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NAHUM (Heb. נַחוּם; a qattūl hypocoristic of a name like נְחֶמְיָה, "yhwh has comforted," like שָׁלוֹם for שַׁמּוּעַ ,שֶׁלְמְיָה for שְׁמַעְיָה etc.), one of the Twelve Minor Prophets. Nothing is known of the man himself other than the statement in the book's title that he was an "Elkoshite." A place called al-Qūsh, containing a grave said to be that of Nahum, is located in the neighborhood of Mosul near ancient *Nineveh, whose ruin Nahum depicts in chapters 2 and 3; this tradition connecting al-Qūsh with the prophet cannot, however, be traced beyond the 16th century. Jerome, in the prologue to his commentary on Nahum, records that the prophet was a native of a village in Galilee, which in Jerome's time was called Elcesi and is identified with el-Qauze, west of Tibnin. Some older modern scholars, such as A.W. Knobel and F. Hitzig, have suggested locating Elkosh at Capernaum ("Village of Nahum"). More credible seems to be the tradition recorded by Pseudo-Epiphanius (De Vitis Prophetarum), which mentions a Judean Elkesi, "yonder," i.e., south of Eleutheropolis or Bet Guvrin, but the name Elkesi may represent Lachish, since the town of this name was situated directly south of Bet Guvrin. No definite identification of the locality denoted by the designation "Elkoshite" can therefore be made.

Nahum's literary activity took place after the capture of the Egyptian Thebes (biblical No-Amon) by Ashurbanipal in 663 b.c.e., an event which is alluded to in Nahum 3:8–10. It is not certain, however, whether he wrote before the fall of Nineveh in August 612, when the Assyrian capital was captured and razed by the Babylonians and Medes, or shortly after its fall, when the joyful news of the oppressor's defeat was conveyed to Judah. The perfect tenses employed in chapters 2 and 3, where the event is depicted with poetic vividness and force, suggest that Nineveh had already fallen. But several passages (such as 3:11, 14–15) seem to indicate that the resistance was not yet completely crushed. It may therefore be inferred that the Book of Nahum was composed in the very year 612, shortly before Nineveh's final downfall.

The Book of Nahum

The original title of the book as a whole is probably contained in the second part of the superscription: "The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite." The first part – "Oracle concerning Nineveh" – was perhaps the title of the oracle proper on Nineveh's fall; in any case, it correctly describes the main contents of the book. Chapter 1 is generally thought to form an acrostic hymn of theophany. In the opinion of several scholars the entire alphabet was represented in the original poem. The text of Nahum 1 and 2:1, 3 has accordingly been rearranged and reconstructed, mainly by G. Bickell and H. Gunkel, to form a complete alphabetic psalm of an eschatological character which they regarded as a later addition to the book. The restoration of a complete acrostic, however, is impossible; in fact, the poem seems to follow the alphabet only down to the letter samekh (1:2a, 3b–8, 9c–10a, 9ab, 2b, 10bc), with verses 9ab and 2b having been transferred to their present position by the book's last editor. One can only conjecture whether the acrostic was composed by Nahum; it is more probable that this text, like other similar ones in the Psalter, was a part of the Jerusalem liturgy. The theophany proper, employing the ancient themes of God's rule over the primordial forces of nature, is contained in verses 3b–6. It serves here as an introductory motif to a national psalm of confidence (1:7–8, 9c–10a, 9ab, 2b, 10bc), followed by an oracle addressed to Judah (1:12–13; 2:1). This liturgy actually forms the exordium to the poem on the fall of Nineveh.

The oracle addressed to the Assyrian capital was perhaps headed by the words "Oracle concerning Nineveh" (1:1). It opens with the introduction 1:11, 14, and is followed by 2:2, 4ff. and 3. The descriptions in Nahum's masterful poetry are singularly picturesque and vivid (especially 2:4–6, 11; 3:2–3, 17–19). The absence of distinctly religious motifs is remarkable, and yet P. Humbert (followed to a certain extent by E. Sellin, A. Lods, H. Lamparter, and S.J. de Vries) tried to prove that the whole Book of Nahum was a liturgy for the enthronement festival of the Lord after the fall of Nineveh in 612. Although other scholars have rejected this view, A. Bentzen (Introduction to the Old Testament, 2 (19584), 151) considered that the book might be an "imitated" liturgy, consisting of the introductory hymn (chapter 1), the invitation to a festival (2:1), and the curse against Nineveh (chapters 2–3). A. Haldar, on the other hand, has ascribed the Book of Nahum to a cultic prophet who, in c. 614 b.c.e., foretold the approaching destruction of Nineveh by the Lord and employed the images and expressions normally used in depicting the cultic-mythical struggle of God against his foes. As these motifs are paralleled in Sumero-Akkadian and Ugaritic texts, the Book of Nahum would accordingly derive from cultic circles (see below). S. Mowinckel early considered Nahum one of the nationalistic temple prophets of the kind attacked by Jeremiah (Jesaja-disiplene, Profetien fra Jesaja til Jeremia (1926), 56). Following A. Kuenen (De Boeken des Ouden Verbonds, 2 (18892), 384), he suggested that the immediate occasion of the oracle may have been the Median attack upon Nineveh in 623 b.c.e. which, though it was aborted and cost King Phraortes his life, may have turned the prophet's thoughts toward the city and its future destiny. Several other commentators (such as Th. H. Robinson, K. Elliger, and M. Delcor) also consider the book an actual prophecy of doom against Nineveh uttered before its fall in 612. Nahum, however, in his extant writings, was more a nationalist poet than a prophet predicting the future. He expressed his joy over the imminent downfall of Nineveh in the forceful and vivid language of poetry, depicting the assault upon the city, the entrance effected by her foes, the scene of carnage and tumult in the streets, the flight of her inhabitants, the treasures plundered by the captors (chapter 2), and in 3:2–3 he again visualized the chariots and horsemen of the victor forcing a path through the streets. Since the Lord is against Nineveh (3:5–6), she will be as unable to avert her doom as was Thebes in Upper Egypt (3:8–11). Nineveh's fortresses have given way; her men have become as women (3:12–13); in vain she tries to endure the siege (3:14); and amid the rejoicings of all who have suffered at her hands, the proud empire of Nineveh passes away forever (3:18–19). The Book of Nahum thus indirectly depicts God's moral government of the world; He is the Avenger of wrongdoers and the sole source of security to those who trust in Him. Though some of the text is very difficult (1:10, 12; 2:4, 11), the book makes use of vivid images in rapid succession (e.g. 1:3–6). Christensen posits musical influence on the book, which he traces to the prophet's participation in the temple cult of Jerusalem. The book was known to the Qumran sectarians who composed a *pesher to the book, an exegetical commentary based on the premise that ancient prophecies found their fulfillment in the life and times of the sect. The graphic imagery of the exposure of a harlot (3:4–5) finds its parallel in Jeremiah 13:26–27; Hosea 2:4–5; Ezekiel 16:37–38; and in the eighth century Aramaic treaty from Sefire (Avishur; see COS ii, 214; 11, 35b–42).


H. Gunkel, in: zaw 13 (1893), 223–44; W.R. Arnold, ibid., 21 (1901), 225–65; S.R. Driver, The Minor Prophets… (1906, The Century Bible); P. Haupt, in: jbl, 26 (1907), 1–53; J.m.p. Smith, Micah, Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Obadiah, and Joel (icc, 1911); W. Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten (19222); G. Hirshler, in: Kahana (ed.), Terei Asar (1930), 51–71; Th. H. Gaster, in: jbl, 63 (1944), 51–52; A. Haldar, Studies in the Book of Nahum (1947); Th. Laetsch, The Minor Prophets (1956); Kaufmann Y., Toledot; A. George, in: dbi, s.v.; S.J. de Vries, in: vt, 16 (1966), 476–81; E.G. Kraeling, Commentary on the Prophets (1966); Y. Licht, in: em, 5 (1968), s.v.add. bibliography: J. Roberts, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah (1991); M. Floyd, in: jbl, 113 (1994), 421–37; K. Cathcart, in: abd, 4, 998–1000; Y. Avishur, in: Z. Weisman (ed.), Sefer Terei Asar Bet (Enẓiklopediyah Olam ha-Tanakh 15b, 1994), 66–85; D. Christensen, in dbi, 2, 199–201; K. Spronk, Nahum (1997).

[Edward Lipinski /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

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