Saturday, December 3, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Zephaniah the Prophet

Today is the feast of St. Zephaniah the Prophet. The textual witness of the book named after him indicates that Zephaniah was a contemporary of King Josiah and took part in the religious reform the king championed once he reached adulthood. This places the prophet in context of 2 Kings 22-23 (or 4 Kings by LXX reckoning). His prophecy was most likely written at the time of Josiah’s minority (the king was crowned at the age of eight).

A couple of weeks ago, I pointed out that prophets make very good clerics. Indeed, Roger of Roles, Rules & Rolls took this idea and ran with it . . . to very good effect. The more I meditate upon this idea, the more I like it. This is only reinforced by reading the Prophecy of Zephaniah and 2 Kings. Here are some highlights:

  • The Temple is in serious disrepair (which can easily be interpreted to be ruins). King Josiah sends Hilkiah the high priest to gather all the silver inside the Temple in order to melt it down to pay for repairs. While inside searching for treasure, Hilkiah finds a book (some biblical scholars identify this as Deuteronomy). The discovery of this book leads to the religious reform that marks the reign of King Josiah. This story is very much suggestive of an expedition into a dungeon sponsored by a local ruler. The coolest part is that the dungeon is in the middle of the city.
  • Once the book is found, King Josiah seeks out the counsel of God. The high priest Hilkiah and his companions Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan and Asaiah go to find the Prophetess Huldah. She then gives them a prophecy. There are three things I find very compelling about this:
  1. The very fact that Huldah is a woman speaks to the freedom with which players could play female clerics.
  2. Hilkiah, as high priest, needs to go to a prophetess. This clearly differentiates the abilities of a priest (non-spell caster?) and a prophet (cleric).
  3. Finally, this can be interpreted as the adventuring group that delved into the temple ruins who are now going on a wilderness adventure to find Huldah.
  • Zephaniah gives us several landmarks found within the city:
  1. The Fish Gate
  2. The New Quarter
  3. The Hallows
  4. The Temple, which one must go up a stairway to arrive at
  5. Hills, which seem to be inside the city according to the context
  6. Some kind of merchant sector (unnamed)
  • Zephaniah also bears witness to three cults that exist within the city:
  1. Baal — of interest, the word “priesthood” used in context of Baal is a different word than is used to describe the Levite priesthood. The word used for Baal connotes the worship of idols. I would interpret that the priests of Baal, therefore, are probably magic-users whose spells are reskinned to simulate blood-magic.
  2. Milcom — a deity worshipped by the Ammonites associated with child sacrifice.
  3. An astrological religion where practitioners prostrate themselves on roof tops to the stars. This, again, lends itself well to the idea of a priesthood made up of magic-users.
All of this suggest a very interesting urban campaign where the tentpole megadungeon is a ruined temple, cults that wield arcane magic and sacrifice children (do they steal them?) vie for influence and the power of the government is weak because there is a child on the thrown. In addition, from the historical point of view, the neighboring Assyrians, who have controlled territories once under the rule of the king, are also weakened — thus creating a marvelous backdrop for all kinds of player character shenanigans.


  1. I like your differentiation between non-casting priest and casting prophet. I might have a greatly diminished prayer/spell list for them that centered on blessing, sanctification, and protection, but as NPCs it probably doesn't matter.

    I also like the fact that this all puts prophets outside of a hierarchy (though what about your clerics-as-deacons idea?) and allows "outsiders" (like women) to represent the faith in a way that priests couldn't.

    I also like the idea of the priests of false gods being magic-users. It's not that what they worship doesn't exist or powerful or even in smoe ways god-like. They just aren't gods, so they don't offer divine blessings. They offer secret knowledge of the universe instead, a gift not of faith, but bargained for in fear and blood. Desperate, cynical men with lots of power but lots more to lose.

    Not to put words in your mouth, but it's what comes to mind. :-)

  2. I'm continually impressed with your gaming exegesis. Criminy! And as much as I like the idea of the Deuternonomic Reform as D&D Campaign, I love the astral-magic religion (maybe call them the Sabeans?).

  3. @Russ
    No words in my mouth...that is pretty much what I had in mind. BTW the cleric-as-deacon is still in play in an A.D.-type setting whereas this is B.C.

    Thanks for the kind words. Sabeans? Sure, why not?