Saturday, December 1, 2012

Saintly Saturday: St. Nahum the Prophet

Today is the Feast of Nahum the Prophet, who is one of the Minor Prophets. His prophecy is three chapters and foretells the destruction of Nineveh. He is unique among the prophets in that he does not chide Israel for its ungodly behavior.

According to the textual witness of the Book the bears his name, he lived sometime between 663 B.C. and 612 B.C. He mentions the fall of Thebes (No-Amon) to the Assyrians in 663 B.C. and the destruction of Nineveh by the Babylonians and Medes occurred in 612 B.C. This means he was contemporaneous or shortly after the prophets Daniel and Habakkuk, both of whom help understand how all of this vitriol and violence has anything to do with Christ.

According to the Fathers, Nahum prophesies Christ with this verse (alluded to by St. Paul is his Letter to the Romans 10:16):
Behold, on the mountains
The feet of him who brings good tidings,
Who proclaims peace!
O Judah, keep your appointed feasts,
Perform your vows.
For the wicked one shall no more pass through you;
He is utterly cut off. — Nahum 1:15 (2:1 LXX)
Compare this to these passages of Habakkuk and Daniel, in which the Fathers equate the mountain in each with the Virgin Mary:
God will come from Teman,
The Holy One from mount Paran — Habakkuk 3:3

You saw while a stone was cut out of a mountain without hands, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and ground them to powder. — Daniel 2:34
In other words, Christ is born of a Virgin and the Wicked One (sin and death) is utterly cut off by Christ’s victory on the Cross. This, then invites us to read Nahum metaphorically where the city is an icon of sinful humanity and the great enemies of sin and death.

While this reading of Nahum is both beautiful and powerful, there are a number of images, seen from an historical point of view, that are not only fascinating but very useful in imagining an ancient ruined city as adventure or megadungeon. For those interested, the most useful translation for this exercise is the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) (which uses the LXX numbering):

  • The city was either ruled by or under the influence of one of Belial’s counsellors, where Belial is the name of a demon (1:11)
  • The ruins have desecrated and cursed tombs (1:14)
  • The city is devastated by warriors dressed in scarlet armor and red shields (2:4)
  • The city has been flooded (2:7, 9)
  • The palace has been melted (2:7)
  • There is a huge amount of treasure in both god and silver (2:10, 3:1)
  • The city is called a lion’s den (2:12)
  • The ruined city is covered by a mass of dead corpses (3:3)
  • There is a reference to the temple prostitutes of Ishtar, who was the patron pagan god of Nineveh (3:4)
  • The city of No-Amon was leveled by the evil forces of the city (3:8-10)
  • There are people of the city still extant, leaderless and scattered in the mountains (3:18)
  • The king of the city has a wound that will not heal (3:19)

What emerges from all of these references is a potentially interesting site-based adventure with several features that make for a number of different adventure expeditions or even an entire campaign:

  • There is a nation/city-state that represents Lawful (Christian) Civilization which features red/scarlet as the main heraldric color
  • There are demons (both a stand-in for Belial's counsellor and for Ishtar and her prostitutes)
  • There are undead (lots of them)
  • There are evil humanoids (lion-men? gnolls?), some of whom roam in unorganized bands raiding from the mountains in the surrounding area
  • There are large sections that are flooded (making them great ambush points for undead encounters)
  • The central palace is known as the Melted Palace (one of the mysteries of the adventure may very well be why it melted)
  • The king is some kind of undead with a wound that won’t heal (is he secretly repentant and a potential ally?)
  • There is another ruin (No-Amon) that may very well have clues as to some of the things that can be found in the city
  • There is a lot of treasure to be found

Yes, yet another cool campaign idea/dungeon/adventure inspired by simply reading the Old Testament. For those inspired to move forward, here is a map of ancient Nineveh:

a map of a palace built by the Assyrian king Sennacherib:

and a map of ancient Thebes (No-Amon):

Have fun.


Dave said...

When I got to "The king of the city has a wound that will not heal (3:19)" I thought of Henry VIII in the Tudors series. That made me look back up the list. From a Catholic perspective, Thomas Cromwell easily fits the "The city was either ruled by or under the influence of one of Belial’s counsellors, where Belial is the name of a demon (1:11)". I'm sure if I knew more history, I could tie more of them in...

Thought provoking as always.


Anthony said...

On the map of Nineveh, one of the gates is named the "Sin Gate." That suggests an awful lot of interesting possibilities to add some spice or tension to the players' investigation of the ruins.

FrDave said...

This is why I really enjoy looking at history and old maps when I set about creating campaigns and adventures. Things like the "Sin Gate" pop up all the time and provide all kinds of fodder for gaming goodness.