Ishmael’s Assassination Of Gedaliah: Echoes Of The Saul-David Story In Jeremiah 40:7–41:18 -- By: Gary E. Yates

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 67:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Ishmael’s Assassination Of Gedaliah: Echoes Of The Saul-David Story In Jeremiah 40:7–41:18
Author: Gary E. Yates


Ishmael’s Assassination Of Gedaliah:
Echoes Of The Saul-David Story In Jeremiah 40:7–41:18

Gary E. Yates

Gary E. Yates is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va.

When one reads the book of Jeremiah, it might appear as if the account of Ishmael ben Nethaniah’s assassination of Gedaliah, the governor of Judah, in Jer 40–41 is nothing more than a tragic footnote or addendum to the story of the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. Both Ishmael and Gedaliah are rather minor figures in the history of ancient Israel who appear only briefly on the pages of the Hebrew Bible.1 Nevertheless, the narrator of Jer 40–41 provides a much more detailed record of the events surrounding Ishmael and Gedaliah than the parallel account in 2 Kgs 25:22–26.2 In addition, the narrator in Jeremiah infuses

these characters with theological significance beyond their apparent importance by engaging in a form of intertextuality in which Ishmael’s murder of Gedaliah represents a reversal of the earlier and more famous story of the conflict between Saul andDavid.3 The purpose of this article is to develop the intertextual connections between the story of Gedaliah/Ishmael and the earlier accounts of Saul/ David and to demonstrate how the narrative in Jer 40–41 stands as part of the larger rhetorical emphasis in the book of Jeremiah on the rejection of the historical house of David.4

In this intertextual reading of the conflict between Gedaliah and Ishmael, Gedaliah emerges as a Saul-figure who replaces the Davidic scion as the divinely

appointed leader. Ishmael is of royal blood (מורע מלוכה, 41:1) and thus naturally represents the David-figure in the story. However, the irony behind the narrator’s allusions to Saul and David is that Gedaliah more closely resembles David, while Ishmael as a member of the house of David acts in the manner of King Saul by attempting to use violence to subvert a divinely sanctioned change in leadership.

I. Ishmael and Gedaliah: The Collapse of the House of David

The collapse of the house of Davi...

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