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The Epistle of Barnabas

The text of the Epistle of Barnabas online

Authorship: technically anonymous rather than pseudonymous.

  • Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-210) seems to be the earliest known writer to cite the epistle and was familiar with its ascription to Barnabas (Strom. 2.10; Eccl. Hist. 6.14.1).
  • However, the epistle never claims to be by Paul’s co-worker Barnabas (cf. Acts 4:36; 9:27; 11:22-15:39; 1 Cor 9:6; Gal 2:1, 9, 13; Col 4:10).
  • The author appears to have a non-Jewish background. 3:6 warns against proselytizing to their law and 16:7 speaks of a time before “we” believed in God as idolaters.

Date: a general consensus dates the text after the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE (Barn. 16:3-4) and before the end of the Bar Kochba revolt between 132-135 CE.

  • 4:4-5 refers to a succession of ten kings followed by a small horn who subdues three kings. This may fit Vespasian who established the Flavian dynasty after the year of three emperors in 69 CE (Galba, Otho, Vitellius) or Nerva who succeeded the Flavian rulers Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian and had a short reign from 96-98 CE. Or it may allude to scripture (Dan 7:7-8, 24) to predict a future Nero redivivus or anti-Christ figure.
  • 16:3-4 marvels at how “they” (=certain Jews) say that the very servants of the enemy (=Rome) who tore down their temple will build it again. It is unlikely that the enemies’ servants build the spiritual temple. Either it refers to the emperor Hadrian’s plans to build a pagan temple to Jupiter Capitolinus in the lead-up or aftermath of the Bar Kochba revolt or to possible Jewish hopes that the emperor Nerva would rebuild the Jerusalem temple after he suppressed the tax forced upon them (i.e. fiscus Iudaicus).

Provenance: Alexandria, Syro-Palestine, and Asia Minor have all been suggested as the place of origin.

  • The epistle shares an allegorical approach popular in Alexandria, speaks with contempt towards the circumcised priests of the idols and non-Greek Egyptians  (9:6), and receives early attestation from the Alexandrian theologians Clement (Strom. 2.6.31; 2.7.35; 2.20.116; 5.10.63) and Origen (C. Celsus 1.63).
  • The familiarity with Jewish and rabbinic traditions and exegesis and the positive reference to Syrians and Arabs in contrast to Egyptians (9:6) may point to an author located in Syria-Palestine.
  • The Pauline parallels to the Epistle, its lack of ecclesiastical organization, and its fierce debate with a local Jewish community along with its dismissal of literal Jewish interpretations could fit the location of Asia Minor.


  • The epistle shows clear signs of local Jewish influence from its apocalyptic orientation (4:1-5, 9-14; 12:9), use of midrash (6:8-19), familiarity with Jewish traditions about the Day of Atonement not included in Leviticus 16 (7-8), practice of gematria or assigning numerical value to letters (9:8), and employment of the “Two Ways” tradition (18-20; cf. Deuteronomy 30; Didaache 1-6).
  • The author, nevertheless, wants to sharply differentiate the two peoples (laoi); there is an in-group (“us”) and a Jewish out-group (“them”).
  • There was only one covenant that the Jews lost when they worshiped the Golden Calf and Moses broke the stone tablets containing the Decalogue (contra 1 Cor 11:25; 2 Cor 3:7-18; Heb 8:1-13). There is some tension with the Deuteronomistic theology of the epistle in which the Jews are depicted as continuously rejecting the appeal of the prophets culminating with Jesus.
  • Christians have inherited the covenant, just as the Scriptures predicted that Abraham would be the father of the uncircumcised nations (13:7).
  • Literal Jewish practices are re-interpreted in a spiritual or typological manner.
    • The heart should be circumcised; an evil angel inspired fleshly circumcision (9:4). 9:7-9 uses gematria to show that Abraham’s circumcision of 318 men foreshadowed Christ (i.e. 10 = iota and 8 = eta to spell the name Iesous or Jesus, 300 = tau for the cross).
    • Acts of justice are preferred over fasting (3:1-6). The Jewish food laws signify the exclusion of certain types of people (10:3-8).
    • The Sabbath day foreshadows a future eschatological period of rest (15:4-5).
    • The promise of land is universalized in the new creation (9:9-19) and the church is to be the spiritual temple (16:1-10).

Significant Monographs or Books including Chapters on Barnabas

  • James Carleton Paget, The Epistle of Barnabas: Outlook and Background (WUNT 2.82; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1994).
  • Clayton N. Jefford, The Apostolic Fathers and the New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2006).
  • William Horbury, Jews and Christians in Contact and Controversy (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998).
  • Michelle Murray, Playing a Jewish Game: Gentile Christian Judaizing in the First and Second Centuries CE (Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2004).
  • Reidar Hvalvik, The Struggle for Scripture and Covenant: The Purpose of the Epistle of Barnabas and Jewish-Christian Competition in the Second Century (WUNT 2.82; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1996).
  • Stephen G. Wilson, Related Strangers:  Jews and Christians 70-170 CE [Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995).

The Epistle to the Hebrews and Subsequent Christian Supersessionism

 The Epistle to the Hebrews: Introduction
  • Reception: although it was popularly accredited to Paul in the eastern churches (though hesitatingly by Clement and Origen of Alexandria) and included in a collection of Pauline epistles in the Chester Beatty Papyrus 46 (ca. 200 CE), doubts about this attribution persisted among many ancient Christian commentators, especially in Rome.
  • Authorship: an anonymous writer familiar with members of Paul’s circle such as Timothy (13:23); the refined literary style and theology of Hebrews differs from Paul. Other candidates include Barnabas, Luke, Apollos, Silas, Priscilla, Clement of Rome, etc.
  • Date: the epistle is cited as early as 1 Clement at the end of the first century CE. The audience seems to be second generation followers rather than eyewitnesses of Jesus (2:3) and experienced social ostracism and imprisonment (10:32-34; 12:4; 13:3, 13, 23). It is unclear how much the author draws knowledge of the temple cult from observation or scriptural exegesis (i.e. the focus is on the tabernacle) or whether the Jerusalem temple was presently functioning.
  • Audience: although there is no specific address in an epistolary prescript and greetings are sent from “Italy” (13:24), the addressees seem to be Hellenistic Jews or non-Jews (former God-fearers or potential proselytes to Judaism?) who could grasp the author’s complex scriptural argumentation and philosophical reasoning. The audience is presumed to be in danger of relapsing from their faith, whether due to their experience of persecution or anxiety about the loss of participation in the Jerusalem temple cult (pre- or post-70 CE?), so the writer of Hebrews stresses the supremacy of Jesus as the high priestly intercessor over the Levitical priesthood and sacrificial system and issues warnings against disobedience and admonishments to endurance (2:1-3; 3:12-13; 5:11-14; 6:1-12; 10:23-31; 13:7, 9, 17).
The Theology of Hebrews: the Superiority of Christ
  • Combines thorough knowledge and creative interpretation of the Septuagint and intertestamental Jewish traditions with Middle Platonism (e.g. the earthly sanctuary patterned after the heavenly one) .
  • Jesus is identified with God’s pre-existent wisdom (1:1-3). The text emphasizes both his incarnation to become completely human and his heavenly exaltation as the lord at the deity’s right hand based on Psalm 110.
  • Jesus is superior to the prophets (1:1-4), angels (1:5-2:18), Moses (3:1-4:13), and the Levitical priesthood (4:14-7:28). Jesus ushers in a new covenant that provides the purification for sins and mediates direct access to God (8:7-13; Jeremiah 31:31-34); the temple sacrificial system was a shadow that pointed to the full reality of Jesus’ high priestly sacrifice (9:13-10:18). The inheritance of the Promised Land and the Sabbath day also pointed to the fuller reality of the future eschatological rest that the faithful will receive (4:1-13)
  • Since he did not descend from the priestly Levitical tribe, Jesus was a priest in the order of the priest-king of Salem Melchizedek and this priestly order is superior to the Levitical one (Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:4; Dead Sea Scrolls fragment 11QMelch [11Q13]).
  • Hebrews issues a call to endurance like the former pioneers in the faith (chapter 11), so that they might look forward to their future unshakable inheritance.

Christian Supersessionism in the Patristic Period

Question: do you think that the Epistle to the Hebrews reflects an intra-Jewish debate (e.g. how are sins purified and access mediated to God apart from the cultic apparatus of the temple and sacrificial system) or does it support Christian supersessionistic theology?

Supersessionism and Replacement Theology: the belief that the church has superseded and replaced Israel as the covenant people or the “true Israel.”

  • “…be not made like unto some, heaping up your sins and saying that the covenant is both theirs and ours. It is ours: but in this way did they finally lose it when Moses had just received it, for the Scripture says: ‘And Moses was in the mount fasting forty days and forty nights, and he received the covenant from the Lord, tables of stone written with the finger of the hand of the Lord.’ But they turned to idols and lost it. For thus saith the Lord: ‘Moses, Moses, go down quickly, for thy people, whom thou broughtest forth out of the land of Egypt, have broken the Law.’ And Moses understood and cast the two tables out of his hands, and their covenant was broken, in order that the covenant of Jesus the Beloved should be sealed in our hearts in hope of his faith” (Epistle of Barnabas 4:6-8)
  • “We have been led to God through this crucified Christ, and we are the true spiritual Israel, and the descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, who, though uncircumcised, was approved and blessed by God because of his faith and was called the father of many nations.”(Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 11.5)

The Third Genos (race, people, tribe) that is neither Jewish nor Greek

  • “Since I see thee, most excellent Diognetus, exceedingly desirous to learn the mode of worshipping God prevalent among the Christians, and inquiring very carefully and earnestly concerning them, what God they trust in, and what form of religion they observe, so as all to look down upon the world itself, and despise death, while they neither esteem those to be gods that are reckoned such by the Greeks, nor hold to the superstition of the Jews; and what is the affection which they cherish among themselves; and why, in fine, this new kind or practice [of piety] has only now entered into the world, and not long ago…” (Epistle to Diognetus 1.1)

The Harmful Charge against Jews of Deicide (The Accusation of Killing God)

  • “The one who hung the earth in space, is himself hanged; the one who fixed the heavens in place, is himself impaled; the one who firmly fixed all things, is himself firmly fixed to the tree. The Lord is insulted, God has been murdered, the King of Israel has been destroyed by the right hand of Israel.” (Melito of Sardis, On the Passover)

The Tragic Influence of Theological Supersessionism and Anti-Judaism on Later Anti-Semitism

The Christian Appropriation of the “Old Testament”

Christians in the first few centuries had varied attitudes to the Jewish Scriptures. Some Jewish Christian sects such as the Ebionites or the Nazaraeans combined belief in Jesus as the promised Messiah with observance of the Law of Moses. Non-Jewish Christ followers also continued to be attracted to Jewish customs, festivals, and synagogues even in the period of Christian ascendancy in the Roman Empire, which sparked the bitter denunciations in the anti-Jewish homilies of the fourth century theologian John Chrysostom. On the other side of the coin, the Christian followers of Marcion completely rejected the Jewish Scriptures as a testament to a rival God, not the loving heavenly Father of Jesus revealed in the Gospel and letters of Paul.

Between these two extremes, emergent Christian orthodoxy re-affirmed that Jesus’ heavenly Father was the Creator God of Genesis and that the Hebrew prophets predicted the coming of Jesus, yet the Christians had to justify why the majority of Jews did not accept the latter claim. Thus, while Christians were trying to carve out a distinctive identity for themselves and their own roots in the biblical story, it also problematically fueled anti-Jewish interpretations. Some Christians claimed that the rejection of the Jews as accursed and their replacement with the Christians as the new covenant people of God was part of the divine plan all along, while others accused Jewish translators of tampering with the biblical witness as Christians defended the Greek translation in the Septuagint that they used in the churches. In light of the history of Christian anti-Judaism and modern racial anti-Semitism, there has been some re-thinking about this tragic legacy and increasing interfaith dialogue.

General Survey of the Hebrew Bible

I have completed a general survey of the main contents and narrative running through the Hebrew Bible. Of course, the area of my scholarly expertise is in the Jewish and Christian movements in the early centuries of the Common Era. Thus, I would be grateful for anyone who wants to email me feedback and constructive criticism of what I should add, omit, or edit. These posts are part of an introductory Bible course (both Testaments) that must be completed in one semester (!), so I cannot include too much information to overwhelm the student. Finally, I should note that I had received a huge amount of assistance in lecturing through the Hebrew Bible from my friend and Old Testament scholar Tyler Williams; he was my former OT professor and has taught this Bible course for several years (including one semester where we co-taught it). Although he does not blog anymore, his Codex website remains a very helpful site for biblical studies resources and blog posts.


Israel’s Wisdom Literature

Wisdom Literature: Introduction

  • Wisdom (Chokmah): not just intellectual but can refer to understanding, insight, shrewdness, skill (e.g. administration or battle), prudence, or upright living (see Proverbs 1:2-7).
  • Traditional Wisdom (Proverbs; Wisdom of Ben Sira or Sirach, Wisdom of Solomon) and Radical Wisdom (Job, Ecclesiastes).
  • Wisdom could be passed down in the settings of households, schools, or royal courts.
  • Parallels with ANE Wisdom literature. For example, see the Egyptian Instruction of Amenemope (ca. 12th century BCE). Some differences include the Israelites’ focus on the source of wisdom (e.g. “Fear of Yahweh”) and this-worldly rewards.

Woman Wisdom (Hebrew: Chokmah, Greek: Sophia)

  • Personifying Woman Wisdom (Proverbs 8) in contrast to Woman Folly (5:1-14).
  • Origins: a remnant of a goddess cult, a metaphor due to the term’s grammatical feminine gender, or a divine hypostasis like God’s spirit or word (Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-26)?
  • Later identified with the Torah (Sirach 24:23) or with Jesus (Matthew 11:29-30; John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-18; Hebrews 1:3).


  • The Hebrew Mishlei means “Proverbs.” The book is comprised of didactic sayings expressed in a pithy manner and drawn from general, practical observations.
  • Authorship:the bulk of the collection is ascribed to Solomon as the fount of wisdom (10:1-22:16; 25-29) along with other collections (22:17-24:22, 23-34) and an introduction (1-9) and appendices (30-31).
  • It expresses traditional retribution theology in general, but there are exceptions.
  • Read the following verses about wealth (3:22; 6:6-11; 10:3; 11:24; 14:31; 28:6)


  • The author is anonymous and Job is the main character. The date is uncertain, though Job is a non-Israelite set in the time of the Patriarchs from the land of Uz.
  • In the prose prologue, a celestial prosecutor called “the adversary” (ha satan) makes the case that Job is only pious because he has been blessed and is permitted to take away Job’s livelihood, children, and health (1-3).
  • After Job’s friends visit, there is an extended poetic section (4-37) where Job protests his innocence and his friends accuse him of guilty.
  • In a storm theophany, Yahweh emphasizes divine control over creation and forces of chaos (38:1-42:6), leading Job to “repent” or change his mind.
  • The prose epilogue (42:7-17) vindicates Job and reprimands his friends for their simplistic retribution theology. Job receives new blessings.
  • The primary question is whether there can be disinterested piety, but it is also concerned with “theodicy” or how a good deity can permit suffering.


  • The Hebrew title Qohelet is often translated “teacher” or “preacher”. Since the verbal root is “to assemble”, it could be translated as “assembler.”
  • The implied author (1:1, 12-13; 2:9) is a wise Davidic ruler in Jerusalem (=Solomon?), but the book may fit the ANE genre of “Royal Fictional Autobiography.”
  • Pleasure, work, wisdom, wealth, youth, law-courts, seasons, and everything else is hebel (vanity, meaningless, fleeting, absurd) and no more profitable than chasing the wind.
  • Did the epilogue (12:9-13) help Ecclesiastes get into the canon and do you agree that fearing God and keeping the commandments is a satisfactory ending to the book?

Israel’s Worship in the Psalms

Hebrew Poetry

  • Half of the Hebrew Bible is poetry.
  • Hebrew poetry is not rhymes or a regular metre, but parallelism. It also features terse expressions, heightened style, figures of speech, and varying word order.
  • A psalm (Greek psalmos) is a translation of the Hebrew word for “song.” The Hebrew Tehillim means “praises.”
  • 117 of 150 of the superscriptions containing notes about the alleged author, the genre, the liturgical use, or the situation reflected in the Psalm.

Robert Lowth’s (1732) Three Categories of Hebrew Parallelism

  • Synonymous (A=B): the parallel line repeats or restates the idea of the first line (Psalm 2:1-3, 8-9)
  • Antithetic (A≠B): the parallel line contrasts with the first line (Psalm 1:6; 7:9)
  • Synthetic/Formal (A→B): the parallel line adds or continues the idea of the first line (Psalm 25:8)
  • Further study of Hebrew poetry shows that Lowth overemphasized similarities between the lines at the expense of differences, for rarely is the  parallel line entirely synonymous with the preceding line without building on it. “Synthetic Parallelism” is too loose a category and other types of parallelism have been identified (e.g. climatic or staircase parallelism, emblematic parallelism).

Herman Gunkel and Form Criticism

  • The “form” of a Psalm and the “situation in life” (Sitz im Leben) the ancient Israelites would have been in when they sang a particular type of Psalm. These are ideal types and not every Psalm includes all of these elements.
  • Hymns of Praise (sub-types include enthronement Psalms and Songs of Zion): an introduction or call to praise, praise of God’s attributes or deeds, and a conclusion. They may be sung on holy days, festivals, or royal coronations. Example: Psalm 8.
  • Thanksgiving Psalm: an introduction, complaint, deliverance, and conclusion or thanksgiving. They may be sung out of worship, gratitude, or feelings of groundedness. Example: Psalm 30.
  • Laments (subtypes include Penitential Psalms): an address, a plea for help, a complaint, an admission of guilt or innocence, a curse of enemies, and a reassertion of God’s faithfulness. They may be sung in times of repentance, fear of natural or human threats, suffering, or social upheaval. Example: Psalms 89 and 137.

The Prophets

Introducing the Hebrew Prophets

  • The “Prophets” (Nevi’im) in the Tanakh is divided by “Former” (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) and “Latter” (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi).
  • The division between Major Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and the 12 Minor Prophets in the Christian Old Testament is based on book length.
  • Hebrew terms: nabi’ (prophet, speaker, herald), roeh (diviner, seer, one who sees), or hozeh (seer, one who sees).
  • Prophecy, divination, and ecstatic behaviour was a wider phenomenon in the ANE and often connected to temple cults or royal courts.
  • Hebrew prophets did not primarily predict the future, but acted as Yahweh’s spokespersons to call Israel and Judah back to covenant faithfulness in specific historical contexts.


  • Amos of Tekoa was a shepherd and took care of sycamore trees (1:1; 7:14). He ministered during the reigns of Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel and, though was from the south, directed his message to northern Israel.
  • Amos condemns the mistreatment of the poor during the long reign of Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) and calls for social justice.
  • In the brilliant rhetorical introduction, Amos gets the intended audience on side by condemning other nations for crimes against humanity, only to turn around to condemn social inequality in northern Israel (1:3-2:8).
  • Hosea, the son of Beeri, was from northern Israel and ministered in the time of kings Uzziah, Jothan, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah and king Jeroboam II of Israel (1:1).
  • Hosea marries either a promiscuous woman or a prostitute named Gomer to symbolize Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh in her devotion to Baal and gives his children symbolic names including Jezreel (recalls Jehu’s massacre in the Jezreel valley), Lo-ruhamah (“not loved”), and Lo-ammi (“not my people”).


  • Traditionally attributed to the eighth century BCE prophet Isaiah son of Amoz, a royal advisor during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (1:1).
  • Chapters 1-39 urges Judah to remain steadfast against the Assyrian threat; the efforts of Israel and Syria to force Judah in a coalition against Assyria provide the context for the “Immanuel” oracle (7:14). An apocalyptic section (ch. 24-27) may be an addition.
  • Second Isaiah (chapters 40-54) stresses Yahweh’s exclusive sovereignty over world affairs and comforts the exiles about a second exodus through the “anointed” Cyrus the Great.
  • Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66) is a collection of post-exilic oracles that looks back on the ruins of Jerusalem (58:12; 61:4; 63:18; 64:9-10) and predicts its restoration including those traditionally excluded (e.g. eunuchs and foreigners).
  • The messianic oracles (Isaiah 9:1-7; 11; 61:1-3) and Servant Songs (Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-11; 53) were influential on early Christians.


  • Jeremiah, son of the priest Hilkiah, had a ministry that spanned the reigns of Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah of Judah (1:1-3).
  • Jeremiah was set apart from birth and called as a young man to be  a prophet to the nations (1:4-10) and was not permitted to get married or have children (7:1-3). He is called the “weeping prophet” due to the extreme heartache he felt over his message and being persecuted as a traitor (e.g. imprisonments, abuse, deportations).
  • He urged the people to not count on divine protection based on their election and temple if they are not obedient to the covenant (7:1-15). He eventually insists that divine punishment is inevitable and that they must surrender to Babylon.
  • There is some textual variations and differences in length between the Septuagint and Masoretic versions of the text of Jeremiah.


  • Ezekiel was a Zadokite priest from Jerusalem exiled to Babylon in 598 BCE and called to be a prophet in the fifth year of the exile of king Jehoiachin (1:2).
  • Ezekiel repudiates the idea of generational guilt, insisting that each one is punished for his or her transgressions and repentance is always available (3:16-27).
  • Ezekiel performs extreme symbolic acts as pointing to judgment (e.g. laying on his side for 390 days, cooking food over manure, attacking the hairs from his shaven beard, and leaving his deceased wife unmourned).
  • Ezekiel is famous for vivid imagery: the divine chariot throne, the nation’s adultery, the resurrection of dry bones, the defeat of “Gog and Magog,” and the fantastical proportions of the new temple.

Post-Exilic Prophets

  • Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
  • They generally deal with either the disillusionment of the returning exiles to the Persian province of Yehud, the encouragement to rebuild the Jerusalem temple, or the expectations of a yet future eschatological judgment and restoration.
  • Daniel is in the Writings in the Jewish canon. Most scholars believe the book was composed in the Hellenistic period around the crisis of Antiochus IV desecrating the temple (167-164 BCE). It hopes for divine intervention to vindicate a human-like figure (i.e. saints of Israel or their angelic or messianic representative) over beasts (i.e. imperial powers).


The Return to Persian Yehud

The Aftermath of the Exile (587 BCE)

  • Judah was a Babylonian province governed by Gedaliah; the Davidic king Jehoiachin was released from prison in Babylon (2 Kings 25:27-30).
  • The final edition of the Deuteronomistic History, select prophets, and psalms of lament address why Yahweh permitted the exile.
  • Exilic hopes: new exodus (Isaiah 40:1-5), new heart for covenant obedience in a restored nation (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-30; 37:1-13), and new temple (Ezekiel 40-47). The servant’s vicarious suffering (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12).
  • Jews in the dispersion met in local assemblies or “synagogues.”

Cyrus “the Great”

  • Cyrus II of Persia (550-530 BCE) conquered Babylon in 539 BCE and established the Achaemenid empire. The imperial propaganda of the Cyrus Cylinder has Cyrus as a liberator chosen by the Babylonian god Marduk.
  • Permitted subject peoples to practice native cultic practices.
  • The edict of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2-4; 6:3-5) enabled the exiles to return to their land and rebuild the temple, returning the sacred vessels stolen by Nebuchadnezzar. Many Jews remained in the diaspora (e.g. Esther).
  • Cyrus as Yahweh’s anointed (Isaiah 44:28-45:1).

The Persian Province of Yehud

  • Sheshbazzar (“prince of Judah”) led a first wave of returnees, but the rebuilding of the temple was stalled due to economic conditions and opposition (538 BCE).
  • The Davidic governor Zerubbabel and high priest Joshua led a second wave in the reign of Darius I (522-486) and they completed the temple dedication (515 BCE).
  • Nehemiah returns in the twentieth year of the Persian ruler Artaxerxes I in 445 BCE to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore civil leadership to the Levites (Nehemiah 2:1; cf. the Elephantine papyri).
  • Ezra returns in the 7th year of Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:1-8), but it is unclear if this is Artaxerxes I (465-424 BCE) or II (404-358 BCE). Ezra enforced the Torah (final edition of Pentateuch) and prohibits intermarriage with foreigners to construct strong social boundaries for a minority ethnic group.
  • Ezra-Nehemiah was originally one book structured by Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 1:1-4), the temple construction (Ezra 1:5-Nehemiah 7:72), and the communal re-dedication to God (Nehemiah 7:73-13:31).

Alternative Voices

  • Ruth: a Moabitess becomes the ancestor of king David.
  • Jonah: a prophet is unable to resist the call to invite the people of Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, to repentance.
  • Trito-Isaiah: eunuchs and foreigners are welcome (ch. 56).
  • Esther: at the encouragement of her uncle Mordecai, Esther intervenes before the Persian ruler Ahasuerus (=Xerxes I from 486-465 BCE?) to deliver the Jews from the wrath of the prime minister Haman. The story is the basis for the Jewish holiday Purim and a subsequent Greek edition makes the diaspora characters more pious.
  • Chronicles: re-write the history in Samuel-Kings from a more hopeful theological perspective for the returning exiles.


The Divided Kingdom and the Fall of Israel and Judah

Rehoboam I and Jeromboam I

  • Rehoboam naively trusts young counselors and refuses to lift the burden Solomon placed on the people (12:6-16).
  • Jeroboam I and northern Israel reject the Davidic dynasty from Judah. To consolidate his rule and prevent his subjects from attending religious services in Jerusalem, he sets up cult centres in Dan and Bethel and installs golden calves in them.
  • The Deuteronomistic Historian calls this the “sin of Jeroboam” and no rulers of Northern Israel turn away from it.

Rulers of Israel and Judah: Overview

  • Synchronism between north and south rulers. All rulers of Israel are deemed evil, while some rulers of Judah are deemed good.
  • Israel: Jeroboam I, Nadab, Baasha, Elah, Zimri, Omri, Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram, Jehu, Joahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II, Zechariah, Shallum, Menahem, Pekahiah, Pekah, Hoshea
  • Judah: Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehoash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah

The House of Omri in Israel

  • Omri (876-869 BCE) set up the capital Samaria, aligned with Judah and Phoenicia, and controlled Moab (cf. Mesha Stele). The Assyrians called Israel “Omri-land.” 1 Kings 16:25-26 briefly dismisses him as evil.
  • Omri’s son Ahab (869-850 BCE) marries Abizebel (“my divine father is a prince”), better known as “Jezebel” (“not a prince”), the daughter of Ethbaal (“With him is Baal”) of Tyre.
  • Ahab establishes the Baal cult in Israel. The Baal Cycle was discovered in 1929 in ancient Ugarit (=Ras Shamra in Syria). El (Ilu) was head of the Canaanite pantheon, Athirat (Asherah) his consort, and his 70 offspring include Yam (“Sea”) and Mot (“death”). The cloud-rider Baal (“fertility”) was a storm god who aided agriculture (crops, cattle, grain, wine, oil) and defeated Yam and Mot.
  • The prophet Elijah (“Yahweh is God”) caused drought in the land and proves that only Yahweh can set the sacrifice ablaze on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18).
  • Jehu’s (842-815 BCE) coup against Omri’s line put an end to Jezebel, 70 sons of Ahab, 42 members of the Jerusalem court, and Baal’s prophets. He continued the “sin of Jeroboam” and Hosea 1:4 condemns Jehu’s violence.

The Fall of Israel

  • Jeroboam II (786-746 BCE) re-fortified Samaria and had a long, prosperous reign that created conditions for social inequality (cf. Amos, Hosea).
  • Political instability from Zechariah to Hoshea.
  • Tiglath-Pileser III (Pul in the Hebrew Bible) extends the Assyrian empire west to the Levant. Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria tried to force Judah in an alliance against Assyria in 732 BCE (cf. 2 Kings 16:5; Isaiah 7:14), while Ahaz of Judah appealed to Assyria who defeated Israel and Syria and made Judah a vassal.
  • Hoshea (732-721 BCE) assassinated Pekah in support of Tiglath-Pileser III, but renounced his vassalage to Assyria in the rule of Shalmaneser V.
  • Shalmaneser attacked Samaria for three years. His successor, Sargon II, destroyed Samaria and deported nearly 30,000 Israelites while resettling others in the region in 721 BCE (2 Kings 17:7-24).

The Fall of Judah

  • The good king Hezekiah (715-687 BCE) supported reforms (e.g. removed altars, promoted Passover) and building projects (e.g. water tunnel). He resisted vassalage to Assyria and, though Assyria’s king Sennacherib took 46 cities and shut up Hezekiah in Jerusalem “like a bird in a birdcage” (ANET 288; cf. 2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 36-37), he did not take Jerusalem in 701 BCE. 
  • Manasseh (687-642 BCE) was a long reigning yet evil king. 2 Chronicles 33:11-17 adds a story of how the Assyrians imprisoned him and he repented before resuming his rule.
  • The good king Josiah (641-609 BCE) promoted reforms based on a “book of the law” (Deuteronomy?). He is slain in battle with Pharaoh Neco II at Megiddo.
  • Babylon defeated Assyria’s capital Nineveh in 612 BCE. Judah was caught between Egypt and Babylon who each had the upper hand at times.
  • Pharaoh Neco II replaced Jehoahaz II with Jehoiakim as Judah’s king.
  • Johoiakim refused the tribute to Babylon, so Jerusalem was attacked. Jehioakim died before the siege ended, but his son Jehoiachin was taken captive in 597 BCE.
  • Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzer II put Zedekiah on Judah’s throne, but a year later destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and exiled its elites in 587 BCE.

The United Kingdom

Introduction: Samuel-Kings

  • Originally one book divided in the fifteenth century CE to each fit on scrolls.
  • 1, 2, 3, 4 Kingdoms in the Septuagint. 1 and 2 Samuel was named after the last judge before the monarchy (1 Samuel 1-7).
  • Content: the rise of Saul (1 Samuel 8-31), David (2 Samuel 1-24), and Solomon (1 Kings 1-11) to the division of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and Southern Kingdom of Judah. 1 and 2 Kings alternates between kings in the North or South.
  • Historicity: the United Kingdom is set in the first part of the Iron Age II (1000-933 BCE). The Tel Dan Inscription is a fragment of a monumental inscription discovered in an excavation of the ancient city of Dan (ca. 9th cent BCE) and the first external reference to the “House of David.”

Views of the Monarchy

  • 1 Samuel 1-2:10 is like a royal birth; the king is subservient to the prophet.
  • Pro-monarchy: Saul’s anointing (9:1-10:16) and victories (11:1-15).
  • Anti-monarchy: rejecting Yahweh as ruler and warnings about the institution of a monarchy (8:1-22; 10:17-27; 12:12-25)
  • “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.“… the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:5, 7)


  • Anointed for the office of “prince” and then king before all of the tribes and had an initial victory over the Ammonites (9:1-12:25)
  • Cultic disobedience: rushed into battle after waiting seven days for Samuel to perform the sacrifice (13:8-9) and kept plunder from the Amalekites rather than putting it under the ban (15:3, 9, 24). He was disobedient to the prophet and his repentance not accepted (15:24-25).
  • David is anointed with the Spirit (16), defeats the Philistines champion Goliath (17; but cf. 2 Samuel 21:20-22), and evokes Saul’s jealousy due to his military victories and the love that Saul’s daughter Michal and son Jonathan have for him (18-22).
  • David refuses to kill Saul as the anointed king, but Saul and Jonathan die tragically in battle (1 Samuel 27-31; 2 Samuel 1).


  • Installed as king over Judah in Hebron (2 Samuel 2:1-7) and has a seven year civil war with the north (2:8-4:12). There is a pun on the name of the northern king Ishbaal as “Ishboseth” (man of shame).
  • David is installed as king over a united Israel, captures Jerusalem as his capital, and attempts to bring the Ark to Jerusalem (5-6).
  • Rapes Bathsheba and causes her husband Uriah to be slain in war (2 Samuel 11-12; cf. Psalm 51). After Nathan the prophet confronts him, David faces four times the consequences including the death of Bathsheba’s firstborn, the rape of his daughter Tamar and murder of his son Amnon, the failed coup of his son Absolom, and the death of his fourth son Adonijah.

The Davidic Covenant

  • David’s desire to build a “house” for Yahweh is not permitted as he is a person of war, but Yahweh builds a house or perpetual dynasty for him.
  • Hittite and Assyrian Royal Grants that gifted land in exchange for service.
  • The Davidic ruler and divine sonship (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7). Most of David’s heirs failed to live up to expectations, creating the seed of the messianic idea of an ideal future ruler to restore the Davidic kingdom.


  • Despite his violent coup against Adonijah and execution of political rivals (1 Kings 1-2), Solomon asks for wisdom to rule (3-4).
  • Solomon builds the temple (5-8), but builds a grander palace, amasses excessive wealth, and conscripts forced labour (9-11).
  • Solomon’s idolatry precipitates the end of the united kingdom (12).
  • Read Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and evaluate whether Solomon was a model ruler according to the Deuteronomistic historian.