Meanwhile, back there in The Bible

05 Oct

My reading of the tendentious histories of the Books of Kings has reached Jehu son of Nimshi, and there is some interesting real history behind that, as Wikipedia tells us: [Outside the Bible] “Jehu appears solely in Assyrian documents, notably in the Black Obelisk where he is depicted as kissing the ground in front of Shalmaneneser III. In the Assyrian documents he is simply referred to as ‘Jehu son of Omri,’ that is, Jehu of the House of Omri, an Assyrian name for the [northern] Kingdom of Israel.” Not very heroic, but then that is in the Assyrian version of Fox News. In the Book of Kings he appears in a different light, indeed from a modern perspective he is a wonderful role model for fanatics and terrorists everywhere, whether state-owned, state-sponsored, or freelance.

1Ahab still had seventy descendants living in Samaria. So Jehu wrote a letter to each of the important leaders and officials of the town, [a] and to those who supported Ahab. In the letters he wrote: 2Your town is strong, and you’re protected by chariots and an armed cavalry. And I know that King Ahab’s descendants live there with you. So as soon as you read this letter, 3choose the best person for the job and make him the next king. Then be prepared to defend Ahab’s family.

4The officials and leaders read the letters and were very frightened. They said to each other, “Jehu has already killed King Joram and King Ahaziah! We have to do what he says.” 5The prime minister, the mayor of the city, as well as the other leaders and Ahab’s supporters, sent this answer to Jehu, “We are your servants, Your Majesty, and we will do whatever you tell us. But it’s not our place to choose someone to be king. You do what you think is best.”

6Jehu then wrote another letter which said, “If you are on my side and will obey me, then prove it. Bring me the heads of the descendants of Ahab! And be here in Jezreel by this time tomorrow.”

The seventy descendants of King Ahab were living with some of the most important people of the city. 7And when these people read Jehu’s second letter, they called together all seventy of Ahab’s descendants. They killed them, put their heads in baskets, and sent them to Jezreel.

8When Jehu was told what had happened, he said, “Put the heads in two piles at the city gate, and leave them there until morning.”

And so on in 2 Kings Chapter 9, where you will find even more mayhem, treachery and mass murder done by this petty monarch of a petty kingdom in the ancient Middle East. You don’t have to go to the Qu’ran for very unfortunate traditions, do you? We have plenty of our own to chew on.

The Bible is an all too human anthology of documents of varying provenance and worth, and we would be mad today to accept the argument that Jehu was acting on the direct orders of the Ground of All Being. He was in fact playing the bloodthirsty politics of his time and place.

Nonetheless, the role of the prophets in that era is an example to us today, not for what they are reported as doing and saying in Kings, but more the idea of the person who stands up against the powerful on matters of principle. In the actual prophetic writings outside Kings, Amos or Micah, for example, we do get more directly inspiring, perhaps inspired, examples. Take Micah 2.

Punishment for Those Who Abuse Their Power

1Doomed! You’re doomed!
At night you lie in bed,
making evil plans.
And when morning comes,
you do what you’ve planned
because you have the power.

2You grab any field or house
that you want;
you cheat families
out of homes and land.

3But here is what the LORD says:
“I am planning trouble for you.
Your necks will be caught
in a noose,
and you will be disgraced
in this time of disaster.”

4When that happens,
this sorrowful song
will be sung about you:
“Ruined! Completely ruined!
The LORD has taken our land
and given it to traitors.”

5And so you will never again
own property
among the LORD’s people.

Such passages have inspired the quest for social justice over the centuries. They are still relevant, but read them as poetry, not as some kind of inspired telephone directory.


It appears the Lord changed his mind about Jehu. In 2 Kings 9 we read:

The prophet poured olive oil on Jehu’s head and told him: The LORD God of Israel has this message for you: “I am the LORD, and I have chosen you to be king of my people Israel. 7I want you to wipe out the family of Ahab, so Jezebel will be punished for killing the prophets and my other servants. 8Every man and boy in Ahab’s family must die, whether slave or free. 9His whole family must be destroyed, just like the families of Jeroboam son of Nebat and Baasha son of Ahijah. 10As for Jezebel, her body will be eaten by dogs in the town of Jezreel. There won’t be enough left of her to bury.”

But in the prophecy of Hosea, son of Beeri (I love that name!) the Lord says (Chapter 1):

“Hosea, name your son Jezreel, because I will soon punish the descendants of King Jehu of Israel for the murders he committed in Jezreel Valley. I will destroy his kingdom, 5and in Jezreel Valley I will break the power of Israel.”

Temperamental, the Lord can be. This just underlines the human nature of the anthology we call The Bible, which I nonetheless take very seriously. Fundamentalism, however, and literalism really do not take the Bible seriously enough, because they close their eyes to maybe 50% or more of what is actually there and resist a proper contextual reading, thereby in fact falsifying the text they purport to value. See also A good book on the Good Book, Wisdom abounds if you would seek it…, and my Blogspot entry on Radical Faith.

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Posted by on October 5, 2006 in Faith and philosophy, Israel, Religion



2 responses to “Meanwhile, back there in The Bible

  1. Daniel

    October 5, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    The quest for social justice has been long and hard. It has had to compete with the mighty Law of the Jungle. The battle continues!

  2. The Artist

    October 6, 2006 at 8:21 am

    Really enjoyed the read. You write with inspiration.

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