Modern Day Mt. Zion

Zechariah 4:7 contains a reference to the “great mountain” (lAd±G”h;-rh:)) which opposes Zerubbabel. This is the only occurrence of the collocation “great mountain” in the MT.[1] HALOT actually makes an interpretive decision to call this a reference to the King of Persia.[2] Yet, there are reasons to reject this interpretation. It could also be a polemical comment toward the Pesian Zorastrian creation myth which contains a ‘high hara’.[3]

Psalm 114 speaks reinforces the idea that God as creator was working behind the saving acts of history – the mountains are afraid of God. Isaiah 40:4 speaks to the creator’s ability to make smooth the way for his chosen one. Jeremiah refers to Babylon and Chaldea as the ‘destroying mountain’ in 51:25, which is vanquished before YHWH. Nahum 1:5 testifies that mountains quake in YHWH’s presence, as if in the presence of their maker. In these instances Yahweh as judge often makes use of his creative faculties to demonstrate his displeasure by causing the mountains to respond in a supernatural fashion.

Proceeding in line with that argument, some have suggested this text is referring to some sort of Cosmic Mountain.[4] This would allow the metaphor to function in a similar manner as a double entendre. The metaphor can be referring to an obstacle, but can be doing it in a way which is polemical towards Persian understandings of creation and power, even the power of the king (Darius).[5] In the Emuma Elish, Marduk is depicted as “the storm god armed with thunder and lightning who pierces the mountains thus releasing the rivers. . . as god, he releases and regulates the powers of life and growth.”[6] If Zechariah’s “great mountain” is a polemical statement against this understanding of Marduk, then there is a statement of Yahweh’s supremacy embedded in this statement. Along those same polemical lines, Baruch Halpern has suggested that 4:6-7 is a employs a sort of battle language which echoes the Divine Warrior motif.[7] The possibility exists that this verse is asserting that Yahweh is the real Creator, not the Persian (or Babylonian) deities, and as such Yahweh has the power to overcome any obstacle.

The metaphor functions to give legitimacy to Zerubbabel, the (Davidic) leader of the community. The true creator will execute judgment against those who stand in Zerubbabel’s way. Even if they draw upon the power of their god, Yahweh’s ability to supernaturally shake mountains shows he is the real creator and as such, his servant will prevail.


[1]Statement based upon a search in Bibleworks 7 for the two root words occurring in the same verse in the WTM text. The greek equivalent ‘to. o;roj to. me,ga’ occurs in Dan 2:35 and Rev 8:8; 21:10. So, it would seem that this phrase appears in apocalyptic writings. Michael S. Bushell and Michael D. Tan, BibleWorks 7.0.012g (Norfolk, VA: BibleWorks, 2006).

[2]HALOT, 254.

[3]See the above discussion on History.

[4]Meyers and Meyers discuss this phrase as one which is certainly referring to something similar to surrounding Canaanite understandings of a Cosmic Mountain, which is the mountain where the temple resides. Likewise it incorporates the idea that the temple mount was the first point at which dry ground appeared in the creation story. The reference to leveling the mountain is a reference in their opinion to leveling the foundation for the temple. But interpreting the text this way seems a bit forced, in Meyers and Meyers, Haggai-Zechariah 1-8, 244-5; McComisky convincingly argues against Meyers and Meyers, but ultimately rejects the idea of a cosmic mountain. Instead he opts for a reference to a massive obstacle in the way of rebuilding the temple in McComisky, The Minor Prophets vol. 3, 1088; David Petersen follows a similar line of reasoning, and takes the position that this is a reference to Zerubbabel, and the ‘you’ refers to Joshua, but admits it is a tentative conclusion. He takes the Hebrew construction to require the figurative mountain to be a literal person, in Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8, 239-40; Klein has taken the position that the mountain mentioned here refers broadly to any obstacle in God’s way. In this fashion, the scope of this text reaches beyond just the writer’s time period to an eschatological future, in Klein, Zechariah, 160-161; Merrill takes a similar position that this is a broad reference of opposition, in Merrill Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 160; Ina Willi-Plein takes a position which sees the referent of the metaphor to be a great obstacle, but also that there is a particular mountain in view, something like “the mountain which is called ‘great’”, in Ina Willi-Plein, Haggai, Sacharja, Maleachi, Zürcher Bibelkommentare Bd. 24.4 (Zürich: Theologischer Verlag, 2007), 100.

[5]TDOT mentions that the idea of cosmic mountains “…applies particularly to passages describing the punishment of foreign kings who in their arrogance have attempted to assume the status of divinity…”, something which Darius did (as noted previously). TDOT s.v. rh Talmon

[6]Wakeman, God’s Battle with the Monster, 22; Additionally, Canaanite deities are known to have had mountain dwellings. El, Baal, Mot, Anat, Koshar wa-Khasis, all had them, in Clifford, Cosmic Mountain in Canaan and the Old Testament (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1972), 35-92.

[7]Baruch Halpern, “The Ritual Background of Zechariah’s Temple Song” Catholic Bible Quarterly 40 (1978): 186. He also says, “The “great mountain” itself, then, plays in the night vision a role analogous to that played by Tiamat or Yamm in the combat myth. At the same time, however, it recalls the Akkadian term sadu rabu, a frequent titulature of Enlil, and of his temple, Ekur. It has distinct associations with Mesopotamia. This suggests that Zerubbabel’s action represents a ritual battle against Babylon, the enemy against whom Yhwh’s assistance was sought (Zech 1:15; 2:2, 4, 12-14). The equation is confirmed by Jer 51:25-32, an oracle laden with related concepts. Yhwh will roll Babylon, “the slaughtering mountain,” from the rocks, so that none may take from her corner stone or foundation stone. Here, as in Zechariah, Babylon’s defeat is Israel’s salvation,” 187.

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