The meaning of Zerah (the Ethiopian) in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
(zerach ha-kushi (II Chronicles 14:9); Zare): A generation ago the entire story of Zerah's conquest of Asa, coming as it did from a late source (II Chronicles 14:9-15), was regarded as "apocryphal": "If the incredibilities are deducted nothing at all is left" (Wellhausen, Prolegomena to the History of Israel, 207, 208); but most modern scholars, while accepting certain textual mistakes and making allowance for customary oriental hyperbole in description; accept this as an honest historical narrative, "nothing" in the Egyptian inscriptions being "inconsistent" with it (Nicol in BD; and compare Sayce, HCM, 362-64). The name "Zerah" is a "very likely corruption" of "Usarkon" (U-Serak-on), which it closely resembles (see Petrie, Egypt and Israel, 74), and most writers now identify Zerah with Usarkon II, though the Egyptian records of this particular era are deficient and some competent scholars still hold to Usarkon I (Wiedemann, Petrie, McCurdy, etc.). The publication by Naville (1891) of an inscription in which Usarkon II claims to have invaded "Lower and Upper Palestine" seemed to favor this Pharaoh as the victor over Asa; but the chronological question is difficult (Eighth Memoir of the Egyptian Exploration Fund, 51). The title "the Cushite" (Hebrew) is hard to understand. There are several explanations possible. (1) Wiedemann holds that this may refer to a real Ethiopian prince, who, though unrecorded in the monuments, may have been reigning at the Asa era. There is so little known from this era "that it is not beyond the bounds of probability for an Ethiopian invader to have made himself master of the Nile Valley for a time" (Geschichte von Alt-Aegypten, 155). (2) Recently it has been the fashion to refer this term "Cushite" to some unknown ruler in South or North Arabia (Winckler, Cheyne, etc.). The term "Cushite" permits this, for although it ordinarily corresponds to ETHIOPIA (which see), yet sometimes it designates the tract of Arabia which must be passed over in order to reach Ethiopia (Jeremias, The Old Testament in the Light of Ancient East, I, 280) or perhaps a much larger district (see BD; EB; Hommel, Ancient Hebrew Tradition; Winckler, KAT, etc.). This view, however, is forced to explain the geographical and racial terms in the narrative differently from the ordinary Biblical usage (see Cheyne, EB). Dr. W. M. Flinders Petrie points out that, according to the natural sense of the narrative, this army must have been Egyptian for (a) after the defeat it fled toward Egypt, not eastward toward Arabia; (b) the cities around Gerar (probably Egyptian towns on the frontier of Palestine), toward which they naturally fled when defeated, were plundered; (c) the invaders were Cushim and Lubim (Libyans), and this could only be the case in an Egyptian army; (d) Mareshah is a well-known town close to the Egyptian frontier (History of Egypt, III, 242-43; compare Konig, Funf neue arab. Landschaftsnamen im Altes Testament, 53-57). (3) One of the Usarkons might be called a "Cushite" in an anticipatory sense, since in the next dynasty (XXIII) Egypt was ruled by Ethiopian kings.
Camden M. Cobern
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