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KINOWSKI Krzysztof

The Meaning of Bloodshed in 2Kgs 21:16, 24:4 in the Context of the Fall of Judah

Mod.: R.P. Peter Dubovský, S.J.

King Manasseh of Judah is one of the most intriguing characters in the Bible, crucial to the comprehension of the final destiny of the Southern Kingdom. Manasseh’s bloodshed reported in 2Kgs 21:16 is also evoked in 2Kgs 24:4 as the specific reason for which God decided the destruction of Judah. It appears as an interpretative key to the entire narrative about the fall of Judah in 2Kgs 24–25.

The textual criticism of 2Kgs 21:16, 24:3-4 leads to the conclusion that none of these verses belonged to the original draft of the respective narratives. It appears that they were intentionally inserted to make Manasseh the scapegoat responsible for the national disaster. The theological basis for this is provided by the expressions employed in these passages. The first one is a metaphor of shedding innocent blood which involves bloodguilt, blood vengeance, and the existence of the Davidic dynasty. Another metaphor pertains to the land’s blood-defilement. The fact that Manasseh filled Jerusalem with innocent blood “to the brim” means that the city was completely defiled by blood. The third key-expression speaks about God’s unwillingness to forgive.

The particularization of Manasseh’s bloodshed in the context of the destruction of Judah appears to have a threefold effect. Firstly, it depicts the national disaster as God’s blood vengeance for Manasseh’s unexpiated bloodguilt as in the case of the Ahabites, Jezebel, and the Jezreelites (1Kgs 22:35.38, 2Kgs 9–10) because of the murder of Naboth and God’s prophets (2Kgs 9:7-10). Secondly, it presents the destructive invasion of Judah in 2Kgs 24:2 as God’s retributive justice according to the law of talion for Manasseh’s bloody violence. It could be compared to the invasion of Samaria by the Assyrians (Hos 14:1) seen as retribution for the atrocities of king Menahem (2Kgs 15:16). Thirdly, it describes the destruction of Judah as God’s destructive–purgative action aimed at eliminating the land’s blood-contamination. The image of Jerusalem wiped clean and turned upside down in 2Kgs 21:13b entails such defilement–cleansing dynamics.

The mention of Manasseh’s bloodshed in 2Kgs 24:4 functions thus as a literary theological device. It explains the destruction of Judah by means of the legal and cultic paradigms governing the biblical historiography of 1–2Kgs. It also justifies the irrevocability of God’s verdict against Judah. Manasseh’s sins could not simply be forgiven because they were unprecedentedly wicked (cf. Deut 29:19). The land’s blood-contamination could not be expiated in any other way (cf. Num 35:33) but by the land’s destruction (cf. 2Kgs 21:13 and Ezek 24:6.11-13).

It appears to indicate that the exiles scapegoated Manasseh, their ancestor who died a long time before them, to distance themselves from the responsibility for the tragic end of Judah, and to diminish their own fault. None other than the biblical king Manasseh, could have provided the exiles with a theologically clear reason for God’s irrevocable rejection of Judah.