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This chapter shows how the story-cycles of Elijah and Elisha use royal illness to provide a Yahwistic perspective for the political and cultic crises of the ninth century. In 1 Kgs 22:52–2 Kgs 1, Elijah uses Ahaziah’s illness as an opportunity to emphasize the superiority of Yahweh as the national god of Israel. In a similar vein, we witness in 2 Kgs 8:7–15, how Elisha uses the illness and death of Ben-Hadad to anticipate the disastrous effects of Hazael’s reign, which leads to a temporary period of hardship for the Israelites and can be interpreted as a punishment for Baal-worship. In both instances the oracles associate the king’s illness and premature death with the cultic misconduct of dynasties and people.
This study began by observing how the declining health of rulers can lead to political instability, regime change, and even wars. In biblical historiography, by contrast, the motif of the sick king is used to reflect on the nature of kingship in its relation to gods, the people, dynasties, and nations. By utilizing Charles E. Rosenberg’s concepts of “disease as frame” and “framing disease,” this study has contextualized and analyzed the representation of royal illness in biblical historiography.1 The picture that has emerged allows for conclusions about the depiction of royal illness that are otherwise not readily apparent. It can now be shown how the physical and mental deterioration of kings is either framed by the king’s sinful behavior or is used as a frame for prophetic oracles and for royal apologetics. Despite these differences in representation, the imagery and language surrounding the physical and mental demise of kings is used in both the Deuteronomistic History and in Chronicles as an opportunity to reflect on social issues relating to the role of kingship in Israel’s and Judah’s monarchic past by providing an announcement of and an explanation for the eventual destruction of these nations.
Chapter 1 functions as introduction that sets the stage for the study as a whole. In this chapter, I discuss cases of royal illness in the Bible, cuneiform writings and early Jewish literature. I also lay out my methodological framework. The introduction of the book scrutinizes the categories of disease, illness, and disability and then reviews how they have been treated in academic discussions of physical disorders. This chapter also involves a short review of the different theoretical frameworks that have been applied to the study of illness in the ancient world which is followed by the introduction of my own approach of illness as frame or the framing of illness. Finally, I outline the organization of the book by giving an overview of the key passages that will be examined in the course of the study
King Asa in 2 Chr 16 suffers from a foot ailment, which is framed by the specific trait of self-reliance and his disrespect for prophets and the people. The Chronicler uses the king’s foot disease to underscore Asa’s character flaw of self-reliance. Even when his illness is severe, Asa does not turn to Yahweh, but relies on the physicians (2 Chr 16:12b). This interpretation of Asa’s illness is not only integrated into the overall trajectory of Asa’s reign as envisioned by the Chronicler, but also introduces a hitherto unmentioned group of health care professional, namely the physicians (רופאים). This chapter will first give an overview of Asa’s reign both in Kings and Chronicles. Then, I will analyze the role of the physicians. It is shown that Asa’s mistake, according to the Chronicler, consists of turning to physicians alone when he should also have consulted with priests and prophets.
Chapter 2 focuses on the depiction of Israel’s first kings in the Books of Samuel and 1 Kings 1–2. This chapter deals with narratives about the early days of kingship and the portrayal of kings and members of the royal court who are affected by various ailments and disabilities. The kings and members of the royal court discussed include Saul, who descends into madness; the unnamed son of David and Bathsheba; and David himself, who suffers the effects of old age later in his life. It is shown how royal illness frames David’s and Solomon’s succession to the throne and how royal illness can be framed by sinful behavior. When read against the backdrop of Israel’s and Judah’s monarchic past, the imagery of illness surrounding Saul and David engage in a larger debate about the correct form of leadership and problems inherent to kingship.
In this book, Isabel Cranz offers the first systematic study of royal illness in the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. Applying a diachronic approach, she compares and contrasts how the different views concerning kingship and illness are developed in the larger trajectory of the Hebrew Bible. As such, she demonstrates how a framework of meaning is constructed around the motif of illness, which is expanded in several redactional steps. This development takes different forms and relates to issues such as problems with kingship, the cultic, and moral conduct of individual kings, or the evaluation of dynasties. Significantly, Cranz shows how the scribes living in post-monarchic Judah expanded the interpretive framework of royal illness until it included a message of destruction and a critique of kingship. The physical and mental integrity of the king, therefore, becomes closely tied to his nation and the political system he represents.
The two cases of royal illness examined in this chapter are framed by arrogance. First, Uzziah’s affliction with צרעת is preceded by his arrogance in attempting to take over the priestly duties at the temple (2 Chr 26:16–23). Second, arrogance plays a role in Hezekiah’s illness when the king provokes divine wrath by not responding with gratitude to being healed (2 Chr 32:24–25). This chapter shows how the Chronicler expands on the incident of Uzziah’s צרעת with the purpose of making a point about the destructive nature of sacrilege (מעל) and the limits of royal involvement in the temple cult. For Hezekiah’s illness, the Chronicler highlights the importance of humility (כנע) when faced with divine wrath. The respective portrayals of Uzziah and Hezekiah teach us about the correct response to divine anger while placing into sharper focus the danger of hubris that comes with power and success. Lastly, sacrilege (מעל) at the temple and a lack of humility (כנע) on the part of the king also play a role in the last days of Judah insofar as the events surrounding the illness of Uzziah and Hezekiah resonate with the eventual annihilation of Judah and Jerusalem.
This chapter demonstrates how the oracles provoked by the illnesses of Abijah and Hezekiah work in combination to structure the presentation of Judah’s and Israel’s monarchic past as envisioned in the Book of Kings. Royal illness frames prophetic oracles which are used to confirm the validity of the Davidic dynasty and to condemn the dynasties of the North. Eventually, however, the oracles are expanded through a later redaction to frame the destruction of both Israel and Judah. This chapter concludes with an excursus on Hezekiah’s illness as it is featured in the Isaianic tradition, where the focus shifts to highlighting the link between the king and his people rather than the king and his dynasty.
This chapter deals with Jehoram of Judah, who suffered from a painful bowel disorder. Jehoram’s disorder is framed by a series of cultic and moral offenses which necessitate a drastic divine judgment. To shed additional light on the Chronicler’s framing of Jehoram’s illness, this chapter considers Jehoram’s place within the broader context of the Chronistic history and the Davidic kings featured therein. The framing of Jehoram’s illness plays out on two levels. On one level, Jehoram’s illness is linked to the wider context of Judah’s eventual destruction. On a second level, Jehoram’s illness is part of a complex literary framework which presents Jehoram as a quasi-Omride king and marks his reign as a new low point in the Chronistic reconstruction of Judahite history.