King of Kings
God and the Foreign Emperor in the Hebrew Bible
Imprint: Baylor University Press
304 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 5 b&w photos, 17 b&w illus.
- Published: September 2021
From the eighth to second centuries BCE, ancient Israel and Judah were threatened and dominated by a series of foreign empires. This traumatic history prompted serious theological reflection and recalibration, specifically to address the relationship between God and foreign kings. This relationship provided a crucial locus for thinking theologically about empire, for if the rival sovereignty possessed and expressed by kings such as Sennacherib of Assyria, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Cyrus of Persia, and Antiochus IV Epiphanes was to be rendered meaningful, it somehow had to be assimilated into a Yahwistic theological framework.
In King of Kings, Justin Pannkuk tells the stories of how the biblical texts modeled the relationship between God and foreign kings at critical junctures in the history of Judah and the development of this discourse across nearly six centuries. Pannkuk finds that the biblical authors consistently assimilated the power and activities of the foreign kings into exclusively Yahwistic interpretive frameworks by constructing hierarchies of agency and sovereignty that reaffirmed YHWH's position of ultimate supremacy over the kings. These acts of assimilation performed powerful symbolic work on the problems presented by empire by framing them as expressions of YHWH's own power and activity. This strategy had the capacity to render imperial domination theologically meaningful, but it also came with theological consequences: with each imperial encounter, the ideologies of rule and political aggression to which the biblical texts responded actually shaped the biblical discourse about YHWH.
With its broad historical sweep, engagement with important theological themes, and accessible prose, King of Kings provides a rich resource for students and scholars working in biblical studies, theology, and ancient history. It is an important resource for understanding how the vagaries of history inform our ongoing negotiations with concepts of the divine.
Introduction: Imperial Encounters
1 Woe, Assyria—The Rod of My Anger! God and the Gentile Emperor in First Isaiah
2 Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, My Servant: God and the Gentile Emperor in Jeremiah
3 Cyrus, YHWH’s Anointed One: God and the Gentile Emperor at the Dawn of the Persian Period
4 In the Court of the King: God and the Gentile Emperor in Daniel 1–6
5 Ruled and Yet Unruly: God and the Gentile Emperor in Daniel 7
Conclusion: The Chapters and the Story
In very readable and accessible prose, King of Kings examines the Hebrew Bible’s theological responses to the imperial violence faced by ancient Israel and Judah over the course of more than half a millennium. Throughout the book, author Justin Pannkuk charts the developments in biblical writers’ reactions to the threat of empire and claims to sovereignty by Gentile kings that ultimately played an important role in shaping the biblical portrayal of God. Guided by the insights of postcolonial theory, King of Kings shows how the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel responded to various imperial contexts by insisting that God, and not foreign emperors, controlled history—claims that reshaped imperial ideology into biblical monotheism.~David Janzen, Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, Durham University
Justin Pannkuk’s book is a compelling combination of serious scholarship and riveting narration. Seldom has anyone made the history of ancient Israel’s confrontation with a succession of Gentile empires so vivid and the complex strategies of its ideological engagement so compelling. This is the perfect book to put in the hands of students who wonder why ancient history matters. But scholars will also find it perceptive and nuanced in its analyses of the complicated theological innovations to which these circumstances gave rise.~Carol A. Newsom, C. H. Candler Professor Emerita of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Emory University
From the very first sentence of this book, Justin Pannkuk treats his readers to a theological-historical feast offering us a comprehensive study of the various and varied biblical models for making sense of Gentile imperialism amidst development and change. Pannkuk proves himself a meticulous researcher and a careful sifter of the relevant sources from Assyria and First Isaiah to Daniel and Antiochus IV Epiphanes. And his prose is simply beautiful. This is a stunning first outing for Pannkuk: a profound and mature work, both theoretically and theologically sophisticated, which leaves me eager to see what he writes next.~Brent A. Strawn, Professor of Old Testament and Professor of Law, Duke University