1902 Encyclopedia > Nahum


NAHUM. "The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite" (_____ , "compassionate"), which stands seventh among the minor prophets, is entirely directed against Nineveh, and predicts the utter destruction of the bloody and rapacious city, its empire, and its gods by the tardy but sure and irresistible vengeance of Jehovah. The fall of Nineveh is the deliverance of Judah; Jehovah, so terrible to His adversaries, so unfailing in His righteous judgments, is a sure and gracious defender to them that take refuge with Him. It appears therefore that, when the prophet wrote, the Judaens were still suffering from Assyrian oppression, perhaps even from present or recent invasion, for in i. 15 [ii 1] he speaks of the annual feasts and the sacrifices of the sanctuary as disturbed by the "wicked one" passing through the land. It is not, however, from a merely patriotic standpoint that Nahum regards the Assyrian harlot as Jehovah’s enemy; she is the enemy of mankind, who sells all nations through her witchcrafts and whoredoms -- that is, in the strength of her heathenish religion (iii. 4), - all she shall perish with none to pity her, for all have suffered continually from the wickedness of the ruthless empire. The exordium in chap. i., which depicts Jehovah as the jealous and avenging God, is a noble utterance of faith in the righteousness which rules in the world’s history. The other two chapters are entirely occupied with the catastrophe of Nineveh; the battle without and within the walls is described with great poetic force, not in finished pictures but with broad effective strokes and daring imagery, and apparently with some local knowledge, though the latter is hardly so detailed as to justify the conclusion that the prophet had himself seen the imperial city. It might be argued on the same principle that he had also seen No-Ammon or Thebes, a description of the sack of which forms an episode I chap. iii. 8 sq. The reference here seems to be to the taking of No by Assurbanipal (G. Smith, Hist, of Assurbanipal, 55, 70; Schrader, K.A.T. 2d., ed., p. 450) about 660 B.C.- an event only known from the Assyrian monuments. Nahum must have prophesies after this date, probably not long after, that is, in the troublous times of Manasseh, which agrees well with i. 15. To suppose that his prophecy was occasioned by the actual approach of the Medes to destroy Nineveh, or by one of the earlier campaigns which preceded their final success, is arbitrary; for the judgment is predicted on general principles of divine justice, and there is no indication that the prophet knew what nation was to execute it. His descriptions, though pictorially vivid, are historically quite vague. The details of the decadence of the Assyrian empire are in truth so obscure that to search for the immediate occasion of the prophecy is mere guesswork.

The name Elkoshite __, in the LXX. ___ the pronunciation therefore is uncertain) denotes the prophet’s home or birthplace. Jerome’s mention of a ruined "viculus Elcesi" in Galilee stands quite alone; Hitzig supports the idea that the prophet was a Galilaean by the name Capernaum, which probably means "village of Nahum," but of what Nahum we do not know. The confused account by R. Jos. Schwarz (D. Heil. Land, p. 149) of a grave shown as that of the prophet Nahum an hour north of Tiberias lacks confirmation. Internal evidence leads us rather to conclude that Nahum was a man of Judah, and John vii. 52 appears to show that he was not held to be a Galilaean in the time of Christ, when the fashion of localizing tombs of prophets was already in full force (Matt. xxiii. 29). Later tradition associated Nahum with the region against which he prophesied, and in the 12th century Benjamin of Tudela visited his synagogue at Mosul and his tomb in Babylonia. It was probably under Christian influence that the site of this tomb was ultimately fixes at Alkosh, the seat of the later Nestorian patriarchs, near the convent of Rabban Hormizd, a few miles north of Mosul, where it is now reverenced by Christian, Moslems, and Jews. The sepulcher is a simple plaster box without signs of antiquity (Layard, Nineveh, I, 233). The history of this identification of Elkosh is onscure; it is mentioned in the 16th century by Masius (ap. Assemani, B. O., i. 525), as also in two Nestorian MSS. written at Alkosh by the same scribe in 1709 (Wright, Cat., 1068) and 1713 (Assem., iii. i. 352); it seems, moreover, to be implied in a gloss of Bar Ali, given by Payne Smith (Thes. Syr., 221), but not in Hoffmann’s edition. On the other hand no very early notice either of the tomb or of the place has yet been found. Alkosh, but not the Nahum legend, is mentioned in a poem of the 11th century in Cardahim Liber Thesauri (Rome, 1875); the same author places one Israel of Alkosh in the 8th century, but the date is questionable (see Noldeke in Z.D.M.G. xxxi. 165). The grave is undoubtedly a frabrication, and the evidence is not favorable to Ewald’s conjecture that the name is ancient and the place really the city of Nahum. His further conjecture that some difficult words in Nahum may be Assyrian has not been confirmed by students of the inscriptions.

Literature. – The commentaries on the minor prophets; O. Strauss, Nahumi de Nino vaticinium, 1853. For a list of other books see Reuss, Gesch. d. A.T., p. 369. (W.R.S.)

The above article was written by: Prof. W. Robertson Smith.

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