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 515
and those deported to Babylon in 597. The Biblical writers and
audiences of the later 6th century and beyond were apparently not
conversant with the Esarhaddon inscription; all subsequent references
to Jeremiahâ€™s 70-year prophecy view it strictly as a Jeremianic
prediction concerning the duration of the exile (43). This, however, was
not the case with the audience to which the Esarhaddon references
were initially addressed (44). The deportation of 597 targeted the elite
of Judah and the policy makers of the Jerusalem royal court, many of
who would have been among the scribal circles behind the
composition of the Deuteronomic and Deuteronomistic literature (45).
It was these scribes who had reacted so dramatically to Jeremiahâ€™s
Urrolle, which had cast Babylon, â€œthe enemy from the northâ€, as
Assyria incarnate (46). To the prophet and the audience of his Urrolle,
evidence for its grounding in history or a connection to the Deuteronomic
legislation. The Josianic narrative, however, is structured point-for-point upon
Deut. 17,8-13 (LEUCHTER, Jeremiah, 69-73), and archaeological evidence has
demonstrated the historicity of the scribes named in Jer 36, who have strong ties
to the scribal figures named in the Deuteronomistic narratives (DEARMAN, â€œMy
Servants The Scribesâ€, 417-420). The parallels observed by Handy would
therefore seem to have an historical Sitz. This, when coupled with Weinfeldâ€™s
astute observations concerning the commonalities between the Deuteronomic
material and VTE, suggests quite strongly that Esarhaddonâ€™s official texts were
circulated among the elite governing class in the vassal states of the Assyrian
empire, and it is likely that they were disseminated broadly throughout the
leadership of Judah via the lines of communication that existed as part of the
Judean political system. See N. NAâ€™AMAN, â€œThe Distribution of Messages in the
Kingdom of Judah in Light of the Lachish Ostracaâ€, VT 53 (2003) 169-180.
(43) Cf. Hag 1,2 (implicitly); Zech 1,12; Ezra 1,1; 2 Chr 36,22; Dan 9,2.
Significantly, there is no discussion whatsoever concerning the atbash codes in
these subsequent Biblical texts.
(44) Both Biblical and onomastical evidence suggests that first-hand
knowledge of neo-Assyrian inscriptions would have been typical of the learned
class in Judah. J. BÃ–RCHER-KLÃ„HN, Altvorderasiatische Bildstelen und
vergleichbare Felsreliefs (Mainz am Rhein 1982) 202-203, identifies an
abundance of inscriptions dating from the neo-Assyrian period that were erected
in the wake of military conquests in the west-Semitic regions.
(45) That Jeremiahâ€™s audience would have been familiar with the Esarhaddon
inscription is even more likely considering the makeup of the 597 community,
which consisted of priests, royal figures and scribes. See N. LOHFINK, â€œDie
Gattung der â€˜Historischen Kurzgeschichteâ€™ in der letzten Jahren von Juda und in
der Zeit des Babylonischen Exilsâ€, ZAW 90 (1978) 333-342.
(46) See DEARMAN, â€œMy Servants The Scribesâ€, 403-427, for a thorough
examination of the connection between the scribes named in Jer 36 and those
involved with the Deuteronomic reform of Josiah.