Monday, June 15, 2020

Living in the reign of Zedekiah

I've been thinking lately about the opening of the Book of Mormon.

"For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, . . . there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed" (1 Nephi 1:4). Nephi's father, Lehi, became one of these prophets, and he, too, began proclaiming that Jerusalem would be destroyed for its iniquities. "And it came to pass that the Jews did mock him because of the things which he testified of them" (1 Nephi 1:19). "Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets" (1 Nephi 2:13).

I always used to wonder why, in the reign of Zedekiah, people would find it hard to believe that Jerusalem could be destroyed. Here, according to 2 Kings 24 (and backed up by the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle), are the circumstances under which that reign began:

[10] At that time the servants of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up against Jerusalem, and the city was besieged.

[11] And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it.

[12] And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign.

[13] And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king's house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the Lord, as the Lord had said.

[14] And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.

[15] And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king's mother, and the king's wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.

[16] And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.

[17] And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his [Jehoiachin's] father's brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

In other words, in the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, Jerusalem has already been conquered. The royal palace and the Temple of Solomon had been pillaged; the entire population of Jerusalem, excepting only "the poorest sort," had been deported; and Zedekiah himself was a mere puppet, chosen and quite literally named by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When, after all that, prophets began prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem, it is only to be expected that they would be ridiculed -- not for their far-fetched claims, but rather for the absurd pretension of prophetically "predicting" what was already virtually a fait accompli.

Nevertheless, at least as the Book of Mormon tells it, the people still thought of Jerusalem as "that great city" and believed it to be invincible!

How could they have been so clueless? How could they not have noticed that -- even though, at the superficial level, the Temple and the city walls were still standing, and a scion of David on the throne -- "that great city" was already kaput?

Or perhaps it was because Jerusalem was already subject to Nebuchadnezzar that the people thought they were safe. Surely there could be no reason for the king of Babylon to destroy one of his own possessions. Surely, rather than coming back to stomp on its corpse, he would want to develop the city -- to make Jerusalem great again -- if only to ensure that the tributes kept coming in. And perhaps that was Nebuchadnezzar's original plan. However, the people had overlooked the fact that he fundamentally did not care about Jerusalem, and at the first sign of trouble (Zedekiah had sought an alliance with Egypt), he did not hesitate to come back and squash the city like a bug.


The reader will have guessed why this story has been on my mind. Remember when there was a worldwide totalitarian coup, and no one noticed? And even those few who did notice were generally taken by surprise when control gave way to destruction, and the nascent birdemic police state suddenly morphed into an Eff-tha-Police state. The reign of Zedekiah isn't really a precedent for this extraordinary state of affairs -- there are no precedents -- but it does provide some food for thought.

5 comments:

  1. "it does provide some food for thought."

    @Yes it does.

    When I was young and read such things (although not this specifci thing), in a sense I could not believe that people could behave like that - i.e. that almost nobody would notice a world (or even national) takeover.

    But also, I could not believe that there could be a takeover that nobody would notice - if you get the distinction.

    What I mean is that it is precisely Because we do not believe that there could be a takeover that nobody would notice that it is in fact possible for there to be a takeover that nobody would notice!

    The fact we have not noticed it, becomes the primary evidence that it has not happened.

    Because we think it ridiculous to imagine that such a big thing could happen unnoticed: it did.

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  2. Right, it's the Big Lie logic. We find it hard to believe that everyone could fall for an obvious lie -- and therefore, everyone falls for an obvious lie.

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  3. What is the Nebuchadnezzar Chronicle that you cite as backing up the account in 2 Kings 24?

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  4. Karl, it's tablet ABC 5 in the Babylon Chronicles. You can read an English translation at https://www.livius.org/sources/content/mesopotamian-chronicles-content/abc-5-jerusalem-chronicle/

    The relevant passage is Rev.11'-13':

    "In the seventh year [598/597 BC], the month of Kislîmu, the king of Akkad [Nebuchadnezzar] mustered his troops, marched to the Hatti-land [Palestine], and besieged the city of Judah [Jerusalem] and on the second day of the month of Addaru he seized the city and captured the king [Jehoiachin]. He appointed there a king of his own choice [Zedekiah], received its heavy tribute and sent to Babylon."

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  5. By the way, it's worth noting that the second Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, 11 years later, when the Temple was destroyed and the Davidic dynasty brought to an end -- the calamity prophesied by Lehi and the others -- doesn't even merit a mention in the Babylon Chronicles. As far as Babylon was concerned, Jerusalem was defeated at the first siege.

    ReplyDelete

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