“The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions”

Routledge Encyclopedia of Mediterranean Religions. General editor Eric Orlin. NY, New York: Routledge, 2016, pp. 1054.Religion

In a day and age when new encyclopedias seem to be published every other day, The Routledge Encyclopedia of Ancient Mediterranean Religions (henceforth referenced to as REAMR) is a breath a fresh air. Unlike many specialized encyclopedias, REAMR attempts to offer a general overview of a wide variety of cultures and practices relevant to the Mediterranean. These entries provide a cross-cultural perspective, noting unique and distinct elements of particular topics. Similarly, authors for entries were instructed to focus on writing for the Religious Studies field who did not share that specialty. In other words, a scholars writing an entry about the Hebrew Bible would assume the reader is within the field of Religious Studies; however, it should be oriented to a non-specialist in that particular field, such as a scholar of Islamic Studies.

This was, I think, successful for the most part. Although there were a few problematic entries, they generally presented the information in a clear and concise manner. Because the academic environment encourages inter-disciplinary scholarship, this volume offers an entry point into sub-fields distinct from ones own. Furthermore, the volume covers from the Bronze Age up to Late Antiquity. In terms of the traditions, it attempts to be as comprehensive as possible. So, the volume includes, though is not limited to, Judaism, Roman religion, Greek religion, Persian religion, Ugaritic religion, Canaanite religion, Egyptian religion, South Arabian religion, Zoroastrianism, and Islam. Thus, in terms of its diversity of represented religious traditions, this REAMR is distinguished from other encyclopedias.

Before I offer notes on particular encyclopedia entries, I have one primary criticism of the volume. The beginning of the volume comments on the issue of defining the category of religion: “The term religion is itself disputed, as a number of recent discussions have highlighted. Because we realized early on that we would need to include many headwords to provide cultural background that might not be strictly religious (such as Hellenistic Age), we decided that it was not necessary to offer a specific definition of “religion” in order to exclude material felt to be “non-religious”. (xvii)” They continue by noting that religion was often times not seen as a distinct category from social or cultural. In principle, this decision makes sense.

Even though it is difficult to define religion, the editors of REAMR missed an opportunity. For an entry titled “Religion” could have at least offered a succinct overview of the history of scholarship, problems, and various ways of defining ‘religion.’ This criticism, though, is minor. Even so, the volume is incredibly valuable as a whole. While individuals probably will not purchase this volume, there are two groups in particular for which is will be helpful: small organizations in need of a thorough dictionary on ancient Mediterranean religions [1] and universities with a small library budget. Regarding the latter, the volume is $285 as an eBook (Hardback $408). Because REAMR covers such a wide range of traditions and time periods, though, it is well worth the investment. As far as I am aware, few encyclopedias offer such a comprehensive overview of Mediterranean religious traditions at that price.

Following, I will offer notes on specifics within the volume:

  • Some contributions were unnecessarily lengthy. For example, the entry on ‘Conversion’ is about four pages. So, it seems more like a lengthy argument regarding the topic of Christianity and conversion than an overview/succinct explanation of conversion. Similarly, the following are too lengthy, each for differing reasons: ‘Gnosticism’, ‘Imperial Cult’, ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Jupiter’, ‘Sacred Law’ (6 pages), ‘Mithraeum’, ‘Orphism’, ‘Revelation of John’, and ‘Women’.
  • One contribution is particularly exemplary in terms of providing a broad overview of a major religion topic: ‘Cult Statue’. Although three pages long, it does an excellent job at offering an overview of cult statues in Mesopotamia, Egypt/Northwest Semitic areas, and Greece/Rome (See also the entries on ‘Domestic Religion’, ‘Myth’)
  • The entry on ‘Figurines’ is far too lengthy as an entry. More problematic, though, is that it seems hyper-focused on Greek figurines. It only briefly mentions ancient Near Eastern figures.
  • The entry on ‘Purity’ is far too focused on the Hebrew Bible and ancient Near East. Purity in other contexts is ignored.
  • The beginning of the volume has a series of maps and a chronology. The chronology places the following side-by-side: Near East, Judea, Egypt and North Africa, Greece and Asia Minor, and Italy. Both the maps and chronology are particularly helpful for understanding the broader world events within specific time periods.

Even with these critiques, the volume is excellent. REAMR offers a broad overview of many religious traditions and cultures. Because of this, it is a valuable addition to libraries, in particular to small schools with low budgets. The value of REAMR is well worth the cost.

Typos: pg. 321: “… resemble AGNES” martyrdom.”; pg. 87 “… The Arabization of the Near East let to a decline…” (presumably “led” to a decline); p. 334, ‘Ezra, Vision of’ (the caps formatting is funky).

[1] I make this comment based off my experience visiting a local NPR station. At it, a few encyclopedias were sitting around. I suspect that the were used as general references for reporting on any relevant issues.

“Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth-Second Centuries BCE”

The topic of this volume is fairly straight forward: leadership, social memory, and Judean discourse in the 5th to 2nd centuries BCE. Notably, all the essays assume (1) a living audience and (2) historicity is not an issue. So, I’ll dive right into the contributions.

Ehud Ben Zvi considers how Judeans explored political thought through the understanding(s) of an ideological Israel and memories of the past. These two elements served as a sort of “playground to explore concepts related to political thought in the early Second Temple period” (23). He carefully contextualizes this conceptual playground within an imperial, Persian context. As a Persian satrapy, their king was technically the Persian king; however, this was not compatible with Judean thought. Consequently, their communal memories tend to problematize monarchy. Such problematization was a result of “the historically contingent circumstances of Yehud” (25) within a large satrapy. This contribution is particularly intriguing because it both (1) focuses on Judean thought during the Persian period and (2) engages with the Hebrew Bible as a reflection of political though from that period. With regard to the approach and method, I appreciate the contribution; however, it lacks any focused discussion of particular texts, or even a small group of texts. Likewise, Zvi references the Judeans as “a community.” I wonder, though, to what extent it truly was a unified community. If we view the Hebrew Bible as an example of how Judeans engaged in political thought, it may be beneficial to focus on how various forms of political though reflect various communities of Judeans.

James M. Bos offers an overview of the Hebrew Bible through propaganda theory. In order to deal with the reality that propaganda did not exist prior to WWI, at least as a theory, he works through the characteristics of propaganda in order to offer a definition of ancient propaganda. Finally, he offers a broad-overview of how the collective memory written in the Hebrew Bible can be read, viewed, and analyzed as a form of ancient propaganda. In terms of the approach, I enjoy Bos’ idea. In some ways, it seems obvious that the Hebrew Bible may contain some sort of propaganda. Yet, his definition is problematic. His definition of ancient propaganda does not seem to engage with the broader Near Eastern world. In other words, if he is going to offer a definition for ancient propaganda, it would be better to define it within the spectrum of ancient propaganda in broader cultural and social patterns.

Furthermore, while it may seem obvious that the Hebrew Bible may contain ancient propaganda, further textual analysis in absolutely necessary. For the most part, his analysis consists of referencing themes in various books and offering conjectural comments. For example, after discussing Josiah’s reform as a sort of ancient propaganda, he notes that “negative consequences for competing sacred sites would also have been measurable.” Although this may be true, he offers no further justification for this conjecture. He also comments with statements such as “in Haggai, it is suggested”; however, he does nothing to engage with the text directly. Because the article is full of these types of unsubstantiated conjectures, there are many holes within his thesis. Thus, while I do appreciate his idea of utilizing propaganda theory in viewing the Hebrew Bible, much works needs to be done with regard (1) defining ancient propaganda and (2) substantiating claims about ancient propaganda in the Hebrew Bible.

Kåre Berge examines how biblical books may have possibly legitmated leadership authority. The paper, though, is quite unclear. From the beginning, she claims that the study is about how some biblical books could legitimate leadership authority. She attempts to substantiate this through discussion of scrolls which were “lost” in the Hebrew Bible (Ez. 2-3; Jer. 36; 2 Kgs 22-23). These “lost books” supposedly “legitimize the written ones, giving them a “canonical” authority” (46). Unfortunately, the remainder of the contribution is convoluted and lacks critical analysis of the text itself. Likewise, the contribution is so full of unsubstantiated states beginning with “if”, “would”, “could”, etc. Because the statements are unsubstantiated, her proposal that biblical texts function as a legitimating device for post-exilic Yehud is more of an undeveloped idea than an argument. For example, the notion that “lost books” give “canonical authority” is far-fetched. There is no discussion as to why this is so. This sort of thing occurs throughout the contribution: there are many ideas without any discussion about the text itself. In conclusion, I found this contribution to be lacking in clarity, purpose, and argumentation.

Reinhard Müller analyzes Deuteronomy’s law on kingship, their divergence from traditional Near Eastern/Israel/Judah concepts of kingship, and their meaning (i.e. literary and historical contexts). First, Müller argues that Israelite monarchy is not prominent in the literary context of Deut. 17. Then, he focuses on Deut. 17:14-20 and argues that vss. 18-19 were a later addition. Third, after a lengthy philological discussion, Müller convincingly argues that notions of kingship in Deut. 17 may have developed in light of 1 Sam. 8. Consequently, the lack of monarchic functions in Deuteronomic law may be a reaction to the failed monarchy within 1 Samuel. Returning to the late additions, namely, vss. 18-19, Müller relates the textual elements about following Torah in Deut. 5:32-6:2 and Deut. 31:12-13. Because the two aforementioned verses are about how the general public engage with Torah, he suggests that the king’s relationship with Torah is meant to be more intimate than the common people. In light of this textual analysis, he suggests that Deut. 17 is an implicit etiology for the downfall of the monarchy because historical kingship failed. Deut. 17 also indicates that kingship is not necessary for Israel’s identity, at least theoretically.  Furthermore, he suggests that the centrality of writing and reading Torah for the kings may reflect how scribes perceived themselves in Persian period Yehud.

Without a doubt, this is the best contribution in this volume. Unlike the others, it offers a thorough philological analysis of the text. Likewise, the analysis is substantiated and offers a new way to understand how the notion of kingship developed in Judean literature. I highly recommend this article for anybody researching kingship in Yehud/Judah.

Viewing Genesis to 2 Kings as a literary experiment (via narrative) of political theory, Geoffrey P. Miller briefly examines 6 narratives. In these narratives, the theory of theocracy is explored; however, as the narrative demonstrates, theocracy tends to fail throughout the biblical narrative. This article begins with an excellent premise. I am in full favor of reading Genesis to 2 Kings as a sort of literary experiment of political theory; however, Miller offers no discussion texts. Rather, he offers general themes of texts in order to demonstrate how it is explores political theory. In each of the six examples, he fails to explicitly engage with the Hebrew Bible. Were Miller to engage with the text, he would have a strong article. His premise is a great approach to the text. Yet, the lack of critical analysis of the text and unsubstantiated claims is highly problematic.

Christophe Nihan analyzes and compares various discussion regarding Davidic kingship in Ezekiel (esp. Ez. 4-24 , 37/37, and 40-48). For each representation of utopian Davidic kingship, Nihan thoroughly works through the respective texts. After this analysis, he concludes that each representation in Ezekiel expresses a distinct, royal utopia. First, the early texts (Ez. 4-24) tend to represent the Davidic ruler as an administrator for the deity. Then, in Ez. 34/37, the Davidic ruler is removed from military leadership; rather, he is simply the agent of the deity with respect to political and cult issues. Finally, in Ezk. 40-48, the Davidic leader is primarily a cult leader. Flexibility in Ezekiel’s portrayal of the Davidic leader is important because it demonstrates how Ezekiel “seeks not so much to de-emphasize or criticize royalty but to reinterpret it significantly from a distinctive, utopian perspective” (103). Nihan’s quality of argumentation and philological reasoning are thorough and, consequently, construct a solid argument regarding Davidic kingship in Ezekiel. This contribution is, arguably, next to Reinhard Müller’s contribution in terms of scholarly rigor.

Terje Stordalen  argues that Job 29-30 reflects a rhetoric which reflects the natural of social discourse is local formation. Thus, the chapters may reflect expectation about local leaders in the Southern Levant. Like other contributions, this chapter is a good idea; however, it is problematic. First of all, Stordalen attempts to establish Job 29-30 as filling “a role in the second part of the dialogue that is somehow comparable to the role played by Job’s curse and lament (ch. 3) in the first part” (114). This framework, though, makes broad claims about the entire structure of Job. Stordalen’s division, though, lacks any substantial argumentation as to why Job is structured the way argued for. Thus, this first part of the article is unnecessary and weak. The second part of the contribution, though, is much stronger. First, he argues for the presentation of Job as an elder in Job 29-30. Then, by drawing on an anthropological of late traditional Chinese society as a possible framework, he suggests that Job’s speech in 30:32-8 reflects typical speech by top leaders in a society. Consequently, this role of a leader speaking down the societal latter is reversed through rhetoric. Within this reversal, Stordalen argues that the only “leader” quality which Job does not lose is rhetorical excellence. In short, I think Stordalen has tapped into an intriguing thing, namely understanding the notions of elders in the Southern Levant via the social expectation of one in a text. Unfortunately, he lacks focus on the text itself.

Drawing on the social memory of foreign kings from the Persian and Hellenistic periods, Thomas M. Bolin utilizes archaeology and textual evidence in order to reconstruct a world view of possible Judean readers. In particular, he focuses on how people remembered kings. Regarding pre-Persian and Hellenistic texts, Bolin offers an overview, noting that “the default portrayal of Yahweh’s attitude toward foreign rulers… is that he views them as instruments of his will regarding Israel” (136). Then, he utilizes the Chroniclers account of 2 Kings 23 in order to illustrate how Persian/Hellenistic social memory has maintained the belief of kings as Yahweh’s unwitting servants; however, Chronicles expands this attitude by further intensifying these attitudes. Notably, Bolin acknowledges that a source-critical approach may suggest these changes by the Chronicler as intentional; however, he cautions that the intentionality is not necessary because “memories are shaped over long periods of time and change can often be seen as organic” (138). Social memory of kingship is more complex with regard to Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel, wherein his relationship with God is reimagined. It is reimagined by focusing on a more positive memory of Yahweh towards Nebuchadnezzar, and negative memory of his son, Belshazzar. These varying reflections on kingship reflect various social locations of different groups of scribes and elite males, argues Bolin. While this may be true, it isn’t necessarily the case. For, it may be that one scribe or elite group reflected on kingship in a variety of ways. Thus, while it is true that people constructed memories of kingship in different ways, Bolin doesn’t contributes anything substantial in terms of what it actually means and why it is significant.

Beate Ego examines the crossroads of Persian/Hellenistic ideology and the book of Esther as a political theology. Notably, her contribution is explicitly a summary of her forthcoming series in Biblischer Kommmentar. Therefore, there is much argumentation and data which is missing from the piece. In short, though, she first establishes that Esther is structured as a reversal structure. Following, she contextualizes the importance of prostrating in Esther to the broader cultural scheme, namely the issue of Greeks prostrating to Persians. Likewise, the dat of the Persians, Ego notes, comes into conflict with the Torah of the Jews. A brief criticism, though: we should be careful when noting the Torah as the dat of the Jewish people, for we don’t know exactly what constitutes Torah for Esther. Next, she highlights a few terms which may highlight the historico-theological dimension of Esther, or the idea of Israel’s redemption. With this established, she suggests that Esther should be dated to a period in which somebody would have known both Persian and Greek culture. Finally, she suggests that Purim functions as a communal expectation of future salvation. In general, this contribution was solid; however, it seems to have overstated the argument for Esther and Purim as “expectations of salvation.” I confess, though, that this is difficult to judge or critique, for this contribution is merely a summary of a 463 page study.

Anne Fitzpatrick-McKinley’s contribution reconstructs a highly plausible historical situation of the Nehemiah Memoir. She does so by examining the dynamics between various parties in NM and by comparing those dynamics with other group dynamics from the Persian period. Following this analysis, she compares the presentation of Nehemiah’s leadership in NM with its later reception in Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus. This contribution is particularly valuable. Her comparison of NM political leadership with forms of political leadership in other regions, such as Tayma, Paphlygonia, Mysia, and Lycia, contextualize social and political dynamics of NM within the broader picture of the Persian empire. I highly recommend this article for those seeking to understand the history of the post-exilic Judah.

Lynette Mitchell examines three Greek constitutions from the 5th century BCE. She then consideres how these constitutions were used and why they were important. To be completely honest, I have no experience in studying classics. Thus, I am unable to comment on the quality of the contribution. I can say, though, that it seems very out of place. In a volume about Judean social memory in the 5th century BCE, a contribution on Greek political thought is an odd addition.

Wolfgang Oswald compares 1 Samuel 8 with the “Constitutional Debate” in Herodotus’s Histories. In particular he compares how each text explore alternative forms of government. On the bases of 1 Samuel 8 and all of the DH, he suggests that, perhaps, 1 Sam 8 was the first treatise on political theory of state. While this contribution is interesting, it makes no significant observations. Nor does it introduce any challenging ideas. In the comparison of Histories with 1 Samuel 8, he paints with large strokes. These strokes, though, seem more like generic musings than actual arguments. In short, this contribution was well-written with some interesting thoughts, such as a suggestion that 1 Samuel 8 should be read as the first political theory of state. Besides that, though, the contribution lacked strong arguments and grounds for comparison of the texts.

Diana V. Edelman analyzes Judges 13-16 (the Samson narrative) in light of Herakles and Alexander. In doing so, she makes a strong argument for the possibility of how Hellenistic Jews may have understood Samson. Notably, she has strong grounds for the comparison, such as the tendency to associate ancestry with Herakles, coins bearing the image of Herakles, and late comparisons between Samson and Herakles (Church Fathers, Middle Ages). Through comparison of Samson and Herakles, Edelman notes 11 characteristics of Herakles and Samson. If those features were known about Herakles in a Jewish context, they may have influenced the understanding. She furthers this by comparing Samson with Alexander, who was said to have been from the bloodline of Herakles. This portion of the argument, though, is much weaker. Because Samson may have been understood as a leader who misuses power against the Philistines, she claims that Alexander may have helped to inform that, though. In claiming this, though, she fails to demonstrate any Hellenistic Jewish link between Alexander/Herakles and Samson. Thus, while this is all an interesting theory, it remains a possibility and nothing more.

Ann-Mareike Schol-Wetter compares how Judith and 1 Maccabees create an image of Israel, namely of its enemies, organization, and ideal population. In Judith, she concludes that there are not “good” Jews and “bad” Jews; rather, “zeal” in the book of Judith is used to construct an in-and an out-group. On the other hand, the “zeal” in 1 Maccabees focuses more on the “enemy within.” Furthermore, biblical predecessors of Judith includes the young version of David (i.e. the David (1) who is not in office and (2) is a model of faith and initiative). On the other hand, 1 Maccabees focuses on the priestly and military office of David. Finally, based on the previous analyses, she notes that Israel’s organization is a dynastic government in 1 Maccabees; however, Israel’s organization in the book of Judith is more like that of a strong, “antidynastic figure” who operates on her own strength and will-power. Thus, through comparison of the biblical predecessors,  understandings of “zeal”, and broader notions of social organization in 1 Maccabees and Judith, Schol-Wetter makes a strong argument for Judith simply as a different understanding of Judean identity. Whereas 1 Maccabees is concerned with the internal aspect of Judean identity, Judith is more focused on the issue of Jew vs. non-Jew. This article is a wonderful contribution. Her examination of the texts are thorough and nuanced, unlike many of the contributions throughout this volume. This contribution is a must for people interested in early Jewish constructions of identity.

In conclusion, this volume is a mixed bag. It contains a select few articles which make convincing and thorough arguments. For the most part, though, many of the contributions are not based in strong analysis of the literature at hand and weak argumentation for both conclusions and comparative methods.

 

 

Polytheism, Monotheism, and “a Canaanite Psalm”: A Note on Psalm 29

Recently, I’ve been doing quite a bit of work on Psalm 29. For those who are not familiar with scholarship about it, many scholars believe it was originally a Canaanite hymn. Sometime in history, Judeans or Israelites tooks the hymn. They turned it into a hymn about Yahweh. So, often times, it is used when addressing issues of monotheism vs. polytheism.

I’ve noticed, though, a major issue with all of the monotheism vs. polytheism discussion. No Judean or Israelite would have thought, “this is a monotheistic (or polytheistic) text.” In other words, we are using our own categories. Typically, categories are useful because they help us to understand the information. In this case, however, it seems that the categories of “monotheism” vs. “polytheism” may hinder our abilities to understand what is going on in Psalm 29.

For example, by justifiably connecting Psalm 29 to Ugaritic literature, some may claim it it reflects its polytheistic background. In the Psalm, then, we see a movement towards monotheism, people would claim. Unfortunately, we seem to miss to point by saying “movement towards monotheism.” What is imperative is that we try to understand what the text is saying in its historical context. By speaking of some sort of monotheism, we are unable to describe Psalm 29 with great precision. Therefore, it is pertinent that we work to describe Psalm 29 based on where it is, not based on where it is going.

Furthermore, there is the issue of context. Because of its similarities to Ugaritic literature, many scholars work with it in light of Canaanite religion and culture. The reality, though, is that Judah and Israel were influenced by a variety of imperial foreign cultures, such as the Egyptians, Neo-Assyrians, and Neo-Babylonians. Therefore, it would be fruitful to look beyond Psalm 29 as a Canaanite Psalm. For we have no certainty in dating Psalm 29 (i.e. no manuscript evidence; only shared cultural traditions). While it may reflect Canaanite traditions, Judean scribes came into contact with far more than just Canaanite people. They would have come into contact with Neo-Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, and Egyptian scribes. Consequently, we should be attentive to those potential influences within Psalm 29. This is what I am working on with regard to Psalm 29.

On the Meaning of “To Make a Covenant”

What does it mean to “make a covenant”? Often times, people recognize that a covenant is an agreement between two parties. It is a type of treaty between a stronger party and a weaker party. In the Hebrew Bible, those two parties are Yahweh and Israel. A more literal translation of the text, though, would be to “cut a covenant.” Growing up I’ve heard many explanations for why the Hebrew text uses a verb meaning “to cut.” One explanation is that a covenant is “cut” with regard to tablets on which are the ten commandments. In other words, Yahweh “cut” a covenant by writing on stone and cutting the stone out of the mountain. For a while, this was satisfactory. There is, though, a more likely explanation. Here, I hope to demonstrate how the underlying concept behind “cut a covenant” is that of sacrificing an animal.

Because the Hebrew Bible was developed and composed within the ancient Near East, it is helpful to look toward other literary evidence from (1) the Near East more broadly and (2) more localized evidence. One text from the 8th century BCE offers such evidence. It is from the ancient Near East more broadly because it was produced by the Neo-Assyrian empire. It is more localized because the treaty is between the Neo-Assyrian empire and a king in Syria-Palestine. As an Aramean king, it was local too a certain extent because the Hebrew Bible speaks about interaction between Arameans and Israel. This means they would have experience intercultural exchange and shared ideas between their respective cultures. Thus, the treaty may help us to better understand notions of “covenant” because the Hebrew Bible and treaty are within a similar geographic region (Syria-Palestine), time period (8th century BCE), and there is evidence for interaction between Aramean kings and Israel.

The Neo-Assyrian Treaty

The treaty is between a Neo-Assyrian king and an Aramean king in Northern Syria (Arpad). It dates from about the 8th century BCE. The Neo-Assyrian king is Assur-nerari V. The Aramaean king is Mati’-ilu. In the treaty, the sovereign figure, Assur-nerari V, demands the support of subordinate figure, Mati’-ilu and his kingdom. In order to cement the treaty, they bring out a lamb: “[This lamb] has been brought to conclude the treaty of Aššur-nerari, king of Assyria with Mati’-ilu.”

The text, though, is careful to note that the lamb is not for sacrifice or a basic meal; rather, the lamb seems to symbolically represent  Mati’-ilu and his kingdom. Rather than acting upon the lamb, the treaty compares head of the lamb to Mati’-ilu:

This head is not the head of a spring lamb, it is the head of Mati’-ilu, it is the head of his sons, his magnates and the people of [his la]nd. If Mati’-ilu [should sin] against this treaty, so may, just as the head of this spring lamb is c[ut] off, and its knuckle placed in its mouth, [] the head of Mati’-ilu be cut off…” (SAA II 02, lines 21-28).

Likewise, the shoulder of the lamb is compared to Mati’-ilu:

This shoulder is not the shoulder of a spring lamb, it is the shoulder of Mati’-ilu, it is the shoulder of his so[ns, his magnates, and the people of his land. If Mati’-ilu] should sin against this[treaty], so may, just as the shou[lder of this spring lamb] is torn out and [placed in], the shoulder of Mati’-ilu, of his sons, [his magnates] and the people of his land be torn out and [placed] in[]” (SAA II 02, lines 29-35).

In other words, the head and shoulder of the lamb are metaphorically Mati’-ilu. In order to cement the treaty, the parties slaughter this lamb. This is the treaty says “just as the shoulder of this spring lamb is torn out.” In both cases, the treaty seems to symbolically represent the consequences of breaking the treaty. The slaughter of the lamb is a representation of what will happen to Mati’-ilu if he opposes the Neo-Assyrian empire.

From Neo-Assyrian Treaty to Covenant in the Hebrew Bible

Previously, we discussed how a Neo-Assyrian text utilizes the cutting of an animal in order to vividly illustrate the consequences of breaking the treaty. If one breaks a cut covenant, they will be destroyed and cut like the animal. One narrative in the Hebrew Bible which expresses a similar sentiment is Genesis 14-15. In Gen. 14:22-24, Abram (Abraham) expresses his devotion to Yahweh:

22 But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord, God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, 23 that I would not take a thread or a sandal-thong or anything that is yours, so that you might not say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’ 24 I will take nothing but what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me—Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre. Let them take their share” (NRSV).

In this passage, Abram declares his dedication to Yahweh, who is the superior figure. While Mati’-ilu agrees to support the Neo-Assyrian empire in the treaty, Abram is demonstrated as supporting the deity Yahweh. Furthermore, this occurs after Abram defeats a series of tribal leaders. In Near Eastern thought, military victories were often understood as evidence of support from the divine realm. Whereas the treaty is an agreement to be dedicated to the Neo-Assyrian empire, Gen. 14 illustrates that Abram is dedicated to the deity. Both texts express the same notion of supporting the superior with whom a treaty is made, albeit in different ways. Gen. 14 occurs in the genre of a narrative, while Neo-Assyrian text occurs in the genre of a treaty/covenant.

In Gen. 15, Yahweh makes a series of commitments to Abram. Abram responds with a question: “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” (NRSV; Gen. 15: 8). So, in accordance with the will of Yahweh, Abram gathers animals for sacrifice and he cuts them. This serves as a way to cements the treaty/covenant between Yahweh and Abram. Likewise,  the lamb serves as a way to cement the treaty/covenant between the Neo-Assyrian empire and Mati’-ilu.

What Genesis 15 doesn’t express clearly, though, is the underlying significance of Abram’s cutting of the animals. In light of treaty between Assur-narari V and Mati’-ilu, the cutting may be representative of what happens if the subordinate party, namely Abram, does not uphold his side of the treaty. Although the text is not necessarily implying that Abram will be cut like the animals if he breaks the treaty, the Neo-Assyrian treaty at least suggests a possible explanation for why an animal would be “cut” in context of a covenant or treaty.

 

Bibliography:

SAA 02 002. Treaty of Aššur-nerari V with Mati’-ilu, King of Arpad (AfO 8 17+)

 

Memorizing Akkadian Vocabulary with Images

One of my greatest challenges in Elementary Akkadian was memorizing vocabulary. I need to have it memorized and internalized, though, by the time I begin Intermediate Akkadian. So, this summer I’m working on a project which may be of value for anybody using A Grammar of Akkadian by John Huehnergard.

I am using Quizlet to make flashcards of the chapters. One set will be chapters 1-5, another chapters 6-10, another 11-15, etc. For each word in the vocabulary section, I’m including the word, a basic definition, and a picture. I hope that including the picture with the word will help me to learn the vocabulary and internalize it.

If you’re interested in using it, here is the link: Chapters 1-5Chapters 6-10, Chapters 11-15, Chapters 16-20, Chapters 21-25, Chapters 26-30

NOTE: Chapters 1-5 are different from Chapters 6-10. In 1-5, the English is next to the picture, while in 6-10, the Akkadian is next to the picture. The remaining flashcards, namely chapters 11-38, will have the Akkadian next to the picture.

Created Order, the Deity, and Humanity

At the latest, the Hebrew Bible was compiled between the 5th and 3rd centuries BCE. In other words, over 2200 years separate us from the cultures in which the Hebrew Bible was compiled. Furthermore, the Hebrew Bible reflects traditions as far back as the 11th centurie BCE. So, nearly 3000 years separate us from some aspects of the cultures and traditions reflected in the Hebrew Bible. This vast distance of times can make it difficult to understand what is happening in a text of the Hebrew Bible. After all, people living in ancient Syria-Palestine, or the ancient Near East more generally, did not see the world the same way as us. 

I hope to demonstrate this by offering a Psalm as a case study. In it, I want to show how many people in the ancient world understood created order, the divine realm, humanity, and politics to be intrinsically intertwined, if not the same things. This may be strange in a culture where people constantly refer to the separation between state and religion. In the ancient world, political was religious and religious was political.

Following is my own translation of verses (vss.) 2-5 of Psalm 89:

(2) The devotion of Yahweh is eternal; I sing to it from generation to generation. I make known your fidelity with my mouth (3) For I have declared: eternal devotion will be built; (in) the heavens you will establish your fidelity in them.

(4) I have cut a covenant with my chosen one; I have been sworn to my servant David. (5) Until eternity, I will establish your offspring; and I will build your throne from generation to generation – Selah.  

In vss. 2-3, a person is speaking the 1st person. The individual speaks towards Yahweh. In vss. 4-5 the speaker is Yahweh. Yahweh first speaks about his covenant with David. Following, he speaks towards the Davidic dynasty.

In order to illustrate how the various spheres overlap (divinity, created order, and humanity), I will first show where they appear within this small selection of verses. Regarding Yahweh, the deity, it is clear that he plays a role in this Psalm. He acts in such a way that demonstrates his fidelity and devotion. The human speaker even declares Yahweh’s fidelity and devotion. What exactly, though, does Yahweh do in order to demonstrate his fidelity and devotion as a deity?

Verse 3 is a helpful avenue to explore, as it assists in working out how the ancient author may have understood his world. In vs. 3 devotion is built and fidelity is established in the heavens. Both of these concepts, though, are abstract. In other words, they have no material reality. If vs. 3 is meant to recognize Yahweh’s devotion and fidelity, his actions must have some material benefit to humanity, not just a feeling of devotion and fidelity. When we consider how ancient Judeans may have seen the world, though, it becomes clear why vs. 3 exemplifies Yahweh’s devotion and fidelity.

As early as 1910, biblical scholars realized that ancient Judeans may have seen the sky as a real structure. Genesis 1:6 references the firmament, namely the sky. The word used to describe the firmament has to do with flattening a material like metal. Consequently, Genesis 1:6 may demonstrate that some ancient Judeans thought the sky was a large, metal structure above them (Driver 1910, 21; Speiser 1964, 7).

If this imagery is at play in Ps. 89:3, it offers insight into the logic of the writer. Devotion is “built” and fidelity is “established” in the heavens because Yahweh has built the sky and established the heavenly structure. Consequently, the heavenly structure holds back the pre-creation, primeval waters (Genesis 1:1-2).  In other words, a deity literally built a structure which (1) prevents a return to the primeval waters and (2) protects all humanity.

If this is the world view of the Psalmist, then it is quite reasonable for Yahweh’s devotion to be demonstrated through devotion being built and his establishing the heavens, namely the sky. Created order is sustained by the deity, which in turn allows humanity to live. What better way to show devotion and fidelity than to prevent a massive flood through building the sky?

While it clear that the divine realm, humanity, and created order are connected in some regard, how does it relate to politics?

Vss. 4-5 detail Yahweh’s covenant with David. Vs. 4 specifies that he made a covenant. Vs. 5 details how Yahweh will establish and build David’s line. Notably, vs. 5 uses the same words as in vs. 3. In vs. 3, “establish” and “build” are used in context of Yahweh’s building a giant structure, namely the sky. In vs. 5, those same verbs are used to describe Yahweh’s commitment to enable the line of David to maintain its places on the throne. In other words, Yahweh commits to supports the line of David in its political endeavors. He makes this commitment in the same way that he upholds the dome structure above humanity, namely the sky.

Use of the same words to describe (1) Yahweh’s upholding the sky and (2) covenant to the line of David suggests they are correlated. Although it is difficult to tell to extent to which they are correlated in these particular verses, one thing is clear: Yahweh’s role in created order is used to legitimize and justify the political authority of the Davidic line. In turn, David is to act as a special servant to the deity.

This sort of relationship between a king-figure and deity is consistent with other regions, groups, and Empires throughout the ancient Near East. Notably, though, it was not an issue to people in the ancient world. To them, it was completely normal for a king to be supported by the a deity, a deity who supported created order itself. In turn, it was completely normal for a king to serve the deity as a particularly special servant.

These roles, though, were one and the same. To be legitimized by the deity in political terms was also to be legitimized by the deity in religious terms. This legitimization of kingship was often times supported by recognition that the sponsoring deity also kept creation in order.

Many texts in the Hebrew Bible reflect the aforementioned notions. With this awareness, we should be careful to immediately assume that something is either religious or political. In many cases, it is both. They are one and the same. If we don’t work with this notion, we do a disservice to ancient Judeans. They were a people group who, like any culture, should have their own autonomous and independent voice. It is up to us to decide whether or not we want to hear and understand what their world was like and what they have to say.