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Christopher Heard on P. R. Davies on the Origins of “Biblical” Israel: Part I, Post 1

1st November 2005

Christopher Heard over at Higgaion had the good — nay, excellent idea of initiating a “roundblog” discussion of P. R. Davies, “The Origin of Biblical Israel,” in the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures, vol. 5, article 17 (2005).

I have read Davies’s article and Chris’s first post ( P.R. Davies on the origins of biblical Israel: Part I, Post 1). The main question that Chris raises concentrates on Davies’s contention that Mizpah functioned (for well over a century) as the capital of Judah/Israel after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Thus Chris asks, “Do the available data about Mizpah allow us to place upon it the freight Davies seems to want to place upon it?”

As far as I am aware, the only evidence for Mizpah becoming the capital under Gedaliah is based on 2 Kings 25:22-25 and (as Chris notes) Jeremiah 40:1-–41:16. In addition, according to Nehemiah 3 craftsmen from Mizpah helped do some architectural repairs on Jerusalem (vv. 7, 15, 19).

Even if the evidence from Jeremiah and 2 Kings can be trusted as reliable, Chris rightly notes that those passages say nothing about how long Mizpah continued as the capital after Gedaliah’s death. That being said, most scholars who have an opinion maintain that Mizpah continued as an administrative centre even after Gedaliah’s murder (see recently, Jeffrey R. Zorn, “Tell en-Nasbeh and the Problem of the Material Culture of the Sixth Century” in Oded Lipschits and Joseph Blenkinsopp, ed., Judah and the Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period [Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003], pp. 413-47).

While I personally don’t see any reason to question the evidence from Jeremiah or Kings (and if Tell en-Nasbeh is to be identified with Mizpah, it fits the chronology), I would be interested in why Davies would privilege these passages, but not others such as the claim in 1 Kings 12 that Benjamin sided with Judah when the united kingdom broke up (which is “hardly to be taken as reliable,” p. 2). Of course, I know Davies’s response would be that there was no united kingdom — a position that Davies’s entire article is predicated upon — and one that I am not quite prepared to accept.

At any rate, Chris has raised some good questions about Davies’s article and I too am curious to see what others think — especially considering that I, much like Chris, am more interested in literary and ideological questions rather than historical reconstruction of the biblical text.

UPDATE: Ken Ristau has posted an excellent comment on this entry surrounding the significance of Nehemiah 3:7 for the debate surrounding Mizpah. Ken noted that “Nehemiah 3:7 may provide more information than just that men contributed to the building of the city. Depending on how you translate the difficult grammatical construction in that passage, it may report that Mispah was the seat of the governor of the Trans-Euphrates (not simply Yehud or Samaria).” This is a good observation. The lamed in Neh 3:7 may indeed be taken as specifying what Mizpah is meant: “Mizpah, i.e., the official seat of the governor of the province beyond the river.” This would suggest that Mizpah continued as the administrative centre for the Trans-Euphrates quite for a while. It is interesting that no English translations take the phrase in this way.

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