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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Walls of Jerusalem.

1.

Discussions about the possible royal associations of Nehemiah often overlook the fact that wall-building is seen as royal responsibility par excellence in the late historical work of the Chronicler (2 Chr 8:5; 11:11; 14:6; 17:2; 26:9; 27:3–4; 32:4–5; 33:14, 34; cf. Ps 51:18 and 1 Macc 4:60–1; 12:38; 14:32–4 ). Further, breaches in the walls of Jerusalem are causes for painful reflection (2 Kings 25:4; Ps 144:14; Lam 2:8, 18 ). Visions of peace speak of Jerusalem without walls, or with doors always open (Ezek 38:11; Zech 2:5 ; less certainly Isa 60:11 ). In his classic study, Mumford (1961 ) writes of the significance of the wall as part of social and political symbolism: ‘what we now call “monumental architecture” is first of all the expression of power…the purpose of this art was to produce respectful terror’.

2.

A great deal of effort has been expended on the geographical references in Nehemiah, but Avigad (1983: 62) concludes: ‘no generally accepted solution for the problem of Nehemiah's wall has emerged’. The importance of wall-building for city defence is reviewed in the classic work of Yadin (1963: 19, 70–1, 313–28). Notably, city gates were the most vulnerable section of the wall, not only because of the weakness of the fortification, but also because battering-rams could cross hostile terrain without siege ramps. Nehemiah's later attention to the gates, therefore, was a necessary precaution (Neh 7:3 ). Their vulnerability may also explain why gates change location and name frequently (which is a difficulty of precisely locating Nehemiah's geographic references around the wall).

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