Once in a while I check a reference in a text, and then find myself reading the whole book because I cannot put it down—such has been the case with Anne Moore’s Moving Beyond Symbol and Myth: Understanding the Kingship of God of the Hebrew Bible Through Metaphor. This is a revision of her doctoral dissertation from Clairmont in New Testament, and her effort to correct dated approaches to discerning what the “kingdom of God” metaphor would have meant in Jesus’ day. The major problem with previous studies, according to Moore, is that they ignore the diverse meanings of this metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, making it center solely on eschatology, and making the source of the kingship of God revolve around a common stock Ancient Near Eastern idea of a Divine Warrior. This latter point is what I think is worth sharing.
Many scholars have mistakenly followed the timelines of the History of Religions School, rather than actual dating of Hebrew Bible texts, to discern the development of Hebrew thought, and therefore many scholars state that the Israelite view of divine kingship originated from a common stock ancient near eastern myth in which a deity or primeval king (e.g., Marduk in Babylon, Asshur in Assyria) combats chaos or the forces of evil with victory, with the result that humans build the deity a house or abode and declare the eternal kingship of the deity with annual enthronement festivals. Patrick D. Miller, for example, says this pattern carries over into Israel. But there is no evidence for such enthronement festivals in Israel, and most of the texts that support this theory are actually post-exilic. Moore has shown—convincingly, to me at least—that the kingship of Yahweh was not a prominent pre-exilic theme for Israel (regardless of pre-exilic sources redacted by later editors, which are surely included in the Masoretic Text, the only clearly pre-exilic reference to the metaphor “God is king” is in Isaiah 6:1–11). This makes 1 Samuel 8 and 12 some of the earliest developments of the metaphor, alongside Exodus 15:1b–18 and 19:3–6. The latter are exilic texts establishing that Yahweh became king over Israel, and as such is the divine lawmaker who offers protection, and in return has the right to Israel’s praise and obedience to the laws of the covenant. It was not until Israel’s and Judah’s monarchies had failed that they devoted much intellectual rigor or reflecting on the metaphor of divine kingship.
Correcting this error has two important implications in my mind. First, the late development of the metaphor of divine kingship, as well as the fact that it arose in response to failed human monarchy, should prevent over-determining the identity of Yahweh under the category of kingship; as Walter Brueggemann has labored to make clear, there are other metaphor’s of Yahweh’s governance present in the Hebrew Bible, including judge, father, and warrior. Second, the kingship of Yahweh is to be seen as originating in the Exodus and the covenant, rather than primarily as a focus on Yahweh as a divine warrior. This does not mean that Yahweh is never portrayed as a violent figure in the Hebrew Bible, but it seems to me that Yahweh is at least not primarily a warrior. Moore makes this latter point a focus of her project: “One of the intentions of this study is that the ‘God is king’ metaphor is not consistently associated with the idea of a Divine Warrior within the texts of the Hebrew Bible. The ‘God is king’ metaphor is extended through the semantic fields of ‘judge’ and ‘shepherd’…The coherence of the metaphor is further evident in the entailments of the metaphor that include the association of God’s strength with mercy and justice, and the choice of the ‘shield’ (a device for protection) as the major military trapping connected with God” (44-5). It is amazing what results can come from something as simple as the correct dating of texts.