Ben Zvi’s Commentary on Micah

I read Ehud Ben Zvi’s commentary on the Book of Micah.  Ben Zvi is skeptical about scholarly tendencies to trace prophecies back to an eighth century figure named Micah, for at least two reasons:

First of all, Ben Zvi does not think that contents of the Book of Micah can be securely tied to the eighth century, for several of its claims are general rather than specific to a particular time.  Ben Zvi dismisses attempts to emend the text to conform to the eighth century B.C.E. (which is probably done because the book’s superscription says that Micah prophesied in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah), such as replacing “Babylon” in Micah 4:10 with “Assyria”.  Although Ben Zvi regards several parts of Micah as practically a-historical, he thinks that it best fits Israel’s post-monarchic period, for it talks about such concepts as exile and the remnant, plus it manifests a struggle by powerless people to hold on to hope—as they fantasize about having power over the territory of Israel and the nations.  Micah 4:10 refers to Babylon as “there”, not “here”, so Ben Zvi regards Judah as the provenance of the Book of Micah, more specifically, post-exilic Achaemenid Judah, a time when Jews still regarded themselves as under God’s punishment and awaited restoration.  While Micah 5 mentions the threat of the Assyrians, Ben Zvi does not think that offers any indication of an eighth century date, for Micah 5:6 refers to the land of Nimrod, which is Babylon.  For Ben Zvi, Micah 5 is simply referring to Israel’s enemies according to historical examples, or is presenting hypotheticals (Suppose the Assyrians…).

According to Ben Zvi, the function of the Book of Micah was to show that Israel was punished on account of her sins, and to offer her hope that restoration would occur in the future.  While many scholars have argued that there are Deuteronomistic additions to Micah, which may be how some have accounted for exilic elements of the Book, Ben Zvi does not agree, for he contends that the Book of Micah draws from the Books of Kings, just like the post-exilic Books of Chronicles do. And, as he argued regarding the Book of Zephaniah, Ben Zvi affirms that the Book of Micah, too, was intended to encourage Israel that she could trust God’s word that restoration would occur, for God’s prophecies of catastrophe for Israel had come to pass.

Second, in contrast to scholars who try to identify traces of Micah’s orally-performed prophecies, Ben Zvi regards the Book of Micah as primarily literary—a document to be read, reread, and studied by a literate elite, who communicated God’s words to others in Israel.  On page 110, Ben Zvi offers a reason that speeches in the Book of Micah are literary rather than oral: “Of course, as in other sections in the book of Micah (e.g., 2:1-5), that the words uttered by the speaker in one speech reported in the book depend on those uttered in another speech in close proximity in the book militates against the idea that we have before us the very words said by an actual speaker on two separate occasions.  This observation and those advanced before…indicate that implied author constructed the voice of the speaker with the readership of the book in mind.”  For Ben Zvi, the dependence of one speech on another in the Book of Micah is evidence that the speeches are literary, not oral, perhaps because a literary work has inter-related pieces that are part of a broader whole, whereas sermons are not as neat and interconnected with each other.

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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