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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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I. The Man. The word Nahum means ‘full of comfort’ and is probably a contraction of e longer Heb. term meaning ‘God is a comforter.’ Of the man so named nothing is certainly known. He is called’ the Elkoshite ,’ but the exact meaning of the term cannot at present be determined. It is made in the Targum a kind of patronymic, recording the assumed descent of the prophet from an unknown ancestor Koshi It is more likely to preserve the name of the prophet’s birthplace or place of residence, of which the identification is still lacking. Three or four conjectures have been made.

(1) The prophet’s tomb is shown at Elkosh , 24 miles to the N. of Nineveh; and accordingly he is said to have lived there, a descendant of a member of the ten tribes who was deported in b.c. 721. But the tradition that buries Nahum there is not met with before the 16th cent., and is sufficiently accounted for by the interest in the city shewn by the prophet.

(2) Capernaum is really a transliteration of Heb. words which mean ‘village of Nahum.’ But a Galilæn origin for our prophet is unlikely ( John 7:52 ), and is not supported by any allusions in the prophecy.

(3) The same objection applies to Jerome’s identification of Elkosh with a village Elkozeh in N. Galilee, which on other grounds is precarious.

(4) The most probable tradition associates Nahum with Elkosh ‘of the tribe of Simeon,’ and locates the hamlet near Beth-Gabre , the modern Beit-Jibrîn , about half-way between Jerusalem and Gaza. The tradition occurs in a Syriac version of the biographies of the prophets, ascribed to Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus towards the close of the 4th cent., but probably of much later date.

II. The Book

1. Analysis of contents. In the analysis of the book, a line of division can be best drawn at the close of Nahum 2:2 . The latter section is the actual prophecy or oracle. It is preceded by a psalm or proem consisting of two parts, of which the one is general in its assertion of God’s universal judgment, the other particular in its specific messages to Judah and to Assyria. Jehovah as the jealous Avenger is the opening theme. This fact holds good of His administration ( Nahum 1:3 ); and as He passes on to the overthrow of the wicked, physical proofs of His power become evident everywhere ( Nahum 1:4-6 ). Tenderness towards those who wait upon Him, but an overwhelming flood upon His enemies ( Nahum 1:7-10 ), are the two great characteristics of His rule. ‘What think ye of Jehovah?’ ( Nahum 1:9 , where RV [Note: Revised Version.] does not preserve the sequence of thought) is the point of passage to the section dealing with His particular acts, in which section either the text is corrupt through the displacement of some of the verses, or the two messages, of deliverance to Judah ( Nahum 1:13; Nahum 1:15 , Nahum 2:2 ) and of vengeance upon Israel ( Nahum 1:11 f., Nahum 1:14 , Nahum 2:1 , were meaot to be entangled in repeated antitheses. Already the bearer of the good news is speeding over the hills ( Nahum 1:15; cf. Isaiah 52:7 , Romans 10:15 ).

The oracle proper consists also of two sections, corresponding with the division into chapters. The second chapter is a swift and vivid description of the siege of Nineveh, its capture and sack, with the complete desolation that followed.

A second oracle is contained in the third chapter, which there is no need to regard as compacted of several prophecies, but of which the unity in theme and sequence of thought is conspicuous. The mention of the city of blood, full of lies and rapine, is followed by one of the most vivid battle-pictures in Heb. literature (Nahum 3:2 f.). The cause of destruction is to be found in the diplomatic barlotry, whereby nations and races had been lured and sold; and so richly merited will be the woe, that none will be left or disposed to pity or bemoan Nineveh ( Nahum 3:7 ). The analogy of No-amon (Thebes) makes it certain that a similar fate is awaiting the Assyrian city ( Nahum 3:8 ff.). Her outposts and defences are already falling before the invader, just as the first-ripe figs fall at the mere shaking of a fig-tree; and her people have become women ( Nahum 3:12 f.). The time to prepare for the siege is past, adds the prophet, with his sarcastic appeal, ‘Tread the mortar, lay hold of the brick-mould.’ The swarming merchants, the ‘crowned ones’ (floating foreign population, according to Wellhausen; more probably the princes and prosperous men, cf. Isaiah 10:8 ), the ‘marshals’ or high officials, are like locusts or grasshoppers, that camp in the hedges and walls, but vanish with the sunrise. Finally, the prophet addresses the king himself, and on the eve of the destruction of the city proclaims her disappearance from history amidst the joy of all who had suffered under her tyranny: ‘There is no assuaging of thy hurt … all that hear the bruit of thee clap the hands over thee.’

2. Authenticity of the first chapter . That Nahum was the author of the two oracles is hardly open to question, but of late years some doubt has been thrown upon the authenticity of the prologue. Against Nahum’s authorship the plea is of a technical character, that the first chapter is really, in Heb., an alphabetic poem, and that its right metrical division yields, with a few alterations and transpositions, a series of stanzas, of which the first words commence with the letters of the Heb. alphabet in order. This plea is followed by the statement that such a literary form points to a late origin; and consequently the prologue is held to have been composed or constructed in the post-exilic period, and prefixed as an appropriate Introduction to the oracle of Nahum on account of its expression of the general principle of God’s avenging justice, of which the drama of Nineveh was supposed to afford a striking illustration.

On the other side, the re-arrangements necessary to restore an alphabetical form are difficult, though perhaps possible as far as Nahum 1:9 , after which resort has to be had to processes that are scientifically indefensible. The order of the verses and of the words within the verses has to be altered, words are omitted or introduced with freedom, and on the whole A. B. Davidson’s verdict stands that the attempt to restore the alphabetical form ‘can never be more than an academical exercise.’

Even if an alphabetical form be conceded, a necessary lateness of date cannot be successfully inferred. Instances of the use of such a form occur, e.g ., in Psalms 9:10 , where the tone and teaching are distinctly pre-exilic; and history would allow of the appearance of such a form, or at least of tentative efforts at its construction, at a comparatively early period in the development of a literature. The language and atmosphere of the prologue are those of the succeeding oracles. Alleged parallels with the post-exilic psalms are in reality parallels with earlier writings, which possibly supplied both Nahum and the writers of the psalms in question with their common phrases. Vividness and force, severity towards sin, fervent confidence in God, are features of all three chapters, which are further knit together by their theme, the first setting up God’s throne of judgment and announcing His sentence on Nineveh, the others portraying the execution of that sentence. And the attempts to destroy the unity of the book, able as they have been and full of valuable contributions to its exegesis and to Biblical science generally, must be regarded as having so far failed.

3. Date . The question of the authenticity of the first chapter does not seriously affect the further question of the date at which Nahum composed the two oracles by general consent ascribed to him. Two points may be fixed at once; and in the period between them the actual date must be found. Nahum prophesied after the capture of No-amon or Thebes ( Nahum 3:8-10 ) by Ashurbanipal in b.c. 664 663, but before the fall of Nineveh in b.c. 606. The interval, within which the exact date must be sought, may be shortened with great probability. Ashurbanipal’s brilliant reign terminated in b.c. 626, and before that date there cannot be said to have been any great decline in the strength of Assyria. The Medes and the Scythians were beginning to threaten the empire, but its most serious difficulties arose from dynastic rivalries and the revolt of Ashurbanipal’s brother. Had that revolt been the occasion of Nahum’s prophecy, he would have directed his words against the king in person and not against the city. After the death of Ashurbanipal the Medes rapidly grew in strength, and laid siege to Nineveh, but were called away by an invasion of their own country; and the city was spared for nearly twenty years. The right date for Nahum seems to be a little after the death of Ashurbanipal, when the signs of Assyrian weakness were multiplying, and the outlying parts of the empire had already recovered their independence or been appropriated by other powers. At a later date the language of a prophet in Judah would be likely to be affected by the Deuteronomic style, of which there are no traces in Nahum; an earlier date would fail to supply the historic conditions, which are always an essential feature of Jewish prophecy. About 623 or 624 Nahum would need no great discernment to see the approaching fall of Assyria, and in the equipment and quick movements of the Medes and Scythians he would find the imagery which he uses to such good effect in his oracles.

4. Literary character and religious value . Picturesqueness and force have been described as the most prominent characteristics of Nahum’s poety. Compact thought, vivid description ( Nahum 2:3-5 , Nahum 3:2 f.), effective imagery ( Nahum 2:11 f., Nahum 3:17 f.) separate him sufficiently from the prophets of the Chaldæan period, and give him a position not far behind that of Isaiah. Obscurity is sometimes met with ( e.g . Nahum 1:10 , Nahum 2:8 ), but the cause is probably quite as often the high specific gravity of the sentence as an error in transcription. Findlay says ( Books of the Prophets , II. 191) that Nahum is neglected by the Bible-reader, as though the story of Nineveh had little connexion with the progress of the Kingdom of God, and were merely a complete and isolated fact of the past with no relation to present needs. Yet if Nahum is not a religious teacher like Micah or Isaiah, he focuses the truth of God’s moral government of the world, concentrating the light upon a single typical instance; and he does not fail to defend confidence in God as the eventual Avenger of wrong and the perpetual defence of those who love Him. Where he differs chiefly from the other prophets is in the complete outwardness of his gaze. He has no eye for the shortcoming or sin of Judah, and no revelation to make of the inner history or moral character of his own generation. In this respect he contrasts especially with his contemporary Zephaniah, who also looked for the collapse of the Assyrian kingdom, but saw clearly a similar fate about to overtake the sinners of Israel. For Nahum, Nineveh fills up the whole canvas. The prophecy is a stern song of war, a shout of triumph over the conquered and slain; and though thereby it stands in contrast with the kindlier temper and spirit of the NT, in which no citation from the book occurs, it accords well with the traditions of its own age. And its great lesson, from which attention is not allowed to be diverted, is that the mills of God grind ‘exceeding small,’ and for nations as for individuals ‘sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death’ ( James 1:15 ).

R. W. Moss.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nahum'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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