Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Dies Irae" (Day of Wrath)

Zephaniah the Prophet
of “the Day of Wrath” 


Damien F. Mackey




Continuing on with what I had concluded in my previous article concerning the Naphtalian prophet Job in his old age, at about the time of his most severe and final trial:


Job and his sons in Josiah’s kingdom



namely that the composite holy man, Tobias/Job (= Nahum), may have yet a further identification in the impressive Shaphan, high official of king Josiah of Judah – {Shaphan’s Yahwistic sons and grandsons being then, at last, those hitherto unidentified sons and grandsons of Tobias/Job} - I think that I may possibly have set the scene now, also, for an identification of this composite Shaphan, in turn, with the prophet Zephaniah.

I had hinted at this possible further identification in the previous article, when I wrote:


The fact that I now have another name, apart from Nahum, for Tobias/Job, namely Shaphan (Hebrew: שָׁפָן), does add a further complication. Though, “Nahum” implies [the Lord has] “comforted”, and a name associated with Shaphan apparently is “Zephaniah” (see: of similar meaning, “the Lord has protected”, or - again fitting for Tobias/Job - “treasured by God”. 


Genealogies and Royal Connections


Zephaniah (Hebrew: צפניה), like Shaphan a contemporary of king Josiah, has a lengthy genealogy befitting an official of no little importance. Thus (Zephaniah 1:1):


The word of the LORD that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah, during the reign of Josiah son of Amon king of Judah.


Some have suggested that this is due to the fact that Zephaniah was of royal blood, he being related to, as they see it, king Hezekiah of Judah - though the “Hezekiah” in Zephaniah’s genealogy is nowhere actually entitled “king”, and is variously given as “Hilkiah”. 

What do we know of royal connections, or high office, with regard to my composite character, Tobias/Job (= Nahum)/Shaphan?


Royal Connections


(i)                 Tobias


The royal connections of Tobias’s father, Tobit, were most impressive, for the old man recalls (Tobit 1:12-14):


Since I took seriously the commands of the Most High God, He made Emperor Shalmaneser [king of Assyria] respect me, and I was placed in charge of purchasing all the emperor’s supplies. Before the emperor died, I made regular trips to the land of Media to buy things for him there. Once, when I was in the city of Rages in Media, I left some bags of money there with Gabael, Gabrias’ brother, and asked him to keep them for me. There were more than 600 pounds of silver coins in those bags.


Moreover, Tobit was the uncle of - and Tobias the nephew of the important Ahikar (1:21-22):


Another son, Esarhaddon, became emperor and put Ahikar, my brother Anael’s son, in charge of all the financial affairs of the empire. This was actually the second time Ahikar was appointed to this position, for when Sennacherib was emperor of Assyria, Ahikar had been wine steward, treasurer, and accountant, and had been in charge of the official seal. Since Ahikar was my nephew, he put in a good word for me with the emperor, and I was allowed to return to Nineveh.


This same Ahikar would later attend the wedding in Nineveh of young Tobias and Sarah (11:18): “Ahikar and his nephew Nadab were also present to share Tobit’s joy. With merriment they celebrated Tobias’s wedding feast for seven days, and many gifts were given to him”.

Not until Tobit and Tobias are identified as, presumably, high officials in the neo-Assyrian kingdom of the C8th-C7th’s BC, however, shall we be able fully to appreciate their proper status in relation to the kings of Assyria.  


(ii)       Job


In the case of Job, we learn from verse 19:9 that the great man had once worn “a crown”.

His power may have extended even into Egypt if we can believe the Testament of Job, according to which Job had been “a king [presumably a governor for the kings of Assyria] of Egypt”.

I, in my article:

Job's Life and Times



had written as follows regarding the greatness of the prophet Job:


To what degree Tobias himself was actually honoured in the kingdom of Assyria, due to his having so famous and influential a cousin as Ahikar, needs yet to be determined. That he was certainly honoured afterwards, in “the land of Uz”, is apparent from the fact that he was known as “... the greatest of all the people of the East” (1:1, 3).

In Job 29 we are provided with more specific detail, telling of just how mighty the holy man had formerly been:


... when I proceeded to the city gate and in the street they put a chair for me. The youths saw me and hid themselves, and the old men, rising in my presence, stood. The chief men stopped speaking and laid their hand on their mouth. The generals checked their voices and their tongues stuck to their throat (vv. 7-10). Since in those days judgments were handed down at the city gates, Job apparently had the authority of judging. The fact that “a chair” was provided for him, shows that he was not a petty judge, but a man of singular dignity. Furthermore he had authority, not only over recalcitrant youths, but even over old men, who “stood” in his presence. Even the chiefs did not dare to interrupt Job when he was speaking. And the generals, who are usually bolder and more prompt to speak, “checked their voices”, by speaking humbly and plainly, and sometimes they were so dumbfounded that they dared not speak at all. At this time Job describes himself as “sitting like a king with the army standing round about ...” (v.25).Moreover we are told in Job 19:9 that the great man had worn “a crown”. So a search needs to be made to identify him as a great official.


But Job, despite his awesome authority, “was nevertheless the consoler of the mourners” (v. 25); that is, a magnanimous man who looked down on no one. Indeed, he was “an eye to the blind man and a foot to the lame man” (v.15), and “the father of the poor” (v.16). Because of his graciousness, the people loved, rather than feared, Job (v. 11), and they awaited him when he was absent, missing him “like rainfall” (v. 23). Listening to his words of wisdom, all “kept silent”, he says, for “they dared to add nothing to my words” (knowing him to be far wiser than they) (v. 22).Well, therefore, does Job shape up as being a most fitting son of the Tobit who had himself “performed many acts of charity” to his brethren, giving of his bread to the hungry and his clothing to the naked, and burying the dead (1:16-17), and being greatly loved in return by his brethren for his charitable works towards them (7:7-8).

[End of quote]



(iii)             Nahum


A. Pinker has proposed in his article, “Nahum - The Prophet and his Message” ( that Nahum may have been “a royal scribe”. Though Pinker begins by admitting that: “Little is known about the man Nahum”, he then continues somewhat more encouragingly:


J.M.P. Smith describes Nahum as an enthusiastic and optimistic patriot. K. Spronk thinks that the Book of Nahum was written in Jerusalem, by a talented, faithful royal scribe, who used the pseudonym Nahum as an indication of his purpose: to encourage the people of Judah groaning under the yoke of Assyrian tyranny.

Indeed, there is inner-textual evidence for considering Nahum a well-educated man, with access to royal files, and Judah's intellectual and military elite. As a citizen of Judah and a sensitive prophet, his feelings of sorrow and revulsion for the state of both kingdoms under Assyrian despotism must have been magnified by several factors. He represents the state of mind of the average man of his times, who has been rankled by the long-lasting oppression and humiliation of his people, and who's faith in God's goodness and power had been tested daily.

[End of quote]


In light of my multi-identifications of Tobias/Job that necessarily multiply names, I find most intriguing Spronk’s notion that that “Nahum” was an actual “pseudonym”. That being the case, then I am left dealing with only two sets of related names, Tobias/Job and Shaphan/Zephaniah, for my composite character. Tobias/Job - (the Greek may have replaced the original Hebrew yod (י) with a tau (τ) - could be, say, his name (akin to ‘Obadiah) in an near eastern environment; whilst Shaphan/Zephaniah was the name by which he was known further west, as an official of the king of Judah.


(iv)              Shaphan


For a reminder of the extremely high official status of Shaphan and his sons and grandsons in the late kingdom of Judah suffice it to recall both that quote from Encyclopaedia Judaica that I used in “Job and his sons in Josiah’s kingdom”: “The family of Shaphan dominated the bureaucracy [in the kingdom of Judah] and held the position of king’s scribe from the time of Josiah until the Exile”, and the archaeological evidence of seals for Shaphan and his family.

I had attempted, in that same article, to combine the lengthy genealogy of Tobit and his son Tobias with the brief genealogy of “Shaphan the son of Azaliah the son of Meshullam” (2 Kings 22:3). This yielded for me the following tentative overall result:


(Jacob and Bilhah)


Shillem (Meshullam)

Jahziel or Asiel (Azaliah)

(clan of Asiel)










There also I reproduced from another article the following list for Shaphan:    


The Family Tree of Shaphan





↓         ↓         ↓          ↓

Ahikam    Elasah    Gemariah   Jaazaniah

↓                   ↓

Gedaliah            Micaiah


What I find encouraging here is that the names of Shaphan’s offspring can generally be found amongst previous Naphtalian princes and leaders, e.g.


Ahikam is like Ahikar (Book of Tobit 1:21);


Elasah has the same basic elements as Asiel (“made of God”) (Book of Tobit 1:1);


Jaazaniah, interchangeable with Azriel (I Chronicles 27:19, Naphtalian), or Azariah (; for we read this of a Jaazaniah: “A Maachathite (2 Kings 25:23; Jeremiah 40:8; 42:1). He is also called Azariah (Jeremiah 43:2)” (;


Gedaliah, the name reappears in the genealogy of Zephaniah 1:1 (I have not yet established Zephaniah as a Naphtalian, however).


(v)                Zephaniah


Impressive (at least in terms of length) though the prophet Zephaniah’s genealogy undoubtedly is, it actually gets trumped in this regard by that of Tobias, through his father Tobit (Tobit 1:1), and trumped again even by the genealogy of a great female, the heroine Judith (Judith 8:1). Now I have tentatively proposed that Judith may also have been the enigmatic prophetess, Huldah, so well-known to Shaphan, to Zephaniah. See my:


Judith in Her ‘Increasing Fame’ as the Prophetess Huldah



Now, presuming that my composite biblical character so far:


1. Tobias/2. Job (= 3. Nahum) as 4. Shaphan


can be extended to include a 5., Zephaniah, a formidable challenge for me will be to show how the latter’s genealogy can be included also in the lengthy one that I have arranged above. Unfortunately - and this is where my reconstruction faces a real difficulty - I cannot immediately find a common resonance amongst the four names associated with the prophet Zephaniah (i.e., Cushi, Gedaliah, Amariah, Hezekiah - or Hilkiah) and those that I have listed above as Naphtalians. Nor can I find any resonance of Zephaniah’s ancestors with Naphtalian names as recorded in Numbers, Kings or Chronicles. So a royal link (say Hezekiah) is a tempting prospect.

I have already noted, however, a recurrence of the name Gedaliah, of Shaphan’s list, in the genealogy of Zephaniah. Moreover, the mysterious name “Cushi” may pertain to the “Al Qush”, or “Elkoshite” of Nahum 1:1. In fact comparisons with Nahum are amongst the strongest arguments that I can find for including Zephaniah as a 5. in my composite chain.


Zephaniah has likenesses especially to Nahum


The prophet Zephaniah, who received “… the word of the LORD during the reign of Josiah … king of Judah” (Zephaniah 1:1), was at least closely contemporaneous with the prophet Nahum, “whose floruit was approximately”, as I wrote in


Prophet Nahum as Tobias-Job Comforted



from the fall of Egyptian Thebes to the Fall of Nineveh c. 664-612 BC (conventional dating) … a phase that embraces most of the 31-year reign of king Josiah of Judah (c. 640-610 BC)”.

Not surprisingly, then, as with Zephaniah, so with Nahum, does Assyria (or Nineveh), whose days were now numbered, figure most prominently.

Thus Zephaniah, echoing Isaiah 10:5-19, proclaims (2:13-15):


He will stretch out his hand against the north

and destroy Assyria,

leaving Nineveh utterly desolate

and dry as the desert.

Flocks and herds will lie down there,

creatures of every kind.

The desert owl and the screech owl

will roost on her columns.

Their hooting will echo through the windows,

rubble will fill the doorways,

the beams of cedar will be exposed.

This is the city of revelry

that lived in safety.

She said to herself,

“I am the one! And there is none besides me.”

What a ruin she has become,

a lair for wild beasts!

All who pass by her scoff

and shake their fists.


Whilst the Book of Nahum is largely “A prophecy concerning Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite” (Nahum 1:1).

Both Zephaniah and Nahum treat of God’s wrath. Zephaniah’s famous contribution to literature is what has become known as the Dies Irae. Fr. R. Murphy (O.P.), when commenting upon the beginning of the Book of Nahum for his article, “Nahum”, in the Jerome Biblical Commentary, writes (18:23): “The prophecy opens … describing the wrath of the Lord; its threats and promises; reminiscent of Zeph (1:18; 2:12-15; 3:12-13), form a good introduction to the awesome fall of Nineveh that follows (2:4-3, 19)”.”

We read about it in Zephaniah 1:14-16:


Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen, the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly. A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress, A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom, A day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of trumpet and battle cry Against the fortified cities And the high corner towers.…


Zephaniah 1:14-18 compares well with Nahum 1:2-3:


The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;

the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.

The Lord takes vengeance on his foes

and vents his wrath against his enemies.

The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;

the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.


Fr. Murphy again, now commenting upon the “Day of the Lord” for his article on “Zephaniah”, likens Zephaniah in his vividness in 1:14-18 to the prophet Nahum (18:9): “As in Na 2-3, the Lord’s intervention in the affairs of man is described in terms so graphic as to have an almost audio-visual impact upon the reader”.

Nahum’s words: “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet” (1:3) are perfectly echoed in Zephaniah’s “darknesses and mist, a day of cloud and whirlwind” (1:15: WYC/NIV).


Compare, again, Nahum 1:10: “Those people will be like tangled thorns or like people drunk from their wine; they will be burned up quickly like dry weeds”,




Zephaniah 2:9: “Weeds and salt pits will cover those countries. They will be dry and empty deserts forever”.


Whilst Fr. Murphy offers another comparison, Nahum 1:7 and Zephaniah 3:12 (op. cit., 18:24): “God knows his own and takes care of his own (Zeph 3:12)”.


Job and Zephaniah 1:17


Fr. Murphy also finds a word in Zephaniah that has its resonance only in Job. Commenting on Zephaniah 1:17, he writes (op. cit., 18:9): “their brains …: Lehem is generally translated “bread” or any kind of food (e.g., flesh). One obtains the CCD reading ‘brains” by supposing moham for lehem; the single parallel that occurs in Jb 21:24, however, has the meaning of “marrow”.”

In this Job 21:24, we read: “His body is well fed, and his bones are full of marrow” (Hebrew: עטיניו מלאו חלב ומח עצמותיו ישקה׃).  




For my composite biblical character (1-5) there largely runs a common thread of royal service as an official and a scribe of great competence and dignity; exemplary Yahwistic righteousness, coupled with extraordinary fame, yet being a charitable man loved by the multitudes and refusing no one; a wise judge and counsellor; and a man of vast wealth and experience.   

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