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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

- Nahum

by Editor - William Robertson Nicoll


THE first Part on the Twelve Prophets dealt with the three who belonged to the Eighth Century: Amos, Hosea, and Micah. This second Part includes the other nine books arranged in chronological order: Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk, of the Seventh Century; Obadiah, of the Exile; Haggai, Zechariah 1:1-21; Zechariah 2:1-13; Zechariah 3:1-10; Zechariah 4:1-14; Zechariah 5:1-11; Zechariah 6:1-15; Zechariah 7:1-14; Zechariah 8:1-23, "Malachi," and Joel, of the Persian Period, 538-331; "Zechariah" 9-14, and the Book of Jonah, of the Greek Period, which began in 332, the date of Alexander’s Syrian campaign.

The same plan has been followed as in Part 1. A historical introduction is offered to each period. To each prophet are given, first a chapter of critical introduction, and then one or more chapters of exposition. A complete translation has been furnished, with critical and explanatory notes. All questions of date and of text, and nearly all of interpretation, have been confined to the introductions and the notes, so that those who consult the book only for expository purposes will find the exposition unencumbered by the discussion of technical points.

The necessity of including within one volume so many prophets, scattered over more than three centuries, and each of them requiring a separate introduction, has reduced the space available for the practical application of their teaching to modern life. But this is the less to be regretted, that the contents of the nine books before us are not so applicable to our own day as we have found their greater predecessors to be. On the other hand, however, they form a more varied introduction to Old Testament Criticism, while, by the long range of time which they cover, and the many stages of religion to which they belong, they afford a wider view of the development of prophecy. Let us look for a little at these two points.

1. To Old Testament Criticism these books furnish valuable introduction-some of them, like Obadiah, Joel, and "Zechariah" 9-14, by the great variety of opinion that has prevailed as to their dates or their relation to other prophets with whom they have passages in common; some, like Zechariah and "Malachi," by their relation to the Law, in the light of modern theories of the origin of the latter; and some, like Joel and Jonah, by the question whether we are to read them as history, or as allegories of history, or as apocalypse. That is to say, these nine books raise, besides the usual questions of genuineness and integrity, every other possible problem of Old Testament Criticism. It has, therefore, been necessary to make the critical introductions full and detailed. The enormous differences of opinion as to the dates of some must start the suspicion of arbitrariness, unless there be included in each case a history of the development of criticism, so as to exhibit to the English reader the principles and the evidence of fact upon which that criticism is based. I am convinced that what is chiefly required just now by the devout student of the Bible is the opportunity to judge for himself how far Old Testament Criticism is an adult science; with what amount of reasonableness it has been prosecuted; how gradually its conclusions have been reached, how jealously they have been contested; and how far, amid the many varieties of opinion which must always exist with reference to facts so ancient and questions so obscure, there has been progress towards agreement upon the leading problems. But, besides the accounts of past criticism given in this book, the reader will find in each case an independent attempt to arrive at a conclusion. This has not always been successful. A number of points have been left in doubt; and even where results have been stated with some degree of positiveness, the reader need scarcely be warned (after what was said in the Preface to Part 1) that many of these must necessarily be provisional. But, in looking back from the close of this work upon the discussions which it contains, I am more than ever convinced of the extreme probability of most of the conclusions. Among these are the following: that the correct interpretation of Habakkuk is to be found in the direction of the position to which Budde’s ingenious proposal has been carried with reference to Egypt; that the most of Obadiah is to be dated from the sixth century; that "Malachi" is an anonymous work from the eve of Ezra’s reforms; that Joel follows "Malachi"; and that "Zechariah" 9-14, has been rightly assigned by Stade to the early years of the Greek Period. I have ventured to contest Kosters’ theory that there was no return of Jewish exiles under Cyrus, and am the more disposed to believe his strong argument inconclusive, not only upon a review of the reasons I have stated in chapter 16, but on this ground also, that many of its chief adherents in this country and Germany have so modified it as virtually to give up its main contention. I think, too, there can be little doubt as to the substantial authenticity of Zephaniah 2:1-15 (except the verses on Moab and Ammon) and Zephaniah 3:1-13, of Habakkuk 2:5 ff., and of the whole of Haggai; or as to the ungenuine character of the lyric piece in Zechariah 2:1-13 and the intrusion of Malachi 2:11-13 a {Malachi 2:11-13 a}. On these and smaller points the reader will find full discussion at the proper places.

I may here add a word or two upon some of the critical conclusions reached in Part I, which have been recently contested.

The student will find strong grounds offered by Canon Driver in his "Joel and Amos" for the authenticity of those passages in Amos which, following other critics, I regarded or suspected as not authentic. It makes one diffident in one’s opinions when Canon Driver supports Professors Kuenen and Robertson Smith on the other side. But on a survey of the case I am unable to feel that even they have removed what they admit to be "forcible" objections to the authorship by Amos of the passages in question. They seem to me to have established not more than a possibility that the passages are authentic; and on the whole I still feel that the probability is in the other direction. If I am right, then I think that the date of the apostrophes to Jehovah’s creative power which occur in the Book of Amos, and the reference to astral deities in Amos 5:27, may be that which I have suggested. Some critics have charged me with inconsistency in denying the authenticity of the epilogue to Amos while defending that of the epilogue to Hosea. The two cases, as my arguments proved, are entirely different. Nor do I see any reason to change the conclusions of Part 1 upon the questions of the authenticity of various parts of Micah.

The text of the nine prophets treated in this book has presented even more difficulties than that of the three treated in Part I and these difficulties must be my apology for the delay of this work.

2. But the critical and textual value of our nine books is far exceeded by the historical. Each exhibits a development of Hebrew prophecy of the greatest interest. From this point of view, indeed, the book might be entitled "The Passing of the Prophet." For throughout our nine books we see the spirit and the style of the classic prophecy of Israel gradually dissolving into other forms of religious thought and feeling. The clear start from the facts of the prophet’s day, the ancient truths about Jehovah and Israel, and the direct appeal to the conscience of the prophet’s contemporaries, are not always given, or when given are mingled, colored, and warped by other religious interests, both present and future, which are even powerful enough to shake the ethical absolutism of the older prophets. With Nahum and Obadiah the ethical is entirely missed in the presence of the claims-and we cannot deny that they were natural claims-of the long-suffering nation’s hour of revenge upon her heathen tyrants. With Zephaniah prophecy, still austerely ethical, passes under the shadow of apocalypse; and the future is solved, not upon purely historical lines, but by the intervention of "supernatural" elements. With Habakkuk the ideals of the older prophets encounter the shock of the facts of experience: we have the prophet as skeptic. Upon the other margin of the Exile, Haggai and Zechariah (1-8), although they are as practical as any of their predecessors, exhibit the influence of the exilic developments of ritual, angelology, and apocalypse. God appears further off from Zechariah than from the prophets of the eighth century, and in need of mediators, human and superhuman. With Zechariah the priest has displaced the prophet, and it is very remarkable that no place is found for the latter beside the two sons of oil, the political and priestly heads of the community, who, according to the Fifth Vision, stand in the presence of God and between them feed the religious life of Israel. Nearly sixty years later "Malachi" exhibits the working of prophecy within the Law, and begins to employ the didactic style of the later Rabbinism. Joel starts, like any older prophet, from the facts of his own day, but these hurry him at once into apocalypse; he calls, as thoroughly as any of his predecessors, to repentance, but under the imminence of the Day of the Lord, with its "supernatural" terrors, he mentions no special sin and enforces no single virtue. The civic and personal ethics of the earlier prophets are absent. In the Greek Period, the oracles now numbered from the ninth to the fourteenth chapters of the Book of Zechariah repeat to aggravation the exulting revenge of Nahum and Obadiah, without the strong style or the hold upon history which the former exhibits, and show us prophecy still further enwrapped in apocalypse. But in the Book of Jonah, though it is parable and not history, we see a great recovery and expansion of the best elements of prophecy. God’s character and Israel’s true mission to the world are revealed in the spirit of Hosea and of the Seer of the Exile, with much of the tenderness, the insight, the analysis of character, and even the humor of classic prophecy. These qualities raise the Book of Jonah, though it is probably the latest of our Twelve, to the highest rank among them. No book is more worthy to stand by the side of Isaiah 40:1-31; Isaiah 41:1-29; Isaiah 42:1-25; Isaiah 43:1-28; Isaiah 44:1-28; Isaiah 45:1-25; Isaiah 46:1-13; Isaiah 47:1-15; Isaiah 48:1-22; Isaiah 49:1-26; Isaiah 50:1-11; Isaiah 51:1-23; Isaiah 52:1-15; Isaiah 53:1-12; Isaiah 54:1-17; Isaiah 55:1-13; none is nearer in spirit to the New Testament.

All this gives unity to the study of prophets so far separate in time, and so very distinct in character, from each other. From Zephaniah to Jonah, or over a period of three centuries, they illustrate the dissolution of Prophecy and its passage into other forms of religion.

The scholars to whom every worker in this field is indebted are named throughout the book. I regret that Nowack’s recent commentary on the Minor Prophets (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht) reached me too late for use (except in footnotes) upon the earlier of the nine prophets.



THE three prophets who were treated in the first volume of this work belonged to the eighth century before Christ: if Micah lived into the seventh his labors were over by 675. The next group of our twelve, also three in number, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk, did not appear till after 630. To make our study continuous we must now sketch the course of Israel’s history between.

In another volume of this series, some account was given of the religious progress, of Israel from Isaiah and the Deliverance of Jerusalem in 701 to Jeremiah and the Fall of Jerusalem in 587. Isaiah’s strength was bent upon establishing the inviolableness of Zion. Zion, he said, should not be taken, and the people, though cut to their roots, should remain planted in their own land, the stock of a noble nation in the latter days. But Jeremiah predicted the ruin both of City and Temple, summoned Jerusalem’s enemies against her in the name of Jehovah, and counseled his people to submit to them. This reversal of the prophetic ideal had a twofold reason. In the first place the moral condition of Israel was worse in 600 B.C. than it had been in 700; another century had shown how much the nation needed the penalty and purgation of exile. But secondly, however the inviolableness of Jerusalem had been required in the interests of pure religion in 701, religion had now to show that it was independent even of Zion and of Israel’s political survival. Our three prophets of the eighth century (as well as Isaiah himself) had indeed preached a gospel which implied this, but it was reserved to Jeremiah to prove that the existence of state and temple was not indispensable to faith in God, and to explain the ruin of Jerusalem, not merely as a well-merited penance, but as the condition of a more spiritual intercourse between Jehovah and His people.

It is our duty to trace the course of events through the seventh century, which led to this change of the standpoint of prophecy, and which molded the messages especially of Jeremiah’s contemporaries, Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk. We may divide the century into three periods: First, that of the Reaction and Persecution under Manasseh and Amon, from 695 or 690 to 639, during which prophecy was silent or anonymous; Second, that of the Early Years of Josiah, 639 to 625, near the end of which we meet with the young Jeremiah and Zephaniah; Third, the Rest of the Century, 625 to 600, covering the Decline and Fall of Nineveh, and the prophets Nahum and Habakkuk, with an addition carrying on the history to the Fall of Jerusalem in 587-586.



Jerusalem was delivered in 701, and the Assyrians kept away from Palestine for twenty-three years. Judah had peace, and Hezekiah was free to devote, his latter days to the work of purifying the worship of his people. What he exactly achieved is uncertain. The historian imputes to him the removal of the high places, the destruction of all Macceboth and Asheras, and of the brazen serpent {2 Kings 18:4} That his measures were drastic is probable from the opinions of Isaiah, who was their inspiration, and proved by the reaction which they provoked when Hezekiah died. The removal of the high places and the concentration of the national worship within the Temple would be the more easy that the provincial sanctuaries had been devastated by the Assyrian invasion, and that the shrine of Jehovah was glorified by the raising of the siege of 701.

While the first of Isaiah’s great postulates for the future, the inviolableness of Zion, had been fulfilled, the second, the reign of a righteous prince in Israel, seemed doomed to disappointment. Hezekiah died early in the seventh century, and was succeeded by his son Manasseh, a boy of twelve, who appears to have been captured by the party whom his father had opposed. The few years’ peace-peace in Israel was always dangerous to the health, of the higher religion the interests of those who had suffered from the reforms, the inevitable reaction which a rigorous puritanism provokes-these swiftly reversed the religious fortunes of Israel. Isaiah’s and Micah’s predictions of the final overthrow of Assyria seemed falsified, when in 681 the more vigorous Asarhaddon succeeded Sennacherib, and in 678 swept the long absent armies back upon Syria. Sidon was destroyed, and twenty-two princes of Palestine immediately yielded their tribute to the conqueror. Manasseh was one of them, and his political homage may have brought him, as it brought Ahaz, within the infection of foreign idolatries. Everything, in short, worked for the revival of that eclectic paganism which Hezekiah had striven to stamp out. The high places were rebuilt; altars were erected to Baal, with the sacred pole of Asherah, as in the time of Ahab shrines to the "host of heaven" defiled the courts of Jehovah’s house; there was recrudescence of soothsaying, divination, and traffic with the dead.

But it was all very different from the secure and sunny temper which Amos had encountered in Northern Israel. The terrible Assyrian invasions had come between. Life could never again feel so stable. Still more destructive had been the social poisons which our prophets described as sapping the constitution of Israel for nearly three generations. The rural simplicity was corrupted by those economic changes which Micah bewails. With the ousting of the old families from the soil, a thousand traditions, memories, and habits must have been broken, which had preserved the people’s presence of mind in days of sudden disaster, and had carried them, for instance, through so long a trial as the Syrian wars. Nor could the blood of Israel have run so pure after the luxury and licentiousness described by Hosea and Isaiah. The novel obligations of commerce, the greed to be rich, the increasing distress among the poor, had strained the joyous temper of that nation of peasants’ sons, whom we met with Amos, and shattered the nerves of their rulers. There is no word of fighting in Manasseh’s days, no word of revolt against the tyrant. Perhaps also the intervening Puritanism, which had failed to give the people a permanent faith, had at least awakened within them a new conscience.

At all events there is now no more "ease in Zion," but a restless fear, driving the people to excesses of religious zeal. We do not read of the happy country festivals of the previous century, nor of the careless pride of that sudden wealth which built vast palaces and loaded the altar of Jehovah with hecatombs. The full-blooded patriotism, which at least kept ritual in touch with clean national issues, has vanished. The popular religion is sullen and exasperated. It takes the form of sacrifices of frenzied cruelty and lust. Children are passed through the fire to Moloch, and the Temple is defiled by the orgies of those who abuse their bodies to propitiate a foreign and a brutal god. {2 Kings 21:1-26; 2 Kings 23:1-37}

But the most certain consequence of a religion whose nerves are on edge is persecution, and this raged all the earlier years of Manasseh. The adherents of the purer faith were slaughtered, and Jerusalem drenched with innocent blood. Her "own sword," says Jeremiah, "devoured the prophets like a destroying lion." {Jeremiah 2:30}

It is significant that all that has come down to us from this "killing time" is anonymous; we do not meet with our next group of public prophets till Manasseh and his like-minded son have passed away. Yet prophecy was not wholly stifled. Voices were raised to predict the exile and destruction of the nation. "Jehovah spake by His servants"; {2 Kings 21:10 ff.} while others wove into the prophecies of an Amos, a Hosea, or an Isaiah some application of the old principles to the new circumstances. It is probable, for instance, that the extremely doubtful passage in the Book of Amos 5:26 f., which imputes to Israel as a whole the worship of astral deities from Assyria, is to be assigned to the reign of Manasseh. In its present position it looks very like an intrusion: nowhere else does Amos charge his generation with serving foreign gods; and certainly in all the history of Israel we could not find a more suitable period for so specific a charge than the days when into the central sanctuary of the national worship images were introduced of the host of heaven, and the nation was, in consequence, threatened with exile.

In times of persecution the documents of the suffering faith have ever been reverenced and guarded with especial zeal. It is not improbable that the prophets, driven from public life, gave themselves to the arrangement of the national, scriptures; and some critics date from Manasseh’s reign the weaving of the two earliest documents of the Pentateuch into one continuous book of history. The Book of Deuteronomy forms a problem by itself. The legislation which composes the bulk of it appears to have been found among the Temple archives at the end of our period, and presented to Josiah as an old and forgotten work. There is no reason to charge with fraud those who made the presentation by affirming that they really invented the book. They were priests of Jerusalem, but the book is written by members of the prophetic party, and ostensibly in the interests of the priests of the country. It betrays no tremor of the awful persecutions of Manasseh’s reign; it does not hint at the distinction, then for the first time apparent, between a false and a true Israel. But it does draw another distinction, familiar to the eighth century, between the true and the false prophets. The political and spiritual premises of the doctrine of the book were all present by the end of the reign of Hezekiah, and it is extremely improbable that his reforms, which were in the main those of Deuteronomy, were not accompanied by some code, or by some appeal to the fountain of all law in Israel.

But whether the Book of Deuteronomy now existed or not, there were those in the nation who through all the dark days between Hezekiah and Josiah laid up its truth in their hearts and were ready to assist the latter monarch in his public enforcement of it.

While these things happened within Judah, very great events were taking place beyond her borders. Asarhaddon of Assyria (681-668) was a monarch of long purposes and thorough plans. Before he invaded Egypt, he spent a year (675) in subduing the restless tribes of Northern Arabia, and another (674) in conquering the peninsula of Sinai, an ancient appendage of Egypt. Tyre upon her island baffled his assaults, but the rest of Palestine remained subject to him. He received his reward in carrying the Assyrian arms farther into Egypt than any of his predecessors, and about 670 took Memphis from the Ethiopian Pharaoh Taharka. Then he died. Assurbanipal, who succeeded, lost Egypt for a few years, but about 665, with the help of his tributaries in Palestine, he overthrew Taharka, took Thebes, and established along the Nile a series of vassal states. He queued a revolt there in 663 and overthrew Memphis for a second time. The fall of the Egyptian capital resounds through the rest of the century; we shall hear its echoes in Nahum. Tyre fell at last with Arvad in 662. But the Assyrian empire had grown too vast for human hands to grasp, and in 652 a general revolt took place in Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, Elam, Babylon, and Asia Minor. In 649 Assurbanipal reduced Elam and Babylon; and by two further campaigns (647 and 645) Hauran, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Nabatea, and all the northern Arabs. On his return from these he crossed Western Palestine to the sea and punished Usu and Akko. It is very remarkable that, while Assurbanipal, who thus fought the neighbors of Judah, makes no mention of her, nor numbers Manasseh among the rebels whom he chastised, the Book of Chronicles should contain the statement that "Jehovah sent upon Manasseh the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, who bound him with fetters and carried him to Babylon." {2 Chronicles 33:11 ff.} What grounds the Chronicler had for such a statement are quite unknown to us. He introduces Manasseh’s captivity as the consequence of idolatry, and asserts that on his restoration Manasseh abolished in Judah all worship save that of Jehovah, but if this happened (and the Book of Kings has no trace of it) it was without result. Amon, son of Manasseh, continued to sacrifice to all the images which his father had introduced.



Amon had not reigned for two years when "his servants conspired against him, and he was slain in his own house." {2 Kings 21:23} But the "people of the land" rose against the court, slew the conspirators, and secured the throne for Amon’s son, Josiah, a child of eight. It is difficult to know what we ought to understand by these movements. Amon, who was slain, was an idolater; the popular party, who slew his slayers, put his son on the throne, and that son, unlike both his father and grandfather, bore a name compounded with the name of Jehovah. Was Amon then slain for personal reasons? Did the people, in their rising, have a zeal for Jehovah? Was the crisis purely political, but usurped by some school or party of Jehovah who had been gathering strength through the later years of Manasseh, and waiting for some such unsettlement of affairs as now occurred? The meager records of the Bible give us no help, and for suggestions towards an answer we must turn to the wider politics of the time.

Assurbanipal’s campaigns of 647 and 645 were the last appearances of Assyria in Palestine. He had not attempted to reconquer Egypt, and her king, Psamtik I, began to push his arms northward. Progress must have been slow, for the siege of Ashdod, which Psamtik probably began after 645, is said to have occupied him twenty-nine years. Still, he must have made his influence to be felt in Palestine, and in all probability there was once more, as in the days of Isaiah, an Egyptian party in Jerusalem. As the power of Assyria receded over the northern horizon, the fascination of her idolatries which Manasseh had established in Judah must have waned. The priests of Jehovah’s house, jostled by their pagan rivals, would be inclined to make common cause with the prophets under a persecution which both had suffered. With the loosening of the Assyrian yoke the national spirit would revive, and it is easy to imagine prophets, priests, and people working together in the movement which placed the child Josiah on the throne. At his tender age, he must have been wholly in the care of the women of the royal house; and among these the influence of the prophets may have found adherents more readily than among the counselors of an adult prince. Not only did the new monarch carry the name of Jehovah in his own; this was the case also with his mother’s father. In the revolt, therefore, which raised this unconscious child to the throne and in the circumstances which molded his character, we may infer that there already existed the germs of the great work of reform which his manhood achieved.

For some time little change would be possible, but from the first facts were working for great issues. The Book of Kings, which places the destruction of the idols after the discovery of the law-book in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign, records a previous cleansing and restoration of the house of Jehovah. {2 Kings 22:1-20; 2 Kings 23:1-37} This points to the growing ascendency of the prophetic party during the first fifteen years of Josiah’s reign. Of the first ten years we know nothing, except that the prestige of Assyria was waning; but this fact, along with the preaching of the prophets, who had neither a native tyrant nor the exigencies of a foreign alliance to silence them, must have weaned the people from the worship of the Assyrian idols. Unless these had been discredited, the repair of Jehovah’s house could hardly have been attempted; and that this progressed means that part of Josiah’s destruction of the heathen images took place before the discovery of the Book of the Law, which happened in consequence of the cleansing of the Temple.

But just as under the good Hezekiah the social condition of the people, and especially the behavior of the upper classes, continued to be bad, so it was again in the early years of Josiah. There was a "remnant of Baal" in the land. The shrines of "the host of heaven" might have been swept from the Temple, but they were still worshipped from the housetops. Men swore by the Queen of Heaven, and by Moloch, the King. Some turned back from Jehovah; some, grown up in idolatry, had not yet sought Him. Idolatry may have been disestablished from the national sanctuary: its practices still lingered (how intelligibly to us!) in social and commercial life. Foreign fashions were affected by the court and nobility; trade, as always, was combined with the acknowledgment of foreign gods. Moreover, the rich were fraudulent and cruel. The ministers of justice, and the great in the land, ravened among the poor. Jerusalem was full of oppression. These were the same disorders as Amos and Hosea exposed in Northern Israel, and as Micah exposed in Jerusalem. But one new trait of evil was added. In the eighth century, with all their ignorance of Jehovah’s true character, men had yet believed in Him, gloried in His energy, and expected Him to act-were it only in accordance with their low ideals. They had been alive and bubbling with religion. But now they "had thickened on their lees." They had grown skeptical, dull, indifferent; they said in their hearts, "Jehovah will not do good, neither will He do evil!"

Now, just as in the eighth century there had risen, contemporaneous with Israel’s social corruption, a cloud in the north, black and pregnant with destruction, so was it once more. But the cloud was not Assyria. From the hidden world beyond her, from the regions over Caucasus, vast, nameless hordes of men arose, and, sweeping past her unchecked, poured upon Palestine. This was the great Scythian invasion recorded by Herodotus. We have almost no other report than his few paragraphs, but we can realize the event from our knowledge of the Mongol and Tartar invasions which in later centuries pursued the same path southwards. Living in the saddle, and (it would seem) with no infantry nor chariots to delay them, these Centaurs swept on with a speed of invasion hitherto unknown. In 630 they had crossed the Caucasus, by 626 they were on the borders of Egypt. Psamtik I succeeded in purchasing their retreat, and they swept back again as swiftly as they came. They must have followed the old Assyrian war-paths of the eighth century, and, without foot-soldiers, had probably kept even more closely to the plains. In Palestine their way would lie, like Assyria’s, across Hauran, through the plain of Esdraelon, and down the Philistine coast, and in fact it is only on this line that there exists any possible trace of them. But they shook the whole of Palestine into consternation. Though Judah among her hills escaped them, as she escaped the earlier campaigns of Assyria, they showed her the penal resources of her offended God. Once again the dark, sacred North was seen to be full of the possibilities of doom.

Behold, therefore, exactly the two conditions, ethical and political, which, as we saw, called forth the sudden prophets of the eighth century, and made them so sure of their message of judgment: on the one side Judah, her sins calling aloud for punishment; on the other side, the forces of punishment swiftly drawing on. It was precisely at this juncture that prophecy again arose, and as Amos, Hosea, Micah, and Isaiah appeared in the end of the eighth century, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Nahum, and Jeremiah appeared in the end of the seventh. The coincidence is exact, and a remarkable confirmation of the truth which we deduced from the experience of Amos, that the assurance of the prophet in Israel arose from the coincidence of his conscience with his political observation. The justice of Jehovah demands His people’s chastisement, but see-the forces of chastisement are already upon the horizon. Zephaniah uses the same phrase as Amos: "the Day of Jehovah," he says, "is drawing near."

We are now in touch with Zephaniah, the first of our prophets, but, before listening to him, it will be well to complete our survey of those remaining years of the century in which he and his immediate successors labored.



Although the Seythians had vanished from the horizon of Palestine and the Assyrians came over it no more, the fateful North still lowered dark and turbulent. Yet the keen eyes of the watchman in Palestine perceived that, for a time at least, the storm must break where it had gathered. It is upon Nineveh, not upon Jerusalem, that the prophetic passion of Nahum and Habakkuk is concentrated; the new day of the Lord is filled with the fate, not of Israel, but of Assyria.

For nearly two centuries Nineveh had been the capital and cynosure of Western Asia; for more than one she had set the fashions, the art, and even, to some extent, the religion of all the Semitic nations. Of late years, too, she had drawn to herself the world’s trade. Great roads from Egypt, from Persia, and from the Aegean converged upon her, till like Imperial Rome she was filled with a vast motley of peoples, and men went forth from her to the ends of the earth. Under Assurbanipal travel and research had increased, and the city acquired renown as the center of the world’s wisdom. Thus her size and glory, with all her details of rampart and tower, street, palace, and temple, grew everywhere familiar. But the peoples gazed at her as those who had been bled to build her. The most remote of them had seen face to face on their own fields, trampling, stripping, burning, the warriors who manned her walls. She had dashed their little ones against the rocks. Their kings had been dragged from them and hung in cages about her gates. Their gods had lined the temples of her gods. Year by year they sent her their heavy tribute, and the bearers came back with fresh tales of her rapacious insolence. So she stood, bitterly clear to all men, in her glory and her cruelty! Their hate haunted her every pinnacle; and at last, when about 625 the news came that her frontier fortresses had fallen and the great city herself was being besieged, we can understand how her victims gloated on each possible stage of her fall, and saw her yield to one after another of the cruelties of battle, siege, and storm, which for two hundred years she had inflicted on themselves. To such a vision the prophet Nahum gives voice, not on behalf of Israel alone, but of all the nations whom Nineveh had crushed.

It was obvious that the vengeance which Western Asia thus hailed upon Assyria must come from one or other of two groups of peoples, standing respectively to the north and to the south of her.

To the north, or northeast, between Mesopotamia and the Caspian, there were gathered a congeries of restless tribes known to the Assyrians as the Madai or Matai, the Medes. They are mentioned first by Shalmaneser II in 840, and few of his successors do not record campaigns against them. The earliest notice of them in the Old Testament is in connection with the captives of Samaria, some of whom in 720 were settled among them. These Medes were probably of Turanian stock, but by the end of the eighth century, if we are to judge from the names of some of their chiefs, their most easterly tribes had already fallen under Aryan influence, spreading westward from Persia. So led, they became united and formidable to Assyria. Herodotus relates that their King Phraortes, or Fravartis, actually attempted the siege of Nineveh, probably on the death of Assurbanipal in 625, but was slain. His son Kyaxares, Kastarit, or Uvakshathra, was forced by a Scythian invasion of his own country to withdraw his troops from Assyria; but having either bought off or assimilated the Scythian invaders, he returned in 608, with forces sufficient to overthrow the northern Assyrian fortresses and to invest Nineveh herself.

The other, and southern group of peoples which threatened Assyria were Semitic. At their head were the Kasdim and Chaldeans. This name appears for the first time in the Assyrian annals a little earlier than that of the Medes, and from the middle of the ninth century onwards the people designated by it frequently engage the Assyrian arms. They were, to begin with, a few half-savage tribes to the south of Babylon, in the neighborhood of the Persian Gulf; but they proved their vigor by the repeated lordship of all Babylonia and by inveterate rebellion against the monarchs of Nineveh. Before the end of the seventh century we find their names used by the prophets for the Babylonians as a whole. Assurbanipal, who was a patron of Babylonian culture, kept the country quiet during the last years of his reign, but his son Asshur-itil-ilani, upon his accession in 625, had to grant the viceroyalty to Nabopolassar the Chaldean with a considerable degree of independence. Asshur-itil-ilani was succeeded in a few years by Sincuriskin, the Sarakos of the Greeks, who preserved at least a nominal sovereignty over Babylon, but Nabopolassar must already have cherished ambitions of succeeding the Assyrian in the empire of the world. He enjoyed sufficient freedom to organize his forces to that end.

These were the two powers which from north and south watched with impatience the decay of Assyria. That they made no attempt upon her between 625 and 608 was probably due to several causes: their jealousy of each other, the Medes’ trouble with the Scythians, Nabopolassar’s genius for waiting till his forces were ready, and above all the still considerable vigor of the Assyrian himself. The Lion, though old, {Nahum 2:1-13} was not broken. His power may have relaxed in the distant provinces of his empire, though, if Budde be right about the date of Habakkuk, the peoples of Syria still groaned under the thought of it; but his own land-his "lair," as the prophets call it-was still terrible. It is true that, as Nahum perceives, the capital was no longer native and patriotic as it had been; the trade fostered by Assurbanipal had filled Nineveh with a vast and mercenary population, ready to break and disperse at the first breach in her walls. Yet Assyria proper was covered with fortresses, and the tradition had long fastened upon the peoples that Nineveh was impregnable. Hence the tension of those years. The peoples of Western Asia looked eagerly for their revenge; but the two powers which alone could accomplish this stood waiting-afraid of each other perhaps, but more afraid of the object of their common ambition.

It is said that Kyaxares and Nabopolassar at last came to an agreement; but more probably the crisis was hastened by the appearance of another claimant for the coveted spoil. In 608 Pharaoh Necho went up against the, king of Assyria towards the river Euphrates. This Egyptian advance may have forced the hand of Kyaxares, who appears to have begun his investment of Nineveh a little after Necho defeated Josiah at Megiddo. The siege is said to have lasted two years. Whether this included the delays necessary for the reduction of fortresses upon the great roads of approach to the Assyrian capital we do not know; but Nineveh’s own position, fortifications, and resources may well account for the whole of the time. Colonel Billerbeck, a military expert, has suggested that the Medes found it possible to invest the city only upon the northern and eastern sides. Down the west flows the Tigris, and across this the besieged may have been able to bring in supplies and reinforcements from the fertile country beyond. Herodotus affirms that the Medes effected the capture of Nineveh by themselves (1:106) and for this some recent evidence has been found, so that another tradition that the Chaldeans were also actively engaged, which has nothing to support it, may be regarded as false. Nabopolassar may still have been in name an Assyrian viceroy; yet, as Colonel Billerbeck points out, he had it in his power to make Kyaxares’ victory possible by holding the southern roads to Nineveh, detaching other viceroys of her provinces and so shutting her up to her own resources. But among other reasons which kept him away from the siege may have been the necessity of guarding against Egyptian designs on the moribund empire. Pharaoh Necho, as we know, was making for the Euphrates as early as 608. Now if Nabopolassar and Kyaxares had arranged to divide Assyria between them, then it is likely that they agreed also to share the work of making their inheritance sure, so that while Kyaxares overthrew Nineveh, Nabopolassar, or rather his son Nebuchadrezzar, waited for and overthrew Pharaoh by Carchemish on the Euphrates. Consequently Assyria was divided between the Medes and the Chaldeans; the latter, as her heirs in the south, took over her title to Syria and Palestine.

The two prophets with whom we have to deal at this time are almost entirely engrossed with the fall of Assyria. Nahum exults in the destruction of Nineveh; Habakkuk sees in the Chaldeans nothing but the avengers of the peoples whom Assyria had oppressed. For both these events are the close of an epoch: neither prophet looks beyond this. Nahum (not on behalf of Israel alone) gives expression to the epoch’s long thirst for vengeance on the tyrant; Habakkuk (if Budde’s reading of him be right) states the problems with which its victorious cruelties had filled the pious mind-states the problem and beholds the solution in the Chaldeans. And, surely, the vengeance was so just and so ample, the solution so drastic and for the time complete, that we can well understand how two prophets should exhaust their office in describing such things, and feel no motive to look either deep into the moral condition of Israel, or far out into the future which God was preparing for His people. It might, of course, be said that the prophets’ silence on the latter subjects was due to their positions immediately after the great Reform of 621, when the nation, having been roused to an honest striving after righteousness, did not require prophetic rebuke, and when the success of so godly a prince as Josiah left no spiritual ambitions unsatisfied. But this (even if the dates of the two prophets were certain) is hardly probable; and the other explanation is sufficient. Who can doubt this who has realized the long epoch which then reached a crisis, or has been thrilled by the crash of the crisis itself? The fall of Nineveh was deafening enough to drown for the moment, as it does in Nahum, even a Hebrew’s clamant conscience of his country’s sin. The problems, which the long success of Assyrian cruelty had started, were old and formidable enough to demand statement and answer before either the hopes or the responsibilities of the future could find voice. The past also requires its prophets. Feeling has to be satisfied, and experience balanced, before the heart is willing to turn the leaf and read the page of the future.

Yet, through all this time of Assyria’s decline, Israel had her own sins, fears, and convictions of judgment to come. The disappearance of the Scythians did not leave Zephaniah’s predictions of doom without means of fulfillment; nor did the great Reform of 621 remove the necessity of that doom. In the deepest hearts the assurance that Israel must be punished was ‘by these things only confirmed. The prophetess Huldah, the first to speak in the name of the Lord after the Book of the Law was discovered, emphasized not the reforms which it enjoined but the judgments which it predicted. Josiah s righteousness could at most ensure for himself a peaceful death: his people were incorrigible and doomed. The reforms indeed proceeded, there was public and widespread penitence, idolatry was abolished. But those were only shallow pedants who put their trust in the possession of a revealed Law and purged Temple {Jeremiah 7:4; Jeremiah 8:8} and who boasted that therefore Israel was secure. Jeremiah repeated the gloomy forecasts of Zephaniah and Huldah, and even before the wickedness of Jehoiakim s reign proved the obduracy of Israel’s heart, he affirmed "the imminence of the evil out of the north and the great destruction." {Jeremiah 6:1} Of our three prophets in this period Zephaniah, though the earliest, had therefore the last word. While Nahum and Habakkuk were almost wholly absorbed with the epoch that is closing, he had a vision of the future. Is this why this book has been ranged among our Twelve after those of his slightly later contemporaries?

The precise course of events in Israel was this-and we must follow them, for among them we have to seek exact dates for Nahum and Habakkuk. In 621 the Book of the Law was discovered, and Josiah applied himself with thoroughness to the reforms which he had already begun. For thirteen years he seems to have had peace to carry them through. The heathen altars were thrown down, with all the high places in Judah and even some in Samaria. Images were abolished. The heathen priests were exterminated, with the wizards and soothsayers. The Levites, except the sons of Zadok, who alone were allowed to minister in the Temple, henceforth the only place of sacrifice, were debarred from priestly duties. A great passover was celebrated. The king did justice and was the friend of the poor, {Jeremiah 22:15 f.} it went well with him and the people. He extended his influence into Samaria; it is probable that he ventured to carry out the injunctions of Deuteronomy with regard to the neighboring heathen. Literature flourished: though critics have not combined upon the works to be assigned to this reign, they agree that a great many were produced in it. Wealth must have accumulated: certainly the nation entered the troubles of the next reign with an arrogant confidence that argues under Josiah the rapid growth of prosperity in every direction. Then of a sudden came the fatal year of 608. Pharaoh Necho appeared in Palestine with an army destined for the Euphrates, and Josiah went up to meet him at Megiddo. His tactics are plain-it is the first strait on the land-road from Egypt to the Euphrates but his motives are obscure. Assyria can hardly have been strong enough at this time to fling him as her vassal across the path of her ancient foe. He must have gone of himself. "His dream was probably to bring back the scattered remains of the northern kingdom to a pure worship, and to unite the whole people of Israel under the scepter of the house of David; and he was not inclined to allow Egypt to cross his aspirations, and rob him of the inheritance which was falling to him from the dead hand of Assyria."

Josiah fell, and with him not only the liberty of his people, but the chief support of their faith. That the righteous king was cut down in the midst of his days and in defense of the Holy Land-what could this mean? Was it, then, vain to serve the Lord? Could He not defend His own? With some the disaster was a cause of sore complaint, and with others, perhaps, of open desertion from Jehovah.

But the extraordinary thing is, how little effect Josiah’s death seems to have had upon the people’s self-confidence at large, or upon their adherence to Jehovah. They immediately placed Josiah’s second son on the throne; but Necho, having got him by some means to his camp at Riblah between the Lebanons, sent him in fetters to Egypt, where he died, and established in his place Eliakim, his elder brother. On his accession Eliakim changed his name to Jehoiakim, a proof that Jehovah was still regarded as the sufficient patron of Israel; and the same blind belief that, for the sake of His Temple and of His Law, Jehovah would keep His people in security, continued to persevere in spite of Megiddo. It was a most immoral ease, and filled with injustice. Necho subjected the land to a fine. This was not heavy, but Jehoiakim, instead of paying it out of the royal treasures, exacted it from "the people of the land," {2 Kings 23:33-35} and then employed the peace which it purchased in erecting a costly palace for himself by the forced labor of his subjects. {Jeremiah 11:1-23} He was covetous, unjust, and violently cruel. Like prince like people: social oppression prevailed, and there was a recrudescence of the idolatries of Manasseh’s time, {Jeremiah 22:13-15} especially (it may be inferred) after Necho’s defeat at Carchemish in 605. That all this should exist along with a fanatic trust in Jehovah need not surprise us who remember the very similar state of the public mind in North Israel under Amos and Hosea. Jeremiah attacked it as they had done. Though Assyria was fallen, and Egypt was promising protection, Jeremiah predicted destruction from the north on Egypt and Israel alike. When at last the Egyptian defeat at Carchemish stirred some vague fears in the people’s hearts, Jeremiah’s conviction broke out into clear flame. For three-and-twenty years he had brought God’s word in vain to his countrymen. Now God Himself would act: Nebuchadrezzar was but His servant to lead Israel into captivity. (Jeremiah 25:1 ff.)

The same year, 605 or 604, Jeremiah wrote all these things in a volume (Jeremiah 36:1-32), and a few months later, at a national fast, occasioned perhaps by the fear of the Chaldeans, Baruch, his secretary, read them in the house of the Lord, in the ears of all the people. The king was informed, the roll was brought to him, and as it was read, with his own hands he cut it up and burned it, three or four columns at a time. Jeremiah answered by calling down on Jehoiakim an ignominious death, and repeated the doom already uttered on the land. Another prophet, Urijah, had recently been executed for the same truth; but Jeremiah and Baruch escaped into hiding.

This was probably in 603, and for a little time Jehoiakim and the populace were restored to their false security by the delay of the Chaldeans to come south. Nebuchadrezzar was occupied in Babylon, securing his succession to his father. At last, either in 602 or more probably in 600, he marched into Syria, and Jehoiakim became his servant for three years. In such a condition the Jewish state might have survived for at least another generation, but in 599 or 597 Jehoiakim, with the madness of the doomed, held back his tribute. The revolt was probably instigated by Egypt, which, however, did not dare to support it. As in Isaiah s time against Assyria, so now against Babylon, Egypt was a blusterer "who blustered and sat still." She still "helped in vain and to no purpose." Nor could Judah count on the help of the other states of Palestine. They had joined Hezekiah against Sennacherib, but remembering perhaps how Manasseh had failed to help them against Assurbanipal, and that Josiah had carried things with a high hand towards them, they obeyed Nebuchadrezzar’s command and raided Judah till he himself should have time to arrive. {2 Kings 24:2} Amid these raids the senseless Jehoiakim seems to have perished, for when Nebuchadrezzar appeared before Jerusalem in 597, his son Jehoiachin, a youth of eighteen, had succeeded to the throne. The innocent reaped the harvest sown by the guilty. In the attempt (it would appear) to save his people from destruction, Jehoiachin capitulated. But Nebuchadrezzar was not content with the person of the king: he deported to Babylon the court, a large number of influential persons, "the mighty men of the land," or what must have been nearly all the fighting men, with the necessary military artificers and swordsmiths. Priests also went, Ezekiel among them, and probably representatives of other classes not mentioned by the annalist. All these were the flower of the nation. Over what was left Nebuchadrezzar placed a son of Josiah on the throne who took the name of Zedekiah. Again with a little common-sense, the state might have survived; but it was a short respite. The new court began intrigues with Egypt, and Zedekiah, with the Ammonites and Tyre, ventured a revolt in 589. Jeremiah and Ezekiel knew it was in vain. Nebuchadrezzar marched on Jerusalem, and though for a time he had to raise the siege in order to defeat a force sent by Pharaoh Hophra, the Chaldean armies closed in again upon the doomed city. Her defense was stubborn; but famine and pestilence sapped it, and numbers fell away to the enemy. About the eighteenth month, the besiegers took the northern suburb and stormed the middle gate. Zedekiah and the army broke their lines, only to be captured at Jericho. In a few weeks more the city was taken and given over to fire. Zedekiah was blinded, and with a large number of his people carried to Babylon. It was the end, for although a small community of Jews was left at Mizpeh under a Jewish viceroy and with Jeremiah to guide them, they were soon broken up and fled to Egypt. Judah had perished. Her savage neighbors, who had gathered with glee to the day of Jerusalem’s calamity, assisted the Chaldeans in capturing the fugitives, and Edomites came up from the south on the desolate land.

It has been necessary to follow so far the course of events, because of our prophets Zephaniah is placed in each of the three sections of Josiah’s reign, and by some even in Jehoiakim’s; Nahum has been assigned to different points between the eve of the first and the eve of the second siege of Nineveh; and Habakkuk has been placed by different critics in almost every year from 621 to the reign of Jehoiakim; while Obadiah, whom we shall find reasons for dating during the Exile, describes the behavior of Edom at the final siege of Jerusalem. The next of the Twelve, Haggai, may have been born before the Exile, but did not prophesy till 520. Zechariah appeared the same year, Malachi not for half a century after. These three are prophets of the Persian period. With the approach of the Greeks Joel appears, then comes the prophecy which we find in the end of Zechariah’s book, and last of all the Book of Jonah. To all these post-exilic prophets we shall provide, later on, the necessary historical introductions.


"Woe to the City of Blood, All of her guile, robbery-full, ceaseless rapine!"

"Hark the whip, And the rumbling of wheels! Horses at the gallop, And the rattling dance of the chariot! Cavalry at the charge, Flash of sabres, and lightning of lances!"


THE Book of Nahum consists of a double title and three odes. The title runs "Oracle of Nineveh: Book of the Vision of Nahum the Elkoshite." The three odes, eager and passionate pieces, are all of them apparently vibrant to the impending fall of Assyria. The first, chapter 1 with the possible inclusion of Nahum 2:2, is general and theological, affirming God’s power of vengeance and the certainty of the overthrow of His enemies. The second, chapter 2 with the omission of Nahum 2:2, and the third, chapter 3, can hardly be disjoined; they both present a vivid picture of the siege, the storm, and the spoiling of Nineveh.

The introductory questions, which title and contents start, are in the main three:

1. The position of Elkosh, to which the title assigns the prophet;

2. The authenticity of chapter 1;

3. The date of chapters 2, 3: to which siege of Nineveh do they refer?


The title calls Nahum the Elkoshite-that is, native or citizen of Elkosh. Three positions have been claimed for this place, which is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

The first we take is the modern Al-Kush, a town still flourishing about twenty-four miles to the north of the site of Nineveh, with "no fragments of antiquity!" about it, but possessing a "simple plaster box," which Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans alike reverence as the tomb of Nahum. There is no evidence that Al-Kush, a name of Arabic form, is older than the Arab period, while the tradition which locates the tomb there is not found before the sixteenth century of our era, but on the contrary Nahum’s grave was pointed out to Benjamin of Tudela in 1165 at ‘Ain Japhata, on the south of Babylon. The tradition that the prophet lived and died at Al-Kush is therefore due to the similarity of the name to that of Nahum’s Elkosh, as well as to the fact that Nineveh was the subject of his prophesying. In his book there is no trace of proof for the assertion that Nahum was a descendant of the ten tribes exiled in 721 to the region to the north of Al-Kush. He prophesies for Judah alone. Nor does he show any more knowledge of Nineveh than her ancient fame must have scattered to the limits of the world. We might as well argue from Nahum 3:8-10 that Nahum had visited Thebes of Egypt.

The second tradition of the position of Elkosh is older. In his commentary on Nahum Jerome says that in his day it still existed, a petty village of Galilee, under the name of Helkesei, or Elkese, and apparently with an established reputation as the town of Nahum. But the book itself bears no symptom of its author’s connection with Galilee, and although it was quite possible for a prophet of that period to have lived there, it is not very probable.

A third tradition places Elkosh in the south of Judah. A Syriac version of the accounts of the prophets, which are ascribed to Epiphanius, describes Nahum as "of Elkosh beyond Bet Gabre, of the tribe of Simeon"; and it may be noted that Cyril of Alexandria says that Elkese was a village in the country of the Jews. This tradition is superior to the first in that there is no apparent motive for its fabrication, and to the second in so far as Judah was at the time of Nahum a much more probable home for a prophet than Galilee; nor does the book give any references except such as might be made by a Judean. No modern place-name, however, can be suggested with any certainty as the "echo of Elkosh. Umm Lakis, which has been proved not to be Lachish," contains the same radicals, and some six and a quarter miles east from Beit-Jibrin, at the upper end of the Wady es Sur, there is an ancient well with the name Birel.


Till recently no one doubted that the three chapters formed a unity. "Nahum’s prophecy," said Kuenen in 1889, "is a whole." In 1891 Cornill affirmed that no questions of authenticity arose in regard to the book; and in 1892 Wellhausen saw in chapter 1 an introduction leading "in no awkward way to the proper subject of the prophecy."

Meanwhile, however, Bickell, discovering what he thought to be the remains of an alphabetic Psalm in Nahum 1:1-7, attempted to reconstruct throughout Nahum 1:1-15 - Nahum 2:3 twenty-two verses, each beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet. And, following this, Gunkel in 1893 produced a more full and plausible reconstruction of the same scheme. By radical emendations of the text, by excision of what he believes to be glosses, and by altering the order of many of the verses, Gunkel seeks to produce twenty-three distiches, twenty of which begin with the successive letters of the alphabet, two are wanting, while in the first three letters of the twenty-third he finds very probably the name of the author, Shobai or Shobi. He takes this ode, therefore, to be an eschatological Psalm of the later Judaism, which from its theological bearing has been thought suitable as an introduction to Nahum’s genuine prophecies.

The text of Nahum 1:1-15 - Nahum 2:4 has been badly mauled and is clamant for reconstruction of some kind. As it lies, there are traces of an alphabetical arrangement as far as the beginning of Nahum 1:9, and so far Gunkel’s changes are comparatively simple. Many of his emendations are in themselves, and apart item the alphabetic scheme, desirable. They get rid of difficulties and improve the poetry of the passage. His reconstruction is always clever and as a whole forms a wonderfully spirited poem. But to have produced good or poetical Hebrew is not conclusive proof of having recovered the original, and there are obvious objections to the process. Several of the proposed changes are unnatural in themselves and unsupported by anything except the exigencies of the scheme; for example, Nahum 2:2 b and Nahum 3:3 a are dismissed as a gloss only because, if they be retained, the "Aleph" verse is two bars too long. The gloss, Gunkel thinks, was introduced to mitigate the absoluteness of the declaration that Jehovah is a God of wrath and vengeance; but this is not obvious and would hardly have been alleged apart from the needs of the alphabet scheme. In order to find a "Daleth," it is quite arbitrary to say that the first llma in 4b is redundant in face of the second, and that a word beginning with "Daleth" originally filled its place, but was removed because it was a rare or difficult word! The re-arrangement of Nahum 1:7 and Nahum 1:8 a is very clever, and reads as if it were right; but the next effort, to get a verse beginning with "Lamed," is of the kind by which anything might be proved. These, however, are nothing to the difficulties which Nahum 1:9-14 and Nahum 2:1; Nahum 2:3, present to an alphabetic scheme, or to the means which Gunkel takes to surmount them. He has to re-arrange the order of the verses, and of the words within the verses. The distiches beginning with "Nun" and "Koph" are wanting, or at least undecipherable: To provide one with initial "Resh" the interjection has to be removed from the opening of Nahum 2:1, and the verse made to begin with ylgr and to run thus: "the feet of him that bringeth good news on the mountains; behold him that publisheth peace." Other unlikely changes will be noticed when we come to the translation. Here we may ask the question: if the passage was originally alphabetic, that is, furnished with so fixed and easily recognized a frame, why has it so fallen to pieces? And again, if it has so fallen to pieces, is it possible that it can be restored? The many arbitrari-nesses of Gunkel’s able essay would seem to imply that it is not. Dr. Davidson says: "Even if it should be assumed that an alphabetical poem lurks under chapter 1, the attempt to restore it, just as in Psalms 10:1-18, can never be more than an academic exercise."

Little is to be learned from the language. Wellhausen, who makes no objection to the genuineness of the passage, thinks that about Nahum 1:7 we begin to catch the familiar dialect of the Psalms. Gunkel finds a want of originality in the language, with many touches that betray connection not only with the Psalms but with late eschatological literature. But when we take one by one the clauses of chapter 1, we discover very few parallels with the Psalms, which are not at the same time parallels with Jeremiah’s or some earlier writings. That the prophecy is vague, and with much of the air of the later eschatology about it, is no reason for removing it from an age in which we have already seen prophecy beginning to show the same apocalyptic temper. Gunkel denies any reference in Nahum 1:9 b to the approaching fall of Nineveh, although that is seen by Kuenen, Wellhausen, Konig, and others, and he omits Nahum 1:1, in which most read an allusion to Sennacherib.

Therefore, while it is possible that a later poem has been prefixed to the genuine prophecies of Nahum, and the first chapter supplies many provocations to belief in such a theory, this has not been proved, and the able essays of proof have much against them. The question is open.


We turn now to the date of the Book, apart from this prologue. It was written after a great overthrow of the Egyptian Thebes {Nahum 3:8-10} and when the overthrow of Nineveh was imminent. Now Thebes had been devastated by Assurbanipal about 664 (we know of no later overthrow), and Nineveh fell finally about 607. Nahum flourished, then, somewhere between 664 and 607. Some critics, feeling in his description of the fall of Thebes the force of a recent impression, have placed his prophesying immediately after that, or about 660. But this is too far away from the fall of Nineveh. In 660 the power of Assyria was unthreatened. Nor is 652, the year of the revolt of Babylon, Egypt, and the princes of Palestine, a more likely date. For although in that year Assyrian supremacy ebbed from Egypt never to return, Assurbanipal quickly reduced Elam, Babylon, and all Syria. Nahum, on the other hand, represents the very center of the empire as threatened. The land of Assyria is apparently already invaded. {Nahum 3:13, etc.} Nineveh, if not invested, must immediately be so, and that by forces too great for resistance. Her mixed populace already show signs of breaking up. Within, as without, her doom is sealed. All this implies not only the advance of an enormous force upon Nineveh, but the reduction of her people to the last stage of hopelessness. Now, as we have seen, Assyria proper was thrice overrun. The Scythians poured across her about 626, but there is no proof that they threatened Nineveh. A little after Assur-banipal’s death in 625, the Medes under King Phraortes invaded Assyria, but Phraortes was slain and his son Kyaxares called away by an invasion of his own country. Herodotus says that this was after he had defeated the Assyrians in a battle and had begun the siege of Nineveh (1:103) but before he had succeeded in reducing the city. After a time he subdued or assimilated the Scythians, and then investing Nineveh once more, about 607, in two years he took and destroyed her.

To which of these two sieges by Kyaxares are we to assign the Book of Nahum? Hitzig, Kuenen, Cornill, and others incline to the first on the ground that Nahum speaks of the yoke of Assyria as still heavy on Judah, though about to be lifted. They argue that by 608, when King Josiah had already felt himself free enough to extend his reforms into Northern Israel, and dared to dispute Necho’s passage across Esdraelon, the Jews must have been conscious that they had nothing more to fear from Assyria, and Nahum could hardly have written as he does in Nahum 1:13, "I will break his yoke from off thee and burst thy bonds in sunder." But this is not conclusive, for first, as we have seen, it is not certain that Nahum 1:13 is from Nahum himself, and second, if it be from himself, he might as well have written it about 608 as about 625, for he speaks not from the feelings of any single year, but with the impression upon him of the whole epoch of Assyrian servitude then drawing to a close. The eve of the later siege as a date from the book is, as Davidson remarks, "well within the verge of possibility," and some critics prefer it because in their opinion Nahum’s descriptions thereby acquire greater reality and naturalness. But this is not convincing, for if Kyaxares actually began the siege of Nineveh about 625, Nahum’s sense of the amminence of her fall is perfectly natural. Wellhausen indeed denies that earlier siege. "Apart from Herodotus," he says, "it would never have occurred to anybody to doubt that Nahum’s prophecy coincided with the fall of Nineveh." This is true, for it is to Herodotus alone that we owe the tradition of the earlier siege. But what if we believe Herodotus? In that case, it is impossible to come to a decision as between the two sieges. With our present scanty knowledge of both, the prophecy of Nahum suits either equally well.

Fortunately it is not necessary to come to a decision. Nahum, we cannot too often insist, expresses the feelings neither of this nor of that decade in the reign of Josiah, but the whole volume of hope, wrath, and just passion of vengeance which had been gathering for more than a century and which at last broke into exultation when it became certain that Nineveh was falling. That suits the eve of either siege by Kyaxares. Till we learn a little more about the first siege and how far it proceeded towards a successful result, perhaps we ought to prefer the second. And of course those who feel that Nahum writes not in the future but the present tense of the details of Nineveh’s overthrow, must prefer the second.

That the form as well as the spirit of the Book of Nahum is poetical is proved by the familiar marks of poetic measure-the unusual syntax, the frequent absence of the article and particles, the presence of elliptic forms and archaic and sonorous ones. In the two chapters on the siege of Nineveh the lines are short and quick, in harmony with the dashing action they echo.

As we have seen, the text of chapter 1 is very uncertain. The subject of the other two chapters involves the use of a number of technical and some foreign terms, of the meaning of most of which we are ignorant. There are apparently some glosses; here and there the text is obviously disordered. We get the usual help, and find the usual faults, in the Septuagint; they will be noticed in the course of the translation.

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