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  • Archer Imagery in Zechariah 9: 11–17 in Light of Achaemenid Iconography
  • Ryan P. Bonfiglio

The last six chapters of the book of Zechariah (chs. 9–14) present numerous interpretive challenges. Though widely recognized as a product of a postexilic context, these chapters, known collectively as Second Zechariah, lack the clear chronological framework and explicit historical signposts that are so evident in First Zechariah (chs. 1–8). Therefore, when it comes to historical-critical approaches to Second Zechariah, there is considerable debate and disagreement in the scholarly literature.1 In view of this impasse, an increasing number of scholars have turned to alternative interpretive methods to advance the study of Second Zechariah.2

Following in this trend, in this article I will explore how an examination of ancient art, or iconography, can offer a fruitful way forward in the interpretation of Second Zechariah. Iconography, as a method for studying the Hebrew Bible, has received heightened attention since the 1970s and since then has been pursued with a variety of different investigative goals in view.3 When expressly related to biblical [End Page 507] interpretation, iconographic exegesis typically attempts to understand figurative language or metaphors in a biblical text in light of a contextualized study of pictorial materials that convey related motifs or originate in a similar setting.4 By looking to visual media as a communicative vehicle for expressing the worldviews and ideologies of ancient cultures, “iconographic-biblical” studies can shed new light on both the background and significance of certain literary imagery.

Applying this iconographic-biblical approach to the study of Second Zechariah offers a compelling interpretive option for several reasons. First, Zechariah 9–14 is replete with richly figurative language, especially in relation to the role and function of the Divine Warrior in restoring the people of Yehud (cf. Zechariah 9–10). As an interpretive crux in Second Zechariah, the Divine Warrior motif, and its specific expression in archer imagery, is in need of further analysis—an analysis that can be greatly enriched through an understanding of how archer imagery is employed in the visual vocabulary of Achaemenid iconography. Second, a precedent has been set for studying postexilic biblical texts in light of Achaemenid iconography. Brent A. Strawn and Izaak J. de Hulster both have recently employed iconographic studies of Persian art as a means of better understanding Third Isaiah.5 Thus, while iconographic approaches scarcely have been used with Second Zechariah, this project builds on previous work that has engaged similar corpora of texts and images. Finally, the recent publication of a vast collection of Persian seal impressions is making it more feasible than ever before to examine the visual media of the Achaemenid period.6 In both breadth of iconographic [End Page 508] representation and specificity of provenance, this collection of glyptic art offers exciting possibilities for comparative analysis with postexilic biblical texts.7

With these possibilities in view, Zech 9:11–17 offers a compelling test case for the iconographic exegesis of Second Zechariah. Specifically, I will examine the literary imagery of the Divine Warrior as archer in Zech 9:11–17 in light of archer imagery in Achaemenid minor art (coins and seals). Following the procedure of Othmar Keel, I will explore the literary imagery of archers in Zech 9:11–17 and in similar contexts throughout the Hebrew Bible as a starting point for engaging the appearance of this image in pictorial material.8 While my primary goal is not to prove a genetic relationship between the archer imagery in Zechariah 9 and Achaemenid iconography, the possibility remains that both biblical text and Achaemenid art reflect a similar conceptual background in which archer imagery had come to be distinctly associated with Achaemenid kings and kingship. Exploring this connection will facilitate new interpretive perspectives on Zech 9:11–17.

I. The Archer in Zechariah 9:11–17

One of the most prominent features of Zechariah 9 is the figurative language surrounding Yahweh as Divine Warrior. While the motif of the Divine Warrior is operative throughout the whole chapter, it is most explicitly forwarded in vv. 13–14. There, Yahweh takes on the form of an archer preparing for and engaging in battle. In v...


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pp. 507-527
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