Na’aman on Solomonic Districts

In light of these conclusions, two alternative dates may be suggested for the district list. According to the first, it was composed in the late eighth century BCE and reflects in outline the combined province systems of Assyria and Judah. According to the second, the overlap between Solomon’s district system and the Assyrian provinces is the outcome of historical continuity between the Israelite and Assyrian administrative systems. The Assyrians had inherited the Israelite district system and organized their province system in accordance with the administrative division that had been established in the land for a very long time. The district list reflects the combined district systems of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the eighth century BCE.

page 115 in Nadav Na’aman, “Solomon’s District List (1 Kings 4:7–19) and the Assyrian Province System” 102-119 in Ancient Israel’s History and Historiography: The First Temple Period. Collected Essays, Volume 3. (Eisenbrauns, 2006)

This paragraph is significant. Well, the whole book is significant, of course, really, but for this particular article, this paragraph is quite striking. While Na’aman’s focus is on the eighth century as the time to which the districts belong, and he spends much of it investigating the borders and comparing them to what we know (which is not very much) about the Assyrian system, he even so leaves open this entirely likely possibility: continuity with the previous Israelite and Judahite district systems contributed to the formation of the Assyrian provinces. The other option is wholesale importation of the Assyrian system into the Solomonic narratives, essentially suggesting the text is an anachronism. It is, however, far more likely from what we know of how the Assyrians took over other territories (again, this isn’t much) that the former boundaries of larger territories, and smaller regional boundaries within them were left intact. Numerous entire kingdoms were annexed to the Assyrian state, with a name change being usually the most drastic alteration geography-wise. And most of the Aramaean states annexed were, like the United Kingdom of Israel, founded roughly around the early tenth century. I note this because there is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with seeing an overall continuity in the case of regional subdivisions in any kingdom over the course of a mere two centuries or so. The system was likely Solomonic in origin and changed little over the following two centuries, at which point the Assyrians simply coopted the entire system through the annexed territories of Israel.

Another possible factor, which Na’aman doesn’t mention, is that an alteration of nomenclature for these geographic territories was imperative for Assyrian purposes, as most were named after their ruling dynasties (Bīt-Adini, Bīt-Hazaili, Bīt-Humria, etc) which had of course been terminated by the Assyrian annexations. This would require renaming to avoid association with the old regimes. For those Aramaean territories like Bīt-Adini which were in Mesopotamia, older, traditional names would suffice (like Lāqē in place of Bīt-Halupê). For other places, particularly in the west, outside of the Akkadian geographic tradition, apparently naming the territory after its regional capital city was the practice (Asdūdu, Dimašqa, Qarnīna, Dū’ru, Magidû, Sāmerīna), or local long-established regional names (Supāt, Gal’ad, Hauran). Is it also perhaps possible to suggest that it was the repeatedly rebellious states which were subdivided on annexation? I think there’s not enough evidence to specify this level of detail, but it’s a possibility, as it seems even roughly equivalent or larger territories to the north of Damascus and Israel were left intact.

Anyhow, as always, Na’aman’s articles provide much food for thought.

Out of the mouths of Victorian gentlemen…

This evening, an email from soemone looking for help in tracking down a quotation led me to browsing through that remarkable Victorian work which I’ve mentioned before, The Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion, by Rev. Alexander Keith. I ran across an interesting quotation, suggesting that minimalism is nothing new:

Of the antiquity of the scriptures there is amplest proof. The books of the Old Testament were not, like other writings, detached and unconnected efforts of genius and research, or mere subjects of amusement or instruction. They were essential to the constitution of the Jewish state; the possession of them was a great cause of the peculiarities of that people; and they contain their moral and their civil law, and their history, as well as the prophecies, of which they were the records and the guardians. They were received by the Jews as of divine authority; and as such they were published and preserved. They were proved to be ancient eighteen hundred years ago. And in express reference to the prophecies concerning the Messiah, contained in them, they were denominated by Tacitus, the ancient writings of the priests. Instead of being secluded from observation, they were translated into Greek above two hundred and fifty years before the Christian era; and they were read in the synagogues every Sabbath-day. The most ancient part of them was received, as divinely inspired, and was preserved in their own language, by the Samaritans, who were at enmity with the Jews. They have ever been sacredly kept unaltered, in a more remarkable degree, and with more scrupulous care, than any other compositions whatever. And the antiquity and authenticity of them rest so little on Christian testimony alone, that it is from the records of our enemies that they are confirmed, and from which is derived the evidence of our faith. Even the very language in which the Old Testament scriptures were originally written, had ceased to be spoken before the coming of Christ. No stronger evidence of their antiquity could be alleged, than what is indisputably true; and if it were to be questioned, every other truth of ancient history must first be set aside. (pp. 9-10, Evidence…, 35th edition. Edinburgh: William Whyte & Co., 1854.)

It’s that, “and if it were to be questioned, every other truth of ancient history must first be set aside” that is so striking, and so wise. And we can see this kind of creeping skepticism working throughout the history of biblical studies, from even before the times of Rev. Keith, as he mentions at various points in his interesting book. It was a different world then, in which bald-faced assertion was still somewhat acceptable, and didn’t have to be couched in bibliographies and bedecked with footnotes. These days, the same message of historical doubt is still being called “modern” for whatever reason, though it’s an attitude nearly as ancient as the writings themselves. Interesting stuff!

Na’aman Third Volume

The third volume of Eisenbraun’s Colllected Essays of Nadav Na’aman is now available: Ancient Israel’s History and Historiography – The First Temple Period. Cool-o-rama!

Professor Na’aman, for those who may not know, comes at biblical studies from the direction of Assyriology, like Tadmor, Malamat, Hallo, and a number of others. Their work in biblical studies, like their Assyriological work, is meticulous, detailed, and full of important comparative studies which are far more illustrative of what we should and should not expect of ancient writing than are those studies based solely upon biblical literature and theorizing therefrom. Hallo, indeed, is a major proponent of what has been alternately called the Contextual or Comparative Method or Approach, in which both similarities and dissimilarities are noted as important. See his detailed definition and explanation of this method, either in his essay included in Scripture in Context III (Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), or his slightly reworked version of this article as a chapter in his slim volume Book of the People (Scholars Press, 1991); the introduction to Context of Scripture I: Canonical Compositions from the Biblical World (Brill, 1997) also includes a short description of the method, but mentions the Scripture in Context III article as the definitive statement. I personally find the work of Assyriologists, specifically the aforementioned, in biblical studies to be consistently of the highest caliber methodologically. Their comparative work with the biblical and the cuneiform materials, the largest body of surviving ancient written material, is extremely important for biblical studies in showing us what was possible, what was likely, and what was done, and also what was not done, what was unlikely, and perhaps even some of what was impossible, in ancient writings. The importance, similarly, of the bibical materials for an understanding of the cuneiform materials is also coming to be better recognized, perhaps finally laying to rest the estimable Benno Landsberger’s misbegotten, if well-intentioned Eigenbegrifflichkeit (Islamica 2 [1926]: 355-72; trans. “The Conceptual Autonomy of the Babylonian World.” Undena, 1976), yet still avoiding the excesses of the old parallelomania, so delightfully monickered and pinned to the mat by Samuel Sandmel (JBL 81 [1962]: 1-13). And with a collection of Na’aman’s articles specifically relating to Israelite history and historiography in the First Temple, pre-exilic period, I’m sure we’ll find some really great stuff in the midst of the collection. I’m certain I’ll find it as hard to put down as the first two volumes, and will undoubtedly learn much from it. In this case, I think the whole-hearted recommendation of a book I haven’t even read yet isn’t even remotely preposterous.

Daniel 2 and the Empires

Typically Nebuchadnezzar’s dream image of the statue in Daniel 2 has been looked at in a four kingdom framework, beginning with the neo-Babylonian, followed by the Median, the Persian, and then the Greek empires (see J.J. Collins excursus on The Four Kingdoms in his Hermeneia commentary, pp 166-170). The problem with this interpretation is that it is based not upon the understanding of history held by the author of Daniel, but on that of Greek sources, in which the schema is the Assyrian empire followed by the Median, followed by the Persian, followed by the Greek. The Greek evidence is interesting, but irrelevant. We have examples of the historical understanding of the author of Daniel from other parts of the book, namely chapters 7 and 11, which in conjunction with chapter 2, indicate a different solution to the interpretation of the procession of empire as depicted by the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.

Firstly, in chapter 7, we have a creature with ten horns, three of which are plucked out and replaced by another horn. Here are the historical characters involved here:
          1.) Seleucus I Nicator 305-281
          2.) Antiochus I Soter 281-261
          3.) Antiochus II Theos 261-246
          4.) Seleucus II Callinicus 246-226
          5.) Seleucus III Soter Ceraunos 226-223
          6.) Antiochus III the Great 223-187
          7.) Seleucus IV Philopator 187-175
1/      8.) Antiochus, younger son of Sel.IV
                 (killed by Antiochus IV)
2/     9.) Demetrius I, prisoner in Rome, displaced by Ant.IV
3/    10.) Heliodorus killed Sel.IV and thought to rule through
                his son Antiochus (8, above); H. was killed by Ant.IV
          Little horn: Antiochus IV Epiphanes 175-164
Notice that the three horns (indicated by 1/, 2/, 3/) represented three persons, two of whom were killed and one of whom was kept from the throne for a time, by the “little horn” Antiochus IV Epiphanes. We see here that the author is quite well informed not only of the regicide and attempted usurpation by Heliodorus at the Seleucid court, but quite succinctly summarized the intrigues at this point in Seleucid history with his uprooted horns metaphor.

Daniel 11 presents us with quite a nice summary of relations between the Seleucids and Ptolemids. The below identifies the various personages:
11.1: First year of Darius the Mede=first year of Cyrus the Great
11.2: Three more kings: Cambyses (530-522), Bardiya (522), Darius I (521-486); fourth king: Xerxes (486-465) [the rest of the Achaemenids are ignored, as they are irrelevant]
11.3: Mighty king: Alexander (336-323); split to the four winds: the Diadochoi
11.5-6a: King of the South: Ptolemy I Soter (323-282); Commander: Seleucus I Nicator (312-281) [Notice that Antiochus I Soter is passed over here]
11.6b: King of South: Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246); King of North: Antiochus II Theos (261-246)
11.7: Woman’s offspring: Ptolemy III Euergetes (246-221); King of North: Seleucus II Callinicus (246-225)
11.10: Sons: Seleucus III Soter (225-223) and Antiochus III
11.11: King of North: Antiochus III the Great(223-187); King of South: Ptolemy IV Philopator (221-204)
11.14: King of South: Ptolemy V Epiphanes (204-180)
11.17: Woman: Cleopatra
11.18: Commander: Lucius Cornelius Scipio
11.20: One to arise: Seleucus IV Philopator (187-175); official: Heliodorus
11.21: contemptible person: Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-164)
11.30: ships of Kittim: under the command of the Roman Popilius Laenas
Following the flow of chapter 11 and focusing on those who are depicted explicitly as ruling, we end up with twelve rulers total depicted here, six from the Seleucids and six from the Ptolemids, interestingly enough, which are depicted as either strong or weak.

Taking the information above, I suggest the following interpretation of the Nebuchadnezzar dream statue in Daniel 2:
Head of gold: Nebuchadnezzar [the rest of the neo-Babylonians are ignored]
Chest/arms of Silver: The Medes and Persians, as there are two arms
Belly/thighs of bronze: Alexander the Great, who strode across west and east
Iron legs: Ptolemy I Soter and Seleucus I Nicator, one per leg
Feet of mixed clay and iron: Specifically I think the imagery is related to the ten toes, some of which are intended to be iron and some clay:
One foot, Kings of the South:
     Ptolemy II Philadelphus: clay
     Ptolemy III Euergetes: iron
     Ptolemy IV Philopator: iron
     Ptolemy V Epiphanes: clay
     Ptolemy VI Philometor: clay
The other foot, Kings of the North:
     Antiochus II Theos: clay
     Seleucus II Callinicus: clay
     Antiochus III the Great: iron
     Seleucus IV Philopator: clay
     Antiochus IV Epiphanes: iron

There are several implications here. Firstly, this interpretation, which fits so well with the evidence, would indicate that the materials in Daniel chapter 2 and chapter 11 are obviously related and belong to the same time period. Secondly, we find important evidence concerning the different mindset regarding history held by the author of these depictions: when one or another ruler is omitted, this shows us that the historical information is being selectively utilized in order to fit the particular prophetic structure being depicted. Thirdly, and I think most interestingly, the depiction of sometimes kings and sometimes empires in the image (see 2.38) shows that the consistency which we expect as moderns (which has before always led us to read all the elements as empires) was not something shared by the ancients. Lastly, the sophistication of detail in combining the utilization of the various metals and clay with the various body parts of the image as a presentation of unfolding history and the quality of kings is, so far as I know, unique. It is certainly quite striking.

Old Testament Dates

I’ve just added a couple of new web pages to my Bombaxo website, which some may find of interest.

First is the page of Old Testament Dates. This includes a scheme of calendar dates for the rulers of Israel and Judah. It also provides modern dates for various dates mentioned in the prophetic and historical texts. See there for more details.

I’ve also added a page of notes regarding the Dates of the Twelve Minor Prophets, as given in the above-mentioned file. The notes explain my particular reasons for the dates given.

Some may say that such dating schemes are nuts.

To those who would say such, I hereby give, in keeping with this season of giving, perhaps a bit too generously, just as much caring about their opinion as can fit between these two lines: =