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The Transformation of Measures for Social Justice into Measures for International Law in the Book of Habakkuk

Pages 263 - 278



1 Hab 1:1 Superscription; Hab 1:2–4 Lament on Criminality and the Sufference of the Just; Hab 1:5–11 Oracle on the Rise, Conquering, and Violence of the Chaldeans; Hab 1:12–17 Lament on the Brutality of the Chaldeans.

2 This interjectory gloss may anticipate v. 15. It marks the wisdom character of the whole text as shown by J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie und Gerichtsverkündigung in der späten Königszeit Israels, WMANT 35, Neukirchen Vluyn 1970, 67–73, p. 69: “Belege für eine Polemik gegen unmäßigen Weingenuß und Trunkenheit sind in der Weisheitsliteratur überaus zahlreich.” Ibd. n. 3: Prv 20:1; 23:20–21.29–35; 31:4–5; Qoh 10:16–17; Tob 4:15; Sir 19:1–2; 31:25–31; for prophetic texts cf. Isa 5:11–12.22; Am 6:5–6.

3 J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 57–75.

4 For the philological problems and the problem of textual reconstruction cf. J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 59–61 (including the parallels fom Qumran).

5 JSB translates: “And make ever heavier your load of indebtedness! Right suddenly will your creditors arise…” The menace of a creditor (נֹשֵׁךְ) implies the talionic punishment of the criminal act: to take נֶשֶׁךְ — loans on interest. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 70, sees the problem, but thinks that the nošekhîm are the debtors, who have to pay the interest rates, and not the creditors, cf. Taylor, IB; F.A. Andersen, Habakkuk, AB, New York 2001, 234.

6 MT מעוריהם — seems to stand discongruently to רעהו, but the text could simply render a defective spelling, cf. F.A. Andersen, Habakkuk, 247; L. Perlitt, Habakuk, 76, suggests to interpret רע as nomen collectivum: “seine Gefährten”.

7 For the roots of scribal culture and tradition in Israel, cf. C.A. Rollston, Writing and Literacy in the World of Ancient Israel. Epigraphic Evidence from the Iron Age, SBL Archaeology and Biblical Studies 11, Atlanta GA 2010; K. van der Toorn, Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible, Cambridge Mass. — London 2007, 51–141; D.M. Carr, The Formation of the Hebrew Bible. A New Reconstruction, Oxford — New York 2011, esp. 25–34: “Proverbs as a potential illustration of the dynamics of writing-supported transmission of tradition.”

8 דמים cf. Prv 29:10: אנשׁי דמים ישׂנאו־תם וישׁרים יבקשׁו נפשׁו!

9 Prv 22:8: זורע עולה יקצור־און, Jer 22:13: “Woe to him who builds his house with unfairness and his upper chambers with unjustice, who makes his fellow man work without pay and does not give him his wages.”

10 Cf. E. Otto, Gerechtigkeit und Erbarmen im Recht des Alten Testaments und seiner christlichen Rezeption, in: id., Kontinuum und Proprium. Studien zur Sozial- und Rechtsgeschichte des Alten Orients und des Alten Testaments, OBC 8, Wiesbaden 1996, 342–357; id., Wirtschaftsethik im Alten Testament, ibid., 331–341.

11 For an ironical interpretation of Prv 28:8b cf. M. Sæb⊘, Sprüche, ATD 16,1, Göttingen 2012, 340–341. Cf. also Prv 22:16 עשׁק דל להרבות לו — “The one who oppresses the poor intends to increase his own gain.” (M. Sæb⊘, Sprüche, 265). In the wisdom teaching of Akhikar, Col. IX 129, we find the advice to restrict the risk of taking a credit: אנת יה ברי זף דגנא והנטתא זי תאכל ותשׂבע ותנתן לבניך עמך — “You, o my son, do only borrow corn and wheat that you may eat and be filled and give to your children with you!” (cf. M. Weigl, Die aramäischen Achikar-Sprüche aus Elephantine und die alttestamentliche Weisheitsliteratur, BZAW 399, Berlin — New York 2010, 286–287).

12 כבד על hif. can mean “to make heavy the burden for so”, cf. 1 Kgs 12:10.14; e.g. Babylon: צל־וקז הכבדח עלך מאד — “you have made much too heavy your yoke on the old people”, Isa 47:6; the term can also mean economic burden, cf. Neh 5:15. עבטיט, pledge, mortgage, antichretic pledge; wz. עבט — I. qal. to take a (hand-) pledge, Deut 15:6; 24:10; hif. Deut 15:6.8 — to lend (for a pledge). Deut 24:10: “When you lend thy neighbor any manner of loan, you shall not go into his house to fetch his pledge!” On the economic situtation in neo-babylonian times cf. M.A. Dandamaev, Neo-Babylonian Society and Economy, in: J. Bordman / I.E.S. Edwards a.o. (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History. Second Edition. Volume III Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.D., Cambridge 1991, 252–275.257–260.

13 Cornelia Wunsch, Debt, Interest, Pledge and Forfeiture in the Neo-Babylonian and Early Achaemenid Period: The Evidence from Private Archives, in: M. Hudson / M. van de Mieroop (eds.), Debt and Economic Renewal in the Ancient Near East Volume III, Bethesda (Maryland) 2002, 221–253. The critique of the Habakkuk text is not mainly directed against hand pledges or hypothekes, i.e. that “property was declared to be a pledge as security for a loan either with the creditor having right of ownership of that property (‘hand pledge’) or else without that right, when the property remained at the debtors' disposal (hypotheke).” (Dandamaev, Neo-Babylonian Society, 258). Rather the special term with the reduplication of the third radical ṭēt may be a hint that the term does not mean the usual pledge (hebr. עבוט, Dtn 24:10–13, cf. akk. ebuṭṭum, AHw. 184b loan) but a stronger form of obligation. In combination with the note, that the creditor accumulates “what is not his own” (לא לו) and thus takes over a heavy load of pledges, the text might intend to describe the antichretic pledge, “in which the property became subject to antichresis, that is, the creditor was given the right to exploit the pledge in his own interest.” (Dandamaev, loc.cit., 258). The loans were usually made at 20 per cent yearly interest, but there was no legal regulation about this (ibid., 259). For further literature cf. RlA s.v. Bank, Darlehen, Pfand.

14 As a background, cf. the complaint of a servant to the Administrator (שׂר) of Meṣad Ḥašavyahu about a creditor who took his bægæd (garment) as a pledge (KAI 200; HAE I,315–329; lit. on the historical background cf. R. Wenning, Mesad Ḥašavyahu. Ein Stützpunkt des Jojakim?, in: F.-L. Hossfeld (ed.), Vom Sinai zum Horeb. Stationen alttestamentlicher Glaubensgeschichte, Würzburg 1989, 169–196; A. Fantalkin, M. Hashavayhu: Its Material Culture and Historical Background, Tel Aviv 28, 2001, 3–165).

15 J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 66–67.

16 Cf. זוע — tremble, Qoh 12,3; Est 5,9; pilpel part. Hab 2,7, make you tremble; HALAT 265 v. ug. zʿ — to bark at so.

17 The following v. 8 changes the meaning of the sentence and widens the view to an international level; the text belongs to a later literary stratum; see below.

18 Cf. the rules in the Holiness-Code, Lev 25:36–37; for late wisdom teaching cf. also Hi 24:3. H. G. Kippenberg, Religion und Klassenbildung im antiken Juda. Eine religionssoziologische Studie zum Verhältnis von Tradition und gesellschaftlicher Entwicklung, StUNT 14, Göttingen (2nd ed.) 1982, 58–62, with respect to AP 10 and 11 (A. Cowley, Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C., Osnabrück 1967, 29–35).

19 M. Sæb⊘, Sprüche, 210: “Sein Haus zerstört, wer unrechten Gewinn einstreicht.” For a closer interpretation and further parallels see ibid., 215–216. A theological framing of the sentence can be observed in Prv 15:25: בית גאים יסח יהוה “YHWH will tear down the house of the proud!” It is reminiscent of the introductory speech in Hab 2:4b.5a, on the contrast between the צדיק and the גבר יהיר; cf. also Prv. 15:26.28–29; 21:24.

20 J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 68.

21 The reports on the immense building activities of Nebuchadnezzar I are well known, cf. D.J. Wiseman, Babylonia 605–539 B.C., in: J. Bordman / I.E.S. Edwards a.o. (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History. Second Edition. Volume III Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.D., Cambridge 1991, 229–251, 236–239, see below.

22 R. Kessler, Sozialgeschichte des alten Israel. Eine Einführung, Darmstadt 2006, 89–90.

23 עיר for Jerusalem, cf. Lachisch letter IV,7 (Jeremias, 71 n.1); for קריה cf. Isa 1:21.26; Mi 4:10; Ps 48:3; Thr 2:11.

24 V. 13a.14 is seen so often as an additional text that K. Elliger has taken it as a standard note in the BHS edition; for further treatment of v. 14, see below.

25 The Qumran version has “of his wrath/poison”. ספח pi. seems to be derived from ספח qal — “to give a share”, cf. 1 Sam 2:36: ספחני נא אל־אחת הכהנות לאכל פת־לחם — “Please, let give me a share in one of the priestly tasks, so that I can eat a scrap of bread!”), nif. „to receive a share‟, cf. Isa 14:1: על־בית יעקב ונספחו — “and (the resident foreigners) will be given a share at the house of Jakob”, hitp. “to take a share”, cf. 1 Sam 26:19: כי היום מהסתפח בנחלת יהוה — “for they have driven me away this day from taking my share at the YHWH's inheritance”.

26 חמה as poison, cf. also Ps 140:4; HALAT 312. חמה for the anger of God cf. also Isa 63:6: “I trampled nations in my anger, I made them drunk in my rage!”, Jer 25:15: “Take this cup from my hand: it is filled with the wine of my wrath. Take it and make the nations to whom I send you drink it!” cf. also Deut 9:19; 29:23.28; 2 Kgs 22:13.17; Isa 34:2; Isa 42:25; Jer 33:5.

27 J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 72–73, assumes that v. 19a could be the literary core of the piece.

28 L. Perlitt, Die Propheten Nahum, Habakuk, Zephanja. ATD 25,1, Göttingen 2004, 78–79: “Um die rhetorische Frage nach dem Nutzen der ‘Götter’ von Menschenhand für Judäer verstehen und zeitlich einordnen zu können, muss man deren Vorbilder und Quellen vor allem bei Dtjes …, aber auch bei Jer … nachlesen.”

29 J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 73–74: Hab 2:6a.8.10ba.13–14.17.18–19*. He confirmed an older analysis that was brought forward by J.W. Rothstein, Über Habakkuk Kap. 1 u. 2, Theologische Studien und Kritiken 1, 1894, 51–85, who explained: “daß ein älteres Orakel von späterer Hand bearbeitet und in seiner Abzweckung umgebogen worden sei. Dieses ältere Orakel richtete die Spitze seiner Darstellung gegen die überhandnehmende, durch Jojakims Regiment geförderte innerjudäische Gottlosigkeit und Gewaltthätigkeit und kündigte das durch die Chaldäer herbeizuführende Strafgericht über das abtrünnige Volk und Land an. Dieses Orakel ist alsdann von einem Späteren derart umgearbeitet und erweitert worden, daß es wenigstens in seinem größeren Teile zu einem Orakel gegen Babel wurde.” Cf. also: E. Otto, Die Stellung der Wehe-Worte in der Verkündigung des Propheten Habakuk, ZAW 89, 1977, 73–107.106; id., Art. Habakuk, TRE 14, 1985, 300–306.302; K. Koenen, Heil den Gerechten — Unheil den Sündern! Ein Beitrag zur Theologie der Prophetenbücher, BZAW 229, Berlin — New York 1994,146; J. Wöhrle, Der Abschluss des Zwölfprophetenbuches. Buchübergreifende Redaktionsprozesse in den späten Sammlungen, BZAW 389, Berlin — New York 2008, 291–323, finds three layers in the book: “Fromme-Frevler-Schicht” (1,1–4.12a.13–14; 2,1–5ba.6b.7.9.10abβ.11–12.15–16.19–20; 3,2.3*.4–8.9*.10–12.13*.14–16a.18–19a), “Babylonier-Schicht” (1,5–11.12b.15–17; 2,5bβ.6a.8.10ba.13b.17; 3,16b.17) and “Liturgische Bearbeitung” (3,1.3*.9*.13*.19b) + additions: 2,13a.14.18.

30 Cf. Deut 15:6 “For YHWH, your God, will bless you, as he has promised you, so that you will lend unto many nations (cf. Hab 2:5b.8a!), but you shall not borrow; and you shall rule (!) over many nations (ומשׁלת בגוים רבים), but they shall not rule on you!” The text reflects the participation of the Jewish society in international financial transfers and is possible influence on economically strong nations on the realm of international law.

31 עיר for Jerusalem, cf. Lachish letter IV,7 (Jeremias, 71 n.1); for קריה cf. Isa 1:21.26; Mi 4:10; Ps 48:3; Thr 2:11.

32 That means: “you shall completely atone for it!”

33 F.H. Weissbach, Die Inschriften Nebukadnezars II im Wâdī Brîsā und am Nahr el-Kelb, Wissenschaftliche Veröffentlichungen der Deutschen Orient-Gesellschft, vol. 5, Leipzig 1906; and the so-called “East India House” (BM 129397 (1938–5–0,1), cf. a photographic reproduction in C.J. Ball, Light from the East, or, the Witness of the Monuments: An Introduction to the Study of Biblical Archaeology, London 1899, pl. 204ff; copy in H. C. Rawlinson/E. Norris, A Selection from the Historical Inscriptions of Chaldaea, Assyria, and Babylonia, The Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia, vol. 1, London 1861, pls. 53–58; translations in St. Langdon, Die neubabylonischen Königsinschriften, Vorderasiatische Bibliothek, vol. 4, Leipzig 1912, 120–140(„Nebukadnezar Nr. 15‟) and P.-R. Berger, Die neubabylonischen Königsinschriften: Königsinschriften des ausgehenden babylonischen Reiches (626–539 a.Chr.), AOAT 4, Kevelaer / Neukirchen-Vluyn 1973, 59–60.310–312. For an overview about the king's building activities cf. Berger, Königsinschriften, 104–108; D.J. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzer and Babylon, Schweich Lectures 1983, London 1985, 51–75; T. Boiy, Late Achaemenid and Hellenistic Babylon, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, vol. 136, Leuven 2004, 55–65; for a parallel inscription to EIH from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections Trust cf. R. Wallenfels, A New Stone Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II, in: M. Ross (ed.), From the Banks of the Euphrates. Studies in Honor of Alice Louise Slotsky, Winona Lake Ind. 2008, 267–294.

34 F.H. Weissbach, Inschriften, 14–15.

35 Col. VIII 55 i-na ki-gal-lum ri-e-eš-ti-i = in the first underworld.

36 דמים — bloodshed, capital crime: Ex 22:1.2; Deut 19:10; 22:8; 1 Sam 25:26.33; 2 Sam 3:28; 16:7.8; 21:1; 1 Kgs 2:31; 2 Kgs 9:7; Isa 1:15; 4:4; 9:5; (26:21); 33:15; Ez 7:23 (כי הארץ מלאה משׁפט דמים והער מלאה חמס); 16:36; 18:13; 22:2 (עיר הדמים — cf. also 24:6.9); Hos 4:2; Mi 3:10; 7:2; Nah 3:1 (עיר דמים, for Ninive); Hab 2:12.17; (Sach 9:7.11); Ps 5:7; 9:13; 26:9; 51:16; 106:38; 139:19; Prv 29:10; 2 Chr 24:25. On the juridical implications of the term, cf. H. Christ, Blutvergiessen im Alten Testament: Der gewaltsame Tod des Menschen untersucht am hebräischen Wort dām, Basel, 1977, 119–126; P. Bovati, Re-Establishing Justice. Legal Terms, Concepts and Procedures in the Hebrew Bible, JSOT.S 105, 1994, 210–211.243.357–360.

37 For the juridical meaning of the term cf. already S. Marrow, Hamas („violentia‟) in Jer. 20.8, VD 43, 1965, 241–255, p. 253: “invasionem in iura proximi, quae sponte provocat appellationem ad altiorem auctoritatem, ad arbitrum, vindicem, iudicem”; ibid., p. 255: “Exclamatione ‘violentia!’ accusator laesus invocat iustitiam, iura eius violata sunt. Extrema brevitate exhibetur et querela et appellatio.” Cf. also H.J. Stoebe, Art. חָמָס ḥāmās Gewalttat, THAT I, München 1978, 583–587; Pietro Bovati, Re-Establishing Justice, 315–317.

38 Cf. D.J. Wiseman, Babylonia 605–539 B.C., in: J. Bordman / I.E.S. Edwards a.o. (eds.), The Cambridge Ancient History. Second Edition. Volume III Part 2: The Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and other States of the Near East, from the Eighth to the Sixth Centuries B.D., Cambridge 1991, 229–251.236–239.

39 D. J. Wiseman, Babylonia, 237, cf. A 856,136–137 no. 15 vii 36–39.

40 D.J. Wiseman, 237–238, cf. A 812; A 940, 139–141.

41 D.J. Wiseman, 239.

42 Cf. Lk 19:40; J. Jeremias, Kultprophetie, 71–72.

43 Translation according to JSB.

44 S. Smith, Babylonian Historical Texts Relating to the Capture and Downfall of Babylon, London 1924, 27–97; H. Schaudig, Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros' des Großen samt den in ihrem Umfeld entstandenen Tendenzschriften. Textausgabe und Grammatik, AOAT 256, Münster 2001, 563–578.

45 Literally: Col. VI 19′ [zi-kir lu]gal-ti-šú šá ina ka it-ta-sa-aḫ! The formula serves to express the extinctio memoriae nominis. It can be read complementary to the formula that serves to establish a permanent memorial, e.g. CH V 20–23: kittam u mīšaram ina pī mātim aškun — “I have laid law and justice into the mouth of the land.” The latter appears also in West Semitic and hebrew contexts, cf. KAI 214, 29; 2 Sam 14;3.19; Ezr 8:17; Deut 31:19. With a religious connotation we find it in 2 Kgs 22:23 par. 2 Chr 18:22; Num 22:38; as expression for almost canonical authority cf. Jer 1:9; Deut: 18:18; Isa 51:16.

46 H. Schaudig, Nabonid, 572 (German translation: 578).

47 Perhaps the text has yet the punishment of Babylon at the time of Xerxes in mind, but it is not clear, whether there were considerably extensive destructions in Babylon by burning. For a careful evaluation of the sources, cf. André Heller, Das Babylonien der Spätzeit (7.—4. Jh.) in den klassischen und keilschriftlichen Quellen, Berlin 2010, 271ff.

48 Cf. J. Barton, Amos's Oracles against the Nations. A Study of Amos 1.3–2.5, Cambridge — London a.o. 1980.

49 D. J. Bederman, International Law in Antiquity, Cambridge — New York a.o. 2001; M. Lang / H. Barta / R. Rollinger (eds.), Staatsverträge, Völkerrecht und Diplomatie im Alten Orient und in der griechischrömischen Antike, Philippika 40, Wiesbaden 2010.

50 H. Barta, “Graeca non leguntur”? Zu den Ursprüngen des europäischen Rechts im antiken Griechenland. Band 1, Wiesbaden 2010, 442–510. Cf. also the contribution of H. Barta in this volume.


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