The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf
eyeteeth

Up up up the ziggurat, lickety-split



Now with genuine painstaking copies of authentic Assyrian bas-reliefs! That's a winged lion-bird hybrid; the Assyrians had a real thing for lions, and for things with wings.

Right now Jonah is stuck between the two things he fears most: God and the Assyrians. Thanks to the Facts on File Library of World History book Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia I know a little more about the character of the Neo-Assyrian Empire and it could perhaps best be described as "gleefully bloodthirsty." The Assyrians did not become contenders for the title of World's First Superpower by being nice guys. Of course wholesale slaughter, torture, pillage, and slavery were what all the cool kids were doing 2,800 years ago, and even nice touches like blinding prisoners of war and sending them back to their people to serve as examples might not have been unique to Assyria. But as the author of the Facts on File book points out, being horrible is one thing, and making tons of art celebrating being horrible is another, and the Neo-Assyrians did plenty of both: "The Assyrian army [in sculpted reliefs] crosses a river, cavalry and chariots charge, siege equipment advances, and another city falls and is sacked. Enemy soldiers and leaders inexorably die -- their chests pierced by spears, their throats alashed by swords, their limp bodies impaled on tall stakes or tied spread-eagle to the ground and flayed alive as their children watch. We see an aerial view of the Assyrian camp: while dinner is being prepared, the troops dance to the accompaniment of lutes and harps and play a game of ball with the decapitated heads of their victims...It is not simply horror we see, but horror celebrated. Comparable horrors are depicted in sketches that survive from Nazi concentration camps, but the sketches were drawn by anguished victims, not their tormentors. The only aesthetic analogue is a German lampshade made from Jewish skin, but even that was not meant for public display." With this in mind, the answering bloodthirstiness of the Book of Nahum a century and a half later makes perfect sense: Nahum gets to watch the Ninevites get a taste of their own medicine, and records it with at least as much glee as we see in those horrible Assyrian reliefs:
Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth not;

The noise of a whip, and the noise of the rattling of the wheels, and of the pransing horses, and of the jumping chariots.

The horseman lifteth up both the bright sword and the glittering spear: and there is a multitude of slain, and a great number of carcases; and there is none end of their corpses; they stumble upon their corpses...

There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?
Upon whom indeed? This is the kind of thing Jonah wants to see, but he knows he'll never get to, and that makes him angry. He's scared too -- that's not in the text, but it seems obvious to me he would be -- and being scared while you're angry makes you angrier. But at the same time this prophesy is in him demanding to be spoken. Do you remember what happened to Jeremiah when he tried to refrain from prophesying, because something bad happened every time he did? God set his bones on fire. "His word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay." Maybe rheumatoid arthritis, suggested the college professor in whose class I first read this text, but I see no reason to put it in realistic terms. Prophesy is a fire in your bones. It needs to get out of you just as you needed to get out of that fish. And perhaps in the moment that Jonah speaks he is not afraid or angry; perhaps in that moment he is nothing but his words. And maybe that is a pleasant experience. The way Jeremiah describes prophecy it sounds awful, but God is a lot nicer to Jonah than he is to Jeremiah. A lot nicer. Doesn't set his bones on fire even once.
Tags: nazis, research, stix, the bible, the book of jonah
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