Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 18 (2018) - Review

Patton, Matthew H., Hope for a Tender Sprig: Jehoiachin in Biblical Theology (BBR Supplements, 16; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2016). Pp. 250. Cloth. US$49.50. ISBN: 9781575064772.

Matthew Patton's monograph deals with an important but underreported topic: the significance of Jehoiachin (also known as Coniah and Jeconiah) in the history of Judahite kings.[1] Typically, Zedekiah, Jehoiachin's uncle, is considered the last king in Judah before exile, but Patton rightly focuses on Jehoiachin as the critical linking figure. Throughout the canon of the Hebrew Bible, the Pseudepigrapha, and the New Testament, Jehoiachin is listed as the marker of exile, not Zedekiah. The first paragraph of his introduction states the problem well: “How significant can a king be whose reign ended when it had scarcely begun? Remarkably, unlike his uncles…Jehoiachin did not disappear after his removal. Instead he became the focus of ongoing prophetic discussion about the monarchy…” (p. 1). Understanding how that came about is the focus of Patton's study.

In the Introduction (ch. 1), Patton states a confessional preference for MT over LXX, a preference for a “naïve,” “with the grain” reading of the canonical text and a view of biblical inspiration that leads him to look for “coherence” within individual books (p. 8). He provides a short overview of scholarship from Martin Noth forward, avoiding discussion of the nineteenth and twentieth century founders of Jeremiah studies, Bernhard Duhm and Sigmund Mowinckel.[2]

Chapter 2 discusses the historical background and notes some standard items, such as the Babylonian ration tablets and foreign-policy. Importantly, he investigates the role of the queen mother and Mesopotamian imprisonment practices, culminating in his investigation of the king's table in Babylon, correctly observing that Jehoiachin receives the highest position of the vassal kings while maintaining a position of dependence on the Babylonian king.

In chapter 3 he discusses Jehoiachin's first appearance in the canon in 2 Kings. Patton understands the grammatical and historical issues in play and, rightly, ends with trying to understand how to read ancient history for the purposes of the modern historian. By utilizing intertextuality and narrative analogies, he can understand Jehoiachin's place in 2 Kings. He is appropriately cautious when necessary, and makes some bold proposals with his analogy groups, where other Israelite kings are compared to Jehoiachin. This is one of the more original and stronger points of the book.

In chapter 4, Patton discusses Jehoiachin in Jeremiah. Against the consensus in critical scholarship stretching back to Martin Luther, Patton is convinced that Jeremiah's portrait is “coherent” (p. 53). He avoids investigating potential political motives of the editors and redactors of the canonical book of Jeremiah believing such to be “subversive ideological/political explanations,” and arguing that “…political interests are subordinate to theological purposes [in Jeremiah],” and, apparently, that all such investigation betrays a “hermeneutic of suspicion” (p. 54). Patton adopts a “sympathetic” reading that he believes should be slow to attribute “incoherence” to the text (p. 54). One of the important places of incoherence that many scholars identify in Jeremiah is the apparently absolute end of Jehoiachin's line in Jer 22:24–30. Patton deals with this by identifying v. 27 as the end of a divine oath, whereas vv. 28–30 is a lament. This latter section, Patton argues, is not an oracle, has not been sealed with an oath, and is thus open to repeal if circumstances change. Patton argues that vv. 24–27 predicted the death of Jehoiachin and the queen mother in exile (which became true) while vv. 28–30 announces a perpetual condemnation, but not an irrevocable one (and according to Patton, did not come true). One difficulty with this line of argument is that as early as Jer 24, Jehoiachin is inexplicably identified as one of the “good figs” while the only circumstance that has changed, according to the canon, is that he is now in exile. Patton believes it is possible that exile could serve as a sufficient condition for annulling the oracle. It is reminiscent of rabbinic approaches, where exile becomes the atonement that merits the change, but Patton states elsewhere that this rabbinic approach is unnecessary. Patton argues, based on Jer 36:31 and 13:18–19, that Jeremiah agreed with 2 Kgs 24:9 that Jehoiachin did evil in the eyes of Yahweh, even though 22:24–30 is silent on the matter. However, this argument from silence is not ideal, as these statements in Jeremiah may simply accentuate the absence of such a judgment in 22:24–30, since it plays such an important role elsewhere, particularly in replacing Zedekiah with Jehoiachin as the critical link between the Judahite kings and the future Davidide. This is a less convincing section and affects portions of chapters 5 and 6.

In chapter 5, Patton focuses on Ezekiel, structuring his argument around the aphorism of 21:26, “Exalt the low and bring low the exalted,” arguing, as do many scholars, that the first phrase refers to Jehoiachin and the second to Zedekiah. Unlike Jeremiah, who uses royal terminology such as “signet ring/seal on the right hand” (חוֹתָם עַל־יַד יְמִינִי) to refer to Jehoiachin and “righteous branch” (צֶמַח צַדִּיק) to refer to the unnamed future Davidide, Ezekiel refers to Jehoiachin as a “tender sprig” (יֹנְקוֹתָיו רַךְ, hence the book' title). More could be done to work with the shifting terminology between Jeremiah and Ezekiel, especially given the well-known polemics of exile between the supporters of Jeremiah's and the supporters of Ezekiel's differing visions of Israel's future. In particular, more careful attention to unique aspects of the oracle against Jehoiachin in Jeremiah could allow richer interpretations in Ezekiel.

In chapter 6, Patton focuses on Haggai and Zechariah as the interpreters of the biblical narrative with respect to Jehoiachin. He argues against the scholarly consensus, which is that the pro-monarchical perspective of Haggai is in opposition to the anti-monarchical texts in Jeremiah. He refers to his explanation of the oracle against Jehoiachin in Jer 22:24–30 to provide an understanding of Haggai's positive view of Zerubbabel, the grandson of Jehoiachin. This leads him to conclude: “In full consistency with Jeremiah, Haggai highlights Yahweh's ongoing choice of the Davidides and indicates that the signet ring that Yahweh hurled away will once again be restored to honor. Indeed, Haggai emphasizes that the time is at hand” (p. 150). However, this consistency only obtains if one is willing to accept Patton's explanation of the oracle against Jehoiachin in Jer 22:24–30.

In chapter 7, Patton explores Second Temple texts, analyzing LXX 1–2 Chronicles, Jeremiah and Ezekiel as well as the deuterocanonical texts, Josephus and rabbinic interpretations. Patton concludes that the Septuagint obscures many of the points he has made in chapters 3–6. This is somewhat surprising, given that most scholars believe that the LXX preserves an earlier (shorter) Hebrew Vorlage as a precursor to the expanded Masoretic text.

In chapter 8, Patton discusses Jehoiachin in the New Testament. This is an important move on Patton's part, because Hebrew Bible scholars tend to treat the New Testament as almost hermetically sealed from Hebrew Bible/Old Testament studies. Since Patton is willing to investigate this, he unearths a surprising number of parallels and allusions in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke and in the parable of the mustard seed. This section will be of real value to pastors and teachers.

In chapter 9, he makes his case as a Christian for the divine authorship of the Bible (both testaments). He uses his idea of inspiration to direct his scholarly work, so that we ask “… how Jeremiah's perspective on Jehoiachin complements Ezekiel's perspective…” (p. 183, emphasis added). However, it is not certain that this is a necessary question, even in a confessional context. Patton footnotes the seminal article on biblical inspiration by Hodge and Warfield, in which they freely acknowledge the human authors' limitations of knowledge, personal defects, “indelible traces of error,” dependence upon fallible sources and methods, and personal knowledge and judgments that were in many matters hesitating, defective, or wrong. None of this leads Hodge and Warfield to conclude that the Bible is not inspired. In fact, they defend the “verbal, plenary” inspiration of Scripture vigorously.[3] One may not agree with Hodge's and Warfield's arguments, but they at least represent one strain within classical Protestantism that could accommodate polemics, apparent disagreements and contradictions as, not something to be forced into a coherence that it may not have, but a collection of questions and disagreements in search of a future fulfillment.

Those interested in in-depth scholarly study of the topic will need to consult Critchlow's and my works noted above, the groundbreaking critical work of Duhm and Mowinckel and the German-language research of Beat Huwyler, Christl Maier, Winfried Thiel, Helga Weippert, and Jakob Wöhrle.[4]

Despite my critiques, there is much of value in this volume, and it should be considered by anyone interested in the topic. Patton has brought an important topic to the table. Further, he is an engaging writer with logical thought flow and is easy to read for those with some background in the subject. This work has many contributions to make to the discussion and succeeds in foregrounding a topic that deserves more attention.

Melvin Sensenig

[1] In the last four years, two additional works have appeared on this topic. James R. Critchlow, Looking Back for Jehoiachin: Yahweh's Cast-Out Signet (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012); Melvin L. Sensenig, “Jehoiachin and His Oracle: The Shaphanide Literary Framework for the End of the Deuteronomistic History” (PhD Diss., Temple University, 2013), Unfortunately, Patton makes no use of them. reference

[2] Martin Noth, “The Jerusalem Catastrophe of 587 B.C., and Its Significance for Israel,” in Laws in the Pentateuch and Other Studies (London: Oliver and Boyd, 1966), 260–80; Bernhard Duhm, Das Buch Jeremia (KHAT, 11; Tübingen and Leipzig: J.C.B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1901); Sigmund Mowinckel, Zur Komposition des Buches Jeremia (Videnskapsselskapets Skrifter. II. Hist.-Filos. Klasse, 5; Kristiania: J. Dybwad, 1914). reference

[3] Moises Silva, “Old Princeton, Westminster, and Inerrancy,” WTJ 50 (1988), 65–80. reference

[4] Critchlow, Looking Back for Jehoiachin; Sensenig, “Jehoiachin and His Oracle”; Duhm, Das Buch Jeremia; Mowinckel, Zur Komposition des Buches Jeremia; Beat Huwyler, “Jeremia und die Völker: Politische Prophetie in der Zeit der Babylonischen Bedrohung (7./6. Jh. v. Chr.),” Theologische Zeitschrift 52, no. 3 (1996), 193–205; Christl M. Maier, Jeremia als Lehrer der Tora (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2002); Winfried Thiel, Die Deuteronomistische Redaktion von Jeremia 1–25 (Neukirchner: Neukirchner Verlag, 1973); idem, Die Deuteronomistische Redaktion von Jeremia 26–45 (Neukirchner: Neukirchner Verlag, 1981); Helga Weippert, Die Prosareden des Jeremiabuches (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973); Jakob Wöhrle, “Die Rehabilitierung Jojachins: Zur Entstehung und Intention von 2 Kön 24,7–25,30,” in Ingo Kottsieper, Rüdiger Schmitt, Jakob Wöhrle (eds.), Berührungsprunkte: Studien Zur Sozial- und Religionsgeschichte Israels und Seine Umwelt : Festschrift fur Rainer Albertz zu Seinem 65. Geburtstag (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2008), 213–38. reference