. It is Yahweh’s turn to speak with defiance and sarcasm:
Gird up your loins like a man;
I will question you, and you declare to me.
Will you even put me in the wrong?
Will you condemn me that you may be justified?
Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendor.
Pour forth the overflowings of your anger —
and look on every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low;
and tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then will I also acknowledge to you,
that your own right hand can give you victory. (40:7-8,10-14)
The deftest touch of the whole composition of Job is the use of the epilogue from the old Job story. It is affirmed in the charming, naive language of the folktale that Job’s and Israel’s true fulfillment (indeed, every man’s fulfillment) is in abandonment of pride, in acceptance of the status of servant, and in cheerful acquiescence in the given condition and existent role.
And that note of universalism, present in the Old Testament faith from earliest times, is subtly sounded yet again in words taken over unchanged from the old tale. The same sense of covenant destiny always affirmed in the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:3) is reiterated:
Yahweh said to Eliphaz the Temanite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has. Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly. . . . So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did what Yahweh had told them; and Yahweh accepted Job’s prayer.
And Yahweh restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. . . (42:7-10)
FAITH AND THE WORLD’S WISDOM20
Behold, the fear of Yahweh, that is wisdom.
The Wisdom Type
From relatively early pre-exilic times, Israel’s religious leadership was of three major types, set forth explicitly in the words of Jeremiah 18:18:
. . . the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet.
Wisdom literature represents, then, the utterance not of priest nor of prophet, but of wise man. In the Hebrew canon Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and a number of Psalms (conspicuously those listed in note 20) belong to this type. Job is sometimes assigned to this category, but it is certainly not typical and in our judgment it is on the whole inappropriately classified with the wisdom writings even though it employs the wisdom style. Among the apocryphal writings (rejected by the Hebrew canon, but present from the beginning in the Greek) I Esdras, Tobit, and Baruch may be classified as wisdom writings, and Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon are consistent and classical models of the wisdom type. In addition, a number of such writings have been preserved outside both the Hebrew and Greek canons.21
What are the characteristics of the wisdom writing? It tends to he nonnationalistic, although in its later development in the dispersion of Jews over the Greek world the apologetic note grows stronger and the specifically Jewish is more and more stressed. It tends to its own kind of orthodoxy, but an orthodoxy freer and more flexible than most. The wisdom writing characteristically gives advice in some form, and it proffers this advice generously and with confidence. The words of wisdom are prevailingly words of counsel uttered on rational grounds; but the appeal to common or uncommon good sense is never (not even in Ecclesiastes) a denial of or in opposition to the mode of inspiration and revelation. The sage is, for the most part, in accord with both priest and prophet. The prophetic ethic is prominent, although the sense of the immediacy of its theological justification is largely lost. The demands of the priest are honored.
The wisdom school flourished in Yahwism and Judaism for more than a thousand years. There are marked affinities with precisely the same type of expression among Babylonians and Egyptians and there can be no doubt that Yahwism-Judaism is often the borrower. The contents of Proverbs 22:17-23:10 appear substantially (and certainly originally) in an Egyptian writing called the Teaching of Amen-em-ope, variously dated in the early centuries of the first millennium B.C. But this is not to say that the product of wisdom in the biblical tradition is merely an Egyptian or Babylonian copy. Canonical wisdom is for the most part distinctly and creditably its own. Like everything that the Old Testament borrowed, it is substantially altered, if not in form then in essence, by the distinctive faith of Yahwism-Judaism.
Wisdom was early domiciled in Israel. There is no reason to doubt that Solomon was a generous and even enthusiastic patron of the school. In the broad development of the biblical wisdom tradition, the pattern of wisdom, thus early made indigenous, continued by and large to shape and control its continuing expression.
And finally, what is wisdom?
Wisdom was the first product of God’s creative activity, for it is the condition and instrument for the creation of all things. Before there were deeps and their fountains, before the mountains were sunk into their places, before the earth and its fields existed, wisdom was present to assist in fixing the heavens and in tracing the great circle of the farthest horizon, . . . Wisdom was to Yahweh an intimate friend, as well as agent and overseer in all this work, finding delight in the creation of all things. . .
The precise origin of the figure of wisdom in Hebrew usage is obscure and disputable. . . . Its unifying function in regard to Nature is obvious. The world becomes a revelation of the divine wisdom, and Nature is a unity in the sense that it exhibits the wisdom of its divine Creator and Upholder. Whilst the mystery of Nature . . . tended to separate God from man, this revelation of the divine Wisdom constitutes a bond of union between them, capable of further development in the Logos background of the Incarnation, to which Wisdom was an important tributary.22
Several descriptions of wisdom merit special mention. Job 28 lyrically probes the question, where is wisdom to be found and what, in fact, is it:
God understands the way to it,
and he knows its place.
When he gave to the wind its weight,
and meted out the waters by measure;
when he made a decree for the rain,
and a way for the lightning of thunder;
then he saw it and declared it;
he established it and searched it out.
And he said to man,
‘Behold, the fear of Yahweh, that is Wisdom;
and to depart from evil is understanding.’ (Job 28:23,25-28)
In Proverbs 8 wisdom is hypostatized, that is, wisdom assumes the reality of a distinct being:
I, ‘Wisdom, dwell in prudence. (v. 12)
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. (v. 17)
I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice. (v. 20)
And now, my sons, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways. (v. 32)
For he who finds me finds life. (v. 35)
In the Apocrypha, two remarkable chapters, the Wisdom of Solomon 7 and Ecclesiasticus 24, also make this same kind of hypostasis. The composers of these three essays hardly intend a literal hypostasis. Wisdom is personified but not personalized.23 Wisdom is not seen as incarnate in a distinct being. This occurs in the New Testament in the identification of Jesus and wisdom, a fact which speaks again of the incalculable influence of the Old Testament on the New. The priests’ cultus, the prophets’ Word, and the sages’ wisdom are all three essentially a part of the immediate background of the New Testament faith in the person of Jesus.24
The hypostasis of wisdom in these passages and others represents the wisdom school at its best and most refined theological attainment. When we turn now to Proverbs it is apparent that wisdom’s more common theme is one of practical, often pithy, and sometimes quasi-philosophical, or better folk-philosophical counsel.
Although traditionally ascribed to Solomon, the writing itself does not make that claim for the full contents. Indeed, there can be no question that the book, like the Psalter, attained its present form in an extended process involving several collections of proverbs.
By general consent, the oldest collection is contained in 10:1-22:16, parts of which may possibly come down from Solomon himself and the time of Solomon. Other pre-exilic collections include, probably, 22:17-24:34 (the first part closely paralleling the Egyptian Amen-em-ope) and chapters 25-29, a section ascribed (see 25:1) to the time of Hezekiah (about 700).
Chapters 1-9 represent, on the other hand, a relatively late collection, probably from the Greek period. It appears that this section was added to the older collections by an editor of the whole book. He also appended chapters 30-31 which include proverbs attributed to Agur (30) and King Lemuel (31:2-9); and a final acrostic poem on the ideal woman, wife, and mother. We certainly do not intend to disparage womanhood, marriage, and the home when we say that this proverbial creature is about as realistically depicted in her remarkable relationships and enterprises as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
A few representative chapters from Proverbs have been suggested in note 20, page 343. Here is a representative selection of individual proverbs.
Trust in Yahweh with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths. (3:5-6)
Keep your heart with all vigilance;
for from it flow the springs of life. (4:23)
For the lips of a loose woman drip honey,
and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
sharp as a two-edged sword. (5:3-4)
Go to the ant, O sluggard;
consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
officer or ruler,
she prepares her food in summer,
and gathers her sustenance in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
And poverty will come upon you like a vagabond,
and want like an armed man. (6:6-11)
Like a gold ring in a swine’s snout
is a beautiful woman without discretion. (11:22)
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice. (12:15)
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down,
but a good word makes him glad. (12:25)
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. (13:12)
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people. (14:34)
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (15:18)
Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice. (16:8)
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall. (16:18)
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (17:28)
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
they go down into the inner parts of the body. (18:8)
Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
open your eves, and you will have plenty of bread.
“It is bad, it is bad,” says the buyer;
but when he goes away, then he boasts. (20:13-14)
Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old he will not depart from it. (22:6)
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
Who has redness of eyes?
Those who tarry long over the wine,
those who go to try mixed wine.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
when it sparkles in the cup,
and goes down smoothly. [This is an existential lament.]
At the last it bites like a serpent,
and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
and your mind utter perverse things.
You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
like one who lies on the top of a mast.
“They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
I will seek another drink.” (23:29-35)
I passed by the field of the sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man without sense;
and lo, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
“A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,”
And poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man. (24:30-34)
A word fitly spoken
is like apples of gold in a setting of silver (25:11)
Like clouds and wind without rain
is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give. (25:14)
Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house,
lest he become weary of you and hate you. (25:17)
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on his head,
and Yahweh will reward you. (25:21-22)25
He who meddles in a quarrel not his own
is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death
is the man who deceives his neighbor
and says, “I am only joking!”
For lack of wood the fire goes out;
and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. (26:17-21)
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy. (27:6)
Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand;
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship in the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden. (30:18-19)
Wisdom may not be sold short; and a sense of wonder is not the least of the gifts of theological insight.
This is represented to be “the words of the Preacher (Hebrew, Qoheleth), the son of David, king in Jerusalem” (1:1; cf. 1:1 2). The intention to impersonate Solomon is unmistakable. But the Preacher is not Solomon and what appears as his work in Ecclesiastes is hardly, in its entirety, the words of one man. The proverbs which are interspersed throughout may be extraneous; and some of the more pious statements of conventional orthodoxy must certainly be regarded as editorial, especially chapter 12. The finished work of Ecclesiastes can with virtual certainty be dated in the third century B.C. The broad mind of the Greek world is a part of its background, a fact which requires its dating after the era of Alexander (he died in 323 B.C.). At the lower extreme of date, nothing of the tight, defiant mood of the Maccabean recovery of Jewish independence (from 167 B.C.) appears; and from the additional fact that fragments from two different manuscripts of Ecclesiastes have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, one of them older than the other and hardly later than the early second century, a date later than about 200 B.C. is improbable.26
Ecclesiastes has a special place in the canon of Judaism with four other writings. It is one of the five megilloth, “scrolls,” read on the occasion of special religious festivals during the cultic year:
Ecclesiastes Feast of Tabernacles
Lamentations 9th of Ab (the fall of Jerusalem)
Song of Solomon Passover
Of the Preacher himself, by which we mean the dominant author, one can assert only that he is well along in years; that he would heartily concur in that word originally attributed to C. B. Shaw that youth is a wonderful thing but wasted on the young; and that he possessed both the means and position to have the best of this world’s goods. His skepticism has been overemphasized. He does challenge sharply some of the major orthodox tenets of his day. But at the same time he repeatedly affirms the greatness and power of God; the fact, in faith, that human life stems from God and is the gift of God; and that all that has been, is, or ever shall be is ordained of God. As in the dialogues of Job, the name Yahweh is avoided: the argument is intended to have a setting broader than Yahwism-Judaism. The insight of this wise man, the Preacher, centers on the human predicament, the plight of man. The conventional, orthodox answers are not ultimate answers. These are God’s alone. Man can only ask the ultimate questions — and the Preacher does this brilliantly and with zest.
The substance of the Preacher’s thought is, of course, best conveyed in his own original words. The selection of verses and paragraphs that follows is designed to suggest some of his major themes and to illustrate the power and appeal of his mind and language. The key word is “vanity,” occurring more frequently in this one writing than in all other Old Testament writings combined. All aspects of existence are in the last analysis vanity — from man’s perspective. Undergirding the Preacher’s words is the faith that vanity, the absence of meaning, the “striving after wind” (1:14,17, and repeatedly), and all frustration and vexation (2: 23) are resolved in the life and purpose (one might almost but not quite say “the love”) of God. The sense of the proverb, whether original or inserted, is authentic (4:6), “Better is a handful of quietness [this is the Isaianic quietness of faith, Isa. 30:15] than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.”
I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man’s mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God’s gift to man that every one should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever. . . (3:10-14)
In a mood which does not necessarily deny this, the Preacher states with candor his basic empirical observation:
I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all! (9:11)
One suspects that the Preacher enjoyed his role as burster of the balloons of the pious (as one of his twentieth-century counterparts, H. L. Mencken, certainly did).
I commend enjoyment, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat, and drink, and enjoy himself, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of life which God gives him under the sun. When I applied my mind to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth . . . then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. . .(8:15-17)
But all this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God whether it is love or hate man does not know. Everything before them is vanity, since one fate comes to all. . .(9:1-2)
It has variously and sometimes ludicrously been asserted that the Preacher is a disciple. a “school” spokesman. One commentator sees him under the influence of the Stoics. Another makes him an Epicurean. Some would take Aristotle to be his master. Still others have alleged that he shows Buddhist leanings. The Preacher must be contemplating with delight all this idle speculation in the immortal life which he accepted, I am sure, with genuine, but controlled astonishment. In the tradition that produced the likes of a Moses, an Elijah, an Amos, and a Nehemiah, this preacher is his own man — a child of Yahwism-Judaism, gifted with uncommon insight and uncommon candor, whose work was wisely admitted into a canon properly and magnificently representing the full range of life and thought of the Old Testament people.
Song of Solomon
We rejoice that this one also made the canon. In no technical sense is it in the category of wisdom but it falls appropriately under the heading “faith and the world’s wisdom,” since, like wisdom, it is peculiarly in rapport with the world at large.
Debate over the interpretation of this little writing has exceeded that of any other Old Testament writing, and while this is perhaps an understandable fact, it is also lamentable and a rather pitiful commentary on the history and problems of biblical interpretation.
Suppose we see what some of these interpretive opinions are and have been.
1. The modern, uninitiated reader, running through the poems for the first time, is likely to react with some surprise and the exclamation, “Now how did that get in the Bible?” The Song of Solomon made the canon on the merits of the oldest orthodox view: these poems (which are in reality songs of erotic love) are allegorical of the love of God for the congregation of Judaism. Christian orthodoxy accepted them on the corresponding analogy of the love of Christ for the Church.
2. In the light of documents from Ugarit-Ras Shamra in Syria, dating from a time before Moses, the Song is interpreted as liturgical material in common use in the Jerusalem temple until Josiah’s reform in 621 B.C. This position takes for granted the virtually complete triumph of Canaanite fertility cultism in the very temple itself.
3. A comparable view sees the Song as an ancient Tammuz liturgy from the Adonis cult, originating in and borrowed from an early Canaanite fertility cult.
4. In another interpretation, the Song is read as poems originally employed regularly in connection with wedding festivities.
5. The now prevailing view, and perhaps the simplest and best, regards the Song of Solomon as a collection of frank, uncomplicated poems of erotic love. As such they may be, as some insist, substantially folk poetry. If so, they display at points a rather high degree of sophistication. Or, it may be that this is poetic drama, although proponents of the view have been unable to agree on the intended plot of the alleged drama.
We would certainly read the Song of Solomon as simply a collection of love poems, from different poets and from different times. But there is something of truth in all the interpretations, even the first. If the theological perspective has any depth at all, then erotic love will always have its sacramental overtone: this love is born of God’s love, is a reflection of that love, and may be in a real sense participation in that love. The play of erotic love falls always into a plot; it is always something of a drama. The various cultic interpretations of the poems remind us that such poetry as this is never created new, but rather always draws from the articulate lover of last spring and the spring before and the spring before that, and so on back not merely over the years, but over the centuries and even the millennia. The theories of folk, liturgical, or ceremonial dependence all underscore not only the full measure in which all the world loves and creates the lover, but also the singular beauty and insight and sensitivity of the ancient Israelite tradition in treating the love of a man for a maid.
So, nowhere in the Old Testament does the question of date seem less important. The only cities are in any case internal. in its present form it is of course postexilic, but whether late fourth century, or early or middle third — who knows, and who loses sleep. Perhaps only the man who must have his biblical love from the lips of Solomon.
It has on occasion been carelessly said that the Song has no religious-theological value. I must take emphatic personal exception. If it informs and nourishes and enriches the category of joyful, rapturous, sexual love; and if it has power to restore something of tenderness and freshness to the marriage relationship, then surely in the sense to which we have consistently held in these pages, the Song of Solomon has even theological justification. As one who continues to delight in the poems, I cheer the ingenuity and inspiration of the allegorical interpretation which preserved the Song of Solomon. The Song properly belongs in a canon of sacred literature from a people who were able to look at all the gifts of a rich creation with gratitude to the Giver and joy in the gift.
JUDAISM AND THE WORLD: DANIEL, ESTHER, JONAH
. . .and also much cattle.
The Last Chapter
Recall, now, the major events out of which the latest writings in the Hebrew canon were produced. Alexander the Great died in 323 and Palestine fell to Ptolemy, his governor in Egypt, in whose hands and the hands of his successors it remained throughout the next century. It was all the while coveted by the Seleucids who ruled to the north in Syria; but they were unable to take it from Egypt until Antiochus III (223-187) brought the Seleucid state to the peak of its power, and finally crushed Ptolemy V and acquired Palestine in 198.
Our knowledge of Jerusalem and Judaism in the second century is at best sketchy. But we know that the faith of Yahwism-Judaism was maintained in essence and in practice not only in Palestine but in other areas of the Greek-Hellenistic world and especially in the ptolemaic capital city of Alexandria. Here the thriving community of Judaism was sufficiently vigorous to attract proselytes; and in this century the Greek-speaking community of Judaism began the translation of its sacred writings from Hebrew (by some forgotten and by others never known).28 The details are obscure, but the central fact is not in question. What was to become in time the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew canon, was begun at this time with the translation of the Pentateuch.29
At about the same time, Samaritan Judaism cut itself off from the Jerusalem center and established its own exclusive cultus on Mount Gerizim adjacent to ancient Shechem. It was a schism long a-brewing; indeed, it was centuries in the making. Antipathy between North and South Israel existed before the monarchy in the tenth century and was in evidence, sometimes violently, through all the succeeding centuries. Understandably, Jerusalem never “recognized” the Gerizim cultus.
At bottom the Samaritans shared the fate of all those who, though appealing perhaps to age-old traditions, rebel against a situation that has evolved over a long period of time, and try to base their life on historical conditions which have long since disappeared. They gradually degenerated and became almost completely uncreative. Today there is a tiny remnant of Samaritans in the city of Nablus (Shechem); they celebrate their Passover on the Gerizim but have otherwise become a mere historical curiosity.30
Judaism’s welcome to the Seleucids at the beginning of the second century was quickly turned to bitterness. After the reign of Antiochus III, his son Seleucus IV (Philipator, 187-175) succeeded to the throne, and, among other insults to Judaism, attempted to confiscate the Temple treasury in Jerusalem. Upon his violent death at the hands of one of his ministers, Antiochus IV, known as Epiphanes (“revealer” of God; but by his enemies, Epimanes, “madman”) presided over events which led ultimately to Jewish independence in the Maccabean Revolt.
Greek culture and language, the cultivation of the body, sex and family mores at odds with the traditions of Yahwism-Judaism, fascination with the visual arts — all of this Hellenistic world pressed in upon Judaism and Jerusalem and even infiltrated in the persons of regularly visiting Jews from communities outside Palestine. In the early decades of the second century, the Jerusalem community was itself divided and in painful conflict over the issue of Hellenism, from the priesthood on down. The priesthood by and large accepted it, and large numbers of Jews saw no wrong in it. Antiochus Epiphanes. a most ardent patron of Hellenistic culture, precipitated an explosion during the course of a three-way contest within Judaism for the office of high priest. He was appealed to, and indeed, bribed, by the contesting parties with the result that the office of high priest became Antiochus’ appointment. When in 169 one of the contestants, Menelaus, was returned to the office, Antiochus, who had already incurred the bitter resentment of faithful Jews by his interference, sought to correct his financial plight by entering the Temple himself and stripping it of its considerable movable wealth.31 Antiochus became at once the object of Judaism’s bitterest hate; and no doubt in part in retaliation but also as an expression of this ardent Hellenist’s frustration with a people slow to change, he effected an otherwise quite unprovoked attack on Jerusalem in 168. And as if this were not enough, he took steps to exterminate the practice of Judaism, prohibiting all major festivals, sacrifice, Sabbath observance, circumcision. Attendance upon cults to Zeus both in Jerusalem and on Gerizim was made compulsory and in December, 167, this pagan sacrifice was instituted in the Jerusalem Temple.
Judaism faced the alternative of eclipse or armed resistance. When a priest named Mattathias of the little town of Modein about twenty miles northwest of Jerusalem killed a cooperating Jew as well as the official enforcing the pagan sacrifice, he and his sons became the nucleus of a resistance movement which was able to achieve the purification and restoration of the Temple by December, 164. This remarkable family, descendants of one Hasmon and therefore called Hasmoneans, is more popularly known by the name Maccabee, originally a nickname, probably meaning “hammerer,” for the oldest son, Judas. The Maccabean Revolt, under the leadership of Mattathias’ sons, led ultimately even to an uneasy political independence which was not brought to a conclusive end until Rome annexed Palestine in 63 B.C.
The latest writings in the Hebrew canon are Daniel and Esther.32 In its present form, Daniel can be positively dated after Antiochus’ desecration of the Temple in 168 and before its restoration in 164. Esther cannot be so narrowly dated. There is every possibility that it comes from the Maccabean. period; and from the fact that of all the canonical Old Testament writings, only Esther yields no trace among the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls (which date from the second century B.C. and later) we may be justified in taking Esther as the latest canonical book.
Daniel 1-6 purportedly describes real historical events in the lives of Daniel and his three friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, or, by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1:7), in the years between 606(5) and 536(5) (1:1 and 10:1). The theme is simple and single: they stoutly refuse to make any theological or cultic compromise in the face of the King’s dire threats (it is Nebuchadnezzar by name, but obviously Antiochus Epiphanes in intent), and through every trial they emerge unscathed. Two of these remarkable episodes are almost universally known, being fodder in every Sunday School as well as Skeptics’ Club, to say nothing of folk-song and spiritual — the three friends in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lions’ den (chs. 3 and 6).
Chapters 7-12 consist of a series of Daniel’s visions which refer in varying symbol to the four empires of the Babylonians, the Medes, the Persians, and the Greeks. The point of focus for the whole structure of visions is the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. That this is “prediction” after the event is confirmed as follows:
1. History is viewed with increasing accuracy down to the time of Antiochus.
2. The purported gift of vision collapses when it attempts to see beyond 165.
3. The example of Daniel and company is irrelevant to Israel’s life in the days of Neo-Babylonian ascendancy; but their heroic adherence to the faith and practice of Judaism is sharply coherent in that one bitter biblical epoch when Judaism was forced to fight for its very existence.
The reader of Daniel will especially appreciate the dream sequence, 2:1-5,36-44. He will observe the apocalyptic note through both sections and especially in 2:44, 7:13-14, and 12:1-4. Knowing now something of the history, he will read with understanding the brilliantly partisan description of Antiochus in 11:21-45. He will not fret over the question of literary unity, whether 1-6 and 7-12 stem originally from different sources. But he will take with pleasure and gratification a tale which so intimately reveals one of the most anguished crises in the life of the Old Testament people.
Esther is a good story. The title role is that of a beautiful Jewish girl, an orphan, who wins, against the best competition available, the crown of Miss Persia, or Miss Universe, 478 B.C. Not only is Esther superlatively beautiful. She is also a person of unparalleled courage, for virtually singlehandedly she turns upon the nasty heathen a diabolical plot to decimate the Jews. Instead, gloriously, the Jews dispatch 75,510 non-Jews in a single day — and that without the loss of a man!
Esther is a good story. One wants to say yarn. This gentle and beautiful child is reared by a remarkably gentle and noble cousin, Mordecai by name, who is even more remarkable for the weight of years he apparently carries with such grace. He “had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah (=Jehoiachin) . . .” (2:5). Assuming that he was an infant at the time, 597 B.C., this makes him about 120 years old when Esther becomes queen.
Esther is a good story. It boasts a female villain, Queen Vashti, who is “justly” deposed because, silly girl, she refuses to appear, presumably sans apparel, before the drunken king and his drunken lords. This is for them no lost week-end, but a lost week: it has been for these worthies a seven-day bout. The spinner of the tale himself appears to be ready to recognize the sensibilities of a modest woman; but unfortunately Vashti’s refusal to obey the order of the king constitutes an irreparable blow to male prestige throughout the realm:
Memucan [one of the Persian king’s wise men] said in the presence of the king and the princes, “Not only to the king has Queen Vashti done wrong, but also to all the princes and all the peoples who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will be made known to all women, causing them to look with contempt upon their husbands. . .This very day the ladies of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will be telling it to all the king’s princes, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. . . let the king give her royal position to another. . . .” (1:16-19)
And where will one find a better stock villain than Haman, whose enormous conceit, malice, and cruelty are appropriately recompensed with death on the very gallows which he had especially constructed for the noble Mordecai. The whole tale is finally rounded out with the character of the king (Ahasuerus = Xerxes I of Persia, 486-465), who aids the plot considerably by being unable to remember his own decrees, and who is made the pale instrument by which the brilliant victory of Mordecai, Esther, and the Jews is won.
It is a good story; but it isn’t history, and it certainly isn’t theology. Like Daniel, it is a strongly nationalistic writing. Unlike Daniel, it has no religious reference whatsoever. God is not mentioned in the Hebrew text of Esther under any name.33 The story gives vent to a narrow patriotism (understandable enough in view of the age which produced it), a kind of patriotism transcended centuries before in Yahwism and, happily, never normative in Judaism. An occasional interpreter has produced a few insipid moral bromides from 4:13-16, and the sermons preached on the text “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Mordecai to Esther, 4:14) if laid end to end would be laid end to end.
On the other hand, it must be reiterated that the Old Testament canon reflects the full range of the life of that people; that the spirit of Esther was provoked in their history, again and again; that Jews have known in their long history one Haman after another (the most recent conspicuous Haman being Adolph Hitler); and that if Esther isn’t history or theology in any direct sense, it nevertheless informs us more richly of the life of man and points up one of the universal deterrents to the exercise of the love of God. In this perspective, and in view of all subsequent Jewish history, it is not difficult to understand why Esther was accorded a place of increasing prestige in Judaism until it came to be known not simply as one of the megilloth (plural, “scrolls”) but the megillah (sing.), at the head of the other four megilloth (Song of Solomon, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes).
In the continuing life of Judaism, Esther has always been intimately associated with the Feast of Purim, “the day of lot, in which Israel relives its deliverance from the hands of Haman and takes renewed faith in its ability to outlive the Hamans of other times.”34 It appears probable, indeed, that the story of Esther actually created the Feast. No reference to either story or Feast appears until the mention of Mordecai’s Day in II Maccabees 15:36 (a writing, in its present form, not earlier than the first century B.C.). It is significant that in an exhaustive list of heroes in Ecclesiasticus 44-49 (in the Apocrypha) neither Esther nor Mordecai is named. Ecclesiasticus dates from c. 180-170. It is very probable, then, that Esther was written, and the Feast of Purim instituted, sometime in the latter half of the second century. And since, as we have already noted, no fragment of Esther appears at Qumran, it would appear probable that Esther is the latest writing in the Hebrew canon.
He (Jeroboam II, c. 786-746) restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of Yahweh, the God of Israel, which he spoke by his servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was from Gath-hepher. (II Kings 14:25)
Now the Word of Yahweh came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saving, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it. . .” (Jonah 1:1 f.)
The author of Jonah means to write his fabulous, moving tale around an obscure but historical prophet. But he hardly meant for his story to be taken as history. It is obviously a story-teller’s story with one of the Old Testament’s most powerful prophetic messages.35 By general consent, the only considerable addition to the text of Jonah is the prayer of chapter 2. Jonah is in the canon of the minor prophets which was completed probably before 200 B.C. It can hardly be later. At the upper extreme, it is clearly dependent upon Joel (cf. Joel 1:13 f. and Jonah 3:5; Joel 2:14 and Jonah 3:9; and especially Joel 2:13 and Jonah 4:2) and cannot therefore be earlier than the fourth century. Jonah is commonly dated in the third.
The most winsome, imaginative, compelling biblical rebuke of all provincial pride, all arrogance born of parochialism, is the story of Jonah. Here is the slyest, deftest, most tongue-in-cheek, most charming and humorous, most timelessly pertinent repudiation of exclusivism — religious, theological, ethnic, political, national — anywhere to be found. The story is a story, and let it be repeated, the author never meant it to be taken any other way. He rebukes with charm and humor a claim made among his own people in Jerusalem (and by some among every people in any time) — the claim of exclusivism and superiority. In the case of the story of Jonah it is a claim with special theological overtones: we have God in our camp, on our team, packaged, as it were, in our church; our concerns are his concerns, and his concerns are ours; and we have a formula, a ritual, a cultus, a program of worship which guarantees his exclusively favorable relationship to us. If one wishes to inquire after God, let him come here to Jerusalem where God dwells among this people, in this house, and is made accessible by this formula.
The story of Jonah cheerfully, brilliantly, and unrelentingly proclaims the central Word of all Yahwism-Judaism; and it does so by means of an inspired series of incongruities. To the pious protest of orthodox institutionalism that God is architecturally contained, Jonah’s author simply laughs. “Don’t be ridiculous,” he says in effect, “here God is now, receiving praise in the most incongruous of all places, the belly of a great fish swimming in the bowels of the vast uncharted sea!” Aldous Huxley admirably appropriates the mood of Jonah’s author:
Seated upon the convex mound
Of one vast kidney, Jonah prays,
And sings his canticles and hymns,
Making the hollow vault resound
God’s goodness and mysterious ways,
Till the great fish spouts music as he swims.36
To all claims of God’s exclusive love and concern for one people (or one class or one color or one race) this preaching story-teller replies in effect. “Don’t be ridiculous; for here He is now loving the most incongruous, the most improbable, of all people, the Assyrians — murderers, from your point of view, plunderers, godless, amoral!”
You pity the plant, for which you did not labor. . . . should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left — and also much cattle? (Jonah 4:10 f.)
Now, to compound the incongruous, the great, pagan capital city of Assyria hears Jonah’s reluctant revivalism and repents, not merely to the man but down to the very beast (3:8). The threat of destruction, the core of Jonah’s preaching, is removed; and Jonah, who knows but refuses to accept the breadth of God’s love, flings himself sulkily away and asks peevishly for death since God has played God as God sees God, not as Jonah sees God. Impertinently and with profound disapproval, Jonah reminds God of what he, Jonah, had insisted was the untenable case from the beginning:
I knew that thou art a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (hesed). . . therefore, now, O Yahweh, take my life from me for it is better for me to die than to live. (4:2-3)
The problem for Jonah (and, certainly as understood in the biblical faith, the problem for all men) is the abandonment of the cherished hatreds, the nurtured antipathies, the cultivated distastes, the snide comparisons by which persons and groups and classes and nations maintain their own flattering images, their own sense of superiority and exclusiveness.
“Do you do well to be angry?” (4:4; 4:9). This is the summation of the old, unquenchable theological ethic. Here prophet, priest, and sage raise in chorus again their strongest and most persistent common note. Here Word, law, and wisdom all concur. Know the world from Yahweh’s perspective who ordained it, created it, and in love sustains it. It is your world because it is His world. All its people are your people because they are His. He loves when you cannot: let this at least temper the quality of your unlove.
This is the age-old, liberating Old Testament and biblical faith — that against all indications to the contrary, in all of time, God remains the Lord of history — a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Jonah is called, as Israel is called, as God’s people are always called, to the proclamation of such a God, and the meaning of such a God in time and history, in human existence.
1. Isa. 24-27; Joel 1-3; Zech. 9-14.
2. From an article by W. Bousset, “Jewish Apocalyptic,” in J. Herzog, ed., Realencyclopadie, quoted in O. C. Whitehouse, Isaiah, in the Century Bible Series, Edinburgh, 1905. vol. I, p. 267.
3. B. Duhm, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah, 3rd ed., trans. J. Denney, New York, n.d., vol. I.
4. The question remains in my own mind whether the canonical Old Testament ever sees a future in total discontinuity with the present.
5. Cf. S. Mowinckel, He That Cometh, trans. G. W. Anderson, New York-Nashville, 1954, p. 205.
6. Marco Trevis, “The Date of Joel,” Vetus Testamentum, VII, no. 2 (April, 1957), 155.
7. Matthew 21:5 quotes these verses together with Isaiah 62:11. The Evangelist’s staggering affirmation is possible only out of the remarkable claims of earlier Jewish apocalyptic. The heavy use of Old Testament apocalyptic in the New Testament underlines the conviction of the early church that the advent of Christ was God’s great redemptive act fulfilling the ultimate apocalyptic hope.
8. A. Weiser, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, 2nd ed., Gottingen, 1949, p. 186.
9. See S. Terrien’s superb tribute to the “style” of Job in “Job Introduction,” The Interpreter’s Bible, Nashville, vol. III 1956 pp. 892 f.
10. H. Lamparter has written one of the most acute interpretations of Job ever produced. He holds that chapter 28 belongs to the whole, is appropriate to the whole, and speaks eloquently to the whole where it is. See his Das Buch der Anfechtung, in the series Die Botschaft des Alten Testaments, Stuttgart, 1951, pp. 162-171.
11. For an able defense of the integrity of the Elihu discourse, see again Lamparter’s discussion, ibid., pp. 192 ff.
12. S. Terrien speaks of Job’s “profound psychology under the cover of naivete,” op. cit., p. 878.
13. See further N. M. Sarna, “Epic Substratum in the Prose of Job,” Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXIV (March, 1957), 13 ff.
14. For detailed discussion, see Terrien, op. cit., pp. 885 ff.
15. Reconstructions vary, of course. See, for example, R. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, New York, 1958, pp. 671 f.; and for a differing proposal, Terrien. op. cit., p. 888b.
16. After Lamparter, op. cit., pp. 143 ff.
17. In the play JB, Archibald MacLeish has written a sensitive, moving drama which purports to render Job in modern guise. But it is precisely at this point that it misses altogether the theological sense of the biblical Job. JB affirms the lordship of man, and Job, the lordship of God.
18. Terrien, op. cit., p. 1052.
19. This concept of “word” is otherwise employed in the Old Testament only of the Word of Yahweh. Job here utters several Yahweh-like assertions.
20. Prov. 1, 8, 10, 25, 30-31; Eccles. 1-12; Song of Solomon 1-8; Pss. 1,37, 49, 73, 112, 128.
21. Notably, the Letter to Aristeas, IV Maccabees, the Sayings of the Fathers. In the New Testament, James is most clearly influenced by the wisdom school, as is also the Didache, a noncanonical Christian manual of the second century AD.
22. H. W. Robinson, Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, Oxford, 1946, p. 11. Cf. Prov. 8:22 ff.
23. Cf. G. F. Moore, Judaism, Cambridge, 1927, vol. 1, pp. 415 ff., on the distinction between personification and personalization and also on Philo’s use of Logos as related to wisdom. It may be noted here that Judaism’s hypostasis of wisdom suggests in the third century B.C. the influence of the Egyptian Isis cult, and in the second, the influence of the comparable Syrian orbit. See further, W. L. Knox, St. Paul and the Church of the Gentiles, Cambridge, 1939, pp. 58 ff. Ultimately, having claimed for wisdom the central attributes of Isis and Astarte, Judaism identified wisdom and the Torah of Moses: “All these things [i.e., these attributes of wisdom] are the book of the covenant of the most high God, the law which Moses commanded for a heritage to the congregation of Jacob” (Ecclesiasticus 24:23).
24. Paul’s Christology was influenced by the wisdom concept and in Hebrews, Colossians, and the Fourth Gospel the attributes of personified wisdom are unmistakably applied to Jesus Christ. See further, John Knox, On the Meaning of Christ, New York, 1947, p. 55.
25. Cf. Rom. 12:20.
26. Cf. M. Burrows, More Light on the Dead Sea Scrolls, New York, 1958, pp. 143 f.
27. Cf. Pss. 73, 84.
28. Hebrew died as a spoken language with the death of the old Israelite state in the sixth century. Aramaic, a related Semitic dialect, took its place among the Old Testament people. Hebrew continued to exist as a literary language, to be revived as a living national language in modern Israel.
29. The name “Septuagint” and its common symbol LXX derives from the story or legend that the translation was undertaken by seventy-two scholars. See further, E. Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, trans. P. R. Ackroyd, Oxford, 1957.
30. M. Noth, History of Israel, trans. S. Godman (from Geschichte Israels, 2nd ed.), New York, 1958, p 354.
31. See in the Apocrypha, I Macc. 1:17 ff. and II Macc. 5:15 ff. These two writings are our best sources for this period. I Macc., the more reliable of the two, covers the years 175-143 and II Macc., the shorter period 175-161.
32. Daniel is written in Hebrew except for one Aramaic section, 2:4b-7:28. It is surprising that so little Aramaic appears in the Old Testament (although aramaisms are not uncommon). In addition to the Daniel section, Ezra 4:5-6:18 and 7:12-26 are also in Aramaic. Jer. 10:11 and a single phrase in Gen. 31:47 (‘the heap of witness”) are the only other instances of Aramaic in the Old Testament.
33. The Septuagint text of Esther is nearly twice as long as the Hebrew (270 verses against 163). It piously remedies the conspicuous absence of reference to the deity and adds other notes of a prayerful and worshipful nature.
34. M. Steinberg, Basic Judaism, New York, 1947, p. 131.
35. See especially the fine monograph by E. Hailer, Die Erzahlung von dem Propheten Jona, in the series Theologische Existenz Heute, Munich, 1958.
36. Aldous Huxley, “Jonah,” in Leda, London, Chatto and Windus, 1920, p. 25.