Democratizing the Monarchy, Obadiah

1.  I’m still in Othmar Keel’s Symbolism in Ancient Israel.  What I’m going to comment on today is a topic on pages 201-202.  There are Psalms in which Yahweh is intimately involved in the birth of the Psalmist.  God shaped him in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13, 16), “took him from his mother’s womb (Pss 22:9a; 71:6…) and sheltered him on his mother’s breast (Pss 22:9b…).”  According to Keel, that parallels what Egyptian gods and goddesses did in the conception and birth of the Pharaoh.

This is not the first time that I read an attempt to limit such concepts to a restricted class of people.  In J.H. Allen’s Anglo-Israelite work, Judah’s Sceptre and Joseph’s Birthright, Allen states that God only knew certain people before their birth: David (Psalm 139), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and Paul (Galatians 1:15).  This article lists other examples.  But Allen’s point is that God formed and knew in the womb people who had a special mission.  I’m not sure if he’d endorse those texts to support the pro-life position in the abortion debate!

But there are places in the Hebrew Bible that democratize concepts that applied to kings.  Scholars point out that people in the ancient Near East believed that kings were in the image of the deity, but Genesis 1 applies that to all human beings.  The king was a child of a deity, but God ascribes that honor to the entire Israelite nation (Exodus 4:22).  And Isaiah 55:3 relates God’s everlasting covenant with David to Israel, in effect democratizing the Davidic covenant.

Why?  Some may say that such democratization occurred in the time of Israel’s exile, when Israel no longer had a king and was searching for some significance.  As a solution, she applied to herself concepts that she and other ancient Near Eastern nations ascribed to kings.  Others may suggest that God’s religion was challenging the elitism of the day, affirming that Israel and (in a sense) others have the dignity of kings.

2.  I read the Anchor Bible Dictionary’s article on the Book of Obadiah.  The following stood out to me:

No information is available about the prophet except what may be deduced from the book. No serious question arises of identification with any other biblical character of this name. Later Jewish tradition (b. Sanh. 39b: cf. Jerome, In Abdiam) associated him with the Obadiah of 1 Kings 18, the controller of the royal household who protected prophets of Yahweh from Jezebel: this is a legend attached to a devout character, showing also the common tendency to identify those who bear the same name.

This puzzled me because the Book of Obadiah seems to relate so obviously to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E.  Vv 10-14 criticize Edom for taking advantage of Jerusalem’s destruction and kicking Judah while she was down.  But Obadiah lived in the ninth century B.C.E., in Northern Israel.  Why would he comment on something that would happen to Southern Israel a few centuries after his time?

I couldn’t find what Jerome had to say, though I find it interesting that he wrote two commentaries on the Book of Obadiah, a book with only one chapter.  One of his commentaries was very mystical. 

But I could find what B.T. Sanhedrin 39b said.  It states that Obadiah was rewarded with the gift of prophecy because he hid the prophets of the LORD in a cave, when Queen Jezebel was on her murderous rampage.  God had him comment on Edom for two reasons: (1.) Obadiah was an Edomite proselyte to Judaism, and (2.) Obadiah was righteous when he was in the household of two wicked people (Ahab and Jezebel), so it was fitting that he should predict the downfall of the nation of Esau, who was wicked in the household of two righteous people (Isaac and Rebecca).

For the rabbis in that passage, Obadiah had his reasons for talking about the far-off future. 

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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