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Paws for thought: Animal maulings and the word of

God in the Books of Kings

Abstract

The Books of Kings depict the closing chapters in Israel’s pre-exilic life, and

thus, more than any other narrative, depict the failing of Israel to live up to

Yahweh’s standards. The prophetic narratives within these books serve as a

yardstick for measuring Israel’s commitment to Yahweh, and for the exilic or

post-exilic reader, serve to demonstrate where Israel went wrong.

I will examine two prophetic narratives – the story of the antonomastical man

of God in 1 Kings 13, and Elisha’s encounter with the young men of Bethel in

2 Kings 2 – which use animal maulings as divine judgment, to assess the

relationship between the prophetic narratives and the Books of Kings.

I will argue these stories link so called Deuteronomistic and Holiness Code

concerns, to carry the recipient back to the hope of covenant renewal, and the

past and future reign of a David King, through listening to, and obeying,

Yahweh’s voice.

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Introduction

Two difficult prophetic narratives in the Books of Kings (1 Kings 13, 2 Kings

2:23-25), linked by the violent actions of wild beasts, provide exilic and post-

exilic Israel with a harrowing reminder of the consequence of ignoring

Yahweh’s word, and rejecting his covenant.

This paper applies narrative analysis to the book and these units, suggesting

judgment by animal as a form of type scene.1 It assumes an exilic or post-exilic

audience, to demonstrate a fundamental relationship between these stories

and the purpose of the Books of Kings, and a joining of Deuteronomistic and

holiness concerns of Israel during and after exile.

These accounts seem, at first reading, to be bizarre and insignificant

interpolations in the narrative, interesting only to modern skeptics as an

account of Yahweh’s pernicious ways.2 However, both contribute significantly

to the implied reader’s understanding of the text, and Israel’s situation after

the events it depicts. This is especially the case when the narratives are read

mindful of the inter-textual features and relationship to the Pentateuch and

preceding chapters of Israel’s history, especially the Davidic ideal, and the

eschatological and messianic hopes of the exilic and post-exilic reader.


1
R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, (New York, Basic Books, 1981), 47-62, 86-88
2
W.C Kaiser, P.H Davids, F.F Bruce, M.T Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible, (Downers Grove,
IVP, 1996), 232-234, D.W Van Winkle, ‘1 Kings 13: True and False Prophecy,’ Vetus
Testamentum, XXIX, 1 (1989), 31-43, 31, 1 Kings 13 has been called “one of the strangest
narratives in the Old Testament”

2
The stories combine to link the rejection of God’s word, spoken by his

prophets, with God’s promised means of punishment, presenting an

appropriate response to God’s word as vital for avoiding this judgment.

Lions (no tigers), and bears: “Oh My”: Animals & Yahweh’s

Judgment

The Pentateuch establishes Yahweh’s use of animals, lions and bears, as direct

and indirect means for judgment.3 The relationship is, perhaps, established in

the Genesis curse (Gen 3:15), made explicit in Leviticus (Lev 26:21-22), and

occurs both against Israel’s enemies (Exodus 8:1-11, 16-17, 20-24, 10:1-15, 1

Samuel 17:46), and against Israel (Numbers 21:4-8), and Yahweh’s agents

(Jonah 1:17),4 but nowhere more striking, or with more rhetorical significance,

than in our two case studies in the Books of Kings, and two other events

where a grizzly end follows a failure to obey the voice of Yahweh, or not

worshipping Yahweh respectively (1 Kings 20:36, 2 Kings 17:25).5 Animal

intervention also functions as a yardstick for the faithfulness of a prophet

(Numbers 22, Jonah 1, 1 Kings 17:1-6).6 The lion’s refusal to devour the dead

prophet (1 Kings 13:28), and the bears’ service of Elisha (2 Kings 2:24) can

thus be read as comments on the legitimacy of prophetic actions and


3
W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth and Helwys Commentary, (Macon, Smyth and
Helwys, 2001), 172, surveys the use of lions, we will cover passages featuring bears below.
4
J.S Ackerman, ‘Jonah,’ The Literary Guide to the Bible, Ed. R. Alter, F. Kermode, (Cambridge,
Harvard University Press, 1987),236, U. Simon, Reading Prophetic Narratives, Trans. L.J
Schramm, (Ramat-Gan, Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997), 306n43 suggests
comparisons between Jonah and 1 Kings 13 that equate their genres overstate the similarities.
However, following Alter’s methodology, I would argue that an allusion is enough to create a
narrative link.
5
J. K Mead, ‘Kings and prophets, donkeys and lions: dramatic shape and Deuteronomistic
rhetoric in 1 Kings XIII,’ Vetus Testamentum, 49 no 2, (Ap 1999), 191-205, 203
6
Interestingly, these three examples seem to feature an animal representative from each
taxonomical category operating in the OT – air, land, and sea animals, see R. Whitekettle,
‘Where the Wild Things Are: Primary Level Taxa in Israelite Zoological Thought,’ Journal for
the Society of the Old Testament, 93, (2001), 17-37, 19-22

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testimony.7

The manifestation and mastication of wild beasts – especially lions and bears -

is, from Leviticus onwards (Lev 26:33), a prophetic picture of judgment and

exile (Leviticus 26:1, 30-31, Jeremiah 2:15, 30, 4:7, 5:6, 25:38, 50:17,

Lamentations 3:10-11, Hosea 5:14, 13:8, Amos 3:4, 8, 12, 5:19),8 and animals

failing to devour Daniel is a picture of divine rescue (Daniel 6:16-22), in

contrast with their ravenous attack on the King’s courtiers (Daniel 6:24).

Safety from animal attacks is a picture of peace in the land (Lev 26:6), and an

eschatological ideal (Isaiah 11:6-8, 35:9, 65:25). It may be that the writers of 1

Samuel, describing David slaying bears and lions (1 Sam 17:34-37), and

Judges when Samson tears a lion apart (Judges 14:5-6) have this Levitical idyll

in mind.9

The Jewish reader, sensitive to narrative, may well bring this background to

accounts of animal attacks. The leonine judgment handed down in the first of

our case studies, and the demise of 42 youths in the second, would thus have

Levitical alarm bells ringing.

We will discuss these texts, the links between them, and the contribution they

make to the message of the Books of Kings below.


7
U. Simon, Reading Prophetic Narratives, Trans. L.J Schramm, (Ramat-Gan, Jerusalem and Bar-
Ilan University Press, 1997), 305n32
8
Amos 5:19 is especially interesting because it links lions, bears, and snakes together in
judgment, as they are in delivery via the root of Jesse in Isaiah 11:6-8.
9
S. Talmon, ‘Daniel,’ The Literary Guide to the Bible, Ed. R. Alter, F. Kermode, (Cambridge,
Harvard University Press, 1987), 352, suggests only the exceptional can vanquish lions, which
are symbols and agents of God’s judgment throughout the OT.

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5
The links between the texts within the Books of Kings

There are several apparent links drawn between these prophetic narratives.

The similarities include the Bethel roadside setting, the prophet or ‘man of

God’ as protagonist, and the death by wild animal depicted as an expression

of Yahweh’s judgment.10

While the mystery man of 1 Kings 13 is known only by his title, it is clear from

his actions - proclaiming Yahweh’s prophetic word to King Jeroboam - that he

is a prophet of the same ilk as those who follow, namely Elijah, and Elisha.

The sobriquet “man of God” is reserved for mysterious supernatural

messengers, so both the man who delivered good news to Samson’s parents

(Judges 13:6-8), and judgment to Eli (1 Samuel 2:27), and those occupying a

prophetic office, Moses (Deut 33:1), Samuel (1 Sam 9:6-10), Shemaiah (1 Kings

12:22), this antonomastical man of God in 1 Kings 13, and then for Elijah (1

Kings 17:18, 24, 20:28, 2 Kings 1:9-13). Elisha is also called a man of God after

this narrative (2 Kings 4:16, 42, 5:7, 20, 6:6, 10, 7:2, 8:4, 7).11 Both cases revolve

around such a man.12

The setting, Bethel, is also significant. After Jeroboam, Kings treats it as a

centre for idolatry (1 Kings 12:25, 29, 32-33, 13:2-4, 32, 2 Kings 10:29, 23:15),13

and rival to Jerusalem.14 In each case the ‘man of God’ is met on the Bethel


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the essential differences are the interlocutors, type of “wild beast,” and the victim of the
mauling.
11
Indeed, the story is part of Elisha’s proof, via miracle, that he is a man of God. P.R House, 1-
2 Kings, The New American Commentary, (Nashville, Broadman and Holman, 1995), 261
12
There is a further interesting parallel created between the two through a reference to each
man’s bones throughout the narrative (1 Kings 13:31, 2 Kings 13:21, 23:18).
13
W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 167, notes that Bethel is judged harshly in the prophetic
tradition, citing Hos 10:15, and Amos 3:14. This Amos passage is significant as it comes after a
series of references to a devouring lion.
14
ibid, 175

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road by a party seeking to undermine Yahweh’s authority – through the lie of

the ‘prophet’ (1 Kings 13), or the gang of young men who insult both Elisha,15

and Yahweh, through the application of the disrespectful epithet,16 and by

calling him to follow Elijah in disappearing from the face of the earth (2 Kings

2:23).17 The affinity between prophet and message means this attack is

construed as an attack on Elisha’s divine mission.18

While the interpretation of the Elisha narrative as a demonstration of his

prophetic succession,19 including a move to occupy a politically significant

position with the reported journey to Samaria,20 and the endorsement of his

role as a speaker of God’s word, is relatively uncontested,21 the first story

requires a more lengthy narrative analysis.

Listening to Yahweh’s word as key in 1 Kings 13

The story of Jeroboam and the ‘man of God’ has been the subject of much

discussion and some ridicule from critical scholars,22 who treat it as two

“original” stories (1 Kings 13:1-10, 11-32), paired with an evaluative editorial


15
D.R Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury, (Fearn, Christian Focus, 2005), 37-38 on the age
of the youths, he suggests somewhere between 10 and 12, W.C Kaiser, et. al, Hard Sayings of
the Bible, 232 suggests slightly older
16
P.R House, 1-2 Kings, 260-261, W.C Kaiser, et. al, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 233
17
P.R House, 1-2 Kings, 260-261, W.C Kaiser, et. al, Hard Sayings of the Bible, 233, D.R Davis, 2
Kings, 38, says it may simply be telling him to get out of town.
18
U. Simon, ‘1 Kings 13,’ 91n28
19
W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 297
20
M.A O’Brien, ‘The Portrayal of Prophets in 2 Kings 2,’ Australian Biblical Review, 46, (1998),
1-16, 15, W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 297
21
M.A O’Brien, ‘The Portrayal of Prophets in 2 Kings 2,’ 15-16, offers a slightly dissenting
view, seeing Elisha as weak and indecisive, and his demonstrations of power as
“unconvincing,” though the bears serve as a divine sign that his word has power. He also
sees the verses as an interpolation in the story at 3, and 15.
22
It has been dismissed as conceptually inconsistent and “a legend of inferior quality,”U.
Simon, ‘1 Kings 13: A Prophetic Sign – Denial and Persistence,’ Hebrew Union College Annual,
47, (1976), 81-117, 81, citing Gressmann and Noth

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comment (1 Kings 13:33-34).23 These stories contain motifs common to the

book – opposition between prophetic voice and king, idolatry, and the

importance of God’s word continuing to be heard, through and despite its

human speakers.24 Some read the story as a post-Deuteronomic propaganda

“parable” repositioning the prophetic role in the post-exilic period.25 Others

have applied forms of narrative analysis to position the text as a sophisticated

unified work from the “pre-classical” prophetic period between the 11th and

8th centuries BC.26 Regardless of the dating and reconstruction adopted,

treating the narrative as a work of literary art has been increasingly popular

and fruitful since Rofe (1974), and Simon (1976).27

Against the two-part division of the text, Mead (1999) adopts a narrative

analysis where the united passage functions within the “Deuteronomistic

framework” of the book.28 He suggests the ‘man of God’ (and later, the

donkey) operates as a portrait of Jeroboam’s own disobedience and

destruction.29

Mead’s sitz im leiben for the text is the Josianic reforms, where it functions as

Deuteronomistic propaganda for Josiah’s reign (1 Kings 13:2, 32).30 I will


23
J.T Walsh, ‘The contexts of 1 Kings 13,’ Vetus Testamentum, 39 no 3 (Jl 1989), 355-370, 355-
356, also D.W Van Winkle, ‘1 Kings 13,’ 35-36
24
J.T Walsh, ‘The contexts of 1 Kings 13,’ 361
25
D.W Van Winkle, ‘1 Kings 13,’ 33-39
26
K.C Way, ‘Animals in the Prophetic World: Literary Reflections on Numbers 22 and 1 Kings
13,’ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 34.1 (2009), 47-62, 48, 55-56, 58-59, Way also
draws several parallels with the story of Balaam and his donkey in Numbers 22, on its
literary unity and sophistication see 54
27
For a summary of treatments up to the application of literary criticism see U. Simon, ‘1
Kings 13,’ 81-86
28
J. K Mead, ‘Kings and prophets, donkeys and lions,’ 192
29
Ibid, 193, on Jeroboam as the donkey standing idly by the corpse of the “man of God” see
202
30
Ibid, 196, W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 168, notes that Josiah “looms large” as a crucial
theological model in the Deuteronomic history

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argue a modified account of the text, which incorporates the Leviticus

holiness code and priorities, below, but Mead’s narrative observations are

sound.

Mead sees the narrative structured around a pivot point, when the man of

God disobeys Yahweh’s instructions (1 Kings 13:19), returning to Bethel. This

disobedience leads to his death.31 The narrative itself is a pivot point in the

book, where the northern kingdom receives an initial statement of judgment.32

The frame around the narrative, and parallels between 1-5 and 20-24,

emphasise its lack of impact on Jeroboam, and predicts his fate.33 The links

between Jeroboam and the narrative are relatively clear, and established

through direct parallels between the altar, the word of Yahweh, rejection of

Yahweh’s commands, and judgment occurring commensurate with Yahweh’s

word (1 Kings 13:3-5, 22, 29-30).34 Idolatry is the symptom of Jeroboam’s

rejection of Yahweh’s word, not the disease itself.35

Some have suggested the emphasis of the narrative is to provide criteria for

anyone to assess the message of a prophet – that their words obey the

commands of Yahweh.36 Yahweh’s word is the clear focus of the text (1 Kings


31
J. K Mead, ‘Kings and prophets, donkeys and lions,’ 195, K.C Way, ‘Animals in the
Prophetic World,’ 54
32
W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 4
33
J. K Mead, op. cit, 195-197
34
Ibid, ’ 195-205, The parallel is drawn between the altar and the ‘man of God’ with repetition
of ideas in 2 and 21, 4 and 22, and 5 and 24, where rejection of God’s word leads to
destruction.
35
Contra J.T Walsh, ‘The contexts of 1 Kings 13,’ 357, who sees idolatry at the heart of the first
narrative in the chapter.
36
D.W Van Winkle, ‘1 Kings 13,’ 37, 40, 42, also, at 32-33, Van Winkle is right to suggest that
narrowing this episode down to just one meaning is reductionist, P.R House, 1-2 Kings, 187-
188, suggests the emphasis is “on proper worship, the prophetic word, and the slow demise
of the covenant people. It also begins to analyze the difference between true and false
prophecy.”

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13:1, 2, 5, 9, 17, 18, 20, 26, 32),37 and Mead rightly suggests the purpose of the

story is to demonstrate that judgment happens when Yahweh’s word is not

obeyed, and the restatement of the prophecy by the old prophet does not as

some suggest, vindicate the “man of God,”38 but demonstrates that Yahweh’s

inviolable word continues regardless of human response.39

Mead draws an oblique comparison to our Elisha incident, while discussing

the appearance of the lion,40 which he imbues with more significance than the

bears, through a word-study that attempts to link the lion with Yahweh –

such that Yahweh is the lion in this narrative.41 It seems more likely that the

lion, like the bears, is best viewed as Yahweh’s agent, consistent with

Leviticus 26, and symbolic of the exile that follows continued rejection of

Yahweh’s word.

Both stories present a manifestation of the Leviticus judgment, the first on a

prophet who fails to “listen to Yahweh” and walks contrary to his instruction


37
K.C Way, ‘Animals in the Prophetic World,’ 54, U. Simon, Reading Prophetic Narratives,
Trans. L.J Schramm, (Ramat-Gan, Jerusalem and Bar-Ilan University Press, 1997), 136, the
word of God is the hero in this text, W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 176
38
J.T Walsh, ‘The contexts of 1 Kings 13,’ 360, while this might be a plausible reading, its
failure to consider the use of animal attacks in 1-2 Kings, and the relationship with Leviticus
26, makes Mead’s the better reading.
39
This broadening of the moral to the story, from prophet, to king, to everyman, is evident
from the condemnation of Jeroboam at its conclusion (1 Kings 13:33-34), J. K Mead, ‘Kings
and prophets, donkeys and lions,’ 204-205, this does not rule out Van Winkle’s conclusion,
but seems to better capture the emphasis. On the whole, Mead’s reading is plausible and
important, especially when united with a reading of 2 Kings 2, though how the “man of God”
functions as a portrait of Jeroboam, and how much the account, in turn, depicts the failing of
Israel to listen to the voice of Yahweh, is important for the recipient of the final form of the
text, given that they have witnessed the rise and fall of Josiah’s reforms (2 Kings 23). The
Josianic promise, though a significant indicator of the direction the northern kingdom must
head in, in order to first avoid exile, and an exemplar for their return to faith, can not carry
the rhetorical weight that Mead, and others, who rely on a pre-exilic canonical form for these
stories suggest. See also U. Simon, ‘1 Kings 13: A Prophetic Sign – Denial and Persistence,’
Hebrew Union College Annual, 47, (1976), 81-117, 117, suggests that at the very least, the source
of 1 Kings 13 is somewhere in the “days after Josiah.”
40
J. K Mead, ‘Kings and prophets, donkeys and lions,’ 203, K.C Way, ‘Animals in the
Prophetic World,’ 58, links 1 Kings 13, 2 Kings 2, and Hosea 13 to God’s judgment via
animals, though again, doesn’t make a strong link between the stories in Kings.
41
Ibid, 203-204

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(1 Kings 13:17-22), and the second on the youths who failed to listen to, or

respect, the duly appointed “man of God” (2 Kings 2:23), both failures are

punished, as promised, with Yahweh loosing a wild beast. This parallel

would be more easily established if the same verb were employed for the

mauling, but 1 Kings 13 uses ‫שׁבר‬, or ‘destroy’ and 2 Kings 2:24 uses ‫בקע‬, or

‘split or rip open,’ though both seem appropriate for the result of a wild

animal attack (and Hosea 13:8 uses ‫ בקע‬for a lion attack).

In the first story, Yahweh’s judgment is tied to a specific act of disobedience (1

Kings 13:21, 26). In the second, the judgment is a result of Elisha turning to

Yahweh for vindication in the face of opposition.42 The scoffing of the youths

is typical of the behaviour that is elsewhere identified as a contributor to exile

(2 Chron 36:16, Leviticus 26:14-16, 18-21, 23-33).43 Idolatry is supplied as a

precursor for God’s animalistic judgment (Leviticus 26:1).

The Compositional History, Unity, and Purpose of the Books of

Kings

While these links suggest a high level of narrative unity and artistry across

Kings, critical scholars view these texts as belonging to different traditions,

sources, and periods in the development of the Deuteronomic History. While

an exilic or post-exilic date for Kings is not seriously in dispute,44 given the

narrative ends with exile, the relatively narrow band of time available still


42
D.R Davis, 2 Kings, 39
43
W.C Kaiser, et. al, Hard Sayings, 233, P.R House, 1-2 Kings, 260-261 and D.R Davis, 2 Kings,
39 link this passage to Leviticus 26, but not the 1 Kings 13 lion attack.
44
Though some see various sources and traditions behind the final form of the text, and this
statement is probably most true for the canonical form.

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produces a broad spectrum of positions. These positions tend to involve

hypothetical reconstructions about political unrest in Israel surrounding the

place of prophets and priests. We will briefly survey some of these positions,

but a fuller discussion on the composition, or even validity, of the

Deuteronomic History is beyond the scope of this paper.

Otto (2003) surveys the critical theories about the composition of the Books of

Kings, noting that while some believe several of the prophetic narratives,

starting from 1 Kings 17, and including 2 Kings 2, were added after the

Deuteronomic History was completed,45 there is no consensus on a

compelling editorial agenda accounting for the integration of the Elijah-Elisha

narratives into the books. 46 She adopts Noth’s view, that the Deuteronomic

History is an exilic work presenting a narrow theologically driven account of

Israel’s history, composed or completed after the events described in Kings –

where any theological presentation that does not meet the narrowly identified

agenda is a post-Deuteronomic addition.47

The two key themes Otto sees at the heart of the Deuteronomistic agenda are

an emphasis on the fulfillment of the word of God, and a sustained criticism

of Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom.48 Otto uses this two-fold rubric to

suggest the Elijah narratives are a late addition to the narrative,49 and likewise


45
S. Otto, ‘The Composition of the Elijah-Elisha Stories and the Deuteronomistic History,’
Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol. 27 Issue 4, (Jun 2003), 487-508, 489
46
Ibid, 489
47
Ibid, 490-491
48
Ibid, 493
49
Ibid, 494-497, she suggests that Elijah’s triumph over the prophets of Baal, if genuine, would
have been an important focal point of subsequent narratives, so it must be late, and can’t
fathom an editorial agenda that pairs a great victory over Baal (1 Kings 17-18), followed by a
national apostasy, though this seems entirely consistent with Israel’s behaviour throughout
the Deuteronomic History, and the Pentateuch, cf the Golden Calf incident in Exodus 32.

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dismisses the Elisha narratives on some chronological presuppositions that

are asserted, rather than demonstrated,50 arguing for an incredibly minimal

view of the Deuteronomic History within 1 Kings 17-2 Kings 10.51 She

accounts for the interpolated and “inconsistent” presence of the Elijah-Elisha

narratives as a sustained treatment of the cycle of kingly evil, prophetic

judgment, kingly repentance and Yahweh’s mercy, and the importance of true

prophets.52 Others suggest the prophets are presented, in these narratives, in

apposition and opposition to kingly authority as the kingdom fails.53 The

Elisha narratives, especially the succession narrative, which provides the

immediate context of our case study, and the miracles – of which our passage

is one – serve to establish Elisha as a “miracle-working man of God.”54 Otto

suggests these narratives were added in early post-exilic times, where

prophets were increasingly required to justify their existence in the face of a

renewed emphasis on the law of Moses.55

It has long been recognised that the Books of Kings selectively reports Israel’s

history, to repudiate the northern kings, praise other kings who “did right” in

the eyes of the Lord on the basis of cultic practices,56 and to emphasise the


50
Ibid, 496-497
51
Ibid, 497-499, that includes only the chronological markers, and the narratives of Naboth,
Ahaziah’s death and Jehu’s coup, others, so Z. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 501-503,
see a Deuteronomistic agenda behind the inclusion of the prophetic narratives.
52
S. Otto, ‘The Composition of the Elijah-Elisha Stories and the Deuteronomistic History,’
500-503
53
Z. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 503
54
S. Otto, op cit. 505-507, marking Elisha’s succession is important, in Otto’s view, because his
method of prophecy represents a departure or evolution of Elijah’s. G. Savran, ‘1-2 Kings,’
162-163, points out that this narrative makes strong ties between Elijah and Elisha and Moses
and Joshua. Z. Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel, 500-501, suggests the bear attack and other
miracle stories are a demonstration of prophetic authority for a people who believe Yahweh
can intercede in the natural world.
55
S. Otto, op cit. 507, Otto makes too much of the distinction between Baal worship and
idolatry, and between the importance of the word of God and the work of the prophets – and
instead these should be seen as related to this purpose.
56
G. Savran, ‘1-2 Kings,’ The Literary Guide to the Bible, Ed. R. Alter, F. Kermode, (Cambridge,
Harvard University Press, 1987), 146-147

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fulfillment of prophetic words.57 The Deuteronomic agenda is said to be an

anti-idolatry, pro-Jerusalem, emphasis on the covenant relationship. 58 Others

see a more unified purpose in the composition of Kings, Zevit (1985, 2001)

calls the Deuteronomist a “disenfranchised loser,” selectively choosing his

sources, to produce propaganda a decade after Josiah’s reign.59 Zevit sees 1

Kings 12-13 as a pivotal moment in the establishment of the cultic practices of

the northern kingdom, under Jeroboam, thus our story, in its canonical form,

is essential to the Deuteronomic agenda.60

Narrative criticism at a book level not only leads to the recognition of a

stylistic departure from the Deuteronomic History,61 but a closer than

imagined relationship between the Deuteronomistic pro-Josiah agenda, the

prophetic narratives, and the Holiness Code within Kings. The animal

mauling texts are a decoder ring for this relationship.

Relating our texts, and a third, where Josiah completes the man of God’s

predictions (2 Kings 23:15-18),62 with the conclusion of the Holiness Code,

provides an interesting insight into the purpose of the books that serves to

link the Deuteronomic agenda with the importance of listening to God’s word

through his prophets.


57
Ibid, 161-162, The book picks up the Deuteronomic idea that true prophecy is determined by
fulfillment, there is no true prophet in 1-2 Kings whose words are not fulfilled.
58
Ibid, 147
59
Z. Zevit, ‘Deuteronomistic historiography in 1 Kings 12-2 Kings 17 and the reinvestiture of
the Israelian Cult,’ Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 32, (1985), 57-73, 57-59, also Z.
Zevit, The Religions of Ancient Israel: A Synthesis of Parallactic Approaches, (New York,
Continuum, 2001), 502, suggests the Deuteronomist’s “historiosophy” is derived from the
milieu of prophetic sympathisers from the Yahwist tradition.
60
Ibid, 60-64
61
G. Savran, ‘1-2 Kings,’ 147
62
W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 173, he suggests the Josianic oracle is not considered
complete until 2 Kings 23:15-18

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Leviticus 26 establishes a strong relationship between Israel’s national

identity, the land, and a covenantal relationship with Yahweh, through

listening and obeying.63 Its language is so closely followed elsewhere,

particularly in Ezekiel 34, that Müller (2010) assumes it quotes Ezekiel’s

prophecy,64 he identifies a parallel use of animal attacks in the two books (Lev

26:22, Ezekiel 5:17).65

A better account sees the chronological relationship moving the other way,

where Leviticus 26, which has a clear emphasis on the prophetic word, serves

as the background for the composition of 1-2 Kings, including the account of

Josiah’s reign.

Monroe (2011) suggests the Holiness Code may have been the scroll Josiah

discovered in the temple, because Deuteronomy, in turn, indicates some

literary dependence on it,66 because the account of Josiah’s destruction of

idolatry is both Levitical as Deuteronomic.67 Josiah’s reforms, and Kings itself,


63
R. Müller, ‘A Prophetic View of the Exile in the Holiness Code: Literary Growth and
Tradition History in Leviticus 22,’ The Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and its Historical
Contexts, ed. E. B Zvi, and C. Levin, (Berlin, De Gruyter, 2010), 208
64
Ibid, 209, 221-222, he assumes the “real addressees” live beyond the exile, but are supposed
to identify with the Israelites brought out of Egypt, and bases part of his assumption on an
evolution of post-exilic Jewish religious thought that includes corporate responsibility for sin
and repentance (Lev 26:39-40, Ezekiel 18, Jeremiah 11:10).
65
Ibid, 215
66
ibid, 17-21
67
ibid, 23-30

15
are then read,68 and perhaps written,69 in the light of this code,70 which goes

some way to establishing the importance of the animal mauling narratives.71

The contribution of our texts to the message of Kings

The dual emphasis on listening to the prophetic word of God, and the

narrative intricacies linking our two stories to each other, and to the wider

Old Testament corpus, make the Elijah-Elisha narratives, and our animal

texts, a key to the rhetorical purpose of the book.72

Both narratives make listening to the word of God a precursor for avoiding

judgment in the form of a wild beast, and more importantly, are part of the

etiology of exile presented in Kings. The narratives then function to bring

hearers back to the covenant promise of return from exile, to blessing.

This point is made by the contrast in fortunes of the two men of God on the

road to Bethel – the first turns away from the word of God and is mauled, the

second remains faithful to his recently acquired commission and is vindicated

when his accusers are mauled. The rhetorical impact for an implied audience

of exilic, and post-exilic, Israel is the essentially same – the word of God is

trustworthy and true, and rejection or disobedience of this word leads to

judgment. This harks back to the covenant (in this case Leviticus 26), and


68
ibid, 20-21, because Josiah’s reforms are viewed as a pivotal moment in Israel’s history that
birthed Judaism, and are the apex point in Kings.
69
Ibid, 77-78
70
ibid, 43, rightly rules out a common author for both.
71
Ibid, 43, This is, doubtless, a 2 way street, Monroe notes a scholarly reluctance to link 2
Kings 23 with Leviticus 26, but the animal attack motif links 2 Kings 23 to 1 Kings 13, and
both to Leviticus in a relatively convincing fashion.
72
though there are doubtless other aspects of this purpose not considered through this study,
or in these stories.

16
presents a reason to reject idolatry – which motivates the prophetic testimony

of 1 Kings 13, and underpins Elisha’s future ministry. There is a definite

reference to Leviticus (Lev 26:30) in the testimony of the man of God (1 Kings

13:2), which is reaffirmed by the prophet (1 Kings 13:32). This view is

bolstered by the additional lion attacks (1 Kings 20:36, and 2 Kings 17:25),

which explicitly tie these attacks to idolatry and a failure to listen to Yahweh –

which along with “honouring the sabbaths and sanctuary” are the

imperatives in Leviticus 26 (Lev 26:1-3, 14-15, 18, 23-24, 27).73 Remembrance of

the covenant, and associated promise of post-exilic renewal (Lev 26:40-45),

calls the implied reader to faithfulness, repentance and confession (Lev 26:3,

40-42), and presumably a rejection of idols (Lev 26:1, 30), obedience (Lev 26:2-

3), and renewed willingness to listen to Yahweh’s word (Lev 26:14, 18, 21, 27).

This requires trusting the faithful men of God, and not repeating the mistakes

of unfaithful prophets, kings (1 Kings 13), and people (2 Kings 2).74 This offers

the hope of renewed life in the land, and associated covenantal blessing (Lev

26:3-11, 42-45).

On this basis, these prophetic narratives, and the Books of Kings, provide a

blueprint for faithful behaviour, in and after exile. The links between the

covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Lev 26:42-44), the reference

to uncircumcised hearts (Lev 26:41), and the Davidic line typified by Josiah,

provide the platform for the messianic, monster-free, new covenant (1 Samuel

17:34-36, 1 Kings 13:2, 2 Kings 23, Isaiah 11:6-8, 1 Samuel 17:34-36).75


73
Commentators, such as W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, 175, suggest the competition
between Bethel and Jerusalem is at the heart of the tension in 1 Kings 13, and arguably in
references to Bethel throughout Kings.
74
Other compelling readings of Daniel aside, this does add an interesting aspect to the story
of Daniel in the den of lions, where Daniel is a model post-exilic Israelite.
75
Language John applies to Jesus in Revelation 5.

17
These beastly narratives, received by Israelites who were doubtless raised to

associate wild animals with the judgment of Yahweh (the ancient rhetorical

equivalent of the monster under the bed),76 evoke Leviticus 26, and its

associated message of judgment, followed by covenant faithfulness and

delivery, and for the implied reader, carry the full weight of prophetic hope

via the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:6-8, 35:9, 65:25). The narratives call the reader to

covenantal faithfulness, as described in Leviticus 26:1-3, and remind them to

listen to the word of Yahweh, which is a key priority in the overarching

message of Kings.


76
Contra U. Simon, ‘1 Kings 13: A Prophetic Sign,’ 96n37, suggests the animal passages –
including Jonah and the fish, Elijah and the ravens, and Elisha and the bears, do not confirm
that divine control of animals is presented as giving them an essential advantage over human
emissaries.

18
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(Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1987)

R. Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative, (New York, Basic Books, 1981)

W. Brueggemann, 1 & 2 Kings, Smyth and Helwys Commentary, (Macon,

Smyth and Helwys, 2001)

D.R Davis, 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury, (Fearn, Christian Focus, 2005)

P.R House, 1-2 Kings, The New American Commentary, (Nashville,

Broadman and Holman, 1995)

W.C Kaiser, P.H Davids, F.F Bruce, M.T Brauch, Hard Sayings of the Bible,

(Downers Grove, IVP, 1996)

J. K Mead, ‘Kings and prophets, donkeys and lions: dramatic shape and

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1999), 191-205

L.A.S Monroe, Josiah’s Reform and the Dynamics of Defilement: Israelite Rites of

Violence and the Making of a Biblical Text, (Oxford, Oxford University Press,

2011)

19
R. Müller, ‘A Prophetic View of the Exile in the Holiness Code: Literary

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Israel and its Historical Contexts, ed. E. B Zvi, and C. Levin, (Berlin, De Gruyter,

2010)

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487-508

G. Savran, ‘1-2 Kings,’ The Literary Guide to the Bible, Ed. R. Alter, F. Kermode,

(Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1987)

U. Simon, ‘1 Kings 13: A Prophetic Sign – Denial and Persistence,’ Hebrew

Union College Annual, 47, (1976), 81-117

U. Simon, Reading Prophetic Narratives, Trans. L.J Schramm, (Ramat-Gan,

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S. Talmon, ‘Daniel,’ The Literary Guide to the Bible, Ed. R. Alter, F. Kermode,

(Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1987)

D.W Van Winkle, ‘1 Kings 13: True and False Prophecy,’ Vetus Testamentum,

XXIX, 1 (1989), 31-43

20
J.T Walsh, ‘The contexts of 1 Kings 13,’ Vetus Testamentum, 39 no 3 (Jl 1989),

355-370

K.C Way, ‘Animals in the Prophetic World: Literary Reflections on Numbers

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Zoological Thought,’ Journal for the Society of the Old Testament, 93, (2001), 17-

37

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(1985), 57-73

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(New York, Continuum, 2001)

21