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NAHUM, BOOK OF:

One of the Minor Prophetical works which centers about the overflow of Nineveh. The dispirited people of Judah are aroused and encouraged by the announcement of the downfall of the oppressive empire seated on the upper Tigris. The book consists of three chapters, of which the following is a summary:

  • Ch. i: After the superscription (verse 1), the prophet describes (2-6) a superb theophany in judgment, with the awful results to nature. The apparent universality of this destruction leads the writer to point out (7) a real refuge for those who trust in Yhwh. The Assyrian power (8-12a) shall be completely overthrown, and its yoke broken from off the neck of Judah (12b-14). The prophetic eye even now (15) sees the welcome messenger heralding the good news to his hitherto oppressed people.
Contents.
  • Ch. ii.: In brilliant colors and in rapid succession are shown the enemies of Nineveh assaulting its battlements (1-5), the gates of the river yielding to the foe, the palace dissolving in fierce flames (6), the consternation reigning among the city's population (7-8), the abundance of booty, and the effect of Nineveh's fall upon all who considered it (9-10); the question asked about "the old lion," and answered by the desolation (11-13).
  • Ch. iii.: The reason for Nineveh's swift downfall is in part recited: she has been a city of blood, always cruel and rapacious (1); her streets are now full of the slain, cut down by the victors because she has been the seducer of the nations (2-6); her destruction will not be lamented (7); resistance is as fruitless as was that of the impregnable Noamon (Thebes), and the vengeance of the victors no less terrible (8-12); all attempts at resistance are futile (13-15); the multitude of merchants and scribes shall disappear as grasshoppers on a warm day (16-17); the rulers are at rest, and the people scattered upon the mountains; the destruction is complete and a cause of rejoicing among all the nations (18-19).
Time and Place of Writing.

The book furnishes few data for a settlement of the time and place of writing. It is evident from iii. 8-10 that its "terminus a quo" is the fall of Noamon (Thebes) in Upper Egypt before the successful arms of Assurbanipal (668-626 B.C.) just after 664 B.C. In i. 9 it is foretold that the destruction of Assyria will be complete. This was accomplished about 606; and it constitutes the "terminus ad quem" of Nahum. Somewhere between these two points the date of the book is to be sought for. The two prevailing dates selected are (1) about 650 and (2) about 608. The reference to the fall of Thebes does not argue for the earlier date, as that disastrous battle would long remain in the memories of the adjoining peoples. Neither, on the other hand, does the vividness of descriptive detail fix absolutely the later time as the true date. The probabilities, however, are in favor of about 608 as the time of composition.

"Nahum the Elkoshite" is the designation of the prophet. His vivid description of Nineveh and his definiteness of detail have led scholars to search for his home somewhere within reach of that city. Alḳush, a place near Mosul, contains a grave said to be that of Nahum; but the tradition of this place does not seem to be older than the sixteenth century. On the other hand, Eusebius in his "Onomasticon" (ed. Lagarde) mentions an 'Eλκσέ of Jerome; and Jerome says, in his commentary, "Elcese usque hodie viculus in Galilæa." These statements would seem to locate an Elkosh in Galilee. In answer to the statement that the Northern Kingdom was carried into captivity, it may be said that probably, as in the Southern Kingdom (II Kings xxv. 12), the poor were left in the land. The active commercial relations between the peoples of the East and of the West, and the opportunities for acquaintance with each other's customs and habits of life, as well as the few peculiarities of language in this book, make it probable that the prophet Nahum was a Galilean, who had his home at a village called Elkosh. His prophecies were doubtless uttered at Jerusalem, in the presence of Judah.

The prophecy reads quite as if some one had tampered with its original order. It may be that this apparent mixture is due to modern logical literary strictures. But the following order, which seems to follow modern methods of thought, may be suggested: (1) ch. i. 1-14; (2) ch. iii. 1-17; (3) ch. ii. 1-5, 13, 6-12; (4) ch. iii. 18, 19; i. 15.

Historical Character.

Of all the Minor Prophets the Book of Nahum has received the greatest and strongest light from the discoveries of the last half-century. The exact location of Nineveh, its fortifications, some of its palaces, its means of defense, its invincible kings, its armies, its amusements, its libraries, and its indescribable cruelty are now known. "The den of the lions" was an appalling reality, which let loose its terrors to the sorrow of every surrounding nation. The character of the Assyrians, as depicted here, is true to the picture preserved in their own documents.

This compact, pointed, dramatic prophecy has no superior in vivid and rapid movement. Its quick succession of statement and thought give it a peculiar power over the reader. It delineates the swift and unerring execution of Yhwh's laws upon His merciless foes and those of His people, and also points to Him as the sure refuge and security of those who obey and trust Him.

Bibliography:
  • Otto Strauss, Nahumi de Nino Vaticinium, 1853;
  • the commentaries on the Minor Prophets of Orelli, G. A. Smith, and Nowack;
  • Billerbeck and Jeremias, Der Untergang Nineveh's und die Weissagungschrift des Nahum, in Beiträge zur Assyriologie, iii. 87-188;
  • A. B. Davidson, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, in The Cambridge Bible for Schools, 1896;
  • Gunkel, in Zeitschrift für die Alttestamentliche Wissenschaft, 1893, pp. 223 et seq.;
  • Bickell, in Sitzungsberichte der K. K. Akademie der Wissenschaft zu Wien (Philos. Hist. Cl.), vol. cxxxi., part v., pp. 1 et seq.;
  • Gunkel, Schöpfung und Chaos, p. 102, note 1.
E. G. H. I. M. P.
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