Peckham on Genesis 3, Rabshakeh Speaking Isaiah’s Words, and the Date of Amos and Hosea

I’m continuing my way through Brian Peckham’s History and Prophecy.  I have three items:

1.  On page 127, Peckham offers interesting insights on Genesis 2-3:

“The tree of life (Gen 2:9) was ultimately beyond the reach of Man (Gen 3:22), as the plant of life was beyond the reach of Gilgamesh…Its contrast with the tree of knowledge resembles the contrast between wisdom and life in the story of Adapa…In the epic the tree of knowledge, or the two trees together, may represent the groves on high places where Israel worshiped.  These were associated with wisdom and knowledge and natural cycles (Hos 4:6a, 12-13a) and, as later polemic reveals, were incorporated into temples as shrines or symbolized as ornate pillars representing the Goddess Asherah.”

I looked up those verses in Hosea 4, and I could somewhat see Peckham’s point: Hosea 4 seems to be saying that people go to the wooden idols for knowledge, and yet they are perishing for lack of knowledge.  Could the trees in the garden represent the Asherah?  Is Genesis 3 telling the Israelites not to go to the Asherah for knowledge?  This interpretation is tempting, but Genesis 2-3 is not negative about the tree of life, and one could argue that the groves epitomized life, or fertility.  So, if Genesis 2-3 (or at least a certain stage of it) is anti-Asherah, why is it positive regarding the tree of life?  And yet, Adam and Eve are cut off from the tree of life.  Could the message of Genesis 2-3 be that we cannot have knowledge and life apart from God, and obedience to him?

2.  I gained more insight into Peckham’s view on what Isaiah thought regarding the covenant.  According to Peckham, Isaiah held that the covenant emphasized worship at festivals above ethics, and he criticized Judah for relying on that covenant for safety.  At the same time, Peckham believes that Isaiah felt Judah should seek refuge in something: the Zion that God built on faith and fortified with truth and justice.  I am not entirely sure what separates Isaiah’s belief that Israel should trust in Zion for safety, and the view that Isaiah was criticizing—that Israel should rely on the covenant.  Both can be taken in an antinomian direction—that God will protect Israel, no matter how she acts.  But that’s not necessarily the case.  Even the Epic that Isaiah criticizes has ethics.  And Isaiah wanted Zion to be built on faith and fortified by truth and justice, so there is a degree of conditionality in the protection that he felt God would give to Zion.

Pages 156-157 are interesting, for, there, Peckham argues that the Sequel is refuting Isaiah by placing Isaiah’s message in the mouth of the Assyrian Rabshakeh, who was taunting Jerusalem.  The Rabshakeh ridicules Hezekiah for trusting in both YHWH and Egypt, something that Isaiah also criticizes.  The Rabshakeh said that God sent the Assyrians against Israel, which Isaiah also claimed.  Peckham seems to argue that the Rabshakeh both echoes Isaiah and refutes him: Isaiah said that Judah chooses to rely on her army rather than God, and that her army will fail, whereas the Rabshakeh says that Hezekiah does not have his own army, but that, even if he did, he’d lose.  Isaiah’s message is presented as inaccurate, and also as similar to Assyrian boasting.

Isaiah says that the Judahites will listen to incomprehensible speech in a state of terror.  In the Sequel, however, the leaders of Judah understand the Assyrians’ Aramaic, and the Judahites listen silently (not in terror) to the threats of the Assyrians.  Isaiah calls Judah’s covenant a pact with Sheol (according to Peckham’s interpretation of Isaiah 28:18), and the Rabshakeh denigrates the covenant by proposing a covenant of his own, which is similar to Judah’s covenant with God: Assyria will bless Judah if she submits to him.  Here, Peckham argues, the Sequel is defending the covenant with God by saying that “Jerusalem is secure in its covenant with Yahweh and life” (page 157).

These are interesting thoughts.  I remember when I was doing my weekly quiet time through Isaiah, and a thought that I had was that the Rabshakeh is like Satan: he can use the words of God to put God’s people down.  Peckham, however, says that the Sequel is criticizing Isaiah for putting God’s people down in the name of the LORD.

3.  Peckham appears to date Amos and Hosea to the time after the destruction of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E., which is odd, since many have asserted that these prophets addressed Northern Israel, warning her of coming destruction at the hands of the Assyrians—meaning that their prophecies were before 722.  Peckham’s argument seems to be that Amos and Hosea were intended for the Judahites: they were saying that, just as Northern Israel fell, so would Judah, on account of her sins.  Peckham thinks that Amos and Hosea respond to Judahite, post-722 literature, such as the Epic and the Sequel, and so their works came after them in date.

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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