King of Kings: God, the Foreign Emperor, and Discourse on Sovereignty in the Hebrew Bible Open Access

Pannkuk, Justin (Spring 2019)

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Beginning in the 8th century BCE and continuing through the Maccabean crisis in the 2nd, ancient Israel and Judah were threatened or manifestly dominated by a series of foreign empires. This study analyzes the theological responses to these experiences of imperial domination in the Hebrew Bible, especially as they came to expression in discourse about the relationship between YHWH and the figure of the Gentile king. This relationship provided a crucial—even necessary—locus for thinking theologically about empire. For if the unrivaled political sovereignty of the Gentile king was not to dislodge YHWH from his position of ultimate supremacy, this sovereignty somehow had to be assimilated into a Yahwistic theological framework. The key texts analyzed in this study do just this, establishing sets of relations between YHWH and the Gentile king that provide models for making sense of Gentile empire theologically. In order to understand the content and character of these models, this study pursues three central research questions: (1) How did key biblical texts configure the relationship between YHWH and the Gentile king at pivotal junctures in the history of Judah? (2) How did these configurations change over time and in response to different political circumstances and ideological challenges? And (3) how did the responsive nature of this discourse influence the historical development and presentation of beliefs about YHWH? In answering these questions, the study identifies common discursive strategies for making theological sense of Gentile imperialism, including the assimilation of the activities and power of the Gentile king within an exclusively Yahwistic framework by the contestation of effective agency and the construction of hierarchies of relative sovereignty, which over time contributed to the development of monotheistic discourse in ancient Judah and ideas about the kingdom of God in early Jewish eschatology. The analyses also demonstrate how the discursive constructions of reality emerging from both sides of the imperial encounter interacted with one another, producing what postcolonial theorists describe as “hybrid” discourses. The study thus shows how the biblical presentation of YHWH was, by necessity, influenced by the imperial encounter through the process of response.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1:                Introduction—1                                                                    

1.1. The Aim and Focus of This Study

1.2. Structure, Method, and Goals of the Study

           I.2.1. The Chapters of the Story

           I.2.2. The Story of the Chapters

Chapter 2:                “Woe, Assyria—The Rod of my Anger!” God and the Foreign

                                   Emperor in First Isaiah—12                                                                               

2.1. Introduction

2.2. 745 BCE: A Shadow in the East and the Beginning of the End

2.3. God and the Foreign Emperor in First Isaiah

           2.3.1. Isaiah 10:5–15: English Translation

           2.3.2. Contesting Agency by the Instrumentalization of the Assyrian King (10:5–6)

           2.3.3. Misaligned Intentionality and Imperial Hubris (10:7–11)

           2.3.4. A Temporal Gloss and YHWH’s Promise of Punishment (10:12)

           2.3.5. The King’s False Consciousness and Hubris (10:13–14)

           2.3.6. A Concluding Reinforcement of the Hierarchy of Agency

           2.3.7. Summary of Exegesis

2.4. The Symbolic Work of Isaiah 10:5–15 and its Hybrid Character

           2.4.1. Mastering the Indomitable

           2.4.2. A Hybrid Discourse

           2.4.3. The Symbolic Action

Chapter 3:                Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, My Servant: God and the Foreign

                                   Emperor in Jeremiah—51                                                                          

3.1. Introduction

3.2. The Fall of Assyria and the Rise of Babylon

3.3. Babylon and the West

           3.3.1. Judah between Egypt and Babylonia

3.4. God and the Foreign Emperor in the Book of Jeremiah

           3.4.1. Complications in Studying the Perspectives on Babylonia in Jeremiah

3.5. YHWH and Nebuchadnezzar in Jeremiah

           3.5.1. Babylon and its King as Agents of YHWH’s Judgment

              The Enemy from the North and Jer 25:9–14

              Nebuchadnezzar and YHWH in Jeremiah’s Responses to Judah’s Institutional Leaders

                          Jeremiah 20:1–6: A Chain of Agency

                          Jeremiah 21:1–10: YHWH (and Nebuchadnezzar) Fight against Jerusalem

                          Jeremiah 34:1–7: The Fate of Zedekiah in the Chain of Agency

              The Symbolic Work of the Model

                          Mastering the Indomitable, Once Again

                          The Culpable Populace and the Vindication of YHWH

                          A Powerful, Yet Exploitable Model

           3.5.2. The Delegation of Sovereignty to Nebuchadnezzar, YHWH’s Servant

              Creation, the Divine Will, and Delegation (27:5–6)

              Delegation and the Divine Will in Jer 27:5–6 and Near Eastern Royal Ideology

              YHWH and Nebuchadnezzar in Jer 42:12–13 and 43:10–13

              The Symbolic Work of the Model: Radical Assimilation and Life in Diaspora

              Reframing the Empire: A Hybrid Discourse

           3.5.3. Nebuchadnezzar as an Object of YHWH’s Retributive Justice (Jer 50–51)

Chapter 4:                Cyrus, YHWH’s Anointed One: God and the Foreign Emperor at the

                                   Dawn of the Persian Period—127

4.1. Introduction

4.2. The Persian Eclipse of Babylon and the Fate of the Exiles

           4.2.1. The Rise of Persia

           4.2.2. Babylonian Hostility toward Nabonidus

           4.2.3. Pro-Persian Propaganda and Persian Policy toward Conquered Peoples

           4.2.4. Persian Policy and the Babylonian Diaspora

4.3. God and the Foreign King in Second Isaiah

           4.3.1. The Rhetorical Context of the Cyrus Songs in Second Isaiah

           4.3.2. YHWH and Cyrus in Second Isaiah: Hierarchies of Agency and Sovereignty

              A Hierarchy of Agency

                          An Exclusively Yahwistic Framework

                          Cyrus’s Dual Role as the Antitype of Nebuchadnezzar

                          Minding the Foreign King

              A Hierarchy of Sovereignty

                          Cyrus, “My Shepherd,” and “YHWH’s Anointed”

             Second Isaiah on Cyrus: Resistance and Rhetoric

                         YHWH’s Freedom and the Election of Cyrus


              The Message of Second Isaiah and Persian Propaganda: A Hybrid


Chapter 5:                In the Court of the King: God and the Gentile Emperor in

                                   Daniel 1–6—184

5.1. Introduction

5.2. The Court Tales of Daniel

           5.2.1. The Literary History of the Danielic Court Tales and the Masoretic Tradition

              Tradition-History: From Nabonidus to Nebuchadnezzar

              The Versional Evidence: Toward an Appreciation of Daniel MT

           5.2.2. The Theological Appropriation of the Court Tale

           5.2.3. A Lesson in Sovereignty: King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in Daniel 1–4

              Daniel 1: Historical Agency and the Theme of Knowledge

              Daniel 2: Nebuchadnezzar and the God who Reveals Mysteries

              Daniel 3: And Who is the God who Will Save You from My Hands?

              Daniel 4: The Most High has Sovereignty over the Kingdom of Mortals

           5.2.4. In Nebuchadnezzar’s Shadow: Daniel 5–6

              Daniel 5: “Though you Knew All This!” The Judgment of Belshazzar

              Daniel 6: The Power and Wishes of Darius the Mede

           5.2.5. Containment: The Symbolic Work of Daniel 1–6

5.3. The Dream-Vision of Daniel 2: Shattering the Stasis

           5.3.1. The Theological Appropriation of the Four-Kingdoms Sequence

Chapter 6:                God and the Gentile Emperor in Daniel 7—239

6.1. Introduction

6.2. From Daniel 2 to Daniel 7

           6.2.1. A Pivotal Vision: Daniel 7 within Danielic Discourse

6.3. Daniel 7: Angelic Mediation, the Mythic, and the Eschaton

           6.3.1. A Generic Shift

           6.3.2. The Mythic and the Monstrous

              The Identification of Mythic Imagery in Daniel 7

              Excursus: Tenuous Parallels in Imagery between the Baʿal Cycle and Daniel 7

              The Function of the Mythic Imagery in Daniel 7

                          Creating the Beasts out of the Sea

                         The Fourth Beast: A Culpable Agent?

              The Character of the Response in Proto-Daniel 7: Response and Responsibility

           6.3.3. A New Eschatological Scenario

6.4. The Horn Redaction: The Most High and Antiochus IV Epiphanes

6.5. Summary

Chapter 7:                Conclusion: The Chapters and the Story—280

7.1. Common Themes and Strategies: Discourse on Agency and Relative Sovereignty

           7.1.1. Discourse on Agency

           7.1.2. Discourse on Relative Sovereignty

           7.1.3. King of Kings: Response, Responsibility, and Monotheism

7.2. The Nature of Response: Hybridity and Symbolic Work

           7.2.1. Hybridity

           7.2.2. The Merely Symbolic: “Minding” the Gentile King in Biblical Discourse


                                   List of Figures

Figure 2.1.:   (MAP): Assyria’s Annexation of the West

Figure 2.2.:   The Hierarchy of Agency in Isaiah 10:5–15

Figure 2.3.:   Hierarchies of Agency in Assyrian Royal Inscriptions and Isaiah 10:5–15

Figure 2.4.:   Hierarchies of Agency in Isaiah 10:5–15, the Speech of the Rabshakeh, and

                       Assyrian Royal Inscriptions

Figure 3.1.:   The Hierarchy of Sovereignty in JerMT 27:5–6

Figure 3.2.:    Hierarchies of Sovereignty in Jer 27:5–6, Neo-Assyrian Royal Ideology, and BM


Figure 3.3.:   The Hierarchy of Servitude in JerMT 27:5–6

Figure 4.1.:   Hierarchies of Agency in Judean Prophetic Discourse

Figure 4.2.:   Hierarchies of Sovereignty in Judean Royal Ideology and Isa 45:1

Figure 4.3.:   The Hierarchy of Sovereignty in the Cyrus Songs and Cyrus’s Decree

Figure 5.1.:    Conflict Loci in Traditional Court Tales

Figure 5.2.:    Conflict Loci in the Danielic Court Tales

Figure 5.3.:    The King flanking the Tree between Attendant apkallu Genies

Figure 5.4.:    The Interchangeability of the King and the Tree

Figure 5.5.:    Hierarchies of Sovereignty in JerMT 27:5–6/Dan 4 and Neo-Assyrian,

                       Neo-Babylonian, and Achaemenid Royal Ideology

Figure 5.6.:    The Four-Kingdoms Sequence in Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream-Vision

Figure 6.1.:    The Four-Kingdoms Schema in Proto-Daniel 7

Figure 6.2.:    The Hierarchy of Sovereignty and Agency in the Four-Kingdoms Schema

Figure 6.3.:    Silver Tetradrachm with Laureate Head of Zeus and Elephant-Drawn Chariot

                       From Susa, from ca. 295 BCE.

Figure 6.4.:    Commemorative Silver Tetradrachm with Horned Horse and Elephant from Pergamum, 281 BCE.

Figure 6.5.:    Silver Stater of Seleucus I, with Laureate Head of Zeus and Elephant from Susa, ca. 288/7 BCE.

Figure 6.6.:    Eschatological Delegation of Sovereignty and the New Hierarchy of Servitude

Figure 6.7.:    Hierarchies of Sovereignty and Servitude, Present and Eschatological

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