North and South

I finished up Jon Levenson’s Sinai and Zion today. In this post, I want to discuss Levenson’s view on the Sinai and the Zion traditions as they relate to Northern and Southern Israel.

Many biblical scholars hold that the Sinai tradition was prominent in the North—where they believe that the Book of Deuteronomy originated—whereas the Zion tradition and the concept of an eternal monarchy were stronger in the South. According to this view, the North was a place where anti-monarchical religious sentiment flourished, as we can see in the Book of Hosea, a Northern prophet (Hosea 5:1; 8:10; 10:3-4; 13:10-11). The king was believed to be subordinate to the laws of Sinai, and he was second-class to the prophets, who anointed kings. We see this in I Kings’ narrative about the North, in which Elijah and Elisha anoint kings of Northern Israel, or prophesy the fall of kings for their disobedience of God. Horeb was also a bigger tradition in the North, for Elijah fled there. This is the sort of ideology that is in the Book of Deuteronomy, for Deuteronomy 17 displays a snide attitude towards any king who might rule over Israel, as well as conditions the king’s rule on observance of the covenant. Deuteronomy 18 contains the North’s emphasis on prophecy, as it presents the prophet as the successor of Moses. These are factors that have led many scholars to conclude that Deuteronomy originated in the North. While the North elevated the laws of Horeb over the king, the South, by contrast, held that the Davidic dynasty was eternal (II Samuel 7; Psalm 89), and emphasized Zion over Sinai.

Levenson’s argument is that things are more complicated than that. For one, there are Southern prophets who emphasize Sinai. Micah, a Southern prophet, refers to principles that recall laws in the Torah, as he denounces land fraud, sorcery, and iconography, as well as associates idolatry with harlotry. Amos, who spoke to the North, actually came from the South. Moreover, even the passages about the eternity and unconditional nature of the Davidic covenant (II Samuel 7; Psalm 89) hold that the king can be chastised for sin, which Levenson seems to define as the violation of a law given at Sinai. And a prophet anointed David to be king, which, in the collective mindset of the ancient world, meant that the prophet also anointed all of David’s offspring as well. And so the South had elements of Sinai.

And, while the North did not talk about Zion, it may have had a belief in an eternal dynasty. Moshe Weinfeld notes that perpetual grants are given to people for a display of zeal, as was the case with God’s award of Phinehas with a perpetual priesthood in Numbers 25, for his slaughter of an idolatrous couple. Why wouldn’t Jehu be awarded a covenant of a perpetual dynasty for his zeal in slaughtering the prophets of Baal? Maybe that would explain why Northern Israelites were so angry when Amos predicted the end of Jehu’s line (Amos 7:10-11). This strikes me as speculation, but I do want to note that, in I Kings 11:38, God promises to build Jeroboam a sure house, as God did for David, provided that Jeroboam observe God’s commandments. So the idea of an eternal dynasty was applicable to the North as well, but Jeroboam blew it.

I enjoyed Levenson’s discussion of the Book of Micah. Levenson considers its core to date to the eighth century for two reasons: “First, the emphasis upon Bethlehem rather than Jerusalem as the ancestral city of the coming ruler…would seem to imply the continued vitality of the relations among clans in Judah” (198), which was a pre-exilic reality. And, second, Micah reflects fear of the Assyrians, who were a major threat in the eighth century B.C.E.

But does Sinai conflict with Zion in the Book of Micah? Micah 3:12 states that Jerusalem will become a heap of ruins, whereas 5:5 portrays the king delivering Israel from the Assyrians. Does the promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty and Zion’s inviolability cancel out God’s threat of destruction, which is rooted in the Sinaitic covenant? Levenson doesn’t think so, for he states that the promise follows the punishment, rather than averting it. That means that Israel’s restoration comes after the curses of the covenant have “been actualized.”

Levenson’s conclusion is that we see criticisms of monarchy in the North and the South, for both had clashes between the city and the countryside, and the establishment and independent prophets.

Levenson makes an interesting point on pages 203-204, in a footnote. He says that scholars present the North as anti-establishment and the South as supportive of an eternal monarchy and priestly liturgy because they are Protestant, and they favor the North, which they equate with Protestantism. The South, however, they equate with Roman Catholicism. Levenson likes to identify bias in scholarship, as when he talks about the anti-Judaism sub-text of Wellhausen’s views on the history of Israelite religion (which is fine to note, as long as Wellhausen’s arguments are taken seriously and not merely dismissed as the product of bias). I’m not sure if Levenson is correct about why scholars appear to favor the North, but his statement took me aback because so much of the Hebrew Bible favors the South over the North. The South has good kings, and the right sanctuary. The North has bad kings, and the wrong sanctuary!

David Aaron’s point in Etched in Stone is that the concept of Sinai was late, for it does not appear in so much of the Hebrew Bible. What Levenson associates with “Sinai” in the prophets is a moral standard that God uses to judge Israel. The prophets do not explicitly mention Sinai, however. Aaron may attribute the principles that Micah upholds to elements of Israel’s cultural repertory, rather than to laws in the Torah as we understand it.

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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2 Responses to North and South

  1. Thanks, this is clear and really thought-provoking! I always enjoy your ~Deuteronomy posts, even though I (apparently) often read them in backwards order.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    I do that with some blogs too—read the posts backwards! 😀


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