Biblical reports of the Syro-Ephraimite war and Assyrian crisis

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Chapter 3 Trauma in prophecy


While there is abundant social science literature on the conceptualisation of trauma, it is surprising to note the lack of trauma literature focusing on biblical trauma, especially in literature focusing on the pre-Babylonian period. A gap, this study will try to fill. The aim of this chapter is to highlight the main theological assumptions that constitute the epistemological framework of theological, trauma and posttraumatic growth references. However, as a biblical scholar, I need to be aware of the hermeneutical lenses I am wearing whilst working with the biblical and the psychological texts pertaining trauma. Theories of trauma are greatly embedded in the Western domain, whereas the biblical text is not only ancient, but also enthralled in a vastly different era and culture. The literature studies that were done on trauma, posttraumatic stress, posttraumatic growth and war literature, made me realise that even though there is an almost 2500-year time lapse, trauma was a common thread intertwined in people’s lives throughout history. Therefore, this chapter will aim to find common ground within both the study fields of social science and theology, and to discover parallels between trauma and the biblical text regarding the Isaiah’s prophecy.
Boase and Frechette (2016:4) are of the opinion that there are currently three dominant interdisciplinary fields that are important for biblical trauma studies and these are: psychology, sociology and literary and cultural studies. Boase and Frechette (2016:4) further explain why these fields are so important for biblical trauma studies today for psychology contributes to the understanding of the effects that trauma has on the survival, coping mechanisms and resilience of the individual. The field of sociology gives insights into the collective experience of trauma for the collective group or community. The benefit of literary and cultural studies according to Boase and Frechette (2016:6), is that it opens up pathways to explore the role and function of texts because it gives a witness account of traumatic suffering whilst also constructing ‘discursive’ spaces for recovery and resilience. The build-up of individual stress reactions leads to collective trauma and Boase and Frechette (2016:6) are of the opinion that interdisciplinary field could give insights to the understanding of collective trauma. They elaborate that insights of psychology and sociology attempts to identify the ‘reflexes’ of trauma and literature and cultural studies can aid in the understanding how a collective group processes trauma.
Many theological scholars such as Mills (2007), Stulman and Kim (2010), O’Connor (2011), Smith-Christopher (2011), Carr (2014), Becker, Dochorn and Holt (2014) have pondered and written about suffering and pain in the Bible. It is a constant variable in the back of a theologian’s mind when working and confronted with the content of the Bible. Rambo (2010:4) makes the hypothetical statement that biblical scholars ‘have always been engaged’ with the ‘perennial’ question of suffering. She also writes that with the rise of trauma studies and the subsequent theological engagement with it, it calls for new aspects on conversation about suffering.
Studies in trauma suggest that trauma has a double structure: the actual occurrence of the event and a belated awakening of the event. This belated awakening of the event can awaken posttraumatic stress or posttraumatic growth in an individual or a collective group.

A theology of trauma

Biblical scriptures preserve a collection of the struggle of certain ancient communities to live out their relationship with Yahweh, in their own time frames, which is unavoidably shaped by the events of their time. Hence, it is necessary for the purpose of this study to first understand what biblical trauma is, before an attempt can be made to understand trauma in prophecy.
Anyone reading the Bible will attest that there are difficult passages and stories forged about murder (Genesis 4), rape (Genesis 34), dismemberment (Judges 19; 1 Samuel 18), kidnapping and forced marriages (Judges 21), forced migration and infanticide (Psalm 137), slavery (Exodus 21; Leviticus 25; Deuteronomy 15), genocide (Joshua 1-12), cannibalism (2 Kings 6-7), political corruption (1-2 Kings), and social desolation (the Prophets).
Theologians have always been engaged with the question of suffering, is the claim that Rambo (2010:4) makes, and because of this underlying engagement, they struggle with questions such as: Is God responsible for suffering? Does God will it and why do people have to suffer? Rambo (2010:5), in her search for clarity about trauma and theology, mentioned the early work of Moltmann as far back as the early seventies. What this early work of Moltmann revolutionised was the claim that during the crucifixion, God suffered trauma Himself. Rambo (2010:5) further mentions the more resent work of theologians such as Keshgegian, Jones, Hess and Beste, whom all suggested that trauma within biblical texts calls for ‘a distinctive theological articulation’ to understand the unique challenges about suffering and redemption. A valuable question that is asked by Becker (2014:23), is if in theology it would be possible to establish ‘trauma studies’? She then proposes a few trauma discourse aspects to seek an answer to this question:
It is important to reflect on when and how the trauma concept was established. Furthermore, it is important to determine what fields of study are related to the study of trauma. The different academic fields associated to trauma must be determined, for example psychology, historical, post-colonial or gender studies. Then it is also important to identify the academic subjects linked to the study of trauma, such as social science, medicine, psychology, theology and humanities. The reason for this identification of different fields is because trauma studies can build a bridge between the different schools of thought.

  • Theology and the humanity might discuss the socio-cultural context in which trauma and traumatisation can be found. A further discussion point will be socio-political implications and consequences.
  • Theology can also make a huge contribution to the conceptualisation and subsequent understanding of patterns and traits used in identifying trauma, such as disaster, war, suffering, memory, personality and personality identification as a few examples.
  • Theology can broaden the perspective on trauma through defining ‘stressors’ that occur over time and those who are connected to a certain point in time. It would be imperative to discern if the list of ‘stressors’ in ancient and modern society is comparable. This discernment can be two-folded – there might be an argument for discontinuity and one for continuity. The examples that are given are firstly for discontinuity. Paul’s narrative accounts and living conditions are far removed from today’s modern society and travel experiences. The example for continuity that is given relates to the implications and consequences of the temple destruction in 587 BCE and 70 CE in Jerusalem. It is stated that it is quite similar to the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. The continuity is seen in the monumental destruction caused by war and terrorism (Becker 2014: 24-26).
    Ancient text and biblical texts provides a collection of information on how to cope with pain, fear, wounding, guilt, shame, despair and hope. The search for these signs of trauma within the layers of the text can only enhance us as biblical scholars. On this note, Rambo (2016:5) remarks that in the ‘Christian tradition’ trauma and suffering is often without proper thought, linked to the discourse of sin, guilt and fault and it is a challenge that theology will need to address by looking at the texts and trauma anew.
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Trauma in prophecy

The physical word prophecy carries a silent judgment and warning metaphor without a prophet even uttering a word. Prophets in ancient societies were perceived as the spokesmen of a given social group. Brueggemann (2001:180) explains:
A prophet is a poetic figure who stands outside the mainstream of the public power and exposes what’s going on. The prophets are people who feel pain and are enormously sensitive to what the public processes are doing to others.
He further states that in the Old Testament a prophet is always the counterpart of the king. Kings want to organise public power without reference to human dimension. The prophet keep insisting that if the king organises public power without reference to the human dimension, he is going to bring death on himself and a lot of other people. I believe death equals extreme trauma and disobedience equals intense trauma within the prophet. The prophetic message carries an underlying traumatic element of despair, but also the futuristic promise of hope, if there is obedience.

Chapter 1: Overview of study
1.1 Introduction
1.2 The actuality and relevance of the proposed study
1.3 Problem statement
1.4 Methodology
1.5 Demarcation of the text to be studied
1.6 Clarifying thematic words of the study
1.7 Chapters anticipated
Chapter 2: Understanding trauma
2.1 Introduction
2.2 The history of trauma studies
2.3 Trauma defined
2.4 Posttraumatic growth
2.5 Summary
Chapter 3: Trauma in prophecy
3.1 Introduction
3.2 A theology of trauma
3.3 Trauma in prophecy
3.4 Summary
Chapter 4: The historical traumatic climate of Isaiah 7 and 8
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Judah threatened
4.3 Biblical reports of the Syro-Ephraimite war and Assyrian crisis
4.5 Summary
Chapter 5: A literature and expositional study of Isaiah 7 and 8 
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Background and introduction
5.3 An expositional perspective on Isaiah 7
5.4 An expositional perspective on Isaiah 8
5.5 Summary
Chapter 6: The traumatic triangle of tension between Ahaz, Isaiah and Yahweh
6.1 Introduction
6.2 Who is Isaiah?
6.3 Ahaz – a king denounced
6.4 Yahweh the covenant God
6.5 The traumatic triangle of tension
6.6 Summary 1
Chapter 7: Reading the metaphorical names of Isaiah’s children Through the lens of trauma 
7.1 Introduction
7.2 Understanding metaphors
7.3 The metaphorical conduct of Isaiah’s naming of his children
7.4 Reading the metaphorical names of Isaiah’s children througha lens of trauma: an application
7.5 Summary
Chapter 8: Conclusion 
8.1 Introduction
8.2 The main findings in the research process
8.3 A new approach to address the problem statement
8.4 Main conclusions
8.5 Suggested themes for further research

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