Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Zedekiah's Fate and the Dynastic Succession

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Zedekiah's Fate and the Dynastic Succession

Article excerpt

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Zedekiah's fate has not aroused much scholarly discussion. This is surprising because Zedekiah was Judah's last king and therefore the last reigning heir to David's throne. As a son of Josiah, Zedekiah would represent the Davidic dynastic line. There has been much more attention devoted to the deposed Jehoiachin and his alleged rehabilitation in 2 Kgs 25:27-30, the main question being whether 2 Kgs 25:27-30 presents a positive view about the future of the Davidic dynasty or not (originally von Rad vs. Noth).1

Most scholars assume that 2 Kgs 24:18-25:7 represents a fairly historical rendering of Zedekiah's final days and fate. His sons would have been slain in front of his eyes, and Zedekiah himself would have been blinded and taken in shackles to imprisonment in Babylon. Without much discussion or analysis, the assumption is that there is no reason to doubt the general historicity of this account.2

There are reasons, however, to question whether 2 Kgs 24:18-25:7 is as unbiased and reliable as usually assumed. First, it is peculiar that the author describes Zedekiah's fate as an eyewitness. The events are presented as if the author of the passage, or the author of the source that was used, had followed the king to the Judean desert and from there to Ribla in Syria. The author claims to have known that Zedekiah personally saw the slaying of his sons (...) and was put in shackles. Such details would be expected from an eyewitness. The question is, Who could the eyewitness be? Or, where did the author of 2 Kgs 24:18-25:7 receive such detailed information? It is unlikely that the author himself was the eyewitness, and it is also very doubtful that any Judean was present to witness the events.3 He would have to have followed the Babylonian army from the Judean desert, where Zedekiah was captured, to Ribla. He could have been a person captured with Zedekiah, but, according to 2 Kgs 25:5, his companions fled (...).4 Although it is possible that the king was captured with some of his personal aides and friends, there is no reference to any other person being captured. Moreover, it is doubtful that a co-prisoner, someone who was very close to the king, could have been the source that disclosed embarrassing and humiliating details about the king's fate.

Another possibility is that the account that describes Zedekiah's fate was based on rumors and/or Babylonian propaganda, which were then used by the author of 2 Kgs 24:18-25:7. In principle, it is possible that the Babylonians, for political reasons, would have wanted to spread a report or rumor that Zedekiah's fate was particularly brutal because of his rebellion. This would have functioned as a warning to anyone who planned rebellion. However, since Judah, as a nation, was utterly destroyed, the purpose of such a message in the post-state context is not immediately clear. In any case, even if the Babylonians had circulated such an account, its uncritical acceptance by the author of the DtrH (= Deuteronomistic History) would be of significance. Why would the author of the DtrH accept Babylonian propaganda without question? In other words, it is very unlikely that the author of the DtrH had a reliable source for the events described in 2 Kgs 24:18-25:7. At most, he had a vague rumor or Babylonian propaganda at his disposal, which he could have used as the basis for his account.

Although it is theoretically possible that Zedekiah experienced the fate described in 2 Kgs 24:18-25:7 (but see below), for now our main interest is that the author of the DtrH adopted the account as conclusive and presented it as history, even though he did not have an unproblematic and reliable source for the events. That the author not only described Zedekiah's fate in general terms, as one would expect from an author who does not have a direct source, but also seemed to know curious, even humiliating, details (shackles and Zedekiah seeing the slaughter of his sons), makes the author's approach even more peculiar. …

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