Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Naboth's Vineyard after Mari and Amarna

Academic journal article Journal of Biblical Literature

Naboth's Vineyard after Mari and Amarna

Article excerpt

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For obvious reasons, the tale of Naboth's vineyard in 1 Kgs 21 is a source of perpetual interest to scholars. What could be more poignant than the story of a man defending his paternal inheritance from the covetous desires of evil King Ahab? Certainly Ahab initiates his negotiations to acquire the plot of land with two more-than-generous offers: an exchange for superior property elsewhere or a payment for twice its value. Naboth's emphatic rebuff clearly wounds royal pride. A despondent Ahab slips into a sulk, takes to his couch, and wallows heartily in a pool of discontent.

Perhaps impatient with her husband's adolescent behavior, Queen Jezebel intervenes by exploiting a less-than-straightforward course of action. She writes the leaders of Naboth's tribe and directs them to hold a fast, assemble the people, and, through the agency of ..., "two worthless men" (vv. 10, 13), accuse Naboth of sedition. The people comply. Naboth is publicly charged and found guilty. With disturbing speed the tribe executes the sentence. They drag Naboth out of the city and stone him to death.

Shortly thereafter, Elijah, inspired by YHWH, excoriates Ahab for his swift action against Naboth. The prophet's words are harsh; Ahab and his household will be exterminated from the face of the earth. Hearing this, Ahab immediately repents and wins a stay of execution for himself but not for his heirs.

Interpretations of the incident vary principally according to scholarly approach. The most compelling studies consider the ancient Near Eastern context of 1 Kgs 21. Law codes and land rights, in particular, have provided important insights into Ahab and Jezebel's legal manipulations.1 These studies have drawn attention to the cultural inheritance of the Hebrew Bible, confirming the continuity of societal practices that transcend time periods and geographical locations.

The study offered here will revolve around two points: the historical/literary character of 1 Kgs 21 and the application of the Akkadian phrase karsi akalu ("eat pieces") to describe the procedures found there. Such a treatment necessitates a reevaluation of the degree of authorial creativity attributed to 1 Kgs 21. The plot twists in Naboth's vineyard reveal a carefully crafted scheme that presents Jezebel as the epitome of subterfuge who inspires divine rage against her husband. Yet one question lingers. Does 1 Kgs 21 draw on ancient Near Eastern procedures exploited in earlier times in earlier cultures or does the author fabricate these procedures for the sake of the story?

To address this question I will turn to selected letters from Mari and Amarna and reexamine the Naboth pericope in light of their contents. ARM 10.73, a letter written by Inib-Sarri to her father, Zimri-Lim, king of Mari, receives particular attention. This missive describes an incident in which the same method Jezebel used against Naboth is exploited by King Ibâl-Addu to deflect responsibility for the death and seizure of property belonging to a certain Yaphur-Lîm. Inib-Sarri describes Ibâl-Addu's attempt to implicate Itûr-Asdû, Zimri-Lim's long-suffering representative in the upper Habur region, as an example of karsisu ikulu, literally, "they ate his pieces." She writes that, in order to do this, Ibâl-Addu hired a group of individuals referred to as lu2.mes sarari ("dishonest men") to denounce Itûr-Asdû.

From the selected Mari and Amarna letters I develop two paradigms, one based on hierarchical power structure and the other delineating the protocol associated with denunciations of this type. At this juncture, I adduce five Amarna letters, EA 252 and 254, written by Labaya of Shechem; EA 160 and 161 drafted by Aziru of Amurru; and Pharaoh's reaction to Aziru's activities articulated in EA 162. Each text draws on various permutations of karsi akalu and expands on associative terminology that, in turn, broadens the context of such political artifices. …

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