On the Pride and Fall of Nineveh   Leave a comment

Above:  Nahum

Image in the Public Domain

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READING NAHUM, PART IV

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Nahum 3:1-19

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I recommend reading the Book of Nahum aloud.  Choose a translation or translations with fine literary quality, O reader.  Why should the Bible not function as high literature, as well as scripture?

The vivid imagery of Nahum 3:1-19 is disturbing.

  1. It describes the massacre of civilians in Nineveh.  The targeting of civilians in warfare should disturb anyone.
  2. The cultural lens of mysogyny in verse 13 (“Truly, the troops within you are women….”) would do more than raise eyebrows in more churches if the Revised Common Lectionary included Nahum 3:13.  Without being a cultural reactionary and a mysogynist, I read such passages through the lens of historical analysis.  A given text includes the words it includes, in a particular set of contexts.  I interpret within those contexts.  Ancient texts may not reflect contemporary sensibilities.  I cannot change this reality.

I can and do read through ancient mysogyny and the explicit metaphors of sexual shaming.  They exist throughout the Bible.  I argue with those cultural assumptions, but I do not alter the texts to suit my sensibilities.  I take greater umbrage to the slaughter of civilians.  Nahum 1-3 tell us that God approved of the slaughter of civilians in Nineveh in 612 B.C.E.  I accept that the texts tell me this, but I disagree with the texts.

Jennifer Wright Knust, a theology professor, a minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, and the author of Unprotected Texts:  The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire (2011), made a cogent point during an interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio years ago.  Knust spoke of perceiving an unfortunate tendency in some of her students.  They affirmed ideas they would otherwise consider repugnant if they did not believe that the Bible supported these ideas.

High regard for scripture is fine, abstractly.  It can be fine in application.  High regard for scripture can, however, easily turn into a slippery slope toward disobeying the Golden Rule.  Consider the long and shameful historical record of parts of the Church quoting the Bible to bolster slavery, racism, racial segregation, economic exploitation, mysogyny, nativism, xenophobia, and homophobia, O reader.  Sadly, much of this remains in the present tense.  Many devout Christians justify the unjustifiable partially out of high regard for scripture.

Sometimes the faithful response is to argue against a text.  Does this passage violate the Golden Rule?  If so, how should one, the Church, whatever–interpret this passage?

The Book of Nahum concludes on an ironic note.  “Nahum” means “comfort” or “consolation.”  Yet there is nobody to console Nineveh (3:7).  3:19 offers no pity:

There is no healing for your hurt,

and your wound is fatal.

All who hear this news of you

clap their hands over you;

For who has not suffered 

under your endless malice?”

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Nahum.  I invite you to continue with me as I move along to my next destination, the Book of Habakkuk.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOROTHEUS OF TYRE, BISHOP OF TYRE, AND MARTYR, CIRCA 362

THE FEAST OF BLISS WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR, ARRANGER, AND HARMONIZER; AND HIS WIFE, MILDRED ARTZ WIANT, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, MUSIC EDUCATOR, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF INI KOPURIA, FOUNDER OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF MAURICE BLONDEL, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHER AND FORERUNNER OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL

THE FEAST OF ORLANDO GIBBONS, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER; THE “ENGLISH PALESTRINA”

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