The sound and the fury of Nahum …

English: Nineveh. Nebi Yunus. Iraqi archaeolog...

Nineveh, 1990: Iraqi archaeologists excavate the monumental entrance to a late Assyrian building. 

Back to the blog after the holidays and vacation … So much to catch up on! We’ve moved already to the post-exilic prophets, but I still have thoughts to record from the pre-exilic and exilic prophets …

How surprising was the tiny book of Nahum—three chapters, 47 verses, and some of the most muscular writing anywhere to be found. It begs to be read aloud. Listen to the prophet exult in describing the destruction of Nineveh, capital of the Assyrian empire (Nahum 3:1-3):

Ah! The bloody city,
all lies,
Full of plunder,
whose looting never stops!
The crack of the whip,
the rumbling of wheels;
Horses galloping,
chariots bounding,
Cavalry charging,
the flash of the sword,
the gleam of the spear;
A multitude of slain,
a mass of corpses,
Endless bodies
to stumble upon!

(All translations are vivid, but some more than others. Nahum 1:14 in my New American Study Bible recounts a command of the Lord against Nineveh: I will make your grave a mockery. In the NAB version on the USCCB web site, it reads: I will make your grave a dung heap.)

Nahum was writing of God’s justice. The Divine Warrior claimed vengeance over Assyria, which had terrorized kingdoms of the Near East, carrying the people of Israel and others off into slavery. The vast and mighty Nineveh, a city of 1,800 acres with nearly 288,000 inhabitants, actually fell in 612 BC. The victors: a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and others. Scholars believe Nahum wrote his oracle prior to the actual event, as if in anticipation and revelation of what was to come.

The overall message, according to Carroll Stuhlmueller, O.P.: God does not tolerate injustice forever. It’s a warning to the Assyria of any age or place, or the brutal despot within each of us. Such fury as the prophet expressed, he said,  may be a necessary step in moving beyond anger to healing: “Nationally and internationally we badly need a way to release desperation and hatred and to be healed of our torturing scars; spiritually we have the inspired prophecy of Nahum.” (Collegeville Bible Commentary, Old Testament, 521-522)

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