Memories Evoked by Yom Shoah uMeshoah
The phrase יום השואה yom hashoah does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, but the relatively similar expression יום שׁאה ומשׁואה yom shoah umeshoah (note the sonorous repetition hammering down the meaning of the text aurally, in addition to the element of visual repetition) appears once in the Hebrew Bible, in Zeph 1:15, and then later in Ben Sira 51:10 (Hebrew Ms. B), a verse that partially recalls the one in Zephaniah.
Moreover, shoah שואה appears in, e.g., Isa 10:3; 47:11; Ezek 38:9 (possible meaning there a violent, sudden storm), Ps 35:8; Prov 1:27; 3:25; Job 30:3 (with meshoah), 14; 38:27 (withmeshoah). In all these cases, the use of shoah recalls a range of images from those of a storm, the effects of a storm such a ruin, calamity, images of a waste and wasteland.
English translations of the expression in Zeph 1:15 vary from, e.g.,
- “a day of devastation and desolation” (Adele Berlin’s translation),
- “a day of ruin and ruination” (Ball’s translation),
- “a day of ruin and desolation” (NAB),
- “a day of calamity and desolation” (NJPS),
- “a day of ruin and devastation” (NRSV),
- “a day of destruction and desolation” (Stone/Artscroll Edition).
Sir 51:10 is similarly translated as “a day of disaster and desolation” and the like.
One may assume that, to some degree, the expression yom shoah umeshoah might have activated at a secondary level some associations with storms, especially fast occurring, mighty storms and their aftermath. But these potential connotations are difficult to convey in English translations.
Yom Shoah uMeshoah in Zephaniah
Which images and concepts did the readers of the Book of Zephaniah that emerged in the early Second Temple period call to mind when reading a text such as Zeph 1:15, and why were they interested in recalling them?
To address these questions, one must look first at the context in Zephaniah in which the expression yom shoah umeshoah appears. In addition, one must consider the knowledge, ideas and attitudes of the readers, for whom similar pictures of days of astonishing destruction were not unusual, since they appeared often in their prophetic books.
The basic context of Zeph 1:15 is relatively clear. The text reads:
א:יד קָרוֹב יוֹם יְ-הוָה הַגָּדוֹל
קָרוֹב וּמַהֵר מְאֹד
קוֹל יוֹם יְהוָה
מַר צֹרֵחַ שָׁם גִּבּוֹר.
א:טו יוֹם עֶבְרָה הַיּוֹם הַהוּא
יוֹם צָרָה וּמְצוּקָה
יוֹם שֹׁאָה וּמְשׁוֹאָה
יוֹם חֹשֶׁךְ וַאֲפֵלָה
יוֹם עָנָן וַעֲרָפֶל.
א:טז יוֹם שׁוֹפָר וּתְרוּעָה
עַל הֶעָרִים הַבְּצֻרוֹת
וְעַל הַפִּנּוֹת הַגְּבֹהוֹת.
Zeph 1:14 Near is the great day of YHWH,
and nearing very swiftly!
The sound of YHWH’s Day!
Bitterly shrieks there a Hero/Warrior!
1:15 A day of wrath is that day!
A day of distraint and distress!
A day of devastation and desolation!
A day of darkness and gloom!
A day of clouds and dense fog!
1:16 A day of trumpet blast and siren,
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty corner towers!
א:יז וַהֲצֵרֹתִי לָאָדָם וְהָלְכוּ כַּעִוְרִים כִּי לַי-הוָה חָטָאוּ וְשֻׁפַּךְ דָּמָם כֶּעָפָר וּלְחֻמָם כַּגְּלָלִים. א:יח גַּם כַּסְפָּם גַּם זְהָבָם לֹא יוּכַל לְהַצִּילָם בְּיוֹם עֶבְרַת יְ-הוָה וּבְאֵשׁ קִנְאָתוֹ תֵּאָכֵל כָּל הָאָרֶץ כִּי כָלָה אַךְ נִבְהָלָה יַעֲשֶׂה אֵת כָּל יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ.
1:17 I [YHWH] will bring distress upon people. They shall walk like the blind because they have sinned against YHWH. Their blood shall be splattered like dust and their fleshy parts like dung. 1:18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of YHWH’s wrath. The entire earth will be consumed by the fire of [YHWH’]s passion. For a total, indeed terrible, end will [YHWH] make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
References to similar days are abundant in the prophetic books and much has been written and debated about them in critical scholarship. In the context of a day of remembrance, I would like to draw attention only to a crucial, but often unremarked, aspect of yom shoah umeshoah in particular, within the context of images of this and related days in general.
When the mentioned early readers of the Book of Zephaniah read and thought of yom shoah umeshoah, they conjured an image of a late-monarchic period and above all, of YHWH admonishing the people of Judah and alerting them of the future, terrifying consequences of their sins. At the same time, they could not but call to mind the calamity that actually came to pass and which was central in their social memory, namely the destruction of Jerusalem (and the Jerusalemite temple), the massive depopulation of Judah and the downfall of the monarchic, Davidic polity. Their renewed city was just a feeble shadow of the late monarchic city.
Not only Judahites and the Day is One and Many
In addition, as they read the quoted text of the Book of Zephaniah (and many other similar texts within their collection of prophetic books), they could not but notice that those to be devastated in a day that may be imagined as yom shoah umeshoah were not only sinful, monarchic Judahites but also other and even all peoples. This being so, they understood yom shoah umeshoah as a day that may come to pass more than once and to various groups; in the past or the future.
Hope, Continuity and Two Days that Are, to Some Extent, One
Zephaniah reports not only divine announcements about a future calamity set in the sinful past which the readers would see as already fulfilled, but also powerful divine announcements about utopian futures to follow the calamity. Like many prophetic books, the book of Zephaniah concludes with a positive final section, which in this case is particularly and intricately developed and quite lengthy in relation to the book.
This section asks the readers to imagine and shape memories of a hopeful, great day, the one referred to as “on that day” (3:11, 3:16; ביום ההוא). On that day, YHWH, the victorious hero, will be in the midst of the community and manifest himself to all as “the king of Israel.” Jerusalem, and a pious Judahite remnant that consisted of those who are poor and humble (3:12), will fear no more. All the nations will invoke the name of YHWH (and thus sin no more) and the exile associated with the memory of yom shoah umeshoah will be undone.
For these readers, the eventual end result of the coming to pass of yom shoah umeshoah (and related days or ways of referring to that day) is not a world of ruin and ruination, but an emerging world in accordance with YHWH’s will; one in which there cannot be another yom shoah umeshoah.
Images of an Ideal Future
As these readers called to mind their multi-temporal and multi-referent “day of calamity,” they also activated images of what they thought to be an ideal future still to come. As a result, from within the world of thought of these readers, all these days, both in the past and future, became deeply intertwined and, from a certain perspective, two sequential parts of “one day” shaped and created by YHWH.
Reading, imagining and remembering yom shoah umeshoah allowed them to shape a narrative of continuity binding together late-monarchic Judahites, Jerusalem and their temple, they themselves, with their own Jerusalem and temple, and the Israel, Jerusalem, and world at large of the utopian future; a narrative woven, in part, in and around “one day.”
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April 23, 2017
June 14, 2020
Prof. Ehud Ben Zvi is Professor (Emeritus) in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta. He holds a Ph.D. from Emory University, and was the founding editor of the Journal of Hebrew Scriptures and SBL’s book series, Ancient Near Eastern Monographs. Among his many publications are Signs of Jonah: Reading and Rereading in Ancient Yehud, History, Literature and Theology in the Book of Chronicles, historical-critical studies of the books of Zephaniah and Obadiah, and commentaries on Micah and Hosea.
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