Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Topographical Considerations and Redaction Criticism in 2 Kings 3

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Topographical Considerations and Redaction Criticism in 2 Kings 3

Article excerpt

The story in 2 Kings 3 displays several problems in its content and syntax that cannot be solved on a synchronic level alone. However, the narrative displays a certain consistency so that a diachronic approach is tentative at best and cannot really rest upon separate redactional strata established on the basis of syntactical or lexical features alone.

Thus, together with a discussion of content-related problems (section I) and of the syntactical structure (section III), a fresh analysis of the topographical data (section II) may provide additional insight into the development of this narrative. Redaction criticism, therefore, should not dismiss a topographical approach. At least two levels of composition are to be found in 2 Kings 3. The more original story recounts a northern attack on Moab by Israel alone. The topographical setting is shifted to the south only in a secondary expansion. Thus, a careful topographical examination corroborates the existence of certain redactional strata in 2 Kings 3. Content- related problems, however, should not be neglected and will therefore be discussed first (section I).


Concerning the content of this narrative, there are many implausibilities that can hardly be explained on a synchronic level alone and thus betray some well-done redactional reworking:1

a. The use of the southern route to attack northern Moab was impractical and a ridiculous detour.2 It can be explained only by the involvement of the king of Edom or by the alliance with Judah.

b. The mustering of such a great army consisting of allies from three kingdoms was unnecessary against a rather irrelevant opponent like Moab. Thus, the enlargement of the army must be secondary.

c. The lack of water can be explained by inadequate planning and failure to consult a prophet. However, one wonders why a nomadic people like the Edomites did not know of sufficient water holes in their own territory. This inconsistency might be due to the insertion of Elisha's oracle into an already existing context. However, the original tradition cannot be separated from the current version of the narrative, as there are many connections between oracle and surrounding context. The double thrust of the oracle also seems to indicate some reworking that cannot be defined exactly.

d. In v. 11 Jehoshaphat asks for a prophet of the Lord, in hopes of receiving a favorable oracle.3 It is striking that the king of Judah, and not the Israelite commander, is seeking a prophet in this disastrous situation. Even the answer is given only by a servant of the king of Israel and not by the king himself. Thus, it seems that the king of Israel is, to some extent, dispensable.4

e. How is it that Elisha was around just when the allied kings were looking for a prophet of YHWH? He simply appears in the story without any clear-cut motivation. Furthermore, his actions are only subsidiary to the main plot.5 Clearly, the account with Elisha is secondary. The abrupt appearance and departure of Elisha are similar to those of Elijah. This feature could be a peculiarity of the Elijah-Elisha narratives, suggesting redactional reworking.

f. The origin of the water supply is given different explanations.6 On the one hand, the soldiers are supposed to dig trenches for water;7 on the other hand, the valley is filled unexpectedly with water, although there are no signs of wind or rain. Furthermore, the infinitive absolute in v. 16 is not a forecast and need not be given by a prophet; it is an ordinary instruction of a commander to his soldiers in need of water. Redactional reworking of these sayings is possible but hardly verifiable. As a whole, Elisha's oracle comprises three things: the digging of ditches, the flooding of the valley, and the handing over of Moab.8 The first two sayings promise a remedy for the immediate misery of the army and animals, whereas the last one is a promise of divine help against Moab. …

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