This article is a continuation of the series, The Political Subversive Role of the Prophets in the History of Ancient Israel. See part 2, The Prophets of Yahweh vs. the State of Ancient Israel
For so long have we been viewing the history of Israel from the biased, cataract-eyed perspective of Yahwist revisionists who composed the Books of Kings and Chronicles that we tend not to appreciate the magnitude of the perfidy of high treason against the state of Israel initiated by Elijah the "man of God" and executed by his successor, Elisha. We have been too conditioned to thinking of the "House of Ahab" as evil Baal worshipers to appreciate that from a purely secular perspective, Elijah and Elisha were arch-villains and enemies of the people of the Kingdom of Israel whose sponsorship of mutiny against the Omride Dynasty initiated the decline in military vigor of the state of Israel and finally Assyrian conquest. Unbiased secular scholarship would credit the achievements of the Omride Dynasty in stabilizing the state of Israel as a major military power in the Syrio-Palestinian region.But to the eternal shame of Yahwism in the history of Ancient Israel, Elisha conspired to overthrow the Omrides in a narrow-mindedly vengeful orgy of bloodletting. There were absolutely no patriotic motives, no political, military or economic justification of the Jehu coup d'etat besides inordinate ambition and lust of the Yahwists for the privilege of exclusive state patronage they had enjoyed during David's reign.
The Omride Dynasty of Kings (c. 885-800 B.C.)
Probably the most telling indictment of the cult of Yahweh and its political activist prophets and seers in the history of Israel comes from their inglorious role in subversion and sponsoring of insurgent activity which saw the fall, by a bloody coup d'etat, of what was undoubtedly the most competent and effective line of Kings in Israel's pre-exilic history after the break up of David and Solomon's United Kingdom.
Equally telling of the exclusivist disposition of the Yahwists is their hostility to any king who would not acknowledge the controlling political authority of their power caucus. The perfunctory manner in which 1 Kings 16:21ff mentions and writes off the twelve-year reign of King Omri who, by all standards of judgment, was probably the most able political administrator in the pre-exilic history of Israel, after the break up of the united kingdom, reveals to secular historians the heavily biased treatment of history by the Yahwist historians (2 Chronicles does not even bother to mention him at all!). Scholars would have remained largely unappreciative of the significance of King Omri's reign in the history of Ancient Israel had frequent use of his name, by independent ancient sources, in reference to the dynasty of Kings he founded not forced reconsideration of the unbiased evidence of history.
Omri began his reign in troubled times. Zimri, an army officer of the Calvary under Elah King of Israel, conspired and killed King Elah and wiped out the House of Baasha (Baasha was the father of King Elah). It appears that a certain Jehu, prophet of Yahweh, instigated Zimri's revolt. Jehu had prophesied evil against the Baalist House of Baasha. Potential insurgents appeared to have taken superstitious note of words of prophecy as favorable omen. Thus, political prophecies tended to work out their own fulfillment by encouraging insurgents to act (we shall see an outstanding example of prophetically induced insurgency in Prophet Elijah's instigation of coup d'etat which ended the Omride dynasty). Zimri reigned only seven days in Tirzah because the elite corp of the Israelite army would not support his mutiny. They made Omri, another officer, commander of the army and besieged Tirzah. After Zimri's suicide (he locked himself up at the palace in Tirzah and set the house on fire), Omri still had to confront another contender, Tibni of Ginath, before his twelve-year reign commenced.
Omri founded the great and famous city of Samaria. He bought the hill of Samaria from a certain Shemer for two talents of silver and named the city Samaria after Shemer. But alas! "Omri did what was evil in the sight of YHWH," a refrain of the Yahwist historians whose true significance we have come to understand: he was a king who did not allow his royal power fall under the controlling influence of self-proclaimed prophets and seers of Yahweh's right-wing political cult.
Secular historians generally acknowledge Omri as having been a shrewd and capable ruler whose choice of Samaria as capital was informed by clear-sighted military and political considerations. Samaria's hilltop position had a military defensive advantage, and he had the right of power in Samaria because the land belonged to him personally (he had bought the land with his own money).
Omri died before completion of his new capital and the responsibility fell on his son King Ahab to complete the work he had started. While Omri was the greatest administrator in the history of the northern kingdom of Israel, Ahab was the greatest military leader to sit on the throne of Israel after the break-up of the United Kingdom of David. Bible readers have been served the biased Yahwist perspective of the kingship of Ahab and , thus, do not fully appreciate the significance, in wholly secular political and military terms, of Ahab's reign in the pre-exilic history of Israel. Ahab's rule brought the northern Kingdom of Israel to its height of military power. He finished the work of building the new capital Samaria begun by his father, and Samaria served as the capital of the northern kingdom till Assyrian conquest in 722 B.C.
Ahab's most significant military achievement was the defeat of King Ben-Hadad of Syria. Syria's rising military profile in the region since the reign of King Baasha (1 Kings 15: 16-20) had threatened security Israel. Seeking an excuse for war and a test of strength between himself and the King of Israel, Ben-Hadad began making unreasonable demands on Ahab. But Ahab defeated the apparently superior Syrian forces in two consecutive battles (c. 874 B.C.) and the two nations came to a peace agreement. The Yahwist right-wing opposed Ahab's decision to come to peace agreement with the defeated Syrians. But Ahab's decision might have arisen from tactical consderations of his position after the victory. He might have suffered heavy losses in the consecutive battles he fought which rendered him incapable of pursuing his victory to a sealing conclusion. The Yahwists had evidently pushed for a passing of the Syrians under "saws of iron, harrows of iron, axes of iron and brick-kiln," following the brutal policy of King David's Yahwist regime which ruled the "wicked heathen nations" with a messianic "rod of iron."
Later, we find Ahab in alliance with Jehoshaphat of Judah against the Syrians. Ahab was finally killed in battle against the Syrians at Ramoth-Gilead. His sons Ahaziah and Jehoram perpetuated the Omride dynasty but remain locked in protracted struggle with Syria for supremacy in the Syrio-Palestinian region till the bloody right-wing coup d'etat sponsored by Prophet Elisha, brought the Omride Dynasty to an end in a soaking wash of blood.
Prophetic Insurgency: Jehu's Bloody Yahwist Coup d'etat(c. 840 B.C.)
King Jehoshaphat of Judah sought to cement the fruitful military alliance and relationship with Ahab King of Israel by marriage between his son Joram and Athaliah the daughter of Ahab. This he did in defiance of the Yahwist right-wing caucus which dominated power in Judah . The prophets denounced the King for his alliance with the "apostate" Baalist House of Ahab (2 Chronicles 19:1ff) in spite of the obvious strategic military and economic advantages to Judah (2 Chronicles 17: 12-13) (Israel controlled the major trade routes to Judah from the Phoenician coast and acted as buffer state shielding Judah from invasion from the north by expansionist Syria, and allowing Jehoshaphat to concentrate his attention on subduing Moab and Ammon to the east (see Kings 15:17; 2 Chronicles 16:1; 2 Chronicles 20:1ff).
Peace with Israel, in the reign of Jehoshaphat, allowed Judah access to vital northern trade which enriched the state otherwise helplessly sandwiched between the Philistine states and the Dead Sea (2 Chronicles 17: 12-13). When King Joram of Judah died, Ahaziah his son, by Athaliah, half-phoenician daughter of Aha became king in Judah. King Ahaziah perpetuated military-political alliance with the House of Ahab to which he had bloodlinks (again ignoring the obviously misconceived opposition of the influential Yahwists in Judah) (2 Kings 8:27; 2 Chronicles 22:2-5).
King Jehoram (or Joram) of Israel (son of Ahab) was wounded in battle against the Syrians under King Hazael (2 Chronicles 22:6;2 Kings 8:28-29). Hazael, an army officer, had murdered his boss King Ben-Hadad II against whom Ahab had fought (2 Kings 8:15). While King Jehoram recuperated on sick-bed in Jezreel, with Ahazaiah of Judah at his bedside, a sinister plot was concluded by the "man of God" Prophet Elisha, in concert with certain dissident elements of the army in Ramoth-Gilead led by an army officer Jehu who had been detailed by King Jehoram to hold Ramoth-Gilead against the Syrians (2 Kings 9:14). The history of the secret compact between the Yahwists and a dissident faction of the army dated back twenty years when Elijah had first contacted Jehu in the reign of King Ahab (1 King 19:16) im the middle of a blood feud between the Yahwists and the Baalists led by the Phoenician queen Jezebel, wife of King Ahab (1 Kings 17,18,19). Elijah, before his death, had apparently passed on to Elisha the job of concluding the treasonable compact with Jehu (1 Kings 19:16-17; 2 Kings 2: 8-15).
For so long been have we been viewing the history of Israel from the biased, cataract-eyed perspective of Yahwist revisionists who composed the Books of Kings and Chronicles that we tend not to appreciate the magnitude of perfidy of high treason against the state of Israel initiated by Elijah the "man of God" and executed by his successor, Elisha. We have been too conditioned to thinking of the "House of Ahab" as evil Baal worshipers to appreciate that from a purely secular perspective, Elijah and Elisha were arch-villains and enemies of the people of the Kingdom of Israel whose sponsorship of mutiny against the Omride Dynasty initiated the decline in military vigor of the state of Israel and finally Assyrian conquest. Unbiased secular scholarship would credit the achievements of the Omride Dynasty in stabilizing the state of Israel as a major military power in the Syrio-Palestinian region.
The Kings of the Omride dynasty concluded a political-economic alliance with the prosperous Phoenician state; an alliance which brought immense trade benefits to both Israel and Judah. Ahab, son of Omri, forged a lasting military alliance with Judah which kept the military expansionist ambitions of the Syrian kings under check (c. 890 B.C.-840 B.C.). Such was the unprecedented political stability and economic prosperity that came to Judah through alliance with Omride Israel that it could raise resources and commission the Phoenicians to build a fleet of vessels ("ships of Tarshish") with the purpose of seeking gold in Ophir.
But to the eternal shame of Yahwism in the history of Ancient Israel, Elisha conspired to bring down the Omride Dynasty in a narrow-mindedly vengeful orgy of bloodletting. There were absolutely no patriotic motives, no political, military or economic justification of the coup besides inordinate ambition and lust of the Yahwists for the exclusive privilege of state patronage they had enjoyed during David's reign.
2 Kings 9:14ff bears testimony to the wholly vengeful and selfish motivation of the coup d'etat. Elisha's instruction to Jehu through his young messenger was: "…thou shalt smite the House of Ahab, that I(Yahweh) may revenge the blood of the prophets and the servants of Yahweh in the hands of Jezebel." This statement of casus belli pretends that the murderous atrocities in the reign of Ahab had not been mutual between the Yahwists and Baalists. Queen Jezebel had massacred the prophets of Yahweh in a time of famine believed to have been fulfillment of Elijah's prophecy (1 Kings 18:10), and Elijah and spiritedly responded with reprisals against the Baalists by massacre of about eight hundred and fifty of the prophets of Baal in brook Kishon outside Jezreel(1 Kings 18:19; 1 Kings 18:40).
The details of Jehu's coup d'etat (the bloodiest civil incidence in Israel's history) are recorded in 2 Kings 9:14ff. The coup would seem to have enjoyed the support of a significant section of the political elite whose race nationalist feelings were offended by the exercise of state power by a foreign Phoenician princess, Jezebel the queen of Ahab. For the political elite (as in the French Revolution) Queen Jezebel's "whoredom and Witchcraft" were greater offenses than Ahab's Baalism–Baalism being a "spiritual crime" that most of Israel had willingly shared in.
The coup began ordinarily enough with the murder of King Jehoram, recuperating on sick-bed in Jezreel, and shamefully also, the murder of his ally, King Ahaziah of Judah. The murder of a state guest, king of a sovereign state, bears testimony to the political recklessness of the religious extremist Yahwists. The ring leaders of the mutiny, led by Jehu, then proceeded to murder the Queen Mother Jezebel . Jehu ordered that the old Phoenician lady be thrown out through the window to the street below. She died in the fall and Jehu rode his chariot over her body. Jehu's men took care to allow fulfillment of Elijah's prophecy by abandoning her corpse in the open long enough for scavenger dogs to devour it (2 Kings 9:35-37). The mutineers then proceeded to Samaria, Omri's capital city, and had all potential claimants to the throne of Israel in the House of Omri murdered. Jehu simply ordered that the leaders of the city deliver the heads of all the royal princes in Samaria. Seventy royal heads were piled up in two heaps at his gate the next day.
The bloodletting continued: state visitors from neighboring Judah were murdered on the way to Samaria (2 Kings 10: 13-16). The priests of Baal were rounded up in Samaria and slaughtered, and the bloodbath escalated still as all people connected politically or by marriage with the ruling house were rounded up and summarily executed (2 Kings 10:11;2 Kings 10:17). Even the Yahwist prophet Hosea, writing about a century later, would admit the extreme cruelty of the Yahwist coup which brought the Omride dynasty to an end (Hosea 1:4,5).
The aftermath of the coup was characteristic of the ineptness of the Yahwists in strategic planning (compare their bungling in the break up of the United Kingdom in 1 Kings 12,13 and 14). They failed in their desperate attempt to take over power from the Baalists, for Jehu whom they had attempted to use to their ends began asserting his independence as soon as he came to power (2 Kings 10:31). The consistent failure of the Yahwists to gain exclusive control of the state since the breakup of the United Kingdom may be explained by a lack of grassroots support. Every king who came to power in Israel fell under intense pressure to identify his kingship with the religious cult of Baal, because Baal worship was immensely popular with the masses, the Yahwists being merely an extremist righ-wing elitist group with little or no following among ordinary people of the ancient northern Kingdom of Israel.
And, thus, passed fruitlessly, yet another desperate ditch attempt by the Yahwists to return to full control of the state. The dire consequences of this needless and politically shortsighted coup would emerge in later history as decline in military power and political stability of Israel which ended with Assyrian conquest.
The series continues in Part 4, Assyrian and Babylonian Invasions, Exile and the Rise of Jewish Messianism.
JohnThomas Didymus is the author of "Confessions of God: The Gospel According to St. JohnThomas Didymus"