Wibble Wednesday: Namespace collisions (2 Kings 12–13)

Oops, nearly forgot that it was Wednesday! But there’s still time to write up a quick wibble.

Short snarky summary: Israel and Judah keep having kings with the same names. They also have nicknames, which could easily be used to distinguish them, but instead they just make matters more confusing. Meanwhile, Elisha finally dies and Israel is still at war with Aram.

When we last checked in, both Judah and Israel had basically had their dynastic lines decimated. In Israel, Jehu overthrew the Ahabite line, while over in Judah, after the incidental death of the king in the Israelite coup, the queen mother (Ahab’s sister) murdered every heir she could get her hands on and held power for six years, only to be herself displaced by a priestly coup under the authority of an heir she had missed. So, as we check in now, Israel is under the leadership of the military upstart Jehu, while Judah is led ostensibly by the child Joash (who seems to be called “Jehoash” about half the time) but, reading between the lines, is really ruled by the priest Jehoida, who has the boy-king’s ear.

Chapter 12 spends a lot of words on what Judah was like under Joash. Recall that the Deuteronomists regarded the Israelite monarchy as completely illegitimate, and considered the Judahite monarchy much more ambivalently: yes, they were monarchs, which was bad, but they were also the Davidic dynasty, which is good. So generally speaking they take pains to say nice things about Judahite kings (except for Ahaziah and to a lesser extent Jehoram). Joash is no exception: there’s a slight backhanded indication that Joash was unworthy in failing to dismantle the practice of shrine worship, but on balance the text says that he “did what was pleasing to the Lord”. But the text mostly focuses on some rather dull logistics of how Joash’s godly intentions were put into action. The central element of Joash’s reform is temple monies: the Temple routinely received funds from people either as freewill donations or as part of some sort of sacrificial expiation practice, and Joash ordered that individual priests receiving money should use those funds to repair dilapidations of the Temple. However, after some time, Joash is dismayed to discover that pretty much no repairs are being done on the Temple at all! Reading between the lines, it looks like in his conference with the priest Jehoida they come to the conclusion that individual priests are simply not to be trusted with this cashflow and decide to revamp the procedure for taking donations: the priests will neither take cash nor use their own labor and funds to repair the Temple; instead, funds are pooled and labor outsourced.

The end result of this deliberation is that Jehoida basically invents the pushke, setting aside a box with a slot in its lid for money to be deposited by the “priestly guards” (which I assume are not actually the priests themselves, who have been taken completely out of the financial loop), and which later gets checked and emptied by the high priest and royal scribe for disbursement to laborers to repair the Temple. A few addenda appear to these rules: the money is used only for repairs, not for ornamentation, and money brought as part of the guilt or sin offerings (two specific types of sacrifice; I went through gory details way back in the day in Leviticus) was not put in the repair fund but was rather the property of the presiding priest.

So, Deuteronomists are big on priesthood and big on the Temple: how do we read this in that framework? In some ways, this chapter feels anti-ecclesiastical: it indicates the front-line priests are untrustworthy, and reroutes their responsibilities to the high priest and a representative of the monarchy. On the flip side of this, there’s an emphasis of rebuilding the Temple as an important responsibility, one larger than individual power, and that might be an even bigger theme for the authors than the notion that priests are generally good would have been.

Meanwhile, at the end of this chapter the effort spent beautifying and enriching the Tempe turns out to be for naught, because Hazael (who Elisha anointed as king of Aram, in a rather morally dubious display) invades and marches on Jerusalem, only desisting when Joash sends him the Temple’s treasury and sacred goods. We aren’t told much more about Joash, although we are referred as always to the tantalizing and probably no longer extant Annals of the Kings of Judah for more details. Joash finally dies when assassinated by his courtiers for reasons left uncleear, and is succeeded by Amaziah (who regrettably is never identified with the cognomen “the Amazing”).

But what’s going on in Israel at this time? Well, Jehu’s entire reign, and succession by his son Jehoahaz, was covered bck in Chapter 11, and in Chapter 13 we get a very brief recap of Jehoahaz’s accession. Jehu was given backhanded approbation for destroying the Ba’al cult despite not removing other non-Jehovite cult elements in Israel, while jehoahaz, who continues in his father’s ways without the benefit of having been involved in a cultural coup, is dubbed “displeasing to the Lord”. So God does what he always does when he’s angry at Israel in this stage of history: sets them up to be conquered by the Arameans, and then feels bad about it. In particular, both Hazael and later his son Ben-hadad (which, confusingly, was also the name of Hazael’s predecessor; see Chapter 8) harry the crap out of Israel until Jehoahaz pleads with God to save Israel, and then, in one of the most understated descriptions of heroism even, “the Lord granted Israel a deliverer, and they gained their freedom from Aram”. Oh, how far our descriptions of heroes have fallen since the Book of Judges, where this deliverer would have gotten his own story. Hell, even the least well-characterized deliverer of Israel up to this point managed to get a name (Shamgar son of Anath), a signature weapon (cow-poking stick), and a specific accomplishment (beating six hundred men to death), but here we just get an exceedingly generic deliverance. But Jehoahaz’s Israel apparently remains an impure and weak society, both continuing in their idol-worshippin’ ways and, thanks to Aram’s raids, militarily ineffectual as well. Finally, Jehoahaz dies, to be succeeded by his son… Joash, also known as Jehoash. Are you kidding me? We have two kings (the king of Israel and the king of Judah), with two names (Joash and Jehoash) and the text can’t figure out a way to make them distinguishable? No, really, in discussing both of them, both names are used completely interchangably. I swear the Deuteronomists did this just to piss me off. The good news is that the kings hardly overlap in time. And, as you might expect, since he has “of Israel” after his name, Joash of Israel can be distinguished from his namesake because he’s a bad king (I know, we’re all shocked), continuing in the unacceptable practices of, er, revery other king of Israel.

Chapter 13 closes out with the return of a character we haven’t seen in a while. Ever since Jehu mounted the throne, Elisha’s kept a low profile, probably because none of Jehu’s dynasty have merited the kind of scolding Elisha loved to deliver to the kings of Israel. Surprisingly Elisha is missing from that one-verse deliverance story too, since the one thing he seemed to do more often than scolding kings of Israel was dragging their unworthy asses out of military messes. But now he’s old and dying, and King Joash (the Israelite one) goes to see him and mourn his passing. Before he goes, though, Elisha takes the time to deliver a prophecy, telling Joash to fire an arrow and prophecying vctory over Aram. Then he tells Joash to stab the earth with the arrows, and Joash stabs three times, which apparently was the wrong thing to do (heaven forfend Elisha ever explain these things), because Elisha gets angry and says, if he had only stabbed more, Israel would defeat Aram utterly, but instead they’ll only rout Aram thrice.

Of course, even dead Elisha can’t stop meddling. The story of Elisha’s death ends with a coda that, during annual Moabite raids, a funeral was interrupted and the hurried mourners dumped the corpse into Elisha’s grave, which was for some reason still open, I guess. When the corpse touched Elisha’s bones, he comes back to life. And this is really the last miracle Elisha’s involved in, although I can totally see a precedent here for the unsettling Catholic practice of keeping and ascribing miraculous curative powers to the bits and pieces of saints.

Chapter 13 ends with the military acts of Joash’s reign. They’ve already been prophesied, so it’s probably not much of a surprise to learn that Joash thrice turns back the Aramean tide, and liberates some previously captured Israelite towns.

Oh, it’s going to be so dull without Elisha around to liven things up with his miracles and tongue-lashings. Now for chapters we have nothing to look forward to except military maneuvers.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

One Response to Wibble Wednesday: Namespace collisions (2 Kings 12–13)

  1. gsanders says:

    Your thought on the textual justification for Christian relics makes sense. This wasn’t a story I knew, but mainline protestants don’t talk about relics much, at least in this era.

    There’s also slight echos in one of the miracles attributed to Jesus. Namely, an ailing woman works through a crowd to touch his cloak, and is healed. He notices the power leaving him, which fits with this being a somewhat automatic thing, and tells her that her faith has made her well.

    Elisha is dead by this point, so no even elliptical prophetic statement is available, but a you’ve documented this is hardly the first miracle that doesn’t lend itself to an Aesopian theme. Though I suppose getting a corpse into any grave at all during a military raid is no small thing.

    At least with the ground stabbing, the lesson may be to really work at prophecy and not to just make a few stands and be done with it. Or perhaps the lesson is to be sure to always have an expansion handy as to how you’re recommendations were screwed up in policymakers’ implementation.

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