Voices from the Ruins: Theodicy and the Fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible

This work is incredible.

Where was God in the sixth-century destruction of Jerusalem?

The Hebrew Bible compositions written during and around the sixth century BCE provide an illuminating glimpse into how ancient Judeans reconciled the major qualities of God—as Lord, fierce warrior, and often harsh rather than compassionate judge—with the suffering they were experiencing at the hands of the Neo-Babylonian empire, which had brutally destroyed Judah and deported its people. Voices from the Ruins examines the biblical texts “explicitly and directly contextualized by those catastrophic events”—Kings, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and selected Psalms—to trace the rich, diverse, and often-polemicized discourse over theodicy unfolding therein. Dalit Rom-Shiloni shows how the “voices from the ruins” in these texts variously justified God in the face of the rampant destruction, expressed doubt, and protested God’s action (and inaction).

Rather than trying to paper over the stark theological differences between the writings of these sixth-century historiographers, prophets, and poets, Rom-Shiloni emphasizes the dynamic of theological pluralism as a genuine characteristic of the Hebrew Bible. Through these avenues, and with her careful, discerning textual analysis, she provides readers with insight into how the sufferers of an ancient national catastrophe wrestled with the difficult question that has accompanied tragedies throughout history: Where was God?

The TOC is available at the link above.  Please take a look at it before proceeding.

Many years ago whilst but a lowly MDiv student one of our Hebrew Bible courses covered the topic of theodicy.  That is, the question of the justice or righteousness of God.  We were assigned a variety of biblical texts to read (and translate, including portions of Job) along with secondary literature.  We read von Rad and Eichrodt (which dates me, doesn’t it) among many others.  And we also read James Crenshaw’s work.

Crenshaw amazed me and I valued what he had to say for many decades, holding his work as the most useful in the field and the most helpful on the topic.

Rom-Shiloni has supplanted Crenshaw as the most valuable contribution to the question of the justice of God that I have yet read.  More than just a theological monograph, this is a theological monograph that is thoroughly based in Scripture itself.  Or to say it differently, this is an exegetical masterpiece.

Beginning with the topic of theodicy itself, and bypassing the usual Christian and Jewish routes on the way to an answer of the question, is God just?, R-S leads readers through the myriad of voices and experiences found within the Hebrew Bible that struggle with the issue of the Just God and injustice.

God is examined and the God who is called King, and Warrior, and the one who fights for his people, and who is also the summoner of the enemy and even at times the enemy himself.  But God is also the divine judge and the punisher of the evildoers along with their children.

The final chapter treats the mercy of God and a summary chapter pulls it all together and offers readers important insights into God and justification, doubt, and protest.

There is a fulsome bibliography, an index of modern authors, an index of subjects, and an index of Scripture and ancient texts.

That’s a short overview.  More specifically, then, what R-S does in this volume is look at texts and the implications of those texts for our understanding of the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of God.  Who is this God?  What is he like?  Is he just?  Is he enemy?  Is he merciful?  Is he vindictive?  Or is he all of those things and more?

And R-S doesn’t just look at the typical texts connected with theodicy (like Job).  No indeed.  Instead, she looks everywhere that there is material relevant to the subject.  Accordingly, Jeremiah, Psalms, Ezekiel, Lamentations, and even Kings are brought to the witness stand and their testimony thoroughly cross-examined.

This book, she says, explores theological deliberations during one of the most critical periods in the history of Judah.

Her work is a tour-de-force in Hebrew Bible methodology as well as theological enquiry.  It demonstrates beyond all doubt that not only is the Hebrew Bible comprised of a number of differing theologies, it is also comprised of a number of differing theodicies.  The old notion that there is something called ‘Die Mitte der Schrift‘ must be thoroughly jettisoned.  There is no ‘center’ for the Hebrew Bible, there are only a multitude of voices, all speaking and all deserving of serious attention.

This wonderful volume should be on your desk and then in your hands and then on your shelf.  You will be returning to it.  A lot.

4 thoughts on “Voices from the Ruins: Theodicy and the Fall of Jerusalem in the Hebrew Bible

  1. I just finished Crenshaw’s Prophetic Conflict a few weeks ago. I read the monograph on Jeremiah and nabi you reviewed a while back, and that led me back to Carroll’s little monograph on prophecy and “that” led me back to Crenshaw.

    Now this new book was something I was thinking about grabbing depending on whether you said it was worthwhile. Looks like I’ll have to grab a copy!


  2. copy just arrived, and when I told one of my relatives about it he thought about how it might be good to read parallel to his copy of Eric Cline’s Jerusalem Besieged, which is actually sounding like a fun reading project.


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