In the Hellenistic Context



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Jubilees

Identification. Jubilees 10 tells the story of the Tower of Babel, whose destruction caused the nations to scatter to all corners of the earth, to their assigned territories according to the division of the earth by lot. The story goes on to describe Canaan’s invasion of the land of Israel as a grave violation of the oath sworn by Noah’s sons not to invade one another’s territories (end of chap. 10). It then describes humanity’s gradual decline:
During this jubilee Noah’s children began to fight one another, to take captives, and to kill one another; to shed human blood on the earth, to consume blood; to build fortified cities, walls, and towers; men to elevate themselves over peoples, to set up the first kingdoms; to go to war – people against people, nations against nations, city against city; and everyone to do evil, to acquire weapons, and to teach warfare to their sons. City began to capture city and to sell male and female slaves. (11:2)
This censorious description is essential to subsequent developments described in the text. Abraham is presented as the antithesis of sinning humanity, thus justifying his election. Note, however, the nature of the accusations leveled against humanity in Jubilees: appointing a king, going to war, and making various conquests. What made the author specify these particular offenses? Why does he mention the crowning of a king, and why are the offenses imputed to that act not the traditional ones of enslaving and exploiting the people (see 1 Sam 8:11–17), but rather the king’s preoccupation with war and conquest?

I suggest that the answer to this question should be sought in the figure of a biblical hero not mentioned explicitly in Jubilees, though he stands, chronologically speaking, at that very juncture in history. I refer to Nimrod, who is associated with Babylonia, that same Babylonia whose fate was just described in the above-cited passage from Jubilees.68

Biblical Nimrod is a king: “And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. Out of that land went forth Asshur and builded Nineveh, and Rehoboth-ir, and Calah.…” (Gen 10:10–11; 1917 JPS). Jubilees’ phrase, “to set up the first kingdom,” surely refers to Genesis’ reshit mamlakhto, “the beginning of his kingdom,” which Jubilees interprets as “the first kingdom/kingship,” that is, the foundation of the institution of monarchy, and perhaps the first existence of a kingdom in the sense of empire.69 This interpretation of the biblical phrase is not the only possible one, and I would like to suggest a reason for its choice by Jubilees’ author. Greek historiography recounts that Ninus, king of Assyria and Babylonia, was the first ruler of the First Empire.70 His reign also marked the first wars of expansion. Diodorus Siculus, relying on Ctesias,71 relates that Ninus was a lover of war who trained his men for battle, concluded a pact with the king of Arabia and conquered Babylonia, whose inhabitants knew nothing of war (Diodorus, II, 4, 1–7). Ninus then conquered Armenia, Medea, and all the land between the Nile and the Don (II, 1, 8 – 2, 4). After these wars ended, Ninus built Nineveh (II, 1, 3–4). The series of accusations—captive taking, enslavement, waging war—is directly associated with Ninus’ generation. Its appearance in Jubilees may be explained by the identification of Nimrod, the king of Babylonia and Assyria and builder of Nineveh, with Ninus, king of Assyria and Babylonia, the builder of Nineveh, in the generation of the first wars.72

If Jubilees' description of the division of the world among the sons of Noah shows knowledge of Hellenistic geography, the identification of Nimrod with Ninus points to acquaintance with Hellenistic historiography. Although it seems likely that the author of Jubilees read the history books himself, a conjectured literary source for this identification can be suggested.





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