Biblical Studies Book of Nahum
Shawn Flynn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0239


The book of Nahum is only three chapters long, but holds an important place with its vivid imagery of war and its certainty of YHWH’s role in Israelite history. Since the earliest event named in the book is the Assyrian attack of Thebes (Nah 3:8–9) in 667 BCE, the earliest layers of the book likely begin in the late 7th century BCE. During this time the ancient world had experienced the rapid expansion of the neo-Assyrian Empire. As reflected in scholarship on Nahum, the neo-Assyrian Empire was well known for its effective war machine and multiple political strategies to secure foreign lands. Nahum thus expresses vengeance and hope in the neo-Assyrian downfall by celebrating the fall of Nineveh in 612 BCE. Despite this likely early context, most secondary scholarship comfortably sees compositional activity of the book up until Nahum was incorporated within the Book of the Twelve. For example, Nahum begins with an opening hymn that has received attention as a broken acrostic, as a later addition, as an essential reading lens for the book, and as a possible compositional link to the Book of the Twelve. The “jealous and avenging God” (1:2) of the hymn is expounded throughout the book, and the author emphasizes YHWH’s “wrath is poured out like fire” (1:6) thus contextualizing YHWH’s decision to enact justice through war, communicated through a quick succession of violent images (Nahum 3:2–3) that powerfully recreate battle scenes in all their confusion and mayhem. This rich poetic imagery, as a recognized feature of Nahum, has likely motivated the various close readings and linguistic-textual studies of the book. The language of war and ideas of vengeance are matched by one of the most disturbing metaphors of the Assyrian city, Nineveh, when it is portrayed as a ravaged woman. This has elicited creative scholarship from feminist, postcolonial, theological, and psychological (trauma) reading methods. Thus Nahum, even with its redactional framing and compositional history, represents a perspective still caught up in the human emotions stirred by its concept of divine justice and articulated through a theatrical and decisive response of its deity to a particular historical event. Scholarship thus covers detailed historical and linguistic analysis on both the question of how Nahum represents an Assyrian context accurately as well as the broken acrostic hymn of Nahum 1. Others are dedicated to the compositional history and the layers leading up Nahum’s incorporation in, and connections to, the Book of the Twelve, supplemented by different orderings of Nahum in the Septuagint (LXX) versus the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT). Contemporary methods then explore the use of gender language, while theological approaches probe Nahum’s answer to the problem of war.

General Overviews

General overviews to the book of Nahum are difficult to find given the size of the biblical book. But such overviews of Nahum do occur within general introductions to the prophets such as in Blenkinsopp 1996. In these contexts, at times the book of Nahum only makes a brief appearance. Yet the treatment of Nahum within these introductions is helpful for understanding how Nahum studies are inevitably affected by broader approaches to the prophets as discussed in Schoors 2013. At times, histories of scholarship in articles treat only Nahum, as in Weigl 2001, or give it sufficient attention as in Jones 2016. It is important to understand the approach of these scholars before extracting details about Nahum from them. The chosen approach by a scholar, either to the prophets as a whole or to the Book of the Twelve, determines heavily how Nahum is treated within these overviews, as argued in Jones 2016. The histories of scholarship are helpful for shifting through the various approaches.

  • Blenkinsopp, Joseph. A History of Prophecy in Israel. Revised and enlarged edition. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996.

    An introduction to the prophets in which Blenkinsopp contextualizes Nahum within international affairs of the day, similar to the approach of Machinist 1997 (cited under Nahum’s Interaction with Assyria). The central (and early) text of Nah 1:15–2:12 is viewed as an anti-Assyrian oracle. Blenkinsopp includes an introduction to the multiple historical events that the book is likely aware of (e.g., the Assyrian attack on Thebes in 667 BCE; cf Nah 3:8), thus isolating the book’s earliest possible layers.

  • Jones, Barry A. “The Seventh-Century Prophets in Twenty-first Century Research.” Currents in Biblical Research 14.2 (2016): 129–175.

    DOI: 10.1177/1476993X14552928

    This is a general introduction to the secondary literature since 2000, in which Nahum is considered along with Zephaniah and Habakkuk. The study claims a decline in historical approaches and charts the preference for studying the book’s literary growth, such as the relationship of Nahum to the Book of the Twelve. Barry thus shows how Nahum interpretation is influenced by the critical methodologies used.

  • Schoors, Antoon. The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the Eighth and Seventh Centuries B.C.E. Translated by M. Lesley. Biblishe Enzyklopädie. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2013.

    When engaging Nahum (pp. 180–183) Schoors attends to the varying scholarly positions on it, representing more international scholarship than is typical of similar overviews. Schoors offers a short but detailed overview of how scholarship interacts with itself.

  • Weigl, Michael. “Current Research on the Book of Nahum: Exegetical Methodologies in Turmoil?” Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 9 (2001): 81–130.

    This history of scholarship focuses on the fifteen years of secondary literature leading up to the publication and is a helpful study to consult when followed up with Jones 2016. Synchronic versus diachronic approaches are the organizing categories, while the different scholars associated with each are critiqued and compared more than in the Jones article. Weigl isolates the precise issues upon which scholarly decisions and debates hinge and assesses the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal.

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