1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nahum

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NAHUM (Hebrew for “rich in comfort [is God]”), an Old Testament prophet. The name occurs only in the book of Nahum; in Nehemiah vii. 7 it is a scribal error for “Rehum.” Of the prophet himself all that is known is the statement of the title that he was an Elkoshite. But the locality denoted by the designation is quite uncertain. Later tradition associated Nahum with the region of Nineveh, against which he prophesied, and hence his tomb has been located at a place bearing the name of Alkush near Mosul (anc. Nineveh) and is still shown.[1] According to Jerome, the prophet was a native of a village in Galilee, which bore the name of Elkesi in the 4th century A.D. (the Galilean town of Capernaum, which probably means “village of Nahum,” may also point in the same direction; but cf. John vii. 29, which seems to imply that in the time of Christ no prophet was supposed to have come out of Galilee). E. Nestle has proposed to locate Elkesi “beyond Betogabra ” (i.e. Eleutheropolis, mod. Beit Jibrin) in the tribe of Simeon (cf. Pal. Expl. Fund Quart. Statement, 1879, pp. 136-138).

Book of Nahum. — The original heading of Nahum's prophecy is contained in the second part of the superscription: “[The book of] the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (cf. the similar headings in Isaiah, Obadiah and Habakkuk). The first part (“Oracle concerning Nineveh”) is a late editorial insertion, but correctly describes the main contents of the little book.

Contents of the Book. (1) Chapters i. and ii. — The prophecy against Nineveh in its present form really begins with chap. ii. 1, followed immediately by v. 3, and readily falls into three parts, viz. (a) ii. 1, 3-10; (b) ii. 11-13; and (c) iii. Here (a) describes in language of considerable descriptive power the assault on Nineveh — the city is mentioned by name in ii. 8 (9 Heb. text) — its capture and sack; (b) contains an oracle of Yahweh directed against the king of Assyria (“Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of Hosts,” v. 13); (c) again gives a vivid picture of war and desolation which are to overtake and humiliate Nineveh, as they have already overtaken No-Amon (i.e. Egyptian Thebes, iv. 8-10); the defence is pictured as futile and the ruin complete. The absence of distinctly religious motive from these chapters is remarkable; the divine name occurs only in the repeated refrain, “Behold, I am against thee, saith the Lord of Hosts,” ii. 13, iii. 5. They express little more than merely human indignation at the oppression of the world-power, and picture with undisguised satisfaction the storm of war which overwhelms the imperial city.

(2) Chapter i. forms the exordium to the prophecy of doom against Nineveh in the book as it lies before us. Its tone is exalted, and a fine picture is given of Yahweh appearing in judgment: “The Lord (Yahweh) is a jealous God and avengeth; the Lord avengeth and is full of wrath.” The effects of the divine anger on the physical universe are forcibly described (vv. 3-6); on the other hand, God cares for those “that put their trust in Him” (v. 7), but overwhelms His enemies (vv. 8-12a); in the following verses (12b-15) the joyful news is conveyed to Judah of the fall of the oppressor: — “Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace! Keep thy feasts, O Judah, perform thy vows; for the wicked one shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off” (v. 15).

Regarding chap. i. and ii. 2(= i. and ii. I, 3, Heb. text) there has been much discussion in recent years. It was long ago noticed that traces of an alphabetic acrostic survive in this section of the book; throughout the whole of chap. i. there is no reference to Nineveh, though in some of the verses (8-l2a, 14) the enemies of Yahweh are addressed, who have usually been identified with the people or city of Nineveh; in vv. 12b, 13 and (certainly) v. 15 (= ii. 1 Heb.) Judah appears to be addressed. The text of i. 1-15, ii. 1-2 has been reconstructed by H. Gunkel and G. Bickell so as to form a complete alphabetic psalm with contents of an eschatological character, and is regarded by them as a later addition to the book. It may be a “generalizing supplement” prefixed by the editor, possibly because the original introduction to the oracle had been mutilated. It is generally held by critical scholars that i. 1-8, 13, 15, and ii. 2 certainly do not proceed from Nahum; i. 9-12 may, however, belong to the prophet. The phenomena are conflicting and a completely satisfactory solution seems to be impossible.

Date of Nahum's Oracle. — The date of the composition of Nahum's prophecy must lie between 607-606, when Nineveh was captured and destroyed by the Babylonians and Medes, and the capture of Thebes (No-Amon) which is alluded to in iii. 8-10. This was effected for the second time and most completely by Assur-bani-pal in 663 or 662 B.C. The tone of the prophecy suggests, on the one hand, that the fall of Nineveh is imminent, while, on the other, the reference to Thebes suggests that the disaster that had befallen it was still freshly remembered. On the whole a date somewhat near 606 is more probable. It is noteworthy that no reference is made to the restoration of the northern kingdom of Israel, or the return of its exiles. The poetry of the book is of a high order.

Bibliography. — The Commentaries on the Minor Prophets, especially those of J. Wellhausen, D. W. Nowack and K. Marti (all German); G. A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets (2 vols.); A. B. Davidson, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (Camb. Bible, 1896). (G. H. Bo.)


  1. Jonah's grave has been located similarly in Nineveh itself.