The Superscription of the Book of Micah   1 comment

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire and Its Neighbors

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING MICAH, PART I

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Micah 1:1

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The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.  He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected.  His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God.  Why do the two need reconciliation?  Perhaps it is due to man’s false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God’s involvement in history.

–Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Vol. 1 (1962), xiii

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The superscription of the Book of Micah identifies the prophet as Micah, from Moresheth, a village southwest of Jerusalem.  “Micah” is abbreviated from “Micaiah,” literally, “Who is like Yah[weh]?”  The superscription also specifies the prophet’s mission (to prophecy regarding the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah) and timeframe (during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah).

With a few exceptions (such as in the First Book of the Maccabees, which dated events according to the Hellenistic calendar), when authors of the Old Testament dated events, the usually used relative dating, such as “in the third year of king _____.”  Converting these ancient dates to fit onto the Gregorian calendar and the B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E. scale has long proven challenging and with inconsistent results.  Perhaps you, O reader, have noticed that when you have consulted two different study Bibles for when a certain King of Israel or King of Judah reigned, you found two different answers.

For the record, as much as possible, I take dates from The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014).  It tells me that the four listed kings reigned accordingly:

  1. Azariah, a.k.a. Uzziah (785-733 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26:1-23;
  2. Jotham (759-743 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 15:32-38 and 2 Chronicles 27:1-9;
  3. Ahaz (743/735-727/715 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 16:1-20; 2 Chronicles 28:1-27; and Isaiah 7:1-8:15; and
  4. Hezekiah (727/715-698/687 B.C.E.); see 2 Kings 18:1-20:21; 2 Chronicles 29:1-32:33; Isaiah 36:1-39:8; and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 48:17-22 and 49:4.

Jotham and Azariah/Uzziah had a co-regency.  Did Ahaz and Azariah/Uzziah also have a co-regency?  Trying to answer that question accurately is difficult, given that relative dating for the same monarchs is not always consistent, due to factual contradictions in sources.

Scripture does mention “Micah the Morashite” outside of the Book of Micah.  Jeremiah 26:17-19, in the context of Jeremiah’s trial and death sentence, quotes some Jewish elders recalling Micah as having prophesied during the reign of King Hezekiah and not having received the death penalty.  Jeremiah 26:18 quotes Micah 3:12.

The Book of Micah, like the Books of Hosea and Amos before it, has layers of authorship and editing between the original version and the final version, from after the Babylonian Exile.  This reality does not trouble me in the Books of Hosea and Amos.  Neither does it disturb me in the Book of Micah.

The timeframe of the prophetic career of Micah, as established in 1:1, was very difficult.

  1. The Assyrian Empire menaced the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.
  2. The Kingdoms of Israel and Aram had formed an anti-Assyrian alliance.  King Ahaz of Judah refused to join that alliance.  Therefore, during the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.), Israel and Aram waged war on Judah and sought to replace Ahaz with a monarch who would join that alliance.  Ahaz allied himself with the Assyrian Empire, not God.  In 732 B.C.E., the Assyrian Empire seized territory from Aram and Israel and reduced those kingdoms to vassalage.
  3. The Assyrian Empire conquered the (northern) Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.E.
  4. The Assyrian Empire conquered the Kingdom of Aram in 720 B.C.E.
  5. In 701, during the reign of King Hezekiah, Assyrian King Sennacherib (r. 705-681 B.C.E.) invaded Judah.
  6. On the domestic front, wealthy landowners were forcing peasant farmers into debt and seizing their land, in violation of the common good and the Law of Moses.  Corruption, injustice, and oppression of Judeans by Judeans was endemic.

The superscription (1:1) refers to “Samaria and Jerusalem,” the capitals of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, respectively.  I mention this because the use of language matters.  If, for example, I write, “x” and have one meaning in mind yet you, O reader, read “x” and have another definition in mind, I have not communicated with you, and you have missed the point.

  1. The Book of Micah, in its final form, generally uses “Israel” in the generic sense–the people of the covenant, not the subjects of any Jewish kingdom.  This explains why, in Micah, Israel continues to exist after the Fall of Samaria (722 B.C.E.).
  2. “Jacob” refers to Judah.  The use of “Jacob” recalls the infamous trickster (Genesis 25:19-34; 27:1-35:37; 37:1-36; 42:29-43:14; 46:1-47:12; 47:28-48:22).  “Jacob,” of course, is also the original name of Israel, after whom the people of Israel took their name.  The use of “Jacob” to refer to Judah indicates the importance of divine promises to the Patriarchs and foreshadows restoration to a state of grace after punishment for sins.

The Book of Micah holds divine judgment and mercy in balance.  Much of the prophecy, in its final, edited form, is doom and gloom.

Yet faith in God does not conclude on a note of despair.  Hope is the last word, then as now.  But the hope which prophetic religion exalts is born of faith in God and in his love of man.

–Harold A. Bosley, in The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 6 (1956), 901

Another detail interests me.  Most English translations begin:

The word of the LORD that came to Micah….”

Focus on “came to,” O reader.  The Hebrew text literally reads:

The word of the LORD that was Micah….

This leads me back to Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel:

The prophet is a person, not a microphone.  He is endowed with a mission, with the power of a word not his own that accounts for his greatness–but also with temperament, concern, character, and individuality.  As there was no resisting the impact of divine inspiration, so at times there was no resisting the vortex of his own temperament.  The word of God reverberated in the voice of man.

The prophet’s task is to convey a divine view, yet as a person he is a point of view.  He speaks from the perspective of God as perceived from the perspective of his own situation.  We must seek to understand not only the views he expounded but also the attitudes he embodied:  his own position, feeling response–not only what he said but also what he lived; the private, the intimate dimension of the word, the subjective side of the message.

–The Prophets, Vol. 1 (1962), viii

The inspiration of scripture included a human element.  The authors and prophets were not secretaries of the Holy Spirit, taking dictation, as in “Put a comma there.”  No, the people thanks to whom we have the Bible put themselves into the book.  They were the message.  They were people, not microphones.

What does the Book of Micah have to proclaim to the world of 2021?  Let us find out.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF NICOLAUS SELNECKER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JACKSON KEMPER, EPISCOPAL MISSIONARY BISHOP

THE FEAST OF EDITH MARY MELLISH (A.K.A. MOTHER EDITH), FOUNDRESS OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE SACRED NAME

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA GARGANI, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS APOSTLES OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF MARY MADELEVA WOLFF, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN, POET, SCHOLAR, AND PRESIDENT OF SAINT MARY’S COLLEGE, NOTRE DAME, INDIANA

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One response to “The Superscription of the Book of Micah

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  1. Pingback: Oracles of Divine Punishment, Part I | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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