Zedekiah and Michael

Paraphrase and comments by Alan Humm


    4Q470 consists of three fragments from Qumran cave 4. Of these, fragment two is too small to be useful. Fragment one appears to be part of an otherwise unknown story about King Zedekiah (2 Kings 24.17-25.7). In this story, he is portrayed as making a covenant with God to keep and promulgate the Law, apparently mediated by the angel Michael. This is a little surprising since the Biblical tradition is generally negative regarding Zedekiah. While Jeremiah never directly attacks Zedekiah (Althann 1069), the Deuteronomist tells us that he "did evil in the sight of the LORD" (2 Kings 24.19). Since 4Q470 only gives us a fragment of the story, it is not possible to know if it ends with Zedekiah in proper relation to God, or whether he is portrayed as going back on the contract. While an abandonment of the covenant would fit well with 2 Kings, there are a couple of instances in Jewish tradition that might suggest a positive conclusion. In Antiquities X.120, Josephus says of Zedekiah that he had "goodness and a sense of Justice" (Wise 402). Josephus is obviously familiar with the Biblical tradition, so in order for him to make such a statement, he must be drawing this positive evaluation from some other source. Also, in the Talmud (Arakin 17a), we find that God "planned to turn the world back to chaos and formlessness because of the generation of Zedekiah. Taking a closer look at Zedekiah, however, his anger calmed." (Wise 402) While this is hardly a glowing report, it does suggest a softening of the evaluation of the king in Jewish tradition.

    There are, of course, some parallels to the reevaluation of Zedekiah, if that is what is going on here. Most notably, Manasseh, of whom the Deuteronomist has nothing good to say, is rehabilitated in the Prayer of Manasseh. The same fate awaits Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, and Nabonidus in 4Q242 (Prayer of Nabonidus). What we may have is a Hellenistic literary genre of stories that rescue the memory 'evil' rulers.

    The third fragment is somewhat problematic in terms of its connection to the first. Nothing of what we can see there seems to fit in with the Zedekiah material. If it is part of the same story, it could be a part of the language of Zedekiah's covenant with God. If this is the case, presumably this would be part of the review of historical background, referring back to God's covenant with the Israelites in Egypt. However, this can be regarded as little more than speculation given the amount of material with which we have to deal.[1]



     Frag. 1 2 ... Michael[2] ... | When that time comes, Zedekiah will covenant | ... both to keep the whole Law and to cause others to keep it 5 [When] that time comes, M[ich]ael shall tell Zedekiah | "...I will covenant with you, before the assembly, | [to k]eep ...

     Frag. 3 ... their cry to Heaven ... by his mighty spirit to heal and help them ... | ... and by the pillar of fire ...[3] times | ... as Moses faithfully recorded all as he spoke[4] ... | ... Kadesh B[arnea][5]


[1] On the other hand, the language of the first fragment is notably prophetic in tone. There is, of course, the possibility that this passage does not refer to Zedekiah b. Josiah, the last king of Israel, but to an eschatological/messianic Zedekiah (Righteousness of YAH).

[2] Apparently the covenant is mediated by the angel Michael. Mediation by angels is a not uncommon feature of Hellenistic Jewish literature, and Michael emerges as the most important such angel in both parabiblical and magical literature. Even apparent appearances of God in the Torah are reinterpreted in this period to make angels the divine intermediaries of revelation (c.f. Acts 7.35, Gal 3.19, Heb. 2.2 (Wise 402)). Michael also appears in 4Q529.

[3] Vermes conjectures 'fire [many] times' (555).

[4] Uncertain translation. This could mean that Moses is writing down what he says as he is speaking, but it is not clear.

[5] The reference to Kadesh Barnea should, perhaps, be taken as negative. Both of the major events associated with it in the Torah have to do with faithlessness that prevents entrance into Palestine. It is here that the spies return with a report that causes the people to fear and refuse to attempt to enter the land. It is also here that Moses strikes the rock in anger, which results in God prohibiting him from entering the land.


Althann, Robert. "Zedekiah," Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1992, pp. 1068-71.

Larson, Erik, "4Q470 and the Angelic Rehabilitation of King Zedekiah," DSD 1 (1994), pp. 210-218.

Larson, Erik, Lawerence H. Schiffman & John Strugnell,. "4Q470, with a fragment mentioning Zedekiah," Revue de Qumran 16/63 (1994), pp. 335-349.

Larson, Erik, Lawerence H. Schiffman & John Strugnell. Discoveries in the Judaen Desert XIX, 235-44 (editio principes).

Martinez, Florentino Garcia. The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Willaim B. Eerdmans, 1996.

Vermes, Geza. The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English. New York: Penguin Group, 1997.

Wise, Michael, Martin Abegg, Edward Cook. The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishing. 1996: pp. 281-283.



prepared for Intro. to the Hebrew Bible
by Alan Humm