Nineveh on the Potomac
Over at The Guardian, Sidney Blumenthal considers the president’s second inaugural address, recalling a line from the first:
- As Bush draws the sword of righteousness against the forces of darkness, the enemy being evil itself ("evildoers … axis of evil"), he ascends on messianic imagery. "Do you not think an angel rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm?" he said in his first inaugural, quoting a letter written by a Virginian friend to Thomas Jefferson during the American revolution. "This story goes on," said Bush. "And an angel still rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm."
As Blumenthal notes, "That particular verse originates in the book of the prophet Nahum. It contains no ‘angel,’ but the Lord, ‘a jealous and avenging God … full of wrath….’" He goes on to provide some context for that Biblical extract, but alas, not enough. The president could use the tutorial; as a practitioner of refrigerator-magnet Christianity, he probably lacks the vaguest idea what the passage refers to. Refrigerator-magnet Christians (RMCs) – America’s largest denomination – approach the Bible as a compendium of ye olde inspirational nuggets for posting about the home and office. To be sure, fundamentalist RMCs like the prez believe the Bible to be much more than a sacred Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, but they leave all that big-picture philosophical and historical stuff for accredited theologians and bestselling novelists to process and distribute in bite-sized (and highly politicized) portions. And by "big-picture philosophical and historical stuff," I of course mean Armageddon.
But what of actual Biblical history – y’know, things that have already happened, real historical events alluded to in the Bible? As a Christian Web site summarizes the book of Nahum:
- The subject of this prophecy is the approaching complete and final destruction of Nineveh, the capital of the great and at that time flourishing Assyrian empire. Assur-bani-pal was at the height of his glory. Nineveh was a city of vast extent, and was then the center of the civilization and commerce of the world, a "bloody city all full of lies and robbery" (Nah. 3:1), for it had robbed and plundered all the neighboring nations. It was strongly fortified on every side, bidding defiance to every enemy; yet it was to be utterly destroyed as a punishment for the great wickedness of its inhabitants.
Hmmm. Now where is Nineveh? Why, it’s just outside present-day Mosul. I’m sure many Bush-supporting RMCs would read Nahum (if they read Nahum) as a prophecy re-fulfilled by the fall of Saddam Hussein, but there are a few problems with that. For one, who would say that Hussein’s Iraq at even its peak was a "great and flourishing empire"? "The center of the civilization and commerce of the world"? I think not. Second, Assyrian Nineveh was destroyed by the Babylonians. Hussein fancied himself heir to the Babylonian kings, particularly
Nebuchadnezzar. Finally, Nineveh is no longer Saddam’s and hasn’t been since it was made part of the northern no-fly zone after the first Gulf War. Thus, even before the "Pottery Barn rule" went into effect, Nineveh was quite literally us.
And I imagine quite a few Iraqis now sympathize with Nahum’s vision for Nineveh:
- Nahum 3
1 Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and rapine; the prey departeth
2 The noise of the whip, and the noise of the rattling of wheels, and prancing
horses, and bounding chariots,
3 the horseman mounting, and the flashing sword, and the glittering spear,
and a multitude of slain, and a great heap of corpses, and there is no end of
the bodies; they stumble upon their bodies. …
17 Thy princes are as the locusts, and thy marshals as the swarms of grasshoppers,
which encamp in the hedges in the cold day, but when the sun ariseth they flee
away, and their place is not known where they are….
19 There is no assuaging of thy hurt: thy wound is grievous: all that hear
the report of thee clap their hands over thee; for upon whom hath not thy wickedness
That’s one Bible passage I guarantee you won’t hear on Thursday.