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  • The Rab Šāqēh between Rhetoric and Redaction
  • Jerome T. Walsh

The present study has a dual focus. First, it explores the Rab Šāqēh’s first speech to Hezekiah’s envoys (2 Kgs 18:19–25) using the literary-critical methods of close reading and rhetorical criticism. Those methods permit one to appreciate the literary structure and persuasive strategies of the speech and to distinguish two speaking voices in the passage. Identifying two different voices invites comparison with the similar though not identical results that some historical critics have reached by using source and redaction criticism to discern two compositional strata in the passage. This analysis constitutes the first and longer part of the study.

Beyond the textual analysis, however, comparing the results of a literarycritical analysis to those of historical criticism affords an opportunity to ask whether, and if so how, the efforts of the two disparate methodologies might converge. And so, in a much shorter second part, I educe methodological implications of the textual analysis considered as a test case. What emerges, at least in regard to the passage under consideration, is a broadened concept of redaction and a recognition of how literary methods can assist the historical critic to discriminate potential redactional elements in a structurally coherent text.

I. 2 Kings 18:19–25

The longest episode in the story of Hezekiah (2 Kings 18–20) recounts the invasion of Judah and the siege of Jerusalem by Assyrian forces under Sennacherib [End Page 263] (8:13–19:37). That episode falls into three main phases. The first phase, 18:13– 16, is a brief report that summarizes Sennacherib’s invasion, Hezekiah’s submission, and the tribute Hezekiah paid Sennacherib.

The second phase, 18:17–19:7, is a much longer narrative in scenic style. Sennacherib sends three emissaries to deliver a message to Hezekiah. Although the narrator identifies all three by what seem to be official administrative titles, only one, the Rab Šāqēh (the junior official of the trio1), actually speaks. For his part, Hezekiah has sent three envoys to intercept Sennacherib’s emissaries and to parley with them. His envoys too are identified by titles as well as by personal names; and they likewise speak with a single voice, though the narrator does not tell us which one is Hezekiah’s official spokesperson. In this part of the story, the Rab Šāqēh delivers two substantial speeches, both highly threatening, separated by a very brief exchange with Hezekiah’s envoys. Following the Rab Šāqēh’s two speeches, Hezekiah’s envoys report back to Hezekiah; he sends a desperate plea to the prophet Isaiah; and he is answered with a short oracle of reassurance.

The third phase, 19:8–37, is also in scenic style. After a narrative digression (vv. 8–9a), Sennacherib again sends emissaries (this time their identity is unspecified) to Hezekiah. They are instructed to “say” (, v. 9b) their message, although it is subsequently described as a “letter” (, v. 14). Hezekiah pre sents this threatening missive to Yhwh, who responds through Isaiah with a very long poetic oracle promising miraculous deliverance. The deliverance occurs in vv. 35– 36, and Sennacherib returns to Nineveh. The last verse recounts Sennacherib’s assassination at the hands of his sons, in further fulfillment of Isaiah’s oracle.

The purpose of the first part of this paper is to examine in detail one short passage of the second phase of the narrative, namely, the Rab Šāqēh’s first speech to Hezekiah’s envoys, 18:19–25.

Status Quaestionis

Modern historical-critical investigation of the Hezekiah story may fairly be said to have begun with Bernhard Stade.2 He argued that the three “phases” of the story in 2 Kgs 18:13–19:37 stem from three originally independent sources, the [End Page 264] first archival, the second and third narratively elaborated. All three recount the same event, Sennacherib’s punitive expedition against Hezekiah in 701 b.c.e. Assyrian records also witness to the occasion in terms strikingly similar to the archival source in 18:13–16. Following Stade, modern scholarship refers to the archival account as A and the two narrative accounts as...


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