Episode 24: God May Relent

The Old Testament, Part 10 of 10. The seventeen Prophetic Books, produced during war and diaspora, are both despairingly bleak and searingly hopeful.

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The Prophetic Books of the Old Testament

prophetic books organization

Notice how the Prophetic Books are organized differently, particularly in the Tanakh and the Christian bibles.

Hello, and welcome to Literature and History. Episode 24: God May Relent. This is the tenth and last show we’ll do on the Old Testament, and it’s on the seventeen final books that stretch from Isaiah to Malachi. These books, the earliest of which were written in the first half of the 700s BCE in the northern kingdom, and the latter of which were created well into the Hellenistic period, are called the Prophetic Books.

But let’s start this episode out with a quote from the New Testament, rather than the Old Testament. The third chapter of the Book of Matthew opens up with the following verses.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
     The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
     Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. (Matt 3:1-3)

For the past two thousand years, to Christian readers from the Apostles to the authors of the New Testament onward, the Bible’s seventeen Prophetic Books are important mainly in that they have a small handful of oracles announcing the coming of a redeemer figure. Chapters 9, 11, 52 and 53 of the Book of Isaiah, along with the third chapter of Malachi – these have proved the main sources of interest in the Prophetic Books for Christianity in that they foretell the arrival of a protector who will usher the Israelites into better times. But these tiny scraps of the Prophetic Books, as important as they have been to theological history, are only a miniscule portion of this substantial section of the Bible. The composition of the Prophetic Books began in the 700s BCE in the northern city of Samaria with Hosea and the early portions of Isaiah, and ended six centuries later, with the story of Susanna being appended to the Book of Daniel.

For between six and seven hundred years, then, the prophets of ancient Israel and Judah wrote down the visions that they had of the future. And while perhaps half a dozen of these oracles involve seeing a redeemer figure, hundreds and hundreds of other passages describe very different visions – visions not of salvation and future jubilation, but instead of havoc, pain, and carnage. There are dark moments in Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; in Hosea, and Zechariah, and Zephaniah. They are worth knowing about within the context of ancient history. But with their hunger for violence against enemies, not to mention their visions of massacre and suffering within the population of the Israelites, many of the Prophetic Books are not for children.

If you’ve been along for the past nine episodes, you’ll recall something about the history of Canaan, and the monotheistic religion that had begun consolidating in Jerusalem by the time of the Babylonian Captivity, which began in 586 BCE. You’ll recall that Canaan, during the years the Prophetic Books were being produced, was not a peaceful or happy place. Wars with Syrians gave way to conquests by Assyrians from the east. The history of the years from the mid-700s all the way until the end of the Babylonian Captivity was a bad time for the inhabitants of Canaan. And so when we look into the Prophetic Books – the writings produced by people who endured these horrific centuries – we shouldn’t be too surprised that they’re neither content, nor optimistic, nor, at times, even particularly coherent. The Prophetic Books are the unfolding diary of traumatized ancient people who had almost everything taken from them. If the fantasies in these books sound sadistic, or their rapid switches in tonality seem erratic, we need to remember the history that produced them.

The Prophetic Books: The Basics

Before we go any further, let’s talk about the scope, dimensions, and contents of the Old Testament’s Prophetic Books. At just under 162,000 words, the Prophetic Books alone would be about 540 pages if printed like a modern novel.1 The Prophetic Books, at about 162,000 words, are over half again as long as the entire New Testament’s 109,000 words. So, in short, the Prophetic Books are a sizable part of the Bible – dwarfing the stories about Jesus and the apostles, and all the epistles of the New Testament put together.

Isaiah from the prophetic books

The Prophet Isaiah, by a fifteenth-century painter possibly from Catalonia. Isaiah is one of the most massive and, particularly for Christians, important prophetic books.

Though there are seventeen Prophetic Books, almost 75% of the words in this section of the Bible come from just three Books – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel – gargantuan chunks of writing that dwarf the other fourteen of the group. The five lengthiest books in the Old Testament include Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, as well as Psalms and Genesis, and thus three out of the Old Testament’s five longest books are Prophetic Books.

So there are seventeen Prophetic Books, and three of them alone account for the vast majority of Judaism’s prophetic writings. The Prophetic Books end the Christian Old Testament, though they occur in the middle of the Hebrew Tanakh. Considering their size, and centrality within the canon, I should explain why I’m compacting them all into just a single episode. After all, the past couple of episodes have dealt very closely with specific Wisdom Books. Episode 23 lingered carefully on the eight chapters of the Song of Songs. Episode 22 spent ninety minutes on the twelve chapters of Ecclesiastes. Why in the world, then, are we ramming the 250 chapters of the Prophetic Books into a single episode? Why devote entire shows to Books that are less than one percent of the Bible, and then slam 25% of the Bible into a single program?

There are many answers to this question, and they will inevitably show my personal preferences and biases. If this were an audio program devoted specifically to the Bible, or the theology of Judaism, it would be important to devote several episodes each to Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. We would explore their twists and turns, their stylistic features, their assumptions, and their visions of the future. We would carefully read the oracles of the different eras of Old Testament prophets and attempt to consider how historical events influenced each one. We’d consider the contradictions, and riddles, and enigmas of key junctures in the prophetic corpus, and try to disentangle them. But for the purposes of a podcast on literature, and not the Bible or theology, combing through the often turbulent mass of the Prophetic Books and trying to disentangle them is, in my opinion, less fruitful than just packing the essentials into a single episode.

My decision to compress the Prophetic Books into a small place is definitely not unusual. If you look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, center stage is given to the creation story – from God dividing light from darkness, all the way to Noah’s drunkenness. Nine panels at the crown of the ceiling go a single book – the Book of Genesis, with fourteen lunettes around the perimeter of the ceiling filled with characters from the Historical Books. The four pendentives in the corners of the chapel ceiling show well known scenes from the Pentateuch and Historical Books – David and Goliath, Judith and Holofernes, and the punishment of Haman, the villain in the Book of Esther. A few of the Prophets are there, too. An austere looking Isaiah appears on a panel, and dour and grizzled Jeremiah. There’s a frantic looking Ezekiel, a monkish Zechariah, a bookish Joel, and an imperious Daniel. But that’s it. These Israelite prophets are interspersed with female prophets of Greco-Roman antiquity, as though Hosea, Amos, Micah, Malachi and the others are so insignificant that pagan prophets are more important than them. Maybe Michelangelo just wanted to paint some of the sibyls of Greek and Latin mythology – the Cumaean Sibyl, after all, is an important figure in Virgil’s Aeneid. But maybe there’s a different answer.

The Old Testament prophets are more or less in the periphery of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. And the Prophetic Books, with important exceptions, have traditionally been in the periphery of artworks inspired by the Old Testament. Though the Prophetic Books constitute a large part of the Bible, the Prophetic Books are fragmented, and difficult – filled with unexpected interruptions and changes in tone. Often in first person singular, their prose repeats itself, changes settings abruptly, and coils back on earlier themes with all the unevenness and complexity of a modernist novel. It’s no wonder that Renaissance art preferred Adam and Eve, or David and Goliath, or the Madonna and infant Jesus, to the tangled briars of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and their countrymen. The former are stories with chronologically ordered events and searing images, while the latter – the Prophetic Books – are largely convoluted dramatic monologues, part fury, part hope, and challenging to read from end to end.

The presentation of material from the Prophetic Books in this program will be thematic, rather than chronological. There is a general chronology that’s usually understood behind the Prophetic Books. Isaiah, Micah, Jonah and Amos are thought to be the oldest, while Malachi, Zecharai, and Haggai are thought to have been later prophets. But this chronology is problematic. Many of the Prophetic Books show clear signs of being worked on during the subsequent centuries after their composition began. So Isaiah, for instance, a prophet who supposedly lived during the northern kingdom’s wars with Syria around 745 BCE, also writes about the fall of Assyria in 612, the fall of Babylon in 539, and the Second Temple period up into the early 400s BCE. Unless Isaiah lived almost 300 years, the Book of Isaiah was a long, multigenerational project. As you know by now, it was standard practice in the ancient world to attribute religious writings to some legendary patriarch, and the development of the Prophetic Books was no exception.

The Main Contents of the Prophetic Books: Four Categories

The chronology of the seventeen Prophets, and the internal chronology of each book is a dense and advanced topic, likely not suited to an introduction like this one. But fortunately for us, although the history behind the Prophetic Books and their composition is very complicated, the subject matter of the seventeen prophetic books is quite a bit simpler – a 162,000 word mass of text that is sufficiently repetitious and similar in content that I think that the overwhelming majority of the Prophetic writings can be broken down into two separate themes, each with two subcategories. Okay let’s try to get an image of this. Imagine you’re sitting at a desk. Underneath the writing surface are two drawers. And each drawer has two compartments. Got that? A desk, two drawers, two compartments in each drawer.

Category 1 in the Prophetic Books: Condemnations of Foreign Nations

Let’s reach out with our left hand and open that left drawer. In the leftmost compartment is a subject that takes up an incredible amount of the Prophetic Books. This subject can be called “Condemnations of Foreign Nations.” Hundreds and hundreds of verses in the Prophetic Books are devoted to bloodthirsty condemnations of Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Damascus, Moab, Philistia, Edom, Kedar, Elam, Amon, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, and other civilizations that, at some point during the early Iron Age, did wrong by Israel. So in our left hand drawer, in the leftmost compartment, are those condemnations of foreign nations.

Barthélemy dd'Eyck Jeremiah prophetic books

The Prophet Jeremiah by Barthélemy d’Eyck. Another giant of the Old Testament, Jeremiah has famously been argued by Thomas Friedman in Who Wrote the Bible as the Deuteronomist, which would make him responsible for creating far more of the Bible than anyone else. This picture of Jeremiah even made it onto L&H’s album cover!

Category 2 in the Prophetic Books: Condemnations of Israel

Now, on the other side of that left hand drawer is something fairly similar. We can call everything in this compartment “Condemnations of Israel.” One of the ways that inhabitants of Judah and Israel rationalized their subjugation under the heels of foreign powers was imagining that the batterings they received at the hands of the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and others were punishments from God. This was the main idea of Episode 19: The One Who Struggles with God, if you happen to remember – the notion that Judah and Israel never struggled with conquering people, but that everything happened to them was punishment from God. So in addition to condemnations of foreign peoples, the Prophetic Books include hundreds of verses condemning Israel itself. Israel is imagined as blasphemous, morally feeble, a wayward child, or a shameless whore, a disgraceful figure who brought its sufferings on itself.

So that’s the left hand drawer – condemnations of foreign peoples, and condemnations of Israel itself. That left hand drawer is a pretty angry, sad place. Now, the right hand drawer’s two compartments.

Category 3 in the Prophetic Books: Prophecies of Better Times for Israel

The right hand drawer, in general, sad to say, is a bit smaller. But its contents are refreshing, and far different from the condemnations in the other drawer. In the first compartment of the right hand drawer are prophecies of better times for Israel. Generally, in this compartment are visions of a prosperous future juncture when Jerusalem will be the chief of all cities, when the Israelites will be at the helm of geopolitical power, and overall, when peace, prosperity, and the religion of Yahweh will have eradicated everything else on earth. So that’s the first thing in the right hand drawer.

Category 4 in the Prophetic Books: Messianic Prophecies

Now, the second thing in this right hand drawer is related. A special group of these visions of the future, found especially in the Book of Isaiah, envisions a messiah. Sometimes a king, at other times a messenger, still others a child, or a man who endures much suffering, this figure is prophesied to be a catalyst to an impending era of peace and prosperity. As I said earlier, these Old Testament descriptions of a messiah are of great importance to Christians, including the authors of the New Testament, who have traditionally associated this pivotal figure with Jesus.

So again, in our two drawers and four compartments, from left to right, are condemnations of other nations, condemnations of Israel, visions of a better future, and visions of a messiah. With the exception of the narrative portions of the Books of Jonah, Daniel, and Haggai, and the social criticism of Amos and Micah, those two drawers I’ve described hold almost everything in the Prophetic Books. And unfortunately they’re not compartmentalized so neatly when you’re actually reading the Prophetic Books. A fantasy of Moabites suffering grisly deaths might be followed by a happy vision of Israel’s future, after which is a pronouncement that Israel is like a filthy loincloth, and then a disconnected vision of a savior figure. The contents of the drawers, in other words, are slammed together in seventeen piles of various sizes, seventeen piles which are the Prophetic Books.

In the remainder of this episode, though, we’ll rely on our four categories of themes in the Prophetic Books. The main idea for this show is in its title – Episode 24: God May Relent. It happens to be a line from the Book of Jonah, though Jonah is no more central in the Prophetic Books than any other volume. But I think that its three words – “God May Relent” – perhaps best summarize the contents of all seventeen books, and two hundred and fifty chapters. Judah and Israel’s prophets believed that they were suffering a dire fate under God’s wrath, and they wished that this wrath would instead turn to engulf their oppressors. And if God relented, they believed, perhaps due to the intercession of a messiah figure, then the future would truly be glorious. As the centuries passed, though, and oppression continued, the Prophets remained trapped in the same emotionally excruciating loop – a loop of hope, and disappointed expectations; furious resentment, and hope reborn – hope that maybe, in spite of the pattern of centuries of history, “God May Relent.” [music]

Condemnations of Foreign Nations in the Prophetic Books

Let’s get back to that desk, and open up the leftmost drawer, and look in that left hand compartment – the compartment we named “Condemnations of Foreign Nations.” We’ll begin by looking at one – one of the hundreds and hundreds of “Condemnations of Foreign Nations.” This is from Chapter 13 of the Book of Isaiah, and it’s an oracle against Babylon, the civilization that sacked Jerusalem in 586 BCE and forcibly deported much of its population to Mesopotamia. Here, again, is Isaiah’s vision of what will happen to the Babylonians in retaliation, a representative example of the condemnations of foreign nations in the Prophetic Books. Isaiah writes, “Like hunted gazelle, or like sheep with no one to gather them, all will turn to their own people, and all will flee to their own lands. Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished” (Isa 13:14-16).

This is not a forgiving vision. Its desire for ethnic cleansing, rape, and child murder isn’t unusual in the Prophetic Books. While almost all of the seventeen prophets include brief oracles against Israel’s foes, eight prophets have long chapters devoted to visions of Israel’s enemies suffering. Lengthy portions of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel are filled with these condemnations. Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Zechariah also devote many pages to visions of Israel’s enemies being butchered. While these passages aren’t exactly upbeat or cheery, we should look at some more of them in detail to get an idea of just how much time the Prophetic Books spend fantasizing about a time of reckoning.

In an oracle against the people of Edom in present day Jordan, Isaiah branches out to imagine everyone in the world who is not an Israelite being killed. Isaiah writes, “[T]he LORD is enraged against all the nations, and furious against all their hordes; he has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter. Their slain shall be cast out, and the stench of their corpses shall rise; the mountains shall flow with their blood” (Isa 34:2-4). Bloody mountains also appear in the Book of Ezekiel, in an oracle against Egypt. Ezekiel, speaking in the voice of Yahweh, writes, “I will strew your flesh on the mountains, and fill the valleys with your carcass[es]. I will drench the land with your flowing blood up to the mountains, and the watercourses shall be filled with you” (Ez 32:5-6). The blood of enemies continues to be at the center of attention in Zechariah, when Zechariah imagines Israelites drinking the blood of their Greek enemies.
I will arouse your sons, O [Israel], against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword. Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The Lord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour and tread down the slingers; they shall drink their blood like wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar. (Zech 10:13-15)

And in a later passage of Zechariah, the prophet vividly imagines the decomposition of Israel’s enemies. Zechariah writes, “Their flesh shall rot, while they are still on their feet; their eyes shall rot in their sockets, and their tongues shall rot in their mouths” (Zech 14:12).
Shebuev Videnie's Ezekiel prophetic books

Ezekiel by Vasily Shebuyev (1777-1855). Ezekiel’s visions, collectively, are the most hallucinatory and fantastic in the Old Testament.

These excerpts are fairly representative condemnations of foreign nations in the Prophetic Books. Occasionally these condemnations become so dark that they verge on the surreal and hallucinatory, as when Isaiah pictures Babylon and writes, “wild animals will lie down there, and its houses will be full of howling creatures; there ostriches will live, and there goat-demons will dance” (Isa 13:21). But more often than ostriches and goat demons, the Prophetic Books picture foreign nations suffering specific physical punishments – impalement, burning, infants smashed on rocks, pregnant women torn open, and women violated.

If you read something like Chapters 13-23 of Isaiah, or Chapters 46-51 of Jeremiah in isolation, without knowing the history of Canaan, you might assume you were reading the diary of a sociopath or murderer. This isn’t exclusive to the Prophetic books, of course. If you read cuneiform inscriptions about a Babylonian king’s bloody conquests, or Egyptian hieroglyphic records of a pharaoh’s foreign rampages, you would see the same unhesitating fascination with gore and death visited upon enemies, literally the same references to infants dashed apart on rocks and pregnant women ripped open. Certain Assyrian inscriptions, in fact, make the Prophetic Books look like a picnic. Still, Assyrian, Babylonian, and Egyptian inscriptions about murder and torture don’t fill perhaps a hundred pages of the most widely circulated book in human history. The Old Testament, along with maybe the Iliad, remains a vivid reminder of the violence of the ancient world.

So the first way we can understand the shocking fantasies of violence in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and elsewhere is to remember that these passages are in some ways representative of the way that you wrote about your enemies in, say, 550 BCE. Whether you were a Mesopotamian, Egyptian, or Canaanite, the texts of the Bronze and Iron Ages had a rhetoric of brutality that frequently envisioned or recorded gruesome physical punishments of enemies. So if the condemnations of foreign nations in the Prophetic Books seem appalling, we should remember that these condemnations were par for the course in the Ancient Mediterranean. And actually, there’s another way to help explain the murderousness of these verses of the Bible.

During the centuries the Prophetic Books were being written and edited, Israel and Judah, along with the later Persian province of Yehud, were often under attack by foreign nations, and, in fact, were often actually being forcibly ruled by foreign nations. We covered this history in Episodes 15 and 19, and I’m bringing it up again for a very important reason. When an Isaiah or an Ezekiel envisions a grim, bloody fate for a foreign nation, these visions were often driven by invasions, military assaults, forced relocations, and cultural subjugations that the prophets and contributors to the Prophetic Books really did historically endure. In other words, the visions of Nineveh, Babylon, Damascus, Egypt, and a dozen other civilizations suffering from bloodletting and rot – these visions were spurred by specific historical events – conquests, slaughters, political betrayals, severed alliances, territorial encroachments, and that kind of thing. The bitterness and rage, then, and rhetoric of violence that we see toward foes in the Prophetic Books was neither historically unusual, nor did it appear out of nowhere.

So, to move things on from this bleak portion of the Bible, that’s the first compartment of the first drawer – condemnations of foreign nations. Now, let’s move on to the second compartment of the first drawer. [music]

Condemnations of Israel

If you haven’t read the Prophetic Books, you might be thinking, “Gosh, that was dark. Well, it can’t get any darker than that.” Actually, it can. The next compartment of the first drawer is full of what we will call “Condemnations of Israel.”

102A.The Plague of Jerusalem prophetic books

Gustave Doré’s The Plague of Jerusalem. While the Prophets could picture grisly fates for Judah’s nemeses, they could be even harsher in what they envisioned for Judah itself.

Now, I know I just said this, and have talked about it a lot, but let’s make every single one of us is on the same page. Although the Israelites believed that their God was the only true God, and that they were his chosen people, they couldn’t help but notice that they were almost powerless to stop the assaults from their much larger neighbors. The priestly caste of Israel who wrote and edited the Historical and Prophetic Books rationalized Israel’s sufferings by maintaining that Israel’s powerful neighbors were merely agents of Yahweh, sent against the Israelites to punish them. It’s obviously an ethnocentric way to view the passage of history, but it did provide a workable explanation for Israel and Judah’s military and territorial losses.

So in this second compartment of the first drawer, we’re going to hear condemnations of Israel – condemnations that derogate the Israelites while simultaneously presuming that they’re at the center of world history. These condemnations, in my opinion, are the darkest parts of the Bible.

Isaiah writes that Israel is “a sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil” (Isa 1:4). To Isaiah, “[Y]our iniquities, [Israel,] have been barriers between you and your God” (Isa 59:2). Put plainly, to Isaiah, Israel was wicked and thus incurred the wrath of Yahweh. It’s not long afterward in the Prophetic books that this wrath is imagined crushing the Israelites in various ways. Jeremiah imagines God saying “I will appoint over [the Israelites] four kinds of destroyers. . .the sword to kill, the dogs to drag away, and the birds of the air and the wild animals of the earth to devour and destroy. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Jer 15:3-4). Jeremiah’s visions of Jerusalem’s destruction continue with higher intensity a few chapters later. Jeremiah imagines God growling,
I will make [Jerusalem] a horror, a thing to be hissed at. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters. And I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the siege, and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life afflict them. (Jer 19:8-9)

Hard as it is to believe, this vision of Israelites deserving to literally eat one another still isn’t the bottom of the barrel.

In one of the older Prophetic Books, Hosea, Yahweh imagines how he will avenge himself on the sacrilegious citizens of the northern territory of Samaria. Hosea’s God says, “I will fall upon them, like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart. . .they shall fall by the sword, their little ones shall be dashed in pieces, and their pregnant women ripped open” (Hos 13:16). The deaths of women and children were common themes in ancient writings about conquests, but the Prophetic Books show an unusual level of fascination with violence against women.

Specifically, the Prophetic Books spend chapter after chapter picturing Israel as an adulterous wife or whore who has broken her marriage, or covenant, with God. This came up briefly in previous show on the Song of Songs. But because of the sheer mass of content in the Prophetic Books likening Israel to a whore, we should look at some of these passages in detail, disquieting as they are.

Speaking as before about the blasphemous north, Hosea writes that “[A] spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have played the whore, forsaking their God. . .[T]he land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hos 4:12,1:2). Jeremiah depicts Israel similarly. In Jeremiah, Israel’s faithlessness, or “whoredom,” to use the biblical word, is the cause of its sufferings. Jeremiah’s God proclaims, “This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you. . .because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies. I myself will lift up your skirts over your face, and your shame will be seen. I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and neighing, your shameless prostitutions on the hills of the countryside” (Jer 13:25-7). This vocabulary, and the passage imagining lifting up the skirt of the whore that is Jerusalem, are standard within the Prophetic Books’ condemnations of Israel.

The longest sustained passage likening Israel to a whore is in Ezekiel, taking up the Book’s lengthy sixteenth chapter. I’m going to read some excerpts from it – again, Ezekiel, Chapter 16. The speaker in this quote is Ezekiel’s God, and the addressee, the whore who is Israel. And – buckle up, because this is a really sadistic passage.
I pledged myself to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord GOD, and you became mine . . .But you trusted in your beauty, and played the whore because of your fame, and lavished your whorings on any passer-by. . .on them played the whore. . .with them played the whore. . .As if your whorings were not enough! You slaughtered my children and divided them up as an offering to them. And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth. . .[Y]ou. . .prostituted your beauty offering yourself to every passer-by, and multiplying your whoring. You played the whore with the Egyptians, your lustful neighbors, multiplying your whoring, to provoke me to anger. Therefore I stretched out my hand against you, reduced your rations, and gave you up to the will of your enemies, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. You played the whore with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; you played the whore with them, and still you were not satisfied. You multiplied your whoring with [Babylon], the land of merchants; and even with this you were not satisfied. . . I will gather all your lovers, with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated; I will gather them against you from all around, and will uncover your nakedness to them, so that they may see all your nakedness. I will judge you as women who commit adultery and shed blood are judged, and bring blood upon you in wrath and jealousy. I will deliver you into their hands, and they shall throw down your platform and break down your lofty places; they shall strip you of your clothes and take your beautiful objects and leave you naked and bare. They shall bring up a mob against you, and they shall stone you and cut you to pieces with their swords. They shall burn your houses and execute judgments on you . . . I will stop you from playing the whore. (Ezekiel 16: 8,16,17, 20-2, 24-9, 37-40)

Needless to say, this is not my favorite passage of the Bible. On one hand, maybe, the Prophetic Books’ attempt to blame Israel’s sufferings on Israel is a sort of courageously masochistic way of interpreting the course of history. But far, far too often, the association of Israel’s faithlessness with female faithlessness drives home the idea that that infidelity and sexual lewdness are qualities that women have, and not men. In hundreds of verses like the one we just read, male speakers growl and harangue nastily against women – they are the voices of authority and the bringers of punishment, and women, like the whore in Ezekiel, are mute, they are forcibly stripped, and then violently killed. Misogyny very well might not be the direct intention of these passages. But collectively, within the Prophetic Books, they make violence against women seem commonplace and almost valorous. Again, of course, we can understand that these passages are parables about God and his faithless Israelites. But at the same time, considering their pervasiveness in the world’s most common book, we should regard them with a bit of caution.

On this same subject, I want to look at another chapter, also from the Book of Ezekiel. This is definitely the most sexually explicit passage in the Bible. Kids, cover your ears. In this passage, the prophet Ezekiel is using the voice of God to tell a story about two sisters. One sister is Oholibah. The other sister is Oholah. The first sister stands for the Southern Kingdom, Judah. The second sister stands for the Northern Kingdom, Israel. After accusing the two sisters of all sorts of harlotry, Ezekiel’s God tells the Judah sister that she “played the whore in the land of Egypt and lusted after her paramours there, whose members were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions. Thus you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when the Egyptians fondled your bosom and caressed your young breasts” (Ez 23.19-21). So, this Judah sister enjoyed huge Egyptian penises and stallion sized ejaculations all throughout her youth. And as punishment for her sexual permissiveness, Ezekiel’s God proclaims that Oholibah, the Judah sister, will be stripped and exposed, she and her sisters will be stoned to death, and then they will be chopped into pieces with swords.

Again, we can understand this as a brief figurative tale about Israelite faithlessness. But so much of the imagery in the Oholibah story involves brutality toward women, and reveals a violent desire to control female sexuality. The Prophetic Books normalize these things, even though the book may really just be trying to explain away Israel’s military and cultural defeats. In casting female characters in the metaphorical role of the wayward Israel, the Prophetic Books – maybe unintentionally – often appear shockingly hateful toward women. There’s plenty more to say on this subject. The Greek poet Semonides, a seventh-century BCE contemporary of some of the Biblical Prophets, also had a pretty nasty attitude toward women, and the Greek poet Archilochus, from the same century, whom we’ll meet in the next episode, was no stranger to depictions of degrading sex acts. Additionally, we should note that derogatory images of women and donkeys appear later in the Roman writer Juvenal and the novelist Apuleius in the second century CE, so generally it seems that these disparaging attitudes toward women, and ugly barnyard insults were standard fare in antiquity, and as ugly as they are in the Bible, the Ancient Israelites didn’t invent them out of nowhere. But anyway, let’s move on.

We’ve looked at the Prophetic Books’ condemnations of foreign peoples. And we’ve looked at the Prophetic Books’ condemnations of Israel. It is time to close that left hand drawer, and open that right hand drawer. Fortunately, the contents of both compartments of that right hand drawer are much, much sunnier. The biblical prophets can get really dark. But they could also, against all odds, during unthinkably dark periods of Canaan’s history, be pretty optimistic. Not all of their visions are of blood and death. Many are hopeful – they’re of a time of coming prosperity and joy – prosperity and joy that the quiet, steadfast, enduring people who had never wavered in their faith would, when all was said and done, be granted. So we’ll leave the cannibalism, infanticide, and rape in that disturbingly large left hand drawer, and open the right one.

Prophecies of Better Times to Come for Israel

Edward Hicks - Peaceable Kingdom

American artist Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom (1834), probably based on the oracle in Isaiah 11.

Above, in a passage from one of the darker moments of Jeremiah, we heard Jeremiah’s God growl that “I will make [the Israelites] eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and all shall eat the flesh of their neighbors in the siege” (Jer 19:8). About ten chapters later, God’s plans for the Israelites have evidently changed. Jeremiah’s God resolves, “I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty” (Jer 31:13-14). At one moment, then, God plans to starve the Israelites into cannibalism, and a moment later, to give them plenty of food and make them joyous. Within the Prophetic Books, these vacillations between darkness and buoyant joy happen hundreds of times. It doesn’t always make for an easy read.

We’ve spent plenty of time on the left hand drawer, though – let’s spend some more time on the right hand one. In the Book of Isaiah, God tells the Israelites that “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:3). The prophet Joel is similarly optimistic, his God telling the Israelites that “You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. . .[I will] restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem. . .Judah shall be inhabited forever, and Jerusalem to all generations” (Joel 2:26, 3:1, 3:20-1). That sounds pretty nice. Just a bit better than the siege and cannibalism stuff from Jeremiah.

Now, of all the Prophetic Books, Isaiah has some of the most sustained visions of a rosier future. Some especially famous passages from this book picture a peaceful futurity, overseen by the grace of Yahweh. Isaiah describes how:
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. . . It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited. (Isaiah 11:6-9, 25:9)

In this passage Isaiah pictures a serene time when even the rivalries of nature will be mollified by the grace of the Israelite God. Snakes won’t bite any more, animals won’t eat one another, and bears and lions will eat grass. The wolf and lamb vision of Isaiah is one of his more famous passages about a time of coming peace. But I think a different – also very optimistic – prophecy from Isaiah most clearly bears the marks of the history that produced it.

If the Book of Isaiah really were worked on for the years from the 700s down to the 400s, this book’s scribes saw it all – the Syrian Wars, the multigenerational Assyrian invasions and settlement in the north, Egypt’s northward charge into the power vacuum after Assyria fell, Babylon’s sack of Jerusalem and the subsequent captivity, and the later Persian period, too. The cultural core of the Judahites and Israelites during these centuries had their lives, and their way of life continuously under threat. And I think some hopeful passages from the center of Isaiah, which prophecy cultural and political independence, imagine the end of this threat. Isaiah’s God promises his followers, in a passage about the Assyrian invasion, that some day,
No longer will you see the insolent people, the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend, stammering in a language that you cannot understand. Look on Zion, the city of our appointed festivals! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, a quiet habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be pulled up, and none of whose ropes will be broken. . . On that day the LORD will thresh from the channel of the Euphrates to the Wadi of Egypt, and you will be gathered one by one, O people of Israel. And on that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isa 33:19-20, 27:12)

I think most subject peoples would enjoy political sovereignty and religious freedom. The same was the case with Isaiah’s Israel. This is obviously a fantasy about a time of cultural freedom unobstructed by oppressive outsiders, a time of religious togetherness and renewed unity. It might not have any images of jungle cats snuggling up to lambs, or universal veganism. But I think overall that this latter quote in Isaiah might reflect exactly what the Israelites were experiencing and hoping for a bit more accurately. [music]

Messianic Prophecies

We’re three out of four for our drawers, now. Let’s keep that right hand drawer open, and look in the final compartment, furthest to the right. The contents of this compartment are very, very theologically interesting. This compartment is small, but its substance has been minutely examined for thousands of years. This compartment contains references to resurrection, a redeemer figure, and a time of universal judgment. To Jews, these passages reference a moment of corporeal resurrection and the beginning of the ultimate prosperity of the Chosen people of Yahweh. To Christians, these passages describe Jesus Christ, and Christ’s impending salvation of all who believe in him.

Let’s start by looking at passages that reference bodily resurrection, a theme that comes up occasionally in the Prophetic Books. The first comes from the giant book of Isaiah. It’s from a vision of a song sung by inhabitants of Judah, and it’s addressed to Yahweh. “Your dead,” the singers declare, “shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead” (Isa 26:19). There’s an unmistakable reference to the risen dead there. A similar reference exists in Ezekiel. God tells Ezekiel to speak a prophecy to the dead. Ezekiel’s words are, “O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord” (Ez 37:4-6). Bodily resurrection is an important doctrine within Judaism, and of course, life after death is foundational with Christianity. It’s important to remember, though, that in other books of the Old Testament, such as Job, and Ecclesiastes, there is unequivocally no afterlife. The dead – good or evil – go down to Sheol, and that’s the end.

So these references to resurrection in the Prophetic Books, whether they come from the influence of Egyptian immigrants or Zoroastrian neighbors, or real divine revelation – these references to resurrection near the end of the Old Testament don’t always feel consistent with the way death is imagined throughout the Pentateuch, Historical Books, and Poetic and Wisdom Books. This inconsistency is probably a result of the gigantic timeframe in which the Old Testament was composed. Let’s look at one more reference to resurrection. In the Book of Hosea, the prophet writes, “Come, let us return to the Lord; for it is he who. . .will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him” (Hos 6:1-2). This reference to being struck down and then rising up on the third day, of course, sounds familiar.

We should look at some passages in the Prophetic Books that talk about a messiah figure who will be the catalyst of better, happier times. We’ve met this messiah figure already in this show. In the wolves and lambs passage from Isaiah, Isaiah writes “The wolf shall live with the lamb. . .and a little child shall lead them” (Isa 11:6). Whether interpreted as Jesus or a non-Christian herald of salvation, this child, and a number of other cryptic messiah figures in the Prophetic Books, have received a gigantic amount of analysis and attention.

Let’s look at the longest and most influential one, first – yet another passage from the always – interesting Isaiah – specifically chapters 52 and 53, probably the section of the Prophetic Books most often studied by Christians, often at the expense of the rest of the Prophetic Books, past and present. I’m going to read some excerpts of these two chapters to give you an idea of exactly how this messiah gets described.
[M]y servant shall prosper; [says Yahweh, the “servant” in question being the messiah.] [H]e shall be exalted and lifted up (52:13). . . [K]ings shall shut their mouths because of him. . .that which they have not heard they shall contemplate (52:13). . . [H]e grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed (53:2-5). .By a perversion of justice was he taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people (53:8).

So, with no shortage of textual evidence, Christian tradition associates this servant figure with Jesus. He commanded kings, and was fated to have the exaltation of God, but at the same time he was deprecated, rejected, despised, and killed, and in doing so he suffered punishments that healed others. To Christians, this passage in Isaiah became even more special when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, about ten miles east of Jerusalem in the modern day West Bank. The Great Isaiah Scroll, the most complete of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, having been carbon dated and scribally dated multiple times, was written at least a hundred years before the birth of Jesus. The Isaiah scroll, then, seems, to many, to be physical evidence of divine prophecy.

The Ancient Mediterranean’s Messianic Prophecies

The Vision of The Valley of The Dry Bones

Gustave Doré’s “The Vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones” from the Book of Daniel, a vision of corporeal resurrection.

But let’s hold our horses for a minute. The Talmud, or religious law codex of Judaism, does not associate the Messiah figure in Chapters 52 and 53 of Isaiah with Jesus. The idea of God having a son whose death saved mankind isn’t, as I’m sure you know, a part of modern rabbinical Judaism. To the Talmud, this figure in Chapters 52 and 53 of Isaiah is not Jesus, but Moses.2 During the Exodus and the events of the Book of Numbers, if you’ll remember, Moses again and again intercedes to try and compel Yahweh to forgive the people of Israel, thus, in effect, saving them again and again, and enduring great strife and personal risk in the process, just like the “servant” in Isaiah. It should also be noted that the fact that the Jesus in the Gospels sounds like this figure in Isaiah partly because the writers of the Gospels were reading and quoting Isaiah as they told Jesus’ story, in all cases at least three decades after Christ’s death.3

So this “servant” figure might be Jesus. It might be Moses. And actually, the story of a pivotal Messiah figure who endures the wrath of God and the slander of people, only to end up saving the people in the end was fairly common in the Ancient Near East. Remember those Historical Books? A number of kings in these books are described as savior figures who protect either Israel or Judah from God’s wrath. Josiah, the most treasured king in the Historical Books behind David, is definitely just this sort of figure. And, notwithstanding his unending sanctity and goodness, Josiah dies at the city of Megiddo, at the hands of the Egyptians. That passage in Chapters 52 and 54 of Isaiah could easily be about Josiah, another of the Bible’s tragic savior figures, or the later Judahite king Jehoiachin.4 Throughout the Historical Books, the monarchs of Judah and Israel are the lynchpins determining the wickedness or faithfulness of Yahweh’s followers – the salvation or damnation of an entire people resting on the shoulders of a single man is actually the main theme of the two hundred or so chapters that make up the Historical Books. And beyond the Bible, if you caught Episode 2 of Literature and History you might remember the Babylonian story of Atrahasis, the brave and devout mortal who pleads tirelessly on behalf of humanity, and endures the trauma of the great flood, who, after great suffering, just like Noah, who may be modeled after him, saves the human species from extinction.

The story of resurrected gods was a common one in the Ancient Mediterranean. The epic of Inanna and Dumuzi, which we covered in a bonus episode, centers on the resurrection of the agricultural deity Dumuzi. Ancient Greece’s Eleusinian mysteries festival, which celebrated Persephone’s seasonal return to earth after her abduction by Hades, has a number of striking parallels to the tale of Inanna and Dumuzi – a dead god, after a pivotal intercession, returns for part of the year and becomes the catalyst of the seasons. Greece’s obscurer Adonia festival celebrated the resurrection of the Greek demigod Adonis after he was killed by a wild boar. The Egyptian god Osiris and later versions of the Greek god Dionysus were said to be dismembered and then reintegrated to help guide and save humanity. Nearer and dearer to Second Temple Judaism, the Zoroastrian savior figure called the Saoshyant was holy to the vast Parthian empire to Jerusalem’s east, and this Saoshyant was a man, born to a virgin, who would commence what was called the Frashokereti, or the final purification and redemption of the earth after the end of a war between good and evil like the one briefly told in the Book of Revelation. Every ancient culture in the Mediterranean rim, it seemed, was telling stories about messiah figures, and Rome’s occurred in an especially prominent moment. This was the fourth Eclogue of the poet Virgil, completed in about 37 BCE, in which a mysterious heroic child was prophesied to deliver Rome into unending peace. While certain Christians interpreters have read this poem as foretelling the coming of Jesus, Virgil was in all likelihood writing about the unborn child of the Triumvir Mark Antony and his wife Octavia, sister to the future emperor Augustus, a baby who, if he’d ever been born, might have sealed the rift between Augustus and Mark Antony and prevented the eventual war between them. To return to the savior figure who shows up in a few passages in the Prophetic Books, when we read these famous chapters of Isaiah, whatever our individual religious convictions, it’s important to remember that the texts of the first millennium BCE reveal quite a few foretellings of messianic children, heroes, and demigods who will serve as turning points in various national histories.

Let’s look at some more passages in the Prophetic Books that describe messiah or savior figures. A second quote in Isaiah, almost as famous as the one we looked at a moment ago, envisions a better future unlocked by a savior figure. Isaiah writes, “[A]ll the boots of the tramping warriors, and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Now, this mysterious messiah makes a few more appearances in the Bible – much briefer and more ambiguous ones than the famous ones I’ve quoted. Much more commonly, some of the prophets themselves suffer persecution – particularly Jeremiah. “The officials,” Jeremiah recalls, evidently writing in the third person, “were enraged at Jeremiah, and they beat him and imprisoned him. . .Thus Jeremiah was put in the cistern house, in the cells, and remained there for many days” (Jer 37:16). Like the suffering messiah figure, then, suppressed and jailed prophets brought divine messages in spite of imprisonments and corporal punishments.

So that’s a short introduction to that final rightmost compartment – the one holding a tiny but very famous collection of prophecies about messiah figures. Now that we’ve seen the four main subjects of the Prophetic Books – the condemnations of foreign nations, condemnations of Israel, the prophecies of a better future, and prophecies of a messiah – now that we’ve had a look at all of these, we can make some interesting overall observations about the Bible’s structure. [music]

The Prophetic Books and Canonical Structure

Let’s zoom way out. All drawers closed. And we’ll pretend we’re looking at a table of contents of the Old Testament. The organization of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament is fundamentally different, as you may know. The biggest difference is that when Catholics and Protestants moved the Hebrew Bible’s table of contents around, they took the Prophetic Books out of the middle, and moved them to the end. It’s a bit more complicated than that, but 15 out of the 17 Prophetic Books occur in the middle of the Old Testament, and Christian bibles have them situated at the end.

Why reorganize them? Let’s start by talking about the Hebrew Bible’s organization. In the Hebrew Bible, right after Second Kings, we find the Book of Isaiah, and then Jeremiah, and Ezekiel – the big three prophets, who are then followed by twelve other prophets. So the Hebrew Bible shows a seamless transition between the historical events of Second Kings on one hand, and the prophets and prophecies of Judaism on the other. In the Hebrew Bible, the organizational message is clear. The prophets are a part of Israel’s history. Their anger, their hope, and their oracles are products of events that took place during the Historical Books.

In Christian bibles, on the other hand, the prophets are all squished together in a block at the very end, after the Poetic and Wisdom Books – after Job, and Psalms, and Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. The Christian bibles put hundreds and hundreds of pages between the history of Israel and the many prophets who directly experienced that history. Why do this? Why interrupt the narrative?

Surely there were many reasons. And surely, one of them is that within the Prophetic Books, Christians found the most convincing evidence that Jesus was spoken of by Isaiah and a small handful of other prophets, even the very last prophet, Malachi. The second to last chapter of Malachi – actually the 1073rd of the Catholic Old Testament’s 1074 chapters, speaks of a messiah figure. Malachi mentions a “messenger of the covenant” (Mal 3.1) who “will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi. . .and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness” (Mal 3.3). Now, if you’re a Christian, and believe the messiah references in the Prophetic Books are talking about Christ, this is a pretty logical way to wrap up the Old Testament. The Old Testament seems to end with a cliffhanger – a small, but tantalizing group of visions of a savior figure – and then, the New Testament’s Gospel of Matthew, a book amply familiar with the Prophetic Books. So, in short, the glimpses of a messiah figure that we find in the Prophetic Books, which Christians usually interpret to reference Jesus, are a central reason why Christian Bibles reorganized the books of the Hebrew Tanakh. [music]

Abrahamic Eschatology

We’re almost there, folks – to that marathon finish line of completing our ten shows on the Old Testament. We’ve moved through the four drawers that contain almost everything in the Prophetic Books, and we’re nearly through with them. But I want to talk about something before we close those Prophetic Books.

The Old Testament is already sitting on our desk. Let’s put two other books next to it. The New Testament to the right of it, and the Qur’an to the right of the New Testament. Old Testament, New Testament, Qur’an. Now, what do these three books have in common? The short answer is plenty. Belief, generally, in a single god, doctrines requiring belief in this god, law codices that generally inculcate the values of temperance, self restraint, respect for authority, clemency and mercy to the weak, and belief in prophecy, miracles, and the surrogate status of women. They believe in a single, universal morality that exists beyond the senses that all should adhere to, and have varying degrees of ideas about the consequences of not adhering to this moral code. It’s no wonder that Christians, Muslims and Jews have got along so harmoniously during various periods of history, and considering all of information that we have these days, a shame when they don’t. And these three books have something else in common – something that has to do with time – something that we can call doomsday.

Doomsday, or judgment day, or the apocalypse, or Armageddon, or Yawm al-Qiyāma – whatever the intricacies of the doctrine, the Prophetic Books of the Old Testament, along with Revelation in the New Testament, and the 75th Sura of the Qur’an all imagine that some day, the universe will end. Way back in Episode 2, we talked about this idea – that time itself is a bell curve, and an explosive moment will eventually come in which everything is sorted out. It’s a powerful idea. Especially during turbulent periods of history, having faith in a period of eventual order and retribution helps many of us cope with losses and injustices. If we are stricken that real wolves tear lambs to shreds, or that unethical people are blissful and prosperous, or that our own good deeds have been misunderstood or unrecognized, the doomsday doctrines of these religions offer compelling consolations. From the Egyptian Middle Kingdom’s Book of the Dead onward, the notion of eventual divine judgment has helped humanity weather some pretty hard times, and I imagine this idea will be with us for a long time to come.

But I want to ask a question. It’s a blasphemous question, I guess, but I don’t mean any disrespect with it. What if there aren’t any end times? What if the party just gets to continue? I mean, I know the sun will burn out in five billion years, but five billion years might as well be an eternity as far as we’re concerned – in five billion years, we’ll probably have grown tentacles and extra eyes, since all evolution on earth has taken less than five billion years so far. So what if, before the crock pot of deoxyribonucleic acid eventually compels us to sprout wings and frog legs – what if we just keep trucking along, making no fatally bad decisions, and learn from our lessons? What if we can actually use what we have to do better? This notion – this brazenly optimistic notion that we might not all be riding a playground slide toward doomsday – begins to show up in the Enlightenment, in the works of Condorcet, and more tempered versions of it in later American philosophers like William James and John Dewey. And one of my favorite books in the Bible – a Prophetic Book, actually – seems to dare to propose that the earth might be more than a bomb attached to a fuse of divine wrath. We’ve seen our fair share of darkness in the Old Testament. So I want to end this whole series on the Hebrew Bible with a happy story. A story that maybe anyone, religious or secular, can smile at. This story is the Book of Jonah, possibly the most beloved anti-hero of the Old Testament. [music]

Jonah: A Book in which Earth Is Not Doomed

Jonah was a northern prophet, who lived in the early eighth century BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II, near the lovely northern city of Samaria. One day, Jonah received divine summons. God told him of a formidable quest Jonah had to undertake – a journey over five hundred miles to the northeast, into the dangerous Assyrian empire and to the city of Nineveh. Jonah was not convinced that venturing deep into the lands of people who impaled and skinned their foes was all that good of an idea, and so Jonah embarked westward on an oceangoing vessel to escape his divine summons.

Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch Jonas and the Whale prophetic books

Jonas and the Whale, c. 1552, author unknown. The reluctant, bumbling prophet Jonah is a favorite, for his distinct character and the neat symmetry of his story.

It wasn’t a well thought out plan. The Old Testament God doesn’t take kindly to insubordination. Yet his retaliation against Jonah was pretty mild. God hurled gales and squalls against Jonah’s ship. The sailors aboard Jonah’s ship realized that one of their passengers had incurred divine admonishment. And Jonah, wanting neither to go to Nineveh, nor to get a ship full of people killed, told them to just toss him into the sea. The sailors initially refused, but as the tempests grew worse, eventually they conceded, and they tossed Jonah into the water.

If Jonah thought he’d escape God’s summons by swimming to safety, or just dying, he was wrong again. The reluctant prophet was swallowed by a giant fish. The book explains, “[T]he LORD provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights” (Jon 1:17). Grateful to still be alive, Jonah prayed and gave thanks, and then had the unusual privilege of being puked up onto land.

I picture him there, perhaps reeking with fish guts, a sour expression on his face, looking at the beach and then back at the ocean, and the beach and back at the ocean one last time, maybe muttering some Ancient Hebrew profanity under his breath, like “[sigh] ah, I can’t believe this [censored],” and then harrumphing and heading eastward, inland. After a long journey through many strange lands, Jonah reached the formidable walls of what was then the world’s most powerful city.

Knowing that he had no choice, Jonah huffed through the gates and got an audience with the king and his people. Jonah explained the situation concisely. The city, he said, would fall due to God’s wrath unless the citizens repented and acted in accordance to divine laws. They’d really better shape up, Jonah said, perhaps citing examples of cities that had disrespected Yahweh. And then, something earth shattering happened. Something that doesn’t usually happen in the Old Testament. I imagine the king of Nineveh pursing his lips, and looking around at his most trusted advisors, and the people of the city talking under their breath to one another. Eventually a decision was reached. The king ordered everyone to wear sackcloth – even the animals, to chastise themselves for their evil ways and repent. The King of Nineveh proclaimed, “All shall turn from their evil ways, and the violence that is in them. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

God saw that everyone in Nineveh had respectfully taken the advice of his prophet Jonah. And no one there was punished. This caused the ever strange Jonah some embarrassment. He was, after all, in the middle of a thousand mile round trip journey, and for all the Assyrians knew, Jonah might have made everything up. So Jonah stormed off and sat sullenly in the countryside. God watched his reluctant prophet go. To help shelter Jonah from the fierce Mesopotamian sun, God made a nice bush grow up, and Jonah rested in its shade all afternoon. Only, when Jonah woke up the next morning, the bush was gone. Jonah was again livid. He’d appeared ridiculous in front of the Assyrians, and now he’d lost his nice leafy bush. God patiently shook his head, and gave Jonah some advice.

God asked, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush? You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons?” (Jonah 4:9-11). The story ends with this rhetorical question, and we imagine Jonah, though he’s off camera, is won over by God’s deep mercy and bulletproof reasoning.

It’s an adorable story. Being a third person omniscient narrative, constructed like a piece of short fiction or folklore, it’s far more readable than many of the other Prophetic Books. The Book of Jonah’s bumbling, surly anti-hero is all the more human for his quirks. It’s a book about resilient mercy, and second chances, and learning from lessons. Everyone is fallible, humble, patient and human. God doesn’t punish Jonah, the sailors don’t want to hurt the poor Prophet, God forgives the repentant Ninevites, and then shows even more forbearance with the pouty Prophet at the book’s end, offering him a beautiful, eloquent speech. In the mammoth 160,000 words of the Prophetic Books, the miniscule thirteen hundred words of Jonah are perhaps far more hopeful than ecstatic visions of an eventual messiah, or end of times. Because in Jonah, we see that whether or not the universe ends, and justice is done unto all in an explosion of divine majesty – in Jonah, we see that whether or not judgment day comes, in the mean time, we can listen to each other and learn from each other, and, with a bit of luck, cancel Armageddon for the foreseeable future. [music]

Our Interdisciplinary Journey Forward

Well that, folks, was the Old Testament, or at least a 100,000 word audio introduction to it. Though I’ve only scratched the surface, it’s still a huge surface to scratch. I know I’ve left things out, I suspect I’ve mispronounced more than one Ancient Near Eastern name, and often been reductive for the sake of simplicity. In a free educational podcast, I hope, these are pardonable slips. And, as I said, while this show has offered a general overview of the Prophetic Books, if you’ve stuck with me for the past ten, you’ve had a fairly long introduction to the structure and contents of the most influential book on earth. And now, you know a fair bit about the Old Testament.

The first 24 episodes of this podcast, together with our Season 1 Bonus Series, Before Yahweh, have taken us on an unusual educational journey. Literature, at least in the modern university, is broken up into many departments. English departments likely get the lion’s share of pupils, but literature is also a central concern of a number of other disciplines – Classics, Egyptology, Assyriology and Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Religious Studies, and of course Comparative Literature. I can only speak as someone who has undergraduate and graduate degrees in English, but in my experience, literature tends to be packed into different silos by the modern university system in the way I’ve just described. Specialization in academia means that professional scholars have more incentive to master the criticism in their specific fields – the journal articles and monographs – than to explore literature that’s traditionally covered by altogether different disciplines. In most ways, this is productive – groundbreaking work requires specialization. But as time goes by, specialization, and the sometimes faddish nature of humanities scholarship can create blind spots.

In my specific case, for my entire university education, from my first ever English course to the day I skipped my PhD graduation because I didn’t want to wear a $700 clown suit in public, I never once had any single chapter or verse of the Bible as assigned reading. This omission was especially peculiar, considering that my doctoral work was on nineteenth-century American literature and culture, and during this period my country’s history, following the Second Great Awakening, the Bible was at least ten times more influential than any book. Now, it goes without saying that even professional scholars can’t possibly read everything – academic survival requires depth more than breadth. But for its tremendous impact on the history of Anglophone literature, not to mention its ongoing cultural importance to the world at large, in my opinion, the Bible should be studied in English departments far more often than it is today, and when I decided to produce Literature and History, I hoped to do my small part in making the many challenging books of the Old Testament and New Testament accessible not only to academics who’d never actually read them, but to everyone else who cared to listen, as well.

This is a good moment for us to talk about the long term plan of this podcast, which claims to be a program on the history of Anglophone literature, and thus has far not covered a single work in English. We have had an interdisciplinary journey thus far – a journey that’s taken us through the tells of Ancient Iraq, the mortuary texts and papyrus fragments of Ancient Egypt, the clay tablets of Hattusa and Ugarit, the dactylic hexameter of archaic Greek poetry, and most recently, the sacred writings of ancient Judah. We have learned, over the course of 24 episodes and more, that half of recorded history came before the Old Testament, and a bit about the people who lived this history – the Sumerians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Canaanites of various stamps, and the Archaic Age Greeks. I hope I have been able to give you a sense of the diversity and interconnectedness of their worlds, and how beautiful and oftentimes eerily modern their poetry is.

To ascend to a high altitude as we sometimes do, over the 2,500 years of literary history that we’ve covered, we’ve noticed some major trends. We’ve begun to observe a general pan-Mediterraenan theological evolution. The deities of the Bronze Age – anthropomorphic embodiments of thunder, or the sun, or love, or war, or the underworld – have slowly begun to give way to pantheons centering on single gods, like Hesiod’s, or religions that are trending toward monotheistic, like ancient Judah’s. The movement toward henotheism and monotheism will be bolstered in centuries to come by the philosophical writings of Plato, stoic philosophers, and others. And this tendency occurs alongside another, equally important historical trend emerged while the bulk of the Old Testament was being written.

Second Temple Judaism and the Spread of Individual-Centered Religions

Some episodes ago, we covered the Book of Leviticus. This book, with all of its blood and guts and munching of insects, hasn’t aged as well as some other parts of the Old Testament, but it is still an important snapshot of Iron Age religion. It shows that at one point, the central ritual of the Judahites was animal sacrifice. Animals were sacrificed to please the Judahite god and secure the wellbeing of Judahite believers as a collective. What I want to think about here is not the animal sacrifice itself – that’s something we’ve covered in a lot of detail – but instead, to put it simply, the link between religion and place. The Judahites were part of a regionally identifiable group whose sacred rituals happened in a certain location. We learn in the Books of Kings just how hard a couple of monarchs had to work to control where sacrifices took place – Hezekiah, that pivotally important Judahite king, and his great grandson Josiah – both are applauded for their efforts to stamp out unsanctioned altars and shrines and instead require sacrifices only in the Jerusalem temple. To key Judahite monarchs during the 600s BCE, you had to get your animals, and bring them to the temple, and you had to slaughter them there, and if you didn’t, you were in trouble.

Throughout the Mediterranean world, during this same century and before, religious ritual looked the same. Whether you were at the Jerusalem Temple, or Etemenanki, the Tower of Babel, in Babylon, or the old temples on the Acropolis at Athens, or the marshy heart of Rome back when kings still ruled there, or the sacred sites of the Etruscans, Bronze and Iron Age religion was most often geographically anchored and based on local ritual – and, as in the case of the Judahites, woven together with theocratic government. Judahites followed the Judahite religion, Corinthians the Corinthian religion, Heliopolans the cults of Heliopolis, Babylonians the Babylonian religion, and on and on. Religions and rituals of animal sacrifice, whatever their local variants, were often imbedded in the soil of specific places and tied up with national histories, as we see so thoroughly, page after page, in the Old Testament.

But what happened to the Judahites – in brief, successive conquests by foreigners – this happened to everyone. From the 700s BCE onward, with economies having long recovered from the Bronze Age collapse and populations burgeoning as a result, the eastern Mediterranean experienced a major conquest nearly every century – Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, and then Persians, then Macedonians, then generations of wars between the successors of Alexander the Great, then republican Rome – a series or rototillers that hurled citizens and ideas all over Eurasia willy-nilly their origins. The old, geographically rooted polytheisms exploded into new pantheons, compound deities, and syncretic worship practices, and place of residence had less and less of a definite link to religious faith. And emerging amidst all of this, as we’ll see again and again in episodes to come, were what historians generally call cult religions.

Cult religions, put simply, are religions that do not have geographical centers, or national or governmental affiliations. There are many of them in recorded history in and around the period we’ve been studying – Pythagoreanism, Orphism, the Dionysian Cult, the Isis Cult, the Cult of Cybele, the Mithraic Cult, and considering the theological contents of Plato and his successors, we can probably include Platonism, Stoicism, and later philosophies, too. The general trend in all of these cults or ideological schools is a movement away from pluralistic polytheism and toward belief in a single sovereign power. Members of a cult, after initiation ceremonies, were promised rewards, the theological of which was often some sort of posthumous salvation, and the secular of which, we can imagine, was simply a sense of belonging and fellowship in a violent and unstable world. And out of the dozen or so major cult religions that were riding the waves of the Eastern Mediterranean as the final books of the Old Testament were written, one, eventually, came to rule them all. And this cult, sprung from that astounding eastern Mediterranean territory once called Canaan, was called Christianity.

But we’re jumping ahead. Way ahead. Because before we get to Christianity, we have by my count about fifty episodes and two full seasons – seasons that will introduce us to the literature and history of Ancient Greece and Rome, and the discipline of Classics proper. The Bible is, when you read it as a whole, really quite an odd book – one in which multiple periods of history and ideology are adhered together, as the bulk of the Old Testament and the bulk of the New Testament had 600 years of extremely eventful history packed between them. In these years, an ocean of philosophers lived and worked – Anaximander, Anaximenes, Xenophanes, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Protagoras, Socrates, Leucippus, Democritus, Plato, Diogenes, Aristotle, Zeno, Epicurus, and many others. And while we’ll have full shows on the philosophies of Epicureanism and Stoicism and try to cover Greek and Roman philosophy with some degree of depth, we’ll dive into Greco-Roman literature for close to a hundred hours, meeting Sappho, Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, Menander, Apollonius, Plautus, Terence, Cicero, Catullus, Horace, Virgil, Propertius, Ovid, Seneca, and beyond. The Deuteronomist, and the Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, whoever they were, and however much posterity edited the works that they left behind, lived in a simpler and less cosmopolitan world than the architects of the New Testament. The heart of the Old Testament is a confrontation – an underdog story about a small, and (we are led to believe) ethnically and theologically unified citizen body against hordes of outsiders, a story in which the bugbears of apostasy and miscegenation threaten Judah from within just as foreign armies threaten it from outside.

But to writers like St. Paul, who has had 13 of the New Testament’s 27 books attributed to him, and who lived after all those philosophers and playwrights and poets mentioned above, there was no ethnic sense of us versus them, as we see in Jeremiah and others. A Roman citizen, and Greek speaking scholar and polymath, Paul’s world was not that of the Deuteronomist – it was a world of globalizing economies, intercontinental travel, cosmopolitan universities, and the Roman Empire, about to reach the apex of its size and stability in the 100s CE. If we read the Bible as a whole, (which is no small task, of course), we leave out a massive unwritten central portion between the Testaments – and this is the story of Greece and Rome. Greece furnished the New Testament’s authors with a language and nearly a thousand years of literary and philosophical history; Rome, with citizenship, textual resources, transportation networks, and a gargantuan populace of downtrodden commoners – commoners who shared a general fluency with Greek and Latin, and abject poverty beneath Rome’s tiny and extremely wealthy ruling class. And in our coming two seasons, though Jewish and Christian history will fade into the periphery for a while, we will see that in the 600 or so years that elapsed between the Testaments, as cult religions spread through a general vortex of activity in the Mediterranean, and as this vortex slowly effaced the inveterate differences between ethnic groups, social classes, and nations, the roots of Christianity, which famously ignored ethnicity, class, and nationality, were spreading long before the birth of Christ. [music]

Announcement: The Astounding Apocrypha Bonus Series

But there’s one more thing. Some time ago, I promised you a Bonus Series on the Apocrypha – those books of the Old Testament that have either been omitted or mostly edited out of certain Biblical canons. Our Season 2 Bonus Series is appropriately, called The Astounding Apocrypha, or [“The Astounding Apocrypha!”] The idea that the Apocrypha even exist is a strange one – that notion the Bible isn’t a unified entity, but instead there are multiple Bibles, all with different combinations of books, and certain bibles purposely exclude certain books. Anyway, oftentimes, the very things that the fathers of rabbinic Judaism and Protestantism didn’t like about the apocryphal books that they condemned are exactly the things that we like about them. So let me tell you a bit about this series.

The Astounding Apocrypha album cover

Over eight hours of content are available as Season 2’s bonus series, The Astounding Apocrypha!

In many coming episodes, we’re going to learn about how the interstate chaos and the collisions of various belief systems during the three centuries before Christ began to encourage religions focused on the care of the self, individual ethics, the afterlife, and a personal relationship with one’s deity. To return to Judah, all of this took place during what’s called the Second Temple period of Jewish history. While so much of the Old Testament is thought to have been written from the reign of King Josiah in the late 600s BCE down to the period just after the Babylonian captivity in the late 500s, some books – books that are either omitted from or heavily redacted in major Biblical canons, were produced quite a bit later. These books, for various reasons, were disagreeable those who collated and stamped the official bibles of Catholicism and Protestantism. But they also, fascinatingly, show the theology of ancient Jerusalem evolving under the influence of various imperial regimes and the ideologies that they brought with them. They show Judaism changing, and sopping up other theologies, and often producing texts far more optimistic and gentle than the darker depths of Pentateuch and Prophetic Books.

The first show in “The Astounding Apocrypha” is about the full version of the Book of Esther, a steamy and thrilling tale of a Jewish woman in the harem of a Persian king. Six sections of the Book of Esther – six very fascinating, and historically revealing sections, are cut from Protestant and Jewish bibles, and the series opens by using the Book of Esther to talk about how and when canonization took place. The next show in The Astounding Apocrypha bonus series is on the Book of Tobit, is all about one of my favorite books of the Bible. This book, more than any other in the Old Testament, bears an unmistakable imprint of Zoroastrianism, describing an evil demon named Asmodeus, drawn directly from the Persian pantheon. In our show on Tobit, we’ll hear the lovely, fun, family friendly tale of Tobit, his son Tobias, his angelic buddy Raphael, the cursed bride Sarah, and even the family dog. Tobit’s wonderful, you’ll love it if you haven’t heard it. The third program in “The Astounding Apocrypha” is on the Book of Daniel. As we move into Daniel, also a late Second Temple period book, we enter a turbulent century of Jewish history. Daniel is one of the most important parts of the Bible – both the standard part of it, and the apocryphal additions to it, but it’s also a very complex book, and over the course of almost two hours, we’ll talk about the history behind the Book of Daniel, the six prophecies in the Book of Daniel, and the book’s very memorable apocryphal additions. So that’s the first three shows from “The Astounding Apocrypha,” on the Books of Esther, Tobit, and Daniel.

The fourth is on the four books of Maccabees. These four books focus on the brawny war hero Judas Maccabeus, and his legendary family, and how they held Jerusalem together through some very dark times. The Maccabees saga will teach you the origin of Hanukkah, but just as importantly, what it was like to be on the ground in Jerusalem as Seleucid Kings ruled over your people and then, later, as the Romans waded in and took over. And finally, in the fifth and last episode of the Astounding Apocrypha, we’ll hear the story told in the Book of Judith, produced during the Hasmonean dynasty of Jerusalem, and we’ll learn about why Hasmonean traditionalists told this epic, violent tale, as Judaism splintered into several different sects and these sects began to skirmish with one another. The eight hours of the Astounding Apocrypha series will take you deep into the history of Second Temple Judaism, and while you’ll learn about a huge and often less known section of the Bible, you’ll also learn a lot about the successor kings that followed Alexander the Great, and the overall religious climate of the Mediterranean world between the return from Babylon in 539 BCE and the birth of Christ. If you’re interested, The Astounding Apocrypha is available on my website under the menu item Bonus Content.

Folks, I suspect many of you are eager to jump into the literature of Classical Greece, which is up next in the main series. Statistically, an infinitesimal portion of audience members reach out to support educational podcast producers – I understand – I mean we’re encountered as disembodied voices that come through glossy smartphone apps, and perhaps we seem less substantial than the authors of books, notwithstanding our often broader reach and more diverse audiences. I don’t say much about myself in this program, but I will say that this entire project, including all the instrumental and vocal music, research, writing, recording, mixing, quizzes, and free web content is the work of one person, done on top of a full time job that has nothing to do with literature or podcasting. I have no idea how far along I’ll be by the time this reaches you, but if you find this show useful, please consider picking up that bonus season on the Apocrypha, or donating, or just pledging a dollar a show on Patreon – you’ll get tons of bonus readings of various texts and never pay more than two dollars per month. Additionally, if you didn’t catch the Before Yahweh bonus series – those five episodes on the Bronze Age literature leading up to the Old Testament that we didn’t cover in this main sequence of shows, it’s right up there on my Bonus Content Page alongside the new one. That sequence, as I explained at the end of the first season, covers history’s first named author, Enheduanna of Ur, some more fiction from Ancient Egypt, the theology of the ancient Hittites, the Epic of Inanna and Dumuzi, and the Ugaritic Baal cycle, all of which, to varying extents, were part of the cultural background of the Old Testament. Individual episodes are $1.99 a piece and you can get the collections as sets, or in various combinations packaged with each seasons comedy songs if you like those. Finally, and forgive me for bundling these solicitations all into one, if you haven’t written a review of this podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever it is people are listening to podcasts when you hear this, I could really use some help in that direction – positive podcast reviews get programs sorted to the top of various search engines and it’s really encouraging to read the nice ones. I try to do these pledge drives, so to speak, at the end of seasons only, rather than bogging down other episodes with requests for this or that kind of help, so again, please support this ad-free educational show in one of the ways I’ve described – get some or all of those full length bonus episodes, pledge a dollar per new show on Patreon, donate, or at least send a positive review my way. Anyway, I don’t want to end this long series on the Old Testament with a plea for your cash, or other assistance, though.

I want to end this sizable sequence on the Old Testament by saying thank you. Not for listening, as I always to, and I continue to feel honored to have anyone listening at all. But to say thank you for caring about the Old Testament. It is a long book, and a challenging book. In the workaday Christian church service, it gets less airtime than the New Testament. The sheer massiveness of the Historical and Prophetic Books, and the non-narrative portions of the Pentateuch put the Old Testament into a singularly strange position – sitting as it does in nooks and shelves of a billion homes and church pews, it’s almost everywhere on the planet, and yet few of us know very much about its contents. For the past sixteen hours of this podcast, you have taken some steps to rectify that. You’ve learned that the Old Testament was created during a long time scale, by people with some very different cultural experiences. You’ve learned that it can be broken into four main parts, and have had long tours of the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Wisdom Books, and Prophetic Books. Of all the things you could have listened to, you decided to learn about our planet’s most influential book. And I have a feeling, if history thus far is any indication, that even as our populations swarm together and change and deracinate and set up home anew, as they always do, the Old Testament will still be there, older, still testy at times, but on the whole solitary, strange, and majestic, like a lonely colossus in a field of rubble, only very slightly worn by the passage of centuries. [music]

Moving on to Greek Lyric Poetry

In the next show, it’s déjà vu as we disembark from the shores of Canaan, and head westward over the Mediterranean. We’ll follow the sun past the south of Cypress, and then head northwest to hug the west coast of Turkey, plunging into the choppy waters of the Aegean. The year is 582 BCE. Last time we made this journey, it was far earlier. By now, the Ionian coast has more olive orchards, more settlements, more kids playing at the beach, more seaport towns with bright walls reflecting on the dark water. Homeric poetry and the works of Hesiod are recited and circulated throughout the city states of the Aegean. 582 BCE was just a few years after our much loved friends the Israelites were split up and many were forced to live in Babylon – I imagine that in 582 they were slowly, sadly settling in and trying to learn a new language and way of life. Anyway, hard as 582 was for the exiled Israelites, in the central Aegean, things weren’t going so badly. In fact, in just this year – 582 – some of the most remarkable, and raunchy, and strange, and jingoistic poetry the world has ever known was floating all over Ancient Greece. In the next show, we’re going to a party. Sappho will be there, and Pindar and a number of other famous lyrical Greek poets, and we’re going to experience Greek lyric poetry as it was intended – not alone on a printed page, by the austere light of a desk lamp, but instead with music, with a crowd, with an emcee, and, of course, with wine. Thanks for listening to Literature and History. I’ve got a quiz on this program if you want to test your recollection of the Prophetic Books. If you stay on for the songs, I’ve got one on the Prophetic Books. If not, see you soon!

Still listening? Oh, boy, okay. So I got to thinking about the Prophetic Books. I’ve read them a few times, and to me, the most striking thing about them is the way they go back and forth between really hopeful visions of the future and then visions of corpses and carrion and rape and murder – back and forth and back and forth and for over five hundred pages. And I wondered what it would sound like if you had a song that flipped back and forth between happy singsong optimism on one hand and blood drenched doomsday on the other. Next, I needed to pick a genre of music for each. And I figured the optimistic part would be a singsong thing with some kids gathered around a piano. And the doomsday part, obviously, had to be heavy metal. So this tune is a bit over the top – it’s silly, and strange, it’s possibly a new, and very bad genre of music – children’s heavy metal – kindermetal? – and it’s called “Happy Lambs and Doom.” I hope it’s funny, and I’ll see you next time.

1.^ The 161,947 words of the Prophetic Books would be 648 pages if printed at 250 words per page, 540 if printed at 300 words per page (a standard number for today’s publishers), and 405 pages if printed at 400 words per page.

2.^ See notes to Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. OUP, p. 139.

3.^ Historian Henry Chadwick notes that when it came to defending early Christianity, following the authors of the gospels, “Much of the earliest Christian theology consisted in the interpretation of Old Testament prophecy as foreshadowing the gospel. . .The importance of this tradition of Old Testament interpretation may be gauged from hte fact that for many centuries the exposition of prophecy continued to form the prime content of the instruction given to catechumens when they were taught about the person of Christ.” Printed in Chadwick, Henry. The Early Church. Penguin Books, 1993, p. 70. Origen’s Contra Celso 7 exemplifies capable Christian theologians coming to the defense of Hebrew prophecies.

4.^ For Josiah, see 2 Kings 23:29-30; for Jehoiachin, 2 Kings 24:10-16.