Discussion of Jeremiah 39:3, the Nabû-šarrussu-ukin tablet, and history proceeds apace in biblioblogdom and in the media. Jim West continues to provide updates thereto. Of course, he fails to note the Wikipedia entry on the tablet, which, however, is well-done. This is the second post in a series. For the first installment, go here; for later installments, go here and here.
Edward Cook at his excellent site proposes emending Nergal-šarri-uṣur rab-mugi in Jeremiah 39:3 to Nabu-shēzibanni rab-mugi based on 39:13. Odd, if you ask me. 39:13 speaks of a Nergal-šarri-uṣur rab-mugi as does 39:3.
An otherwise unknown Nabû-shēzibanni rab-ša-rēši is mentioned in Jeremiah 39:13, along with the externally attested Nabû-zēr-iddina rab-nuh̬atimmu (see ANET3, 307; this personage appears in translations of 39:13 as "Nebuzaradan chief butler' or the like; =Hebrew rab-ṭabah̬im 'chief of cooks,' a loan translation), and Nergal-šarri-uṣur rab-mugi. If one must replace one name with another, the logical thing to do would be to emend Nabû-shezibanni rab-ša-rēši in 39:13 to Nabû-šarrussu-ukin rab-ša-rēši as found in 39:3, given that the recently discovered tablet also knows of a Nabû-šarrussu-ukin rab-ša-rēši.
But I’m skeptical of ridding either Jeremiah 39:13 or 39:3 of a good Neo-Babylonian name. One possibility:
ונבושזבן פקיד רב סריס once stood in 39:13, with פקיד dropping out later by parablepsis. For פקיד used in the sense of 'deputy,' see 2 Chronicles 24:11. The equivalent in Akkadian would have been Nabû-shēzibanni šanû ša rab-ša-rēši.
An alternative that does not require the supposition of textual corruption would suppose that not one but many rab-ša-rēši’s served at the same time, just as a number of archieunuchs, each in charge of a group of eunuchs, served at the pleasure of the Byzantine king. In that case, a rab-ša-rēši is named in both 39:3 and 13. So far as I know, however, there is no Assyrian or Babylonian evidence to support the possibility of multiple rab-ša-rēši’s under one and the same king.
Still another possibility: Nabû-shēzibanni replaced Nabû-šarrussu-ukin as rab-ša-rēši during the time interval between the breach of the walls of Jerusalem recounted in Jeremiah 39:3 [on the ninth day of the fourth month of Zedekiah's eleventh year] and the destruction of the city by fire referred to in 39:8 [on the seventh day of the fifth month, according to 2 Kings 25:8; on the tenth day of the fifth month, according to Jeremiah 52:12].
On the question of the exact meaning of rab-ša-rēši = רב-סריס in Hebrew, translated in the versions by ‘chief eunuch,’ it’s worth looking at Hayim Tadmor, “The Role of the Chief Eunuch and the Place of Eunuchs in the Assyrian Empire,” in Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East (CRAI 47 = Proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriolgique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2-6, 2001(Compte rendu, Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale 47) Edited by S. Parpola and R. M. Whiting. Helsinki, 2002 [I have not see this]; idem, “Was the Biblical sārîs a Eunuch?” in Solving Riddles and Untying Knots. Biblical, Epigraphic, and Semitic Studies in Honor of Jonas C. Greenfield (ed. Ziony Zevit, Seymour Gitin, and Michael Sokoloff; Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1995) 317-25; M. Elat, “Mesopotamische Kriegsrituale,” Bibliotheca Orientalis 39 (1982) 5-25, 24; Simo Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal (2 vols.; AOAT 5/1-2; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Kevelaer, 1970, 1983) 2:20-21. On eunuchs in the Byzantine Empire (a fascinating topic), see Rodolphe Guilland, "Les Eunuques dans l'Empire Byzantin: Étude de titulature et de prosopographie Byzantines," in Études Byzantines 1 (1943) 197-238, online in English translation here. On eunuchs as high officials in general, see Keith Hopkins, Conquerors and Slaves (Sociological Studies in Roman History 1; Cambridge: CUP, 1978) 172-196; Richard Millant, Les Eunuques à Travers les Ages (Paris: Vigot Frères, 1908).
The whole question of biblical historiography’s treatment of the sixth cent. bce destruction of Jerusalem is exhaustively treated in “The Destruction of Jerusalem and Biblical Historiography,” by Oded Lipschits, The Fall and Rise of Jerusalem. Judah under Babylonian Rule (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2005) 272-359. I cannot follow Lipschits in every detail (an unpublished paper I presented at an SBL meeting years ago moves in another direction on some specifics), but I think he is right to conclude that Jer 39:3 is part of a larger composition ("the biography of Jeremiah") the completion of which is to be dated to 586-560 bce (350). Lipschits dates the time of composition of 39:4-12 to 560-538 bce, and that of 39:13 to the same period as 39:3. The rule of theoretical parsimony (i.e., don't make a theory any more complex than the data demand) suggests a composition-date of all of 39:4-13 in the 560-538 bce time-frame. All of 39:4-13 is absent in the “first” edition of the book of Jeremiah, preserved in large part in LXX Jeremiah according to a widely-held hypothesis to which I subscribe. I do not thereby wish to suggest that the realia reported in 39:4-13 and 13 in particular are any less accurate than those contained in 39:3.
In the absence of evidence to the contrary, and after allowance for misunderstanding and corruption of the base text during its transmission over the centuries, it is reasonable to assume that the realia contained in Jeremiah 39 are accurate. The assumption has nothing to do with a doctrine of Scripture. It has to do with what we know about the conventions of ancient historiography: theological bias, ethnocentrism, and omission of unpleasant facts are common therein; invention of realia is not. Kevin Wilson makes the same point on his superb blog.
Moral of the story: don’t believe the maximalists, the minimalists, or anyone else, except insofar as they support their point of view with hard evidence and reasonable analogy.
Duane Smith notes
that the tablet actually reads rab rēši, not rab ša rēši. I have modified the post accordingly. It doesn’t change the
semantics of the title, but it’s good to get the facts straight.