Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Deuteronomy 24:5 and King Asa's Foot Disease in 1 Kings 15:23b

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Deuteronomy 24:5 and King Asa's Foot Disease in 1 Kings 15:23b

Article excerpt

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1 Kings 15:22-24 provides one of the few notations of royalty with a disease in the books of Kings.

(22) Then King Asa made a proclamation to all Judah, none was exempt: they carried away the stones of Ramah and its timber, with which Baasha had been building; with them King Asa built Geba of Benjamin and Mizpah. (23) Now the rest of all the acts of Asa, all his power, all that he did, and the cities that he built, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah? But in his old age he was diseased in his feet. (24) Then Asa slept with his ancestors, and was buried with his ancestors in the city of his father David; his son Jehoshaphat succeeded him.1

This summary of Asa's reign shows several classic indicators of Deuteromonistic (Dtr) redaction. These include references to a source, to the king's death and burial, and to the name of his successor.2 Likewise, the introduction to Asa's reign earlier in the chapter (vv. 9-15) presents Asa as a praiseworthy king, in part, because he follows laws presently recorded in Deuteronomy. According to vv. 12-13, he removed temple prostitutes (cf. Deut 23:17; 1 Kgs 14:24) and an Asherah image (cf. Deut 12:3; 1 Kgs 14:23). The use of Deuteronomic standards to evaluate Asa in his introduction as well as notations of his age at his accession to the throne, his length of reign, and his mother's name suggest Dtr editorial work. As the material surrounding the notation about Asa's disease reflects common Dtr concerns, scholars have often puzzled over the comment in v. 23b, since Dtr rarely records royal diseases. While commenting on Asa's illness, Mordechai Cogan observes, "As a rule, Dtr did not note royal illnesses; the only other instance recorded in Kings concerns the leprosy of Azariah (2 Kgs 15:5), which led to his quarantine and removal from office, and Hezekiah's disease (2 Kgs 20)."3 For some scholars, the scarcity of such notations in Dtr suggests that these notations do not help to articulate Dtr's theological or ideological positions.4Moreover, the fact that Dtr praises all three of the kings who have a recorded illness (Asa [1 Kgs 15:11-13]; Azariah [2 Kgs 15:3]; and Hezekiah [2 Kgs 18:3-7a]) may argue against interpreting Dtr's notations of their illnesses as divine punishments. Thus, although the early history of interpretation speculates on possible theological meanings of Asa's foot disease, contemporary scholars often prefer diagnostic to theological speculation. Recent diagnoses include gout, dropsy, gangrene, peripheral obstructive vascular disease, and prostate cancer, among others.5

Diagnostic speculation alone, however, does not explain why the notation regarding Asa's foot disease in v. 23b appears in the middle of a text that otherwise contains several indicators of Dtr redaction. After all, Dtr does not show a concern for medical diagnosis in its rare notations of royal illnesses elsewhere in Kings. Instead, it explicitly attributes Azariah's skin disease to divine causation (2 Kgs 15:5a) and presents Hezekiah's illness as under divine control (2 Kgs 20:1-11).6 Since Dtr places these other royal illnesses within a theological rather than diagnostic framework,7 one should take into account the (largely Deuteronomic) theological standards by which Dtr evaluates Asa (e.g., 15:12-13) when interpreting his foot disease. This article argues that v. 23b develops a connection between Asa's building projects in vv. 22-23a and a law presently recorded in Deut 24:5. As with his removal of temple prostitutes and Asherah images earlier in the chapter, Dtr evaluates Asa's building projects by Deuteronomic standards.

Interpreters have noticed links between Deut 24:5 and 1 Kgs 15:22-23 since at least the time of the Talmud, which understood Asa's disease as a form of punishment for violating Deut 24:5 and identified the disease as a type of gout (...), which felt like needles in Asa's flesh (b. …

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