A Judgment Seat Reference in Nehemiah?

I’m throwing something out there. Biblical commentators have some trouble with Nehemiah 3:7, which falls within that passage describing who worked on rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s day:

Adjacent to them worked Melatiah the Gibeonite and Jadon the Meronothite, who were men of Gibeon and Mizpah. These towns were under the jurisdiction of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. (NET Bible)

The NET Bible translation note tells us that “under the jurisdiction” is literally “to the seat” in the Hebrew. The wording of the last part of the verse, including ‘Mizpah’, is ‘וְהַמִּצְפָּה לְכִסֵּא פַּחַת עֵבֶר הַנָּהָר’. It is usually interpreted somewhat abstractly, as a reference to Mizpah being the nearest provincial capital within the Persian administration of the region. This makes sense in itself, since the town of Mizpah was a centre of governance from Babylonian times (Jer 40:6).

But it does not constitute an easy translation of the verse. Let me show you a picture and suggest an alternative.

Judgment seat at Tel Dan

The Judgment Seat at the City Gate at Dan (far northern Israel)


I have seen a picture somewhere of a much higher seat, built into a city wall, but I can’t find it right now, so this will have to do.

I just wonder whether ‘kissēʾ‘ (‘seat’) here might be meant literally, not as a reference to Mizpah as the administrative centre, but denoting that part of Jerusalem’s wall that had such a facility for judgment and decree-making, for the use of the Persian administrator of the province of Aber-Naharaim, which covered Yehud (post-exilic Judah) when he happened to be in town. (Perhaps the preceding word, ‘hammiṣpâ‘, normally the name of the town, is being used in its general sense as an elevated place or ‘look-out’ here? It’s a long shot, perhaps.* Comments?)

The whole situation of the wall reconstruction was quite politically sensitive. It was important that the rebuilders remained clearly within the approved boundaries of Artaxerxes mandate to Nehemiah for the rebuilding. Even the (quite necessary) incorporation of a formal place of judgment and decree into the rebuilt Jerusalem would have expressed the returned exiles’ willingness to co-operate with the Persian administration, helping avoid the charge of “rebelling against the king” (Neh 2:19)


* On the Hebrew grammar concerning the town name Mizpah, ‘hammiṣpâ‘, it is interesting that many occurrences of this name feature the definite article, which is unusual for proper nouns in Hebrew, which don’t require the article but are inherently definite. In fact, Gesenius’ grammar (#125.1.a-d) makes it a rule that proper nouns do not have the article unless something has gone wrong. But most of the 49 occurrences of the name in the OT do have the article! Perhaps it was a carry-over from the time when it was a kind of geographical reference – “the watchtower” – and the article simply stuck. An analogy would be a suburb in Melbourne near where I live: ‘The Basin’.




Articles of the Temple part II

Right, back and fed.  Well, the temple articles are mentioned in the texts that talk about the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar, along with its earlier sacking by the same (2 Kings 24:13; 25:14, 15; 2 Chron. 36:7, 10, 18-19).  Then in the accounts of the return from exile they feature very prominently as well (Ezra 1:7-11; 5:13-15).  To the Babylonians this stuff was war booty, but to the Jews of the return they were sacred things, essential for worship.  It was scandalous and shameful in their minds that they had fallen into pagan hands.  It was a key part of the restoration of worship to return them to service.  It was a setback when, near the end of Nehemiah, the temple rooms intended for the storage of such sacred articles ended up storing Tobiah the Ammonite’s personal gear (the same Hebrew word in each case, ‘kĕlî‘, Neh. 13:5, 8-9).

But the role the temple articles play in Daniel is also interesting.  Their seizure by King Neb is mentioned in Dan. 1:2, and then they come back with a vengeance when in chapter 5, Belshazzar decides to use the temple cups and saucers (now the Aramaic term, ‘māʾn‘) to have a party in honour of the local gods – a double sacrilege.  It’s clear that this double offence is the key to the sentence written on the wall plaster by the disembodied hand (5:23-24).  Like precious articles, Belshazzar himself has been weighed on the scales (5:27), but hasn’t come up to scratch, and the Giver of Kingdoms decides that his has had its day.

So like the Ark, the articles of God are successfully confiscated by the conquering foreign king, but, like the forbidden fruit, to his own hurt, until the deliverer Cyrus (to call the book of Ezra back here) returns them to their rightful place.

Well, I thought it was interesting, anyway.  Hadn’t noticed this before now in all those years of Bible reading.