Mark Leuchter, «Jeremiah’s 70-Year Prophecy and the ymq bl/K##Atbash Codes», Vol. 85 (2004) 503-522
Jeremiah’s famous 70-year prophecy (Jer 25,11-12; 29,10) and
the atbash codes (Jer 25,26; 51,1.41) have been the subject of much
scholarly discussion, with no consensus as to their provenance or meaning. An
important inscription from the reign of Esarhaddon suggests that they be viewed
as inter-related rhetorical devices. The Esarhaddon inscription, written in
relation to that king’s extensive building program in Babylon, contains both a
70-year decree and the Akkadian Cuneiform parallel to the Hebrew Alphabetic
atbash codes, claiming that the god Marduk had inverted the 70-year decree,
thus allowing Esarhaddon to rebuild the city. This inscription was likely well
known to the members of the Josianic court and the elite of Judean society who
were carried off to Babylon in 597 B.C.E. This suggests that Jeremiah’s 70-Year
prophecy and the atbash codes were employed to direct the prophet’s
audience to the Esarhaddon inscription and its implications with respect to
Babylonian hegemony as a matter of divine will.
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Jeremiahâ€™s 70-Year Prophecy 511
script (26). Further, both texts present the inversion of circumstances as
a divine imperative expressed through the lexemes of the text. Given
these similarities and the chronological priority of the Esarhaddon
inscription, one must consider whether or not it has exerted direct
influence on the formation of the Jeremianic passages under consi-
deration, and what events generated their deployment.
4. Assyrian Prototypes and 7th Century Judean Literature
The literary record of Judah in the late 7th century, which saw the
emergence of Jeremiahâ€™s prophetic voice under the aegis of the
Josianic court (27), evidences a profound familiarity with the tropes of
Assyrian literature and culture in general and Esarhaddonâ€™s reign in
specific. We need only cite a few examples:
a) Israelâ€™s experience with neo-Assyrian policies of suzerainty is
reflected in Samuelâ€™s denouncement of [non-Davidic] kingship in 1
Sam 8,11-18 (28).
b) Josiahâ€™s selection of Jeremiah to appeal to his northern kinsmen
echoes of Sennacheribâ€™s selection of the Rabshakeh â€” quite possibly
an Israelite from the earlier deportation of the north in 721 who scaled
the ranks of the Assyrian military â€” to address his own former
(26) Though the Akkadian and Hebrew systems of script differ (cuneiform
syllabic characters vs. alphabetic phonemes), the scribal methods involved in the
manipulation of written symbols for purposes of rhetoric or ideological implication
are quite similar in both Israelite and Akkadian contexts. See V.A. HUROWITZ,
â€œAdditional Elements of Alphabetical Thinking in Psalm xxxivâ€, VT 52 (2002)
326-333. See also M. FISHBANE, â€œVaria Deuteronomicaâ€, ZAW 84 (1972) 349-352
for parallels between Akkadian and Deuteronomic scribal methods.
(27) For Jeremiahâ€™s activity during Josiahâ€™s reign, see SWEENEY, King Josiah,
208-233; LEUCHTER, Jeremiah, 84-139. A Josianic stratum may be detected in Jer
30â€“31 and 2â€“4.
(28) On 1 Sam 8,11-18 as a meditation on Assyrian hegemony, see M.
LEUCHTER, â€œA King Like All The Nations: The Composition of I Sam 8,11-18â€,
ZAW (forthcoming), wherein close parallels are drawn between the points
articulated by Samuel and the neo-Assyrian imperial practices recorded in
numerous royal inscriptions.
(29) The early Josianic oracles of Jeremiah (see the note above) pertain to
Josiahâ€™s intended control of the territories constituting the former northern
kingdom of Israel, and it was to northern heritage that Jeremiah was bound by
lineage (cf. Jer 1,1; 32,6-15). For the Rabshakeh as a once-Israelite, see M.
COGAN â€“ H. TADMOR, II Kings (AB; New York 1988) 230.