Nahum 2 – World of Siegecraft

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Today’s Passage: Nahum 2

Nahum 2 may be the closest you and I will ever get to experiencing a bronze-age siege.

And truth be told, I’m okay with that. I’d much rather observe this siege through the separation of time, space, and words. Just look at this insanity: “The chariots race madly in the streets, they rush wildly in the squares, their appearance is like torches, they dash to and fro like lightning flashes” (4). Do you want to be in the middle of the Ben Hur chariot race with all the rules removed? Do you want to be there when the invaders cry, “Plunder the silver! Plunder the gold!” (9), or among those for whom “[h]earts are melting and knees knocking! Also anguish is in the whole body and all their faces are grown pale” (10)? Do you want to be reduced to an impoverished, terrified mess, to say nothing of any physical injury you might sustain during the siege?

I suppose the question is moot; unless you can find a pre-industrial siege about to happen and arrange to be there when it goes down, you don’t really have a choice. And neither do the citizens of Nineveh, as Israel gets their second cultural wind here. God’s judgment is inexorable:

“Behold, I am against you,” declares the Lord of hosts. “I will burn up her chariots in smoke, a sword will devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the land, and no longer will the voice of your messengers be heard.” (13)

If Nineveh ever had a choice (and the book of Jonah suggests they did), the time for choosing is past; they’ve made their bed, and now they must sleep in it. Neither metaphorical lions nor literal chariots can save them.

Nahum and his contemporaries, pagan and Israelite alike, come from a world vastly different than ours. Whatever threatens to perturb your peace, it’s probably not an army of red-clad warriors with spears and shields, and your city limits are probably not defined by a twenty-foot-tall wall that secures your city’s continued existence as a city, rather than a field of rocks. What’s it like in that world? What light does that world shed on what it means to be human?

To find answers to that question is one key reason that I study ancient history, philosophy, and mythology; it’s even why I play tabletop RPGs. As much as I appreciate technology, I don’t believe it will necessarily improve the human condition or “advance” us as a matter of course in any of the ways that matter. I want to get inside the heads of these people, to look into their world. I want to see what shape our thoughts, hopes, and choices take when metalworking and subsistence farming constitute our immediate material reality.

Progress is not a given. There’s no guarantee that our world will necessarily be better than the ones that came before it, and there are things the ancients knew that we don’t. I want to understand those things.

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