Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Literary and Ideological Aspects of Nehemiah 11

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Literary and Ideological Aspects of Nehemiah 11

Article excerpt

(Proquest Information and Learning: Foreign Text Omitted) ...

Most scholars have argued for a literary connection between ch. 7 and ch. 11 of Nehemiah.1 After building the wall (Neh 7:1) and making arrangements for guarding the city (7:2-3), Nehemiah ponders the problem of populating Jerusalem: "The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few and no houses had been built" (7:4). In his search for a solution, Nehemiah came upon a list of those who had come up out of captivity, "the book of the genealogy of those who came up at the first" (7:6-73a), parallel to the list of returnees found in Ezra 2:1-70. The account, beginning in Neh 7:73b, carries the narrative line through three chapters (8, 9, 10), concerned with the assembly of the people for reading the Torah, celebrating the festival of Tabernacles, and sealing the covenant. Immediately afterwards, the opening of ch. 11 returns to the problem of populating Jerusalem. The leaders of the people who lived in Jerusalem and the rest of the people, who lived in their towns (7:73a), decide to cast lots "to bring one out of ten to live in Jerusalem the holy city while ninetenths remained in the other towns" (Neh 11:1).

In this literary context, ch. 11 seems to encompass the fortification of Jerusalem's physical, human, and governmental strength. The aim of this article is to demonstrate that this chapter is particularly solemn and tendentious, intending to emphasize the renewed centrality of the holy city, the ancient capital of the nation. The emphasis here is on the utopian and ideological aspects of the author's perceptions. The fortification and repopulating of the city are both described as the initial stages in the process of the city's restoration to the fame and glory known during the monarchic period.

I. The Structure and Composition of Nehemiah 11

This chapter is composed of three lists (or parts of lists) and of three passages written or reworked by the author/editor meant to connect the lists, with the aim of highlighting the ideological message.2

Verses 1-2: The literary opening, linking ch. 11 to ch. 7 and presenting the main theme of the chapter: the repopulation of the city.3

Verse 3: A verse authored by the editor, with two statements in the form of headings, appearing consecutively, without any lists following.4 One is the heading of the list of the heads of the people who lived in Jerusalem, apparently still prior to its repopulation, who undoubtedly continued to live there afterwards.5 The other is the heading of the list of the rest of the people, who lived in their towns, apparently before the repopulating of Jerusalem.6

Verses 4-19: A list of the settlers in Jerusalem. The structure and names of many of the persons recorded in the list coincide with those in the list in 1 Chr 9:2-17.(7)

Verse 20: A summary, mentioning the rest of the population who continued to live outside Jerusalem.8

Verses 21-24: A list of governmental and ritual officeholders who lived in Jerusalem (apparently still before the repopulation process, and certainly after it).9

Verses 25-36: A list of the ....10

On the face of it, the structure of the main units constituting ch. 11 seems logical. 11 Still, most scholars have not been able to follow the method of organization and structure of all its components, and they emphasize the difficult editorial problems that produced its final form. Many researchers have argued that the text in this chapter is not homogeneous and that its final form is the outcome of diverse sources and of different stages of editing.12 Beyond these textual problems, researchers and commentators have paused over two principal questions: (1) the nature of the connection between ch. 11 and the Nehemiah Memoir generally and ch. 7 in particular; and (2) the source and historical reliability of the lists embedded in the chapter. We shall briefly clarify the answers given by scholars to these questions, summarize the literary features of the chapter and its composition, and use this as a basis for elucidation of its ideological tendencies. …

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